Six Things my Camera Taught me about Hampstead

Hampstead is part of London that inspires much of my writing. So I set off to take a few photos of this beautiful area, armed only with an iPhone and the belief that I’d discover more through a plastic lens than I usually see just with my own eyes.

One of the ponds on Hampstead Heath

Oh, and a pair of comfortable shoes. Parking is scarce. Besides, there are some places only legs can reach.

The Mount

1 The street signs are rather special.

Like this one, many road signs in NW3 are made of individual ceramic tiles in shiny white on black, often chased into the wall. They’ve been there since Victorian times, and owe a lot to the Arts and Crafts movement. The tiles aren’t just letters and numbers. Some are nifty symbols like a pointing finger leading to places of interest.

2 If in doubt, zoom in. You may catch detail that’s often missed.

Ornamental gate

3 People tend to get in the way. Hampstead is crowded, especially outside certain shops and eateries.

Hampstead Butcher & Providore, Rosslyn Hill

Queuing at the Creperie

4 You may spot celebs such as Emma Thompson, Imelda Staunton, Tom Conti and Liam Gallagher.

5 Some of the celebrities are canine.

Two local residents

6 Even the prettiest parts of Hampstead can turn ugly with overspilling bins, fly-tipping, and uncollected rubbish. Sadly this is set to get worse with Camden Council’s new bin collection schedules.

#CleanUpCamden

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Other posts you may like:

If you want to know more about Hampstead, see my novel Hampstead Fever.

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Life is like a new bathroom

I had a dream.

No, not that one.  I dreamed of a nice new bathroom, one where the tiles weren’t lifting off the wall, the toilet didn’t run all night, and the taps coCP Hart cropuld be turned on (and, just as crucially, off again).

I found a good plumber and it was all planned out.  What could possibly go wrong?

On the first day, the supplier slightly screws up the order.  We drink tea and shake our heads over a shipment of the wrong tiles and twice as many toilet seats as ordered.  But hey, they might be handy when I’m older and incontinent (it’s always sooner than one thinks).

The water supply can’t be turned off and the plumber can’t access the pump. A lot more tea.  Another day gone.

The old tiles won’t budge.  So yer man tiles over them.  That makes four layers of tiles.  In truth, the wrong tiles look great, but the room is going to be much smaller than we thought.

‘Size isn’t everything’ points out the plumber.

I make him a tiny cup of tea.

Towards the end of the first week, it dawns on me.  Bathroom renovation is a microcosm of life.  Timing is up the spout, everything costs twice as much as planned, and it doesn’t look as intended.  Because of drainage issues, the tub has to be raised.  A frame is made for it. This takes more time.  Fingers crossed the work is done before I get too old to climb into the tub.  Now I’m not sure about white grout on the floor.  In fact I’m no longer sure about anything.  Maybe white grout doesn’t matter.  Really, what does?

By this time there are lots more people in my life.  For a start, I’ve got remarried and acquired three more offspring.  There’s also a new trio of builders.  Gary, Barry and Harry are on a break again, slurping strong tea as they pore over a copy of the Daily Star.  Barry adjusts his Chelsea hat and says ‘Cor, look at the jugs on that one’.

The shelves won’t fit by the raised tub. I forget now why we wanted them.  Oh.  For hair products.  Well, soon won’t have any hair left.

As time passes, I agonise over details like taps and mirrors.  The mirror is not a magnifying mirror.  So I will probably emerge thinking I look OK, and friends will wonder why I’ve put eyeliner on my ears.

The soil pipe isn’t quite where it should be and we can’t get a seal.  Now I’m obsessing over waste matter.  Call it a rehearsal for the twilight years.

At 3am I realise that we’re running out of Yorkshire tea, the fuel that keeps the plumber going.

The next day the plumber arrives with an apprentice.  She wears hot pants and fiddles with her iPhone like any 19-year old.  Petite and from the Far East, she turns out to be stronger and more willing than any number of male oiks from South London.  The only downside is that she believes she was a singer in a previous life.  I’ve heard her.  She really wasn’t.

Her voice comes through loud and clear since the bathroom door was taken off.  After a few weeks, I’m wondering: why bother putting it back?  If people had beaded fly curtains instead, then kids wouldn’t get locked in the bathroom. And you’d know right away when your other half passes out in the tub and needs CPR.

Progress is slow but Rome wasn’t built, etc. I survey the scene. It doesn’t look like Rome. It doesn’t even look like a bathroom.  With boxes of stuff and stacks of newspaper, all it needs is a beaded curtain and it could be a corner shop.

bathroom cropLast week the builder brought his dog, but said it would be OK in the van.

This horrified me.  So in came Buster for a bowl of water.  He saw the cat and chased it round the house, scattering tiles and papers everywhere.  Buster had to go back to the van, leaving the cat with a tail like a toilet brush.

I still don’t have a bathroom door or a tub that can actually take in water. The cat litter tray is still in the bedroom, and I’ve no idea where to put all the half-used tubes of toothpaste.  So I throw them out, along with the bottles of nail polish. It’s not like I have any nails left.

On the plus side, I have a lot of new friends, some of whom have two legs.