Thirtynumbthing: Straight outta compton
England's green and pleasant land
By Mark Perkins, 2 September 2011
As I l leave, believe I'm stompin', but when I come back, boy, I'm straight outta Compton' - Ice Cube
In days long gone, an August bank holiday was the perfect excuse to stay awake for 72 hours in the company of other itinerants, set to a backdrop of thumping beats. Not anymore. Those same itinerants are now hollow-eyed and sleep deprived on account of their kids, running businesses and marathons, possibly at the same time.
As usual I had been taken by surprise by the sudden arrival of the August bank holiday. Where on earth do they spring from? Whilst trapped in the killing fields of the commute, I'd fantasised about what could have been if only I'd had the time. I had visions of a weekend break in Rome or a bohemian day out in Brighton and yet when the time came I realised it was too late to actually do anything meaningful.
What would Ice Cube have done in Compton when faced with only enough change for the tea room or the Watts exhibition, but not both?
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There was a mad scramble of phone calls, texts and tweets like a manager without a squad on transfer deadline day.
Even New Girlfriend had made plans for the full three days, by taking on extra work. That, at least, is what she said, but after my Shiraz-fuelled implosion the previous weekend when QPR lost 4-0 at home, I had my doubts.
Being left to my own devices led to the usual distractions of writing a to-do list, losing it and then building a nest of papers, magazines and bottomless tea, supplemented by an interminable feed of live sports.
That was Saturday morning. By Monday, however, the mind-numbing effect of Sky Sports News and the smell of old sweet and sour sauce had become too much. What was needed was an escape from my own mounting detritus. My kitchen had turned into a scene from a William Burroughs novel. Something had to be done
What I craved was a radical departure from the norm', but above all, I wanted cake.
In what may prove to be a defining moment in my life, I went not to Time Out's website but to Surrey Life. The pleasurable afternoon I had as a result could be a portent of the comfortably numb future that will befall us all before incontinence.
If anyone goes to Compton in Surrey in a confused pilgrimage to the place made famous by Niggaz With Attitude they will be sorely disappointed. Among the cottages and rolling green hills there's a distinct lack of gang warfare, bitches or LAPD brutality. I, for one, would still very much like to see a twin-town exchange programme and the resultant fall out in a fly on the wall documentary.
What Compton lacks in crack houses is made up for with the Watts Gallery Tea Rooms. It's precisely the kind of place a person can end up and lose an afternoon watching middle-England while eating their fine lemon drizzle cake.
I'd been transported to another England, one well away from my working week. The one of traffic, uppity bar staff, drunks on the Jubilee Line, wasabi popcorn, social media gurus and cabbies moaning about Spurs'.
This was a haven of scones with jam and clotted cream, genteel old ladies, upstanding families and children who were seen and not heard. Everything and everyone had a place and permanence to the point you could practically hear Elgar playing in their footsteps. It was, in the words of Vivian Stanshall, "English as tuppence, changing yet changeless as canal water, nestled in green nowhere'.
The Watts Gallery in Compton. Where Mark didn't go.
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The only hitch was that I'd left my wallet at home. What would Ice Cube have done in Compton when faced with only enough change for the tea room or the Watts exhibition, but not both? According to "Cube' when he's called off, he's got a sawn off, squeeze the trigger and the bodies get hauled off.
Wise words, but armed only with a lighter and a copy of The Guardian, violence was not an option. It meant forsaking the Victorian art and sculpture of George Frederic Watts in favour of Welsh rarebit and cake in the cafe. Yet again, my stomach triumphed over the arts, but I shall be back.
What did I learn? Firstly to plan future bank holidays well in advance; second to remember my wallet if I should venture out and finally, next time I'm heading down to Compton to pack a sawn-off just in case I can't pay for a cream tea.