Portobello, Rangers and Burglars

The markets should have signs and announcements in English followed by French, as with the Olympics. It may as well be a get together session for cheese eating surrender monkeys, all of whom are gorgeous and extremely well-dressed seemingly without trying. What is it about the French that makes them so wonderful at everything? Especially visually? None of them seem to be fat, either, which is just incredibly annoying. I mean, I’m not fat either, but I’m perpetually on the verge of it. Food is a bad addiction to have if you’re a writer. It was much better in the old days, when most of the noted writers (as in, those who were read widely) were men, and they were addicted to alcohol. At least you can avoid alcohol if you tie yourself to your chair with only your pen arm free and an empty pad. But you still need someone to bring you food. You can’t avoid food cold turkey. Mmm, turkey. See? It’s absolutely impossible without death. And although you can possibly write a book in the forty days it would take you to starve to death, the Nanowrimo format doesn’t really work for all of us to bring about a legible, sensible novel. Perhaps stream of consciousness. I’ll note that down for later.

The point is, if you like food a little bit too much or, like me, you use food to make you feel good or safe when you don’t, it’s more difficult to avoid. (I am making light of alcohol addiction and I’m totally aware that it’s not okay, by the way.) Because the other thing is that if you’re like me, you need to be ‘alone’ to write, or in a place that isn’t your usual, familiar place. By ‘alone’, I of course mean either actually alone – which is a little weird, in most places other than your house – or around people to whom you have no obligation to pay any attention. If a coffee falls off the table – not your issue. Even if there is a small fire – say, which requires only patting out with a damp tea towel – it’s someone else’s issue. And they get paid 70 cents per hour to do it and not bring it to your attention. This is the beauty, and I would say, purpose, of the franchise coffee house. For the consumer, that is – obviously, the purpose for the franchisee and ultimate coffee house oligarch is to wring ten dollars or five pounds a pop, per morning, from people addicted to milk and sugar. But for the consumer, the coffee house is a place where you can completely ignore everyone in a setting that looks quite like your lounge room. Obviously, if you have a small family, that means more to you than someone like me, who only has their husband to ignore. And the beautiful thing is: it’s supposed to be that way. Coffee houses are for Facebook addictees, twitter twits, and writers. The only issue is that brings me closer to the source of addiction that makes me chubby, more poor, unhappy and grumpy.

These are more than one issue, admittedly.

Portobello market, I was talking about. My most remembered moments. Having lived in the area of the market for a week and seen some of the stalls, made me completely unprepared for the amount of people that would be there on Saturday. The weather report (I don’t think I’ve deliberately looked at a weather report more than twice in my life, but my husband informs me each morning what God plans to do with the day), said it would be sunny and eighteen, which it was, apart from the bits where it poured with rain, splattering those who were walking through the market between stalls in the middle of the road, soaking those who were walking nearer to the stalls but just under the edge of the stall-protecting tarps, and only intermittently spitting on those who lingered at each stall, pretending to look at the same jewelry they looked at on the last stall, to keep dry. I walked down the middle. I was looking for a cardigan to wear to the wedding in Ireland, and I’d seen one earlier, up the top of Portobello Road. I found the stall, tried the cardigan on under the tarp, and walked around avoiding the rain to pay. It was fifteen pounds, I had twenty, and the operator went to get change. All of a sudden I was surrounded by a cluster of black scarf wearing French women looking at second hand bags in the same stall. I would probably describe it as a clutch of French women, because that’s what I felt was being done to me. They circled me in a tight mob, and squeezed, reaching and peering at the hanging bags, and speaking French to each other. I think they must have thought that I was second hand, myself – something for sale, jumbled up on the tables in a furry knot like the charity shop mohair jumpers that were heaped on each stall in the area (all of which advertise, ‘Genuine Mohair, £30’). Perhaps I looked like I was for sale, because I was just standing there, waiting for my change. They pushed me further in to the table, leaning over me like it was some weird shopping intersection and they had right of way. Then they turned their collective attention to the other stall operator, who wore two pigtails, had a bum bag, and had carried a slightly bewildered expression ever since I’d seen her. They said something very quickly in French. (We’re in England; I’ll just remind you at this point.)

‘I don’t speak French,’ said the operator, and then said something about 300, and 150, but I don’t know what a Franc is worth at the moment, so that didn’t mean much to me. I was interested in the price of the bag, too, at this point, as well, because at this point it seemed to represent my only chance of escape.

‘How much?’ I said, eyebrow raised. The knot of women looked at her, daring her to haggle with me. She looked at me and seemed to acquiesce a little.

‘Alright – three pounds.’ I felt the pressure relax a little, but was still pinned to the table. I paid her, and gave the gaggle of middle aged poodles the bag, after which they disappeared like whisps in the night.

I made up everything from the big where I asked the lady how much. That sounded better.

In actual fact, the other lady came back with my change and we tried to reach each other’s hands, like Michelangelo’s Adam reaching for the finger of God. I couldn’t even see her eyes. I yelled ‘thanks,’ snapped up the fiver and wedged my way out.

Second thing I remember. I say remember, because I find that lately I have an issue with crowds. One million voices just tire me out, and I begin to become spacey. I think it’s always been like that, perhaps – I just thought I was grumpy after being in a shopping mall. Which I am. But some of it at least is the part of me that’s an introvert. Leave me alone. Get away! Here – just take my money!


I’m tired of writing about the market. Yes, it was excellent. I bought some things, but not much. We’re in poverty mode.

We had our last football match yesterday: QPR (Queens Park Rangers) versus Arsenal. We were, as is our way, about two minutes late for the whistle (this time because they had changed the appropriate gates around as there were so many Arsenal fans). As is Arsenal’s way, Walcott scored in the first minute, and we merely heard the roar from the perimeter outside entrance V. Poohey to you and your stupid, match-winning game plan, I say, Arsene. Poohey to you.

That was, of course, the only goal of the game.

As we climbed to our steps in row X, we couldn’t help but be pleased that Loftus Road is a smaller ground, and even though we were a few rows from the back we could still see Sagna, working away in his usual place, with the white bits through his corn roll hairdo, his comfortable flick of the long flung ball on his heel to the forward position, and the odd way his socks almost reach his shorts. I felt a pang of nostalgia when I saw him, because we’ve become so used to seeing him in him in front of us that being at the ground is almost like getting home to the lounge room and switching the telly on. I am going to miss him a lot. As I saw the sun warming the slab of grass, I realised that, of all the places in England, I feel the most at home at the football. I think it’s so comfortable because it’s exactly the same as home – that grass is the territory of your team, or at least that’s what every football team should feel, should be out there striving for. For a fan, every inch of grass represents a moment when something wonderful can happen for your team. A good ball, a good bounce, or just one perfectly timed move from that one player who has practiced that move a thousand times, can make you the happiest person alive. And thousands of others feeling the same way, with you. The millions of bad balls, bad bounces, naff misses and long groans just don’t have the same effect as the positive stuff. That’s football, and that’s why we like it. It’s another drug of endorphin.

Perhaps I should write at the football.

I was sitting next to Mark, a native of the area who had cheerily resigned himself to the fact that QPR had diddled themselves out of a good season yet again, and huffily offered them negative feedback through a moustache that was probably fashionable back when QPR won the league back in ‘67. I know this because he told me that that’s what team legend Mark Lazarus was talking about, and why he was holding a giant silver cup. He had scored the match-winning goal back in the day, but you wouldn’t know it, because all he was doing today was being incredibly depressing about QPR at half time. (As of the afternoon, it was sure that they were going to be relegated.)

Mark – the one sitting next to me, said that when he was a boy, one entire part of the stands on one of the goal sides was called the ‘Boys’ stand’, where young kids (all of them boys, or so they allowed, in ’67) could pay sixpence to watch the game. I reckon that would be a wonderful thing to do now. Anyone?

We were sitting with the home fans, not dressed in anything red, and keeping quiet about what we liked and disliked from the ref. But the football was good, so that wasn’t difficult. The Arsenal fan club, which took up one full stand with two levels, was really giving it to the QPR fans in a way I thought was overkill for a team that was rapidly going down the plughole (not the only Rangers to do so, I might add, Keith if you’re reading at all :D). Rangers fans only once started the ‘If you love Rangers, stand UP,’ chant, of which every team has a version.

‘Oh,’ groaned Mark, ‘I’ve got a pie.’

He needn’t have worried – no one else much stood up, anyway. And the Arsenal fan club blasted them with the cold shower. ‘Sit down, shut up, sit down, shut up, sit down, shut up…’

We got home, and I was upstairs getting changed when Andrew called out,

‘Bec? I think we’ve been robbed.’

The satellite TV and the modem were missing from a locked house.

We weren’t sure of anything – let alone whether we were alone in the house. We, rightly or wrongly, called Jean (who has gone back to Paris) to ask whether a friend had come and taken them, as nothing else seemed to be missing. Still – it gives you shivers. After receiving no answer from Jean, and considering whether or not to call the police, I suggested that we should check our check out date on Airbnb. Turns out, we were not booked to stay that night. This was my fault – when you book a place on Airbnb, you highlight the days in the period you want to stay. But the last day is not the last night you are staying – it’s your check out day. Meaning the last day you’ve selected is not part of the booking. I find that really confusing, and it’s not the first time it’s happened, embarrassingly. My bad. Jean probably arranged for someone to get the electronics while he was away.

Away to Ireland, today. We’re taking a railsail, a little expensive unfortunately at £100 for the two of us – but not really, for travelling to another country. We just didn’t appear to get it as cheap as I know it can be. We are now on the train (we arrived half an hour early); our mind-bogglingly obese packs sprawled on the next seats like lazy, humanoid black bears, taking up more than their fair share of the room in our four-facing-seats-with-a-table train area. It’s as if our bear bags are having a woodland style passive/aggressive argument, which has reached a tantrum-like stalemate, and they’re now giving each other the silent treatment.

We just raise our eyebrows at each other, and type.

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