Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Beatles of Ham

Ham is a quiet (because nearly commerce-less) neck of the woods between Richmond-on-Thames, to the north and Kingston-on-Thames, to the south. The Yardbirds came from Kingston. On an autumn morning, one is apt to glimpse Mick Jagger or Pete Townshend mowing his front lawn in Richmond, at whose Crawdaddy Club, right across from the train station, The Rolling Stones first caused a stir. The noted karaoke singer Dame Zelda and I have resided in a tiny semi-detached house just across from the Ham Lands (a wild area under which World War II rubble is buried) off and on since 2005. 

By virtue of my membership in hugely popular The Freudian Sluts, purveyors of the SWinging new sound of SW London, I have taken over from the local slag — a stout, brazenly common, chainsmoking woman of around 50 whose Bardot-ish updo is apt to go from raven black to blonde, and then back, twice during any given week, as Ham’s No. 1 celebrity. But being The Beatles of Ham hasn’t been entirely enjoyable. 

Having grown accustomed to being mobbed when I alight from the 371 bus at Mariner Gardens, I have taken to getting off at either Ashburnham Road, 500 metres to the east, or at Lock Road, 350 metres to the south, which in both cases means a considerably longer walk home, which can be onerous if, for instance, I have bought a four-pak of sparkling water at the Aldi in Kingston. 

On the towpath parallel to that section of the Thames a couple of hundred metres from our little house, I am commonly besieged by autograph-seekers and persons who enjoy taking selfies with the glamorous and renowned while trying to derive comfort from the ducks and flowing water and foliage and so on. After having yearned for fame for countless decades — it was always my hunch that the adoration of strangers would make me feel less desolate inside — I am loath to turn such persons away, but sometimes I get writer’s cramp, and the aerobic benefits of my daily constitutional are woefully attenuated by the endless stopping and starting. 

The same sort of thing happens when I suddenly find myself craving some spring onions, say, and traipse over to the local Tesco Micro, the cultural hub of the ‘hood. To the average customer, the self-checkout machines will say no more than, “Thank you for shopping at Tesco,” or even, “Please place your item in the bagging area,” but they get very much more voluble on hearing me thinking in my cute American accent. and will get unnervingly fawning, gasping, “Wow, you have no idea what a thrill it is to accept payment, in the form of cash or credit or debit card, from one as famous and glamorous as yourself!” Hearing this, other shoppers, who may otherwise have been content just to sneak peeks at me, and to whisper excitedly to their companions, are commonly emboldened to whip out their selfie sticks and implore me to pose with them. You may not have had the experience of seeing unflattering photographs of yourself and a perfect stranger on Facebook or Twitter, but I have, more times than I am able to count. I always wish I’d worn something more stylish, and at those moments envy those who can swan over in whatever saggy leisurewear they happen to be wearing when they find themselves craving spring onions. 

I have read that there is a higher concentration of fine restaurants in northern Surrey than anywhere else in western Europe. Between them, the three best known bistros of Ham have been awarded four Michelin stars, two Bridgestone trapezoids, and three Yokohama parallelograms. My celebrity enables me to get a table at any of them whenever I please (others need to reserve up to a month in advance), but what a conundrum! That which gets us ushered immediately to a table also makes it impossible for us to enjoy a meal in peace, as fellow diners come over to request autographs or to ask — yes, again! — if I will pose for selfies with them, all of this while my cervelles au beurre noir get cold or my gazpacho warm. 

Be judicious about that for which you wish. Fame ain’t always fun. 


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