Wednesday 5 October 2016

Urban Diary

As I slot the first flyer through the letterbox I cause the flap to fall back heavily making a terrible loud noise. This is completely unintentional and motivated perhaps by the sound of barely audible steps rushing to the door. I mistakenly take these to belong to a dog even though there is no “beware of” sign to be seen.
Thus begins my annual leaflet drop.

I love this part of my job. For one, it puts me in direct contact with the local community. In addition, it serves as further study of London’s urban life.

My regular beat starts in the block of flats located about a quarter of a mile away from the school where I am based. I usually end here, too, working my way around the neighbourhood in a circle. The low-rises sit in a triangular layout overlooking a patch of grass that has seen better days. As I walk past the front gardens of the ground-level houses and I am exposed to shoes of all types and sizes, I begin my usual fun-filled, mental guessing game. Flat-soled, open-toed sandals with wedge at the back? They probably belong to my Romanian crowd, usually Gypsy ones. Flat, dark brown, leather toe-looped sandals-cum-slippers? Usually, my Asian gang. “Chunky-looking”, cross-strapped, black sandals? Probably my African brethren.

Two north London football clubs vie for space on clotheslines, windows and doors. N17 White Hart Lane vs N7 Emirates take their battle off the pitch and on to this patch of early-morning, sun-drenched suburbia. In the air lingers the aroma of turmeric and ginger. Nice contrast to the smell of cannabis that wafts out of one of the windows on my right.

I go up the urine-stained stairs of one of the buildings and after dropping a few more flyers I gaze down at the green, rectangular patch below. Bereft of slides and see-saws, this is more dog territory than play area. As if to confirm my theory a bloke comes out with his canine in tow. Clad in a black, loose T-shirt and jeans, he reminds me of one of the lines in Blur’s Parklife: “I feed the pigeons, I sometimes feed the sparrows too/It gives me a sense of enormous well-being”. Well, he is only feeding his dog, which responds in kind by fouling on the grass a few times in the scarce minutes I am up on the first floor. Perhaps the dog has a funny tummy. But its owner has funny hands. They are completely unable to produce a little bag with which to dispose of the dog excrement.

I give a curt “you awright, mate?” to the stranger and cross over to the other side of the train station. Immediately the scenery changes. Fewer flats and more houses. A mix of social and private tenants probably renders this area the blue hue in mayor of London, Sadiq Khan’s recent graph of the capital’s property map. The further you go into London, the more amber and orange the colours are, denoting foreign ownership. But out here in the “burbs, it is still mainly UK buyers who go for local property. By UK, please, understand UK-based, not necessarily UK-born. Since I was last here a year ago, the amount of building work has increased. I exchange greetings with an Irish builder, his cockney geezer sidekick and a Polish driver (I know he is Polish. I can tell by the accent these days).

I almost bump into a lanky, forty-something chap as I leave the front garden of one of the houses. He is also on a flyer mission. His, however, is linked to the pizza takeaway on the high road. A mechanical, almost muted, accented “hello” escapes his lips as he mechanically moves from accommodation to accommodation, with a mechanical gait, probably mechanically counting how many leaflets he has got left to deliver. I skip the next house on account of the “No Junk Mail” sign on the door. Flyer-man does go in, leaving his promotional material tucked halfway in the letterbox. Mechanically, of course.

As I make my way back to the low-rises, I catch sight of the local postie. “Giving me competition, mate?”. Nah, I answer, I wouldn’t be able to do your miles with your heavy bag.  I walk away, fewer flyers in my hands now. Postman soon becomes a red dot on the urban horizon, his shorts and bare legs a barometer to indicate that autumn has not arrived yet.

© 2016

Next Post: “Thoughts in Progress”, to be published on Saturday 8th October at 6pm (GMT)


  1. I love these details - so many people would just see any old tired block of flats and not the vibrancy of life in them!

  2. Capturing all as you flyer on through, wouldn't want to lift their heavy bag either.

  3. I love these glimpses of community you give us. Thank you.

  4. You have a good eye for capturing the environment around you in detail, CiL, and a talent for transferring it into words for others to envision.

  5. You have a good eye for capturing what's happening around you.

  6. What a wonderful read - I feel as if I was there with you!

  7. well observant eye you have .found your writing little touching can't say why?

    best of luck for your studies .you got good soul .i think you can try your hand in WRITING PROSE POETRY .
    God bless

  8. As always, a wonderfully description post.There is so much to see when we open our eyes and stop dashing to beat the clock.Thank you for heeding the request not to leave leaflets. I wish leaflet deliverers would heed the request in my area.

  9. Hi ACIL - certainly you see life ... it must be fascinating watching the changes happen - so much change in recent decades ... it's good you're documenting it ... cheers Hilary

  10. Cuando uno anda por las mil razones los pensamientos aumentan así que las sensaciones por lo visto.
    Un saludo.

  11. I did this kind of work ones long ago. Ans gor a very sour body after that :(

  12. Your words sing. Really. You have a way of observing thing and describing them in such a way that we can visualize them, too.

    I hope your family in Cuba wasn't affected by the hurricane. It looks like there was a tremendous amount of damage there.

  13. Ha. I love the physicality of this post--your actually walking around. The interchanges interesting and vivid and much enjoyed. Thanks. I also hope your family okay. My mom in Florida--she's safe but don't know about the house yet. k.

  14. I can imagine being there with you!

  15. I can imagine being there with you!

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