To Battersea briefly.
A. went to the Pride march, and I went to the Vicarage Tea Party. OK, it was the sort of Vicarage party with Rioja and Cotes du Rhone, and it wasn’t our vicarage, but it was over soon after eight and I missed the last episode of Dr Who – the things we suffer for the Faith.
Has Battersea changed or have I? When I first started visiting London back in the 19-ahem-0s I used to go to Battersea to see friends from Brighton. Some living in a squat, some in one of those slab blocks by the railway. It was one of the grottier bits of London as far as I could tell. Not so different from next-door Stockwell or Vauxhall.
But nowadays I read Battersea as posh.
Maybe it because I’ve been living in Lewisham or nearby for twenty-odd years and compared to South East London Battersea always was a bit upmarket. Maybe its because I’m remembering the area towards the river and this church is up almost on Wandsworth Common. Though even the shops by Clapham Junction (which never was in Clapham, its always been Battersea) are rather trendier and flashier than anywhere in the South East. (Maybe they always were – Battersea, unlike Lewisham, kept its department store, even if it is now only a Debenham’s) Or maybe its creeping Claphamisation. There were certainly plenty of bars with plate glass windows or cafes opening onto the street and rather unfeasibly cute 30-something mothers eating organic food with young kids and with skinny white-haired blokes who in Lewisham I would assume were the children;s grandfathers but here I suspect their fathers.
Round the back of the church a small high-density estate (“…nicely in scale, with pedestrian ways replacing some of the roads” according to Pevsner) that looks a lot like the one I saw in Jarrow the other week.
Then walking in the pouring rain through some medium-sized streets towards Clapham Common, (“Between the Commons” to estate agents) and a Blast from the Past at the sight of a house. Not because it was unusual but because it isn’t unusual any more. An ordinary house in an ordinary terrace, large bay windows with no net curtains or blinds, almost inviting passers-by to look in. You can see straight through what must have been two rooms knocked into one, with some sort of French doors or large window at the back, so you can see right through to the garden. The floor is polished bare floorboards, with maybe a round, shaggy, dark green rug towards one end. There are tasteful prints on the walls – these vaguely early 20th-century black-and-white drawings of dancers or tramps or something. There is a musical instrument of some sort. Two or three bookshelves, maybe one or two hundred books in them – more than most people will have but still nothing like as many as a vicar or sf fan might.
A young couple, maybe late twenties or early thirties. He is tall and thin and sitting on a chair, dressed all in black, clean-shaven with slightly spiky short hair. She is actually sitting on the floor, with her arm resting on the arm of the chair, smiling up at him in a Sergeant-where’s-mine-evoking sort of way. She’s wearing a chunky knitted jumper. Which she (or rather her mother at the same age) could have been wearing thirty years ago, except she probably wouldn’t have been wearing it on the first of July, such are the strange effects of global warming.
Back in 1967 or 1968 when we were kids helping our Dad campaign for the Labour Party for Brighton Council there were probably five hundred houses like that in Brighton (for all I know they might have been half of the whole number that there were in England) and it sometimes seemed as if we we knew all the inhabitants. These were the sort of Labour supporters who did not (as we had been) live on council estates or in little flats, but had just discovered that you could University lecturers (they were well-off in those pre-Thatcher days), advertising copywriters, architects, people you who didn’t quite seem to do anything for a living but mysteriously ended up working for the government next time Labour got in (and one or two, then in their twenties not in their fifties or sixties, who have been on the outer fringes of the Cabinet these last ten years)
Knocking through was all the rage, and white-washed minimalism and Chinese paper lanterns were big, though on the way out, moving through stripped pine towards “restoring” the “original features”. A fashion that still seems to have the artier half of the middle-middle-aged middle-middle class in its grip. It had just become possible to make a living by stripping out old Victorian and Edwardian decorations from poor people’s houses and selling them to the richer people moving in next door, as the middle classes started to move back into the city centres and inner suburbs. Though it took the government and councils twenty years to notice – so by the end of the 1970s you had councils still wanting to demolish terraces that were by now full of prosperous lawyers and well-informed accountants and replace them by slab blocks and dual carriageways in the name of redevelopment and regeneration, and by the middle of the 1980s millions of people all over the country had knocked through and pulled up carpets – though in a slightly jollier version of the style with walls brightly painted in solid colours, and shiny ethnic ornaments.
The thing that stopped me about this house was the way it was so very, very, exactly like my memories of houses years ago when all this was rare. Though of course it is probably all different really.
And of course no photos – as I’m not really given to taking pictures of people I don’t know just as they start a canoodle in their own living room. You can get arrested for that.
Later that same night, waiting in the rain on the north side of Clapham Common for a bus back to urban civilisation, a genuine bus-stop conversation. You don’t get many of those in the South of England. She perhaps 60, years old, from Glasgow. He (or she?) maybe in his thirties, very camp possibly Scouse accent. He being English wants to move on, she is up for a chat.
Had I heard about the idjits in Glasgow who drive a car into the airport? No, I hadn’t – I’d been at a party then walking for a couple of hours.
She reckons its a good thing, as they’ll all take notice in Glasgow now and do something about all the wee Paki shops. Apparently the trouble up there is that these Muslims and Pakis are all integrated. Not like Leeds where she lives now where they all keep themselves to themselves. The thing about the Scots – and especially about Rangers supporters – is that they take no shite. Or so I was told.
On the other hand she (like me) says she has both Protestants and Catholics in the family, so there cause of integration is perhps not yet lost.
They go indoors. I wait for a 37 bus to Peckham. When it gets to Clapham South a whole load of posh white people get off the bus, and lots of rather less posh black people get on. Battersea is behind me, and the last night of legal smoking in the pub ahead. Once in the pub I win 20 quid at Texas Hold’em which can’t be bad. Though between the beer and fags I must be down on the deal somehow.