Tag Archives: deptford

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.

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:

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

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

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

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

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(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.

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

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

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

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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.

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

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

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And then another bend and one last bridge:

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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:

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

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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:

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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:

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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:

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

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

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Get off at Surrey Docks Station:

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

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And go into this estate here:

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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)

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

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Through here:

And here:

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

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Down this path:

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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?

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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!

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The Dark Streets of London

I’ve been going up and down to town by bus a lot more recently. Partly because I’ve been travelling later so miss the rush hours so buses can get around better, partly because I’ve been deliberately trying to see more of some parts of South East London. On Thursday when London reacted as badly to a whole centimetre of snow as it always does, I had to stay late at work and might have missed the last train so I set off on the 188 bus from Russell Square. Or tried to, the first bus was ten minutes late and it was after 1am when we got to the Elephant. So instead of getting off to wait beside Old Kent Road in the sleet to change to a bus to Lewisham I stayed on thinking to change to a 47 at Canada Water where I could wait under cover. Except of course the station was closed so I ended up waiting for nearly half an hour for an N47 at the bottom of Evelyn Street, with my boots sliding around on the ice. Well after 2am when I got home. Commute Fail. I should have known better than to trust the 47 after dark.

That part of London is about as dingy and gloomy as London gets, especially after midnight in the sleet and slush. I’ve been seeing a lot of it recently.
As well as using the 188 late at night, in the past few months I’ve sometimes had reason to take the number 1 bus from town towards the other end of Bermondsey in the early evening.

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The first two or three times I went to the Elephant on a 68, and squeezed on to a packed number 1, but then I realised it was easier to walk to Tottenham Court Road and get on at the begining of the route and get a decent seat – the best one is on the top, at the front as every seven-year-old boy knows (why do people grow out of trying to sit there?)

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London gets a lot dimmer as soon as the bus turns off Tower Bridge Road to Southwark Park Road. The streets are actually dark. There is less light around, there is less to see, the views are more restricted – there are very few long views except when Canary Wharf looms at the end of a street, for example when you turn left at the bottom of Galleywall Road into Rothrhithe New Roiad and look through or beyond the bridge.

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The area is carved up into sections by long railway viaducts, and its dead flat so lots of sightlines are terminated by railway bridges or by the workshops and warehouses that line the track using the arches

There are few big blocks of flats until you get to Deptford and too many of the smaller ones (both council the new legoland-alike private blocks that want to grow up into “gated communities”) turn their backs on the street presenting a brick wall or a pointless fence to the street, and a little grassed over dog-toilet between that and the doorless (or even windowless) ground floors of the buildings. Between them and the warehouses and walls and hoardings around derelict old industrial buildings and post-industrial waste spaces, the narrow streets are all too often blind on both sides.

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I know these streets well – this is pretty much one of my more usual cycling routes home – but things look different from the top of the bus. Its dingy and gloomy. There are few shops and they are mainly closed by this time of night. The street lights are sparse and that orange colour that doesn’t really illuminate brick so compared with central London – or even with Lewisham – there isn’t that much visible outside the windows.

The first time I try it I forget – if I ever knew – that the number 1 goes down Galleywall Road and I get off two stops early and walk through the dark streets to Ilderton Road (a place I first heard of on a record sleeve back in about 1976 – my copy of Dillinger’s “Cocaine” proudly claimed to have been released by “New Cross Records, Ilderton Road” – I have no idea why I should remember that after over thirty years).

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When the business of the evening (a football match at Millwall) is over I set off home. Its even darker walking along the Surrey Canal Road – a sort of Bermondsey Bypass along the route of the old canal that used to connect Peckham to the Surrey Docks, filled in in the 1970s and now one of London’s darkest, dingiest streets, lined on both sides by warehouses, scrapyards and a very few small factories, as well as three huge shiny buildings – the Millwall ground, Deptford combine heat and power plant and a very large shed that seems to be something to do with the new East London Line extension

The road parts company from the old canal route at Folkstone Gardens in what might be the most unpleasant junction I know in London for a cyclist or pedestrian – a sharp S-curve passing under two lowish railway bridges that cars and lorries can approach from five separate directions, with no traffic lights and blind-spots everywhere,

Along the slightly more gentrified residential streets of Deptford Park (only slightly – though if it was anywhere else in London a lovely little park like this overlooked by bay-windowed Edwardian terraces would be as posh as a posh place) and up to Evelyn Street to get a bus home.

And decide to turn right (towards Lewisham) rather than left (towards the nearest busstop) and walk down to the next stpo[, over the old Canal Bridge which is the nearest thing to a hill between Tower Bridge and New Cross.

But the next stop is shut, because of some road works. Really weird ones that seem to consist entirely of traffic cones that divert three lanes into one for no obvious reason. So carry on down past St Luke’s Church and all the way to the stop by the John Evelyn pub, by which time I’ve walked over half way home and had I gone down to Old Kent Road I’d have probably been home by now.

The stop has one of those little red displays that pretends to tell you when the next bus is coming the way that train indicators work at a station. This one says that there will be a 188 along in a few minutes, and 199 a little later, but doesn’t mention the 47, the bus I want. It does have times for the N1 and N47. As its only just after 10pm and these night buses start after midnight I assume that has to be a typo. Maybe the N47 will turn out to be a 47 really,

The 188 comes on time, the 199 comes on time, then another 188 and I count down the minutes to the supposed N47 – 8, 6, 4, 2… then it disappears from the list. Nothing comes of course. Nor does the N1 materialise Another 199 comes, and another N47 is promised, and finally a 47 is flagged up at 19 minutes in the future. I’m not much further walk than that from home. But I wait – there is no N47 of course and wait – and the bus is postponed, the last 12 minutes take nearly half an hour. But one does come in the end, about 10.50, three quarters of an hour after I got to the stop. It is surprisingly uncrowded.

I get off at Brookmill Road perhaps the most gloomy street of the whole journey after Galleywall Road, barely lit, with 1950s and 60s brick light-industrial sheds on one side of the street and 1990s legoland metal ones on the other.

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Mostly now Nigerian churches for some reason. Its only round the corner from home but it can feel scary at night, overlooked by no-one except the very end of platform 1 of Lewisham station, on the other side of the abandoned and ruinous Traveller’s site.

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Round the corner into Jerrard Street, onto the main road, and the pub is still just open and I have a pint and one of the sandwiches the darts team didn’t eat.

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Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings…

…comes stuff I don’t want to repeat on a family-friendly website. Or it does if the kids in question are Millwall fans at the Cold Blow Lane end during a match.

Football is not a big part of my life, as everyone who knows me knows. (*) But people watch football in pubs. And I spend a lot of times in pubs. So I am often around people watching football. And it gives you something to talk about, it is a way of relating to the people around you. And as the people around me tend to be Millwall supporters I thought I would go and take a look.

So yesterday I went to the New Den to watch Millwall trash Huddersfield 3-1 (And that last Huddersfield goal ws a fluke. They were outclassed. There were at least three Millwall forwards better than anyone Huddersfield could put on the pitch, and one of them was supposedly playing as a defender. Neil Harris could have been in a different league from Huddersfield. I doubt if Leeds will go quite that smoothly though…)

I have to confess that I would have been nervous about going to the Den. That I almost was nervous. The place has a reputation. And I don’t go to football matches I didn’t really know how to go to football matches. How do you get in? Where do you buy a ticket? Can you just buy a ticket? What do you wear? What do you do when you get there? What if they think I’m from Huddersfield? Does anyone check on which team you really support?

I was late because I had something to do in Lewisham so I took a 47 bus, and there were traffic jams all whe way from the High Street to Evelyn Street so it might have been quicker to walk. Instead of going all the way up to Surrey Docks on the bus I got off at Deptford Park and walked along the Surrey Canal Road, and was heartened to see that I wasn’t the only latecomer, there were a dosen or so others all walking purposefully along the same way.

The stadium is next to one of the few remaining industrial areas in inner London, stuffed into an angle between the mainline railway out of London Bridge towards New Cross Gate and another local line that goes to Peckham via South Bermondsey. Its got four more or less identical stands, one on each side of the pitch, simple plain concrete structures that looks about as cheap and functional as a stadium could be.

Well, its easy to get in, if not cheap. You walk up and buy a ticket. And no-one checks that you are real or not or minds what you are wearing. Its mostly T-shirts, jeans and trainers. There were even a couple of blokes wearing sandals. A few adults but a lot of kids were in team colours. The crowd segregation is (at least for a low-profile game like this one) more or less voluntary. There is nothing other than common sense stopping a stray away fan from buying a ticket for the local end.

and the game had already just started when I bought my ticket, so by the time I found my way to a seat it was nearly ten minutes in. And the first thing that happened was two Millwall goals in about two minutes. Which is probably as bad a start as you can get – like a gambler who wins on their first visit to a casino. Maybe I’ll spend years expecting always to win.

Do the crowd deserve their reputation? Maybe they do. Its mostly male, though there were a few women. And mostly white. There are a few black fans as well – nowhere near as high a proportion as in the area round (which is one of the centres of population for Africans in London) but some. Including some young kids apparently on their own. There were a lot more children than I had thought there might be, though that might have been because of where I was sitting. As it was my first time I decided to sit down at the front, behind the goal – which is where the little kids tend to be, which is why I got to hear what they were saying. It seems the older supporters tend to like being higher up so they get a better view of the whole game.

As the game went on more and more of the children drifted to the front, and many of them were hanging arounds in the space between the seats and the pitch. Which is full of signs telling you to remain in your seat and never stand up and certainly not to go near the pitch. Apparently if you do you will be licked out of the ground and arrested and put on a database and not allowed to watch football again anywhere for ever, sent into internal exile in Scunthorpe, and your maiden aunts will be sold into slavery. Or something like that. It seems that these rules don’t apply to children in practice, and by end of the first half there were about fifty kids with bottles of coke and packets of crisps standing in the space in front of the seats. Some of them could hardly have been more than two years old. I wonder how seriously the club takes the “no standing” rule for children when they emply someone to dress up in a lion costume and wander round the pitch entertaining them?

There was a lot of shouting from our end (I couldn’t hear anything coming back the other way even when Huddersfield scored, but there were only a few hundred of them – and about thirty police guarding them) Millwall songs and chants tend not to be that tricksy or clever, and at the end when it was clear that the game was won it was nothing but the word “Mill” chanted on one note for some minutes, people dropping out to take a breath and others joining in so the chant kept up.

A lot of the shouting was obscene. Once the fans had a reputation for racism, but I heard none of that. But then we had more black players than they did. Unless you count “Your mother’s Welsh!” which doesn’t seem that insulting to me. I suppose “You dirty northern bastard!”, chanted after every foul, or supposed foul, from the other side is sort of regionalist of not racist, but its not said with much conviction. And Brighton fans used to yell it at any team, even Reading, which probably confused them. One player on the ground who looked like he might be injured got “Let him die, he’s only a northerner!” Which probably didn’t affect him much – I think he’s from Luton. But in the second half when they changed ends and the Huddersfield goal was right in the centre of the Millwall fans one or two of them did look a bit put out by the crowd.

Yes, a lot of it was sexist. Commenting on the sex or sexuality of the opposition players seems to be the staple insult. And the most popular four-letter word begins with C, not F. I’m not sure what “You’re a woman and so is your bird!” was meant to mean though.

Sometimes the insults were just confusing. What on earth is “fraggle!” meant to mean? Have I missed something?

And they start them young. The kids at the front were as rude (and mostly as unimaginative) as the adults. I’d be surprised if Daniel Drinkwater was very upset by a kid about five years younger than him shouting “Drink Lucozade!” every time he got near the line. And “Crawl back under the stone you came from!” sounds more odd than scary when the boy yelling it looks about eight at the most.

But the oddest Millwall supporter’s comment of the day was back at the local when West Ham were being beaten by Liverpool on the TV (and presumably on the pitch as well but all I saw was the TV). “What I can’t understand is how when the bloody Luftwaffe were bombing the East End every night they managed to miss Upton Park. Were they bribed?”

And at the ends of the match, most of the Millwall supporters seemed to walk home. There was certainly a long crocodile of people all the way down Ilderton Road to Old Kent Road, with smaller groups walking off at each side-street and estate we passed. Millwall is, I think, genuinely a local team with few if any supporters from more than a mile or two from the ground. I wonder how many other proffessional football teams that is true of?

(*) Saying “football is not a big part of my life” is putting it mildly. In fact I used to hate football. We were made to play it at school, which turned me off it for decades. School sport is in a way a form of child abuse or it is in a boy’s school anyway. It involves a kind of ritual pubic humiliation that you would never see in any academic subject, forcing the weaker or less skillful students to tray again and again and again to do things they are incapable of doing and punishing or mocking them when they fail. It is all too often institutionalised bullying. Part of its function was to separate off a minority of boys and mark them as suitable targets for scorn, which is a powerful way of boosting social solidarity among the majority. Bullying reinforces the social system in a hierarchical institution like a school. I don’t know if the teachers knew that that is what they were doing. I hope they didn’t. But it is what they were doing.

But, a lot later, I got over it. Partly through watching World Cup matches with some mates, partly through having a great time in a pub when Millwall got to the FA Cup Final. I suppose that was the day I made my peace with football. Not that football noticed.

Saturday afternoon walk

Blackheath to Greenwich to Deptford – Sometimes Pubs Just Work (2)

My brother came down South of the River on Saturday for the first time in a while (he used to say he never did – when I bumped in to him in Brixton one night he said that it was honourary North London). He cycled to Blackheath, all the way from Holloway more or less) which took a little longer than he thought, especially the hill at the end (*) and we had some wonderful cider at the Princess of Wales. A license to print money that place, on a sunny summer Saturday.

Then down to Greenwich through the Park in the sunshine, and some noodles and more beer at a Vietnamese restaurant, and walk to Deptford and a final pint at the Dog and Bell:

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And my brother says “where can I put my bike” and I say “over there on the bike racks”. We are civilised in Deptford these days. And he says “Is it safe” and I tell him it is. After the obligatory scare stories about Milton Court and the Pepys Estate of course. Not as dangerous as people make out. So we have beer and a fag in the back garden of the very very nice pub and I hear a few loud bangs that, if I knew what shots sounded like, might have been shots. And I walk my brother to Evelyn Street and put him on the right road for Rotherhithe, and wonder why such a traffic jam.

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And I walk back towards the High Street and there are police everywhere and sirens and scene-of-the-crime types, and the roads taped off and I asked someone what was happening, and yes, it seems as if someone has been shot. So much for my telling everyone how not-dangerous Deptford is.

For some reason one of the blues-and-twos vans had “Metropolitan Police Marine Policing Unit” written on it. The river cops? Why? For a moment it was like being in the second series of The Wire

So back past the Cranbrook (where someone I have never met before bought me another pint) and to the local where there was some kind of party going on and various people there…

And I really ought to lay off booze for the next few days to give my liver a chance to recover.

Only in South East London could there ever be a fake Morley’s:

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(*) Mildly irrelevant Pompous Geology Witter – why South London is steeper than North. London is (as NE Fule No) in a the London Basin, which is formed by tertiary [i.e. after-the-dinosaurs] deposits of sand and gravel and mud (much hrdened into clay) in a syncline,. a bowl-shaped fold in the underlying chalk. The Thames didn’t make the Thames Valley – the river flows through a valley that was made by a great fold in the earth running hundreds of miles east from the centre of southern England into Belgium and even Denmark (though the sea came in and washed most of it away during the Pleistocene…)

There are three steps up from the Thames to the sides of the basin. North of the river they come one after the other . First the river terraces, accumulated gunk on the edge of the flat alluvial basing of the post-glacial Thames. In Central London the river is at the northern edge of its little plain, so it buts onto the terraces – the Strand runs along it. Which why Trafalgar Square slopes, why Villiers Street is steep, why the north side of Waterloo Bridge is higher than the south and why Upper Thames Street is Upper and Lower Thames Street is Lower.

Then a mile or two back, the so-called Northern Heights – a line of hills of clay and sand, including Stamford Hill, Alexandra Palace, Muswell Hill, Hampstead, Highgate, Horsenden Hill, Hendon, Harrow and so on (I don’t know why there is such a wave of “H”s in suburban north-west London – it carries on in a big arc round the city to the not-at-all hilly Hillingdon, Hayes, Harlington, Heston, Heathrow and Hounslow.) There can be quite a steep scarp to this in places, you see it best round Archway and Highgate Tube, even though the hills themselves aren’t very high. I suppose its because the muddy clay isn’t very strong and collapsed in places, leaving natural quarry-like sides. (Not that I cam at all sure of that)

Then there is a another big flattish step, even a valley in places, until you get to the dip leading up to the Chilterns outside Greater London which are proper chalk Downs, and the start of the anticline, the other bit of the fold. They aren’t exactly high, not even as high as the South Downs (which are the real Downs of course) but they are proper hills and higher than anything you are likely to find in north London.

South of the river you get the same three steps but they all come at once. The terraces at the southern edge of the Thames floodplain run in a pretty straight line from Camberwell to Greenwich, abut five to ten metres above what used to be the marshes, which is why the old Roman road ran there. Peckham High Street, Queens Road, New Cross Road, and Deptford Broadway still follow the line. You can see it clearly around New Cross, where the roads and paths leading north go steeply down hill – the main roads have been levelled but the side roads and footpaths fall down fast. The original Deep Ford that Deptford is named for is the place that the Ravensbourne flows through these terraces into Deptford Creek.

But unlike north of the river these terraces butt on to the clay hills behind them, so the two steps up become one. And the chalk hills are immediately behind them. So if you go south from central London you rise immediately and almost continually from the Thames to the first of the North Downs. And – also unlike north London – the chalk isn’t very far under the clay. You can pick up chalk off the ground at Woolwich. There were lime pits in Blackheath and Lewisham where chalk was dug out by hand. The railway cuttings at Lewisham exposed chalk at St John’s – if you wanted to stretch a point you could make a rather stingy claim that Hilly Fields Park and St John’s Church were the northernmost gasp of the North Downs.

Two old photos of Deptford Creek, just because I like them:

The Creek is Red Mouth of Deptford Creek, from the Greenwich side