#5fifty5 Winter Coat Duplication

I had a situation with my seemingly much replicated winter coat just this morning. I arrived at my bus stop to find it was empty.  As I was on my phone trying to see when my bus was due, I glanced up to see that a man with the same winter coat as me had pushed to the top of what in south London passes off as a queue. I was there before him but how do you remonstrate with someone in an identical coat? I wouldn’t have wanted the attention that came with such a contretemps. Then I considered the possibility that it was perhaps seeing me in the same coat that prompted Same Coat to push in. Maybe he wanted to spare both of us queueing up next to one another, looking unoriginal.

Winter coats like jumpers aren’t built as robustly as they were four or five years ago. It’s all about something that looks good now rather than something that keeps you warm. Among a certain age bracket, the over 35’s, there’s a clamour perhaps for the thicker winter coats of the past that kept us warm and which were common before the Great Recession. With a limited market these days, we’ve all ended up going for similar coats, thus increasing the likelihood of 'winter coat duplication'. There is every chance these much sought after coats might be the ubiquitous tattoo sleeve of winter coats among those of us who remember Live Aid.

I gave Same Coat the benefit of the doubt and let him board first. Ascending to the upper deck, I sat six rows behind him. One or two passengers had, I think, picked up on the duplication, but I felt both Same Coat and myself handled the situation well. In this kind of situation, you also want poker-faced passengers who aware of the duplication, have the requisite low-key features to pretend not to have seen the coat.

Three stops north, lo and behold, a third winter coat duplicator boarded. There were enough empty seats on the upper deck, the morning rush hour having passed, for this latest duplicator to sit well away from either of his winter coat brothers. He chose however to sit to my right, despite doing a double take on first sighting my coat. Same Coat had picked up on the duplication straight away and had turned his collars down, in an attempt to set it apart from the two duplications further back on the bus.

I was disappointed that Duplicator Three had chosen to sit so close to me. I pressed the bell and begin my descent towards the lower deck, disembarking from my bus less than halfway through my journey. It was all I could do to hope that the next bus along would be duplication-free.





#5fifty5 New window with dubious history

Just as the 196 turns into Wandsworth Road in SW8 via Lansdowne Way, there is a window on a house tucked behind a billboard right opposite the post office collection centre. A window has long fascinated me. It was quite simply the filthiest window I remember seeing in years. That window has now been fixed. You can see the ‘Before’ and ‘After’ pictures below.

The new window is impressive, but knowing what that window was previously like, I could never live there. It would be like getting together with a partner with a dubious past. It might have happened before they met you but that history is going to be a significant hurdle for you to surmount.

As a kid, our back window – the bedroom window – in our bedsit – was significantly rotten for the kids at my secondary school to mock it. The cracked glass was held together by tape, our old rogue landlord refusing to repair it. Whenever I see a dilapidated window, my mind always goes back to that and how the local kids had picked up on it. Much the way I picked up on this window on Wandsworth Road, I suppose.  

I left the family home in the summer of 2000 after a bereavement, leaving 24 years of memories behind, some good, some downright painful. Unlike this window on Wandsworth Road, our window never got repaired. Anyone struck by its disastrous state as they walked past the back of our house would never have guessed just how many people were sleeping in that one room behind that window.

#5fifty5 170 Magic

A few weeks before Christmas 2010, as I neared the end of my time living in a hotel (nowhere near as grand as it seems), I rediscovered an old bus route from my mid to late eighties school days in Battersea. These days the 170 was a single decker, and began its route in Victoria where I'd board and stay on until Clapham Junction.

The Junction wasn't too far away from SW1, but the thing I loved about the Roehampton-bound 170 was that it would take a magical and circuitous route to the area where I'd perhaps enjoyed my happiest years working as a Saturday boy at Woolworths in the late eighties and early nineties. Rather than go up through Vauxhall or Wandsworth Road, the 170 would instead snake its way through Battersea and Chelsea, dragging out the journey like a man making a concerted effort to hang onto an unhappy woman by extending the normally brief foreplay, but in the process treating its passengers to one of the most beautiful bus rides in London.

The traffic was always bad, which was great for a man with nothing but time on his hands, as was the case with me back then. I found the journey calmed me down in a way meditation, when I try it, never quite does. I loved it when the 170 got stuck on Cadogan Pier on the north bank of the river. I'd stare out through the window, mesmerised by the Thames just as I had been when I'd first crossed the river with my mum and sibling all those years ago. I'd gaze at the moored houseboats wondering what kind of life its owners lived. I've always hankered after a houseboat and had come to regret not buying one with all the money I'd made from my twelve years on Kid Cop.

#5fifty5 Bad news delivered by man sat back to front

Some years ago, not long after the collapse of my last television deal, I had found myself suffering the kind of office job I hoped I'd left behind in the nineties. One morning at that particular job, a big group of us, all contractors, were taken into one of the large meeting rooms and told our contracts wouldn’t be renewed by a bespectacled man who thought the bad news might have less of an impact if he sat on a chair turned back to front that gave him the appearance of some really ‘cool’ teacher who was down with the kids.

I’ve never gotten why people do that. It just doesn’t look comfortable to me to be sat like that with your legs splayed open. The man then got off his chair somewhat uncertainly, indicating a lack of familiarity with back to front sitting, and handed out some questionnaires, before returning to his highly uncomfortable looking seating position. I supposed once he’d committed to it, he had to see it through. If he’d gone back and turned the chair around and sat as you’re supposed to, it would’ve been an admission on his part that he recognised his original seating position had been ridiculous.

Wrapping his legs around the back of the chair once more, Legs Open told us he wanted us to write down what we thought the organisation’s legacy in those first few months since launching was. I was outraged and as someone that always has to say their piece, I pulled him up on this. With us about to lose our jobs and step into a terrible job market, did Legs Open not think this was an inappropriate request of workers who now faced uncertain futures? Did he seriously think that we had time to wonder what the organisation’s legacy was? At the very least he could've delivered this bad news whilst sat correctly.

#5fifty5 The film that killed me twice

The scariest film I have ever seen, Don’t Look Now, is being remade. Based on the Daphne Du Maurier book, Nicolas Roeg’s unsettling seventies masterpiece follows a couple to Venice who are mourning the death of their young daughter. The new version, yet to secure a cast, has been quite rightly rubbished by Donald Sutherland.

I remember watching the film in the spring of ’93, late night on BBC1. I was struggling with the film’s creepiness, but the ending absolutely killed me. I won’t give anything away. All I will say is that in the film’s frightening climatic scene, watching it alone, I remember saying aloud  ‘OH MY GOD’.

That film scared the living daylights out of me in a way no other film has. I’m not a big horror film fan as it is. In fact I don’t like or watch them at all and I’m not sure Don’t Look Now falls into that category but I know it did terrify me. A year later, the film was on again. I kept flicking to it from another channel, determined I would flick away when it went into another creepy scene. And I was certainly determined I would not watch that climatic scene again. Lo and behold, I flicked to it just as that very scene came on and again it got me.

Twice in a year.

The same scene.

Much like an unnecessarily fancy café, I’ve not gone anywhere near that film for the last twenty years.

#5fifty5 No Easy Smiles

March 2014

My orthodontist says this time next year, I'll be smiling easily. He doesn't know me. My severely limited range of facial expressions means the smile does not come easy to me. Brace or no brace, I don't give them away cheaply. Smiles ought to mean something. You should feel them in your heart, not just your face.

I’m relaxed about the brace coming off, though there are moments when I wonder what would happen if I was to die now? Would the brace get removed before I was buried in that unmarked grave?

At what point would the orthodontist make contact?

When I’ve fallen behind in my payments?

Would they bring them into remove my brace in the morgue if they happen to call before I get put in the ground?

Would the brace still be doing its job even in death, straightening the teeth I still keep grinding in my heavy-on-the-ghosts sleep?

#5fifty5 Six Million Dollar Man Love

As a boy, I loved The Six Million Dollar Man. He was an iconic figure in my childhood, and that show was arguably the first thing in my life I ever got hooked on. Loving something, anything, doesn't come easily to me. I don't believe it should either, and I'm inherently suspicious of people who seem to love everything they run into. Consequently, when I do fall for something, it's such an alien concept to me that it almost overwhelms me and perhaps I go too far the other way.

Tears for Fears.

New Order.


Roland Rat.

NYPD Blue (David Caruso era only).





Hot chocolate.

My obsessive love for these above things at one time or another could all be traced back to what I'd once felt for The Six Million Dollar Man.

When I was four, my dad got me a red tracksuit for Christmas that matched both Steve Austin's (The Six Million Dollar Man) and his own. My cousin and I would run through Brixton's new Angel Town estate in southwest London in our tracksuits pretending we were Steve Austin, jumping off any high-to-four-year-old obstacles on our route, adding bionic sound effects to our every jump.

Perhaps more importantly, the actor Lee Majors' much overlooked moustache in the final year of The Six Million Dollar Man gave me a lifelong obsession with facial hair and much later, regardless of the good cause, a fierce opposition to Movember, which I feel reduces the moustache to a karaoke-like status. 

All of a sudden, my Six Million Dollar Man Kenner action doll no longer looked like Steve Austin. I had just started school in Clapham, and ended up stealing some plasticine from class so I could fashion a moustache for my doll. I became and remain, I guess, obsessed, with how a man can just alter their looks simply by growing facial hair. A decade later, I was even thrown out of my English GCSE class after being caught sketching what I felt was a rather flattering montage of my clean shaven English teacher, who looked uncannily like Christopher Biggins, sporting facial hair at various stages of growth.

#5fifty5 Faces

(From 2013)

I spend every weekday morning in the South Lambeth Road cafe sitting at the next table along from the chin fissures. The Fissures are a fantastically or nauseatingly amorous cleft chinned couple – depending on your point of view - who like me, have been going to the cafe for over a decade. During that time, we have not exchanged a single word. This works for me. As I'm sure it does for them. Small talk is something I simply can’t do.

The Fissures, whose grooves are almost as deep as the hole I was in just over a year ago, tend to be the first customers in there just ahead of me. While I 'morning' the owner these days, it's only so she knows I've arrived as I sit at the toilet table, a notorious blind spot in the cafe which can often leave one left waiting to be served for up to half an hour in my experience. Sometimes, some of the waiters see me and still don't come, deliberately, I think. I have that effect on people on occasion.

With regards to the Fissures, if a disaster ever beset the café, and we all had to come together to find our way out of there, I do wonder whether we'd need to acknowledge that we’d never in all our years of seeing each other spoken prior to that moment.

I've noticed over the last few weeks just what a loud kisser chin fissure man is. Probably the loudest in SW8. He’s tender too, to be fair, handling his wife's face as he kisses her, gently caressing her strong jawline with a thumb. He’s one of those romantics. A face handler. But it’s the loudness of the kissing that really comes across. The café is tiled. The acoustics in there are as unforgiving as the winter cold can be on an erection in a poorly heated flat, yet he won’t compromise on his kissing audio. I wonder whether Chin Fissure woman ever tells him to tone down the audio but maybe he tells her he can’t. Maybe he doesn’t feel he’d be the same kisser if he’s asked to tweak the puckering.

“Don’t try and change me,” he might say.

It’s impressive in that regardless of whoever’s there, he still kisses his wife. Even if it’s someone they know is on their own, and it might make them think, “I don’t want to rub my loved up situation in their unhappy faces’, he doesn’t care. He has to kiss his wife. He won’t moderate the kissing.  And every morning he seems to find a new way of kissing her, as if it’s their first ever kiss.

Maybe one day I’ll kiss a woman as tenderly, if not as loudly, as he does.


Chin Fissure Man has got a very classical face. Very Mediterranean. It’s a face I suspect has been around for at least a millennium and a lot longer than my own. None of the five different noses I've had have altered my face in such a way as to make me think, "Yeah, this face has existed a lot longer in man's history than Chin Fissure Man's. “

Sometimes I look at faces and I wonder how far back into mankind’s history do those faces go. Early on there probably would’ve been a lot of sibling inter breeding, a lot of grotesques, before eventually Early Man figured that unless you mix the blood lines, you’re going to end up with a lot of slow kids.

If you think about it, there must be faces in mankind's history that have died out. Faces we haven't seen again. And what's more, there must be faces that we've just started to see, at least in Europe, as the post-Soviet Union collapse brings lots of different nationalities and races together to add new looks to the wonderful spectrum of faces already on this planet.

There are probably combinations that haven’t come together yet. How many generations would it take before that face with its relatively new features became established? How long does the average look with its pluses and flaws crop up in a family before it dies out? Might someone take a look in the mirror at a time of their life when they’re looking for a partner and think, “Right, I’m not happy with my ears, I need to find someone who’s got better ears than me so we can bleed out this range of ears that have been in the family for generations.”

These are matters the Chin Fissure Man doesn’t concern himself with. He’s in love. He’s happy. With his woman. With his chin. So much so, he married a woman with a cleft chin. It’s a look they’re obviously intent on keeping and their child too also has a fantastic fissure. Will they look to persuade the kid to settle down with a similarly chinned partner and secure the fissure for yet another generation?

I'm guessing I think about him and his wife far more than they think about me. But they must think about me. There must be times. I mean, they see me five mornings a week at 8am. I’m probably one of the first people they see every day. I must be seared into their consciousness even if they know little about me. 

#5fifty5 Protracted Pillow Replacement

Sharing the marital bed with my dad in the mid to late eighties - a move resulting from the final breakdown of my parents' tumultuous marriage - took the joy out of sleeping for me and I never quite got it back. It doesn’t help that my long serving pillows are way too flat and I know it’s high time I replaced them. It won’t resolve the insomnia entirely, but it might help me grab a few more hours a week

I rarely change my pillows. The very day I left SW9, I still remember that I had to rescue my lead pillow from the bin after my aunt chucked it in a bin bag and trashed it when we were clearing out the old family home. I say lead pillow because I think most of us have a lead pillow, the pillow we sleep with, but then we have a second pillow, often more bulbous, like the back of my head if you’re to believe south London’s barbers, that we use to raise our head if we’re reading or watching something in bed.

My pillow’s quite flat and I support it with an equally flat cushion underneath that I picked up in the mid-noughties from a Homebase in Wandsworth. They’re an ageing pair and I know it’s probably high time I looked at easing them out. I’ve tried, believe me, but the replacement pillows just haven’t been up to scratch.

I suspect replacing them is going to be a long and protracted process every bit as difficult as the time Liverpool had to replace their inspirational skipper Graeme Souness when he left to play in Italy back in '84. Souness remains the finest all-round British player I've ever seen. He wasn't as easy on the eye as Kenny Dalglish or my own personal favourites John Barnes and Glenn Hoddle, but he was more important for the team and without him, Liverpool were never quite the same force again. Similarly my pillow isn't great to look at, but it is my own Souness and replacing it has already led to a number of false pillow dawns.

#5Fifty5 Early Noughties P45 heyday

It would be fair to say I am not unfamiliar with the P45. I'm not an easy person to manage and I don't like to be supervised. Over the years, with some difficulty, I made a concerted effort to become a better employee, managing to attain a discipline and tolerance of office life that for so long I'd lacked in the 9 to 5 world.

Arguably my P45 heyday was in the early noughties. In the summer of 2000, I found myself kicked off one job for refusing to take part in a role-playing exercise. I was never big on role-playing. Let me be clear, of all the P45s, I stand by that one more than any other. I want to go to my grave maintaining my record of never having gone to a fancy dress party, done karaoke or got involved in any role-playing.

A couple of summers later, I managed to get sacked twice on the same morning. The first - genuine P45 - saw me escorted off the premises of a lowly data entry job whilst wearing a rather striking white bowling shirt and a pair of white chinos that in a dramatic veering away from the office shirt and tie dress code, I’d taken to wearing after the anti-depressants I was on after losing my mum had kicked in.  As I was chaperoned out of the building that morning carrying all of my belongings in a box like Don Johnson when he was kicked off the force (Kid Cop, Ep: 246, May ’91), I was mistaken for a member of the building’s catering staff by the catering team’s manager. Seeing me well away from the kitchen, he fired me on the spot for ‘slacking’, and I found myself losing a job I never even had.

Mine has always been a face that doesn’t flush easily. Throw into the mix the multiple rhinoplasties tightening the skin around my nose, and people are often hard pushed to read my thoughts. There have been times when sacked that because of that apparently non-plussed expression, the sacking has had to be delivered a second time because it was assumed I’d never heard them fire me first time around.

#5Fifty5 Red Waffle Blanket

As we pulled up outside A and E, a nurse not much older than I was at the time, hovered. She already knew my name. Her long hair was scraped back and tied into a neat ponytail, as indeed I think my own might have been at the time. She wore glasses with frames, which whilst perhaps more fashionable than my mum's design wise, were every bit as thick. As I stepped out of the driver’s cabin, she spirited me away from my mum, taking me from the biggest moment of my life. Did she understand what this was? Had the impact of such moments been lost to her over the years through repetition? It was the sense of choreography I disliked the most. I know she was doing her job but it all seemed a little automated.

As she led me through a series of doors, I glanced back to see my mum being wheeled away into the resuscitation unit underneath a red waffle blanket with a deep honeycombed pattern, pulled right up to her shoulders and identical to a sky blue one I had when I was growing up.  I knew immediately that was the last time I’d ever see her.

I found myself led into a windowless room. I now think that might’ve perhaps been a glimpse into the rooms of my new future. It had clean white walls and uncomfortable looking wooden chairs arranged rather raggedly that looked like they’d been lifted from someone’s kitchen. They leant the room the feel of something that had just been thrown together. To the entrance’s right, a cross hung in the centre of the room, while on a small coffee table in the far right corner was a dark blue glass vase containing dying flowers, surely an oversight that would do nothing to lift the mood in there, I thought.

#5Fifty5 Favourite Festive Nut as a mum gives her kid good bus handrail advice

I was sat lost in my thoughts on a bus this evening, wondering which of the traditional festive nuts were my favourites. Normally the battle for favourite nut for me is between the walnut and the pecan but the pecan was never included in the traditional festive nut bags so the walnut had a clear win. The Hazlenut trailed in a distant second, edging the brazil nut whose hard to crack shell means it’s never quite endeared itself to me. The almond was in last place. Never liked it. Never even been able to say it properly. I think I'm guilty of hitting the 'l' too hard.

And as I was putting together this nut competition in my head, a mum boarded with her boy. “Don’t touch the rails unless you need to,” she told him.

I thought, “That’s good advice from the mum.” But it was totally undermined by allowing the boy to put his little hands all over the window sill when they sat at the front as his mum lost herself in her phone.

On the same journey, a little girl sat next to her mum and was already in gloves. I thought, that’s way too early. It’s not cold enough for gloves. Gloves will have no impact on that kid come January. Just the other day I caught my Imaginary Son trying to venture out with his gloves and I took them off him immediately. I sat him down and explained to him where I stood on the winter wear. The key I said is to still be in autumnal wear come November. Wear a jumper under your summer jacket perhaps for the next few weeks, then come the winter, you will feel like you own that season.

Who is Daniel Ruiz Tizon?

My erratic work history means there's every chance you and I may have worked together before.

13th December marks the sixth anniversary of my last work disciplinary to date.

In 1995, I was spotted fleeing a job through the window of a first floor toilet, something I denied had happened even to myself for the next decade. Eventually I came to recognise this was a pivotal moment in my life.

I won my only football medal in 1982. Of all the things that never happened in my life, that was the last thing I expected.

I'm on my fifth nose.

I still wonder whether I was once a part of Tears For Fears.

I take Batman over Superman any day.

In December 1981, I was floored by a snowball thrown by my dad outside Taste More Fish and Chips shop in Stockwell.

In 2010, I lived in a hotel for 6 months. The owners hooked their Christmas lights to my balcony from late October and with the lights keeping me awake, I fashioned an eye mask from the threadbare gusset of a pair of pants. A combination of the stress of losing everything I had at the time and the brightness of the lights coming into my room continued to keep me awake.

Up until the early eighties, I'd wanted to be a priest. Looking back, given my chequered work history, that would've been the right job for me.

In 2010, alongside childhood friend Micky Boyd, I launched Please Don't Hug Me, a comedy podcast which we recorded from my hotel room every Thursday night from August to December 2010. The show ran until the spring of 2012.

In July and August 2010, I made two separate attempts at breaking the world toilet seat papering record, even though at the time no such record existed.

The first attempt came at my old South Lambeth flat, where the very first episode of Please Don't Hug Me was recorded.

The second of these attempts came from the Victoria-based hotel, by which time, a worsening diet possibly slowed me down in my papering.

From 2011 to 2012, for 52 episodes, I presented The Daniel Ruiz Tizon Podcast which was nominated for a European Podcast Award in 2011.

I haven't ridden a bike since the 6th July 1985.

From 2003 to 2009,  I was writing for the BBC, ITV and Channel 4.

I love South Lambeth.

I have a serious caffeine problem.

The Big 4-0

Being an over analytical type of guy, I've identified 5 key areas of hitting the big 4-0 that anybody approaching that troubling milestone birthday might find useful

How big an overhaul, if at all, will your wardrobe require to take you into your forties with your dignity intact?

Man or woman, can you take long hair into your fifth decade without looking like you're trying to recapture your youth?

If you're still single as you approach the big 4-0, do you lower your standards and settle for second best just so you're not on your own?

Interestingly, I'd argue quite a few of my own friends who are either in their forties or on the cusp of forty, are in much better physical shape than they were 10 years ago. This is quite probably down to us seeing a close school friend pass away. But also, in addition to that, I'm guessing as you get older, you become more aware of your health and take the kind of care in your health you took for granted in your younger days.

Does success become less important to you as you get older? Can you move on knowing certain dreams died? How much would accepting that change you as a person?


Like Tears for Fears without Curt Smith

29 October 2015

My mum was a great cook and I miss her food to this day almost as much as I miss her. Recently I looked into the origins of quite possibly her best dish, the Puchero, long cooked meats with chickpeas that she would cook the night before and serve in three courses.

The puchero has its origins in the Jewish adafina, the Sabbath Casserole. It was adopted by Catholic Spaniards back in the day and pork and sausages were added to the meats that were already there as evidence the eaters were neither Jewish nor Muslim and that the meal now belonged firmly to the Spanish.

Every region has its own variation of the puchero. Some go big on the bean and sausage meat. Others add more veg. Some, rather strangely in my eyes, do away with the chickpeas, which is a little like the decade Tears for Fears spent without Curt Smith.

You can’t not have the chickpeas.

Small space untouched

13 September 2015

I don’t know if it’s something about getting older, but not only do I dream less, I have great trouble recalling my dream these days. Given the amount of times I forgot my stand up set on stage, I suppose it’s no great surprise. When I was a kid that was never a problem. In early January, it’s the thirty-second anniversary of the greatest sequence of continuous dreams I ever had, in which I played a starring role in a sci-fi fantasy in which my co-star was early eighties reggae star, Eddy Grant. I’m not even a Sci-Fi fan, but even I was hooked by those dreams. For years I prayed that I would once again experience dreams on a par with that. Of course, I could dream-fly back then, something that allowed me to evade capture at the hands of the Gamorrean Guards on the QE11 in the second episode, which I came to regard as the strongest, in the epic sci-fi dream serial.

I lost the dream flying during the darkest days of the Great Recession, circa December 2010, so after three decades of flying and evading capture in my nightmares by taking to the air, I mustn’t grumble.

While dreams are far less frequent these days, what I do know is that occasionally, if rarely, I have the odd dream that can’t simply be dismissed as a dream. At least not to me. These ‘dreams’ feel so different, tapping into your most hidden thoughts, that you wonder how on earth did those thoughts find their way into your dream, and how did you find yourself sharing them with people you lost long ago? What is the point of such a dream? Is there a message there or are you just reading too much into it?

Losing loved ones changes you. It’s all too easy to lose your way when someone that had a major role in your life, who was there every day, is no longer there. It also toughens you up too, Too much I think. You can become cold. Distant from those around you. Personally, I’m okay with that. I could never go through what I went through years ago again. Even if you’ve been through it once, when it happens again, you realise it can still hurt you and you’re not perhaps as hard as you thought or even hoped you were.

Sometimes I think I would give everything up to have that old life back, and being the easier person that I was, and I would, but not if it meant having to go through the pain at the end of it all again. Things are easier this way. It may be five minutes after writing this, I feel differently. The point is, overcoming loss a mindset. You get used to those people never being around again. You find ways to fill up the emptiness in your life. Somewhere in your heart there’s a warm space untouched by the losses in which sits the little affection you have left. That little space serves as a storage unit for all your old memories, keeping those memories safe for you should you ever want to revisit them, much like flicking through an old family album. They help you remember the good that those long departed brought to your life. It reminds you that you were loved, but you rarely allow yourself to access this space because you still have the rest of your life to go on. Life is about overcoming these hurdles. You grit your teeth and you go on and it’s very rare that these ghosts bother you. And I think most people who’ve experienced grief would settle for that.

But how do you explain some out of the blue encounter in a dream with the person that knew you best? Who instantly doesn’t buy that wall you’ve built around yourself? Who berates you for what you’ve allowed yourself to become? You turn to face them, knowing they’re the most important person there ever was in your life, and you fall into their arms fifteen long years after you were last able to do it in real life, and you hear yourself say the words, “Estoy triste.”

What is that?
What is the point of such a dream?
Was it even a dream?
At the end of all this, if there is an afterlife, do you get the chance to discuss what this might’ve been with your dream co-star?

South London life support has been switched off

16 October 2015

I don’t think I’ve ever known as much change as what is underway in south London right now, particularly in my current and long standing haunt, Vauxhall and South Lambeth, and my old Stockwell neighbourhood too.

Change can often be unsettling. I speak to many of the people I grew up with in Stockwell and Clapham and to a person, the one thing they do say is the significant changes to the areas they grew up in make them feel old and like there’s no place for them anymore in the new vision. When I hear this, it gets me thinking whether our parents would’ve felt the same back in the seventies and eighties, us they walked through our high streets. Having thought about it, I don’t think they would’ve. The changes back then were not as great, and not geared towards the obsession for being young and happening, and easy on the eye. Even back then, while young though always disinclined to be ‘happening’, this pandering and emphasis towards youth by developers always grated with me. Communities are made up of all age groups.

There was more emphasis on the changes serving the existing community back then and perhaps tweaking a few things and introducing the odd new business to cater for the influx of for example, the yuppies that moved into Clapham in the early to mid-eighties when the area underwent its first significant change in my lifetime.

I never understood the change back then. I was just a kid. I do remember though losing a whole bunch of friends on my road and the surrounding streets as their parents sold the places they’d just bought off the council and moved away. Suddenly street football was dead, owing to a lack of friends and each house, having been converted into flats, now having up to three cars jostling for parking space in the street. I would ask my mum why I could suddenly see into people’s houses. The disappearance of net curtains was the biggest thing I remember from that early period of change in Clapham.

Clapham still had enough for me to keep me going up the high street a couple of times a week, up to the Moonfleet record store, next to the old Plough pub which in the late eighties staged brilliant stand up comedy nights on Saturdays. The high street was a big part of my life and would be until the mid-nineties until I began to feel increasingly uncomfortable with the new wave of changes. Clapham Market, the stand out attraction of the old high street for me and where I bought my doomed terrapins Sammy and Shirley in March ’82, closed down in the late nineties and in the summer of 2000, I found myself having a final meal with an ex-girlfriend in a wanky restaurant/bar built in its place. I knew that night Clapham was no longer for me and I washed my hands of it that night. I was in my twenties then but I felt as I do now. These changes were not for me. They had been crowbarred in for the middle classes, for the young couples beginning to flood the area before they moved onto Chelsea, as they tended to before the global crash in 2008 meant that these people began to see Clapham as a long term destination rather than merely a stop off before they moved to the neighbourhood where they would have their nice flats, kids and a parking spot for their four by fours.

In a decade and a half of being bounced around from one post code to another, unable to retain a toe hold in any of the neighbourhoods I did know and was comfortable in, I settled on South Lambeth/Vauxhall, an area to which I had a long standing connection. South Lambeth was where my mum had settled when she first arrived in London in the mid-sixties, and my dad's now much Anglicised family have been in SW8 since the late fifties. Up until the mid-nineties, SW8 had enjoyed a big Spanish presence, nothing like the Portuguese invasion post ’96, but nevertheless big enough to have its own weekly Spanish club running on Sunday nights from St Anne’s Hall, opposite Vauxhall Park. I knew the area very well. From the late eighties, I was there even more having met one of my great friends who lived on one of the estates, the Space Daddy.

In 2001, in between the loss of my parents, I happened upon the Portuguese café, one of many that surfaced on South Lambeth Road in the late nineties, and I never went away. The place informs so much of my work and practically every big piece of work I managed to sell was mostly written from there. In the café, I had found the place my dad once told me it was important to find, somewhere to stop and think every day in a city as unforgiving as London, and I knew I had the first time I went in there.

Now, as the developers in Stockwell and Vauxhall, having radically altered our skyline, finally begin turning their attention to the smaller long standing businesses that will cater for the new moneyed people their new soulless developments have ushered in, the café is under serious threat. With its owner having sadly passed away last month, its future is uncertain.

Talking to the regulars, it’s felt the owner’s children are likely to be open to the offers from developers that their mother would’ve waved away. The changes in the café over the last year, with the owner’s declining health and eventual death playing out in the background, have been significant. New better-heeled customers have arrived in time possibly to witness the café’s final days, and the curious belated debut of the hash brown in a cooked breakfast, which looks ill at ease with the new addition, was targeted at the new English middle class clientele that have recently discovered the café.

Meantime, three minutes southbound, just up the road on the site of the old Di Lieto bakery, a new Sainsbury’s local is set to move in, the sixth local store now between Clapham Common and South Lambeth. That’s six locals (plus an old school old Sainsbury’s supermarket) in the space of a fifteen-minute walk. From 1990 to 1998, we did not have a single Sainsbury’s in the area until you got to Nine Elms. Now we have an overload of tiny stores flogging marked up goods. This isn’t the future. This is now. And this wasn’t done for the existing community. This has been done for the money that has come into the area. When my mum was around, she would have to go to Brixton to do her shopping because Clapham and Stockwell had no decent supermarkets. It could be argued bar the one Supermarket in Clapham, we still don’t. Local stores are not the answer. They are merely an upmarket Londis.

It’s a common grumble when you’re opposed to change that anything new kills the character of an area. Areas such as Stockwell did need to change but I see very few of the changes serving the community’s needs. St Andrew’s Church, the area’s oldest building, as discussed on my radio show last week, is set to be converted into flats. South Lambeth Library, as I’ll be discussing this week, is once again under threat of closure as Lambeth Council tries to convert it into the fifth gym within five minutes walk of the library. Having lost my childhood library on Jeffrey's Road in the nineties, I’ve spent the last fifteen or more years going to the Tate Library. During some tough winters, it gave me somewhere warm to stop and collect my thoughts and read the broadsheets I could no longer afford. A place to stay informed (Confession: I downloaded the entire first series of the original Dallas from there in the autumn of 2008).

Every day I see the same faces in that library, faces for which the new proposed gym will not cater for. Where will these people who’ve already seen their old haunts shuttered, go? Are they, we, to lose everything we love? Can they not leave us anything? Where will the immigrants learning English on a Saturday afternoon go to master the language too few Iberian immigrants have got to grips with over the last five decades owing to the community’s insularity?

I like to think if I was one of these new people moving into an area that I had no pre-existing knowledge of, and knowing I was fortunate enough to have money behind me to allow me to move into one of these soulless developments that have sprung up, that I had enough about me to know what I was seeing before me might not be the area as it really was. That what I was seeing was merely some developer’s wet dream. That before the Sainsbury’s Locals and CostaStarNeros begun to clutter up SW8 and SW9 and push the locals out, there was something much more interesting going on. And I would be disappointed not to have known that world.

Hopefully I have a few healthy decades still ahead of me, but I know I will never find a place like the café. South London as we knew it is dying. The life support has been switched off and loved ones have been told to come and say their goodbyes.

This makes me very sad.


The Tall Glass Gesture

March 2011

The owner’s wife, resplendent in her new blonde perm that southern Mediterranean women are so fond of, greets me this morning by showcasing a new "tall glass" gesture with her hands. Unsure this new gesture might be clear enough for me to confirm I do indeed want my regular order, she also mouths the word latte at me as I make my way to my toilet table. Liking this moment, I nod, mouthing back “yes” and slow my walk towards the lepers colony of the café so as not to undermine what feels like a rare connection between the pair of us. As I inch towards my table, I reflect that it was unnecessary for me to mouth back. A nod would’ve sufficed. I’m disappointed with myself. 

Sitting down at my table, I immediately wonder whether it’s a gesture specific to me, or simply a gesture she’s whoring out to everyone. After about twenty minutes of observing her dealing with other customers, thirteen of which were spent waiting for Veteran Waitress to actually bring the latte over, it appears the gesture was exclusive to me after all. In all my years of coming here, I’ve never even come close to being on the end of this kind of memorable gesticulation. Is that our thing now, the "tall glass" gesture? I hope so. Maybe being on the end of such a memorable gesture is what’s been missing from my life.

The owner’s wife should be aware now that she’s set a precedent. That’s how I am. I’ll be expecting this every time she serves me now, when really, I should just appreciate that I had it today and that even if I never get it again, no one can take away the memory of today. Maybe in time she’ll tire of repeating such a lengthy gesture and she’ll look to scale it back, dropping the mouthing of “Latte”, and the gesticulation will simply be condensed into the simple miming of a tall glass gesture with her hands. Maybe.

Was it spontaneous, or had she been thinking about it for a while? Does she have a gesture for all her customers or just a select few who aren’t in right now which is why I haven’t seen her use the gesture on anyone else? If she does it with a few people, how long has this been going on for? If for a while, how come I only got the gesture this morning? Did one of the recipients get dropped and I got bumped up? Does she give out these gestures willy-nilly and ruthlessly discard recipients if they cross her? I suppose I could handle being just one of many gesture-recipients so long as the “tall glass” gesture is specific to me, and she has alternative cup shaped signings for her other customers, signalling say the smaller cup of the cappuccino for a cappuccino drinking customer.

Is there something I’ve done in recent weeks that has suddenly seen me elevated to this exalted list in the first place? Have my regular Portuguese toast orders, at 80p a shot, secured my status as an important and loyal customer worthy of the gesture?  Did she confide to close friends that she was contemplating giving me the tall glass gesture and was discouraged from doing so by people who, unaware of my limited range of facial expressions, may have felt I was either too serious, or my orders, in spite of the toast, still too meagre to merit it? Maybe she argued that the recent toast orders hinted at a comeback of sorts on my part, and expressed her confidence that within three years, I’d be placing regular orders for their flaming chorizo or the sea bass.

Did she have a shortlist of gestures for me before deciding on the tall glass? And if there was a shortlist, on what basis were these other gestures discounted?  Is this morning’s salutation a gateway to more gestures, or is each customer permitted just the one gesture? I have so many gesture-related questions.

I drop my sweetener into my latte, frustrated with myself for over analysing the gesture. Why can’t I just accept it for what it is? A beautiful moment that indicates a level of familiarity and comfort with me on her part. I wish I had more wonderful moments such as this every day. I could build my new life around them.

Then my mind wanders to her husband. The man without whom there’d be no café. And with no café, this community may not have sprung out and captured my heart. He’s a big, formidable character, who despite being at least in his late fifties, still cuts a dashing figure with a strong jaw line that’s rarely free of stubble and looks that always put me in mind of a latter day George Best, on the rare occasions the former United player actually looked healthy. He looks like he might be a jealous man too. If this gesture becomes a regular thing, who could blame him for thinking that one minute I’m getting the tall glass gesture, the next I’m getting his wife?

I put myself in his position. His wife of maybe forty years may have devoted considerable time to coming up with what appears to be a gesture specific to me within days of getting a new hairdo. Once the owner observes it in action, he’ll pay careful attention to how I greet it, looking to establish how quickly the gesture is over. Does his wife drag it out? Is she using it as a prelude? A prelude to what? He’d probably be casting his mind back to see if she made identical tall glass gestures to other, less handsome customers. Does she put the same effort into that “cappuccino-cup” gesture as she does the “tall glass” one? By now tormented, he’d doubt how well he really knew his wife.

Were I the owner’s wife, I think I’d be devious enough to have spent the night coming up with gestures for other customers just to allay his concerns. I’m like that. And not just gestures for ugly men because that means as the only good looking man to be on the end of a tall glass gesture from her, our gesture’s still going to stand out and I’m going to remain in the owner’s sights. In her shoes, I’d be throwing out gestures to a mixture of both striking and unattractive men, so that the owner’s mind would be put at ease.

If I realise this gesture might be causing problems between them, it may be that I have to take his wife to one side and tell her the tall glass gesture needs to end. I’ll explain that while it’s not something I’ll ever forget, I can’t be so selfish as to allow my affection and my need for such gestures at this low point in my life to end her marriage or threaten my safety in the cafe. I’ve gone without coming anywhere near a gesture for the ten years I’ve been necking lattes here. To experience it once is enough.


Tall Glass Gesture Lady goes to the great big cafe in the sky

17 September 2015

There's been some sad news from the cafe over the last day. One of the owners, a delightful Portuguese woman who long time readers of this blog may recall used to give me a memorable tall glass gesture on arriving in the cafe, has passed away. I placed huge - most probably disproportionate - stock on that gesture. I was having a terrible time, moving from one place to another. People had died, people had left. The latest TV deal had slipped away once again and I was barely seeing anyone that mattered to me as I battled to bounce back. That lady's tall gesture always told me that here was someone amidst the chaos my life had become who recognised me. As lost and rudderless as I felt, I wasn't invisible.

Not to her.

I never forgot that.

She had previously disappeared from the cafe for a lengthy period three or four years ago and it was obvious then that something was going on behind the scenes. Returning looking like she had overcome a serious health battle but as affable as ever, the cafe enjoyed her presence for another three years but earlier this year she had started to look alarmingly thin.

There had been a sense over the summer that in the absence of the owners, the staff were pulling together and putting in extra shifts and that something very big was going on behind the scenes.

At a time of huge change in both SW8 and the surrounding post codes as south London bends over for the money, so much of the old community is disappearing and so quickly too. What this lady and her husband brought to the community in the mid-nineties is as good as anything I ever knew when I was growing up in the area. The cafe opened on the site of a gloomy old junk shop I remember from my school days. Up until then, South Lambeth Road had been a colourless road, unsafe and definitely somewhere you were wary of being in after dark, but the cafe's arrival transformed it.

It was the first of the Portuguese cafes that line that middle stretch of South Lambeth Road and it more than any other place brought the new community together, becoming its meeting point much the same way St Anne's Hall had been the hub of the old Spanish community that had preceded the Portuguese invasion. On a personal level, the cafe got me through some dark periods and creatively has given me not only a place in which to write, but plenty of inspiration too and above all, during a nomadic decade and a half of trying to feel part of something, they gave me a home of sorts too.

When I was seventeen, my dad took me out one day. It was the last time he was able to do that. By then I'd started shaving and I think once you start shaving, your parents kind of know they can only really take you out if you agree to go out with them. I agreed that day. We were walking through Green Park when my dad told me that in this city it's important to find somewhere, in his case, a cafe, where you can just sit and kill a small part of the day. Some place where you can think or not think, as he put it. But you sit down. You have that coffee and you have that little time to yourself. After years of searching, I finally found that place in this South Lambeth Road cafe.

Not many people leave a legacy behind for an entire community. This lady changed the area for the better. Not many people can say that. Her passing is sad for her family and friends, those that loved her, and for her customers too because she and her husband gave us something.

Somewhere special.

A place to be in these difficult times.

And incredible coffee and the best custard tarts in London too.

RIP Sra Ilda.

Three extraordinary bands I might've been in

June 2011

So as some of you know, to escape the difficulties posed by my unorthodox home life that seeped into early adulthood, I fantasised many things. Not only had I been a leading actor starring in a top US cop show that ran for 12 seasons (See "Kid Cop"), but I’d also been in a late 80s synthesizer duo that went onto make one of the greatest pseudo jazz albums of the 90s. In fact, I went on to be in, well three bands actually, three of the most extraordinary bands this country’s ever produced. As all my family got into their beds in the same room night after night, I retreated deep into the recesses of my mind to make incredible music performed before millions of people globally. I was performing in packed out stadiums and arenas, all from my bed sit.

Now if you remember a few weeks ago, on The Daniel Ruiz Tizon Podcast, I was telling you about one of my greatest friends, Nelly Jenkins, whom I grew up with. Now we may or may not have been in Tears For Fears, I don’t know. No one’s quite proven to me that we weren’t. But after Nelly and I became estranged at just 18, the band broke up after releasing the Seeds of Love, during which I wrote, sang and produced most of the material – with Nelly just providing a face really, a bit like Micky in Please Don’t Hug Me. And the album, whilst artistically it was a huge achievement, particularly for two teenagers, failed to shift many units and Nelly and I decided that I would leave the band. Nelly wanted to take Tears back to the more US friendly “Songs From the Big Chair” template. He liked that, he liked it when we were the biggest band in the world.

So I went on to form, in late ’92, Joy Division with the rather intense front man, Seb Waterson. I talked about Seb in show 9 or 10. Also known as the wheelchair (Long story). In real life, I haven’t seen Seb since the summer of ’85. But Seb was a massive presence and I stepped back into the shadows, just playing guitar and keyboards, and backing vocals, as you do, you know.

Now Seb killed himself in the summer of ’93, just a couple of weeks after we performed on Gary Crowley’s late night Carlton tV music show, The Beat, and just a day before we were due to tour the States. Meantime, that summer, Nelly had released the first Tears album without me, Elemental, and it proved a big hit in the States. He posed for a picture on the album cover, clutching a bunch of dead sunflowers – we’d used the sunflower as our symbol on the seeds album, and here he was now, clutching a bunch of dead sunflowers, symbolising the death of our friendship.

So not only had I lost my original band, Joy Division was dead now. So we reformed, myself, the drummer Ayuk, his girlfriend, a blonde keyboard player, our young maverick bassist, also female and we were joined by this Bahraini girl whom I was to date at college and we reformed as New Order before the Christmas of ’93, being catapulted into the public glare after playing the John Peel show. I was the oldest in the band at just 21, and we’d all met up at college in Putney where I was retaking my A Levels and at just 21, I was in my third extraordinary band.

I often beat myself up, but my I really never stopped to laud my musical achievements.