Category Archives: London Mumbo

Unisex & Disabled

Today, we went to a restaurant called Portland for lunch to celebrate Geth’s birthday.

‘I wonder why it’s called Portland,’ I mused, questioning, whimsical.

‘Because it’s on Great Portland Street. They’ve also got one called Clipstone. That’s on Clipstone street. ‘

At half time I went to the toilets downstairs.

There were 3 cubicles.

One read Ladies, one read Gentlemen, and on the third was this:

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Apart from disabled people and impatient people*, for whom is this cubicle intended?

People who are both genders. But wouldn’t this need to say Hermaphrodite & Disabled?

People who are neither gender. Is this actually possible? Scarlett Johansson had this sort of thing going on in Under the Skin, but she was an alien. Do aliens go for lunch on Great Portland Street? Maybe. But would they get bogged down in toilet terminology? Bogged down. Maybe.

Some other possibilities that might make this option clearer: No-sex & Disabled. Sexless & Disabled. Gender Free & Disabled. Genderless & Disabled. None of these work.

People who are transitioning between genders. But don’t they identify with one gender, or other, regardless?

People who might expect, or wish for, the inside of the toilet to be partisan to neither sex. No pink loo roll dollies. No copies of What Car?

People who don’t like to be defined by gender. But would the way they use the toilet be any different to the way they’d use one of the ones that had different signs on the door? (Same argument here for what is the point of having signs on individual doors at all.) Maybe not, but the option is a mark of respect for their choices.

But is the fact that some people dislike gender labels that sensitive of a subject on a generalised level that it needs to be reflected in toilet signs? There aren’t meat apologies on the menu to vegetarians. Or political disclaimers at the bottom of the wine list. And so on.

People who are disabled AND fit into one of the categories above. This is really quite niche. I’m not sure this is about emptying bladders at this point. This is now about agenda.

Why do Unisex & Disabled go together? Why can’t Unisex run alongside Ladies or Gentlemen, in a similar way, seeing as only one usage is intended to be accommodated at any one time?

Would disabled people (if you could group them together in such a way, which you can’t, which is surely somewhere in the ballpark of why a unisex option has been created in the first place) feel annoyed if they saw someone unisex coming out of what is traditionally, primarily their toilet, even though they knew they didn’t have the right specifically, seeing as this sign designates that particular cubicle for dual usage. Would they even know if the person coming out was unisex? Would they wonder what they had in common with them such that this group of people had been given a shared billing? Because I don’t think it’s an overclaim to say that disabled people are, generally, ‘Ladies’ or ‘Gentlemen’. Which is to say not that they fit into some sort of 3rd gender category, simply that they require better access/ more room/ different facilities etc.

Why would Unisex require any of the extenuating features (exampled above) demanded by disabled toilets, anyway? Might it not be more accurate to offer the title share to sub-sections of people who could benefit from the extras? Groups Of Drug Users & Disabled. Generously-Built People & Disabled. And so on.

Would disabled people feel that Unisex had been added to their cubicle in a minority dumping ground gesture? As if everything that comes under ‘Other’ can go in their cubicle, because the perfect primary male/ female differentiator can’t be messed with in any sense. I mean, purr-lease.

If the person leaving the Unisex & Disabled cubicle actually was both unisex (by any of the definitions above) AND disabled (a niche combo, we’ve established, but not impossible), would the disabled person suddenly feel like they had less of a right to go into the cubicle, or would they just be charmed by the absolute appropriateness, on this rare occasion, of the exiting person using this very specifically-labelled cubicle?

Might they even be moved to challenge them. ‘I say- cheeky- but I can see that you’re disabled. Are you also unisex?’ ‘Take a hike! Lots of women wear slacks these days.’ (That would be rude, because the person asking was just trying to alight upon something neat and very random- not only an irresistible combination, but one you don’t get much of in life.)

Of course, they might not be this rude at all. They might say, ‘Yes, I am. Thank you for noticing. But go ahead and use that toilet without feeling like it’s any the less for you. You’re totally welcome in that cubicle. I’ll wait here, so we can figure out together how to get back up these non-disabled access stairs.’ (The Unisex & Disabled toilet was downstairs, if you were wondering if that was just a tasteless joke.)

Would children come down and think, ‘I don’t feel well represented here’? 

Babies would surely feel that, especially when they find out there is no changing bed thing for them in Ladies, Gentlemen, OR Unisex & Disabled. How bloody marginalised can you get, they’d think.

Anyway, the bathroom sinks were communal and had lovely Aesop hand wash and hand cream in I-trust-you restraint-free holders.

And the meal was really delicious.

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*People who are impatient (ie. any gender) and (separately) disabled people. Gender matters not. Ah, yes. This is the one. Sweet irony…

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November 25, 2016 · 11:02 pm

I hate playing

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This mini post is about a small personal triumph, within a broader context of failure.

I hate playing: pointless, wholesome, innocent, care-free, life-giving enjoyment.

I like fun, which is naughty. And sports, where stuff happens. And board games, when someone might land on your Mayfair hotel and make the delicious face of impending defeat.

Less so the therapist stuff, where you re-discover your childish lack of inhibition.

I’m what you might call ‘outcome-focused’- or crap at taking practical jokes.

Everyone in the family has clocked this.

Gethin knows that if he lobs a bouncy ball at my head when I’m cooking, it won’t end with us running gleefully through the house towards a sexy pillow fight.

It’ll end like the incident 15 years ago when he licked my cheek with a chocolate tongue, at a cashpoint: that is, humourlessly, with ‘I’m not laughing’ and a row down the King’s Road.

Bruno knows we have outings, and discussions, and do activities where we stick diodes into lemons, to activate a light.

Rufus knows we do art for birthday cards, or to raise money, or to stop mentalising other diners at restaurants.

No-one ever came home and found me with socks on my ears, getting involved with Lego.

The trouble is, other peoples’ kids aren’t always on board with the concept.

At playdates, they’re not shy in expressing their appetite for entertainment, when you fail to materialise with a gingerbread-making kit.

This necessitates The Talk:

See here, Johnny, seems you and I disagree fundamentally on the play-date model. You regard me as a sort of Jangles the Clown, or Mr Fiddles, or whatever his name is. Whereas, I view you as a bundle of fun I import in exchange for board and temporary lodging. I wouldn’t want to call you a playtime prostitute- that would be wrong, and your mother wouldn’t like it. But are we approaching an understanding?

Make my dinner, old woman.

Last night, we had Arthur over. Arthur understands the playdate model; no- he invented it.

He’s so much fun I get close to ditching the onion-chopping, to join in robots.

So, he says, We’re going to hide. Will you act mean and come and find us?

Arthur- the clever little bugger- has found my sweet spot.

Because if there’s one thing I LOVE doing, it’s scaring people: that fabulous moment when their features distort, and they lose all of that boring, studied composure.

Children are especially great, because they spook easily.

Now you’re talking, Arthur. Now, you’re shaking things up. Forget tigers coming to tea and eating up all of Daddy’s dinner. Let’s simulate the hunt and some limb-tearing.

I’ve got form, too. I still remember the sweet screaming of my tiny childhood friend and her sister, terrorised onto my bunkbed, gripping each other for dear life, when I became ‘The Ogre’.

So, away go the kids and I get into character. I’m borrowing heavily from the Wicked Witch of Oz. There’s Angie from Eastenders in there, along with Katie Hopkins’ nostrils. 

And I’m off. Chasing them up the stairs, into the bedrooms, around the garden, cackling and promising to throw their smelly little bodies into my soup, after mirthless tickling.

And they’re all bright pink cheeks, and terrified little faces, and shrieks caught in pumping chests.

When he leaves, Arthur lisps huskily to Rufus, Your Mum is SO scary! She’s almost like a real witch! It gives you the frights inside.

RESULT.

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May 25, 2016 · 10:02 am

Goodbye, Urban Shed

This will be my most boring-ever post (I hope).

I’m going to get away with it because it’ll be tagged under ‘commemorative’ and ‘writing therapy’, and because the hordes aren’t stopping by in their droves for my wisdom anyway.

Silly to get attached to things, but I’m feeling strangely sentimental about getting rid of the car.

A smooth piece of kit is lush, and a ride in someone else’s cracker’s a thrill.

But I’ve never been seduced around a showroom, or put myself in the market to shell out chunky monthly payments for an irresistible nift-rocket; if it displaces from A to B, and struggles to go above the speed limit (thereby curtailing Speed Awareness course compulsory attendances), then job done.

So why can’t I bring myself to scrap the Picasso?

Seven and a half years ago we pitched up at a car dealers in Sussex and ‘chose’ the car.

Which is to say, we stumbled in blindfolded, spun around, and pointed wildly, hoping there were no fridges on the forecourt.

They tried to launch into a cute back-story, but we stopped them with a version of  ‘You had me at hello’, which was the bit when they made the introduction: ‘Or how about this cheap car…’

Nevertheless, it seemed like a lot of money at the time, Mum reminding me only recently that I had cried writing out the cheque- surely an unrecorded level of lameness.

Once home, the Picasso went about under the radar doing its job quietly, which is perhaps what’s imbuing it with this sense of nobility.

Because, really, it defied medical science. It should have perished years ago. When I drove it in last for its M.O.T, the garage guy said, ‘What the hell are you still doing with this hunk of junk?’

There are fond memories of denting the side on a trip to the countryside, and of customizing it with black-smudge parallel lines trying to squeeze out of a Horsham multi-story car-park; the pinging-off of the wing-mirror cruising off-bonk through the bollards before Barnes bridge, the stump to be hence-after lovingly duct-taped by Mum or Dad every time I hurtled South to see them.

Or the punctured tank in Cornwall, necessitating pit-stops on blind hills- a motor-vehicle with a man’s legs sticking out between the back wheels.

… or the dropped exhaust pipe, the caked-on bird poo, tree sap residue, and weird African dust wind thing.

… the jaunty penalty charge photographs captured of the Picasso in a loading bay; turning right on a left-turn only; now zooming freely down the bus-only lane, wind in hair.

… the way it was referred to by its name and mark, like there are some people who seem to need their surnames for the sake of completeness: ‘Auntie Sophie was talking about it in the Citroen Picasso’; ‘Waved at you in the Citroen, but you were jumping a red light’.

And the interior… sweet baby lamb, no excuse: C.Ds, sticker books, gas bills, wetsuits, fishing net, cricket bat, coal pieces, Buzz Lightyear, Haribo wrappers, plastic dinosaurs, the sun-stained re-usable ‘machine not working’ note written in eye-liner on the back of a receipt- all manner of slovenly paraphernalia belonging to a family contributing more than their fair share to the downfall of a civilization, leaving Westfield’s valeting team with an annual look of PTSD on their exhausted, disbelieving faces.

Quietly cranking on regardless. Failing to read C.D’s. Giving false LED messages about servicing requirements. Interior door handle staying in hand rather than on door. The giving-up of the remote locking system.

But faithful, cute as a button, and thief-immune in its sublime undesirability.

So the garage guy’s sold us his ex-wife’s car, and a new low-rent love affair begins. It’s got a special space to put your coffee and water bottle- fairly upmarket.

Meanwhile, Bruno’s incubating shit-car lust: ‘Are second-hand cars better, because you already know they can work?’

Time to breathe deeply, and get onto rewardingrecylcing.co.uk.

R.I.P, Citroen.

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Note To All Users

The written word is premeditated.

You can’t just blurt out nonsensicals, unless you’ve got weird fingers.

In theory, it should say what it means.

Interpretations may differ.

What is left unsaid can also be relevant.

But occasionally, pretty much the entirety of a piece of communication conveys a meaning other than its apparent one.

(Is this a feature particular to the English language, and/ or simply the British polite/ sarcastic/ passive-agressive thing?)

I found a funny example of this in B’s school staff toilet:

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So it’s a small note asking everyone who uses the toilet to leave it in a decent shape.

It’s cute (‘little’ x 2); non-confrontational (!!!); proper (‘most appreciated’, ‘adjacent’); and light-hearted (‘it’s not an ornament!!’)

Only, of course it’s not.

It’s a very non-little message to one singularly demented person (they all know who that is!) who is repeatedly leaving the shithole in a shithole (‘I mean, what the HELL? Can’t they SEE it’s still floating?!), from a group of staff members who have liberally bitched about it in the staffroom and- sorry, but they’re going to have to say something.

It says:

‘DUDE, FFS!’

I resisted the temptation to graffiti it with some light sparks coming off the top loo, an offending beastie rearing its head from the bottom one, and a ‘me again! x’ sign-off, mainly because it has been solicitously laminated by someone who marks homework with a set of (strictly) colour-coded pens.

 

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Intro to Massage Workshop

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Yesterday, I did a 5-hour introductory massage course in Covent Garden, with a view to ingratiating myself with kin and well-behaved house guests over the cold Winter months.

On arrival it wasn’t that dissimilar in feel to the Speed Awareness one I did a few months back, but for being held in a tropically-heated basement, attendees clutching a towel and baby wipes.

The online blurb described a theory-weighted programme with some have-a-go hands action at the end.

In the flesh, soothing vegetarian music and amber lights made it 2 chromosomes short of a Gentle Touch sex workshop.

We were 16 souls, mostly paired: friends, office workmates, yoga mom and punky daughter- amongst which at least 3 individuals quietly desirous of unleashing lessons learned on a hottie, armed with some vanilla-scented candles and Michael Buble’s Best Hits.

Oh, and not forgetting (though trying to avoid making eye contact with) one peaceful, hand-locked couple a few wheatgrass shots down, on the cusp of asking if Spiritual Lovemaking would be covered before or after lunch.

I could have been partnered with the Keen Bean hellbent on getting his knuckle-fold just so, whilst grappling with premature expression syndrome.

Or the middle-aged Swinger Hopeful in the graphic personality shirt confusing his Eastern European gal pal with What’s My Line? mime artist moves around her shoulder area during Circle Friction.

Lady Luck dealt me instead a well-built Muscovite in a cycling shirt, reassuringly functional in approach, with the look of Putin’s kinder brother.

Our instructor- let’s call her Karen- was an affable Liverpudlian who started every sentence with ‘Obviously’ even having established that none of us knew a massage from a vulnerable Kellogg’s employee.

She sure as eggs wasn’t going to let preparation get in the way of proceedings, taking deep breaths in – looking at her instruction sheet as if at virgin news- before exhaling all the apparently irrelevant info on the out breath, in order to ‘freestyle’.

For friends-and-family casual pummeling tips it’s all about the moves, she affirmed. So sleeves were rolled up within 10 minutes and our clothed orgy was out of the starting blocks.

It’s quite weird laying hands on a stranger you probably gave the evil eye to on the Tube 20 minutes earlier. Weirder still how quickly it becomes normal.

Corny yes, but how many wars would be waged after a summit of back rubbing? Obama leaning into a bit of Merkel shoulder pinching?

Karen made it all look like hand ballet, flowing wrist actions easing supplicant ‘receivers’ into The Land of Grateful Surrender.

Now, I wouldn’t say I was hurting Vlad per se but he wasn’t moaning ‘more more’ either and it mightn’t be a stretch to imagine he was hoping I wasn’t the escort he’d booked for the evening based on my assault of his seated torso.

Thankfully, when he did give feedback he was solicitous for it to contain all the emotion of a shipping forecast- a code to which each of us adhered like George Alagiah (the heady couple excepted, with their all-too-audible whispers of ‘Ooh yeah, do it like that, that’s how I like it. Jesus…’)

When we progressed onto ‘Hands’ it felt like mine and Vlad’s relationship had moved to second base, forearm stroking proving more intimate than neck squeezing, via the slopping on of baby oil.

One student slightly hit the nail on the head by asking, ‘What’s the point of pulling fingers?’ but Karen hammered it down harder, a soft Paul McCartney fresh from a Youtube philosophy tutorial : ‘Basically, it’s just nice to be touched.’

‘Feet’ took it up an even steeper notch, after which my partner (the proverbial last man a few hours prior) started to look like a cocoa-dusted Ryan Gosling, from which the conclusion I’d be romantically drawn to a dog if it could see its way to a bit of light effleurage (with the paddy bit of its paws, question mark)

Feet, though: not for everyone- an oddly shameful body part never allowed wholly to dissociate from Odor Eaters…

The guard of the group is down at this stage.

Some personal information is being divulged behind me and eager Sam is laughing an awful lot, while Vlad and I are relieved to find ourselves walking the tightrope of warmth and coolth without wobbling.

We’ve made some technical improvements in a short amount of time. I’ve told him not to do the thing when he sticks his finger in my Achilles heel tendon; he’s discouraged my karate chops, moving them away from brutality toward punishment.

To be honest, I reckon that our therapeutic foray has the potential to turn into a more full-blooded education without substantial resistance from the majority, given an extra 24 hours in residence and a few carefully chosen refreshments* (*included).

But for the time-being we remember ourselves and there’s only half an hour left…how to close this bite-sized sensory adventure?

With what other than the sublime Indian Head Massage, possibly still illegal in Alabama.

Involving a litany of finger titillation so scrummy it’d be a wonder if a few weren’t left gasping ‘Jurassic Park’, it’s hard to joke down this smorgasbord of sensuality; temple-encircling, scalp tapping, dry shampooing- all there for the taking.

I may have been babbling ‘Keep pulling my hair’ or ‘say something in Russian’ as Karen was bringing us back into the room, back into the room with hand-outs and the offer to spend more tutored Sundays ducking the responsibility of ferrying kids to birthday parties.

A day spent well, no doubt. Its projected legacy beyond the inexpert grappling of those foolish enough to stray within my fervent reach?

The certainty that massage is a truly skilful skill and that even when asked to apply more pressure, you need to keep the best interests of your thumbs at heart.

Unless the person asking is a circumspect Russian with a wide neck; in which case best not to take any chances.

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Sweet Shop

Acton is an unbeautiful place and we live in cynical times.

Corner shops are unglamorous and formulaic.

This is the Seven 2 Eleven at the end of my road:

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Picture it inside: it is entirely regular, with a central aisle shelf of essential tin items, one brand of kitchen towel, toothpaste etc; a rack with crisps; chiller cabinet with chocolate milk and Lucozade and plastic cheese.

This corner shop was robbed a few months ago in a nasty balaclava raid my lovely neighbour was unfortunate enough to be involved in as she walked past.

This evening I went to get some milk and noticed these little pictures with prices on all over the large, tiered chocolate display. Some are resting, others are mounted on lollipop sticks.

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It’s hard to see from these pictures but every one is a small original painting. When you pick them up they are stiff with the paint.

‘Look at these little paintings,’ I said. ‘Who did them?’

‘I did’, said the chap. ‘I wanted to make them like naive cave paintings.’

Time, imagination and talent attached (unnecessarily) to a cheap, fast-moving consumer good: sweet.

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Getting Out of Your Head

Getting out

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April 14, 2013 · 5:16 pm