Noel, Noel

Some epically stupid cow down the road has an electronic countdown to Christmas thing in her front window, which what with her house being right on the T-junction with traffic lights we’re all most days held up there and get to notice another day down to C-Day, starting from at least 62 at the last clocking of its reappearance. So that’s what, 61 days of feverish waiting for this incredible day to come? How balls-achingly sad is that.

Anyway, testicles to it all, shops stocking mince pies in September or John Lewis’s latest shit fest being a news item or topic of conversation among people who should know far better.

Decades ago, in the very late 1970s, down south near my granny and grandpa’s house near Aylesbury, was a beautiful church in the sticks where grandpa played the organ. One Christmas I think might have been the last he was fit enough to play, unless I am misremembering things, this church was very close if not next door to a gorgeous, large, red-bricked country house with a big front door and large bottle-glass windows, a house we somehow knew was owned by Noel Edmonds, years before he became a right-wing nut, way back when he was trendy and fun and known to all kids across the land for Swap Shop.

A freezing December day my ma, Granny and us three kids, parked up across the way from Noel’s house to do a recce on the church, Noel having put an array of coloured light bulbs on a proper large Christmas tree outside his front door. Granny stayed in the car while we went in, of course we were more interested in the hope that Noel might turn up and being a childhood hero of course he’d do something amazing like sign autographs and invite us in to meet Rex the dinosaur and then have us on the show or something, or some such cascade of amazing things that someone like him would do because he’s famous and obviously loves kids, so we thought, and so on. Anyway in we went to this church, as cold inside as outside, and I can’t remember how long we were inside for or what we did, as it wasn’t interesting.

We ultimately returned to the car, disappointed in having not seen Noel. But Granny said while we were inside a car had pulled up outside the house, and a man with longish blonde hair and a beard had come out and been driven away. It could only have been him! As exciting and near mythical as seeing Father Christmas himself.


do wot

Does the Queen never wake up in the morning and think, ‘WTF. What am I doing here? How did I get here? How the fucking come can there be such a thing still as a Queen, let alone it be me?’

Does she never pull a commoner aside and ask, ‘can you explain to me what I’m doing here, and why you think I’m so great? Do you in fact think that?’

I wonder as I wonder what she thinks to news of some £10 million of her fortune being squirrelled away in the Caymans. Is she bothered, or think ‘that’s no-one’s fucking business except my own? Heads will roll. Or rather I wish they still did, I’d order it now.’

But 99.99999% of her subjects, let alone the world, don’t have that kind of money, and so far as I know is a single transaction, nor would it occur to them to put it in the Caymans, well I’m thinking, it’s just so out there beyond the realm of ordinary people, beyond any idea they’d have. Does she have any handle on that at all?

Kew whiff

The other day I got the aroma of something I couldn’t place.

I remember when years ago, in Vietnam, I was riding this motorbike to from Hanoi to Sapa, where the French had built a hill town decades before (although the locals and the h’mong had been living around there for millennia). On the drive up, what would have been a seven or eight hour drive extended and extended as I got lost more than once, bearing out what another teacher said, that this journey by me, alone, who’d never driven more than 20km on a motorbike, and now throwing myself into a 350km drive cross country where I spoke as good as no Vietnamese (despite the written script having been Romanised and made all the more learnable and accessible), on a dangerous, Soviet-era bike I’d no idea how to fix … was all a bit of a punt. Said teacher and a host of others were taking the train to Sapa this weekend, Sapa proving to be this fantastic village really of small hotels and narrow streets where hill tribe women came to trade, located 1,000s of feet up in the steep, steep hills, the village located so high up that the valleys and gulleys below filled with cloud and the sky around Sapa was burningly sunny and clear. It was way up in Cloud City that they’d all already be, safely, awaiting my arrival …

I left in the morning … By dusk I was driving through hills where the farmers had set the stubble on fire and there were all these great glowing patches of smouldering grass on the hillsides. By the time it was dark, 8 or so in the evening, I’d been driving pretty solid, 10s of kms and scores of minutes lost to being lost, and with all the wrong turns by now I was shattered, and the weather had flipped from scorching sun to bucketing down … So I arrived at the last sizeable town before Sapa, about 40km south, on a river, with only a bridge to cross before the great drive uphill to Sapa was to unfold. In the dark and rain I found a bridge, a big steel-girdered thing, and drove across towards the great lights of a town a couple of hundred metres away on the opposite bank. Before halfway, out of nowhere leapt this bloke in a rain smock, shouting at me, and brandishing a Kalashnikov, and I practically fell off the bike trying to stop it on the greasy wooden roadway.

He quickly sussed I spoke little lingo, and asked, ‘You go … China?’

China? ‘What? Oh no, sorry, no. Sapa. Sa-pa!’

He half-spun around and pointed at the great lights across the water, then the bridge, and shouted: ‘THERE!! CHINA!!!’

I looked harder, and could just make out that those great lights were bright single characters of Chinese script. My God, I thought, it is actually China. So much mystery and allure for me, and I’d be living there in a couple of years, but for now this was the very first time I’d seen the place for real. Yards away, but far enough, beyond this armed guard, through the rain, glowing bright in the dark.


I digress. On the long drive cross country I stopped off a junction on the edge of a hill road, and was distracted by this amazing smell, a hot, humid smell of some kind of plant. I’d no idea what plant but there it was, a rich scent, a vegetation scent more than a flower or blossom. Then I remembered where I’d smelled this before, years before, in Kew Gardens, where our pa would take us some summer Sundays and in the incredible Victorian greenhouses, with towering trees and thick lush green-leaved plants all around the walkways, the air so thick with humid heat and aromas, that was where I remembered it from. Lovely gorgeous Kew, laid out centuries before, thousands of miles away, to bring the wonders of the world home for all to see and marvel … including the Great Pagoda.

And there I sat in the middle of Vietnamese farmland, sitting on this extremely handsome motorbike, connecting back to London from years before.

What a vision is Kew, what a wonderful thing to have done, and how long and far reaching the impacts.