The leaves are falling from the trees again, I want to tell you. And I realise I can’t. It’s the first time I’ve taken proper notice. To assuage the patterns, to feel that the breath is in, and the breath is out. From the snow and the sleet in my Adidas Lantos, jogging around a frozen, dark Central Park to ward off the black dog on my shoulder, to the blazing summer sun that shocked me with its brilliance, a sun-blasted expanse of brilliant green empty apart from a few people on the swings and I lay down flat on the hot earth. I lay down and my keys fell out of my pocket. The bark is crumbling off the trees, lying on the pavements, too, and it is new to new to me, and I am starting to understand, and I want to tell you, and I realise I can’t.
My brother and I walk up the avenue to the Barking Road, head to Nathan’s Pie and Mash. I’m dressed down, I’m working from home, it is late for a lunch, but we do it anyway. As I enter, the shop is unbelievably clean and smells of what you’d expect it to smell of. “What pies do you have?” I ask, and the kindly London lady behind the counter eyes me and explains that they only do one type of pie. She is kind, because I probably should have known. Minced beef. I look around at Rick and let him know that I’ll get something else, that he should get what he wants. I’m back out on Barking Road and the Blockbuster that’s been open forever is shutting down. In Ercan there’s a woman who decides she can’t have the chips that have just been served because the man behind the counter has put salt on them. “But I cyan’t, I have high blood pressure,” she says, a West Indian lilt. She tries to talk to me, later, a half mutter that I try to ignore. I think – why on earth are you here at lunch, then? It’s not the salt that’s the problem. He stacks the chips in a holding pattern and I know already that he’ll double fry them and give them to me instead. I even tell him not to. He does anyway. £5 for a haddock and chips, with the chips that lurid double fried greasy orange, a sheen of grease inside and out. Far too many of them, too. I’d have been happier with half that amount, done fresh. I sigh. This is how it is, and how it will always be, here, where quality is subsidiary to quantity. Last night they’d been looting Argos, just 15 minutes up the road. I want my chips one way. I get them another way. Meanwhile, people riot. I notice the breeze that’s making the sunny day colder than it should be. It’s Autumn, again. The leaves are falling from the trees, again, and I want to tell you, but I realise I can’t.
As we watch the post-riot coverage on BBC News sharing an Oranjeboom the same themes are recycled. The news reports suggest, provoke, debate. The Met defend their actions. The massive criminality of the phone hacking scandal is old news. The ludicrous politicians appear and shovel forth empty soundbites in the avarcious ears of a phatic-statement hungry populace, eager to be sated with talk of ‘action’, ‘firmness’ and a ‘robust response’. Ed Miliband grows ever more ridiculous. Ken Livingstone advocates water cannon on the streets of Hackney.
But the fabric of the City that we dream about and that electrifies my soul has been irrevocably changed. You can tell, it is in the air — there is a consensus now that we know how thin the thin blue line really is, and it’s not very reassuring. And we – who is ‘we’ – the very noun has become fragmented. I think of ‘us’ and ‘them’ as another shaky binary opposition. The news coverage rolls on, and the leaves are falling from the trees, and I’ll have to switch from the Onitsukas to the Lantos when the rain starts to fall, and the evenings darken, and I want to tell you, but I realise: I won’t.