Magpies – saluting and de-saluting

This morning I saw a magpie and, without thinking, saluted it. "Good morning Mr Magpie!"

Then another magpie appeared from behind a tree trunk and I realised they were a pair. And I attempted to de-salute the first magpie. But it’s tricky. How does one do this? It’s obviously some kind of uninstall procedure. But do you say the words backwards? Or do you explain in depth to the magpie that you are taking back your greeting? Or do you let the greeting stand?

Trouble was, I wasn’t wearing my glasses. As I got closer I realised they weren’t magpies but rooks.

Action points: Attempt to access rational brain. Get eyes tested.

Tatran (Slovak Shop)

On the borders of N5 and N4 is the quiet corner of Finsbury Park Road and Mountgrove Road. The latter used to have a variety of shops – accordion seller, antiques, bikes, two Chinese takeaways, design agency, Sylvanian Family franchise. Some of these have gone to be replaced by apartments but new businesses keep appearing – latterly a 1940s furniture emporium and a computer repair shop.

When Tatran appeared on this corner two or three years ago it seemed perfect for a street which for a long time has been threatening to become more interesting. A few times I took my work there and sat in the back of the café, where you could get away from it all and sip virtually tasteless yet strangely enjoyable Slovakian milky coffee. The place was usually manned by attractive Slovak chicks who would sit at a table near the window leafing through what looked like the Argos catalogue and Heat magazine.

But now Tatran is no more. It closed for the summer holidays and never reopened. At the time of writing the place is being done up – the peachy orange is now brick red and the handwritten "Slovak Shop” sign painted over. Where will we get Slovakian chocolate bars now, then? Or Solvakian vacuum packed frankfurters? Or idiosyncratic Slovakian biscuits? And where, in the whole of London, will we get virtually tasteless yet strangely enjoyable Slovakian milky coffee?

Searching for chips in the Highbury Vale Fog (Arsenal v Steaua Bucharest)

It was a midweek night and I was waiting at a Green Lanes bus stop for a 341 or 141 to take me up to the Salisbury for a few beers. The fog around Clissold Park had been collecting all afternoon and now lay in a  thick band over the little river valley that was the former course of the Hackney Brook. All of a sudden there was no traffic. No cars, buses or cyclists. Had everyone decided to watch Arsenal v Steaua Bucharest on the telly? After what seemed about half an hour but was probably 20 seconds, a white van steamed past seemingly anxious to get into more normal territory.

I’d seen some of the Steaua players earlier in the day, sauntering around Oxford Street in their smart tracksuits and pointing out their favourite Christmas window displays. "Good luck tonight," I said.

     "Ah, you must be a Tottenham fan!" smiled one (he looked like the midfield general).

     "No, I’m not. I said ‘good luck’ from the perspective of a neutral who wishes you to enjoy the atmosphere of the Greater Blackstock Road area. I hope you have a good experience and possibly go for chips afterwards. I don’t care about the result."

But they’d already stopped listening. I have that effect on professional footballers. Like the time I got Bob Wilson’s autograph when he came to my home town in the mid 70s and I wanted to know why he didn’t play against Leeds in the 1972 Cup Final but he was looking away, off into the mid-distance at Arthur’s Tuck Shop at the edge of the market place (though it was actually owned at that stage by Derek Marwood who possibly had kept the ‘Arthur’ sign up for a bit in the hope of getting some ‘goodwill passing trade’).

It was about 20 minutes later that a 341 appeared. The driver looked nervous. Clissold Park had almost disappeared. Green Lanes no longer seemed part of a city. The bus sped up the slope towards Manor House – then after the crossroads we slowed down as if the driver knew he was in familiar territory. At the Salisbury the London Pride was off and the gents toilets weren’t open. The silent TV on the wall played a tape loop of Vladimir Putin sitting down at a table before at last the football results came in. In the end I hoped that the Steaua players had gone back to their hotel for Bells whisky miniatures, rather than searching for chips in the Highbury Vale fog.

My Amazing European Photo Album

My Amazing European Photo Album charted my progress through various western European countries in the autumn of 1989. At the very moment Europe was changing and the iron curtain was coming down, there was me having my photo taken with various gurning characters in bars.

About 15 years ago I decided to go off to live in S. America for a while and so one night just before I left I said to my wife, who was living in a flat above the big laundrette in Blackstock Road,  "can you look after my Amazing European Photo Album?" I can’t remember her answer – we were both pretty drunk – but after that I stopped worrying about the photo album because it had now become her responsibility.

When I returned my wife (well, she wasn’t actually my wife then or even my girlfriend, but I’d obviously worked out that I could dump responsibilties at her door then blame her if things went wrong) had moved to a new flat in a different part of town and claimed not to know anything about the photo album. So I’d lost it.

Every time I go up to Finsbury Park to buy some stationary or bagels I pass the laundrette, but it has never occured to me to see if My Amazing European Photo Album is still there. Until now. I saw a couple go into the flat the other day and thought they looked like reasonable people. I think I will write them a formal letter.