A lady with a copper frying pan on her head just walked past, followed closely by two skin-heads who may simply have been balding and shaved but they looked like skin-heads. Not far away two drunk Russians are sipping at beer cans in bags in Clapton Square, an almost dainty part of Hackney. The sun is out. Everywhere, shiny cars reflect in front windows of Victorian terraced houses and tall, slender men and women in their thirties are on bikes, often leaning back and not holding on to the handle-bars (which was once impressive). And all I can think about are the basements that are being built on this street. Everyone is getting a basement. A whole row of basements. Nothing better to do than build basements. I keep thinking about that story by M John Harrison, the one about the middle-class man who returned home from work each night and disappeared into the attic. No one knew what he was doing, until one day he disappeared up his stairway to not quite heaven. Here, in Hackney, the middle class men build down into the ground and up through the roof and out the back into the garden and no doubt elsewhere. Did they read that story? Or is M John Harrison a spook?
Otherwise, it’s toddlers in pushchairs. I realised recently that this is where we learn to love the car: in the pushchair. A Café Nero in Camden Town was full of toddlers in pushchairs. Mothers sat smoking at the back while their pale-skinned kids ran riot, throwing stuff at customers leafing through What Car? The kids became aggressive, hyped up by cookies and brownies, and increasingly possessive of their pushchairs. The leader of the pack leaped into her buggy each time she sought to prove a point, and immediately the other kids fell into line. These kids were old enough to run, shout, attack and exploit – but not old enough to walk through the streets. I propose a buggy ban.
I don’t know where this is going, but I thought of Litvinenko yesterday. I went to a meeting about forced demolitions of homes in Luanda. The meeting was at Chatham House in St James’ Square. About 12 of us sat round a large varnished table, and I imagined what it is like to be in board meetings. I was late, and squeezed in at the end. I was hot. I poured myself a glass of water from the Evian in front of me, glugged it down, then swiftly poured another and glugged that down. The meeting passed without anything particularly eventful: diplomatic ballet as usual. After we’d clapped the speaker, I stretched my arm out to pour some more Evian but the man next to me stopped me.
‘Don’t drink that,’ he said in Portuguese, ‘it’s mixed with my medication.’
‘Sshh!’ sparked the Chair.
‘I’ve already drunk it!’
He assured me I’d be OK but was very reluctant to tell me what the medication was. He must have felt ashamed, I concluded.
Viagra. I bet.