Month: November 2009

A Shooting on Broadway

Last Saturday I went up to London with my bike on the train to see my dad and go to Victoria park’s firework spectacle. Arriving into London I spied my dad hiding from me just outside the barriers at the end of platform 18. We pushed our bikes through the station and came out onto Wilton Road and cycled up towards the river. After a swift half facing into the autumnal sun outside the Morpeth Arms – one of my dad’s favourite pubs – we walked up to the Tate, locked our bikes out front and joined the throng of people shuffling through the J.M.W Turner exhibition.

I didn’t realise Turner was such a huge ego. It seems he made his name by imitating the great masters and trying to show he could do what they did – only better. It was amazing to see Turner alongside Titian, Rubens, Rembrandt and Constable. On one occasion, at the Royal Academy exhibition in 1832, Turner returned to the gallery a day ahead of the opening on ‘varnishing day’ to spy Constable’s painting entitled The Opening of Waterloo Bridge. On seeing his contribution, Turner took a brush and added a dash of red paint to his own painting. In comparison Constable’s painting now looked over the top and gaudy and he was none too pleased. What a sneek he was – that Turner! He really knew how to get and keep the public’s attention.

Next, we swung through the Turner prize and I was most drawn to the work of Lucy Skaer. Her blurb says she makes drawings, sculptures and films which often take found photographic sources as their starting point. One piece called Black Alphabet – which consists of 26 dust coal sculptures I found stunning; stark, bold and very striking.

That evening crushed tightly against other revellers inside Victoria Park, with my brother and some of his friends – we watched some fantastic fireworks. It wasn’t quite cold enough to capture my heart but I definately had one or two sparkly moments. However, no sooner had it started it was over and I was queuing to get out. Ordinarily in this situation – crammed into a vast crowd inching painfully slowly towards a narrow opening I start hyper-ventilating and imagining worse case scenarios. Too many people pushing forward, no where for those in front to go – with fearful mayhem ensuing. I kept focussing on the fact that it was still early and the crowds were full of mums, dads and children. Sensible, safe people. Nothing untoward was going to happen right now. I escaped the throng and took refuge outside an Italian café and considered ordering pizza and wine for a treat for me and my brother whom I had lost somehow in my failed attempt at beating a hasty retreat ahead of the rest.

Soon after wolfing down pizza my bro and I were unlocking our bikes in the rain. He was going to cycle me back to Bethnal Green before going on to a party. We had to get off and push our bikes when we hit the crowds on Broadway Market – it was nearly 10p.m. The streets were busy and full of trendy types hanging out despite the fact it had been raining on and off and was starting to feel really cold. At one point as the crowd thickened we had to be really careful not to run our bikes into the ankles of the people in front. Those coming towards us had to swerve to avoid our handlebars. It was at this moment that we heard a loud bang and turned to see a guy standing still, pointing a gun down a side street we had just passed – smoke was coming out of its end. Nothing happened. No one reacted. There was no noise. It was weird. A moment frozen in time. Two men ran round the corner and disappeared into the night – the guy with the gun and and another. The one with the gun had, moments earlier pushed past us in the crowd.

Me and my brother stood in the kerb looking back and wondering what the hell just happened. Had we witnessed a murder? or a failed attempt? I was in shock and thinking about how we nearly got in his way and how we might have paid for making him late for his target. My brother was quite rightly more worried about whether or not there was someone lying injured or worse – dead. Still, nothing much was happening. We wondered if it was even a real gun? Maybe it was a stunt?

I felt bad. There couldn’t have been a body – the shooter must have missed – cos still no-one was reacting. In the meantime some git in a car went ape shit at us for getting in his way and beeped his horn at us angrily, swearing and shaking his fists out of the window. This side show really unnerved us. His aggression was directed right at us in close proximity. He was horrible. Nothing was happening and so we got back on our bikes and now pretty shaken from this road rage we carried on up to Hackney Road.

What just happened? Why didn’t anyone react? I didn’t get it. My bro took me back to my dad’s front door which was the right thing to do considering. It must have been gone 10p.m. by now and a few minutes later I got a text from my brother. On his way back past the scene, he saw that the area had been cordoned off with two police vans. He reckoned there was no body. The police had been called at least – thank goodness for someone having the right reaction.

I googled ‘shooting on Broadway Market’ when I got back to Brighton and for several days thereafter and I found nothing. Is that because shootings are so common on the streets of London that they just aren’t reported or is it that no body means no story? Should I have gone to the police even tho there were hundred’s of other witnesses – plenty closer to the scene than us? And even though the guy with the gun practically had to push us out of his way to get to where he was headed, my brother and I couldn’t even agree on what he was wearing. I still don’t know what to make of this. At once such a familiar scene from films and TV but certainly close up it just felt wierd and maybe that’s why no-one reacted – we didn’t know what we were looking at nor how to react to it?

Halloween pumpkin fest

On Halloween this year I found myself with 3 children; thirteen, eight and nearly two. The youngest is mine and the older two are my partners – all girls. I am not quite sure how, but I have managed to stay fairly ignorant of Halloween activities until this year. It must be down to my age bracket and ‘status’. Before, as a mid thirties somebody I guess I must have been too old to be invited to hip Halloween parties. Now, a mum and parent type of person to my partners girls (which means we get to do Halloween every other year (!)) I am going to have to start engaging with child centred festivities with a renewed enthusiasm.

So, this year in an attempt to fulfill young desires and parental type obligations – after a day out on Southwold beach and pier – we found ourselves driving to Bungay on the recommendations of an artist lady my mum knows who works in Craft Co. It was a bit of a treck but it was well worth it – in more ways than one.

By 6p.m. the whole of Bungay was alive with witches, ghosts and gruesome nasties. The centre of town, by the Buttercross, surrounded by food stalls; cakes, mulled wine and a whole pig sliced up from head to tail – past which we hurried to save our vegetarian sensitivities. Bridge Street was harangued with hundreds of children, mums and dads dressed so very scarily, trick or treating buckets a go go (mainly orange and from tesco’s I since discovered!). This was the town’s annual pumpkin night. Outside all the houses down Bridge Street sat the hugest pumpkins you ever did see. If I squinted down the street – with the mist and the light and the smoke off the fires rising into the damp night air I could almost have been in the middle of a medieval street festival. It was quite magical and definately worth a visit.

On the way back to the van we went into St.Mary’s graveyard to scare ourselves a little more and check out the claw marks left by the ghostly hound Black Shuck – but we got the wrong church! On August 4th 1577 during a raging thunderstorm it is said that during a service at St. Mary’s, the ‘The Black Dog of Bungay’ killed two and left another injured before tearing off to Holy Trinity Church in Blythburgh where the creature charged down the aisle, before fleeing through the North door of the church leaving large black scorched gouges which can still be seen on the door.

The mist on the way out of town was almost impenetrable I had to drive back at 30 miles an hour. If I put my full beams on I was blinded by the whiteness. After a while it felt like the bluriness was actually on the surface of my eyeball. It was well scary and the drive was made more eery still by taking turns to continue a scary story about severed arms and wobbly eyeballs.

When we got back we took our pumpkin and candles in jars up to the graveyard behind my mum’s house, to see what Halloween had done to the old souls up there. My brother managed to swing round ahead of us to flicker on and off the mock victorian lantern that lights up the pathway and to give a few screeches. Meanwhile over the other side of the field my mum was whining like a dying cat. It did the trick. I took the eight and two year old back to the warmth and safety of the sitting room fire and left the braver folk to explore the graveyard close up.