Sunday supplement, by Tony Stafford
I got a stark reminder of just how flimsy our grip on this earth can be this morning when I took my idea of a constitutional – 150 steps (I count them) for my paper at the local supermarket, then next door into the café for a quick read of the Racing Post, while consuming two eggs on one toast and a strong cup of tea.
A few weeks back the Turkish proprietor and his sidekick – I think his name is something to do with Oz, as I’ve heard him called that – were basking in the certainty of vastly-increased patronage over the two weeks of you know what. Their aspirations demanded some customer-friendly action and on Olympics-eve a great big TV was placed at the far end of the shop by the entrance, away from the counter, and has been tuned ever since to BBC 1.
I think their hopes were partly fulfilled. On the first day, two 30-something gentlemen, one of Oriental extraction and his colleague (clearly the subservient one – he never orders) of more European stock, came in, proudly sporting their accreditations. They bought take-away hot sandwiches and thereafter appeared for the next week with similar demands.
We are mostly creatures of habit. Why, you might ask, would I need café-cooked morning sustenance when a look at my profile lends the clue to a fully-stocked fridge at home? Well it’s because it’s become a habit and I’d rather take my egg, or sausage or bacon, in the same seat, looking the same way (not towards the box), in that café than prepare it at home and then defend it from the ravages of our lovely Yorkshire terrier.
Reading enough of the Racing Post to satisfy my inquisitiveness coincides with the time it takes to consume the tea, which is hot enough to be left until the food has disappeared. Well, on Games day 17 there I was at 7.30 a.m. the only customer, just finishing off. Oz, for that has become his name, even if it isn’t, showed me a round white piece of plastic with the legend: “Support the bid for London 2012”. It was dated 2007. I remember the day it was announced, at my mum’s Warden Assisted flat in Snaresbrook. She said: “Pity dad isn’t here to know about it”.
Oz revealed that “someone” had come into the café at the time and asked if he could display it in the window. I’ve probably had 1,000 lightish breakfasts in that time and can confess that I’ve never noticed it and never will again as Oz ceremoniously screwed it up and put it in the bin.
It wasn’t until I got home that I realised what an act of wanton recklessness he’d performed. Had he never heard of e-bay? Someone, somewhere would have paid 50p for that, and indeed for anything else.
I have a friend who pretty much lives off e-bay, hiving off the odd volume of his 4,000 plus books every so often. I’ve told him he has the perfect business, plenty of stock, limitless potential customers and minimal overheads. I have the sneaking feeling, though, that such a perfect range of plusses merely encourages him to slothful procrastination.
When he’s “off”, like horses trained by his friend Willie Musson, he takes some stopping, and the creative way in which he packages the volumes, or say a 1956 soccer programme ..”features the debut in Arsenal colours of the late, great…” almost defies anyone not to buy.
But I must go back to Oz and his burying of the recent past. “Time go so fast”, he say, employing the non-British knack of getting all the meaning through only some of the words, that I learned first to interpret then eventually copy in the early stages of my relationship with my Russian-born wife. Now I irritate her, for as she has added vastly to her vocabulary, mine has become addled, like one of Oz’s eggs if it’s put on the wrong shelf in their big fridge. Why, also, does my mind stray to Andre Previn being told by Eric Morecambe that he “plays all the notes, though not necessarily in the right order”?
Oz, though looking nothing like him, inevitably brought my mind back to Arthur Lowe, no, not in his Captain Mainwaring role, but as Leonard Swindley in Coronation Street 50 years ago. The soon to be Dad’s Army hero ran the Gamma Garments clothing store and was always admonishing his assistant and one-time fiancée Emily Nugent (Eileen Derbyshire): “Time marches on, Miss Nugent”. So that’s the phrase I still trot out to this day. Even earlier, a schoolmaster at Central Foundation Boys’ Grammar school by the City Road roundabout in central London, in similar angst mode as to the inevitable march of that solely human concept, would say: “Time flies…you can’t - they’re too fast.”
A quick look at the net revealed that pompous (probably not in life) Arthur died as long ago as 1982. When he started in Coronation Street in 1960 he looked around 66, yet 22 years later that was the age he died at! I’ve already arrived at that unwelcome milestone and as Eileen Derbyshire (born 1929, just nine years after my dad) is still in gainful employment on the street as Emily Bishop, maybe I should look her up if only for some reassurance.
The Olympic experience has been great. Less than half a mile away slightly to the east and south of me, there’s been 80,000 in the stadium, 15,000 in the pool, 6,000 in the Velodrome, 15,000 at the BMX – I hear that’s going straight to Rio – and same again at the hockey arena, that’s without the tens of thousands restricted to the Park at £10 per head. How many extra people down my road, you ask? Well, about three of them will appear some days, dribbling past in the maroony, purply shirts.
On Friday, we still got the taxi drivers moaning that Central London’s been dead. Well what about the tourist draw the capital will become when the Olympics are over? Then it’ll be,” you can’t move, they have no clue how to keep the traffic moving!”
I’ve done a fair bit of driving in Olympic Lane only areas and traffic has been moving well for the most part. Knowing the Daily Mail, if the expected (by me as well) number of fines had been arrived at, the paper would have been filled with complaints. Maybe it has been –I don’t read it, except to see on the web site whether van Persie has taken the shameful route to Old Trafford yet – but I reckon it could all have been a bluff.
No, the authorities have been very shrewd and until the start of the weekend, all the news had been cheerful. Then we learned of that despicable, allegedly family-based murder of a 12-year-old girl in South London. It made us realise once again that even 28 glorious gold medals cannot disguise the unspeakable evil that lurks within London’s community.
- Tony Stafford