Sunday, 23 December 2012

Rainy Day London, the buses and the Blues

Elena's Mum is wheelchair bound for distances over 25 yards.

We set out on a damp, cold and rain sodden day to get her to Kensington on foot and by bus.

The experience reminded me of the connections between climate, landscape, flora and fauna and national character.

A more comprehensive assessment of the reasons for British tolerance - for there is no doubt that Britain has become a very tolerant place to be, and that this is one of its charms, if you are a tolerant soul yourself - would have to include the influence of a more spacious form of urban development which incorporates the countryside in the town, and the moderating influence of greenery on the temper.

However it arose, the buses of London and the way that they cater to the wheelchair bound and their carers are a heart warming illustration of the friendly thoughtfulness with which the overall tolerance of difference manifests itself.

We waved down the bus and pointed to Elena's Mum, Emma, in her wheelchair.

The driver, a woman, gives us the thumbs up sign.

The bus stops, and reverses a little to find a clear space for the automatic ramp to hiss and push itself down from the middle doors of the bus, which open for me to push her up.

Elena tells the bus driver where we will be getting off and the driver acknowledges this news gratefully.

We are able to sit behind Emma on the seat in the space reserved for wheelchairs and prams.

The process is reversed when we arrive at our destination stop, and once again the driver carefully maneouvres the bus into a position that will permit the ramp to bridge the gap between the bus and the pavement.

We cannot but be impressed by the expense and effort that Transport for London have put into making it easier for wheelchair users and their carers to get around - and by the consideration shown by the bus drivers. It is not perfect, but it surely reflects the effort made across whole swathes of national life to include the formerly excluded.

Not every British citizen approves of all of this, and many will agree with some efforts and not others, but overall it makes the Great in Great Britain more significant to us than its historic signifier of empire and dominion.

The rain rained on throughout the day, and the sky hung dark blue and low like a lid over london, as it often does in winter. Someone told me that the British climate has been officially re-designated from comprising four seasons to one of three months of winter followed by nine months bad weather - this might explain why the blues are so popular in the UK, despite being a musical form from the southern states of the USA.

Elena and I found ourselves sheltering from the continuous downpour in a small pub in Barnes called The Halfway House.
It was packed out, mostly with folk over fifty, men with long white hair and pony tails, plenty of facial hair of all sorts, women in denim and hippy coats and floppy hats, and the feint odour of those strong cigarettes that make you feel happy. Much promise hung in the air.

Through the crowd, which parted as before a prophet of the people, came a diminutive yet powerful figure carrying a guitar - it was Papa George, blues artist of Barnes and locale, a man whom I had heard before, a man who should be a world figure of the Blues, a man whom the drummer of The Kinks had come out on a rainy London night to see and hear, a man who had been overlooked by the lottery of life but who deserved a place, if any of us got our just deserts, among the aristocracy of music, a man who could make your blues disappear by playing the Blues, a healer, a shaman, a priest and a preacher of the way and the truth.

Papa and the band kicked off and the sonorous wailing of Papa's voice and slide guitar and the taught backing seared into our hearts all the pain and suffering of the world and by the alchemy of music made us all feel glad to be alive - in London, on a rainy night, at a free concert in The Halfway House pub, Barnes, halfway to heaven!

The last time we saw Papa George was at The Bulls Head pub, just around the corner in Barnes, a year ago, with a bigger and jazzier line up.

This was great, tonight, what with the rain and London gloom, we needed the pure distilled spirit of the Blues without the Jazz mixer, and this is what we got.
Thanks Papa.

Unless otherwise stated all photographs by Elena Bruce

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