my e17 storywalk story

E17 Storywalk
E17 Storywalk

Back in November, I took part in the E17 Storywalk as part of the Words Over Walthamstow festival – which I wrote about before.

I wasn’t sure at the time whether I would post my story here or not, but I have decided to.

All six stories have been printed by the wonderful Paekakariki Press just round the corner from me – and it gave me a little frisson of pleasure to see my words in proper print.

E17 Storywalk booklet
E17 Storywalk booklet

So, here it is, my story based around Lot One Ten under the theme of change.

A time for change? 

When Jane had arrived in 1997, Walthamstow had been bustling but rough around the edges. There was a worn feel to it, like an old camel coat. It was easy to lose herself into the general busy-ness of the place, and that suited her just fine.

That was why she had originally moved from Kendal to London – she hadn’t been able to hide easily enough. The lush, vibrant greens of the hills and the dancing reflections on the lakes and waterways made her feel as if she were purposely standing out. An absence of hue on a brightly painted canvas – all the more noticeable simply for being dull. Here, among the dusty shopfronts and endless commuters, she’d been at home.

Her mousey-blonde hair and pale skin helped make her face unremarkable, certainly no one HAD ever remarked on it. She always wore neutral tones too, thus almost instantly forgettable – intentionally so. She often pondered a career in robbery – no one would ever match an efit photo or grainy CCTV image to her face.

Jane had always had no hope of being anything better than, well, blousy, beige and boring. That was her lot, she accepted it. It simplified everything – from what job she did (data historian in a corporate headquarters – there were delightful days where she didn’t see a single other person) to what dreams she had (ones about misplaced filing mainly) to what she ate for supper (ready meals in front of Coronation Street). She never dreamed or hoped of more. That was until…

One grey, drizzly afternoon Jane was walking home from Walthamstow Central, along Hoe Street. This was Jane’s favourite time to be out. Everything was muted and damp. No one took any notice of who was walking by – they were all too busy trying to get home quickly and out of the rain. She also had the added benefit of being able to hide under an umbrella. But as she walked past Lot One Ten, something caught her eye.

Looking back, she couldn’t pinpoint exactly what it had been. A movement from across the street? The reflection of a car’s headlights in the mist of the rain? She really couldn’t be sure, but she glanced into the window, her eyes quickly scanning the antique furniture on display.

A beautifully detailed tapestry stool sat in front of a dressing table that she believed was probably walnut – its dark wood shining from years of polish and beeswax.

However, Jane’s eyes were drawn up to the mirror.

It seemed rather large for the size of the dresser, a distraction from the beautiful hand-carved detail on the wood. It sat within an intricately carved frame, bracketed so that it could swivel to any angle.

Jane looked closer. Although the dresser must have been Edwardian and at least 100 years old, the mirror was clear. No black marks, cracks or that ‘foxing’ of the glass that makes it look misty. Had the mirror been replaced? If so, it must have been a very skilled replacement as the frame looked untouched.

But this wasn’t what caused Jane to draw a sharp breath. As she looked into the mirror, at what should have been her own familiar visage, Jane didn’t recognise herself at all. The mirror seemed to reflect a different Jane. A better Jane. A Jane that Jane had never hoped or believed she could be.

The dull light of Hoe Street seemed to have been enhanced somehow, as if there was a hidden sun just out of the frame, and the effect it had on Jane’s reflection was astonishing. Her lank blonde hair shone with health, her skin took on a slightly rosy tinge, like that of a young lover. Her lips looked more plump, hinting at secrets and promises, and her eyes were bright – their usual pale green seemingly deeper – confident and bewitching.

Jane was stunned and moved even closer, one hand touching the glass of the window. Her reflection followed suit, but to Jane’s eye it made her look as if she were trying to escape from the mirror – pushing out of the frame.

“I’m alive,” Jane whispered to herself.

A young lad in a hoodie ran past laughing, closely followed by a couple of mates. Jane turned to watch them go past, and the spell was broken. When she looked back into the mirror, all she saw was Jane. Forgettable Jane. Invisible Jane.

Her shoulders slumped. For the first time ever, Jane was somehow disappointed with herself. Being overlooked constantly, suddenly didn’t feel like a great way of living. If she could be mirror-Jane, what then? Mirror-Jane looked as if she could do anything she wanted.

Eventually, her fingers trailing the glass of the window, she turned away, and walked down the road, the puddles soaking through her flat shoes as she trudged on, oblivious; her head filled with images of the fun-filled life that mirror-Jane would have. Mirror Jane continued to dance and flirt and laugh hollowly in her head while she wrung out her umbrella in the hall at home.

Over the next couple of days, Jane spent a lot of time looking at herself in the only mirror she had – her bathroom one. It reflected the avocado tiles she’d never got round to replacing. They were as dull as she was, which was, she now realised, extremely dull. She studied her face at great length, tried putting on a little make-up, brushing her hair to attempt to make it shine. She even bought Optrex Eyedew eye drops that promised to make her eyes dazzle.

Nothing had any effect. Her skin refused to glow – and her inexperienced hands made the make-up appear like a clown’s. Her hair remained dull and her eyes became slightly red and irritated.

Who was she kidding ‑ Mirror-Jane didn’t exist. She couldn’t change her life with a bit of blusher and some eye drops. She couldn’t become a different person. She had the life she had and she should be grateful for it. Jane threw the eye drops in the bathroom bin, grabbed her coat and headed down to the High Street.

She loved the market – there was so much hustle and bustle it was easy for her to drift through unnoticed. But she never bought from the market as she avoided talking to people – especially the loud traders who called everyone “love”. The self-checkouts at Sainsbury’s and Asda were far better – just the occasional “Unexpected item in packaging area” puncturing her idyll.

She hurried along Hoe Street muttering, annoyed at herself, disappointed at how easily she’d been swayed by the dream of a good hair day, how willing she had been to give up everything she’d worked so hard for. She might as well have moved back to Kendal.

As she reached Lot One Ten, she glanced in the window…and stopped dead.

The autumnal sun currently bathing Walthamstow in a cool, yellow-grey looked warmer and brighter in the mirror on the walnut dresser. Jane felt her breath catch in her throat as she looked once again at her reflection.

Emerald green flashed at her from within smooth, soft skin. Mirror-Jane was back, almost sparking with energy. It was like the difference between normal TV and HD. Everything about her was richer, the life bursting forth as if it couldn’t be contained, and Jane realised that this really was the woman she wanted to be. She’d spent long enough in the shadows.

She vaguely registered the insistent bam-bam-bam of a jackhammer from one of the many building sites across the borough. Far from the dreary hidey-hole she had once sought out, even E17 was changing – little pockets of the town becoming brighter, full of life and colour. Did she need to follow suit? Did she dare?

“I can do this,” she said to the mirror. “I can be this.” She looked deep into her own eyes, which weren’t eyes she recognised. “Can you?” said the voice in her head, “Are you ready?” Jane stepped back from the window, took a deep breath and closed her eyes.

“Yes. I’m ready. It’s time.”

She let out her breath and realised that she could no longer hear anything except her own heartbeat. Startled, she opened her eyes, and whimpered softly.

Jane looked out, across Hoe Street. Where the Texaco garage had once been, she could see the big blue and yellow signs for the hand car wash place. She saw a Routemaster bus drive past, its usual rumble curiously missing.

Confused, she put a hand against the warm glass in front of her, as slowly her mind tried to make sense of what she was seeing.

On the pavement, Mirror-Jane looked into the window of Lot One Ten. Jane stared horrified at her as she looked straight into her eyes, her mouth curled into a smug smirk that had never graced that face before.

After a cheeky wave of her fingertips, Mirror-Jane tossed her head back, laughed and walked down Hoe Street and out of sight, with a sultry swing of her hips.

londoners: the days & nights of london now – craig taylor


Craig Taylor is a Canadian journalist and writer who has been living in London for at least a decade.  He claims to love London (he has chosen to live here above Canada, after all) but I wouldn’t have guessed that he did from this book.

The book was Radio 4’s Book Of The Week last year, and has received much critical acclaim. I decided to give it a go as an audiobook – especially as I have been doing a lot of walking recently, and obviously that is almost always on the streets of London.

Around 80 people were interviewed for the book, and this is more an exercise in editing on the author’s behalf.

I was looking forward to hearing from people that keep London ticking, the unseen perhaps – the ones who see a different London to the one that I do. I felt that they would be the stories to really make the book ‘pop’. The ones where readers are forced to see the city in a different way.

The book was divided into sections (eg arriving, living, working, departing, dying etc) although these seemed a bit of a flimsy way to bunch the stories, as invariably people’s experiences tended to go beyond the boundaries of that particular aspect.

Now, as you may realise, I LOVE this ever-changing city that I live in.  I defintiely choose to be here, and although I sometimes entertain the thought of leaving and moving somewhere more rural (as I did growing up), when I give it a little more thought, I realise that I am in no way ready for that.  I would miss SO much about London.  To be entirely honest, I don’t think I’m old enough to leave yet.  There is still so much to experience!

Although I have a deep-set love for London, I am also aware of its faults. I can’t have lived here most of my life without acknowledging them, after all.  I’m not blind to them, but I am accepting of them as there are so many positives.

With that in mind, I have to say I wanted to love this book so much, and I ended up hating it.

It felt so biased.  There seemed to be a huge bias towards people complaining bitterly about London – in some ways that I agreed with, but often in ways that I didn’t.  The times that the peopel were upbeat and positive, they were mainly just talking about their very interesting jobs (eg bus control room operators, Spitalfields market trader, stock-broker turned cabbie, funeral director, the actress who is the voice of London Underground), and they didn’t tend to offer an opinion on London itself – so the only opinions seemed to be extremely negative.

I don’t think that it helped that not very far into the book at all, a South African that lived here for a while describes London as “…a city full of Asperger’s people…”  How rude!  It’s funny how London is possibly one of the most multiculturally diverse places in the world, and yet people always refer to ‘Londoners’ as being a certain way.

The only people that seemed to be very positive and confess their love for London were people that lived in the East End or Essex borders.  The stockbroker turned cabbie, the market trader, and the old lady whose daughter keeps wanting to get her a nice flat in Broxbourne, but who says “London gets to you. I can’t leave it. There’s too much quiet in the countryside.”

There seemed to be so much missed out from what makes London great, and different to other place in Britain.  However, this in itself cemented my love for London, and made me see it through different eyes yet again.  I feel that there was so much unexplored – but so much that I haven’t explored myself.

And I have to say, the disappointment in this book has inspired me, and given me an idea to do something myself.  Watch this space (but don’t hold your breath!)

a disgrace to my gender?

I'm All For Girl Power!
I’m All For Girl Power!

I know that by posting something like this I am prone to open myself up for attack, but I am genuinely interested in hearing the ‘other side’ of my argument on this subject.

I don’t understand women-only groups.

I am quite loud online (I hate the word ‘prolific’ – I just think of myself as being noisy), I have met quite a lot of people in various circles.  Although I suffer from chronic shyness (ARGH! STRANGER DANGER!!), I have found that a swift couple of vodkas and a huge deep breath (and probably a little too much laughing) gets me through these initial meetings, and I then really enjoy myself, and love meeting such a wide variety of people.

Due to me spending so much time online, and often meeting people in ‘real’ life, I seem to be invited along to quite a lot of stuff.

Today is a case in point.  I received four email invites today.  One for a local group, one for a blogging group and two for general networking / ‘thought platform’ (??) opportunities.

And each one of these four was for a women-only group.  So, I wont be going to any of them.

I like women, I think they’re great.  I do think that in certain areas they seem to be over-shadowed by men or not taken quite as seriously, but I honestly believe that women-only groups in these situations serve not to empower women, but to prove that they ARE different to men.  They highlight the differences rather than proving the similarities.

I’m not saying that there should be no women-only groups at all – I can understand groups where women want to talk / act freely, especially for religious or cultural reasons, but for example one of the group meetings I was invited to today is supposedly to give women a stronger voice in media roles and has many ‘prolific’ women speakers.

Surely women already think that they need a stronger voice, so you’re kind of preaching to the converted.  Wouldn’t it be better all round if all of those women were just meeting with a group of people working within the media (apparently including bloggers I’m guessing, otherwise I have no idea why I was invited!) whether they are male or female?

If there is some kind of re-education about gender equality needed, then why aren’t the men being included in this?

Perhaps I am completely missing the point, but then I have never even seen the point of ‘girls nights in/out’ either.  As far as I’m concerned, if I fancy a party, I want to ask my friends along.  that may turn out to be all girls just due to circumstance, but I have never felt the need to seclude them from proceedings.

Come on – I would love it if someone could really tell me why I am so very very wrong on this matter.  I am totally for girl power (I’m in no way an anti-feminist) – but I’m all for boy power as well – if they’ve got what it takes!

scritchy scratchy

Look! I won a whole fiver! (The fact the card cost £5 is irrelevant)

As I rose from my seat on the Victoria Line this morning at Highbury & Islington, I closed the cover of my Kindle, and a scratchcard that I had shoved into my bag for safe-keeping fell from the cover where it had become jammed.

I stooped to pick it up, when glancing down, my commute neighbour kissed her teeth and quite audibly announced “SINNER!!”.

I assumed that she was referring to my obviously disgusting gambling ‘habit’, so I looked her straight in the eye, gave her a massive grin and said “Oh hunny, believe me, I sin a HELL of a lot more than THIS!!”

As I moved towards the door with my fellow alighters, i couldn’t quite work out whether the comical expression on her face was horror, disgust or shock that I had challnged her ideals 😉

Whichever it was, it was well worth it!

moon over soho – ben aaronovitch

Moon Over Soho

It had been a while since reading Rivers of London, and The Man had been banging on that he wanted to read the next one, so I decided to squeeze it in too!

We are again following DC Peter Grant, the apprentice wizard copper who has recently found himself submerged into the murky depths of London’s paranormal underworld, and he is as witty and cutting as ever.

After being called in to investigate the suspicious death of a jazz musician, Grant soon realises that this is no normal murder – it definitely falls under his other-worldly jurisdiction…and it doesn’t appear to be the first of its type.

However, things start to get really odd when the trail leads to revered old-time jazz trumpeter Richard ‘Lord’ Grant – none other than Peter’s dad.

I love Aaronovitch’s writing style.  It’s light and easy to read, and the pace just speeds you along with the action.  There’s no superfluous words, nothing flowery about it.  It’s an honest story about gritty goings-on in the seedier parts of London.  This book is definitely far darker than Rivers of London, and I am also not sure that you could read it without reading that first.

It’s funny and clever, and you almost forget that it couldn’t possibly be real.  The characters are well written and believable with clever humour despite some of the grimness.

For a terrifying moment I thought he was going to hug me, but fortunately we both remembered we were English just in time. Still, it was a close call.

Aaronovitch certainly knows his London too, in an off-hand unflashy way.  For a Londoner, these books are a joy as he speeds from one location to another, and you often get a quick history lesson thrown in too, which I love!  I work in Camden, and there was a short paragraph about the history of ‘a pub at the crossroads’ that was once called the Mother Redcap…and sure enough, a couple of days later I happened to spy the words ‘Mother Redcap’ in smaller writing on the side fascia of the World’s End pub that I had never noticed before!  I have walked past it twice a day for the last 5 years – let alone all the times I had been there before I was working in the area.

So thank you Ben Aaronovitch, thank you for writing books that make me notice the London around me, and wonder whether there could possibly be jazz vampires lurking amongst the clubs of Soho.

no murders in murder alley!

It has amused me that the past couple of days, people have apparently landed on this blog after Googling  ‘”murder alley walthamstow’.

I have no idea how they ended up here, but it is fact the right place to be as the name was coined by me and my mate.

Many years ago, we gave this affectionate name to the little alley between Aubrey Road and Howard Road – purely because after drunken revelry, my mate used to have to walk through this to get home.  she used to say that she’d get raped or murdered or both stumbling home one night, and so I used to tell her to text/call me to let me know she had been OK going through murder alley.

I am assuming that people searching why it was called that have seen it since I added it on Foursquare one day – although I am not sure who has classified it as a hot spring 😀

As far as I know, noone has ever been murdered there – it’s not even dark – it is very well-lit.  However, I can imagine it becoming a bit of a zombie bottleneck during the eventual zombie apocolypse, purely down to them not being able to work out the railings.

Just wanted to make sure people weren’t getting the wrong idea 😉  You can see Murder Alley for yourself here.

Murder Alley is surprisingly non-murdery

UPDATE!!!: Apparently, the reason that so many people have been searching it today is because it wasmentioned on BBC Radio London.  i have no idea why, or how it came to their attention, but I love the fact that a joke between my and @goodwin71 has now become a radio topic 😀

find the london place names

I have no idea how I clicked on this picture yesterday which shows a load of London place names in picture form.  Because I don’t know where it came from, I have no idea how many there are supposed to be!

But I know that there are quite a few that we can’t work out.  At the time of poating, we have 50 but think there are about 25 more!

Click on it for the full-size picture!

What we don’t have:

  1. Windmill (UPDATE:  Mill Hill East)
  2. Crown on tree (UPDATE:  Royal Oak)
  3. Fire in the hole  (UPDATE:  Holborn)
  4. Bloke watering tree  (UPDATE:  Bayswater)
  5. Flag on the house  (UPDATE:  Cyprus)
  6. Can on the corner (UPDATE:  Canon Street)
  7. Red fish (we THINK it’s a red herring, but still…)
  8. Well  (UPDATE:  Stockwell)
  9. Mouse with cheese  (UPDATE:  Leicester Square)
  10. Footballer  (UPDATE:  Upney)
  11. Hay bale  (UPDATE:  Hainault)
  12. Girl with big hair  (UPDATE:  High Barnet)
  13. Glue on the road  (UPDATE:  Bond Street)
  14. Dog with green ears  (UPDATE:  Not altogether certain, but I finally think I have it as Parson’s Green)
  15. Bloke carrying something  (UPDATE: Bounds Green)
  16. Chef doing something  (UPDATE:  Baker Street)
  17. Austrian girl with beer  (UPDATE:  Maida Vale)
  18. Green thing in the sky  (UPDATE:  Wood Green)
  19. Ton of something in the sky  (UPDATE:  Brixton)
  20. Four nuns  (UPDATE:  We THINK it might be Covent Garden)
  21. Witch and elves (?!) (UPDATE:  Turnham Green)
  22. Fountain  (UPDATE:  Waterloo)
  23. Bent Cross  (UPDATE:  Brent Cross)
  24. Cross with top hat (UPDATE: Hatton Cross)
  25. White cross  (UPDATE:  New Cross)
  26. Tower (UPDATE:  Tower Hill)

What we have (highlight to see our answers — I don’t want to spoil it for you):

  1. West Ham
  2. East Ham
  3. Marylebone
  4. Borough
  5. Leytonstone
  6. Barbican
  7. Kilburn
  8. Balham
  9. Seven Sisters
  10. Elephant & Castle
  11. Kings Cross
  12. Queensway
  13. Angel
  14. Bank
  15. Hampstead
  16. Limehouse
  17. Pinner
  18. Green Park
  19. Victoria
  20. Swiss Cottage
  21. Lancaster Gate
  22. Mudchute
  23. Arsenal
  24. Kew Gardens
  25. Chalk Farm
  26. Marble Arch
  27. Monument
  28. Finsbury
  29. Lambeth
  30. Highgate
  31. Bow
  32. Hammersmith
  33. Knightsbridge
  34. Preston Road
  35. Snaresbrook
  36. Burnt Oak
  37. Shepherd’s Bush
  38. Canada Water
  39. Blackfriars
  40. Barking
  41. Temple
  42. Redbridge
  43. Oval
  44. Becontree
  45. Mile End
  46. Whitechapel
  47. White City
  48. Blackhorse Road
  49. Aldgate

If you spot any more, let me know 🙂

rivers of london – ben aaronovitch

Rivers of London

This was a recommendation made to me by Amazon, and it certainly caught my interest straight away from the blurb!

This is the first in the ‘Peter Grant’ series of books (I think there are just two at the moment, this and Moon Over Soho). Grant is a newly qualified PC with the Met Police, concerned that he’s been initially placed in a boring, admin heavy unit.

However, after being called to the case of a man whose head has literally been knocked from his body with a baseball bat, and interviewing possibly the only witness who claims to have been dead for a good few decades, Grant’s work (AND social) life seems to become somewhat more interesting.

He is placed under Inspector Nightingale, the last wizard in England and becomes his apprentice.  He then discovers more about the underworld of London, the city he thought he knew so well.  He meets the warring God & Goddess of the Thames, encounters vampires in Purley and has to get to the bottom of a malicious spirit that seems to be possessing Londoners and leaving them with their faces falling off!

This is the kind of fantasy book I love – one where it has its base in reality and then has an underlying fantastical world that we are unaware of.  I guess this could be sold as “Harry Potter for grown ups”, but I don’t like Harry Potter, and I loved this.

Peter Grant is a believable character, shoved into an unbelievable world. Admittedly he seems to take a lot of it far more in his stride than I think *I* would be if I was suddenly told that magic exists and I will be able to do it, but his actions feel well explained at every twist and turn of the story.

There is a lightness of touch about the writing, and there is a lot of humour throughout.  One particularly memorable line came after an explosion in a house when : “…the neighbours came rushing out to see what had happened to their property values.”

I am not sure how exciting and relevant someone not familiar with London would find the book, as Aaronovitch obviously knows his stuff about both the history and geography of our fabulous city.  I could always picture exactly where the action had moved too – and during scenes where Grant is running down back streets etc, I felt as if I was following him, but picturing exactly where I was.  Very well written!

I’m looking forward to reading the next one!

chug abuse

Chug chug chug chug

As is often the case (and that I have blogged about before), on Friday there were a LOT of chuggers on the streets of Camden.  This time they were from British Red Cross.

I had managed to avoid them at lunchtime, but when it came to home time, they seemed to have bred, and there was NO avoiding them!

I walked past one, and less than 20ft later, there was another one – she was determined to grab me, so I just said “NO THANKS” as always, and walked that little bit faster.

Another 20ft behind her was yet ANOTHER one, which just pissed me off!  I took a deep breath and tried to make a dash for it when he looked at me and said “Ooooo, angry bird!”

“How bloody rude!”, I thought.  i was quite happy when I left work, not 5 minutes ago – the only thing that’s making me angry is all these bloody chuggers who are likely to make me miss my train!  And as for calling me a ‘bird’.  Yes, I call women/girls ‘birds’ all the time, but generally not to their faces, and not if I want something out of them – that’s just impolite and bad business practice!

I was just about to give him a piece of my mind when I suddenly remembered my handbag…

He's not angry, he's just a bit miffed!

london riots

There is so much I could say about my thoughts on the London Riots (probably starting with the fact that I don’t believe they are ‘riots’, they are the reuslt of sick opportunistic thieving hooligans) but it’s too ‘now’ – too raw.  My beautiful city is being ripped apart at the seams, and it’s just way too sad…

We are lucky that we have appeared to have missed the worst of it (so far) in Walthamstow and the rest of Waltham Forest, but lying under my duvet the past couple of nights (as you know from all horror films, duvets are the ultimate protect-all), and hearing the sirens going along Hoe Street, my heart has skipped many beats, worrying that we could be next.

Beautiful old buildings and people’s businesses, homes, vehicles and livelihoods have gone up in flames or been totally ransacked, for no discernable reason.  This is nothing to do with Mark Duggan whose family must be going through hell at the moment – this is just people seeing the police stretched to their limit and thinking they could get some good gear out of it!

Out of all of it, this photo seems exceptionally poignant.

89 year old assesses the damage to his hairdressing salon after riots on Tottenham High Road

And yet this photo gave me a little faith in humanity.

Turkish shopkeepers in Dalston protect their community from looters

And this woman should be given a knighthood – or made an MP!

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