The £20 note and the Queen

Got on the bus this morning with a £20 note. And no change. Not a good move.

The driver shook his head. “No change.”

“Arghhhh.. sorry, I haven’t got anything smaller.”
“No change,” he said, poking at his change drawer.

The guy behind me was jingling some coins.

“Can I get the change in town, when you’ve taken some cash?”
“Doubt it. I’ve got no change so far. The best I can do is a change receipt.”
“Ooh, Ok.. What do I do with that?”
“Take it to our depot in Outer Mongolia.” (teeny bit of embellishment there..)
“Isn’t there somewhere  a bit closer to do that?”
“Gloucester Green.”
“Oh, Ok. I’ll do that. But if you’ve got the change when I get off, can I cash it in with you?”
“No. I wouldn’t have any cash left if I did that.”
“Well you ain’t got any now..”


“Ok, I’ll take the receipt. Thanks.”

Fifteen minutes I looked up from Candy Crush. The bus had stopped, not at a bus stop.

Eh? I looked out the window. Where are we? Dunno, but everyone was piling off the bus. Speaking to the driver in turn.

“What’s going on?” I asked when it was my turn.

“Detour. High Street’s shut. The Queen’s coming.”



Strange times.

Private public spaces

Had an interesting discussion with a mate on Facebook last week around the ethics of taking photos of people in public places and putting ’em on a blog. She said that she wouldn’t like it if a photo of her was posted online and discussed without her knowing.

What is ‘public’ and what is ‘private’ is a chewy philosophical area. And I’m always struck by the ‘private’ activities people do in ‘public’ spaces (see below). To be honest, I was surprised and pleased to find out there are no rules about permission/consent (unless you want to use the photos for commercial purposes – slight qualifications outlined here).   Basically you can crack on happily.

This is so unlike academic research which is subjected to such scrutiny by ethics committees that it can be unproductively constraining, frustrating and time consuming. But going back to the Facebook discussion, just because there are no rules about this, should I photograph and post images of people without consent?

Well I’ve decided to set my own ethical standards in addition to those outlined in the above link;

  1. If someone wants their photo removed from this blog, I’ll remove it straightaway.
  2. If I’ve photographed someone and they would like a copy, I’ll email a high res version or send a print.

Job done. (As long as a train is considered a public space…)


Pick n’ mix on the 280

Not a good day for LB related reasons. But caught the 280 home from work and had the following encounter with a geezer dude. Kind of cheering…

“I went to Smithers ya’know? Smithers?”
“Ah, yeah.. W.H.Smiths…”
“Yeah. I picked up a newspaper, tucked it under my arm. £2.60 it was. £2.60. I thought I’m gonna walk out with this. Without paying like.”
“Yeah. But then I saw the man with sweets and I thought YES! I want some sweets! So I got some and thought well I’ll pay for the sweets but then walk out with the paper under my arm… You know, as if I’d already paid for it…? But then I thought Don’ Do you know what I mean??? So I paid for the paper too.”
“Do you want a sweet? There’s jelly beans and all sorts…”
“Nah, I’m fine thanks…”
“Ahhhh. Fuck!! Dropped em! [….] I’m just gonna eat them anyway. Well these ones. Not that one. Look. It’s rolled in some squishy stuff. Yuk. Look at it..  I’ll eat these though. I love jelly beans.”
“Yeah, me too…”
“Funny. Jelly beans still taste good, but other sweets from when I was a kid. They just don’t taste so good now. They put other stuff in them I think. Not nice. When I was a kid, I’d eat some sweets then do twenty laps of the room. Like round and round and round! My mum used to say ‘You ain’t having any more sweets!’ Sent me hyper they did. But I like to get sweets now and again. And like scoff em all.”
“Ha! Me too…!”
“Yeah! Maybe I need that energy rush.. Every now and again. I dunno…”
“Maybe.. Nice to meet you, I’m getting off now…”
“Well a happy Christmas to you missus!! And don’t eat too much chocolate!”


(Un)easyJet, home movies and Mexican waves

I don’t know. I get rumbles that some people think a) I make this stuff up/embellish it, or b) I actively manipulate some of the (travel) situations I find myself in to create blog fodder.

I don’t. And I wouldn’t.

Take my trip to Milan. Starting from Gatwick departure lounge. A place that still gives me anxiety sweats and prickles. Passengers for Flight Number Schmumber stood obediently under the announcement board from the second the departure gate was expected. I think we all knew easyJet rules about getting to the boarding gate on time. But nothing happened. Half an hour after the flight should have taken off, still nothing. No one moved their eyes from the board. I kept fingering the boarding pass in my bag. Just checking. Then the board changed;

‘Flight Number Schmumber. Gate 23. Gate closed’.


Pandemonium. Trolley cases burning rubber along moving walkways. The less speedy falling foul of the speedy.  Shouts of “Oy!” “Wait!” that couldn’t possibly reach easyJet staff, 15 gates away. At the gate it got a bit ranty, even though the gate wasn’t really closed. The speedy and bog standard boarders were united. The easyJet staff blamed Gatwick, passengers blamed easyJet. Then Italy scored and a Mexican wave rippled through the queue.

Once on the plane things took an unusual turn. I had an aisle seat (essential if possible). A large Italian guy dressed in a black suit and white shirt pitched up and took the middle seat next to me. Glossy mac air and glossy hair. He was Glossy Man. He cranked up his laptop and started watching a movie. Jesus of Nazareth. Without headphones.

‘Ooh.. bit controversial’, I thought. ‘No headphones? In a public type space??’

The sound was low though and other people were chittering away, so I kind of ignored it.

But then Olivia Hussey was replaced by a long, blonde haired woman in what looked like a road movie. Arty, careless shots through a car windscreen, the open road, a broad panorama of desolate scenery. Within a minute, it was over and he clicked on the next film in his itunes libary. Just seconds of footage of the same woman. Doing stuff. Cycling through a forest, walking round a house, dancing on a beach, standing in a car park.

Eh, wha?? Home movies? On a plane? With sound?  I tried not to peek but it was kind of compelling viewing. Maybe because of the seemingly careless ordinariness of the content. Maybe because I’m a sucker for reality TV.  By clip 28 I was creating narratives or imaginaries. Filling in the gaps. She was a government operative missing in action since 2003. Off the Dalmation Coast… She was a lost love, rather than the woman who might be waiting for him at arrivals. He’d lost her through his uncompromising behaviours…

“Ciao!” she shouted at the camera at one point, waving. “Ciao! Arriverderci!” I nearly shouted back.

Then the clips started to appear more haunting or sinister. For no reason. I started to watch them differentIy.

“Ti amo!” I imagined him shouting to her, his voice thick with emotion.

“Leave me alone you glossy stalker you!” she shouted back. “And take your mac air with you. Glossy bastard.”

I was relieved when we landed and she was minimised and turned off. He sped through passport control. I was stuck (as always, in the queue that stopped moving). She might have been waiting in arrivals. I don’t know.

An hour later, still on my journey, I was in the city centre.  Gridlocked in the back of a taxi, surrounded by celebrating Italian football fans. There were more Mexican waves. And an ironing board.

The tiny woman with the chair

I’ve written before about our neighbourhood in terms of the colourful characters. And posted photos*. One person I haven’t mentioned before is the tiny woman with the chair. Now she, more than Chicken Bone man reading his extreme porn in the Cafe Bonjour, disrupts social space for me. Not in a negative way. But in a “Wow! This is so unusual!” way.

I first saw her about a year ago, when she was sitting on the other side of the road, on a small, white chair, facing a row of parked cars. Bundled up in a thick coat, she was sat back from the curb, leaning forward, unmoving, staring intently ahead. People walked past her, but she remained seemingly focused and undistracted. Was she doing a traffic survey? Or some other functional task? It didn’t seem like it. She just sat.

She was still there later, when I went to the shops.

“Eeek.. ” I wondered, “Should I say hello on my way past?” But she had such a stillness, it seemed intrusive. She was sitting so privately, publicly. A few weeks later, I saw her again, in a different street. Same chair, same stillness. I mentioned her to Richy.

“Oh yeah,” he said. “I saw her sitting on the edge of the roundabout on the ring road the other day. Funny.”

Until today, I’ve seen her a few times. Always sitting. In random places. Well random to me, that is. Today was different. Today she was walking up our road. Very slowly, with the chair in one hand. Heading somewhere.

So why am I writing about a tiny woman with a chair?

Because she is breaching social rules in a way that makes visible the rigidity (and possibly the tyranny) of those rules. She is doing something that is so unusual, and yet shouldn’t be. Bit like LB being an unlikely ethnographer of the normal, she is doing nothing remotely wrong. It’s public space, after all. And people sit on their own chairs in other public spaces, in parks or lay-by’s, queuing for the New Year sales or for the launch of new games or gadgets.

Carrying around a chair and hanging out in different parts of the neighbourhood is strangely remarkable. But I wonder why more people don’t do it?

* A mate of mine recently suggested I staged these photos…I didn’t.