Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Fleapit revisited:Happy End.

"Family dysfunction, inter-generational revenge, the poisonous suppression of guilt and the return of the repressed". The words that Peter Bradshaw wrote in his Guardian review of Michael Haneke's Happy End were the ones that were ringing in my ears as I settled into my seat at the Brixton Ritzy for an afternoon that was likely to prove anything but festive.

It wasn't false advertising, it had all those things, but what Bradshaw neglected to say was that for the first hour or so the film was rather dull. It was well shot, well acted, and had that air of unspoken dread that one has come to expect from Haneke but it wasn't particularly engaging, there were a couple of times when I found myself thinking about what I was going to have for dinner that evening.

It's as if Haneke's themes of alienation, miscommunication, anxiety, and self-absorption that rupture and despoil the relationships between his characters have extended outwards into the audience so that we too feel alienated and anxious about what's happening, unsure even. It's like staring into the eyes of a lover and realising that you'll never truly know what it's like inside their mind and that, of course, is a sad and distressing experience.


Isabelle Huppert plays Anne Laurent, construction firm owner and family matriarch, who lives with her wheelchair bound dementia suffering father Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and her alcoholic son Pierre (Franz Rogowski) in a large mansion in Calais. Sharing the house with them are her brother Thomas (Mathieu Kassowitz), Thomas's second wife Anais (Laura Verlinden), and the couple's new baby.


As if that's not enough people under one, admittedly very big, roof they've been joined by Eve (an absolutely brilliant performance by the Belgian actor Fantine Harduin, still not even a teenager), Thomas's daughter from his first marriage. Eve's mother is in a coma (she's swallowed poison after years wallowing in depression) and Thomas, a weak willed and feckless individual who appears to be already eyeing up a potential third wife, has had to take her in.

We see Pierre visit a banlieue where he's beaten up by the son of a construction worker injured in an accident on a site owned by the family, we see him try to embarrass the family by calling their Moroccan housemaids 'slaves', we see Thomas (and his unseen lover Claire) instant messaging each other their deepest sexual fantasies whilst also reminiscing about time spent together and planning future trysts, and we see Anne conduct a mostly long distance relationship with Toby Jones's Lawrence Bradshaw. For these exchanges we lose the subtitles and the dialogue moves into English.


Most of the time it's difficult to care about these people and what's going on in their lives (something I imagine Haneke intends as a device to make us question our own priorities and confront our own prejudices) but as the film reaches its final third it develops, at some speed, a precision and clarity it'd previously lacked.

Most of that is down to Eve and Georges and the connections they find at the extreme ends of life. Eve is just starting in life and Georges know his is coming to an end. Georges seems to be embracing his imminent death far more phlegmatically than the taciturn and insular Eve whose anticipation of her very soon to come teenage years seems to bring no joy whatsoever. What they share is both a deep guttural horror of what it means to be a living, breathing human being and the space (both emotional and actual) to explore their feelings about that horror. It's not suggested that that's necessarily a good thing for them but it certainly improves the film.


As Georges shares secrets with Eve and Eve opens up to some of her own feelings we realise that they are very much the twin emotional hearts of a film where most of the supposedly responsible adults are so busy or so pre-occupied they don't have time to ponder life's direction and simply appear to be letting life happen to them. Albert Camus said "to be happy we must not be too concerned with others" and it seems that Anne and Thomas, particularly, have adopted this maxim as their motto and if their solipsism won't lead them to such depths as those encountered by Meursault in Camus's existentialist classic L'Etranger it rings all the more true for being a workable, if ultimately unfulfilling, philosophical approach to getting through life.

Pierre's raging against the constraints of society makes him uncomfortable to be around and causes his family both financial problems and, worse, societal embarrassment. When he invites a group of African refugees from the nearby 'jungle' to Anne's swanky beachside engagement party to tell their stories it shines a light on Pierre's guilt about his inherited wealth and his disgust at the violence and inequality in the world. but it also shows how cossetted the Laurent's existence is and how easy it is for people to compartmentalise and shut away unpleasant truths, at least until confronted head on with them.


The use of smartphones, laptops, and instant messaging (entire scenes are seen through the filters of social media) aren't just there to show that septuagenarian Haneke has a handle on the modern world but rather to enforce the message that with each wave of technology we're in danger of creating a barrier between ourselves and others, either idolising or demonising people we may actually know very little about, and pushing our already frail capacity for empathy ever further to the margins.

The bleakness of the film, the sense of dread that hangs over it, can feel tough, and even unrewarding, at times but it does mean that the few moments of connectivity between characters stand in stark relief as warming testaments to what we humans can be at our best. Even if those moments don't, and this'll come as no great surprise, result in anything that would traditionally resemble a 'happy end'.

It's a strange and powerful film that while you're watching it you're thinking about that evening's dinner (veggie bangers'n'mash, thanks for asking) but while you're eating that evening's dinner you're still thinking about the film and pondering the sometimes uncomfortable facts of life that Happy End, and more broadly Michael Haneke, refuse to shy away from.


Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Albums of the Year 2017

At the end of 2005 I was working in an office and most people had finished for Xmas. I was pretty bored to be honest. So I decided to put together some kind of metacritic list of the albums of the year.

I chose five publications and/or websites that had listed 50 (or more) of their best albums of the year. Selecting the top 50 I awarded 50 points for 1st, 49 for 2nd, and so on down to 1 point for 50th. I then crunched the numbers and made a list of the top 30 scoring.

This silly piece of time wasting proved to be quite popular so I continued and have done every year since. I used to send the e-mails round a few mates who've either expressed an interest or I'm trying to impress in some way. Since leaving my old job I've lost all the lists from 2005-2015. If anyone has them saved please get in touch. You can see 2016's list here.

Now I have a blog (and I've left my job) I'm gonna use this to disseminate the data. So, here we are, no photos, just a list of 2017's Top 30. Enjoy (or not)....

1.Richard Dawson - Peasant
2.Kendrick Lamar - DAMN
3.LCD Soundsystem - American Dream
4.St.Vincent - Masseduction
5.Jane Weaver - Modern Kosmology
6.Jlin - Black Origami
7.Kelela - Take Me Apart
8.The War On Drugs - A Deeper Understanding
9.Fever Ray - Plunge
10.The Moonlandingz - Interplanetary Class Classics
11.Hurray For The Riff Raff - The Navigator
12.The National - Sleep Well Beast
13.Joshua Abrams & National Information Society - Simultonality
14.Lorde - Melodrama
15.Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile - Lotta Sea Lice
16.Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith - The Kid
17.Tyler, The Creator - Flower Boy
18.Julie Byrne - Not Even Happiness
19.Peter Perrett _ How The West Was Won
20.Thundercat - Drunk
21.Vince Staples - Big Fish Theory
22.Arca - Arca
23.Sleaford Mods - English Tapas
24.Slowdive - Slowdive
25.Juana Molina - Halo
26.Perfume Genuis - No Shape
27.Laura Marling - Semper Femina
28.Sampha - Process
29.Bjork - Utopia
30.Chino Amobi - Paradiso

sources:-

Pitchfork
the Quietus
The Wire
Uncut
Mojo

Monday, 11 December 2017

Sweet mother Ganga ain't sweet no more.

The Ganges is the third largest river in the world by discharge, millions rely it on for their water, it flows for over 1,500 miles from up in the Himalayas through India and Bangladesh before emptying in to the Bay of Bengal, and for Hindus the river is not just sacred but is actually a God. So who do the BBC send to investigate it and travel along. An expert on Hinduism? An expert on rivers? An expert on Indian history? No, they send Sue Perkins from The Great British Bake Off. Who's already done the Mekong!

Many friends and family have commented on their displeasure at seeing yet another, presumably highly paid, television presenter being paid to go on holiday and talk about it and I get their point. Also, I'm massively envious. I want to travel up and down the Ganges and tell people what I think about it. I reckon I'd be pretty good at it.

But, here's the twist, so is Sue. She's affable (obvs), she's keen to interact, she's not easily embarrassed, and she manages to eke out stories from those living along the banks of this enormous river while at the same time allowing her own personality to colour the experience. By the end of the three part The Ganges with Sue Perkins I wasn't wishing I'd gone instead of her, I was wishing I'd gone with her. We'd have made great travel companions.

Whereas Levison Wood has the unique distinction of walking most of his epic trips, and Babita Sharma and Adnan Sarwar took a lightly political approach to their recent trips alongside the Indian/Pakistani border, Sue's style of travel journalism is more in the Simon Reeve mould. She simply follows her path, talks about whatever she comes across, and gets involved with the locals. Like Reeve there are nods to geopolitics and ecological issues but this is no lecture and you never feel ranted at. Her jokes are more friendly than they are funny (making up nicknames like Tamsin for donkeys, quoting Eurythmics lyrics), she says 'namaste' a lot, like me she cries at altitude, and she also ponders her life back in London and her father's recent demise. It's hard not to warm to her.

The crisp blue skies and the ice capped mountains of the Himalayas, up by the Tibetan border, where the town of Gangroti nestles must seem a very long way from London. It's the source of the Ganges, a river that Shiva ascribed power when she, the Ganges is always a she, fell from the heavens through the locks in Shiva's hair. For devout Hindus the Ganges has the power to wash away a lifetime of sins (or even more, as we'll find out later).


Worshipping rivers, like worshipping the sun, does make some kind of sense. We need water and heat to stay alive which is not something that could be said for Christian or Islamic deities. But if you're planning on drinking the water to ingest its holiness it'd be best to do that near its source where it's still pure and clear (as evinced by several lingering shots of the river water pouring through fingers or smashing up against rocks), as the Ganges rolls on it collects an awful lot of crap.

Perkins meets a hermit who's lived in a cave for six years but before that was a ballet dancer in Delhi, she witnesses pilgrims whose pilgrimage is being accompanied by the sound of bagpipes, a yogi dude called 'clicking Baba' who can contort his body into some extraordinary shapes, a 90 year old swami who's used photography to monitor climate change and glacial retreat. The characters that Sue meets on her travels will become as much a theme as the river, its sacred nature, and its pollution as we descend into the Gangetic Plain.

The nonagenarian snapper may've written "Oh sky, I love you" on his beautiful shots of the inconvenient truths of the ecological disaster humanity is causing its home planet but, of course, there's a very serious side to all this. If waters start to run dry people will die.

As ever with a travel documentary there's not quite enough time to really get into the meat and drink of this before we're off on our travels again. In Mukhba Sue eats chapattis near a gas bottle and gets fitted out for a sari before heading on to Rishikesh. It's the first proper big city on the Ganges and it's got everything you expect in an Indian city. Cows, monkeys, and people everywhere.



It's where Hindusim has been undoubtedly commercialised (Shiva is the top selling God in Rishikesh), it's where the Beatles came to find themselves (Ringo bought his own Heinz baked beans with him), and it's where Western visitors buy those trousers that tell you they've been to India. Mike Love of The Beach Boys, Donovan, and Mia Farrow all followed in The Beatles footsteps and these days the city isn't shy of branding Hinduism and putting a hard sell on the Ashram detox culture.

It may be a more tourist, than authentic, experience but, by all accounts the food's great and spending a time in a place like this is infinitely preferable to devoting your life to any form of propping up capitalism, either buying crap you don't need to keep up with the neighbours or spending half your waking life in a job you loathe with a boss you loathe for a company you loathe. It's easy to laugh at the holiday hippies but some will come back profoundly changed. As a proud atheist Hinduism makes more sense than any of the Abrahamic faiths to me.

Haridwar marks the point where the Himalayas end and the Gangetic Plain truly begins. Sue meets with Baba Ram Dev, a man who sees no clash of conscience in being both holy and a tycoon. He sells honey and he sells it, specifically, to Hindus. It's special Hindu honey (though what makes it so is unclear) and as we witness Baba Ram Dev riding round on his armed golf buggy we realise the health food business can get as 'tasty' as the honey itself.

 

If the popularity of Ayurveda and the evening's blessings down by the Ganges look more the real deal than those of Rishikesh they're as nothing compared to Sue's next stop. The ancient, sprawling, polluted Varanasi. Home to over a million people Varanasi is such an important site for Hindus, and such a vital stopping point along the Ganges, that an entire programme in this three part series is devoted to it.

In this 'intense and beautiful' place the Indians rub the ashes of recently cremated humans into their own bodies, raw sewage flows out in to the Ganges, turds of many types (including human ones) make passing down its alleys a delicate experience, and when the temperature rises, as it often does, to about 47 degrees Celsius you can probably imagine that the whole place stinks to high heaven.

Which is weirdly appropriate as the oldest living city on Earth is, to Hindus, some kind of high heaven. Moksha in Hinduism refers to liberation, release, and emancipation, freedom from samsara, the cycle of birth and death, and it can be achieved best in Varanasi. Each day over 150 human bodies are cremated on open pyres as thousands bathe in the sacred waters as the charred remains of their loved ones float off towards a better place. Or Kolkatta if you're not a believer.

'Standard' barbers can give you a 'standard' haircut so that you can offer your hair to the Ganges. We see young children doing this and in one hilarious, and hopefully not scripted, interchange Sue asks her guide "Is this man a holy man?" to which he replies "No, he's a barber". That sums up the confusion that India can bring to outsiders. Others will find it hard to stomach having open funeral pyres right next to where children are playing. If you're one of them you're likely to find the Aghori sect more problematic still. They eat human remains.



There's plenty to be had for a hungry Aghori. On top of the constantly cremated bodies there are the aftermaths of suicides from the nearby railway bridge. The industrious young boys who use magnets to fish coins out of the river (they've been thrown in as offerings to the Ganges, they're fished out so the kids don't starve) claim they find at least one dead body a day.

If you die in Varanasi you get fast-tracked to the realms of the immortal and that's why so many who believe themselves to be on the verge of death flock there. There are 'death hotels' they can stay in until they pass away. We meet a woman who's been living in one for thirty years, seemingly cheating the grim reaper for a full three decades.

On a motorbike trip to the less populous areas that surround Varanasi we learn about antiquated attitudes to women and see the appalling conditions some people have to contend with in rural India. Male alcoholism, drug addiction, and violence is a very real fear for the women who live here. With no toilets (or even walls, often just a tarpaulin chucked over some sticks) in many houses groups of women can only risk urinating once a day. They go in a group (all decked out in green saris) to guard against getting raped while they're in the fields.

Scorpions, snakes, and insects can be as dangerous as the seemingly ever present threat of sexual violence. A group of students, including some of the motorbike gang, have started to teach the village women self-defence, public speaking, and general assertiveness in an attempt to improve their lot. It'll be a long time but the first step of any journey is always the most important. This was an insight into an India rarely covered on travelogue shows like this and it was, by some margin, the most moving section of the entire series.

So it's a bathetic moment when, back in Varanasi proper, Sue slips and falls in some human faeces. She's visibly distressed (as you would be) but remains in good humour and, in fact, waste, in all its weird and wonderful variety, is what the next section is all about. A boat ride and a chat with a local professor who's dedicated his entire life to trying to clean up the Ganges. The pollution, as we've already established, is shocking but believers consider the river to be 'spiritually cleansing' anyway and that completely trumps any environmental or health concerns. It's as hard for us, with our Western values, to resolve this duality as is it is, perhaps, to understand the families, down by the ghats, who walk round and round the burning corpses of their loved ones hitting the heads of their dead bodies with sticks. It's a confrontation with both death and bodily fluids that in Europe we tend to shy away from.



Patna, capital of Bihar state, is the next stop after the prolonged and emotionally draining week in Varanasi. It used to be the centre of the opium trade but these days it's best known for education. Patna Institute of Technology teaches young women engineering and we meet some of the adorable students who dream of being either train drivers or models and of one day being able to visit London or even Switzerland. If it seems they're making their own decisions in life in a way that just a few years ago they might not have been then that's not true in every aspect. Their parents will still dictate who they marry.


With the rice paddies and agrarian heartlands that surround Patna it seems someone involved in agriculture will make a good match for these young women (or their parents at least). Perhaps someone from Daveshpura, the 'miracle village' where the 'world's best potato farmer' lives.

At Patna the Ganges splits in two. The main part courses through Bangladesh but as this is primarily a show about India we follow the waterway that becomes known as the Hooghly down to Kolkata, behind Mumbai and Delhi the third most populous city in the whole of India with a metropolitan area of over 14,000,000 people.



Sue's been to Kolkata before, two years ago, to make a radio programme. There she met up with a young street kid, Rakhi, who'd fallen under the protection of The Hope Foundation who provide shelter, food, and safety for kids sleeping rough in the city. At the age of nine Rakhi was bubbly and confident and spoke of wanting to become a doctor.

By the age of eleven she was distracted, nervous, and particularly uncomfortable when men were in the room. Only eleven years old and she's had her youth stolen and hers is surely only one of thousands of similar stories across the place that locals, surprisingly given these facts, call the City of Joy.

Of course like anywhere there are joyful aspects to Kolkata life. Not least the baby showers that traditionally begin with a visit by a group of Hijra. Hijra are groups of transgender individuals who'd been born with male genitals but have since rejected any gender and have, in recent years, been accepted by law as a third gender.

They dance, sing, and chat at baby showers as well as christenings, weddings etc; and they dispense blessings for cash. The Hijra we meet are a family, a pretty unorthodox one for sure, but a family. They all live together, forty of them, in a big yellow house that is dripping with gold ornamentation inside. It's garish but it looks like fun. Of course like much fun it masks sadness. The law may've recognised them but many more conservatively minded Indians still fear and/or despise them and, in many cases, they've been rejected by their birth families.

They may, in modern parlance, be fierce but our next stop sees something much fiercer. The vast forest of Sundarbans on the Bay of Bengal is the world's largest river delta and at the Sundarbans Tiger Reserve we see the tiger patrol in action, up to their hips in Gangetic mud, maintaining 96 kilometres of fencing so that poachers can't get in and tigers can't get out.

The pace of life is slow down on the mangroves even though 4,000,000 people live in the Indian part of Sundarbans alone. Some have been given permits to fish in the tiger reserve and they relate experiences of tigers leaping out of the waters and on to their boats. It's said there is at least one fatal tiger attack in the region each and every week.



They're not the only threat. The king cobras that live there can, and often do, kill people. With these deadly dangers so imminent it's perhaps unsurprising that both the Hindu and Muslim population of Sundarbans worship Bonbibi, the guardian spirit of the forest, whose motto is "take only what you need and you'll thrive, take too much and you won't survive".

It's hard to imagine how 6,000,000 people could do anything but 'take too much' but, sure enough, that's the number of visitors that come to a grand Hindu festival at the point where the Ganges meets the sea. After the Kumbh Mela (which also takes place on the Ganges but only once every twelve years) it is the world's largest gathering of humanity.

If you take to the Ganges during one of these festivals not only do you absolve yourself of a lifetime of sins but retroactively you absolve the previous fourteen generations of your family of all their sins too. That's why they call it/her sweet mother Ganga and that's why people travel so far to partake. Naked holy men who've rejected clothes to be closer to Shiva have travelled down from their homes in the Himalayas to sit with their dicks out, smoking industrial quantities of weed, in what appears to be some kind of freakshow but turns out to be just another day on the banks of the beautiful, crazy, dirty, endlessly fascinating Ganges.

It doesn't matter if you're a dying person hoping to achieve moksha, a Himalayan holy man with your cock out, a hungry tiger, Ringo Starr with a tin of beans, a bagpiper, or a presenter of The Great British Bake Off - there's something in the Ganges for you. There certainly was for me.











Sunday, 10 December 2017

The London LOOP. Part I:Erith to Old Bexley (Cray City Strollers).

"Down a wandering path I have travelled
Where the setting sun lies upon the ground
Tracks are hard and dry smoothened with the weather wear
My mind did move with them that had before me been
Trodding down the ground a track for me to follow
Leaving marks for others, a sign for them to follow"

- David Dudgeon, 1999.

 
The London LOOP (LOOP standing for London Outer Orbital Path) is like an M25 for walkers although it's all enclosed within the circle of London's orbital motorway so it's not quite so long. It's a fairly decent 150 miles in total though and the David Sharp and Colin Saunders book whose route we're following leads from Erith just south of the Thames via Sidcup, Croydon, Kingston, Uxbridge, Cockfosters, Enfield Lock, Chigwell, Romford, and Dagenham before ending up just over the other side of the river in Purfleet. It's a walk where you can see the finish from the start.
 
Shep and I have a got a vague plan to complete the entire walk by January 2019 but what with TADS walks, my London architectural tours, and various other constitutionals it's hard to see where we're going to find the time. We'd been talking about doing this for a while before Saturday's schlep from Erith to Old Bexley and then when I was unable to procure a ticket for a London Fortean Society event due to its popularity and we saw the clement weather forecast for Saturday just gone we realised we had to strike while the iron was hot, get out our walking boots, and meet at noon in Erith to commence what, hopefully, will become an epic journey full of sights, sounds, experiences, and, of course, pubs. It's also hoped to open us up to some of the more arcane areas of London and reveal, perhaps, an esoteric history of the city I've called home for over two decades.
 
I took the train from Honor Oak Park to New Cross Gate and jumped on a 53 bus to Woolwich Arsenal. The man behind me on the bus was watching, and listening very loudly, on his phone some kind of inauguration of the Kenyan deputy president William Ruto and seemed to think I'd enjoy sharing that with him. The bus took us past the rather grand Jacobean pile that is Charlton House. my friend Paola's place, and the Royal Artillery Barracks before I disembarked to take the train a few stops on to Erith.
 
There was a young lady in Woolwich Arsenal station (a place that brought back plenty of memories to me) wearing brown Ugg boots, a pink onesie with the legend 'HUGS' written loudly across it, and a black Puffa jacket. It was a strong look.


 
Erith can be quite a forlorn looking place but on a sunny Saturday it seemed to be showing its best side. I wandered down in to town to meet Shep in a coffee shop called Mambocino. It had one of the crappest Xmas trees I'd ever seen (paper coffee cups for decoration) but the grapes and apple were presented in a style worthy of a Renaissance painting and Shep assured me the coffee had been eminently potable.




 
To begin the walk proper we headed down to the riverside. Across to Coldharbour it was all green fields but our side was as much mud as it was water. This really is the arse end of the city where all its shit, often literally, comes out. It's where people do real jobs. Less media types and more scrapyards, garages, factories, industrial estates, and people making 'components'.
 
Lots of shopping trolleys too. I counted about twelve half submerged in the muddy banks of the Thames alongside old iron beds and rusting bicycles. In the distance chimneys belched out fumes that soon dispersed into the brilliant azure sky. Occasionally a tug boat would glide silently past doing its important business in its own good time.
 
It's a strangely relaxed place but it seems unlikely that the Victorian plan to turn Erith into a resort was ever likely to make much headway. Industry bested tourism, the gardens now stand empty, and the jetty is home mainly to fishermen and, as will no doubt become a recurring theme in this walk, graffiti.








 
We left Crayford through an industrial estate, seagulls ahead, and made our way out on to Crayford Marshes. The vast Queen Elizabeth II bridge rose up in front of us as we passed through scrubland populated with horses. Signposts either carried distance markers or, as can be seen heading up this blog, somewhat rudimental poetry. An enormous scrapyard to our right saw bonfires burn and industrial plant moving the detritus around. To our left we looked down to an amazingly unspoilt stretch of the Thames.










 
We soon reached the mouth of the river Darent. The Darent flows from Westerham, past Sevenoaks, before emptying into the Thames here. It's twenty miles long and it's one of thirty-eight tributaries that feed London's primary river. Its banks are even muddier than those that flank the Thames here but the creek flood barrier looks spectacular, rising above the river into the winter sunshine like a brutal, concrete Tower Bridge. On a walk some years ago (from Erith to Rochester) me and my friend Dan had imagined that we'd somehow be able to cross it. We couldn't.
 
Luckily this time we didn't need to. We followed the banks of the Darent for a while until we came to the mouth of the Cray. Our third and final river of the day is just nine miles long and flows from a pond in Orpington, via Bromley and Swanley, to this point. We'd be following the Cray, on and off, for much of the afternoon.



 
It's not always possible to follow the banks of the river and sometimes we'd have to come off the waterfront and walk along the road for a bit. Such an occasion occurred when we reached the busy A206, the road from Greenwich to Greenhithe. A wooden obelisk marked the point where we were to turn, through a litter strewn park, back to the side of the Cray.
 
In the words of Sharp and Saunders:- "a sad stretch this - even the Cray has a melancholy feel as it flows unregarded by a run of backyards. You think of streams that add beauty and a rural touch to urban lives, and the river is actually rather pretty here, so you wonder why these houses turned their backs on little Cray".






 
If the people who live on the Cray's banks have turned away from it it seems the Cray itself has not been kind to its resident rodents. The decaying corpse of what we assumed to be a rat was camouflaged rather well against the baked earth.
 
Time and again we'd see the puzzling legend "P.STANOCH TO PARONA!" in graffiti form on dog waste receptacles and underneath bridges. We wondered what it could all mean. But not for too long as the route soon took us into Crayford's ever so slightly bustling Waterside district. Modernist sculptures stood proud in the park surrounded by shops, pubs, and restaurants.
 
We were about to make a stop in the large, and rather typical looking, Bear and Ragged Staff when we spotted a sign for The Penny Farthing 'Micro-Pub' and thought we'd try that instead.





 
Something of a gem for real ale fans, if not for vegetarians (the only non-meat food available was crisps), I opted for a pint of Shunter's Pole and Shep took a Hemingway inspired stout labouring under the name The Old Man And The Sea. It was a peculiar place as it had clearly been converted from a taxi rank and when I say converted I mean left almost exactly the same as a taxi rank. There were piles of board games and beer coasters all over the walls and the service was friendly.
 
Sated after sucking for an hour on a Shunter's Pole I wiped the residue from my lips, put on my coat, and we braved the cold again. Brrr. The temperature had been dipping while we'd been sat there sipping. Perhaps our pints had impaired our spatial awareness and map reading skills a bit too as we managed to take two wrong turns almost immediately upon our egress from The Penny Farthing.



 
Eventually we gained our bearings and passed by some 60s/70s housing estates that had been jollied up by being named after poets like Keats and Shelley. Poetry was becoming an unexpected theme of our walk, a pleasant surprise. It was, however,l hard to imagine what the metal two dimensional cow with the words 'MADDER ROOTS' cut out in its body was supposed to represent. Local youths looked at me with bemusement as I took a photo. To someone who sees a 'MADDER ROOTS' cow every day a 'MADDER ROOTS' cow is no big deal. To me it was a novelty worth recording.
 
I should've told them my name and they may've been impressed. Because it seems that David Evans is a big deal around Crayford. There's a David Evans Pavilion and a David Evans silk factory and it's for the latter that this imposter using my name made his name (or my name, or both our names, it's very confusing). He was mostly famous for his silk scarves but I like to think he branched out into lingerie too and that his/my/our name can now be found in bras, pants, and knickers all over the world. Or at least throughout the London Borough of Bexley.



 
We could've done with scarves of considerably more durable material than silk as we walked through open fields to once again become reacquainted with the Cray. The grounds of Hall Place saw the Cray flowing much happier and as the winter games of football were coming to a close we crossed over first the river, then the railway, and finally cut beneath the extraordinarily busy A2. Cars, vans, and lorries roared past, either on the way to London from Dover or vica versa, and the sheer amount of litter that had been thrown on to the side of the road was remarkably disgusting. 




 
Eventually we hopped over a stile. It was a new style of stile and, for some reason, that really impressed me. This stretch was, truth be told, a little dull and it's probably true that amongst the wonderful sights we'll see on this walk there's bound to be some slightly tedious bits.
 
We were getting cold too and could only think of nice warm pubs and even warmer curry. Luckily we only had another kilometre or so to go before the path and the route of the Cray saw us into the picturesque parish of Old Bexley. The twelfth century church of St Mary's stood proud in the dwindling light but we were far more interested in the roaring fire and warming pint of Rocking Rudolph that awaited us in The King's Head.




 
After a brace of Rudolphs each it became apparent that we needed to eat. It may've been earlier than we'd normally break for repast but one packet of crisps in The Penny Farthing had not been sufficient to fuel a three and a half hour walk.
 
Old Bexley appeared well prepared for hungry visitors. There was a modern Indian, the Maharajah, and a slightly less modern Italian eaterie but the Old Bexley Greek Taverna looked the best option. We ummed and ahhed on the Greek v Indian debate before tossing a coin and deciding to go for Greek food. The popularity of the place was so much that at 6pm on a Saturday in December they had no tables at all.
 
So Indian it was. Even if they did seem to have imprisoned Henry the hoover in a spare room the Maharajah proved to be perfectly adequate. I've eaten in much better Indian places but I've eaten in much worse ones too. The Maharajah was standard but with Indian food that's normally good enough. Amongst their beer options was a brand called Mongoose (brewed in Leicester, apparently) and it tasted dependable if not quite as crisp and refreshing as the legendary Bangla.
 
We chatted about Iain Sinclair, Patrick Keiller, Peter Ackroyd, and WG Sebald. Authors we'd either read nothing or very little by but whose own experiments into psychogeography, history, and walking seemed pertinent to us. I really should read some more by these people.
 
We thought we'd take one last pint in The King's Head but it was absolutely packed solid with people in Xmas jumpers so we popped in to The Miller's Arms. There were about fifty people in there and forty-nine of them were men. There were hardly any tables and they served no real ale. It's the sort of place men come to to shout at televisions showing football. There's a time and a place for that kind of thing but it isn't at the end of an afternoon's walk when you're hoping to discuss the theories of Guy Debord and potentially plan walking trips in the Balkans.
 
Shep had a Guinness, I had a lager, and we got the train back to London Bridge. We'll be back in Old Bexley again soon to commence the second stage of the LOOP which should hopefully take us into our second borough, Bromley, and on to Jubilee Park in Petts Wood. This time we've decreed we'll meet at a local café first so we're fully fuelled for further adventures.