When we lived in Walthamstow, the recycling scheme was clear and simple. We had a single green plastic container into which all material was deposited – plastic, glass, paper, cardboard, aluminium cans – the entire kit and caboodle. I called it my ‘save the world box’ and it was emptied weekly. Four years on and the whole recycling malarkey has got a lot more serious. We now have a black wheelie bin for general household refuse and a light green wheelie bin for recycling except for kitchen waste that goes in a little black box, garden waste that is chucked into a beige sack and glass which goes into a dark green box. The latter, in particular, requires the strength of two butch lads to lug and tip. Our little back yard, with its random collection of multi-sized containers, could be entered into the Turner Prize to represent the municipal oppression of the common man.
Our general rubbish and recycling is collected on alternate weeks. This came as quite a shock after the twice daily tours by Bodrum bin men. At my advanced age, the new regime takes some mental acrobatics to remember what week is which. I’ve taken to sticking post-it notes on the multi-point. Nevertheless, we do our bit. Sometimes though, the city council don’t do theirs and sometimes, they serve up an embarrassment of riches. Three times now, our recycling has been left to rot by the wayside. Our refuse was refused. Then we were suddenly hit by the mysterious case of the stolen wheelie. I looked out the window. It was gone. I looked up and down the street. It was of empty of wheelies of any sort. What would Miss Marple make of it? I amused myself with the thought of early-morning students on a drunken caper wheeling my wheelie around the city with a pissed-up nerd inside. Wheelie-less, I rang the Council. “I’m without a wheelie,” I said. “Oh dear, no,” a sympathetic lady replied. She was shocked by my sorry tale and promised re-instatement. A shiny new wheelie arrived the very next day; then another one the day after, then a third the day after that. I’ve opened an e-Bay account. Don’t tell the Council.
Liam and I registered with our local GP practice. The serene surgery is a far cry from the NHS bedlam we left behind in inner city Walthamstow. Natural politeness reigned supreme and you could hear a syringe drop in the waiting room. The entire process took no more than ten minutes. I have wobbly legs to check and periodic limb movement disorder to re-diagnose so I booked my first appointment. I was greeted by a smiley Germanic quack who listened intently to my dancing calf story and examined the test results I had shipped over from Turkey. She checked my blood pressure. “A little high,” she said, “but that’s because I’m a scary doctor.” We laughed. “Best we re-do the tests,” she continued. I’m booked in for a fasting blood test in a few days and I’ve been given a home blood pressure kit to check the numbers every waking hour on the hour for the next week. I suppose I’d better cut down on the sauce a bit. Frau Doc has also referred me to a consultant cardiologist for an arterial MOT. Apparently, I book the appointment online. I have a sneaking suspicion that Teutonic efficiency will cut through the NHS flab like a hot knife through butter.
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The pictures are hooked, the classic Habitat vases are strategically placed in medieval nooks, the beds are nattily dressed and the gay scatter cushions have been scattered gaily. Our Gallic Lady of the House gazed down on us enigmatically as we popped the cork on the French fizz and toasted to a job well done. The ex-semigrey repats are in and we’re sorted. Liam’s loving the kitchen and loving my Radio gaga. We’re wallowing like proverbial pigs. We’ve finally sussed the complex recycling palavar. The slightest infringement of the rules and the feeble boys with their feeble wrists won’t take the crap. It wasn’t like this with my little plastic save-the-world box in Walthamstow and it certainly ain’t Turkey.
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While looking for a new gaff to lay our hats we boxed and coxed with trunks in tow. Some of our time was spent with Liam’s folks in Edmonton, North London. The area has a strange familiarity, and not for the obvious reasons. As a world city, London is used to migration and transience. London is what it is because of it. Centuries of settlement and resettlement have reinvented and re-invigorated the city in an endless cycle of renewal. This constant shift in the cultural cityscape is not without its challenges but it is always enriching.
Forty years ago Edmonton was host to a thriving Irish community. Catholicism, the craic and the tricolour dominated the local scene. Forty years on, next generation Irish have moved up and out leaving a rump of the old who are slowly dying off. Nature abhors a vacuum; as the Irish up sticks to greener pastures, Turks fill the spaces in between. Of course, Turkish people are no strangers to London. The colonial connection to Cyprus established Turkish and Greek communities, now decades old. The partition of Aphrodite’s troubled isle following the 1974 Turkish invasion helped to bolster numbers on both sides of the Cypriot divide. Ironically, both communities live cheek-by-jowl in a way that is no longer possible on Cyprus itself. They don’t exactly mix but neither do they growl at each other from opposite sides of a thin blue line. When I lived in Walthamstow, my local convenience store was run by Turks and my greying hair was clipped by the Greek barber next door. I wisely avoided the Cypriot question while Stavros wielded a cut-throat razor.
Back in Edmonton, the ethnic influx is of a different kind. Recent immigrants tend to hail from Turkey itself rather than Cyprus. This has introduced a more traditional feel to the area. Grubby old pubs that were dying on their feet have been turned into colourful restaurants and locked-up shops have been given a new lease of life as tea houses. There’s even a branch of Doğtaş – a well-known (and horribly gaudy) Turkish home furnishings chain – in the local shopping centre. It’s all brought a new vibrancy to the vicinity. Unfortunately, as well as a fresh new Anatolian look, the Turks have also imported their truly terrible driving habits. Lollipop ladies leap for their lives.
Mission accomplished on the flat front, we said our temporary goodbyes to old Norwich Town and ventured back to London. Norwich has remained a bit off the beaten track since it’s not connected to the motorway network; it’s an hour’s drive along single and dual carriageways until the roar of the M11 is reached. This gave us the opportunity to take in a full English at a Little Chef. I suspect this traditional chain of roadside eateries is destined to die. Just like the Bates Motel in Psycho, Little Chefs are in the wrong place and, these days, weight-rich, time-poor Brits prefer a processed cheese burger to go. It’s a crying shame.
One the way to Liam’s folks, we couldn’t resist a minor detour to our old home in Walthamstow. We pulled up outside. It was as if we had never left. Four years down the line and the pretty little Victoria terrace hadn’t changed a bit. There was the heavy red Thirties door with feature Art Décor stain glass window, the twisted wisteria dripping from the bay window and the neatly trimmed chest-height box hedge. Even the original sash windows were still dressed in the same wooden Venetian blinds we’d left behind. It was like uncovering a time capsule; our old life had been preserved in aspic. We smiled at each other but didn’t linger. It doesn’t do to go back.