Category Archives: buildings and cities

Secret History of Streets

Well. I just managed to see the recent BBC “Secret History of our Streets” documentary about Deptford. Right up this blog’s street. After all it is mostly about what I see and hear walking around London’s streets.

Obviously I was going to be fascinated by it, as I live round here myself, I’m a big fan of Booth’s map, I’m obsessed with the design and layout of London (which is most of what this blog is about) and I’ve met some of the people they interviewed (though I know none of them personally). I’ve also drunk in some of the demolished pubs they talk about and walked down every street they showed and been in the shops they filmed in. And those Abercrombie Plan and Motorway Box maps look scarier every time I see them. How could such well-educated well-meaning hard-working planners be so utterly ignorant of the way cities really are or how people live in them? (Maybe Alison and Peter Smithson could have told us – though as far as I know they never damaged Deptford with their misplaced buildings – yet I noticed that the TV sneaked in shots of what looked very much like a corner of Robin Hood Gardens and a bit of the Balfron Tower at one point)

This programme was genuinely interesting and well-made, It was a better film than “The Tower” was, though perhaps an even more unfair picture of the place. But so many problems with it. They literally demonised the West African preacher, yet a he’s just about the only person they showed actively trying to improve things. Almost the only West Indians they showed were, well, rather scary. Not to mention “lowest class, vicious, semi-criminal”. When listing the folk exiled to various other suburbs they lumped Greenwich and Brockley – places you can walk to from Deptford in ten minutes – along with Grove Park and Woolwich and Bexleyheath, which by comparison are the Outer Darkness.

They somehow managed to make Nicholas Taylor the villain of the piece. I’m sure he’s made his mistakes but he doesn’t deserve this. In real life he was one of the few voices on the council opposed to the new brutalist redevelopment, and perhaps the only architect who was. Yes the slum clearance reports they showed made the council seem like authoritarian bullies – but after all these years we don’t need to be told how anti-working-class the “regeneration” industry can be. But Taylor wasn’t was one of the people who warned us of that way back then, and he wasn’t even on the council when they did it. And he actually lived there, and as far as I know still does. At the end when it was obvious that they were going to show some gentrifiers taking over I was briefly worried that they’d be showing Nick Taylor’s own, presumably reasonably presentable, house, to complete the fix-up. At least they got their floppy-jawed wimps from somewhere else. And they were the only people in the show who felt alien to me. Maybe they were actors. I rather hope that they were. Though the Canadian-sounding woman was quite cute.

Yet again they show the local people, or the working class in general, as mere passive victims of the plotting of those set above them, whether to send them to war or demolish their houses or destroy their businesses or replace them with dubiously dark-skinned incomers. (The BNP and their friends will love this programme). On the surface it seems to be sympathetic and even radical but its a deeply, deeply, establishment rhetorical stance. Resistance is futile. Opposition is pointless. The working-class people they interviewed aren’t depicted as actors in their own drama, more as a kind of stage-cockney chorus of cheeky chappies, drunkenly staggering through events they cannot be expected to understand.

Getting that church to sing “May the circle be unbroken” at the end was a cinematic and emotional triumph. Even if its probably not at all typical of what they’d actually sing. Not that I really know what they would sing. I go to a quite different church in Deptford, even if most of our congregation are Nigerians.

Not sure what I’m saying really, its four in the morning and I’m not being very coherent. maybe time to go to bed. Or else look around and see what others are saying about it. But well-done as it was it doesn’t leave a good taste in the mouth.

============================================================

Meanwhile back at the ranch, the next morning…

Now I’ve had a chance to think about it a bit more, there are some other niggling doubts. The way it showed women was very strange. They were almost all entirely sitting still and talking quietly and sadly, both in the present day and in the clips from the past. Lively women, strong women, happy women, angry women, were only shown in still photos. Whenever they talked they seemed to be doing it in a spirit of passive obedience, quiet resignation. Especially the women in the clips from 1960s and 1970s documentaries who seemed to be portrayed as meekly putting up with whatever their husbands dished out to them, just as those husbands themselves were rather less quietly taking whatever the landlords and local authorities did to them, living in quiet desperation and getting through the day on pills. One of them said something like “I was so depressed till my husband made me go to the doctor and he gave me the pills.” The women are shown as the victims of the victims, the underclass of the underclass.

Yes it makes you cry and it ought to make you angry. And yes that is certainly how some women lived then. How some live now. Its partly true and entirely tragic. But its not how most people live now. And I think I remember enough about the 1960s and 1970s – I think I remember enough working-class women in the 1960s and 1970s – to know that it wasn’t how everybody lived then either. “My nan had very nice curtains”

OK, the filmmakers probably know perfectly well they are doing that. They are no doubt decent well-brought-up BBC journalists, sympathetic to the community they are filming, well-meaning activists. Maybe they reckoned they only had time to show the worst, maybe they want us to be angry at the abuse those women received. But they showed effectively all working-class people as hopeless and desperate, the men reacting with drunken violence and bitter humour, the women by sinking into depression. Like I said it leaves a funny taste in the mouth.

As does the way they conflated the social decline of the new high-rise estates with the arrival of large numbers of black people. I’m sure they would say that they didn’t mean to do that, but they did, by the stringing together the fact that the new high-rise estates were unpopular with local people and soon became hard to let with Nicholas Taylor talking about the council going to the bottom of the housing list to find tenants (if only there were any council in the south of England that had that luxury now!) and then showing Black and Asian people all of a sudden when everyone up to then had been white. Every picture tells a story and their pictures told a story that I hope they did not really mean.

Also the film seemed to mix up two levels of argument in a rather confusing way.

On the one hand there was the exposure of a genuine wrong done to a specific small group of people, the owners of the houses in a few condemned streets off Deptford High Street (and, as they didn’t entirely make clear it is the owners they were talking about, not the tenants – who if they hadn’t been moved out by the council in the 1960s and early 70s would have probably been priced out by gentrification in the late 70s or 80s). If the allegations they made about the council and council officers are true (and I suspect they are) then it was a disgrace. If it had happened five years ago instead of fifty there would be an inquiry, probably compensation paid, maybe even criminal charges. Perhaps there should be now. Though it would be a heck of a lot of compensation. Tens of millions.

On the other hand there was some much vaguer stuff, at a larger scale, repeating the now familiar litany mourning the “white working class”. There are shades of the Rod Liddle about this or even (god forbid) Garry Bushell. Or maybe more respectably Michael Collins (no, not that one – the one who writes about South London) Billy Bragg or Gary Robson (or Gary Younge even though he’s black – why do so many Garys write about this stuff?) Or the blokes in our local pub who will tell you more than you ever wanted to know about East Street Market or the Surrey Canal or various dodgy night clubs back in the day. (More than you want to know, not more than I want to know, I’m a sucker for this stuff) Amazing they never mentioned Millwall. And its a story that is worth telling, even though its been told again and again and again over the last fifteen years or so. And even though a very similar story is the basis of half the racist lies the BNP and UKIP and the others are peddling. Starting with the very dubious mixing of categories of class and race.

But its a different story from the one about why this house was demolished and that one wasn’t. And they didn’t make any connection between the two. Just laid them side by side and strongly implied some things that I suspect that they would deny meaning if you asked them directly. Yes you can link them, yes you ought to illustrate general points by showing specific facts, and yes you need to have a mental framework to understand isolated incidents, but you need to make the connection and I don’t think they did.

I didn’t get the feeling that they really understand how big cities work, about the balance, or tension, between change and continuity. They tried to suggest that there has been some kind of long-term stable community of settled families in 19th and early 20th-century Deptford. But there wasn’t really. Or anywhere else in inner London. Of course there were families who had been around for generations – loads of them. But they were hugely outnumbered by incomers. Every generation millions of new arrivals came to London and its suburbs, every generation millions left. In the mid-19th century there was almost no district in London where the average person had as many as half their grandparents born in London (I think Bethnal Green might have been and exception). In the late 19th century vast numbers of working-class Londoners moved out to the inner suburbs, including Deptford, and even larger numbers of non-Londoners moved in to the same suburbs because they were neither rich enough nor poor enough to live in the city centre. The fastest turnover was probably the 1880s and 1890s, just the time that the grandparents and great grandparents of the families we saw on the TV were living in the houses that were demolished. Things slowed down after the First World War, because London stopped growing, and from the 1920s to the 1980s huge numbers moved out entirely, to the outer suburbs or beyond. But all the time others were moving in, and in the last thirty years that movement in has outgrown the exodus again. Most of the population of most districts of London is replaced every generation or so, and that has been true since at least the late 18th century. That’s how great cities work, its part of their life rather than their death.

And yes the Prices seem to have been shafted. And yes, at least some of their neighbours and tenants and friends who moved out to the outer suburbs didn’t want to go and would rather have stayed in Deptford. (Though I suspect that given the choice between private renting in Deptford and a council house in Downham in the 1950s. 60s, or 70s most people then would have gone to Downham – and some woudl even now). Yes the new estates in Deptford mostly went bad very quickly (though not all of them) and on the whole they were a disaster. We already know all that. Yes the grandiose plans for rebuilding London from the 40s to the 80s were mostly shite. Yes the more recent private estates that turn their backs on the city are a different kind of disaster. (and need fixing) Yes the whole rhetoric of “regeneration” is loaded against city-dwellers, implying that they and their neighbourhoods are degenerate and that cities need to be saved from their own residents by wealthy outsiders. Ands yes Deptford is still a wonderful place (even at the Cold Blow Lane end) despite all the crap that’s been handed out to it Those are all stories worth telling.

But this documentary, wonderful as it is, still leaves a bad taste in my mouth, from the way it shows women, the way it shows black people, the way it shows working-class people, the wasy it shows some individual peopel who are my neighbours, and the way it shows Deptford.

And this rant has gone on far too long.

Cobblepunk Edinburgh

Edinburgh must be the most three-dimensional of our British cities. I like that. It appeals to my inner sf fan. All those old illustrations covers with bridges between towering buildings and streets in the sky and monorails and personal jetpacks.

OK, this is the steampunk version of that, with all those 18th and 19th century buildings, or perhaps a little earlier than that – we could call it the cobblepunk version. One of the characteristic sounds of the city being buses rumbling down cobbled streets.

Beneath Regent Bridge

The four bridges or viaducts that have the biggest effect are all 19th century – North Bridge, South Bridge, Regent Bridge, George IV Bridge – the latter two names are a bit of a giveaway – so they really are the gaslight era, but somehow they look and feel older. The basic layout of the Old Town and its immediate surroundings is mediaeval even if a lot of the buildings themselves are later Scottish Baronial imposters. And that mid-century cobbled Edinburgh was the one Robert Louis Stevenson and Arthur Conan Doyle were born and brought up in, so its one of the original homes of steampunkery and gaslightery, even if London (and a little bit New York) are where such things found their dark corners to hide in.

You could click here for some more pictures

Regent Bridge from_george_4_bridge_3174
What used to be here? from_south_bridge_3045

And some nice plants to show its not all doom and gloom even in January:

Snowdrops in the New Town

new_town_3102

Gentrification and crap beer.

Briefly to Islington to see my brother for a Christmas drink. Its easy to get to now that the East London Line goes to Highbury and the Northern Heights are almost connected to civilisation 🙂

Revisited some old haunts to see what;s changed. Mor his old haunts than mine I was in Durham, Kenya, and Brighton for most of the time he hung around there in the late 70s and early 80s, but I still have some memories of it. Like taking snuff and wering a proper hat at some gig in the basement of the Hope and Anchor. Which is where we went first. Not a good idea even for nostaligia. A pint of rubbishy beer badly kept in a pub which isn’t even a parody of its former self, despite the handful of out-of-place old band posters. Its more like a standard off-the-shelf 1990s London Pub interior, with fake flock wallpaper, fake chandeliers, second-hand cheap oak tables, coffee machine, and large clear windows so you can see in and decide not to enter and join the small numbers of customers. It looked like someone bought it by mail order. A soulless place. Too clean. At least last night. Maybe its more fun when there is music downstairs, but there was none last night.

Walked down Upper Street which these days seems to be made up almost entirely of different sorts of Asian fusion restaurants. You want Japanese style roast beef, Mexican/Turkish wraps, Australian vegan pies, gluten-free Thai? I’m sure its here somewhere.

So we took refuge in the Camden Head, which (like the eponymous Camden Passage) has confused generations of last piss-artists by not being in Camden. It still looks like it used to (which is pretty amazing) and it wasn’t too cold to sit outside smoking, nor too crowded to get a seat inside. Most of the customers seemed to be 30-something women with posh accents out on the piss, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Beer the now-ubiquitous Doombar, which was a great improvement. So we stayed for three or four.

And then as if to prove that North London always was connected to civilisation I managed to get back to Lewisham in half an hour by tube and train. OK, it was a bit jammy and I had to leap through closing doors twice, but it worked. Left the pub at 10:26, got off a train at Lewisham at 10:50. Would hardly have thought it possible.

No photos as it was dark and I didn’t take my camera…

The Rules of Moving around London

Regular readers (all both of them) will notice that this is a repost of something I first posted over two years ago at: The 09:59 to Waterloo

This is partly because that was tagged-on to the end of a rantlet about something else and I feel like separating it out, but also is prompted by some fun blog posts by Brendan Nelson at The Geneva Convention of Public Transport and a couple of earlier posts linked to it. Read them as well as this!

How to Move Around in London

Let me tell you the truth about commuting. You have a DUTY to your fellow human beings when you are walking in a big commuter crowd in a place where acts of public transport are committed. It is to get out of the way of the people behind you as quickly as possible . And that usually involves getting to wherever you are going as quickly as possible. So the right thing to do is to move as fast as is compatible with health and safety. To move opportunistically, to fill gaps, to pass slower people, and to keep on going… this is not selfishness, that is being public spirited. It gets you out of the way. It gets you out of MY way for a start.

There are RULES about this. Let me share a few with you. And we don’t wan to hear any more of this “nobody told me the rules before I came to London…” Big Boy’s games – Big Boy’s Rules. (*) These are the rules. You HAVE been warned!

Universal rules

  • Buy your ticket or pass before you get on the bus or train. Don’t offer the driver money. That’s so twentieth century.
  • Don’t try to talk. Everyone will think you are mad.
  • It is always open season for hunters of luggage on a stick
  • Let passengers off the bus or train before you try to get on. If you don’t we probably won’t kill you – but I have seen a busdriver refuse to move until someone who pushed on got off the bus.
  • There are nice maps on every bus stop and at station that show you exactly how to get where you are going. Use them.
  • Yes, you do get up off your seat for someone who is pregnant, aged, carrying small children, or visibly more crippled than you are. Even in London. Even on a delayed Northern Line train creakingly approaching Bank from London Bridge at 0850 on a wet Monday in a recession. Yes, this means YOU!

The Rules of the Train

(and the Platform)
  • Drop not your paper cup on the seat when you get off the train. That IS littering.
  • Drop your newspaper on the seat when you get off the train. This is NOT littering.
  • If you ask people which train to get from Embankment to Charing Cross you deserve to get laughed at.
  • Mind the Gap!
  • Move to the back of the train
  • No eye-contact
  • Read your own book
  • Stand clear of the doors please!
  • When the machine at the barrier rejects your ticket or pass you do NOT stand there like a drunken Dover sole in a warm puddle wondering what to do. You do NOT try it again and again. You get out of the way as quickly as possible and sort it out with the nice person at the big gate where they let the luggage through.

The Rules of the Bus

(and the Bus Stop)
  • Be nice to bus drivers. It gets you where you are going quicker. And the driver DOES have a direct radio link to the police. And these days the police come armed. You have been warned.
  • Do not argue with the driver. Even if you are in the right. You really do not want the karmic burden that is being laid upon you by the eighty-seven angry commuters stuck behind you who want to get a move on.
  • Do not bang on the door of a bus trying to get in. The driver will think you are a looney.
  • Do not stand in the folding doorway of a bus pathetically groping around inside your clothing in the hope that you have mysteriously grown a season ticket. Get off, let the bus go. There will be another one. You might even find your ticket once you don’t have the stress of fending off delay-maddened passengers
  • Hold very tight please! And I mean the handrail, not the woman in front of you.
  • The back seats on the ground floor of a double-decker bus are too hot for human beings.
  • When you get off the bus look both ways as if you were stepping off a kerb into a road. Because that is what you are doing.
  • And yes, much as I love cyclists, and much as I know that most cyclists are far safer road-users than most car-drivers, I have seen one or two suicidal idiots try to ride between a bus and the kerb. Just. Don’t. Do. That.

The Rules of the Moving Staircase

(and the Corridor)
  • Stand on the Right, Walk on the Left
  • The sign that says “walk on the left” does NOT mean that you don’t walk on your right if it is quicker or safer to go on the right. Its a corridor, not the bloody motorway. You have a duty to get where you are going for the sake of the other two million people using the system, you have a duty to do so safely, and if walking on the right makes it quicker or safer, do it
  • The sign that says “walk on the left” does NOT mean that you religiously stick to the left if someone is running the other way on their right, playing a sort of commuter chicken. Get out of their way. Get out of their way on the double if they are riding a bike, whether legally or illegally.
  • On the other hand the sign telling you to stand on the right walk and on the left of the escalator DOES mean stand on the right. Like everyone else does. Not on the left. It only takes one bad apple to spoil the pie and if you stand on the left – or even sort of lean a little over to the left – or let your bag or your baby or your baby-buggy encroach on the left – then YOU ARE THAT BAD APPLE. There is a special place in the FOURTH CIRCLE OF HELL being prepared for those who stand on the left on the escalator and I can tell you that those escalators go a LONG WAY DOWN!!!!
  • The sign that says babies must be carried and not seated in their pushchair does NOT mean that you stop the buggy right at the top of the escalator and spend a minute and a half trying to persuade the little one to get out and walk (**)
  • When you get to the bottom of the escalator you carry on walking. You do not stop to look around. Especially you do not stop to look around if you have luggage on a stick ready to smash the ankles or knees of the fifteen people behind you. Age is no excuse.

(*) That works better in a Gene Hunt accent.

(**) And frankly, I think having a kid strapped in to a pushchair on the escalator is a damn sight safer than trying to go on it with child in one arm, folded buggy in another hand, and all your luggage in your third hand while holding on the rail with a fourth hand. That needs two more hands than most passengers have. I have yet to see Kali dragging her sprogs through the tube system. Of course there are some parts of the lower levels of Victoria that she would do best to avoid.

Alien megastructures

London almost always looks best in the rain. And there is something about huge buildings that appeals to the inner 9-year-old. Especially when they look like a vast alien spaceship being built in the London rain. Its like something out of a Mark S Geston novel.

Rainy train in London

(As usual select the picture for a link to Flickr and other versions)

There are paralel worlds in that photo – the inside of the train (which you can see if you look hard enough), the men working on the new railway, the old warehouse and commercial buildings, the piled-up houses and shops towards Borough High Street and the megastructures behind them. They don’t so much loom over the scene as stand behiund it as a kind of backdrop, a metal and concrete sky. They are in a different frame of reference.

This one I posted before – its almost dangerously

Shard from 21 bus

Shiny!

Sunny on the same day:

london_bridge_1123

And again:

shard_from_21_bus_1686

View from a distance when it was very small:

waterloo_8019

How it started:

shard_G8183

Dozens more tagged here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nephrops/tags/shard/

Bits of London in the rain

188_in_the_rain_1724

The so-called “Millenium Village” looking like some strange cluster of painted adobe pueblo houses through the window of a 188 bus.

London often looks best in the rain. Especially when you can’t see Canary Wharf for the mist. Earlier in the week I went to the Greenwich Peninsula to fail to buy some things in a shop, so I went up to the Dome to take photos of in the rain and then took the bus to Rotherhithe taking pictures through the window and the tube to Wapping to get some photos looking back the other way.

tiling_north_greenwich_1715 tiling_north_greenwich_1717

As usual, more and bigger pictures on Flickr if you click the links.

188_in_the_rain_1721

There is a street named after someone who used to teach at Birkbeck! But is it real Penrose tiling?

tiling_north_greenwich_1706 188_in_the_rain_1734
wapping_1744 wapping_1751

Grey skies are so much more beautiful than boring blue ones. Dappled, diverse. They move and change. No two patches look alike. the light is kind on the eyes.

Rainy day seen from Wapping

Peckham Rye looking Pretty

Loads of people take photos of places like Peckham and make them look dingy and derelict and generally unpleasant. I’ve even done it myself. Its easy to do – its embeded in photographic culture with the elitist use of black and white. So here are some pictures of Peckham looking good on a spring afternoon. As usual, select them to see others on Flickr.

peckham_rye_1457

Its the gardens in Peckham Rye Park, of course.

peckham_rye_1462

So here is a jumble of older pictures of Peckham and Camberwell that are a bit mroe colourful than many:

Very Colourful  Peckham
peckham_not_at_all_sure_352
peckham_clifton_crescent_7325
peckham_brimmingham_carlton_7327
Camberwell_2746
peckham_bk_wave.0539
Peckham has Landed
Burgess Park blossom, February 2007
Burgess Park Daffodils
Addington Square, February
Camberwell - big round flats

Other pictures tagged with “Peckham” through this link

The Road to Millwall (3)

“Footpath Diversion. Footpath Closed: The footpath between Silwood Street and Surrey Canal Road is closed while we improve your railway”

Things have changed a lot in only two weeks. Now, if you want to walk from Surrey Docks station through to the football ground by the route I described in my previous post, you see this sign:

road_to_millwall_1131

Quel horreur! (or whatever they say in France).

And there is a fence across the first arch I walked under in my previous post:

road_to_millwall_1132

So lets try following the route in that helpful map. First turn right along this street:

road_to_millwall_1133

And walk along until we get to the helpful sign that says “Stadium”:

road_to_millwall_1134

(That photo and the next two mysteriosly miss out the police van parked right by the turning – either the Met have discovered the Klingon Cloaking Device, of I for some reason omitted to photograph the coppers resting in the van about three metres from where I was standing)

So turn left and you see this – one of Deptford’s few one-track-roads-with-passing-places. There are three or four round here, including the famous Cold Blow Lane. If the car drivers are in a good mood they honk their horns before turning the tight corners.

road_to_millwall_1135

If you go through and turn back you can see the new estate and the invisible police van:

road_to_millwall_1137

Go through that bridge and guess what – you come to another one. Is this begining to sound familiar?

road_to_millwall_1136

We’re very near the ground now, as we can tell by the power station:

road_to_millwall_1138

road_to_millwall_1139

But this is Bolina Road, so instead of putting us out right between the power station and the ground it wanders beneath the arse end of South Bermondsey Station then wraps itself around the back of the stadium to come out near the main entrance – something like fifteen minutes walk instead of five.

road_to_millwall_1140

The next bridge has a rather spectacular pile of mossy concrete blocks:

road_to_millwall_a1141

road_to_millwall_1142

And after a tight S-bend, another bridge, this one with some broken car parts

road_to_millwall_1143

And then another bend and one last bridge:

road_to_millwall_1144

The police here don’t seem to have turned on their Klingon Cloaking Devices. Well, not all of them, I counted somewhere between forty and fifty vehicles, many of them vans or minibuses with real sleeping policemen in them. At least two hundred police, possibly quite a lot more. Also dogs and horses. I stronly suspect that the Met – or maybe even other police forces – rotates units through Millwall duty to give them practice at crowd control. Sorry, student protestors, its all our fault that the cops are so good at kettling these days. They learned on us.

We’re almost there now, here’s one of the police horse boxes near the main entrance to the ground:

road_to_millwall_1145

And here we are again, back in Sunny Deptford (we were briefly in Bermondsey back there) and the salubrious smoking lounge:

road_to_millwall_1146

And just to prove it, here are some of London’s Finest – along with some of the Metropolitan Police who had been called onto the pitch by the referee to assist the linesman in his duties:

road_to_millwall_1148

You might notice a lot of footballers standing around and rather obviously not playing football.

As things turned out they called in a few more police and a large number of stewards before they felst able to restart the match:

road_to_millwall_1150

And believe it or not after that it was actually a good game. Genuinely exciting.

Don’t ask about the score though.

The Road to Millwall (2)

OK, this is how to get to wonderful Millwall in Sunny Deptford. Or was, until last week, when they closed the path under the railway.

We’ll start in Lewisham, waiting in the rain for a 21 bus to come:

the_road_to_millwall_1070

From to New Cross Gate Station to get on a shiny bendy East London Line train:

the_road_to_millwall_1071

The train journney is only about three minutes, and goes straight past the ground here:

the_road_to_millwall_1073

Get off at Surrey Docks Station:

the_road_to_millwall_1074

Turn left, cross the road, and walk past these nice flats:

the_road_to_millwall_1076

And go into this estate here:

the_road_to_millwall_1078

And between the new flats and the railway (trust me, this is a lot more salubrious now than it was ten or fifteen years ago)

the_road_to_millwall_1079

And that brings you to the first of the railqway arches you have to pass through – this is the bit of the walk that has just been closed so this is the last time we’ll get to see the strategically-placed blocks of concrete or the lovely broken barbed wire of the “Danger Keep Off Japanese Knotweed” signs.
the_road_to_millwall_1081

Past the big fans on the power station that look like the business end of a Saturn Five and howl in the dark:

the_road_to_millwall_1084

Through here:

And here:

the_road_to_millwall_1083

Under one more railway – we’re almost there now!

the_road_to_millwall_1085

Down this path:

the_road_to_millwall_1087

the_road_to_millwall_1086

And there you are, right by the Cold Blow Lane turnstiles. If you look carefully you can see the half time smoking area in the car park. That must be just about the apex of British sporting society. What have Henley or Wimbledon or Royal Ascot or Cheltenham or Goodwood got to match the sight of the smoking pen at the Den, out in the rain between the power station and the DHL warehouses?

the_road_to_millwall_1088

And just to show it is really there, here is the game from two weeks ago. We won – Lisbie scored in the 90th minute. Jolly good show, eh chaps!

the_road_to_millwall_1089

Distant suburbs with names starting in H

To Bedfont Lakes for a work meeting, or sales pitch. Second time I’ve been in the Heathrow area in a few weeks – I popped over to have a drink in the bar at the end of Eastercon (as usual I couldn’t go to the con myself as its one of the busy times of year at church) That was train to Feltham, then local bus to the north side of the airport, today train to Feltham and little local bus to Bedfont.

Architecturally its still the 1960s out there in the outer western reaches of London where where placenames start with “H”. If not the 1930s. As always in buildings 30 or 40 years out of date looks more dated than 300 or 400, and the Heathrow area looks very dated. OK, know a lot of the hotels and offices are newer than that but they don;t look it. Compared with the buildings you see in Inner London these look dull and unimaginitive. Air travel was once a thrill and airports were once stage-sets for the party of the future, but now they look boring. Inner London. even the parts of it full of Gearogoan or Victorian retrofits, looks much more futuristic

The most interesting buildings you can see from the Heathrow Perimeter Road are in fact the older ones that look left over from the 1940s or 50s or even before. Rows of sheds with unlikely looking corporate logos advertising some small company you have never heard of that is in to import/export, or oil exploration, or even “aviation” whatever exactly that means nowadays. Its as if the old between-the-wars civil aviation culture of small engineering firms, dodgy dealers, and mechanics tinkering with This and That that I vaguely remember in the backdrop of old films and TV programmes has somehow managed to survive in the gutters and beneath the onramps of the corporate monocultures that replaced them.

In a similar way the little 1920s bungalows in the suburbs round about, squeezed between rows of 1970s officed or 1990s blocks flats, some retrofitted into newer larger “properties”, others still looking like small sheds with fake beams and tarmac sheeting rooves (but all I suspect double glazed) are more interesting than the EMEA HQs and cheap business hotels.

The whole place is caught in a sort of fast-moving limbo. Its not the network of semi-rural suburbs it once was, before the War and the motorways and above all Heathrow Airport turned it over, although it is full of survivals of that era. But its not quite the American-style low-rise decentralised suburban landscape it could have been – there is just too much naff 1950s and 1960s municipal Englishness about, a whiff of the the Council Estate, the H-Block, the Nissen Hut and the Scout Hut. The overlaid palimpsest of the 1950s, a hint of Durrington. Yes, if Woodingdean was thirty times the size, flat instead of hilly, and had a major international airport inside it, and was nowhere near the sea, it might look like this. Maybe that’s why it feels like the early 1960s to me because the buildings (nothing else, just the buildings) remind me of where I spent my own early 1960s. And it hasn’t gone forward to the kind of post-modern high-tech complexity that it might one day become.

From a literary-architectural point of view the Heathrow area left John Betjemen behind, bypassed JG Ballard (though he chased after it and nearly caught it) and hasn’t yet arrived at Ken MacLeod.

Not too many photos from the Con I’m afraid. It was dark most of the time I was there.near_heathrow_8178

I do have a few of the hotel bar though. Like most cheap/mid-price hotels, whether in suburban sheds with legoland trimmings (as this one was) or in old buildings in town it seemed to have that tedious interior design that’s a sort of mixture of fake vaguely 18th century English wood-panelled massiveness and late 19th century French frippery. Flock wallpaper and cut glass, the direct descendent of the Gin Palace without the over-the-topness. Both unimaginitive and deracinated.

But the room the bar was in was much better! A sort of truncated atrium dominated by a vast garden water-feature with pastic glow-in-the-dark fish on sticks. And big Buddhist pots in piles of pebbles. OK jsut as ersatz and off-the-shelf but at least its different and most importantly it was a pleasant and easy space to be in – though I guess a lot of that was due to the lightly-arched glass roof that meant the whole room was adequateley and indireclty lit by natural light right up almost to sunset. Follow th link for more (though not better) pictures: easterc0n_8170

The visit to Bedfont Lakes produced even fewer photos. I’ll have to go back one day when I’m not working. Its a nightmare to navigate, no rationality to anything and no signage. Took us longer to find the building we were looking for once there than it did to get there from Feltham Station over a mile away. Everything assumes you are coming by car. What I should have done is follow the car road in and walk straight in ignoring the barrier that said “No Pedestrian Access”, which was how I got out. As it was I ended up getting to the Cisco building by going round the back of one of the IBM buildings and past the lake. Which was pleasant. I’m sure there is another way in on foot – I can even guess where it might be – but its not signed.

These places are too planned, too centrally controlled, and have too few children visiting them. A council estate laid out like that (and the word ones are) would soon be crossed by “paths of desire” taking you everywhere you need to go. That doesn’t seem to happen here.

So to Staines, just because I’ve never been there before. Much the same applies to Ashford and Staines as to the places begin with H. Except that the river is of course wonderful. Staines looks a bit sad, its not what it once was. Of course in an absolute sense it and its inhabitants are much more prosperous than ever before. But in a relative sense, over against London or the countryside round about, I get the impression that it was at its peak in the late 19th century. Its full of places that look as if the used to be small shops run by locals and are now rotting.

It would have been as small but prosperous market town, connected to the rest of the world by river, canal, and railway, with enough industry (Lino a speciality I think) to provide work for the locals and the nucleus of an industrial proletariat and skilled workforce. Near enough to London to commute to work, but too far to do your regular shopping there. There woud have been libraries and churches and social clubs and a full range of shops and services on the High Street. On Saturdays and Sundays Londoners might come up for a spot of boating or a walk by the river and a pint of local beer in the Swan. (All of which are still available to them and I can tell you walk and the beer are very pleasant) An HG Wells or Jerome K Jerome sort of place. staines_8201

Destroyed as a viable and distinct economic community by the Great War, the motorways, Heathrow Airport and shopping malls. Its still there, it still has some lovely houses, its probably very convenient (if expensive) if you have a car and you work bear Waterloo Station, but its not quite a Place of its own. It has become a node in the broken network of outer suburbia. At least its a lot prettier than Bromley, Dartford, or Romford.

And Ali G exists. There really are young Asian men in baggy trousers and hoods talking rap. Well there were some at the end of Platform One at the station. Or are they consciously living up to the stereotype? Maybe they are Londoners taking a day trip to Staines to act like Ali G? The trainers and hoodies as real or as fake as the blazers and Oxford bags and straw boaters that other young men wore on days out to the same station a century ago?

Why do the outer reaches of West London always smell bad?

N17

To deepest North London to see my daughter who is staying at a friend’s house for a while. Walking back to Seven Sisters tube I go another way from the road I came by and misread the map. I don’t mean I went the wrong way, but I failed to guess what sort of place I was walking through. There’s a circular street called Clyde Circus. On the map it looks like the sort of street plan I associate with 1930s or later council estates. But when I got there its actually very late Victorian terraces and quite posh. I should have paid attention to the words rather than the pictures. Anywhere called “Beaconsfield Road” is likely to be a long straight street of late 19th century “villas” (because almost certainly named after Lord Beaconsfield AKA Benjamin Disraeli, who died in 1881).

North London feels different from South London. (for a valus of “South London” that is I suppose more or less South East London inner suburbia). At any given distance from town it tends to be more inner-urban, with a more developed and denser infrastructure, perhaps more sophisticated, and also somehow less provisional. It feels like they finished building it. And fewer of those dark streets. S

And it really is a quick way back to the tube.

Not that that did any good. Hoping to be back home just after midnight I tried to change to the Northern Line for London Bidge at King’s Cross. Arrived on the platform about twenty past eleven and waited, and waited. No southbound train on the indicators. Just when I was starting to think about looking for a bus they did the Inspector Sands announcement, Sensible passengers started leaving immediately. A few minutes later they did the evacuation alarm and we all made our way to the surface. False alarm it turned out but at five to midnight I was at the back end of St Pancras watching the staff try not to have a fight with an aggressive drunk. So out to the bus stop, and three cigarettes later (waiting for 63, 171, 436) was back at Lewisham at nearly half past one.

Then I still had to change the washing in the machine do some other stuff to get ready for tmorrow and fell asleep in an upright chair which is why I am blogging this now.

Can I go to bed and get up in two or three hours? I am about to find out.

South-East Suburban Circular

One of the crazy things about asthma is that its often better being upright and out of doors. So when I managed to get to church on Sunday morning after four days more or less confined to my smelly little bedroom in my smelly little flat I felt a lot better for it. So I thought I’d spend the afternoon outside. But I’m too knackered to walk far, and not into sitting on park benches, so time to try another bus trip.

Bought a one-day travelcard in one of the local shops and got on the first bus that came down Loampit Vale – a 321. Crazy route, Sainsbury’s to Tesco’s, part of the current fashion for breaking up the Great Old Busroutes into inner and outer suburban sections. It starts near New Cross then down to Lewisham and transects what I think of as the layer of classic suburbia, straight up Lee High Road and then Eltham Road, Eltham Hill, Eltham High Street, before turning right on Footscray Road and down to Sidcup, where I walked down towards the station and got on a 229 through Bexley and Bexleyheath towards Thamesmead.

There aren’t many people on the street in these outer reaches of South-East London. You see some of them through their windows – some teenage girls chatting round a table, some men on stepladders Doing It Themselves.

Its suburbia, but its quite dense suburbia, and its not neat suburbia. There is something makeshift and ramshackle about it. Lots of little gaps. Pebbledash in some of the more downmarket parts. Odd bits of 1970s brutalism embeded among the older buildings. Small shops with cliched names – at least three “Buds of May”, a restaurant with the unfortunate name “Sophie’s Choice”, a shop called “Doors of Distinction” which sounds like the location of a spoof sitcom.

Glimpses of small, empty, muddy, sports grounds at the ends of side streets, Hills to the north and south, and over the hills and far away to the east, the lights of Dartford Bridge and the industrial North Kent Marshes

Why does Old Bexley call itself a “village” on the signs, when it was clearly a small town before London ate it, and not a village at all?

Things begin to change on the dual carriageway from Bexley towards Bexleyheath. Things are more open, more 1970s, more concreted. Bexleyheath announces itself with a big new Legoland-style Marriot hotel on top of a hill. There’s a lot of the feel of Legoland about the architecture of Bexleyheath shoppng centre. It looks as if they knocked it down and rebuilt it sometime in the 70s or 80s, and there are streets of huge shops. But there is no back to it – its like a sort of concentric Blackpool – the town-centre buildings back straight on to rows of 1920s and 1930s terraced houses, there is no urban depth to it – not even the sort of urban depth you get in Eltham or Sidcup with their pubs (some of which even have customers), their disused crumbling pre-war cinemas, Edwardian public buildings, and interjections of civic brutalism.

But there are more people around. Its getting dark, and all of a sudden the bus is full. I suppose it must be people who have been shopping and are going back to Erith or Thamesmead. The bus runs through Barnehurst to Erith and then back west again to Belvedere (more or less along a route
I walked a couple of years ago) Even Erith is getting posh private flats these days.

The view is occasionally spectacular – the towers of red lights down the Thames by Dartford, the lights of the City in the other direction, the multistory blocks of Plumstead and Thamesmead and most of all the industry by the Thames and in Belvedere. In the day it might not look so good, but at night it is a landscape of lights.

Thamesmead itself is magnificent in a way. But it looks utterly uninhabitable. Dark, threatening, inorganic, with no obvious plan or logic to the layout. Places that just grow have reasons for being the way they are. Thamesmead is laid out by obsolete whim. The bus goes round and round through probably similar sections – probably because I can’t quite see them. Other planned suburbs (& Thamesmead is nothing if not a planned suburb), other planned suburbs are being gradually humanised as they grow older. They become natural, they accquire an artificial backstory. Trees grow, streets are altered, new walkways broken through, buildings are infilled, retrofitted, reused. But Thamesmead is so structured, so constrained, so racked by its curvy grid of near-motorway roads that it has no way of linking itself across them. Most of the little neighbourhoods turn their backs on the streets, and hence each other, often set back twenty or more metres from the road, on a different level, screened by fences and lines of scrubby trees and municipal planting. This is a place built for cars, not people.

But weirdly, even though its dark and getting cold, and there is nothing to so, nothing open in the gloom., there are more people around on the streets and in the buses than there were in the posher suburbs further south. Mostly black and Asian. A lot of them look as if they are on their way to or from church. Its built for cars but a lot of the people who live there can’t afford them.

And a 177 back to New Cross, through Abbey Wood and Plumstead and Woolwich and Charlton and Greenwich and Deptford, and finally back to church for the evening service on another 321. Or maybe it was even the same one.

This bus terminates here

The other day a policeman in uniform came up to me at the bus stop at Waterloo station and asked if I could answer some questions for a “survey”.

A few questions about where my journey was from and too that day – nothing that would identify me – then something like “what is your experience of bus travel today?” Weird question. Not sure how to answer. And do I have any complaints about the service?
Well, the buses are too hot. And often overcrowded. But you expect that… Any complaints about the other passengers? Are any of them rowdy? Abusive? Violent? No, not really. Mostly just trying to get to work

I don’t really know but it looks pretty much as if he was trying to get up to his quota of complaints for the month, and was asking me questions from a form intended to report specific incidents.

He also asked me which bus I used. And would only take one answer. (another clue that it was a fake report for a fake incident)

But that got me thinking as like most people who use London buses, I use all sorts of routes.

I reckon this is about true:

  • More than once a week: 21 24 29 188 321 436
  • Maybe about once a week but probably more than once a month: 47 59 68 91 136 168
  • More occasionally than that but not one-offs, still part of my regular pattern of travel: 1 7 9 12 15 17 43 53 54 73 89 108 122 171 172 176 177 185 199 225 284 343 381 484 P4 P12 P13

Which is more regular routes than I would have guessed I think.

And why is the oldest bus route in the world the number 12?

And talking about the 188, how come when the driver is black (maybe 4/5 of the time) the bus takes you to the north side of Russell Square? Which is where most passengers, including me, are going. But when its a white guy in the driving seat he stops on the south side and plays the little “This Bus Terminates Here” message until everyone gets off? And then we all walk across the square – and the bus gets to the north side before us.

The Tower of the Lidless Eye rises anew!

Well over twenty years ago, I walked back from town towards Nunhead through the North-Peckham Walworth triangle with my old mate Dave Turtle. I mean that piece of land surrounded on the west by Walworth Road and Camberwell Green, on the South by Peckham High Street and Queen’s Road, and on the north-east by New Cross Road, Old Kent Road, and New Kent Road.

We walked across the bit of post-industrial desolation that was then just becoming Burgess Park – its quite pretty now but then it was basically a disused canal towpath connecting the abandoned church to the traveller’s site by way of an old school building full of squatters and a car-breaking yard, and looked out at the ramparts of North Peckham to the south and the flats round Albany Street and the Heygate and Amersham Estates to the North.

The first time he saw it, Dave named the place “Barad Dur”.

Here are those ramparts close-to:

peckham_camberwell_gloucester_grove_7358

Just a silly joke. OR SO WE THOUGHT!!!!!!

Then, I first saw IT a few months ago, rising over the collapsing brutalist mass that surrounds the Elephant and Castle. What was it? It is in this picture taken from North Peckham – follow the link to the larger picture and look at the tower you can see in the distance on the left:

peckham_burgess_park

Is that what it looks like?

I had to find out.

For many hot and dreary weeks I quested through the railway cuttings, arches and twittens of South East London to get a better view of this monstrosity.

Finally, from behind a parapet in a dingy and little-used part of Waterloo station, I got a good view:

saurons_tower_7510

Follow the link and open the larger the picture, IF YOU DARE. Look at the top of the new building. Is this not clearly the Tower of the Eye, Sauron’s fastness in Barad-Dur, being rebuilt in South London?

Take a closer look:

saurons_tower_a510

CAN THERE BE ANY DOUBT?????

At the Elephant, after dark, I was able to approach unseen (I hope) almost to the base of the Evil Tower:

saurons_towr_dark_elephant_enhanced_7627

The picture is, I know, vague and distorted. I hardly dare approach the orc-works so close in daylight. (As if the evil within cared for the sun or the moon! Aaaaaah! I am already weary!)

Look at the horrible gaping windows with a ghastly pale gangrenous death-light of putrescense oozing from them:

saurons_tower_7628

This morning, in the rain, through distorted old plastic windows of the tunnel in the sky over Waterloo Road, I finally got a good picture. It looks almost beautiful, in its dull, damp, stony way:

saurons_tower_7640

BUT WHAT HAPPENS NEXT???!?!?!??!?!?!?!?!

More listening to London

Seen from a bus:

There were police in the act of arresting someone at the bus-stop in front of Lewisham Station this morning. Or at least it looked as if they were from where I was sitting on the 321, they had the back of their van open and it looked as if they were bundling someone in. Of course I don’t know for sure if it was an arrest. Maybe they had just stopped for a cup of tea and a chat, but if they had it was a funny place and time to do it.

The bus stopped right next to them and we passengers all got off the bus and went up to catch our trains. I think there are cities in the world where a bus driver would not stop at an arrest scene however many passengers wanted to get off. I think there are cities in the world where the passengers would insist loudly that the bus drove on as quickly as possible.

OK this was the BTP, and if they had arrested someone it was as probably for getting on the DLR without a ticket. But you cant tell that from the other side of the road. Two vans and half a dozen uniformed police, and at least one plain-clothes (I assume since she opened the door of a police van herself and got into the front) Anything could be happening. But the bus stopped and we walked right past them. No-one here expects the police, or those they are chasing, to have guns. So no-one is scared to be near them.

Overheard on a bus:

29 bus last night, packed with standers, only two empty seats . Young women walks up to them, turns round without sitting down, comes back again. I take my chance and sit down and find myself next to the reason she didn’t.

Dirty, drunk, bad-smelling tall twenty-something man, feet on the seat opposite, talking to himself or his can of K cider. Or maybe talking to me. Mumbling as if I wasn’t meant to hear. “That’s right. You sit next to me, Get your fat arse into the seat” Northern Irish accent I think, the sort that sounds almost Glasgow.

Then off on a mumbling rant about the state of the world and the nation. “Twenty-two pounds a week Army pension. Its a joke.” It seems that he has an unfeasibly large number of stitches and no job. And the fat cats screw you whatever you do.

Then he sat up straight, seemed to take notice of his surroundings, and asked my how my day had been, before apologising to the women opposite and getting off the bus. Though he turned round on the pavement and made a throat-chopping gesture at someone. I hope it wasn’t meant for me.

The song remains the same:

Tube strike has caused a flurry of political conversation around the office. Best line so far:

Ms. X [defending the strikers]: “Maybe they should get 5%. Why shouldn’t workers get the same money as their bosses?”

Mr Y [horrified]: “But.. but.. that’s Communist!”

X: “Well, I am a Communist”

People are actually talking about politics, the fash are getting pelted in the streets, a Labour government is groping its way to ignominious defeat, there is a Tube strike, its raining, and I’m listening to Deep Purple…

Bloody hell, its the 1970s!

But fings ain’t wot they used to be:

Overheard in a pub:

“… eighteen of them and they were all Romanians and they were all pregnant. And the Lewisham Council gave them every floor of a whole block of flats, the whole building just for them. AND their partners. No English people could get that. We have to work for everything we get in this country… [blah-blah]…politically-correct…[ [blah-blah] …soft…[blah-blah]…that’s the trouble with this country…[blah-blah]…so liberal…[blah-blah]…the Englishman is a foreigner in his own country…[blah-blah]…politically-correct…”

Nothing remarkable about that, you can hear similar nonsense any day if you hang around in the wrong bars. Except that the young black man who said it was wearing a hoodie, combats, and a baseball cap.

London truly is a multicultural society 🙂