Just another day in Camberwell

I coax my friend to come with me on my regular Saturday shop at the Camberwell Farmers’ Market.

“Look, it’s not the Herne Hill market, but where it lacks in quantity, it excels in quality and price!”

Halfway into the Green, before we reach the market stands, we’re approached by a lady in red with a giant set of lips on her head.  She offers us a kiss.  We refuse politely.  She saunters away.

The man attending a coffee stand says he, too, was offered a kiss and also refused.  He sounds French, but I wouldn’t swear to it.

“Maybe it is a performance art or something like this,” he shrugs.  We discuss the difference between the people who offer free hugs and this lady offering kisses.  I may accept a hug, but find the idea of being kissed by a stranger a bit alarming and questionably hygienic.

Friend eyes Coffee Man’s baked goods and tells him before we move on, “You know, you could charge a lot more if you sold these at the Herne Hill market.”

Next is the buffalo man’s stand.  I warn Friend of his tendency to proselytise on the benefits of buffalo.  He is passionate and means well, I know.  And his buffalo yoghurt is very creamy, Friend agrees.

Buffalo yoghurt and sausages!

Buffalo yoghurt and sausages!

Near Buffalo Man’s stand we are approached by a Robot.

*Photo courtesy of Barmycow

*Photo courtesy of Barmycow

He’s trying to communicate with us, waving his silver arms, but it’s windy and hard to understand him through his helmet.  I gather that something is “landing” soon, but can’t sort out what.  We listen politely.  He wants us to know that we, too, can be robots, as he has collected all of his robot parts from Camberwell stores.

After delivering his message, he wanders off, slowly, as if gravity is different for him.  Perhaps he is a Spaceman, and not a Robot.

We investigate a new chutney stand.  The lady tells us she is trying to open a new café in Camberwell via kickstarter.com called The Pigeon Hole.  Friend tries the carrot and chilli chutney.

“You know, jars this size are going for £6 at Herne Hill market…have you considered…”

I drag Friend away.  “Will you cut that out?  We need this chutney!  Herne Hill has plenty of chutney!”

The Lips Lady approaches us again on our way out of the Green, offering us not only a kiss but a cardboard lolly as well.  We refuse politely.

“So, what did you think?” I ask Friend.

“Not bad,” she says.

Herne Hill has more to offer in terms of food selection, we agree.  But are there spacemen?  Free kisses?

“No,” Friend says. “There are no spacemen.  We don’t have that sort of thing in Herne Hill.”

“Well,” I say, just a bit smugly, “it’s what I’ve come to expect from Camberwell.”

Camberwell Market Treasures:

Some alien fruit called "gooseberries" and logan berry jam

Some alien fruit called “gooseberries” and logan berry jam

Black walnut bread and wholemeal loaf.

Black walnut bread and wholemeal loaf.

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buckwheat promises

You know that overwhelming urge, the one that comes suddenly on a Sunday afternoon around 4:00, for a buckwheat sandwich and some crepes?

And then comes that crushing disappointment with the knowledge that no place houses both these beautiful dreams under one roof.  And finally, the familiar ache that turns into quiet sobs as you pick at your beans and toast.

DRY YOUR TEARS, CAMBERWELL!!  A MIRACLE HAS COME TO CHURCH STREET!!

malokoTucked under unassuming blue awnings is a tiny little paradise – a new café called Maloko, on the corner of Camberwell Church Street and Camberwell Grove lane.  The décor is simple but unique –   the floor bursts with colour, green drums for tables, coffee bags for a ceiling.  It’s light and airy and filled with happy vibes.

The owner’s usually there to greet you, a young guy bursting with smiles and good wishes.  His joy in opening the new business, and hope for its success, is palpable and catching.

Not many choices on the menu (yet!) but what glorious few they are!  crepes

Crepes, crepes, beautiful crepes – crepes filled with chocolate, lemon, Grand Marnier,  with unicorns and sunshine.

And yes, buckwheat sandwiches filled with cheese, spinach, yams – vegetarian stuff.  The coffee is quite good (this coming from a coffee snob) – I had a macchiato and was well pleased.

The prices are typical Camberwell – cheap!  And Maloko has great hours – everyday from about 8am to 10pm-ish – though I’m sure this will adjust with time, I’m hoping it doesn’t.

Because that buckwheat urge can strike at any time.

buckwheat

He was there all the while

On a rare day of sunshine, I drop by the British Museum to visit my old friend, The Rosetta Stone.  I take a moment to absorb what mysterious vibrations could escape the thick glass enclosure from the ancient stone tablet of wonder.  A loud, squeaky tour guide makes her way to the stone, drowning out the vibrations with her squeaky tour guide facts.  I stand for as long as I dare, then plunge into the crowd huddling furiously around the glass, sprinkling “sorry’s” as I elbow-jab through.

Now wandering, I find myself drawn with a strange gravity toward the Africa room.  All of the sudden, he is there.

Hoa Hokananai’a.

His hollow stone eyes meet mine.  He is glorious.  I approach with reverence, oblivious to the other mortals buzzing around me, transfixed in his hollow stare.

His shoulders are slightly tilted, arms akimbo, hands tucked in as if in stone pockets, giving him an air of casual grandeur.  Carvings of loopy things, tattoos of the birdman cult are all up and down his back.

He is an Easter Island man.  I’ve recently read a book about catastrophic ends – Jared Diamond’s Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive which featured the Easter Island statues.  I can’t believe there’s one here in London!

I rush home to look up when the British Museum acquired my new friend.  Apparently, it was many years ago.

He has been there all the while.

I wasn’t looking for Hoa Hokananai’a before, but after reading about him, he found me.

He is my hidden friend.

p.s. Dear readers, I apologise for not posting last week; I was on holiday in the Highlands with scanty internet.  I’ll throw in a couple bonus posts this week to make up for it :).   With love,  G

year of the snake

brolly

It’s Sunday, 10:00am, 3 degrees with a persistent, grey drizzle splattering the winter-weary ground.  Dude, let’s go to Leicester Square and watch a parade!

The Chinese New Year parade is bound to be amazing, right?  This is freaking LONDON, and they have their own China Town, so I’m expecting Incredible Sights here.

Ha!  Look, a snake!  It’s the Year of the Snake, that’s awesome.

Snake parading down Charing Cross road

Snake parading down Charing Cross road

What’s this?  A bus with some nicely-dressed people in it.  Hm.  Ok.

people on bus

Oh, cool, martial artists!  No, wait.  Those are fencers.

IMAG1147

Um…

This is making less sense as the parade progresses.

Oddly reminiscent of the Olympics Opening Ceremonies...

Oddly reminiscent of the Olympics Opening Ceremonies…

I’m pretty sure none of this is Chinese related.

Dude, Morris dancers?  Are you kidding me, London?

See those badge-thingys on their backs?  They also had them on their nipples.  Dancing to an accordion.

See those badge-thingys on their backs? They also had them on their nipples. Dancing to an accordion.

We try for the ‘fireworks’ at Trafalgar Square.  Dodging umbrella jabs to the eye, weaving through the hoards of people, we’re rewarded with a couple minor spurts of fireworks and some British announcers making lame jokes about speaking Mandarin.  Some stuff probably happened on stage.  But at 5’2″, I can’t see any of it.

Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square

We go for Dim Sum at the New World.   A dragon appears outside the door as we go to leave, accompanied by drummers wearing tee-shirts that read ‘Shaolin Fist’.  This is all second-hand knowledge.  All I see are backs and bums.

"I ordered that dim sum 15 minutes ago. You bring it here or it's a cabbage in the face!"

“I ordered that dim sum 15 minutes ago. You bring it here or it’s a cabbage in the face!”

“What’s happening out there?”

“The dragon is throwing cabbage at the people.”  A tall man informs me.

“Why would the dragon do that?”

“It’s lucky.  Cabbage is for luck.”  Tall Man shrugs.

Once, in Camberwell, someone threw a lemon at me.  It missed, fortunately.  “I don’t think I’d like to be pelted with cabbage.  That doesn’t sound lucky to me.”

Tall Man makes a non-committal noise.

The dragon moves on, we jostle through the crowd, under the red paper lanterns, brolly-fighting as we go.  We pass a store with cabbage hanging from the doorway.

Tall Man spoke true, I think.

I keep my eye out for dragons.

Inappropriate Shoes

January….that dark void of London winter.  I’ve taken to the usual hibernation habits — social withdraw, sleeping in to the last possible second on workdays, 14 cups of tea daily, marathon reading sessions of Tudor era mysteries in my pj’s.   I know it’s unhealthy, all these carbs and lounging, letting my brain rust.  So I let Sal talk me into adventuring to Canary Warf for the London Ice Sculpting Festival, to get the blood stirring again.

Five minutes out of the tube station and we’re nearly blown over by wind from the river.  Teeth chattering, we lean in, weaving through the crowds and snapping photos of some amazing ice sculptures.

Ten minutes in and I literally cannot feel my toes.  Sal’s forgotten his gloves.  Maybe we will freeze here, at the Ice Festival.

I look down at my Converse.  They are about a million years old and the tread is nearly gone.  What was I thinking?   I chide myself, miffed at my inappropriate footwear.  I live here!  I know  better!!

I look up to see a woman in a knee-length dress, high heels digging into the soggy mess of grass as she passes.  Nonchalantly, casually.

I look around- some people aren’t even wearing scarves, some with light jackets, chattering away happily, pointing at the ice art.  Totally oblivious to the bone-chilling cold, the breath-stealing wind.  Having a great time.

England!

IMAG1015

Ice princess on stilts!
*Photo courtesy of Sal

The entry from 'Merica

The entry from ‘Merica
*Photo courtesy of Sal

The Pheasant Experiment

“I’d like a little bird,” I tell the man at the Camberwell Green Market.  “There’s just two of us eating it.”  He’s standing behind a table littered with quails and pheasants and ?pigeons, and sausages made of alternative animals, such as venison.

“I’ve never cooked any bird beyond chickens & turkeys,” I confess.  “And I’m not great at turkey.”

“Pheasant!”  He seems sure about this.  “Rub it down with loads of butter and cover the breast ridge with bacon or a strip of kitchen foil.  Then just pop it in the oven at 190 for an hour and a quarter.”  He chirps on for a few minutes with the enthusiasm of a lonely market man on a slow, rainy Saturday morning.

I balance my umbrella to pay for the bird.  Market Man repeats the instructions a few more times, ignoring another customer clearly trying to get his attention.

“Tell me how you get on!” he calls after me.

For the next several days I build up anticipation for the experiment.  “What are you doing for Christmas?” a work colleague asks at the office Christmas party.

“Oh, I’m roasting a pheasant,” I say with the casual offhandedness of one who’s roasted many a game fowl.  Swirling Merlot in my wine glass, I add, “With chutney, you know.”

Christmas mid-day, I can barely contain my excitement as I unwrap the fowl.  I glance over Market Man’s instructions and hum a little Christmas tune.

Something isn’t right.

There are tiny, black, prickly things jutting out from the bird.  Why didn’t I notice this at the market?  Is the bird defective?  I call in Sal for a second opinion.

Feather covered leg - looks like hoof

Feather covered leg – looks like hoof

We lift a tiny leg – it’s covered in them.  “Feathers!”  I gasp.  Sal leaves me to pluck the black hairy bits, muttering as I do.

“This is a little too natural, maybe.”

Glob of butter in hand, I reach in the small hollow of the bird – something red and gleamy comes out.  “They left the guts inside!”  I call to Sal, who makes a sympathetic noise from the living room.  They’re tiny.  Pheasant guts.  So tiny and strange, I’m not sure I got them all, but I am past caring.  I cover the breast lovingly with a sliver of foil and pop it in the oven.

This can't be right.

Um.  Is this how it’s supposed to look?

Cooked, the pheasant is even smaller.  One doesn’t really ‘carve’ a pheasant, though I try.  It looks like a crime scene when I’m done sawing all the odd, stringy meat from those intricate, wily bones.  Finally, we sit down to feast on our bird for two (with chutney, of course).

“What do you think?” I ask Sal anxiously.

“It’s – what’s this?”  He spits something into his hand and holds it up.  “That’s a buckshot.”

Sal finds not one, not two, but three tiny bullets in his dinner.

Buckshots!! Plus a 20 pence coin for scale.

Buckshots!! Plus a 20 pence coin for scale.

“Wow,” I say, shaking my head, “This is really, really organic.”

Later, I relay The Pheasant Experiment to my dad over the phone.  He’s sitting by his cookstove, drinking a cup of pressure cooker coffee.

“Pheasant, huh?  They good eatin’?”  He asks.  His voice is hoarse and crackly from tobacco smoke and cold mountain air.

“It was kinda sweet.  I don’t know.  I guess.”

“That’s a game bird, I reckon.  I’ve had quail.  But you gotta eat three or four of them just to get any meat.”

Hmmm.  Quail…..

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

what i see on the way to yoga

From my flat in Camberwell, snaking through the back streets of Peckham, dipping just into Dulwich – a photo tour of my 34-min walk to yoga:

I have questions about bunting. What do the tiny flags represent? Should I salute? Where does one hang bunting? Can I hang it in the bathroom? Bunting.

I don’t know who spray paints this clever stencil on our sidewalks. Neighbourhood watch officer turned vigilante? I prefer to think this.

In streets with Victorian row houses, there are lots of cement creatures lurking around doorways. Typically they are gargoyles and lions, sometimes a scary face. But elephants? Why not.

I really like this wall. It makes me happy in a simple kind of way.

This photo of children from ?1970s is next to a bunch of row houses.

OGLANDER! ha.

Where the train passes over

I would like some Flavaz, but this shop is always closed on Sunday.

Lovely House

Dog About Town and Kuki Hair

And a jolly ole English pub thrown in for good measure!

This fence is Halal