B for Brent

8 Feb. Eleven minutes to Hendon. Five minutes walk to Brent Cross past a barber-surgeon giving free hair cuts to street trees. The sign at the pedestrian gate at the end of Brent Park Road worried me: “ACCESS FOR SHOPPING AND BUSINESS PURPOSES ONLY NO PUBLIC RIGHT OF WAY.” All in hectoring capital letters and no full stops anywhere. What if they stopped me?


It reminded me of another walk and another sign: “Constables and other Peace Officers to apprehend all Common Beggars Ballad Singers and other Vagrants for that they may be dealt with according to the Law.”

2003 – the walk, not the sign which carried the date 24 June 1811, was from Amersham to Milton’s cottage in Chalfont St Giles where the curator was excited to show me a Serbo-Croat translation of Paradise Lost which he told me had originally been written on toilet paper in a Yugoslavian Jail.

I can’t dislike my walk notes which ranged from the Doctrine of Signatures and Cockney rhyming slang to my own dead friend who had, like Lycidas, “shattered his leaves before the mellowing year,” and notes on many other things besides. The thing is, I forgot them all and the walk too. But not the sign, apparently. Ballad singers will be apprehended. I still felt marked.

In John Lewis it was as if the racks and shelves had been emptied and replaced with rows of glass eyes.

But I cheered up the other side. I imagined my own sign: “COMMODITY FETISH, REPRESSIVE DESUBLIMATION, DO NOT RESUSCITATE,” until I realised that it had already been written in the abandoned trolley I saw the other week on the ice and now again at this uniquely similar temple’s back door. You can load the fuckers till the wheels buckle but they will be empty again, carrying only air and the imprint of a greasy dream.

I enjoyed the herons along the mighty Dollis (tributary of the mightier Brent which once gave its name to a hamlet, then a crossroads, then one of the first shopping centres in Wikipedia) and determined to be more patient – like a heron, in fact – though it’s easy enough to say on a walk.

I read an interesting article in the Graun about people with highly superior autobiographical memory, or HSAM. It’s not necessarily a good thing, apparently.

Walks too are sometimes best forgotten.


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