In Brief Encounter the emotionally-crushed Laura is told by her gossipy friend that she looks “a bit peaked” which struck me as being the posh version of “a bit peaky” which is how I’ve always said it coz I’m common.
For my American friends it means to look pale, wan, or sick. The internets seem a little unsure of the origin of the phrase but I assume it has something to do with having hit some sort of peak and crashed.
There are few better illustrations of how the utopianism of post-war urban planning and architecture came crashing down than this photo of the Ronan Point tower block in East London which partially collapsed in 1968, killing four people. Though it was caused by a gas explosion, the fact that one whole side of the building fell down was blamed on shoddy design and cheap materials, and high-rise tower blocks soon stopped being seen as visionary modernist systems for living in the clouds, but instead dehumanizing and brutalist concrete boxes — usually with the attendant problems of drugs, crime, and lifts that stink of piss.
It wasn’t always like that, I remember my Gran telling me that when new tower blocks were built down the end of her road in the 1950s people couldn’t wait to move into them because they thought they were clean, bright, and modern compared to the dingy, back-to-back Victorian terraced houses they were living in.
The estate I grew up on was fairly human-sized — each building was only two levels and every flat had a garden or balcony — but when I was a kid we loved playing on the bigger estates and tower blocks with their walkways, ramps, endless stairwells, underground car parks, and playgrounds that were like abstract concrete and steel sculpture parks. Through our eyes they were futuristic places designed for adventure but to others they were Ballardian nightmares and a scary backdrop for pop records.
When I first saw this I thought for a minute that it must be a parody of 1970s awfulness because every element — the song, the hair, the cap-sleeve t-shirts, the trousers, the starburst lighting — is so perfectly, dreadfully naff. But sadly it’s all too real. I remember New Edition dancing on Seaside Special but I must have blocked this from my memory for the sake of my sanity.
I know that strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government, and that supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony, but this does get me all misty-eyed and patriotically-roused every single time.
Given the recent news I tried to squeeze a Richard III joke into this post but came up blank.
I went out with this Spanish girl for a little while back when I lived in London and one night she asked me why British people say “sorry” all the time. I just joked that she only thought it was strange because “you foreigners are so rude” but I knew what she meant, we do seem to be perpetually apologizing for one thing or other, even for things that aren’t our fault (eg: saying sorry to a person who bumps into you). It’s as if we’re apologizing for our very existence.
The online forum British Problems lifts the lid on that part of our psyche and the way our politeness and self-effacement can reach neurotic extremes, leading to a dread of being a bother or making a fuss, horror of committing a faux pas, and hypersensitivity about what strangers think of us. In such a state, everyday life becomes a treacherous minefield of awkwardness and embarrassment.
It’s ironic that a people who once conquered and controlled half the planet should be like this. We never felt awkward about taking over another country, yet here we are worrying about inconveniencing a bus driver. Though I still think it’s preferable to the other side of the coin.
Googling around the internets for the Remember, remember nursery rhyme I came across this longer version with a second, rather blood-thirsty verse I’d never heard before.
Remember, remember the fifth of November,
gunpowder, treason and plot,
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes,
’twas his intent
to blow up the King and the Parliament.
Three score barrels of powder below,
Poor old England to overthrow:
By God’s providence he was catch’d
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, make the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!
Hip hip hoorah!
A penny loaf to feed ol’Pope,
A farthing cheese to choke him.
A pint of beer to rinse it down,
A faggot of sticks to burn him.
Burn him in a tub of tar,’
Burn him like a blazing star.
Burn his body from his head,
Then we’ll say: ol’Pope is dead.
Hip hip hoorah!
Hip hip hoorah!
Ah, the good old days, when kids would sing songs about setting fire to Catholics.
I don’t often feel homesick these days — my life here is perfectly wonderful, thanks — but I really did this weekend when the medals starting flowing. I swear I got a bit teary-eyed watching the victories of Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah, Andy Murray and the others. Not just tears of joy but sadness that I’m not there to be part of the atmosphere. It’s like the city (my city!) is throwing the best party of my lifetime and I can’t make it.