Tag Archives: london

Gentrification and crap beer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rules of Moving around London

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

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

How to Move Around in London

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

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

Universal rules

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

The Rules of the Train

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

The Rules of the Bus

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

The Rules of the Moving Staircase

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

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

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

Bits of London in the rain


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

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

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


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

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

Rainy day seen from Wapping

The Road to Millwall (4)


Somewhere Over The Railway

Also Known As:

Funny sort of recession, innit?

I’ve often been able to spot previous economic “downturns” because the amount of construction going on around me goes down. It was especially obvious in the brief blip in the late 1980s/early 1990s – the number of tower cranes visible from the window of my office fell from over 100 to 30 in a few weeks and then went down almost to zero.

Doesn’t seem to have happened this time. As you can see from these pictures, that’s not where we are at these days at all. Not where I live, anyway. Its swamped with construction projects. As we can see from these pictures of yet another way to get to the Millwall ground – this time by walking across Deptford Park and along Surrey Canal Road. Take a look at some of the smaller pictures – cranes and construction in almost all of them.

We start by going round the corner to Jerrard Street. Our view is blocked by this huge construction site:


But we take our stand by a smaller one:


Straight ahead we can see a railway arch (surprise, surprise, the first of many) and, Somewhere Over The Railway. more construction going on


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Our mission today (should we choose to accept it) takes us on a 47 bus along Brookmill Road and into Deptford Church Street.

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They even let buses into pubs nowadays:


I like the look of London in the rain. The sky is the the right colour for the buildings. And the more spectacular of the new buildings know that and (literally) reflect it – they gave up trying to look Mediterranean or Manhattanish, and settled for shiny, wet, and yellowish-grey.


Then left at the bottom of Church Street and up Evelyn Street. You get off just after the fire station, by the canal bridge, (not that there is any canal any more) and turn left and walk into the park. You can see the power station in the distance.

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We’ve not got away from either construction or railways though. We need to dogleg left into Surrey Canal Road (people younger than me can still remember when it was a canal) through one of the nastiest junctions in London. For cyclists, anyway. Three roads approach the same spot (four if you count a sort of slipway into a lorry park beside the railway) and all are blind – two of them have bends, two have sudden slopes, two go through railway bridges – so each road has at least two reasons why you can;t see what’s coming.


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Now we are on familiar territory – yet more railway bridges:


And the power station – we must be near!


Under one more bridge then turn into this inviting driveway and the stadium is in front of us.



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Past the place where you can just about see the Big Screen from outside the ground – you can tell it by the heap of empty beer cans and fag ends and the strategically placed old mattresses and dead fridges for kids to stand on

And now we can draw nil-nil with Nottingham Forest.

But its OK, because I’m posting these with a huge lag so I already know that it gets better next week….


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The Towers of South-East London

They talk of Trebizond, of Perugia, of Samarkand and Tashkent, of Minas Tirith and Hastur, of the walls of Babylon and lost Midgard, of the minarets of Istanbul. But the True Home of Towers of Power is South East London!

A few months ago I revealed to a trembling world that Saurons Tower is being rebuilt at the Elephant in this post: <a href=http://ken.wibsite.com/2009/10/05/the-tower-of-the-lidless-eye-rises-anew/>The Tower of the Lidless Eye rises anew!</a> (Follow the link for pictures IF YOU DARE!!!!!)

Since then the infection has been spreading.  Yesterday I saw it from the trains of Waterloo, approaching Clapham Junction. And its baleful, miasmic influence gets into South East London too.  Look at this picture taken at Millwall Football Ground in February:

<a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/nephrops/4464980275/” title=”millwall_v_hartlepool_7971 by nephropsnorvegicus, on Flickr”><img src=”http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4042/4464980275_bf151b87db_m.jpg” width=”240″ height=”180″ alt=”millwall_v_hartlepool_7971″ /></a>

Ignore for a moment the almost complete invisibility of the Hartlepool fans. There are rational, scientific explanations for that, Select the link and expand the picture to its fill size.  In the triangle of light in the centre left between the empty North Stand and the full West one you can clearly see the friendly and comforting tower of Southwark Cathedral, guarding us, as always for so many centuries, from the darkness that tries to cross over the bridge from its heartland on the other bank.  All who have been watching Doctor Who will know how often that brave little Cathedral has saved the world from the squamous (and indeed rugose) entities which gibber in the darkness beyond.

Yet three weeks later this picture was taken from pretty much the same angle:
<a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/nephrops/4527687617/” title=”mfc_IMG_0013 by nephropsnorvegicus, on Flickr”><img src=”http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4035/4527687617_48373378d2_m.jpg” width=”240″ height=”180″ alt=”mfc_IMG_0013″ /></a> There are rather more away fans in this picture (<a href=http://ken.wibsite.com/2010/03/22/millwall-and-charlton-part-one/> not that it did Charlton much good</a>) but where is Southwark Cathedral? The cathedral tower has gone! What weird deformation of space-time continuum has removed it from sight?

Things get worse. Follow the link to Flickr of this picture of the same view taken in April:
<a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/nephrops/4528325754/” title=”mfc_IMG_0027 by nephropsnorvegicus, on Flickr”><img src=”http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4045/4528325754_3fd9147fbd_m.jpg” width=”240″ height=”180″ alt=”mfc_IMG_0027″ /></a> (The opposition may have been Yeovil or some such side – as usual the stewards outnumber the vistors –  Millwall must be the friendliest ground in the country, every away supporter gets a personal police escort) But this blog is not about football!  Expand, I say, the picture and look carefully. <strong>THE CATHEDRAL HAS BEEN REPLACED BY SAURONS TOWER!!!!!</strong> What dark wizardry from the dawn of time is this?

But all is not yet lost. South London fights back! What is this strange yellow object rising above the fields and meadows of Deptord? <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/nephrops/4526643446/” title=”stjohns_view_8162 by nephropsnorvegicus, on Flickr”><img src=”http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4067/4526643446_9913253e3e_m.jpg” width=”240″ height=”180″ alt=”stjohns_view_8162″ /></a>

Why! It is another tower!
<a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/nephrops/4526011481/” title=”brookmilrd_8157 by nephropsnorvegicus, on Flickr”><img src=”http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4018/4526011481_f43bce94b0_m.jpg” width=”180″ height=”240″ alt=”brookmilrd_8157″ /></a>

Surging into the sky over the babbling waters of the bonny brook the Ravensbourne:<a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/nephrops/4526634784/” title=”ravensbourne_ur_8138 by nephropsnorvegicus, on Flickr”><img src=”http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4061/4526634784_55e2db3bee.jpg” width=”375″ height=”500″ alt=”ravensbourne_ur_8138″ /></a>

Will it be enough to contain the Dark Power? Maybe – it shall noit be alone in the struggle, bereft of comrades. Look!  Here is a picture of St John’s Waterloo, taken from the bus-stop.  Select the largest size and look v ery, very, closely  and you will see that, in the distance, just in front of the 243 bus, A NEW TOWER RISES!!!!!! <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/nephrops/4465773516/” title=”waterloo_8019 by nephropsnorvegicus, on Flickr”><img src=”http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4063/4465773516_142f30314f.jpg” width=”500″ height=”375″ alt=”waterloo_8019″ /></a>

Here it is from closer:<a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/nephrops/4526018131/” title=”shard_8179 by nephropsnorvegicus, on Flickr”><img src=”http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4019/4526018131_9f95b9dd89_m.jpg” width=”240″ height=”180″ alt=”shard_8179″ /></a>


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

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

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

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

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

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

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.


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.


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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South-East Suburban Circular

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Two things

The way we speak now, part 184:

Curly, the taxi driver from Lewisham, pronounces “shot at” and “shite” almost identically.

Men have bags:

Someone in Another Place wondered why men can’t have handbags. Well, in London we can. I counted some men I saw on the way home from work last night.

184 had no bags
49 had plastic carrier bags or branded shop bags
363 had proper bags

Result: Most men round here carry bags.

Further result: looking at men is much more boring than looking at women.

Wasn’t that interesting?

Sometimes pubs just work

One of the good things about this walking round London lark is going to a pub to cool off afterwards. Not that I wouldn’t go anyway, but its a good excuse. And part of the point of going to the pub at all is to talk to people. If you only wanted to drink & watch TV its a lot cheaper to get cans from the supermarket. So one measure of a good session in the pub is the conversations you have with people you didn’t expect to meet, or about subjects you didn’t expect to talk about.

I went into the local last Thursday to cool off after walking round Deptford and Peckham (hot day, dusty feet, crowded bus home) A few pints of cold cider felt like a good idea. (The delay in making this post shows how busy my life must be… not. ) And again on Sunday after yet another hotter and dustier afternoon walk after church (pictures later honestly), for more cider and chat. Except that this time there were jellied eels. And roast potatoes and bits of cheese and little Yorkshire Pudding things with small slices of what I suppose is beef in them in a rather nice but sloppy gravy that people other than me spilled on their shirts. And prawns and cockles and mussels and whelks. That’s getting to be traditional London pub Sunday, of the sort that probably never really happened. It almost makes you want to sing My Old Man said follow the van.

Sometimes pubs just work.

And who did I talk to and what did we talk about?

With a rather pissed electrician just off shift about the “invisible army of workers” [his words] who maintain the buildings, railways, roads, sewers and so on in London. Can you have a 45-minute conversation with a stranger about Victorian sewers? Yes, it seems you can.

With J the Barmaid about repairing houses and about the Brockley Tenants Co-operative which (we agreed) seems to be a lot better landlord than the so-called Housing Associations which are really much the same as the Council houses used to be except that they aren’t accountable to elected councillors so you have even less chance to get a hearing from them. As illustrated by a court case she won against Bromley Council some years ago when they basically sued her for money she owed but that they had denied her a realistic chance to pay back by not answering letters or phone calls and having their office closed when she went round. She got compensation that exceeded the amount of debt. [And as an aside I know some people who seem to have sold their house to the BTC and are living in it as tenants. If social housing really worked that would happen more often. It ought to be good enough to choose]

With Dave the Bus-Driver about bus timetables. Well someone has to. And about what happens when they find you drunk and passed-out upstairs on the last bus.

With a bloke whose name I’ve forgotten but he’s on one of the darts teams about taxi drivers and their earnings. He’s not a cabby, but he has strong opinions on those who are.

Not a real conversation but the presumably Chinese woman who walks round selling presumably pirated DVDs tried to sell me one.

With a couple of taxi-drivers watching the 20-20 cricket, talking about 20-20 cricket and about bowling and about why they thought Sri Lanka were cheating Pakistan got a cheer from our pub when they won. Maybe two. I’m not a cricket fan but I can get into the rules and the complexity of it. The very existence of a complex system seems to induce a desire to understand it in my brain. I want to know what the rules are and what effect changing them might have. Like that odd notion from school about electrical charges and magnetic fields causing opposite fields in any metal brought into them.

With J. the Tabloid Journalist about next week’s headlines. He got them right

With N who is apparently going to go to sing at a friend’s wedding in a church in the South of France next week, He showed us the leaflet with words in French and Italian. And then with him & B the Church Organist about music. [I think I must be one of those Philistines who doesn’t like music really but loves the sound it makes]

And later with B and John the Buddhist about more music and other such hippy stuff. Which led to the stand-out remember-it-for-years line of the evening, in that when he heard that B had played on the same stage as Herbie Hancock [how cool is that?] J said: “I know Herbie. We’re old mates”. Which I suspect is true.

With D the Teenage Barmaid about Glastonbury where she is off to do more barmaiding as the price of entry and about festivals in general. “When I were a lad…” Except that when I was her age I didn’t go to festivals and I do now. With tents and all. And apparently the headliners at Glastonbury this year are Blur, Bruce Springsteen & Neil Young. I though pop music was meant to make people my age feel old?

With John the Geordie about, well, it was now getting hard to remember seeing as the two pints of cider had turned into however many pints of cider you drink between 5pm and 10pm and I don’t quite remember that part.

More listening to London

Seen from a bus:

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

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

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

Overheard on a bus:

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

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

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

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

The song remains the same:

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

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

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

X: “Well, I am a Communist”

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

Bloody hell, its the 1970s!

But fings ain’t wot they used to be:

Overheard in a pub:

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

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

London truly is a multicultural society 🙂

London was like this every day before the Congestion Charge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

London skies

I love the light on rainy London days like this. Overcast summer days with the sun high in the sky and soft white light everywhere.

Its actually quite bright, not dull at all but the light is diffused, coming from the whole sky at once, so there are few shadows or dark corners. And no dazzling directions you can’t look into. You can see everything more clearly than you can on a sunny day. It is visually liberating. You can look at things more easily. The view as the bus went (slowly) over ridge was exhilarating. I didn’t realise I had a headache until the light from the sky smoothed it away. Its come back a bit now I am indoors.

The sky is beautiful, mottled shades of grey, infinitesimally variable in colour and brightness, smoothly shading from off-white to duck-egg-blue to battleship-grey, sometimes with a faint yellowish-brown tinge, even greenish in places. Not that boring samey blue you get in cloudless sky.

Cesar Pelli was on the radio the other last night talking about the big Canary Wharf saying that he had chosen to reflect the typical London skies and that he thought it looked better in rain than in sunshine. And he was right. There are some days the pyramid roof on top of the tower disappears against he background of the clouds, and the rain trickling down the walls matches the grey water in the docks.

And you can see better. It is easier to see on days like this than in any other light.

Pseudo-aleatoric traverse of North London by bus.

When done properly the idea is to get on the first bus going anywhere, get off where it goes, get on a bus going somewhere else, , see where you end up, then work your way back home – preferably by bus.

It helps not to have a goal. Last week, I did have a sort of goal, if not a very big one, because someone had more or less challenged me to go to the Grahame Park council estate in Hendon.

There was an argument about dangerous bits of London. Someone was saying there were “no go” districts of London where it isn’t safe to walk the streets if you were a white Christian. I think that’s nonsense. I’d claim, that there aren’t any, or at least nowhere much less safe than anywhere else – in particular I think there is no neighbourhood in London where you are very likely to be in danger because of your apparent ethnicity or religion. And if there was such a place – which there isn’t – the people in danger would be more likely to be Asian-looking Muslims rather than whiote Christians. So I asked for an example and they suggested Grahame Park in Hendon.

A long bus journey across London is a great way to get a feel for the local diversity
There are very few neighbourhoods where most people are of the same ethnicity (and nearly all of them are white and English) and probably nowhere where almost everybody is (not even the Bengalis east of Brick Lane) . But the nature of the minorities changes, often on a very fine basis

Exactly where I live there is no majority but white British people are the largest minority. The second largest is probably West Africans, with large (and growing) numbers of Tamils, and also a lot of Eastern and Central Europeans, But you only have to cross the main road to find more West Indians, or walk a short way in the other direction to see more Chinese, Turks, and Somalis.

On Sunday morning after church I get on a 21 bus in Lewisham most of the other passengers are black women, and I guess most of them African. Which os pretty par for the course. If I can believe the census (& I suppose I can) only about a fifth of the population round here are black but I’d guess that more like half of the people you see in the streets are and most of the bus passengers. Maybe the white people are more likely to stay in doors, or maybe they mostly have cars.

Late spring flowers everywhere – it’s lilac time in Brockley and there are other shrubs and hedges in bloom everywhere.

At New Cross quite a lot of young white people get on. Goldsmiths students maybe? Getting the bus because its cheaper, or because of the engineering work on the railway? As we move up Old Kent Road more spanish-speakers get on, and a few Asians and a man who looks Turkish (not that you can tell who is Turkish or not by looking at people)

Almost all those putative Goldsmith’s students and all but two or three of the black and Hispanic people get off at London Bridge and are replaced by a small number of older people, an Asian family and some Dutch tourists. They do little more than cross the river – by Bank there are maybe twelve left on the whole bus.

Delay at Moorgate as the road is reduced to single track by a tower crane lifting airconditioning units up a building. If I had had my camera out of my bag at the time I could have taken a photo of one going up maybe a metre from the upstairs window I was sitting at. I suppose it was safe…



The big metal arches over Old Street Station loom at the top of Moorgate like the famous tusks in Mombasa (which I’ve seen) or Saddam’s crossed swords at Baghdad (which I haven’t buy we all know them from telly). Except that, this being London, they aren’t some bombastic nationalist statement – we gave up building those in the 1920s – but the support for a giant advertising hoarding.


Back into residential areas north of Old Street, and things take a turn for the poorer (thoug not a s poor as Lewisham and New Cross – not that the houses are any different, similar Edwardian “villas” and slightly older terraces of three or even four story houses – but the people and the cars seem more prosperous). And they still have joggers in this part of the world. White middle class ones who look sane. Down south half the joggers look like they are in training for boxing and half the rest shout religious slogans at you. Or is that just Loampit Vale?

Of the bus at Newington Green and walk around for a little. Lots of apparently 30-something women with flowery dresses, some of them wearing flowery dresses. Turkish bakeries and pastry shops and four or five cafes or bars with green or organic style, some with blues music coming out. Some Turkish people hanging around (this time I know they are Turkish Cypriot because I hear them talking in a mixture of Turkish and English) , a few of them drinking cans of lager. One of them a scruffy overweight middle-aged woman with a shaved head wearing a Judge Dredd T-shirt, shouting and drinking Holsten Pils. If this is the mythical Londonistan, these guys are going native pretty fast. Two teenage girls, also Turkish I think, long black wavy hair. wearing pretty dresses and figure-revealing tight black T-shirts and huge hoop ear-rings.

Another bus, and north towards Wood Green. We’re moving very slowly in a traffic jam. Horse chestnut in flower at Clissold Park. For me this is a trip back in time. I tend to associate different parts of London with different times. Brownswood Road and the are the late 1980s but the water tower and the New River are the early 80s or even late 70s. Views of the Stoke Newington reservoirs on the other side of a council estate – glimpses of dinghy sails at the ends of short streets. If I remember correct there used to be huge houses that were run-down cheap hotels, and the HQs of small charities and political organisations. And it seems I do – some o them are still here though a lot have been redeveloped into posh flats. And the ethnic mix changes again – Greeks alongside Turks, more Africans, and the Asians seem to be Muslims rather than Hindu.


I get off and walk around somewhere between Palmer’s Green and Bound’s Green for a bit, then get on a 232 bus to see where it goes and write up some notes on what I just saw. One bad thing about looking at London from the top of a moving bus is that the notes I took on the bus from Wood Green onwards are illegible… apparently there is something interesting about the Wood Green Spiritualist Church and a little Anglican parish hall nearby – but I can’t remember or decipher what it was 🙁 There is a huge “Assembly Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses”. Why not “Kingdom Hall”? Most of their buildings seem to be Kingdom Halls. Is is some sort of regional centre, a Watchtower Cathedral? Or a social rather than a religious institution? Or just a different name?



And round the North Circular – which isn’t one of the scenic parts of London and is one of the noisier and smellier – and off the bis again at Henly’s Corner on Finchley road where the trouble is getting over the road. as the cars come fast and at irregular intervals and there are vast complex but obscure systems of pedestrian routings to the traffic lights on the Great North Way, but in the end I find them and launch myself into the north-eastern reaches of Hendon. Which get very boring very quickly, so I sneak off down a side street and find myself walking amongst suburban houses that look as if they were built for Pooter’s grandchildren – bank clerks and taxi drivers. But I think the area has gone upmarket since then. You can tell the people by the cars. A lot of them seem strangely similar. If not identical. Some driveways have two identical cars – same model, same year, same upholstery, same colour. Unisex taken to extreme? Or company cars. They are all very clean as well. Clean enough that they look as if someone gets paid to clean them. Some of the gardens look as if people get paid to tidy them as well. One or two have signs with the phone number of the company that does it.

There are houses with odd extensions, and strangely massive gateways and fences, and obvious alarm systems, A lot of the place seems to have been upmarketed [can I say that? “upgraded” sounds wrong] beyond the expectations of the original builders. Its as if the people who live there are living a packaged corporate lifestyle that really wants more space. But this near to London that kind of space comes REALLY expensive.The streets are narrower than the cars in them want to be in. Mercedes, BMWs, Range Rovers. One Maserati. How many people keep Maseratis in the street?

The cultural mix? I hardly see anyone. Apart from a couple of dodgy dog walkers, and one bloke who looks like a bodyguard, there aren’t many people in these streets. Some family parties getting into and out of cars. Most white, some Asian, hardly any black. I think I hear Eastern European accents. If forced to guess I’d guess mostly Jewish.


Another turn back towards the main road – the A1 approaching M1 Junction 2 – and the whole feel changes again. The houses are still mostly 1920s or 1930s mock-tudorbethan, or 1960s and 1970s imitations of those imitations, with a sprinkling of places that look like they were designed by genuine architects, and a few 1990s brick boxes, but the few visible people are suddenly almost all Asian. There is a man who smiles at me from a car as he waits at a pedestrian crossing, an old lady in a sari waiting on a doorstep, two young Indian-looking women stepping out of a car driven by a man with a turban and a huge beard. And a very large house with a sign saying “Mirpuri Lodge”.



Dodge round a corner and into a very nice park called Sunny Hill Park. It is sunny and there are hills. People walking dogs, kids playing football, twenty-somethings playing tennis, families with babies, the usual suspects.

Sunny Hill Park

Its getting hot and I haven’t eaten since a cup of tea and a couple of biscuits at church seven hours ago. There ought to be a cafe. There is a cafe, the Sunnyhill Cafe. The food is kosher – it says so on the menu – there are fizzy drinks with Hebrew writing on the cans, and the waiters are mostly very friendly-looking blonde women with Eastern European accents. I have a huge sloppy felafel salad and pitta. I can hear the noise of the cars on the M1.

Sunny Hill Park

It takes quite a while and about half a mile of walking to negotiate the subway under Watford Way and find a walking route through shedlands around the motoway junction and a pedestrian bridge over the motorway and the mainline railway out of Euston. At that finally brings me to Grahame Park.

There’s not actually that much to say about Grahame Park. Its big. Its divided into a few districts each with a different style of building. Mostly low-rise high-density brick-build sub-brutalist flats with a few large medium-rise slabs or spines and quite a lot or more ordinary newer houses round the outskirts. Its penetrable navigable on foot. Its not exactly pretty but its a damn sight better-looking than a lot of other such places. Most of the streets and blocks are named after things to do with aircraft. Is this the site of the old Hendon Airport? I can’t say I felt at all scared. And to the person who said it was a no-go area because of all the evil Somalis around, all I can say is they must have been somewhere else that day.

I didn’t manage to take many photos because there were people around for a change. Kids playing in the street. And I tend not to take photos of kids playing in the street on the foolish principle that some people don’t like strange middle-aged men hanging round taking pictures of their children. And most of the few photos I took seem to have just got messed up by me trying to upload them to Flickr on the day my subscription ran out… maybe more later.

By 7pm I’m on Edgware Road and looking for a pub. There are lots of pubs. It takes a while to find one that sells real ale and doesn’t have lots of crap music coming of of it.


I am the only customer. The two barmaids are very pleasant Australians. I realise that when in a strange bit of London I avoid exactly the sort of pubs I frequent in my own bit of London.



And a bus down to Kilburn Park Station and being reminded just what a nightmare of tunnels and staircases it is to get out of the Bakerloo Line at Elephant and Castle station by the Walworth Road exit.

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!