Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Walking to work

I've always loved walking, but not the sort that involves hefty boots, countryside (yawn), real ale, and facial hair.

I like walking through towns and cities, especially to and from work.

Paris was fantastic for it of course, although much of the industrial and office space is actually well outside city limits in the red suburbs, so often the distances were too far. Mind you, when the annual public transport strikes occurred, you didn't have a choice, and it was a matter of getting up an hour or two earlier and setting out, A to Z tucked into an inside pocket.

Suspiciously, the strikes always seemed to take place in June or July, when the morning walk in particular was just wonderful - cool crisp air gradually warming, making steady progress whilst thousands of Parisians sat grid-locked in their cars experiencing "le stress." The little loves, the most individually talented but collectively stupid people I've ever come across.

But the best place for a walk to work was on the face of it the most unlikely - Lowell, Massachusetts. The first place I lived was about 35 minutes from the office, past a huge cemetery and then onto a disused railway track. I'd step from sleeper to sleeper feeling like Hemingway's Nick Adams. It was a brilliantly romantic start and end to each day, and every now and again some unexpected Americana would occur.

A few times a group of pale, slightly grubby young men squatted in orange jump-suits painting the iron railings to the cemetery watched by a couple of sharp looking officers armed with rifles - "Cool Hand Luke" right in front of you. The inmates would smile weakly, and wish me good morning or a howyadoing? No greeting from the guards.

Another time walking back home on a lovely September evening, the moon was low just above the trees and looked at least five times bigger than normal. A harvest moon, shimmering, hallucinatory and an optical effect I've never seen before. I stood there gawping for a minute or two and then continued on my way home walking towards it, amazed that such things actually happened.

But the best time was another sunny evening, strolling down the rusty line, under the bridge with the slightly sinister graffiti that changed overnight, and I stop, horrified. Someone's parked a huge goods train on the "disused" track. I laugh, amazed, then squeeze carefully past flat car after flat car, past bushes bent back and broken, past a small silver birch uprooted and carried hundreds of yards jammed between the wagons, and finally up to the embankment where I turn left and up into the empty factory yard and onto the road. No end to the train, 30, 40, 50 flat cars long, curving around the bend out of sight. The railway line wasn't disused after all, merely "seldom used." The next morning the train was gone, and if it wasn't for all the damaged undergrowth, I might have dreamt it...

Despite everything that is said and written about America, the crime, the poverty, the corruption, the appalling ineptitude of its leaders, all good points, despite itself it's a magical country.


Monday, May 23, 2005

The Honda Beat

The Honda Beat

Strolling home after a delicious and very non-PC Kentucky Fried Chicken on Sunday evening, a tiny bright yellow sportscar in the carpark catches my eye.

Wow! It's a very rare Honda Beat, never offically sold in this country, but a car of such character that several brave or loony souls imported them from Japan and elsewhere in the 1990s. It's a tiny exquisite piece of design, with a mid-engined 3-cylinder engine of just 600 cc yet producing over 60 bhp.

This example was wonderful, grubby, obviously enjoyed and with a few untreated dents and scratches from its active life. There's something very miserable about sportscars that become ornaments, and spend their days being polished and dusted like some stuffy old 18th century chair, far too precious to actually sit in. Not this car - it had a wonderful slightly faded glamour that reminded me of the coolest car I've ever seen.

That was a once bright but now faded yellow 1969 Porsche 911 E coupe with great scabs of rust on both doors, scratched and dented all over from a lifetime in the Parisian traffic. I'd often see it half blocking the pavement opposite the little church of St Germain des Pres. Used, abused, but looking smug and leathal as ever... Posted by Hello


Sunday, May 01, 2005

The Day of the Triffids

Not the famous novel by John Wyndham, nor (thankfully) the awful film, not even a repeat of the workmanlike BBC TV adaptation from the early 1980s.

No, this was a brave attempt at a play put on at the Wolsey theatre in Ipswich. Friend and ex-colleague Steve kindly organised the tickets and a group of us went along.

It's a great story I'd not really thought about for many years, although 28 Days Later, Night of the Comet, and doubtless many other "end of the world" sci-fi borrows from it. Bravely, the producers had decided to keep it set in the 1950s, which suits the stiff-upper lip English dialogue lifted straight from the book. What was striking was how morally tough, even ruthless, our heros are. Despite being a love story, there's precious little touchy-feely stuff going on here.

John Wyndham, like so many of his generation, had boyhood memories of World War 1, and saw action in World War 2. These experiences must have hardened a pretty rigid and outwardly unemotional society - at least, that's how the characters in Day of the Triffids appear. You get the impression that Bill, the main character, has already seen at least one city completely destroyed, and seeing the end of London is some sense more of the same.

As for the Triffids, well they provide the snag that's so important to all end of the world stories. Without dangerous monster plants, or zombies, or aliens to bugger things up it's just too utopian to imagine yourself amongst a handful of people with an entire country to plunder. Imagine the house you'd carefully select, not to mention your car collection, and works of art "liberated" from major museums and galleries...

Anyway, the play was great fun and will hopefully be put on again somewhere else (London perhaps?) soon. If so, go and see it. Posted by Hello