Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Beat them at their own game

The noise was in full flow when I got in from work tonight. But I think I've made a breakthrough. I think tonight's racket came from a computer game, judging by the way the music starts up and stops, without musicological reason.

Might try and record the hubbub tomorrow nigh, see if anyone can tell me what game they're playing. If you can't beat them, beat them up on Xbox.

Can you tell what it is yet?

Sorry to drone on, but they’re at it again. The occupants of the flat below me. (Or should that be ‘beneath me’. Where’s Simon Heffer when you need him?)

Last night, their favourite CD by the indeterminate European balladeer (I imagine long hair, though) was started up at television-drowning-out volume around 8pm – just after I passed the perpetrator in the lift. She was wearing sunglasses (after dark, and In. The. Lift.) and seemed taken aback when I said ‘hello’, unsure how to answer.

Luckily for me, the hammer-like thuds from her bassed-up stereo were replaced after an hour or so by some heartstoppingly fast house music. Repeat until midnight.

Naturally, the entryphone was left answered. It being a Bank Holiday Monday, there was no one ‘personning’ the Hackney Noise hotline. The police were adamant that, although I couldn’t hear my television above the thuds, that reading or sleeping were both out of the question, and that my anger was rising by the bpm, it wasn’t a matter with which they could trouble themselves.

“If it was coming from a parked car, or a party in a neighbours garden, I could send someone round. If it’s coming from indoors, it’s a council matter. We can’t even ring their bell,” said the copper, clearly a fellow Anita Ward fan.

So now what? Hackney Council haven’t called me back to discuss my case (they’ve got a dicky ansamachine so I don’t hold out that they will), and my management company RMG don’t seemed too concerned either. They don’t seem concerned about much, in fact. It took them months to replace security locks that actually locked – and when they got round to it, the handles were upside down.

Will no one rid me of these troublesome neighbours?

I fear a Falling Down moment coming on.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

I know what I didn't do this summer

Now that’s autumn’s here, a list of things I had meant to do this summer but didn’t get round to.

* Go kayaking on the River Lea.

• Have a pint of Youngs with my grandad in the canalside beer garden of the Princess of Wales, E5 (which I refer to as “ver Diana”. Which annoys even me).

• Pick a useful quantity of blackberries from Leyton / Walthamstow Marshes. (I did, however, manage to make elderflower cordial from creamy blooms picked thereupon.)

• Dust off my telescope (a Christmas present, consigned to the cupboard for space reasons) and moon-gaze.

• Decorate my flat. Never seemed to have the time. Or the dustsheets. Or the paintbrushes. Etc.

Oh, well. There’s always next summer.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Cows must safely graze

It's that time of year when a herd of cows take over Leyton Marshes for a good feed.

Luckily there's enough mellow fruitfulness for the rest of us to feast on. I'll be out next weekend with my hemp bag, gathering blackberries. I'll save the acorns for those Good Lifers who keep pigs.

Noisy neighbours: now I've asked nicely...

Music: “live” recordings of party songs, each sounding like the Lambada, sung by a Julio Iglesias-lite rock balladeer. For variety, intersperse with ear-splitting nondescript Euro-house.

Food: Burst-to-a-crisp barbecue ‘fayre’?

Drink: Fosters from a bucket of ice.

Guests: drunk, sweary harridans, agressive 'machos'.

Conversation: drunken, sweary, in a foreign language.

Could this be a recipe for the worst house party in the world?

Yes. Unfortunately, judging from the thick grey smoke enveloping my balcony and the racket reverberating through my apartment, that very party is going on right now, in the flat beneath me.

Preparations for the world’s worst party (as thrown by the least considerate neighbours I’ve ever had the misfortunate to rub along with) began noisily shortly after 10am this morning. The barbecue-related fun hasn’t let up yet - but at 7.30pm, the night is still young.

The songs and conversation – if off-key singing-along and incosiderately loud, sweary chit-chat qualifies as such – is in Portuguese. But on the sound clip I recorded (click below), you can clearly make out a few choice Anglo-Saxonisms.

All in all, it’s made for a delightful day. I'm exhausted.

I was particularly thrilled when my partner went and tried to "have a word" around 4pm, and was told by one occupant of the flat that, no, she wouldn’t be turning the music down as it was her birthday.

Minutes later, another reveller, a male who was fairly... agitated, popped his head up above the floor of my balcony. A strange way to start a neighbourly conversation, especially when (a) I live four floors up, (b) you must have to stand on someone’s shoulders to reach from the balcony below (bit precarious, that), and (c) apart from a bit of cuss-strewn abuse, all you can really say is “I don’t speak English”.

I’m waiting for Hackney Noise to return either of the calls I left for them today. But I fear they may not - as their ansamachine explains that the office phone is on the blink but that they'll try and respond to messsages in ten days. Only if it’s not too much trouble.

So my only hope is that my Portuguese-speaking party people have their fill of exchanging raucous witticisms over over-cooked sausages, get tired of the nth replay of their Brazilian stadium rocker’s greatest hits album “en vivo”, turn it off and let all of the residents around Leyton Marshes have a better night than we’ve had an afternoon putting up with them.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Hot daubs

The might of Hackney’s anti-graffiti team (well, two blokes in a van) was out in force in my neck of the woods this morning.

A fortnight ago, some protective wooden boards went up along the Lea Navigation next to Millfields Park, as the waterway is being dredged. Naturally, within days, the bare wood panels had attracted a few graffiti tags - but nothing to get too het up about.

Then, this morning, as I was put through my paces on the park's parallel bars by my personal trainer, Murat, I was surprised that a couple of council workers were busy painting over the graffiti with black splodges. Well, one was grafting with the paintbrush, while the other sat in the van, fiddling with the radio. Either way, pretty quick going for Hackiney. It's taken them months to get to grips with my noisy neighbours, but that's not for here.

Once the daubings were blotted out by uneven but not entirely artless blocks of black Dulux, thus…

…the council lads retired to the van, put their feet on the dash, and had a well-earned half hour’s rest. That's good use of Hackney Council's money.

However, in just a few hours, the rather eycatching black blobs seem to have attracted more attention than the graffiti tags ever did.

After lunch, while I pedalled back from a quick pootle on the bike along Chatsworth Road, I noticed a cheeky young fellow (top off, but way too young and skinny for me) not spray-painting graffiti on the hoardings, but doing proper sketching. In charcoal. (You get a classier kind of urban artist in E5.)

He was adding leaves to a lovely tree he'd scamped out, next to the legend “Love is the answer”. A quote, presumably, from the late John Lennon’s ‘Mind Games’. As far as I know the only connection the late Beatle had with Clapton was the guitar solo on While My Guitar Gently Weeps, but that's what you get if you do research for your A-Level art project on Wikipedia.

I’ll pop along later to see what else the saucy little scamp has done. Could I have witnessed The New Banksy at work?

Get out of my bike box!

I've only just been steered towards these Guardian posts about one of my favourite bugbears: whether cars and motorbikes are allowed in the cycle boxes (Advance Stop Zones) at traffic lights.

The answer is an equivocal...no. The comments alone make the journey through more than 200 comments worthwhile.


Thursday, 5 August 2010

Another rider down

Another London cyclist was knocked off her bike today.

According to reports, a thirtysomething woman was hit by a black cab at the corner of Graham Road and Navarino Road shortly after midday. It's a relatively fast stretch of road, one that takes you from the snarl-ups in Hackney Central, a place you might reasonably want to get away from as fast as possible. Trouble is, the road is criss-crossed by bike lanes.

Cycling in London – and its safety or otherwise – has been playing on my mind lately, not least because of the launch last month of the new bike hire scheme, which is bringing thousands of under-experienced riders onto the roads. How long before the first 'Boris Bike' goes under a bus?

Soon, if the statistics are anything to go by. On average about eight cyclists per year are killed by lorries in London, accounting for about half the cyclist deaths in the capital.

But lately - in the couple of weeks since the bike-hire scheme was unwrapped, and London's ludicrous cycle superhighways were declaed open – I've noticed the roads have become ever-so slightly angrier.

Are drivers frustrated by all the attention that's been given to the cycling cause of late? Does the sight of people on two wheels merrily weaving through traffic (and, in certain cases, jumping through red lights) get their blood up? Do they, perhaps, just feel that they're missing out?

It could be the unexpected/unusually/unseasonally (delete as appropriate) warm summer that we've been having causing road users to be that little bit tetchier with each other. But on my daily ride to work, I feel more, shall we say, targetted than usual.

Now, I am one of those pious cyclists who uses lights after dark, wears a helmet and flourescent gubbins, indicates when turning, stops at lights... you know, good-practice Highway Code stuff. But in recent weeks I've had a saloon sat in traffic in a turn-left lane pull out on me as I passed along The Mall. I've had an arctic accelerate behind me on Upper Street and bib me out of the way. It's now a daily occurence for oncoming cars to swerve dangerously into my path as they go between the bumps of sleeping policemen,.

Speaking of which, today I was so incensed by a police car stopping at the lights full-square in a bikes-only Advanced Stop box in Trafalgar Square that I rode to the front, positioned myself ahead of it, and in full view of the driver, took down the registration. (I've no idea what to do with it, but I think he got the message.)

All of which is why I've bought myself a new piece of kit - a mini cycling camera. It's call the Veho Cam Muvi, costs about £75 from Cycle Surgery, and when worn on a shoulder strap of your rucksack, records your journey. Just like this guy. Might be handy in case I *do* have an accident.

Smile, idiot drivers.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Hackney Empire state of mind

The new Arcade Fire album, The Suburbs, is a bit of alright. And long. But not as earnest as their previous (which I loved on first listen), nor quite as everything-and-the-kitchen-sink, production-wise - though I do believe, in between the synths and accordion, I just heard a hurdy-gurdy. Lovely.

Shame I missed them when they played almost on my doorstep last week, at the Hackney Empire. Judging from the reviews, they turned in a fine show.

Ticket-less, I had half a mind to mill around outside after the gig, just to play spot-the-journalist-from-the-posh-national-papers. The ones looking disconcerted at being in Hackney after dark, with no hope of a black cab. I bet Biddle Bros on Lower Clapton Road ran out of brandy. Nurse!

Keep Hackney Tidy

I was cheered to read in the Hackney Gazette of a near-neighbour of mine (hi, Peter Dixon of Woodmill Road, E5!) who confronted a worker at the Olympic Park throwing a plastic bottle into the River Lea. He’s a man after my own heart – and a Hackney cyclist too - but in fronting up to a litter-bug, a braver man than I.

Mr Dixon was recently cycling along the towpath when he saw a female worker, in her hi-viz jacket (!), toss her empty into the river. When he stopped his bike and asked her what she was doing, she said: “I’m throwing it away. It’s rubbish.” She was 100m away from a litter bin.

It’s the kind of thing that makes my blood boil – but which also reminds me of how impotent I feel as an admittedly scaredy-cat individual to do anything about it.

I can count on one hand the times I’ve shouted “Oi! Pick that up” - often from a safe distance. Each time, I’ve been greeted with an earful or ignored.

Is this where the Big Society comes in? Mr Dixon reported the Olympic employee to the contractors’ depot – but I very much doubt anything will happen. And ticking off a lazy, anti-social civil servant is not the same as confronting a group of kids who drop crisp packets in a park, or the driver who pulls up behind you at the lights and tosses an empty plastic bottle into your cycle path. A filthy look gathers no litter.

So what am I doing wrong? I wonder if hamming it up and over-doing the politeness – picking up the litter and handing it back with an “Oh, I’m *so* sorry, but you just dropped this…” – would have a different effect. But, I suspect, rather than being given the usual teeth-kiss, I’d have them smacked in instead.

Given that Boris Johnson wants us to put an end to the walk-on-by society by encouraging us to become more active citizens - or "vigilantes", as they used to be called - how do you successfully shame a litterbug without it requiring a trip to casualty?

Of course, there's always this approach. But any more ideas?