Tag Archives: 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.

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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

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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.

Bits of London in the rain

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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.

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

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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

Mortboats!

Found a wonderful bit of bad tourist prose (AKA a “mortboat”) at the website of the Slovak city of Presov

Presov is the third biggest town in Slovakia. The key crossroad of the business journeys in the past is today a calm centre of the northern – eastern Slovakia. It is by no accident that it was named also Athens Upon Torysa or Slovak Seattle. You can admire historical sights as well as make trips to its close surroundings – from the easiest walks to extreme experiences. There are plenty of good quality restaurants, cafes and pubs in the centre. You´ll get brilliant rest in Presov.

Discover the undiscovered town. It´s easy to be found, lieing straight on the 49th parallel. English Queen wears an opal from the world´s famous Presov opal mines on her crown. Signature on the 10 dollars note belongs to Michal Bosak, originaly from Presov. What´s more, one of the only 4 copies in the whole world of the Turin shroud is placed in the Presov Greek Catholic church.

Bring on those “extreme experiences”.

Why is this a “mortboat”? Because of the all-time classic invitation to Tolo in the Peloponessos (which is a truly lovely place for a holiday):

The first seaside village you meet on leaving Nafplio is Tolo, situated on a picturesque bay. Its seafood tavernas overlook the water. You take a bite and inhale the salt breeze. You listen to the put-put of the little mortboats chugging over to the islet of Romvi opposite.

Beautiful day!

So much for the weather forecast. Here in London its sunny, warm and dry, an almost cloudless sky. The trees are in leaf, the lilac is blooming, and the birds are singing.

I just voted and the polling statiom was actually busy! If the old cliche about high turnout and good weather being good for Labour is true, then this election could be less disastrous for Labour locally than predicted. Dunno about the rest of the country though.

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?

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.

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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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

London was like this every day before the Congestion Charge

Getting to work. There is a Tube strike. I foolishly didn’t realise that the buses would be messed up. I rarely use the Tube to get to work, and when I went home last night I had had an easy bus journey. But of course that was because all the Tube-travelling wusses left work early so by the time I hit the streets the rush had died down.

Twelve hours later on my way back things were quite different. Waterloo was packed with people who didn’t know where to go. Some seemed sad, some angry. I was sitting next to a young woman – maybe girl really, she looked a lot like my daughter did about five or six years ago and gave every impression of trying to look older than she is, lots of makeup, very high heels – who looked very sad. Well maybe looking sad was the point because the clothes were distinctly Goth – black al over, frilly round the edges, long skirt, rather chunky shiny black shoes.

An odd style for 10am. Its too early to be going out, and the clothes looked too clean and new and dressed-up to be her regular clothes (or the ones she was coming back from the night before in), and the style is too self-consciously Goth to be dressing up for work. Unless she works in one of the handful of deliberately self-styled Goth pubs I suppose. I rather patronisingly wondered to myself if she was going for an interview for some supposedly arty job, or at college or university, and wanted to look “different”. Which if it was the case she was failing to do because you could see people dressed like that when I was in Brighton in the 1970s. Except that they were wearing second-hand stuff or clothes they nicked from their grandmothers rather than a style bought off the shelf at Claire’s Accessories. No, not Claire’s Accessories, that’s cruel. But I hope it was the Goth pub. You always want to think the best of people. I smiled at her and she smiled back. Which is always heartening. Though she looked sad again later.

A woman on a wheelchair tried to get on the 188 bus in the rain and another woman, one of the other passengers, complained. She said it that motorised wheelchairs are against the rules. I hope she’s late for work every day this week. And the driver agreed and didn’t let the wheelchair user on. I felt very angry – but said nothing. There were a lot of other people who said nothing. Its not as if it was one of those refurbished golf buggies with steering wheels and five-speed gears that large Americans use to get round convention centres and airports and silly Brits drive down the wrong side of the road at ten miles an hour in. It was just a perfectly ordinary wheelchair with handles and everything and a little whiny motor controlled by a switch in the arm. The sort that nearly all wheelchair users actually use. She didn’t get on the bus, but a couple of policemen helped her to the one behind. I hope she wasn’t refused there. I didn’t see what happened.

There were more idiot drivers on the road than I’ve seen for ages. More drivers of any kind. One fool tried to pass the bus I was on on the inside by moving into a side street and back out again and ended up with the nose of the car jammed between roadworks and the kerb. A wobbly wet cyclist also tried to come up the inside between a parked van and the bus, just as the bus was moving left to a stop, and his handlebars came within an inch of us. And he nearly fell off. Whey didn’t he just stop? Why didn’t he go on the outside of the bus the way you ought to?

It took me twenty-seven minutes to get from home to the platform at Waterloo Station, another twenty-seven from the platform at Waterloo Station to the south side of Waterloo Bridge (for non-Londoners that is about four hundred metres) and it would be poetic to say it took twenty-seven minutes from the south side of Waterloo Bridge to work, but actually it was twenty-four. Yes, I could have walked it, but I stupidly didn’t come dressed for walking in the rain. Wearing sandals – I thought about putting on shoes and socks but didn’t because I was late for work and wanted to catch a bus in a hurry. Sandals save a minute.

The 188 driver kicked us off the bus at the south side of Russell Square, as they usually do when they are grumpy (and black drivers do less often than white drivers – I wonder why that is?) But it didn’t matter as the Square was so blocked with traffic we got there before the bus. And my feet hardly got wet at all.

This is what London was like every day before the Congestion Charge. Thank God for Ken Livingstone.

And expect worse. As we move towards a government that is likely to be even more unreasonable on worker’s rights than “New Labour” has been, the chances are we will see a lot more of this.

The 09:59 to Waterloo

(A slightly updated version of the list at the bottom of this rant appears at The Rules of Moving Around London)

The 0959 from Lewisham to Waterloo and Charing Cross seems to attract more weird people than other trains

I don’t mean the usual assortment of nutters and loonies you’d see on the Circle Line, these folk are superficially normal. Staid and conservative even.

I got to Waterloo East as normal , and lots of people got off the train, very much as they would have if this had been the 0955 that I had just missed by a few minutes or the 1002.

Maybe I should say that the 0959 is a sort of protected train, as there is another one closely on each side of it. So I rarely catch it. I had got to the station a few minutes earlier I’d have been on the 0955. If I’d got there a few minutes later – or even if I hadn’t but my knees had been feeling bad – I’d have got the 1002 which goes from the more convenient Platform 3 instead of the inaccessible Platform 1.

Anyway the people got off and suddenly it was difficult to walk in the crowd. Everyone was getting in each others way. I realised that these people DON’T KNOW HOW TO MOVE IN LONDON.

Maybe its because the train doesn’t stop at London Bridge and so most of the real commuters miss it and its full of grannies and mothers with kids and luggage on a stick. Maybe it comes from somewhere particularly yokelish out in Sheppey. But whatever the reason, they bumbled around getting in my way and in each others way. They walked two or even three abreast along the narrow corridors and ramps.
When they passed the gang of ticket inspectors who hang around on the corner where the ramps from the Waterloo East platforms reach the bridge to the main part of the station they STOPPED WALKING as they showed them their tickets! Can you believe it? And worst of all Some of them even stood on the left on the escalator!!!!

Let me tall you the truth about commuting. You have a 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 so 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 past the bloke in the expensive coat bellowing at his staff down the phone, and to keep on going past the busker even if the music is good, and to keep on going past the clinic advertising well-person herbal stress check-up massages before work, and to keep on going past the clump of trainspotters on the end of Platform Four, and to keep on going past the drunk Scotswoman yelling incoherently at her rough-sleeping boyfriend who is paying attention to his little frog-mouthed dog and pretending not to notice, and to keep on going past the film crew making a particularly violent episode of The Bill (unless of course they are real police making home videos of themselves stalking Brazilians), and to keep on going past the grumpy women in high heels going on and on into their mobiles about how they hate London and hate public transport , and to keep on going past the idiot pretending to play a broken saxophone, and to keep on going past the idiot who just threatened you for walking on the wrong side of the corridor, and to keep on going past the information desk with the bored but very attractive young woman sitting at it trying to trick you into talking to her with some inane question, and to keep on going past the lift that doesn’t actually go anywhere interesting so there is no point in waiting for it, and to keep on going past the lost grannies, and to keep on going past the loudmouthed football fans, and to keep on going past the miniskirted French fifteen-year-olds on their first visit to London smoking cigarettes and trying to look very grown-up, and to keep on going past the piles of free Antipodean newspapers, and to keep on going past the rats gambolling in the suicide pit, and to keep on going past the staff, and to keep on going past the strangely fey young people trying to sell you plastic tubs of pink yoghurt with porridge, and to keep on going past the ticket collectors in their mock-police uniforms, and to keep on going past the vaguely familiar model or filmstar or minor TV actress that the other blokes are pretending not to stare at, and to keep on going past the vicious old Yorkshiremen in cloth caps who like in wait for unsuspecting travellers they can pounce on you from the shadows and drag you down to the nethermost slaughter-pits of Basildon, and generally to keep on going, and heaving kept on going, to go.

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!

  • Be nice to bus and train drivers. It gets you where you are going quicker. And the driver DOES have a direct radio link to the police. And these days they come armed. You have been warned.
  • Buy your ticket or pass before you get on the bus or train. Don’t offer the driver money. That’s so twentieth century.
  • 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 eight-seven angry commuters 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
  • Don’t try to talk. Everyone will think you are mad.
  • Drop your newspaper on the seat when you get off the train. This is NOT littering.
  • Drop not your paper cup on the seat when you get off the train. That IS littering.
  • Hold very tight please! And I mean the handrail, not the woman in front of you.
  • If you ask people which train to get from Embankment to Charing Cross you deserve to get laughed at.
  • 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.
  • Mind the Gap!
  • Move to the back of the train
  • No eye-contact
  • Read your *own* book
  • Stand clear of the doors please!
  • Stand on the Right, Walk in the Left
  • The back seats on the ground floor of a double-decker bus are to hot for human beings
  • The sign that says “walk on the left” does NOT mean that you don’t go 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 and if walking on the right makes it quicker, 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.
  • The sign that says babies must be carried and not left 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 (**)
  • There are nice maps on every bus stop and station that show you exactly how to get where you are going. Use them.
  • 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.
  • When you get off the bus look both ways as if you were stepping of 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.
  • 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!
  • On the other hand the sign telling you to stand on the right walk on the left of the escalator DOES mean stand on the right, Not on the left. Like everyone else does. 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 – 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

(*) 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.

Cardiff, City of Twittens!

To Cardiff, where I have never been before – for recording a TV program not that that’s relevant to this blog other than that the BBC paid for me to go to Cardiff and stay in a hotel overnight.

Well, the hotel isn’t actually in Cardiff but the Copthorne which is by a motorway junction in some bypass shedlands about ten miles west of the city. In the 1990s these places looked like the future – which is to say they looked like America in the 1970s – and we used to go on about “Edge Cities” and all that but now they already look as dated as a Nissen hut – and petrol prices drag us all back to the town centres and the railway station.

Anyway for a bit of only-just-post-industrial wasteland surrounded by motorways the Copthorne is actually quite nice outside (if not inside where it look just like almost every other medium-price chain hotel – and why are hotel bars almost universally so badly run? and why do they never have decent beer? ) but they have a little artificial lake or pond and a wooden terrace overlooking it where people go out to smoke but the wooden seats are in fact more comfortable than the ones in the bar (there must be a vast factory in Poland somewhere where they mass-produce those squeaky upholstered chairs that look comfy but in fact aren’t) and it was much cooler (why are hotels always so unpleasantly hot?) and despite the roar of the HGVs there are ducks and coots and swifts and house martins (which seem to be nesting in the eaves of the hotel) and at least one swallow and crows and thrushes and a heron and it was all rather nice.

And so actually to Cardiff itself the next day for a walkabout…

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Driving in in a taxi I’ve never seen so many stadiums in one small city.

Cardiff will be nice when they’ve finished it. I’ve hardly ever seen such an amount of building going on in one city centre.

Actually that’s a little unfair – central Cardiff keeps a lot of its old industrial street plan. Its a sort of anti-Brum, the exact opposite of Birmingham. Over in Brum they demolished most of the old centre (supposedly the best preserved early centre of any large British town) and replaced it with a new one in Victorian red brick. Which probably looked modern and progressive at the time but we’d think was wonderfully ornate and Olde-Worlde if it still existed but it doesn’t because they tore it down in the 1950s and 1960s and replaced it with a new city centre on a new street plan based on the twin principles that if you don’t drive you don’t count and that the greatest architecture of the twentieth century was the Todt organisation’s bunkers on the Atlantic Wall. And now they have torn that down and they are replacing it with the kind of buildings that are funny shapes and clad in high-tech alloys that change colour depending on the mood of the occupants.

Millennium Stadium Millennium Stadium
taff_6438 Millennium Stadium

But Cardiff is mostly NOT like that. The old centre still makes sense. Not that its that old because Cardiff is mainly a late 19th century town and a lot of the apparently old buildings are largely Victorian fakes anyway – but well faked Victorian fakes . There is a High Street with the Castle at one end, the station at the other and the parish church and the market next to each other in the middle. There are side-streets and alleyways and arcades off it – lots of them. And lots of smaller passages as well – Cardiff is a city of twittens. You can usually get behind things or past things or walk through the middle of things. Its a pedestrian-friendly city centre, its “penetrable” in the jargon

And the main concourse of the Central Station looks lovely in the bright sun. It seems more like a bit of Trieste or Slovenia than Wales. Pity there isn’t a decent bar.

Walking south from Central Station towards the Bay area an odd mixture of new office buildings, rather grotty 1960s council flats and a little bit of industry. A huge Anglican church visible from miles away, a Greek Orthodox church, and a couple of mosques. But not a lot in the way of pubs or shops. Vaguely reminiscent of walking south from Oxford Road station in Manchester towards Moss Side though on a smaller scale and without the University.

Cardiff_St_Marys_6372 Cardiff Bus
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This, apparently, was once the famous Tiger Bay. No longer lively as far as I can see, but still very black. Something I don’t ever remember seeing in England – a Job Centre with thirty or more men hanging around outside it smoking or drinking coffee from plastic cups and they are all black. Every single one. In any part of London there would be a mixture. I’d be surprised if I’m walking down a street where every single person is black (though I’ve seen no white people on this estate and few Asians) but I might well be walking down one where every unemployed man is black. That’s odd.

Cardiff, Christina St mural Roman Soldiers from Christina St mural Cardiff_Christina_St_6374

Down by the Bay and to Plas Roald Dahl. Which turns out to be not as silly a name as I thought because apparently he was baptised in the little church overlooking the Bay.

All this Assembly and Millennium (and Dr Who) redevelopment works. Its much better than I thought it would be. Well, I guess it works for Cardiff as a whole. Whether it works for the rest of Wales is a different problem. And it doesn’t seem to be working for the residents of Christina Street and Maria Street and Loudon Square, who are now just those grotty houses you see on the half-mile between the centre of the city and the new Bay. Butetown behind the front looks like a place to go through, not a place to go to.

I never realised how much Cardiff looked like the south of France. Well, it does when its 28 degrees in the shade and if you hold your camera just so…

Norwegian church, Cardiff Bay Millennium Centre, Cardiff Bay
Cardiff Bay, Dockhouse (IIRC) Cardiff Bay
Millennium Centre, Cardiff Bay Millennium Centre, Cardiff Bay
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Its hot. Too hot. I want a drink. Its bloody hot. And there are no real pubs on the posh bit of the bay – none that are open anyway. Just some Wetherspoon-alikes and some Eclectic International Brasseries. And Harry Ramsden’s. But I want a cheap pint of Brains and a glass of tap-water with ice in it, not an expensive cooking lager and fish and chips for eight quid a shout.

Back to the little streets between Mount Stuart Square and the bottom end of Bute Street and come across the Bute Dock Hotel. Which looks like a real pub. Its dark and cool inside. I’m the only customer until an elderly gentleman with a Muslim-sounding name and what may have once been an RAF blazer comes in and orders a pint of Guinness. I think I’m starting to like Cardiff.

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Bute Dock Hotel Cardiff lower Bute St

Too hot to walk all the way back to town and when I come out of the pub there are about half a dozen beautiful women walking in the same direction so that’s obviously the way to go. It turns out they are going to Cardiff Dock station, so I get in the train. My fantasies of getting a ride from the Bay up to the Valleys is dashed when I find out that its just a single-track shuttle to Queen Street. (Or is it Queen’s Road) But its only £1.20 and the train does seem to be full of beautiful women so that’s not too bad.

Why are stations names “Queen’s” anything always in slightly the wrong place?

The beer in the Queen’s Vaults (whixh is a pub, not a railway station) is 40p a pint cheaper than in the City Arms but its at least 60p a pint less good. The QV seems to be the pub (there are one or two in most town centres) where rather dodgy-looking scrffy middle-aged or elderly blokes sit around nursing pints, drinking very slowly, smoking roll-ups, and making remarks about the women passing by.

Gross overgeneralisation: north of the main-line railway most black people in Cardiff have dark skin and African or West Indian accents. South of the railway they have medium-brown skin and Welsh accents.

Even grosser overgeneralisation: young women in Cardiff don’t dress up as much as they do in the industrial north of England. Compared with Manchester and especially Leeds (& slightly less to Newcastle) Cardiff runs more to jeans and T-shirts and less to heels and hairdos. Maybe that is why so many of them look so lovely. That or the hot sun and the Brains.

Us poor benighted straights have no natural sense of dar. But a pub called “King’s Cross” near a chip shop called “Dorothy’s” and “Colin’s Adult Bookshop” and clubs with the circle-arrow biologist’s male symbol instead of Os in their signs give me the impression that these days even Cardiff has a pink light district.

Cardiff_6413 Queens' Vaults
Cardiff_Castle_6415 Cardiff_Castle_6417

I have a bad habit of comparing cities. The centre is not on the scale of Manchester or Glasgow or even Newcastle (never mind London), more on the scale of Brighton or Sunderland though clearly more substantial than either. Something of the feeling of Leeds in the way there is (or was recently) industry close in to the centre and things become low-density and suburban very fast if you go in some directions. In the University area and civic centre north of the Castle, something of the feeling of Cambridge or parts of Brighton (parts of Birkenhead too, though we don’t talk about those) in the way some of the streets are laid out (though not in the architecture – Cardiff doesn’t have much of the Georgian about it – though much of the Georgian in Brighton is in fact fake Victorian Georgian because we hung on to the neoclassical stucco style of facade on brick houses for a generation after it had gone out of fashion everywhere else).

But its more of a Place than, say, Birmingham or Leeds (most places are more of a Place than Leeds). The civic furniture is on a different scale. Its a capital city now and they want you to know it. So there is the National Museum of This and the Welsh Centre for That and the town feels just a little self-important. Which is OK. Cities ought to boast a little, to show off, to make themselves out to be more significant than they are. Its part of what they are for. Its one of the reasons Glasgow is more fun than Edinburgh, Brighton than Southampton, Preston than Blackburn. They are show-off cities that think they are special, take themselves just a touch too seriously, that get a bit brash and in-your-face and sometimes fall over and make fools of themselves on a Friday night.

I think I like Cardiff.

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Brains_6445 Brains_6447

Overheard in a pub in Cardiff:

Landlord: “I had that Simon Weston in here the other day…”
Young Visitor from London: “Oh is he from Cardiff then?”
Landlord: “Now, he lives in Cardiff now, but he’s not from round here. He’s a Taff”.

(Landlord to media types up from London to make some sort of advertising video)

Overheard in another pub in Cardiff:

“None of her children are mine. I put all my eggs in one basket.”

(Two men talking about “Rachel from Splott”)

Rochester

To sunny Rochester to see our curate get vicared in Borstal.

For a small suburb surrounded on three sides by a saltmarsh, a motorwpay, and a prison, Rochester is a surprisingly nice place!

And Michael Nazir-Ali doing just about his last formal Anglican thing before not going to Lambeth – which in fact isn;t at Lambeth but just down the coast in Kent in a place he could get to with a bus-pass.

Really badly put-together new developments by the river though. Unimaginative buildings wrongly positioned. If I had time I would rant on them…

rochester_cathedral_6304 rochester_cathedral_6306
rochester_cathedral_6307 borstal_6314
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rochester_cathedral_6302 St Matthew's, Borstal St Matthew's, Borstal

I was going to post links to my photos of Cardiff but it has just taken 2 hours to sort them out and if I don’t leave the office in the next ten minutes I’ll not get home till after 11pm. And then I will be late for work again tomorrow and stay late again and… 🙁

A picture may be worth a thousand words but even with digital cameras its easier and quicker to do a thousand words rthan one decent picture!