Recently, I was in Tropea, Italy. On the tip of the toe, opposite Sicily.
The place in which I stayed overlooked a monastery that sits above the sea. It feels odd to me to see robed monks going about everyday activities, probably because monks are an endangered species in England. And the sight of them was made stranger as my book of choice happened to be In The Name of the Rose, essentially a murder mystery set in a 14th century monastery. 
Anyway, I didn't draw the monastery. This view is looking the other way, showing the houses built right up to the cliff edge, or the cliff erosion makes it appear this way. Some look like they've been sculpted from the rock. Of course, it could be anywhere, by the time I finished with it, but having read this you can say 'ah, that's Tropea, right there'.


The painting shown above was done over a year ago. I didn't like it as I finished it and I don't like it now, so I left it to fend for itself, never collecting it from the exhibition it was part of. This morning I took the long route to work, taking me past the exhibition building, inevitably leading me to wonder at the picture's fate. 

As I walked across the front, I imagined finding it discarded out the back, perhaps a corner poking out from the bins. 
As I walked past the side, I actually saw the painting leant up against the bins. I wasn't really upset, more surprised - mildly freaked out - that my premonition had happened. Was this odd timing, or had it just been there for months?

I went to look and see what state it was in. Brixton is similar to India in that you can't pause for long before a stranger approaches, and as I was considering weather to leave or reclaim it, a sprightly elderly woman joined me. There was a second abandoned canvas, but she pointed at mine and declared it to be the better. My fragile ego will take any praise, so I admitted responsibility and after a brief chat - she was French, which explained her style and her laughter at my adopted name, and she'd lived in Brixton for 25 years, in a large house close enough for her to point to. 

I offered her the painting. A relief to get rid of it. Her walls were full of art but she'd find some room, she promised. She seemed pleased and it solved the problem of what I would do with it. I'm happy I'll never have to look at it or see it again, yet I do like the idea that it lives on. Even if it becomes a joke, the painting that no-one likes, at least it lives. That's pretty much all the vast majority of us aspire to, isn't it; just keep alive, for as long as possible.
I'll probably walk past her house in a year or two and rescue it from the bins again.


I recently visited the Martin Parr exhibition in the Guildhall. It was his usual wry, deadpan look at British life, in this case the pageantry of the City rituals.

The photos were taken over a period in 2014 but, like everything else this summer, it was hard not to look at them through post-Brexit spectacles.

Is one of the (side) effects of our collective decision to be parochial and to 'keep the foreigners out', a protection of these odd, archaic rituals? If so, is this something we actually want, or is it time we gave them the boot as part of our, to put it positively, fresh new start?

These rituals do contain a nostalgia, the one so loved by all who miss the mythical Albion, and they are mostly as harmless as they are ridiculous. The laughter they provoke doesn't, as Parr himself often shows, have to be scathing. But these are images imbued and ridden with class. Rituals designed to keep everyone (from above and below) in their correct place and order.

So are we now at a time where we can simply celebrate them - the rituals, processions, banquets - as pomp and ceremony? As ridiculous, as meaningless, as fun, ceremony, tradition? Or should we question even the act, shown here, of toasting the Queen's good health?

As I looked at the photos I certainly didn't feel proud of England, but there was a fondness. Perhaps no different or stronger than when I encounter other cultures' rituals abroad. Maybe it's just interest.

Sometimes I'm embarrassed as a tourist, that feeling of not wanting to embrace the inauthentic performance that is created, or re-enacted, specifically for the tourist. Similarly, I often find it hard to enjoy being English, or British, or any collective identity. I find tribalism and certainly patriotism awkward and embarrassing and, frankly, a bit old-fashioned. It has always seemed to me that a celebration and pride in your own country amounts to no more than declaring that place to be the best purely because it happens to be your birthplace.

Perhaps if I had ever been part of these, or similar, age-old traditions, I could embrace my role as an insignificant but happy part of the greater good, or even just old fashioned 'society'. And perhaps this is the role of rituals, providing a part to play; of a community, even a large, falsely designated one (i.e a nation) that can never really exist as a group of even vaguely like-minded people without the false notion of patriotism. How British [or insert any nation here] do you feel? How 'British' is it even possible to feel? Am I allowed to not really feel any connection to any particular location on the globe? And if I am, is that even good for me and my well-being?

You'll have to seek out the books on these subjects for any answers, but these are some of the thoughts I had as I looked at the photos. How ridiculous we all are, how silly are the things we do and the games we invent for ourselves, but perhaps there is a purpose that we should be careful not to dismiss so easily, even us (like myself) who are often aloof and dismissive towards these rituals.


I occasionally write restaurant reviews for popular local website Brixton Buzz
Below is the latest one for newly opened Rum Kitchen.

Finally. What everyone has been waiting for.  Somewhere to eat Caribbean chicken in Brixton.  Of course not, but unperturbed by turning up to a party in the host’s favourite outfit, Rum Kitchen opens it’s doors this month.
We were invited to discover what they have on offer as part of the soft-opening launch one week before the official opening.

The Rum Kitchen is (yawn) part of a chain, with other spots in Notting Hill & Soho. That’s standard for Brixton now, especially on a spacious site such as this one on Coldharbour Lane. It’s decked out (literally; plenty of wood has been employed to convince everyone they are inside a beach shack) in the way you would expect if Caribbean-style restaurants came in a flat pack. Authentically inauthentic.

You know the drill; bare industrial fixtures & fittings, open kitchen area, cheerful but empty platitudes daubed in hand-written typeface across the walls, with hand-drawn artwork everywhere. All nicely done, but with little character.

The bar that greets you on entry is mightily impressive, however, and it feels almost rude to continue straight past to the seating area beyond, although that is exactly what we did.

The area is well designed, seating comfortable and spacious enough for a group of friends to gather together but still feel part of the busy throb of the restaurant. At the back there were even a set of comfy sofa style seats.

It was really busy when we went, and it had a good atmosphere, but it’ll be interesting to see if they can keep the space filled throughout the week and as time passes. The prices are not going to get people pushing through the doors like it’s Black Friday and Brixton is now a competitive place for a chain to settle in to.

The cocktail menu is only slightly shorter than A Brief History of 7 Killings but we managed to pick out plenty to sample. Most were very pleasant, with top marks going to the self-explanatory Nuts About Rum. The recommended Banana Banger went down well, even if the ingredients sounded suspiciously sweet.

The large Zomibe seemed to disguise the alcohol taste so, alert to the danger of cocktail drinking, we switched to the larger they have on tap, good ole Red Stripe. The Brixton brewed IPA and Pale Ale are also available in a bottle.

The cocktails are all around the £10 mark. This seems a lot for any drink, especially ones that go down so easily. I can’t pretend I’m a regular at Cocktail Bars, so perhaps this is standard, as the beer prices are not shocking for a restaurant.

So that’s the Rum, what about the Kitchen?

There was a limited menu on offer, being pre-official opening. This also explained some minor teething problems with the service; drinks sometimes took a while to arrive, as did the dessert, but the staff were all friendly, if understandably a touch less relaxed than they will be after a bit of time to settle in.

The only fish we could sample were the greasy squid rings. Soft as you like to bite and the peppery sauce was tasty, but we immediately saw the reason for the hefty wad of paper napkins piled at the edge of our table.

For the vegetarians there was Callaloo, a tasty side of ackee & spinach, and a sweet potato curry with the health-foodie’s favourite ingredient quinoa. This was hearty, decent and tasty without setting the taste buds dancing.
The coleslaw was deliciously oniony, but the odd crunchy grain of rice could be found within the rice & peas. We also had the Rainbow Salad (available minus the jerk chicken pieces), found in the same competent-not-breath-taking league as the curry.
Still on the vegetarian notes, there will usually be a Halloumi burger available. Adding fries brings this up to £13, a price too high for a meat-free burger meal.
In general the prices are not too eyebrow-raising, although there are a few that make you wonder if there has been any adjustments from the sister menus in Notting Hill and Soho. I shouldn’t have to add that jerk chicken is available all over Brixton at much more competitive prices.

The jerk chicken comes as boneless thighs as well as fried and on the bone and also in a burger. The consensus was that the chicken was fine (no complaints but nothing to elevate it above other flightless birds), but the star of the plate was the sauces, apparently restaurant made and super tasty.  Chicken-wise, the burger plucked top place and the music seemed to reflect this.  The occasional reggae tunes were soon drowned out by U.S numbers as the evening went on, perhaps showing a closer connection to North America.

Looking at the dessert menu both the Chocolate Rum Pot and the Coconut Affogato seemed tempting but the only choice was a serving of soft scoop ice cream, with a chocolate and nut topping. Basically a posh Mr Whippy, yet it hit the spot with sublime accuracy.

Overall, Rum Kitchen may feel more at home in a shopping centre food court than on any Caribbean island, or even Brixton, but the fact it is directly opposite the newly opened Premier Inn perhaps says more about exactly who this venture is aimed at.

A good shout for a large group of friends to come and grab a table and share some jerk and cocktails. As long as the more interesting places remain in Brixton for those inclined, this isn’t such a bad option for people without the local knowledge or time to explore further.