Footballer Ryan Giggs drops his pants and tries to vainly cover up with a court gagging order.

 

It is a long time since I stumbled out of a nightclub or tent into dawn’s first light.

It all came back yesterday when I went for an early morning run and found clubland’s flotsam and jetsum staggering into the new day like outtakes from a George Romero movie.

It’s always easy to spot when someone is dolled up to the nines at 5am or staggering around with their fright wig and war paint still on.

I passed one guy sitting in the middle of a football pitch talking earnestly to himself. He asked if a bus was due soon and I gently pointed to the road about a mile away. The other person was walking down the road trying to hop scotch between the cat’s eye. And the drugs don’t work?

 

It’s always sobering to sit next to one of God’s soldiers on the train. They thumped their bible down on the seat next to me, gave me the ‘and thou shall be cast unto the pit of sulphurous sin’ stare and started reading a cheery article called Casting the First Stone. Barrel of laughs.

 

Car registration plates on sale in a predominantly Asian neighbourhood in east London. Does this mean we’ll start seeing POLL SKI or RUSS AAN popping up?

 

The River Brent in north east London was the inspiration for one of Britain’s best loved poets.

Sir John Betjeman visited the area on the long walks that inspired much of his verse and immortalised the river in poems such as Middlesex.

The Poet Laureate was best known for playful light-hearted poems like Miss Joan Hunter Dunn.

But admirers and critics of his verse were sharply divided over its worth.

Detractors dismissed him as a ‘minor poet who scribbles verse’ while his supporters, including the formidable Philip Larkin, thought Betjeman one of the country’s greatest talents.

He was seen as an establishment figure. His unashamedly royalist connections – he was the Queen Mother’s favourite poet – and dewy eyed reminiscences of a privileged  upbringing putting him at odds with the ‘angry young generation of the 1940s and 50s.

Academics accused him of dumbing down poetry for the masses and claimed his compositions showed ‘no more skill than the men who wrote jingles on Christmas cards.’

But it did little to sway public affection for Betjeman.

The publication of his Collected Poems in 1968 was an immediate bestseller and subsequent editions sold more than one million copies.

It was a remarkable achievement for a boy who C.S Lewis described in his youth as a ‘pretentious playboy’ and whose first efforts at verse were ridiculed by his school master.

Betjeman won an enduring place in the nation’s heart and went on to become the country’s Poet Laureate.

Much was written about the humour of his work but he was also a passionate opponent of what he called the ‘planster’s vision’ and relentless destruction of historical buildings and countryside.

He regularly appeared in letters’ columns of national newspapers waging a war of words against developers and submitted 70 letters to The Times during a campaign to save Waterloo Bridge from destruction.

The paper remarked on his death in 1984 that his ‘enthusiasm made him perhaps the most influential conservationist of his time.’

It is comforting to know that many of the buildings he championed, such as the Criterion Theatre and the churches of St Saviour, Aberdeen Park and St Mary-le-Strand have since been restored to their former glory.

The River Brent fared less well. Much of the river was corseted in concrete as a flood prevention measure in the 1950s or driven underground by the suburban growth of London.

Betjeman would have been sad to know that ‘the gentle Brent wandering Wembley wards at will’ met such a fate

 

What’s happened to the personalities in politics nowadays? They are increasingly sanitised and media savvy to the point where they display all the charisma and personality of shop dummies.

I can remember working for a local councillor many years ago who revelled in being entertainingly combative and thought nothing of peppering his critics with colourful politically incorrect broadsides

A then well known soap star was described as having the acting ability of a finger bob puppet, the local church informed the council held higher office than God in matters of planning permission and a critic of his beloved park told they should take a one-way journey into the Australian Outback.

He advocated the delight of eating meat when the inhabitants of a deer enclosure were threatened with culling (he eventually had them relocated to a nature reserve) and had a glorious public spate with then Liberal leader Paddy ‘Pants Down’ Ashdown which involved cutting his membership card up and returning it in the post.

His  fearsomely gruff and combative reputation had most council officers in living in fear of his shadow yet it also hide someone who deeply cared about the area and spent the best part of ten years tirelessly improving it.

Try and broach the subject with him and he’d typically dismiss any illusions of being a good Samaritan by claiming he was simply improving the area to increase the value of his property.

His finest hour greatest was the Mexican standoff between the council and a well known artist who’d been given temporary permission to create a work of art in land earmarked for a new park.

He revelled in being called a philistine by the art establishment, proclaimed his dislike of conceptual art in favour of Victorian miniatures and was on hand when the bulldozers moved in saying the area had enough concrete already.

He did me a great honour when I left by saying he’d enjoyed working with me but I was one of the most belligerent people he’s ever met. A tad rich coming from him. Praise indeed from the God of Thunder. Long may he reign.

 

The local running club finally cajoled me into competing in one of their inter-club races last week after various no shows and excuses.

They waived off concerns about my fitness and inability to go faster than a lumbering jog with the promise that the course was only three miles long taking in a circuit of the former Millennium Dome.

There was no need for un-necessary humiliation so I positioned myself at the back of the 200 strong field only for the race marshal to tell everyone to turn around for the start.

I tried to worm my way back down the side of the fence like a true shirker but the human greyhounds were all straining at the leash and pushing forward.

A tidal wave of people rushed past at the off and I was buffeted and bumped to the back of the field within a couple of hundred yards with all the other gaspers and geriatrics.

It was all over after that and I seemed to run the race in reserve gear getting slower and slower as the flotsam and jetsam of the back field flowed past including a septuagenarian and someone with one arm.

The home strip ran alongside the River Thames and I had to run a gauntlet of comments from spectators egging their team mates on with comments like ‘you can take him,’ ‘he’s weak, he’s weak’ and ‘burn him up. He’s dead meat.’ Very sporting.

A final panting fling and I was just a sodden heap on the towpath gently steaming in my own sweat. Another month and I can go through it all again.

 

 

A day or more of sunshine and us Brits are burning ourselves raw in pursuit of the sophisticated European look and heading for Salmonella Central on half cooked BBQ meat.

It is also the season of boozing and barfing as I discovered this morning after gently wheeling through the innards of someone’s guts as the sparrows sung over the yard arm. Oh, for the sticky embrace of Mr Daniels.

 

‘Some men are like a wheel. They need to go round. They rust if they lie still and fall apart. You are like that. Some men, they can live in a box, but you’re not one of them.”

D’Arcy Niland

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