Tag Archives: local

Who needs East Enders?

Overheard in the garden of a pub

“Do you remember when P was running G pub and that bloke was murdered upstairs and she tried to kill herself?

[Phone rings] [Some conversation] “What nick’s he in? I’ll go and see him…

Different bloke a few minutes later in same pub: “My brother just got made a life peer…”

Who needs East Enders?

Not quite the Wire

I think I said before that I keep on seeing people who look like characters from the Wire. A few weeks ago there was a bloke who looked just like Daniels (except younger taller and darker) chatting up the barmaid in a pub. Then two men who looked and dressed like Weebey and Cutty at the busstop. Yesterday there was Boadie and Levi the lawyer – except he was on a bike. The teenager who looked like Omar might have been scary if he hadnt have been about twelve and in school uniform. Though bearing in mind series five perhaps that is scary.

Thats one of the reaaons its a good programme. Realish people (except maybe Omar)

But this is not Bawmer and not The Wire. A lot safer for a start. Last night I walked past some police arresting someone on Loampit Vale – but there was none of th TV drama. No ” get out of the car slowly”, no up-against-the-wall, no shouting, no guns. Everybody seemed relaxed,almost cheery. One young policewoman was chatting to three Asian-looking men who had been orddered out of their car. A policeman was looking through the car and pulled out a plastic bag. “I think I’m going to have to ask you about the contents of this bag”

It wasn’t quite two to three – there was a police van parked right behind the car. But all very civilised.

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.

Ian Paisley International Airport.

No, there isn’t one. And there probably never will be in this world, though I could imagine an alternative Earth in which there was. Probably in a Ken MacLeod book.

Down to Worthing for my aunt Peggy’s funeral. A quiet affair, less then twenty people there and a few drinks suplied by my cousin back at his Mum’s flat. Some stressful things, and some buried bits of the past, mostly not talked about. It must have been a hard nut for the minister who took the service to crack, and I think he chewed it or even sucked at it more than he cracked it. Lots of unresolved old disputes and rivalries, most of which I have no idea of the source of, and most of which will now never be resolved because most of those involved are now dead.

OK, this isn’t an emo blog, or even a political one. Its about places and a bit about language and random encounters. And I’m not about to plaster rumours about my family history all over the internet.

So I’m wondering about accents again. Where they come from, how fast they change. My Dad’s parents generation all had strong South Tyneside accents when I was a child, even the nine or ten of them who had moved to the south coast forty years before I was born (which is why Jarrow or Hebburn sound like home to me – people speak in the voices of the aunts and cousins who used to babysit me and my brother when we were chldren). Yet that accent itself was probably only about a generation old when they learned it. My generation of our Brighton family mostly speak in a rather typical south-eastern urban accent, (what might now be called “Estuary English”, a term I hate), which sounds to most people a bit like a London accent. And our children are mostly posher than us, tending towards RP (but not quite getting there).

I wonder where and when that urban Brighton accent came in. Did anyone speak it in the 19th century? Or would Brighton people have had Sussex accents? As far as I can remember most people I knew in Brighton of my parent’s generation spoke it when I was a child, and at least some older ones (though it is hard to be sure after all these years). The “Estuary English” scare in the newspapers of about a decade ago seemed completely to miss the mark to me. Prescriptivists attacked urban south-eastern English as if it was some new-fangled slang threatening to overwhelm RP and kill off the real local or rural accents. But from my point of view they were talking about the accent I was brought up with. (I don’t think my Dad said “innit” but we did, and we said it in the 1960s) If anything the trend was the other way – older Brightonians sounded more “cockney” and more working-class than many of the younger ones. (But that is anecdotal and depends on our own class trajectory of course) Real Sussex accents seemed vanishingly rare in Brighton even in the 1960s (though I have overheard people using them at Plumpton races only an afternoon’s walk away)

I think I used to think of accents as diverging like a tree. But now itseems more like the way the sea sorts out the pebbles on Brighton beach. A wave of economic and social change passes over a city or a county or a country generating new accents and dialects in its wash, mixing people and speech together, and when it has passed it leaves them stranded as heaps or ridges of shingle, similar but different to the ones there before, arranged in new combinations whuich might last for hours or days or weeks or years or centuries.

I took the opportunity today to try listen to the voices of P and J, brothers, distant cousins of mine, just about the oldest surviving of the Brighton-born in our family. They have rather different accents from each other. One posher (though nowhere near RP), the other could easily pass for South London or urban north Kent. But I think I can hear the ghost of a Sussex accent in them, a little bit of the voice of their father, a man from rural Sussex. Their mother, who died recently, still sounded more Jarrow than Hebburn or Shields when she was in her eighties. She moved three hundred miles from home, her accent never moved even three miles in sixty years.

She was probably the last living person with any memory of my grandfather who I never met, and as far as I can tell almost no-one liked. I don’t even know what he looked like. Though I think I can guess. I saw a photo today of my uncle Joe (who died many years ago) and he looked astonishingly like my cousin Kevin. Both of them look quite like my Dad and his brother Fran (Kevin’s Dad) and also my own brother. Presumably they all got that look from somewhere, and I guess it must be their common ancestors, our grandfather and grandmother I never met. (Though I don’t look like that – I more resemble Mum apart from eyecolour and waistline and find myself reflected in all sorts of cousins in Scotland)

And afterwards in a car through Lancing and Shoreham to Brighton for a nostalgic drive along the seafront and a walk along the Palace Pier (the only one still more or less standing) taking in some bits of personal and family history on the way. The road goes all along the long lagoon of the River Adur and you can tell which part of the urban coastal strip you are in by the uses made of the lagoon. At the Worthing end it is filled in and made into a lawn. There are some beach huts and park furniture until a few huge vaguely gothicky-Arts-and_Crafts fake-timbered houses with pre-distressed rooflines and hanging tiles announce the begining of Lancing Beach. Norman Shaw come down to the coast and pupped with Arthur Rackham. Then a combination of unimaginitive recent blocks of flats and slighly less huge barn-like houses that seem to be an incongruous mixture of Swiss chalets and clap-boarded fishermen’s cottages. We try and fail to remember which one my aunt Vera kept a guest house in many years ago. The lagoon behind is now the Widewater, brackish and teeming.

Over the mouth of the Adur and past Shoreham Beach, which is marked by the sudden proliferation of houseboats, dingys and old leftovers from the pre-war plotlands, along with some much more imaginative modern blocks. Drive past a few very strange pubs I remember from years ago an lots of smallish 1950s and 1960s warehouses converted into either flats or furniture showrooms. Across the county boundary to East Sussex, which is at this point one of the most egregiously misplaced county boundaries in the country, cutting through both the port and continuously urban western extremities of Brighton, Whatever they say, Shoreham is a suburb of Brighton,

Then all of a sudden what remains of real industry, incongruously separating (for those who don’t know Brighton) horeham from Hove. Yes, there still are small coastal oil tankers, I saw one drawn up by the old Texaco oil terminal, it up by bright lights and with a huge NO SMOKING sign over the front of the superstructure, and ramifying manifolds of red-painted pipework and plumbing over the deck. And the timber yards are still where they were when I was a child, if a little smaller. And there is only one metal chimney on the new power station, not the two old brick ones I remember. We are passing Portslade.

The exact location of Southwick, Fishersgate, and Aldringon, is a matter for the Wise.

The start of Hove seafront is marked by beach huts and paddling pools on one side (the lagoon filled in yet again) and Edwardian “villas” Regency terraces, whitewashed flat-rooved portholed liner-style “modern” blocks of flats from between the wars, and small blocky 1960s hotels. The very last gasp of the old lagoon, the gap between the shingle and the mud, is occupied by the King Alfred centre, one of the most ugliest buildings in Britain. Swimming pool, bowlng alley and cheap cafes. Shiny and tempting when I was a kid, grey and falling apart now.

You can tell when you cross the border into Brighton. the shops are still open, the cafes full, and people don’t walk in the bike lanes. Though they do fight in the streets. The ruins of the West Pier are beautiful in the sunset, an unlooked-for unwanted glorious sculpture of tangled rust rising from the sea. There are people who want to preserve it as a ruin and I can see their point.

Park up in the darkness below the Promenade and terrace that covers the beginings of the cliffs where the South Downs meet the sea – no bare chalk till Black Rock, one of the greatest enineering triumphs of the early twentieth century, gicing the seafront a sort of three-dimensional feel no-where else quite has.
Then some fish and chips from one of the overpriced cafes near the bottom of East street (very authentic Brighton experience!)

And we drive our Mum back to where she is staying in Hurstpierpoint (“Hurst” the rather rah-rah locals call it), at the extremity of MegaVillage One. The last couple of miles are on the old road, one of those Wealden sunken lanes with a tunnel of trees, that are possibly the oldest human artefacts still in use in the British Isles. The houses by the side of the road are from the 1960s but the roas itself is perhapse three thousand years old or older. Our field boundaries are our history. the lines of the straight Roman roads were expunged centuries ago, but the landscape the people before the Romans knew – more likely the ones before them – is carved into the landscape by successive generations who walked the obvious way and wore their paths deep into the ground.

Got back to London just in time for last orders at the local

Sometimes pubs just work. And sometimes they don’t. Today was pub fail. I could have done with a lively chatty party feel. I could have coped with a quiet drink in the corner thinking to myself. What I found was a pub with only about eight or nine customers in it. A small gaggle of incoherently pissed blokes playing pool loudly – and ordering a minicab and then sending it away again because they’d either changed their minds about where they were going or were too drunk to have made up their minds in the first place – which must have pissed off the driver and certainly pissed off the barmaid because the mpore that happens the more reluctant the minicabs are to come when asked, and reliable cab numbers are a vital resource for a pub in London – the pubs and the minicabs have a symbiotic relationship and can’t afford to annoy each other.

And to one side of me D. and R., after an obviously bad day, sharing a tedious racist rant along “send them all back home” lines with passing digs at just about every ethnic minority they could think of – even the Spanish. Though mostly against black people. And at one point “I’d rather clean toilets than pay a black to clean them for me”. I didn’t feel up to saying “well bloody well do it then”.

And to the other side M., just back from a visit home to Northern Ireland, going on about how everything is more friendly there and how shit the English in general and Londoners in particular are, and how antisocial and unfriendly we are and how everyone treats her badly here and positively gloating about having been present for the thirtieth anniversary of the Warrenpoint ambush (which killed more British soldiers in one action than any war since has) and the murder of Mountbatten at Mullaghmore on the same day. It was grotesque and boring at the same time. If there was ever a moment I could have become an Ulster Unionist, that was it. And at the same time trying to make friendly conversation by asking all sorts of personal questions about my family which I didn’t feel at all like talking about. And she wonders why some people didn’t seem to like her and talk aggressively to her. And I wasn’t really capable of coping politely with that sort of conversation, speajing ill of the dead, so I popped out the back for a fag.

And heard another strange piece of found speech: “I’m leaking like a bitch” – from a drunk man who needed to go to the toilet a lot.

As for the title of this post – well some of Peggy’s family were over from Northern Ireland. Ballymeena and a bit of Portrush I think. I never knew I had a relative by marriage who was at school with Ian Paisley and actually knows him. Lets call her “T”. A strange feeling. Like most British lefties I was brought up with sympathies on the other side. I am told, though I didn’t hear it myself, that at dinner the night before T was complaining about about Belfast City Airport, now renamed George Best Airport (once upon a time it was called Sydenham Airport which sounds odd to an inhabitant of South East London). She hated the name. She said that George Best was an alcoholic, a drunkard, a waster, a violent man, whose liver transplant wasted an organ that might have saved a life, and a bad example of and to the people of Northern Ireland. She didn’t want to be associated with him. Why not, she suggested, name the airport after a decent family man? Someone who represented the best of Ulster life and Ulster values?

Who might that be? someone asked.

Ian Paisley of course.

It is reported that everyone else tried to change the subject after that.

Late free lunch in Deptford

A meeting of the school governors of Lewisham Bridge school at 4.45 (its usually at six). And Lewisham Bridge is in a mess (Google it). The mess got worse. The kids are being bussed to the Mornington school near New Cross station, because our school is to be demolished and rebuilt as a 3-16 all-through school on the old site. Except it isn’t, because the Council didn’t apply for planning permission before the kids were “decanted” (as they say). And then English Heritage listed the building. And protestors occupied the school. And now the council is planning to move the school back for one year and move it out again and move back again a year after that (or maybe two). And its all a mess.

Because we started so early there was a two-hour gap between thay meetin and the next one I needed to go to and I used it to walk round Deptford High Street and in and out of the railway arches. Photos when I get the chance to upload some.

And yes, Deptford in the evening can be wonderful. I bought some little coloured glass jars
for a pound each. And saw lots of people of all sorts walking up and down, including a black bloke on a bicycle who stopped a friend on another bicycle outside a cheap Asian knick-knack shop (I ought to go back and buy a big cooking pan) and asked him out for a drink and said “I sold a Volvo today – three thousand quid”. Where else do people who sell cars ride bicycles? And I met J and H and N on Edward Street on their way from a quiet afternoon drink at the Dog and Bell (the Deptford pub that really isn’t like most people’s idea of Deptford – real ale, Belgian beer, all the day’s newspapers, and art exhibitions) and off to Brockley to buy some weed and go home and watch Dr Who videos.

And (not for the first time) I wondered why I always stay at work or in town so late. It might be good to spend more time in Deptford in daylight.

Then a Labour party meeting at 8pm (it would usually be 7.30 or 7.45) round the corner. And Steve Bullock (sorry, Sir Steve Bullock) the Mayor talking about Trust Schools and the proposals of “hard” federations and “soft” federations, and the proposed relationship between Goldsmith’s College and Deptford Green School and Addey’s School and Crossways (whatever that is) – which to be honest sounds like a good idea to me though the meeting was mostly against it – and another one between Colfe’s School and Catford High School and listened to the rest of us trying to tell him that all that means nothing to most people (the best contribution was from Laura Seabright who I think actually is a teacher at Deptford Green) and certainly isn’t going to win us the next election, either locally or nationally.

Actually in other ways it was a good meeting and we heard some really good stuff from Joan Ruddock, our MP, about a possible new railway station on Surrey Canal Road, and the upcoming Copenhagen talks on the environment, and some stuff they did in Greenland – but like the man said, all politics is local, and our schools are as local as you can get and we are fucking them up. Well, Lewisham Bridge, anyway.

So after two meetings and lots of walking and photos (& the last walk a very nice stroll to the bus-stop talking to a rather pleasant and intelligent House of Commons assistant I don’t think I’ve met before) I was feeling hungry and thirsty and possibly in need of a cigarette so into a pub at about 10.30pm and yes there is a darts match on and its the trophy competition at the end of the season and so I get a few pints of good beer and free burgers and salad off the barbecue and talk to G and K who aren’t even twenty yet and are running a door-to-door sales business in Gravesend and have bumped into their first cash-flow crisis and are having trouble paying their staff. And M who is more or less homeless and has been put into sheltered accomadation by the council and dislikes it hugely because she isn’t old enough for that yet and would rather live almost anywhere else but can’t so comes to the pub all evening instead of sitting around watching Big Brother on the TV and talking to the old folk waiting to die. And R & M talking about how nothern chips with gravy are better than our poncey southern chips. And T whose wife died from a heart attack a few years ago and is thinking about suing the doctors who had failed to diagnose a heart problem only a few days before. And TD talking about about – no, but this is a family-friendly blog

But if there is something better than free barbecue in a pub garden after two stressful meetings in one evening I don’t know what it is.

And it was all too much and I went home – and THEN they showed the fourth part of the current Torchwood story on TV. Which you really need to see. And is sort-of kind-of almost relevant.

And THEN they showed a repeat of the BBC TV coverage of the Apollo missions from forty years ago which I saw live at the time and you really need to see that as well… James Burke (remember him?) … Cliff Michelmore chewing his fingers for Apollo 13.

And tomorrow: to Bromsgrove – and beyond!

Lewisham Bridge roof protest

This was meant to be an account of my traverse of North London in search of the fabled Grahame Park Estate. But I’m knackered so writing it up is put off yet again.

In the meantime, here is a picture of the usual suspects on the roof of the kitchens of Lewisham Bridge School, taken a couple of weeks ago:


A mess that is far too complicated and personal for me to go on about it here – other than to say that the future is out of our hands – come the Day maybe it won;t be an communities will run their own schools – and we’re trying to do the best we can for the kids who are there now, and the best unfortunatly means bussing them up to New Cross. Which is not good enough. And it wasn’t the teachers, or the other staff who fucked up. Or even the governors.

And this is where we are now:


And I intend to keep on taking photos of Loampit Vale during all this long delayed new building:

(now if only I hadn’t just let my Flickr sub lapse I could put a lot more of those up here… maybe next month)

Tamils gone

From the street, I mean. All the shops shut, no-one walking around. Slghtly weird, slightly scary. A little ghost town row of shops.

Presumably they have all gone to one of the various demonstrations or political meetings going on in London. Or else perhaps there is some sort of mourning. Or maybe they are all trying to get their relatives out or find out what happened to them. (I’m assuming they aren’t all under secret orders from the LTTE. Not all of them at once, anyway)

These people are watching their world end and we’re just walking past on the way to the bus-stop. Maybe we pop in to buy a packet of fags or a few lemons. Well, noit tday we couldn’t.

I suppose they will be back tomorrow. Which is not going to happen in Sri Lanka. It all seems to be over over there. No-one is sure of course. No news in or out of the last corner that they say the LTTE were trapped in. No news and, so the Sri Lankan government says, no escapes either.

Of course I have no idea what happens next. Peace? Persecution? Guerilla warfare? Some sort of improvised government in exile of an unrecognised country, a kind of self-perpetuating Provisional Army Council? Refugees?

What happens there affects what happens here a little. If there is a stream of new exiles, they will come here. Maybe right here, this street, the corner by the bus stop.

Assuming the shops open again tomorrow .

The micro-ethno-geography of football.

Well, I went to the pub on Thursday when the Millwall/Leeds match was on. Support your local team and all that. (Though what support they get from me drinking a few pints I don’t know)

But what really is the local team? My mate Dave insists it ought to be Charlton. But then he was from Woolwich or some such place.

All the pubs round our way are Millwall if they are anything at all (not that that many pubs are open at all any more) And I think that local kids at the schools my daughter went to tended to be Millwall, if they supported any South or East London team. And I see far more Millwall than Charlton insignia in the local council estates. You don’t have to go very far to see more Charlton – just the other side of Lewisham High Street – but our exact location is more Millwall.

Just going by who turns up to drink in our local pubs when the footy is on TV, at a rough guess I’d say Arsenal actually gets the largest barstool following. Especially from black people (something I only noticed quite recently, I must be slow on the uptake) ManU and Chelsea are closely behind them. Though practically any Premiership game will draw a few viewers in.

Nerdish as it sounds, I actually have been counting the “extra” people in the pub when there is football on. For the recent Euro semi-finals, the Arsenal/ManU games got about 50 extra in when they were on Sky and about 30 on ITV. Chelsea/Barca was about 35 and 12. The management actually charged entry to the pub on a couple of those nights. Though of course those games sort of rate as internationals and so get more attention. For ordinary Premier League games both the ManU/Wigan and Newcastle/Middlesbrough matches got in about a dozen. They didn’t charge for the Millwall matches though!

Millwall aren’t on the telly that often of course, and when they are it tends to be one-off big games, so its not strictly comparable. The few matches that get shown on the TV in the pub tend to attract a big following though – the largest crowd I ever saw there was the day Millwall was in the FA cup final. Much, much, larger than the last couple of year’s finals.

But of the London sides that aren’t anywhere near the top of the Premiership, Millwall is clearly the most popular locally. Some support for Charlton, but not as much. Palace are all but off the radar – they seem to attract about as much comment as Fulham and QPR.

Maybe someone should produce a map of local and ethnic affiliations to London football clubs.

Are there actually Fulham neighbourhoods and Chelsea neighbourhoods? Or are they all mixed up together? Do they tend to split by class or race?

How far out into Essex does West Ham go? All the way to the coast I suspect, but I don’t know.

Is there still anyone in South West London who counts MK Dons as a local team? And is the hole in South-West London left by the defection of Wimbledon filled by Chelsea? Or Palace? Somehow I suspect it isn’t Brentford.

And who on earth supports Brentford anyway?.

And who is your local team if you live in Brixton? Certainly not Millwall – they fizzle out somewhere about Camberwell Green. Again I suspect Chelsea or just possibly Palace, but I’m not at all sure and am more then willing to be informed.

And while we’re at it, going south of London where is the cut-off line between Crystal Palace (Palace? Palace?) and Brighton? Or is it all Chelsea in posh Surrey? (For those few who support a local team at all I mean)

And is Hammersmith locally Fulham/Chelsea (as I would expect) or QPR (as a taxi driver from Shepherd’s Bush implied the other day? Though he also claimed that the reason West Ham have hammers on their badge is because they used to be connected with an ironworks which sounded totally spurious to me but seems to be true)

And are there or have there ever been any teams in London whose support is anti-Protestant or anti-Catholic (as you find in Scotland, and used to just a little bit in Liverpool and even Manchester)

How much truth is there in the stereotype that racist East Enders are more likely to support West Ham, but anti-racist ones either Arsenal or Spurs? (As famously portrayed by Warren Mitchell, the lefty Jewish Spurs supporter playing Alf Garnett as a Hammers man)

And if you are a posh Hampstead socialite, what is your local team? I suspect Arsenal somehow, even if QPR is closer. Bet it isn’t Barnet.

This is all valuable anthropological and ethnographic information! It should be documented somewhere!

Like the real Millwall chant, which seems to consist of some of them howling “Mill” as loud as they can, drawing the vowel out for maybe ten seconds, and others singing “wall” (a syllable which contains no consonants in a South London accent) at the same time (maybe they start together but they end in different places) so the combined noise is roughly a completely wordless “eeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrrr” (or “uuuuuuuuuuuuuhhhhhhhhhhh” for rhotic Scots and Americans) Though how they thought anyone could hear them in Leeds is beyond me. But it was bloody loud where we were.

And incidentally is, I think, a deliberate playing-up to the media stereotype – portrayed as inarticulate thickos they have a laugh by acting the part. Why bother with words in your chant when no-one listens what you are saying anyway? The thing is a stance, a pose, an attitude. Not particularly a pleasant one to be honest, but a slightly different one from that affected by supporters of some other teams.

And Millwall are going to Wembley!

Bed leg city

Overheard in a pub:

“Journalists aren’t like us. They all live in a fantasy land. And TV is a fantasy land”

“Especially when Queen’s Park Rangers are on match of the Day”

“QPR? QPR are all about Stan Bowles”

“Tell me about it!”

“I just bloody did!”

In the aftermath of the Millwall/Leeds match last Saturday. Which was a Big Deal at our local pub. The place exploded when Millwall scored – it was almost enough to make me a fan. Looking forward to the second leg on Thursday. We are promised pie & mash.

Millwall fans, of course, aren’t like they used to be. As the small Millwall fan in the blue shirt explained to us while he was describing how he spent two months in Armley jail in Leeds for assaulting a police officer (“I should have got more”). But apparently they are all diamonds up there and the looked after him even though he was the only Londoner in the nick, and so got called “Cockney”. Unlike Durham jail, “bed leg city”, where he feared for both his life and his honour. Not that he put it that way.

I’m not any kind of a football fan of course. Though I more or less made my peace with football a few years back when Millwall was in the FA cup – it was a fun day.

I used to hate football when I was a boy. I was bad at it, skinny and asthmatic and slow, and we were forced to play at school whether we liked it or not. From my point of view sport was what games get turned into when they become compulsory. Secondary school was worse than primary

Sport on TV – which is not really sport at all of course, because its just something you watch, not something they make you do – is more fun if you care who wins. Just as horse racing is more fun if you have a bet on. So if I’m in the pub watching football perhaps I ought to have a horse in the race

So if I was a football fan, which would my team be? You can’t just pick one, you need to care. It would be pointless just looking around for a team that seems to be winning a lot and deciding to be a fan. Though that seems to be what some people do, with all these Manchester United and Chelsea fans you find around the place. Pointless. There needs to be some local connection.

Well, I’m from Brighton, and I live in an area that supports Millwall, and I have some distant family connections with Newcastle supporters, so that gives me three candidate teams. How are they doing?

I took look a few weeks back and it seemed that Brighton and Newcastle were almost certain to get relegated from their leagues. And I didn’t want that to happen. I did care, a little. Especially about Brighton. Not that I really care very much for the football team, but I do care, very much, for the city. I want the team to stay up for the same reason I want the new stadium at Falmer to be built. Its my home town.

And mysteriously, all of a sudden, they started winning. And now they are completely safe from relegation this year. So a result already!

And then I watched Saturday’s Millwall/Leeds match in the pub, and realised that I did in fact want them to win. And was genuinely excited when they did. And am looking forward to the replay (at Leeds – a lot harder job to win there). And, on Monday, feeling in an odd mood after a very frustrating school governor’s meeting (Our little school has been on the national news, and not in a good way) i popped into the pub and saw Newcastle thrash Middlesbrough 3:1. I was thrilled. 3:1! A sort of local Derby (though not as big as a Sunderland match would be) and both in the relegation zone so if there was a draw it was likely that both would go down. And now Newcastle is in with a chance!

So there we go. Maybe not one but three horses in the race. And possibly in different races as well, if Millwall go up (which is at least possible) and Newcastle stay up (which is now almost likely). So three bloody good results so far.

The only trouble is, that’s probably as good as it gets…

Got the Lambeth?

Overheard in a pub:

“Got any Lambeth?”

No, nothign to do with bishops. Members of the pool team seeking chalk for queues. Lambeth Walk Chalk.

I think they make it up as they go along. Actually I think they really do sometimes. “Cockney rhyming slang” actually does exist but its not so much a local language as a kind of word game.

Culturally its perhaps the London equivalent of Glasgow’s deep-fried Mars bars. Yes they exist, yes people do eat them occasionally, but its not exactly traditional folk culture, more a sort of long-running joke.

Nice weather for the time of year.

Today I overheard someone say that an itenm of clothing had been “designered”

The Globe at Borough Market has spare seats at 8pm. At least on Monday it does. The Old King’s Head in King’s Head Yard doesn’t. But it does look like a real pub, and it deos serve Spitfire. Decent beer (thpugh not brilliant) in both places.

Genuinely said to me in a pub:

We’re a nice family really. Very polite people. I know it doesn’t look like it. Kidnapping. Armed robbery. But we’re fine really. Friendly.

My cousins J. and M. were involved in the kidnap. But our other cousin P. wasn’t.

You wouldn’t think a murderer would be just like anyone else, would you?

Me: “No. If I could tell murderers by looking at them, I’d be a detective”

Well, I did 21 years for it.

Pissed on by a Russian

To the pub for a quick one at closing time. There are a few more folk about that this time last week, and there is one man I don’t remember seeing before. Rather odd-looking. Small, dark, not very clean, looks a little drunk or stoned. Shifty-eyed I would call him if I was a crap novellist. Well I’m not any kind of novellist at all but if I was one maybe I would be crap, so I’ll say he was shifty-eyed. And from what little I can hear from the other side of the bar, doesn’t speak English.

Chat to J for a few minutes and then I go to the toilet. Small man is in there urinating. As I walk behind him he is finishing, apparently shaking himself to get the last drops off, and he turns round and faces me, still hanging out. And gets piss all over the place, mostly on the floor, but some on my hand and arm. Only a few sprinklings, not a torrent, but its not very nice. And he stands there looking at me with his willy in his hand and a very strange expression on his face.

I don’t know what to do. Its not a social situation that Miss Manners advises on. My fist though, egged on by the strange and not very pleasant expression, is that he’s trying to pick a fight and wants me to react aggressively. My second is that he’s totally pissed and incapable. I go into a cubical, bolt the door, don’t come out till he’s gone, and take care to wash my hands very thoroughly

A few minutes later we go out the back to smoke a fag. Z. is there talking to one of the locals, S, another small man who often looks a bit aggressive. Very jerky movements and determined look on his face. Odd bloke comes out and smokes then says “sorry” to S in very broken English. I suspect he doesn’t mean that he’s apologising for anything but he;’s just trying to start a conversation and can’t handle the language.

And all of a sudden we are nearly in a you-looking-at-me-mate situation.

“What are you apologising to me for? You aint don’t nothing bad to me. If you’ve done something wrong you did it to yourself, say sorry to yourself…” and so on at some length. I’m sure the strange man doesn’t understand a word.

And then he asks “What you professional?” By which I think he meant “what is your job, what do you do for a living?” Trying to make polite conversation. But it gets taken as a reference to the army (I think – the man who can speak English was almost as hard to interpret at that point at the one who can’t). And apparently that was not a good subject to raise. “I can look after myself. I’m self-sufficient. There’s no-one taking care of me but me. I can handle myself”

Back indoors and sit and chat with someone else for a while. Then voices are raised on the other side of the bar. And before we know it we’re in a full-blown macho sizing up for a fight situation. Prancing from one side of bar to the other. Jerky movements. Nose-to-nose face-offs. Drawings-up to full height (which isn’t very high on either side) Apparent moments of calm and good humour and clappings on back and hugs. Separations, reversions, lookings around for allies.

Listening to a one-sided rant from S about odd bloke who he is convinced is Polish and is determined to insult him. Any replies are incoherent, not really in English, and slurred.

“Did you hear what he just called me?”

“He said he’s in their army and he’s going to bring his mates round and do me over!”

“He just insulted my mother!”

Others in the pub trying to calm him down while trying not to seem bothered. In the end the barmaid ordered the probably-not-Polish-at-all odd man out and it took about five men and ten minutes to gently manouvre him to the door, with brief ructions of macho on the way

And right at the end: “I Russian! I go now! Stanko! Wanko Stanko!”

“Is he calling me a wanker? I’ll have him….”

So we reassure S that he is not calling anyone a wanker but he’s just telling us his name. He mist be a Russian called Stanko. And I almost believe it. I’m about 2/3 sure that he was some lonely Russian immigrant who wnated a drink and a chat but whose grasp of English language and English ways just wasn’t up to dealing with a touchy Millwall supporter who has a chip on his shoulder about the army and isn’t very good at understanding broken English.
But then he did piss on me. Maybe he really was trying to wind people up and start a fight. Maybe I’ll get back to Lewisham tonight and find that the pub’s been done over by a dozen ex Red Army men working in London as crack bodyguards for crack dealers. Who can tell?

Then talking to the two J – the Buddhist and the mountain-climbing lighting engineer. One with white hair and a long beard, the other shaved as short as I am. Middle-age in the first years of the twenty-first century is an odd thing. Whatever happened to neat haircuts? By the time I get old you will be able to spot geriatrics because they will be wearing jeans and T-shirts with the logos of old heavy metal bands on them. Maybe all the kids will be dressing in frilly blouses and getting their hair permed.

I could never be a London City Missionary

Conversation in pub with M on Saturday night. (I call him “M” because that’s the letter his name starts with – but its also the way the LCM people always talk about their contacts in their terribly interesting monthly magazine).

M, a very drunk fifty-something bloke said:

“I’m pissed. I’ve been out for two days. Had an row on Thursday. She said If you are going to get pissed again dont bother to come home, So I didn’t go home. I popped in on Friday to have a shower and change my clothes and went straight out to the pub again. But I need to go back home now. I need to sleep. They say’you are in trouble’ But I’m not in trouble. What’s she going to do, throw mw out? I pay the bills. Its my house. Well, its our house. We both live there. But whats she going to do about it?”

If I was a proper LCM-type missionary evangelist I’d have advised him to go home and told him that Jesus loves him

But actually I just nodded and said ‘I know what you mean mate”

Overheard in a pub:

“Our Community policeman is OK. He comes round and chats to us and everyone is hanging around on the corner puffing on a bit of blow and he says hello. He’s just like your next-door neighbour. That’s the way it ought to be. He’s got respect.”

Also overheard in a pub:

“I need to be protected from my Dad. I’ve got a gaff. I pay rent for it. He’s got a gaff…” (and a lot more)

Nuts. The TV is doing a late-night re-run of Dallas. It just came on. And which episodes? The one in which JR got shot, and the one afterwards. I used to hate it. I hardly ever watched it. I can’t actually remember who shot JR. But its strangely compelling…

Smoking’s last day at the pub.

To Battersea briefly.

A. went to the Pride march, and I went to the Vicarage Tea Party. OK, it was the sort of Vicarage party with Rioja and Cotes du Rhone, and it wasn’t our vicarage, but it was over soon after eight and I missed the last episode of Dr Who – the things we suffer for the Faith.

St Michael's  Battersea

Has Battersea changed or have I? When I first started visiting London back in the 19-ahem-0s I used to go to Battersea to see friends from Brighton. Some living in a squat, some in one of those slab blocks by the railway. It was one of the grottier bits of London as far as I could tell. Not so different from next-door Stockwell or Vauxhall.

But nowadays I read Battersea as posh.

Maybe it because I’ve been living in Lewisham or nearby for twenty-odd years and compared to South East London Battersea always was a bit upmarket. Maybe its because I’m remembering the area towards the river and this church is up almost on Wandsworth Common. Though even the shops by Clapham Junction (which never was in Clapham, its always been Battersea) are rather trendier and flashier than anywhere in the South East. (Maybe they always were – Battersea, unlike Lewisham, kept its department store, even if it is now only a Debenham’s) Or maybe its creeping Claphamisation. There were certainly plenty of bars with plate glass windows or cafes opening onto the street and rather unfeasibly cute 30-something mothers eating organic food with young kids and with skinny white-haired blokes who in Lewisham I would assume were the children;s grandfathers but here I suspect their fathers.

Round the back of the church a small high-density estate (“…nicely in scale, with pedestrian ways replacing some of the roads” according to Pevsner) that looks a lot like the one I saw in Jarrow the other week.


Behind Cobham Close

Then walking in the pouring rain through some medium-sized streets towards Clapham Common, (“Between the Commons” to estate agents) and a Blast from the Past at the sight of a house. Not because it was unusual but because it isn’t unusual any more. An ordinary house in an ordinary terrace, large bay windows with no net curtains or blinds, almost inviting passers-by to look in. You can see straight through what must have been two rooms knocked into one, with some sort of French doors or large window at the back, so you can see right through to the garden. The floor is polished bare floorboards, with maybe a round, shaggy, dark green rug towards one end. There are tasteful prints on the walls – these vaguely early 20th-century black-and-white drawings of dancers or tramps or something. There is a musical instrument of some sort. Two or three bookshelves, maybe one or two hundred books in them – more than most people will have but still nothing like as many as a vicar or sf fan might.

A young couple, maybe late twenties or early thirties. He is tall and thin and sitting on a chair, dressed all in black, clean-shaven with slightly spiky short hair. She is actually sitting on the floor, with her arm resting on the arm of the chair, smiling up at him in a Sergeant-where’s-mine-evoking sort of way. She’s wearing a chunky knitted jumper. Which she (or rather her mother at the same age) could have been wearing thirty years ago, except she probably wouldn’t have been wearing it on the first of July, such are the strange effects of global warming.

Back in 1967 or 1968 when we were kids helping our Dad campaign for the Labour Party for Brighton Council there were probably five hundred houses like that in Brighton (for all I know they might have been half of the whole number that there were in England) and it sometimes seemed as if we we knew all the inhabitants. These were the sort of Labour supporters who did not (as we had been) live on council estates or in little flats, but had just discovered that you could University lecturers (they were well-off in those pre-Thatcher days), advertising copywriters, architects, people you who didn’t quite seem to do anything for a living but mysteriously ended up working for the government next time Labour got in (and one or two, then in their twenties not in their fifties or sixties, who have been on the outer fringes of the Cabinet these last ten years)


Knocking through was all the rage, and white-washed minimalism and Chinese paper lanterns were big, though on the way out, moving through stripped pine towards “restoring” the “original features”. A fashion that still seems to have the artier half of the middle-middle-aged middle-middle class in its grip. It had just become possible to make a living by stripping out old Victorian and Edwardian decorations from poor people’s houses and selling them to the richer people moving in next door, as the middle classes started to move back into the city centres and inner suburbs. Though it took the government and councils twenty years to notice – so by the end of the 1970s you had councils still wanting to demolish terraces that were by now full of prosperous lawyers and well-informed accountants and replace them by slab blocks and dual carriageways in the name of redevelopment and regeneration, and by the middle of the 1980s millions of people all over the country had knocked through and pulled up carpets – though in a slightly jollier version of the style with walls brightly painted in solid colours, and shiny ethnic ornaments.

The thing that stopped me about this house was the way it was so very, very, exactly like my memories of houses years ago when all this was rare. Though of course it is probably all different really.

Webbs Road Battersea

And of course no photos – as I’m not really given to taking pictures of people I don’t know just as they start a canoodle in their own living room. You can get arrested for that.


Later that same night, waiting in the rain on the north side of Clapham Common for a bus back to urban civilisation, a genuine bus-stop conversation. You don’t get many of those in the South of England. She perhaps 60, years old, from Glasgow. He (or she?) maybe in his thirties, very camp possibly Scouse accent. He being English wants to move on, she is up for a chat.

Had I heard about the idjits in Glasgow who drive a car into the airport? No, I hadn’t – I’d been at a party then walking for a couple of hours.

She reckons its a good thing, as they’ll all take notice in Glasgow now and do something about all the wee Paki shops. Apparently the trouble up there is that these Muslims and Pakis are all integrated. Not like Leeds where she lives now where they all keep themselves to themselves. The thing about the Scots – and especially about Rangers supporters – is that they take no shite. Or so I was told.

On the other hand she (like me) says she has both Protestants and Catholics in the family, so there cause of integration is perhps not yet lost.

Clapham Common North Side

They go indoors. I wait for a 37 bus to Peckham. When it gets to Clapham South a whole load of posh white people get off the bus, and lots of rather less posh black people get on. Battersea is behind me, and the last night of legal smoking in the pub ahead. Once in the pub I win 20 quid at Texas Hold’em which can’t be bad. Though between the beer and fags I must be down on the deal somehow.

In the pub tonight.

J: “What’s the difference between a Millwall fan and a sperm?”

R: “I don’t know, what is the difference between a Millwall fan and a sperm?”

J: “A sperm’s got a one in two hundred million chance of becoming a human being.”

R: “So we’re still better than Palace then?”