A series of hard-hitting tidbits about London life, including an insight into the cultural icon that is Henry Hoover.
The pandemic isn’t linear or coherent. I started writing an article about my claustrophobic thoughts about an unknown lockdown. A city that once paid no attention is now all ears, in the wake of sirens marking time — as the only time stamp they move through the streets faster than anything else. The sirens cut loud, continue for longer, can be heard from farther away. Consequences: Listening to the wind I dream all sorts. I dream long and strange and weird. We still can’t see the horizon. Confusion; contradictions; dithering. Any article about the pandemic is merely a jumbled mess, because as much as we fumble for stories — my bread and butter and the things we all turn to to make sense of the world — none exist. About this time every day the family next door comes into their backyard into the sun for about 15 minutes. The kids’ shouts are pure joy and happiness. London: Pandemic Epicentre. TouchDown Feb 23, LockDown March 24. The London I stepped into is an episode of ‘Black Mirror’. Let’s hope we get through this in better shape than Charlie Brooker’s protagonists. A friend’s dog that has never barked at planes before, when they were a constant overhead, now barks at each and every isolated and intermittent plane that flies over. In April 2020 I read a piece about goats coming into the Welsh town Llandudno. The author writes: ‘The world’s metropolises ... are now silent save for the strange duet of birdsong and sirens.’ I love that sentence and wish I’d written it. I wish that sentence had never been written. Some birds of prey flush out other birds by mimicking the emergency call of the birds they’re hunting: The hunted birds flee the safety of the tree into the air where the hunter dives in. The sirens of London float above all else; like foreigners from our pasts, swathing through the city. Last month was an eternity. Meme: A woman from the 1950s holding a cell phone. In a speech bubble: ‘It’s Kurt Cobain calling, he says we’re stupid and contagious.’ I imagine the virus is knife-edged and stone-sharpened, smooth and without mitigation. That’s not true. I once conceived the virus as a 1980s boy band version of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, but that’s not true either. If, when we get out of this — and I have to believe we’ll get out of this — we find we’re worse off than any one of Charlie Brooker’s protagonists, then we’re in so much trouble. The politicians say, “We’re in this together”, but only when it suits. Anxious: I avoid people, fearful; when all I want to do is smile and chat and make friends.
The Henry Hoover Rap by Zound Asleep Productions
Happy Alley by Kevin MacLeod (Filmmusic.io Standard License); [email protected]
Henry I Love You by Mack Whitwood
Henry the Hoover by The Horne Section
Henry Hoover as a flame thrower
Twitter & Instagram: @LDNbylockdown
A fete in a cemetery, a tiny underground mail train, and a museum in a shopping centre. Come and celebrate everything that’s NOT the British Museum. ************************** Nunhead Cemetery Open Day Bug hunts, whittling workshops, crypt tours, a petting zoo, ice cream — a ‘typical’ open day. It’s spring and there’s still a chill to the air, but after months of lockdown we’re enjoying being outside. Before arriving if you’d asked me who’d be at the open day I’d have said three history buffs and a dog — but the place is bustling with hundreds of people: market stalls, a community choir, a ‘murder of goths’ (about 30, I’d say). The cemetery is being re-wilded, and as the forest reclaims the place, the wildlife has returned — mostly birds and squirrels, but on one walk we took here in the depths of the winter lockdown, on an overcast day with snow all around, we saw foxes darting between the gravestones and trees. Today, though, there are too many people for foxes. We finish at a pop-up cafe near the Scottish Martyrs monument, with tea and scones and jam. My nan used to make scones like that. The five Martyrs campaigned for parliamentary reform, and for their troubles were transported to Australia in 1794. Mail Rail (Postal Museum) Tunnels running east–west under London carrying narrow gauge driverless trains and delivering millions of letters a day. What more could you want? Royal Mail began as the personal mail service of one of the English kings. Some time later, if you could afford it, you could send letters where the recipient paid for them ...
It’s almost the end of 2020. As a special gift for getting through a hard year, in this bonus episode we share one of our all time favourite pieces of radio, and a holiday classic: ‘Xmas in Merimbula’ by Kayla (then aged 8). ************************** Some 30 years ago, aged 17, I first heard The Pogues’ ‘Fairytale of New York’ and fell in love with the city, the band and the song — and all the complexities and contradictions within. Unlike so many other Xmas songs, there’s nothing sentimental here: “It was Christmas eve, babe; in the drunk tank. An old man said to me, ‘Won’t see another one’. And then he sang a song: ‘The Rare Old Mountain Dew’. I turned my face away and dreamed about you.” It’s not a song of solace, but a cautionary tale. There but for the grace… As the years have passed, ‘Fairytale…’ has migrated in from the margins. Nowadays it’s played in supermarkets, and since 2005 it returns annually to the top 20 charts — MacColl’s beautiful voice (she grew up in Croydon, South London, not far from here) perfectly counters McGowan’s character’s dirty murky syntax. And when listeners turn from McGowan’s scowl to MacColl’s songfulness for comfort, they fall victim to a beautifully rendered ambush: “They’ve got cars big as bars, they’ve got rivers of gold, but the wind goes right through you it’s no place for the old.” Who are these people? I get preoccupied with a song’s words. In retrospect, I always have. I listen to songs as a writer, zeroing in on utterances, while Shona draws meaning from the music, listening as a musician. She plays guitar, ukulele, piano, and sings. I ...
In this episode we turn our attention to those everyday sounds we often overlook: the creaks, the squeaks, the buzzes and the pops that we build our daily soundtracks around without necessarily noticing. ************************** Whenever travelling in a new place it’s easy for our attention to be hijacked by the grandiose: the British Museum, Tower of London, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge. End to end, our flat is a modest 32 footsteps. At first, when we paused to listen closer, all we heard were random, almost opaque, individual noises, but as we refocussed our attention — maybe as we plodded into lockdown, maybe as we fell into restlessness and insomnia, maybe as the world we knew ground to a stop — patterns of composition, harmony and story took shape. And it was the familiarity of these stories that comforted me, despite having never listened to them before. I found a grounded counterpoint in an emerging world that isn’t mine (or yours, for that matter — it is too much to say here it’s now the virus’s). For me, lockdown is like sleepwalking though a restless Dream-Wake hybrid world punctuated by fatigue, insomnia and curious dreams that, dull at their edges and obtuse and fractured, create No Time. And I’m not alone, lockdown has spawned a world-wide epidemic of weird, mysterious and self-contradictory dreams. In this soundscape, we explore, and in part decipher, the mental and physical landscapes of London during lockdown. Through the intricacies and half-spaces of a recurring dream about leaving a house — any house, my house, your house — we attempt to uncover the overlooked stories of our homes. Thanks Opening & Closing Credits by Unregistered ...