Tag Archives: london

The 09:59 to Waterloo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is not selfishness, that is being public spirited. It gets you out of the way. It gets you out of MY way for a start.

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

  • Be nice to bus and train drivers. It gets you where you are going quicker. And the driver DOES have a direct radio link to the police. And these days they come armed. You have been warned.
  • Buy your ticket or pass before you get on the bus or train. Don’t offer the driver money. That’s so twentieth century.
  • Do not argue with the driver. Even if you are in the right. You really do not want the karmic burden that is being laid upon you by the eight-seven angry commuters who want to get a move on.
  • Do not bang on the door of a bus trying to get in. The driver will think you are a looney.
  • Do not stand in the folding doorway of a bus pathetically groping around inside your clothing in the hope that you have mysteriously grown a season ticket. Get off, let the bus go. There will be another one. You might even find your ticket once you don’t have the stress of fending off delay-maddened passengers
  • Don’t try to talk. Everyone will think you are mad.
  • Drop your newspaper on the seat when you get off the train. This is NOT littering.
  • Drop not your paper cup on the seat when you get off the train. That IS littering.
  • Hold very tight please! And I mean the handrail, not the woman in front of you.
  • If you ask people which train to get from Embankment to Charing Cross you deserve to get laughed at.
  • It is always open season for hunters of luggage on a stick
  • Let passengers off the bus or train before you try to get on. If you don’t we probably won’t kill you – but I have seen a busdriver refuse to move until someone who pushed on got off the bus.
  • Mind the Gap!
  • Move to the back of the train
  • No eye-contact
  • Read your *own* book
  • Stand clear of the doors please!
  • Stand on the Right, Walk in the Left
  • The back seats on the ground floor of a double-decker bus are to hot for human beings
  • The sign that says “walk on the left” does NOT mean that you don’t go on your right if it is quicker or safer to go on the right. Its a corridor, not the bloody motorway. You have a duty to get where you are going for the sake of the other two million people using the system and if walking on the right makes it quicker, do it
  • The sign that says “walk on the left” does NOT mean that you religiously stick to the left if someone is running the other way on their right, playing a sort of commuter chicken. Get out of their way.
  • The sign that says babies must be carried and not left in their pushchair does NOT mean that you stop the buggy right at the top of the escalator and spend a minute and a half trying to persuade the little one to get out and walk (**)
  • There are nice maps on every bus stop and station that show you exactly how to get where you are going. Use them.
  • When the machine at the barrier rejects your ticket or pass you do NOT stand there like a drunken Dover sole in a warm puddle wondering what to do. You do NOT try it again and again. You get out of the way as quickly as possible and sort it out with the nice person at the big gate where they let the luggage through.
  • When you get off the bus look both ways as if you were stepping of a kerb into a road. Because that is what you are doing. And yes, much as I love cyclists, and much as I know that most cyclists are far safer road-users than most car-drivers, I have seen one or two suicidal idiots try to ride between a bus and the kerb. Just. Don’t. Do. That.
  • Yes, you do get up off your seat for someone who is pregnant, aged, carrying small children, or visibly more crippled than you are. Even in London. Even on a delayed Northern Line train creakingly approaching Bank from London Bridge at 0850 on a wet Monday in a recession. Yes, this means YOU!
  • On the other hand the sign telling you to stand on the right walk on the left of the escalator DOES mean stand on the right, Not on the left. Like everyone else does. It only takes one bad apple to spoil the pie and if you stand on the left – or even sort of lean a little over to the left – then YOU ARE THAT BAD APPLE. There is a special place in the FOURTH CIRCLE OF HELL being prepared for those who stand on the left on the escalator and I can tell you that those escalators go a LONG WAY DOWN

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

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

Hackery for Londoners

In the unlikely event that you have any friends or relations thinking of voting for Boris Johnson to be Grand High Poo-Bah of London later this week (*) then show them this lively interview. Especially if they are gay.

http://www.johannhari.com/archive/article.php?id=1286

It just shows how wonderfully out of touch he is.

(*) or thinking of not voting for Ken Livingstone as first choice, which, if as it is a 2-round contest rather than a full alternative vote system, might be almost the same as voting Tory.

The real point of this post being (as Abigail is fed up to the back teeth with me saying) that if you *really* don’t want Boris, and if there is a chance that he might sneak in with a small absolute majority in the first round then it is NOT safe to vote for whoever you really want in the first round (Greens, Respect etc) and Livingstone second – that only works if there IS a second round.

This posting based on the arguable assumptions that:

(1) it matters who gets in, in that government, including local government, makes a real difference to real people’s lives (even if only a small one)

(2) yes Virginia, Amelioration is not Revolution. But it still makes things better, or at any rate less bad

(3) Corrupt careerist Labour politicians are bad – but corrupt careerist Tories are worse.

(4) No-one other than Labour or Tory is in with a chance (and yes, I know that would not be the case if we all voted for another candidate, but we aren’t going to this week, are we?)

Feel free to debate them at length – while voting Labour 🙂

Oh, and the BNP still look as if they might get an Assembly seat on the proportional vote – that is least likely the higher the turnout is. So get in there and vote with abandon for all those greens and left lists and so on for the assembly seats – the more left-wingers there are there the less of a free hand the new Mayor gets whoever he is.

Vote early, vote often!

Confidential Destruction

From the wonderful people who brought you Route 666:

Route 666

we can now have Confidential Destruction:

Confidential Destruction

I suppose it goes along with the Quiet Apocalypse, the Private Calamity, the Modestly Reserved Little Extermination, and the Secretive Low-Key Obliteration

Maybe prices vary with how much destruction you buy. Destroy one, wreck one free.

Someone should tell Al Qaida.

Historical Archives of the First Circumnavigation of London

Select the map for a bigger picture:

First Circumnavigation of London

This was a series of walks done, IIRC, in about 2001/2002. The idea was I would take a train out to the last station in zone two, then walk round to the outermost zone two station on the next line. So dividing the walk into a series of a couple of dozen stages round London. some only a few hundred metres (I tended to go on little excursions in that case) the longest being only a few hours walk, so they could be fitted in to an evening after work (followed by a quick pint in whichever local pub seemed nicest), or a Sunday afternoon stroll and still be back in time for the 6.30 service.

It started by taking the first train up to town from Lewisham (which went, not surprisingly, to London Bridge) then getting on the first tube train out of town, which took me to Willesden Green. So the first walk was something like Willesden Green to Kensal Green, the next Kensal Green to Kensal Rise and so on anti-clockwise (in tune with the natural rotation of the earth, the solar system, and the galaxy 🙂 ) until I found myself back there a year or more later.

The pattern of walks tends to break down in the southern part, Herne Hill to Brockley is a longer stage than I wanted to do, and goes almost entirely through streets I have walked all over before, so I diverted down through Dulwich for variety. And it also breaks down in the downriver section where you need to go all the way to Woolwich to cross the river on foot and the stage ran (before the DLR extension) from Greenwich to Silvertown because you aren’t supposed to walk through the Blackwall tunnel. Though I walked past both ends of it.

Not that I would want to walk through the Blackwall tunnel. I’ve both walked and cycled through the Rotherhithe tunnel and its not recommended for the asthmatic and bronchitic. Or anyone remotely scared of playing with traffic. Its a bit like being trapped in a smelly dirty hole in the ground with a couple of hundred cars and a few dozen big diesel lorries, all belching fumes. In fact it IS being trapped in a smelly dirty hole in the ground with a couple of hundred cars and a few dozen big diesel lorries, all belching fumes. Its worse on the bike. You can’t use the narrow walkway so you have to share the road with the motors. And its a lot longer than it looks on the surface (I have no idea where it goes under the river but it certainly isn’t straight across ), and whichever way you go the second half is continually uphill for about half a mile, straining your lungs while being forced to cycle in the path of the motor vehicles whose drivers are getting angrier and angrier.

Anyway, like I said, time to buy a new book and set off for new journeys. The map books are all coloured now, which is fine for almost every likely use EXCEPT marking where you went by filling in streets with yellow pens. It was all so much simpler when you could still buy a black and white A to Z.

Well, I’m back.

OK, Sam walked a lot further than I did, and he didn’t go home every night on the bus. But I finished. It took five years (though two and a half of them were missed due to arthritis) but I have now done my second circumperegrination of London in Zones 4 & 5. I’ve walked through every one of he 30-something London boroughs and across all but two or three of them and visited every single London postal district and (if I include my first circumnavigation of London through zone 2 and 3) visited more or less very large council estate.

Only about a hundred miles. Which in three years of walking is less than a mile a week.

But I finished, I did it.

I have all these notes about Bromley I just wrote up in my notebook for a posting here. But I got back to the local and the landlady’s daughter gave birth earlier today. So there were drinks and more drinks and I’m a bit squiffy now. So maybe my account of walking through Bromley at night gets posted in a day or two when I get the photos online. Or maybe not.

One thing to say. I’ve quite genuinely now been everywhere in London. On my own, on foot, mostly after dark. Walking in to random pubs. Getting on busses. And no-one was ever nasty to me at all. London is a nice place.

But I did it. And I’m chuffed.

Canada Day is early this year.

The streets of the West End are deserted as the craven Londonistanis cower in their homes after the discovery of the car-bomb in Haymarket.

Canada Day is early this year

Oh, well, they don’t actually. What they seem to have done is give Trafalgar Square (about one block from last night’s failed bomb) over to the Canadian High Commission to put on rock bands and a beer tent selling Moosehead in honour of Canada Day. (two or three other pictures on Flickr if you follow the link)

Except that Canada Day isn’t till Sunday. Maybe they moved it to make room for Gay Pride tomorrow. Or maybe they’ll be back.

Gosh, aren’t we oppressed by those nasty Muslim fundamentalists?

And a Critical Mass on the same evening. They seem very well behaved these days. People mostly like Critical Mass. Even most car drivers. Its silly. Its funny. It gets a laugh. People smile when it goes past, even if only at the antics of all the silly old hippies (its funny, but its no longer at all cool).

Critical Mass

This one had about a one to five ratio of police cyclists to demonstrators. I’ve never seen as many police cyclists in one place – I counted at least twenty-five and there were others leading and following that I missed. And they did seem to be having an awful lot of fun. Laughing and chatting. I mean the police, not the rest of them. If I didn’t know better I’d have thought they were participating in it rather than policing it.

Poking about

I was at Sainsbury’s at New Cross, One of my least favourite buildings. Separated from the street by a huge and useless car-park.

There are men who hang around the car-park begging. I was waiting for the bus at about 10pm, as the shop was closing, and this man came up and asked for money. Black bloke, forty-ish, maybe a Jamaican accent, looked really unhealthy, dirty clothes, smelled very bad. “70p for a bus-fare to Tottenham” Which is nonsense of course. I assume (on no evidence) that he really intends to buy some alcohol or cocaine, or maybe heroine, or pay back some dodgy debt. Which I can hardly criticise him for seeing as I have a three-litre wine box n my bag. I gave him some of the coin in my pocket. So he upped his demands. One pound, two pounds, Just out of prison he said. Needed to go back to Tottenham. I said he was being dishonest. If you wanted four pounds why didn’t you say four pounds in the first place? If I give you four pounds are you going to ask for five? No of course not. And I give him the small change in my pocket, which is about four pounds.

And he does ask for five pounds, and he’s coming very close and poking me with his finger, and there is no way I’m going to give him any of the folding money in my other pocket or take my wallet out while he’s around so I say (truthfully) that I’ve emptied my pocket and that’s all that there is. And unusually I feel nervous. He is being really weird.

He went off and met a friend of his further along the car-park. Someone I’ve often seen hanging around there. Much younger white man, unshaved, very thin, wearing a dirty torn brown anorak. They do the South London aggressive slapping each other and cuddling sort of macho greeting thing. Wander off. A bit later white bloke comes up to the door of the shop and starts punching a signboard, jumping up and down until he’s broken it and the poster has fallen on the ground. (Speed or coke seems more likely than heroine or alcohol at this point).

And I want the bus to come, The shop is closing, no-one else is around, and I don’t want to be near these people. Which itself makes me feel bad, because they haven;t actually threatened me or anything. And when he does come back and ask for more money and I tell him no he just shrugs his shoulders and goes off. And the bus does come, and I get on it. And I dislike the New Cross Sainsbury’s even more than I did before. If they had just turned the site round so the door was facing straight on to the street instead of being in a hole a quarter of a mile away it would feel much safer. Brief internal rant along the lines of “no-one who owns a car should be allowed to design buildings in cities”

Overheard in a pub on that very day:

“… and then it started again and there were bottles coming though the window and I thought it would be petrol bombs next so I came back to London the city I was born in, my home. I’ve been here for eighteen months now but I haven’t signed on or registered to vote because there are people out there who will come to get me if they find out where I live now…”

Part of a conversation I was in myself:

“My good friend Sandie Shaw hates “Puppet on a String” so much… she’s being trying to live it down for years”

Norwood: Hilly and Proud!

Grange Hill to Elmer’s End (or more prosaically, Upper Norwood to Lower Norwood)

Bank Holiday Monday, what we would have called Whitsun once upon a time. The wettest day of the year so far. Just the day to go for an evening stroll through leafy Norwood. I left home about 6.30 (Abi left not much later to go to see Cabaret at the Lyric, Shaftesbury Avenue. I’m told its wonderful) got a bus to Brockley Rise…

chandos_brockley_418

Brockley Rise in the Rain, May 2007

babur_brockley_3420

…then 122 down to Crystal Palace, then I got on the first bus that came along and round the houses down past Gypsy Hill and Beulah Hill (less Biblio-romantically called “Bewley’s Farm” on old maps) to Spa Hill by the David Livingstone Primary School. Yes, Norwood is hilly and proud of it.

I don’t know it well, but I think I like Upper Norwood. For reasons I don’t understand it is nice. There are places you come across (if you wander round London) that are for some reason or other more pleasant than you expected. That make you smile to find them. Not the coolest or the richest or the most trendy or the most fun places. Maybe its partly low expectations. No-one demands much from a visit to Osidge, or to Cricklewood and Willesden Green, or to the denser parts of Penge, so when you find them to be slightly less boring than you feared, your easily-pleasedness is stroked.

Norwood is one of those nice places, or at least the streets between Upper Norwood and Thornton Heath are. Maybe its the combination of high density and greenness and a feeling of openness. Maybe its the way Croydon council have preserved and labeled loads of pathways and twittens between streets, so everything is penetrable. Maybe its the way social and ethnic diversity has been added to what was mostly a lower-middle-class/respectable-working-class Victorian suburb without quite overwhelming it. Maybe its the hills providing views over or out of London. Maybe it just reminds me of home. Maybe there are waves of evangelical niceness pulsing down over the landscape from Spurgeon’s College. Or else its the unpretentious radio waves from the transmitter at the top of the hill – the original ITV TV mast, but now used for Channel 5 TV and local commercial radio stations on MW and DAB, with the UHF being just the hot backup for the 70m taller and much flashier Crystal Palace transmitter. There must be some beneficial effect from living in the shadow of Kiss FM.

If this was America perhaps the Baptists would make a bid to take over the transmitter and broadcast Christian TV. There can’t be many many unused TV transmitters with thirteen and a half million people in the footprint. But as it is, Norwood is a nice place.

My PC seems to have lost my photos of Spurgeon’s College (amongst other things). Try again tomorrow.

I decided that if it was past 8.20pm when I got to the Goat House bridge (where there is no Goat House Tavern any more) I’d look for a pub for a quick drink then get the bus back, but if not I’d extend the walk a little. It was 8.18. So off over the railway and past some flats…

albert_lower_norwood_3431

…and into South Norwood Country Park, Which was beautiful quite unexpected, and very wet. Flatter than I expected, with a lot of drainage ditches lined with thorn and elder running between small open areas of grass, nettles, and brambles with tall herbs like cow parsley and hogweed and and some larger trees. Quite a bit of ash and some oak. Almost heathland, but chalk underfoot. I have no idea how it came to be there. By the amount of concrete and brick rubble lying around I guess it might have been built on once. Its hard to be sure in the near-dark but I don’t think I saw many mature trees.

Remarkably empty for a park probably not as much as a quarter of a square mile in extent. Just me in the middle and a couple of dogwalkers working round the edge. Maybe Croydonians don’t like walking in woods in the pouring rain in the evening. Birdsong everywhere. I wish I could identify birds by their song but I usually can’t and I only got a good look at one largish bird perching on a lookout branch in the gloaming and much as I tried to make it a short-eared own it was a crow. It looks like a place for warblers. I could fantasise that there were nightjars there, but I expect that the place is much too small.

Even if there were any it was a little wet for them to be about. This years weather can’t have helped insect-eating birds. An unusually hot and dry early spring, followed by a sodden May. At the end of March and beginning of April London was not only hotter than New York (not unusual at that date) but hotter than LA and Houston – and Melbourne. Almost as hot as Sydney and Cairo. By the end of April the temperature was hotter than our summer average. This last week of May has been cooler than the last week of March was. And its been raining for days. That’s great for plants which got an early start with spring sunshine and no frosts, and are being watered during the long days of cool light, which is more important to them than intense sunshine (most native plants can’t make much use of direct bright sunshine anyway, much of the benefit is lost by photorespiration and increased metabolic rate). But many insects like it the other way round. Damp winters and springs to get the grubs going, then hot dry smelly weather for them to fly around and bother people. And what insects like swifts and nightjars like. I fear they are having a bad year.

footpath_666_3432

And I lost my way and turned too far south on Footpath 666 and ended up at Arena tram stop and had to yomp up the dual carriageway to the uninterpretable junction at Elmer’s End for two pints of Spitfire in the William IV and a bus home.

William IV, Elmer's End

No photos of the Park yet, as it was getting dark and however lovely the light seems when you are in it, trees don’t photograph well after sunset in the rain. Maybe later.

I’ll be back.

Queue for Kew

To Kew Gardens, to meet some people who use the Ship of Fools forums. Kew as always wonderful. A little late for the lilacs, too early for the lilies. The Temperate House is a bit orderly these days but the Palm House delightful. Not much to say about it that fits here really, except that everybody should go.

kew_palm_house3377

kew_waterlilies_3370

They seem to like queues though. A queue to pay to get in, a queue to get a cup or tea, a queue to get into the Waterlily House (with a great exhibition of chilis and some Very Important Sub-Tropical Wetland Plants in the corners), a queue to pay for the book I bought. (Garden Natural History by Stefan Buczacki, one of the latest in the Collins New Naturalist series which must be one of the great cultural products of Britain – and one or two of which are among the best natural history books we have – I think everyone should have read Mountains and Moorlands by WH Pearsall)

kew_arum3365

A lot of queuing to spend an afternoon in one of London’s best parks, which is also one of the country’s best displays of the variety of living things (its more a zoo for plants than an example of a garden types, though it has plenty of those as well), and most of all perhaps one of the top three or four centres for research into taxonony and systematics and evolution in the whole world. Trust me, I’m a botanist.

Welwitschia at Kew

And I still can’t remember what pollinates horse chestnuts.

Kew_scooby_3391

Then to the Dove at Hammersmith, one of the iconic riverside pubs and scene of quite a few meets. And they do keep their London Pride well. Fun, though it was crowded and too wet to sit outside.

Threw myself on the mercy of the London bus system to get back home and worked my way from Hammersmith to Wandsworth, then a 37 to Peckham, and a 21 home. With a pint or two on the way.

Overheard on train leaving London Bridge towards Waterloo:

“We’re passing the old Market Tavern. I used to drink in the other one, the Globe. That Richard Harris, you know, the film star, used to come in in the morning. You know, it was open in the morning ‘cos of the market porters. Open from six to eight. Hw used to come in two or three times a month. Drunk as a fish.”

From Pollard’s Hill to Norwood Junction

There is a hole in my knowledge of suburban South London. I’ve been familiar with Croydon at least since I was first at university back in the 1970s and I’ve often had reason to visit there. Now I live in Lewisham I sometimes go to Sydenham or Crystal Palace or even Penge because they are easy to get to by train or bus, being in the same radial sector of London, so I just need to go out and in and not round. Brixton I’ve been to, and I used to have friends in Stockwell and Clapham and Tooting. But, apart from the A23 (main road to Brighton via Croydon) and the mainline railway the gap between those places is much more anonymous from my point of view. Streatham, Tooting Common, Norbury, Thornton Heath (north of the Mayday, if the Mayday counts as Thornton Heath) haven’t really been on my radar.

So the next stage of my circumnavigation of London in Zones 4 and 5 was all exploration, at least for the first few miles.

Tube to Clapham Common then 255 bus to take me back to Pollard’s Hill, somewhere I didn’t even know existed till I walked up it last week.

Pollards Hill Baptist Church

Pollards Hill Estate 3259

This time I approached from the Mitcham side through a perhaps 1970s flat-rooved high-density low-rise estate that looked like a little version of the Ferrier at Kidbrooke at first, until I saw if from Pollard’s Hill and realised how huge it was. Pleased to find I could still steer through the little playing fields behind the estate and predict where the hole in the fence that gets me to the hill was – one of the few skills you learn being brought up in suburban council estates outside Brighton, followed by years of experience in walking round putting political leaflets in doors. I can nearly always find my way from a council estate to the nearest little municipal recreation ground or swing park.

Path from estate to top of Pollards Hill

View over Pollards Hill estate

The view from Pollard’s hill is wonderful (if you like looking at south London suburbia, which by now anyone reading this will have realised that I do. Almost 360 degrees, though you have to position yourself very carefully to look north thought the gaps between the houses. In some ways a bigger view than from Crystal Palace or Hilly Fields, perhaps because the hill, though not very high, stands more alone and falls off more steeply.

View_from_Pollards_Hill_3272

View North from Pollards Hill

Where do white people go on Sundays? I mean, I’m white, I know where I go, I go to church and the pub and sometimes the shops and occasionally on bus-trips of bike rides or longish walks round London. But where are the rest of them? Not in our church (pretty obviously) but today not in the streets on the east side of Pollard’s Hill either. Today it mostly seemed to be Asian families wearing western clothes and driving BMWs. Its quite posh round there, Some private streets and lots of kempt leafy spaces.

Norbury_shops_CIMG3147

Thornton_Heath_3275

Back to Norbury High Street (or whatever the A23 is called there) and up the other side through back streets. It seems to be a bit of a taxi suburb. The homes of cab drivers congregate in London. There are few streets round the back of Welling where you could almost believe about one house in five has a black taxi parked outside it. And there is a bigger load of them in Ilford. There seemed to be quite a few parked outside lockups and in little alleyways round Thornton Heath and Norbury. Quiet streets of semi-detached or largish terraced houses, mostly inter-war, very lace-curtain and respectable, often with front gardens, some looking like ex-Council places. One suspects that there are many large flat-screen TVs inside. The London working class moved a few notches upmarket and out to the suburbs, but not so far out as to make it hard to drive in to town. Who wants a two-hour journey home after their last fare of the night? Maybe if Welling is where the white drivers accumulate, and Asians in Ilford, black black cab drivers end up in Thornton Heath.

Thornton_Heath_3277

Thornton_Heath_3280

Up the hill towards the centre of Thornton Heath and houses getting shabbier and older – must have grown out north from Croydon rather than being developed south from inner London through Brixton or Sydenham – or perhaps more likely they merged from a little cluster of high-density nineteenth-century hosusing round each station, the sort of thing you see near every little station on the Brighton Line – even such exurban places as Hassocks or Balcombe (Or do I mean Barcombe? Very irritating that they are in the same county) can have a street or two of smaller older houses around the station. Before they filled in the gaps with the 1920s and 30s semis this must have been a little like a Surrey version of the MegaVillage One in Sussex (a name my brother-in-law gave to the network of “villages” north of the Downs between Lewes and Henfield and north almost to Hayward’s Heath). There is a web of roads connecting old centres that actually or almost join with each other, with nineteenth century streets at right-angles to them, and newer housing filling in the gaps. Large chunks of Thorton Heath could easily be in Brighton. The houses are almost identical to places like Ditchling Road.

Thornton_Heath_3282

Thornton_Heath_3283

Thornton_Heath_3286

Further up the hill through the little recreation ground towards Thornton Heath station and the old houses are grottier again, though older and larger. And much of the infill is council estate with the odd brutalist block, or else some very new estates of high density private housing. There’s a very flash old building just uphill from the station that has been turned into flats. Looks half-way between a posh French house and a church. The little square of new houses beneath it is called Reservoir Close so I guess it must be a waterworks building. Really flash

Now I can either turn left up through a very nice-looking park towards the little Croydon clone of the Crystal Palace mast and back to the Fields We Know that way, or I can drop down to Norwood Junction and get a 75 bus, The second option would join this walk to the route of one I did to Penge a few months ago, so I go for that.

Duke of Cambridge, Selhurst

Croydon Sickle Cell

Selhurst Congregational Church

Selhurst Evangelical Church

And take a wrong turning on what I assumed was Whitehorse Road and ended up crossing the mainline railway and had to backtrack round the Palace ground to get to Norwood clocktower and a pint at the Alliance Tavern. And I was only five minutes late for evening service.

Norwood Baptists

Alliance, Norwood Junction

There are two ways to finish the circumnavigtion formally

In the first year of the walk I worked my way anticlockwise in stages round from Grove Park station (at Downham between Lewisham and Bromley)
to Mitcham via Beckton, Forest Gate, Enfield, Mill Hill, Harrow, Hillingdon, Whitton, Kingston, and Sutton (amongst other places). Not in a continuous set of walks but in a sequence of overlapping walks crossing each other zigzagging through each others routes.But there it rested for about two years longer than intended, In the gap I’ve visited Penge and Norwood a few times (and once the Norwoody bit of Streatham) and I’ve been to Beckenham Place Park. so I know have lines on my AtoZ connecting Norwood junction to Beckenham. I also went to Downham for a funeral and walked back to Lewisham. So I know have only two gaps, totalling less than a kilometre from to connect Beckenham to Grove Park. So I could join the dots with a couple of busrides and less than half an hour’s walking.

Or I can work my way east from Norwood Junction through Zone Four passing south of Beckenham through the outer reaches of Croydon – all those anonymous suburban stations in the litany of the Mid-Kent Railway and the old Crystal Palace line named after pubs and some now reborn as tramstops: Kent House, Clock House, Elmers End, Birkbeck, Bellingham, Beckenham, Bickley. That will keep the outerness going

(Piccies added Monday night)

Mitcham to Norbury, backwards

After the success (from my point of view – I had fun and my wonky knees held up) of last week’s walking round Preston I decided to reboot the second Circumnavigation of London. Which after all was what this blog was supposed to be about in the first place. I last managed any of the walk over a year ago, leaving my anticlockwise journey by stages through London Transport Zones 4 and 5 (with occasional excursions to Zone 6) off somewhere in the middle of Mitcham Common, which as far as I can tell is the only heath in the south of England with its very own tram station.

On Sunday afternoon after church I took a bus to Peckham, than another to Brixton, by which time the rain had turned from hat weather into umbrella weather so I bought myself one in Boots and walked down to take some photos of St Matthew’s Church. Not that I got any good ones because it was impossible to get a decent angle on it from the Brixton side, not without street furniture and leafy trees in the way. The rain didn’t help either. Maybe professional architectural photographers do all their work on sunny days in winter…

St_Matthews_Brixton_3119.JPG

St_Matthews_Brixton_3122.JPG

Down by bus through Streatham which has always been a rather anonymous place for me. I’ve been at least vaguely familiar with Brixton for all my adult life. Its the sort of place you go now and again, to see bands, or go to parties, or have a drink with friends. Its probably the only place more than a hundred metres south of the river that’s on the social map of most of London. I met my brother there once, walking in the street. “But I thought you never came to South London?” “This isn’t South London, its Brixton”. I’ve been familiar with Stockwell and Balham and Tooting at various times as well. Streatham though is a gap on the map, seen from a distance, wooded hills covered with middle-middle-class suburban homes, 1920s semis with small gardens and leafy streets. I’m never sure what London Borough its governed by either. Most of it feels like Croydon, but I think lots of it is run by Lambeth. It always surprises me that LB Lambeth goes to Gipsy Hill and right up to Crystal Palace where it borders on Croydon and Bromley. It just seems like a different part of London. Its as if Camden went up to the Wanstead Flats.

The main road through Streatham is familiar though, I must have been driven up and down it in other people’s cars hundreds of times, starting when I was in primary school with my Dad taking us to London to see his office, or up to Scotland to visit relatives. Its got rows of impressive redbrick Edwardian shopfronts, large mansion flats, and some of the brashest-looking places of entertainment in London, No, the brashest. They make the old gin palaces and boxing pubs of the Old Kent Road, or the nightclubs in Romford where fourteen year old boys go to get pissed, stare hopelessly at girls, beat each other up, and pass out on the street, look like models of restrained taste. I strongly suspect that the customers who use these places are not the people who live in the winding streets on the hillsides behind them.

Streatham_Quadriga_3130.JPG

Streatham Bowling

Looking at my field AtoZ I realise that I can fill in the next block of my circumnavigation by getting off the bus just after Norbury station and walking up Pollard’s Hill than through to Mitcham Common. That will be back-tracking a little, taking the section clockwise rather than anti-clockwise, but at least it will fill in a gap. And I’m on the wrong bus to start this afternoon’s walk at Mitcham. It turns out I’m on the won bus to start at Pollard’s Hill either – we turn left just after Streatham Common and I get off two stops later and walk back to Norbury Station.

Unlike Streatham Hill and High Street I have no childhood or hitchhiking memory of Norbury High Street. I must have been driven down it, or gone along it on a bus, in order to get to Thornton Heath. But according to my master AtoZs (green lines for walking, yellow for cycling) I’ve never been there on my own steam. Its grottier than I expected. And suddenly Pakistani as well. Brixton is famously diverse, not as all-black as people who don’t know it think it is (or as Balham or parts of Peckham are), but white European faces are a minority in the streets. As you go south through Brixton Hill, Streatham Hill, and Streatham High Street the faces get whiter, and the clothes less stylish. Then suddenly I turn left near Norbury station and maybe half of the people in the street are Asians. Punjabi signs and Halal meat everywhere, though unlike similarly Muslim parts of North London, the people are mostly wearing European-style clothes and I only see one woman with her head covered. Yet one more piece in London’s ethnic jigsaw. Almost as obvious as the Brazilians in North Lambeth or the Koreans out beyond Wimbledon, and (to my ignorance of the district) as sudden and surprising as the tiny cluster of Japanese businesses and faces I found behind Hendon.

halal_chicken_norbury_3145.JPG

Shops_Norbury_3146

Norbury_buildings_3151

Radnor House in Norbury is one of the most unpleasant-looking new buildings I’ve seen in a long time. Blank walls at street level, tiny windows, no obvious doors, as if the only access is by car. A huge block that turns in on itself, posing as a place to escape from the nassty nassty street where strangers lurk. A storage facility for misanthropes who don’t even want to set eyes on their neighbours. Did the architects think it was a machine for living in? Or a machine for turning human beings into Tories?

Norbury_buildings_3148

Norbury_buildings_3149

Norbury_buildings_3150

I get to Pollard’s Hill about an hour later than I’d intended and start up it. The houses get larger, newer, and posher rapidly. By the top of the hill some of them are post-war and most are rather expensive looking. I’d marked the place in my A to Z years ago as a possible destination and I’ve forgotten why. The trouble is there was more than one reason for making such a mark. Sometimes it was a classic bit of high-density suburban layout I read about in Pevsner or elsewhere (there are some cool ones in Merton) Sometimes it was because of some notorious bit of suburban blue-plaquery – maybe John Major’s boyhood home, or ken Livingstone’s. Sometimes because I found a potential view on the map. maybe this was the latter, because although I had no idea as I was walking up it, the hill turns out to be a real hill, with a view in every direction – the St Helier Hospital, central Croydon, Crystal Palace. Howling wind and pouring rain didn’t help the photos though.

View_from_Pollards_Hill_3156

View_from_Pollards_Hill_3157

View_from_Pollards_Hill_3165

View_from_Pollards_Hill_3168

And, high-point of the day, if I position myself just right at the top of one of the side streets on the north side of the hill I can see Battersea Power Station in the distance!

From_Pollards_Wood_road_3181.JPG

RESULT!!

From_Norbury_Rise_3186.JPG

Maybe you had to be there.

Not much more to say, other than passing over a social boundary that coincides with a borough one, then past one of the many William Morris Schools, through a council estate, and onto Mitcham Common. Nice trees, lots of rain, cute goslings. Ending up on Cricket Green in Mitcham. Time for a pint of beer.

PeterPaulAndMitcham3199.JPG

Another result. Pub called the Hooden on the green. A pint of very very nice Shepherd Neame Spitfire. Though its nearly five they are still doing food. I haven’t even had breakfast yet, just a cup of tea and a biscuit after church. Roast Sunday Lunch? Well, it smells nice, but I’e only got half an hour as I want to get back to church in time to do evil things to computers and projectors for the evening service. Have they anything lighter. No, only the cooked meal, but the barman will check. He does, and says the cook will make anything on the menu. I ask for a shrimp baguette, for £2.95 instead of the 5 to 7 quid they are charging for the full meal.

Hooden_on_the_Green_Mitcham_3202.JPG

Can this be Britain? I ask for what I want rather than when they are wanting to sell me and they make it for me? Have I discovered the secret of power over catering staff?

It gets better. The “baguette” turns out as expected, to be a long roll with shrimps in some sort of slimy sauce in it. Americans and Australians should any be reading this, should know that when eating them Brits name that sort of crustaceans by size, “Shrimp” means little, maybe no bigger than a baby’s thumb. “Lobster” is big, the size of the baby’s arm or even leg. Or maybe the whole baby. “Prawn” is anything in between. So my shrimp sandwich contains a slimy pink sauce, which is not unpleasant, full of little lightly fried abdomens about the size of a bean. But the bread is good, and toasted. And there is a very English green salad – that is some lettuce leaves, and a few slices of tomato and cucumber, and a tiny piece of onion, with no dressing – not advertised but not unexpected.

What was unexpected was the chips. Lots of them. Half a plateful. Hot and crispy too, I’m almost embarrassed. Did I order this? Well I’m not going to complain. Did I pay for it? They’re not asking for more.

So in the end I do have a hot meal, of a sort, and another pint.

And I both got to church on time, and managed to see some Goldmith’s students having an intense learning experience with an overly complicated bit of equipment that seemed to be doing zoom shots of other students in the street.

Deptford_Dolly_3217.JPG

Euston

In my previous post I praised the train system in London for the excellent way it got me to Euston even though half of it was being dug up by blokes in shiny yellow suits. That’s all very well, but it was Euston it got me to.

There are many reasons why I’ve always preferred to go up north on the East Coast line rather than West Coast whenever I’ve had the choice. Its not just the the view, or the trains, or the comfort, or the timekeeping, or my idiotic preference fro anticlockwise loops. A large part of it is that King’s Cross is so much a nicer place to catch a train than Euston is.

Euston is the nastiest of all London’s mainline stations. Forget the appearance of the architecture (cheapo mid-60s international style airport lounge faced in dirty shiny fake stone) forget the supposed desecration of what went before (I’m to young to remember it), Euston just isn’t practical. It is inconvenient to use. It puts unnecessary difficulties in the way of passengers.

The trains themselves are set back very far from the street. If you approach from the main road you have to walk across a barren Euston Square – basically a dog toilet with one gay bar in the ruins of the gatehouse of the previous incarnation of the station, then through then up some concrete steps and under a sub-Corb office buildings raised above you on pilotes, across a rough concrete platform exposed to the open air and frequented by drunks and stray dogs, into the huge main concourse (in winter as unpleasantly hot as the outside is cold and windswept) right across it to the entrances to the train shed which lead to long ramps passing down to the staggered platforms. It can easily take a 300 meter walk to get to your train.

Navigating through the succession of spaces can be a nightmare if you aren’t used to it. And not just for pedestrians. The bus station is an overcomplex figure-of-eight loop of tarmac which has buses going in different directions along the same route crossing each other’s path – you can get gridlock inside the bus ranks at Euston.

The concrete forecourt is raised up above street level and accessed by anything from three to twenty steps, unless you know to approach it from the Drummond Street side or the south-west corner, under the old Inmarsat building, or you find the one kinky dog-legged path leading up by the door to the toilets of the bar. Start anywhere else – such as the middle bus station, or the road crossing to Friend’s House or New St Pancras Church, or anywhere on the east side of the station – and you need to make your way up steps. Of course people carrying heavy luggage, or with young children, or who have mobility problems, never use a mainline railway station. Only healthy young car-drivers with small handbags get on trains.

Once inside the concourse your route to the platforms is obstructed by the entrance to the tube station – it probably seemed a good idea at the time to put it slap inside the main doors but in practice it means that only about a third of the doors are much used, and in the rush hour when there are queues to get down the escalators – or at any time of the escalators are out of order – the middle third of the concourse is blocked by a crowd trying to go underground. Things aren’t improved by the astonishingly stupid siting of the information office which can easily have queues of thirty or so people waiting for it, sticking out into the concourse at right angles to the queue for the tube, making an L-shaped block of humanity breaking the concourse into separate zones. You will probably be in the wrong one.

It is as if the building wants the public to come in from underground or by taxi or car – there is no clear pedestrian route in and out from the busses or the street to trains. As if only inferior and unimportant people came by bus or on foot. The whole structure turns its back, or more accurately its side, against the people and looks in on itself, presenting barrier after barrier to anyone trying to access the inner sanctum where there are actually trains. It is unfriendly and intimidating especially to people with mobility problems, or who have a lot of luggage. The message is that passengers don’t count, you are merely on one of the many things a modern train needs to be provisioned with. Wait your turn.

And things are worse if you do have to wait. Passengers are herded into the rectangular concourse to wait for their trains. There is nowhere to sit. The area is too large to feel safe or comfortable in, too obstructed by the entrance to the underground, by tat shops and concessions to move around easily in, too far from the ticket office or the toilets or the bars.

And they make you wait. Like at Victoria or Liverpool Street (though unlike King’s Cross and perhaps Paddington) they are in the habit of not announcing the platform your train is to leave from until about five to ten minutes before hand. Sometimes not even that. Then there is a huge long walk down the ramp and along to the trains (your seat reservation is always at the far end unless you pay extra) Anyone with the slightest mobility problem has the greatest trouble getting there in the time allowed – you have to guess the end of the station you will be directed to (it has to be a guess as you can’t see the trains, they are hidden at the bottom of the ramps), and move towards the platform in time, obscuring your view of the big board which is deliberately placed to encourage you to stand as far as possible from the trains. And there is nowhere to sit If you have difficulty standing or walking Euston is not a welcoming place.

It doesn’t have to be like this. Victoria copes with perhaps four or five times the throughput of passengers in a similar-sized space, yet feels much less demeaning. When there are crowds gathered, at rush hour or if there are serious delays, there is a buzz about Victoria station, while Euston merely feels oppressive. Kings Cross is tiny by comparison, has about the same number of passengers as Euston (maybe even more) yet fits us into what is actually a rather pleasant space – or at least an interesting one. You can sit in a bar or cafe and see your train and the announcement boards. Charing Cross is even smaller, and has a similar number of passengers to Euston, though as an almost entirely commuter station it has less luggage an and averagely more sussed passenger.

Euston numbers platforms from left to right as passengers look at them.

Why?

Short of complete demolition and rebuilding its probably too late to do anything much about the layout now. But it could be improved. Strip out the kiosks and concessions, move them all outside, open up the concourse space, put in chairs or benches. Redirect the queues for info and taxis. Put some ticket machines in the concourse. Announce platform numbers BEFORE boarding starts. Maybe there is even room for a mezzanine floor at the front, or some retail in the airspace above the trainshed (as at Victoria or Liverpool Street).

Improve the outside. Remove the existing blocky little slab rooves cantilevered out of the front and put in much larger and higher and lighter ones – curved to avoid shading the very nice Robinia trees – to keep rain and a little sun off anyone waiting there. Move more of the sales outlets outside, replace crappy concrete tables with nice round wooden ones and a lot more seating, refocus the shops on the east side to to face more out into square. Simplify and re-route the buses.

But the best thing would be to tear it all down and start again. Ideally do something imaginative. But even if there is no imagination to be found, a retro copy of a typical 1860s terminus would be better than what is there now.

The Curse of the Lewisham Head End spreads to on-train catering.

To Lancashire to see my Mum’s new house

Great thing about living in a city with complex public transport is that there are so many ways to get anywhere. They may all be slow and unpleasant, but there are lots of them.

I got a bus to Lewisham Station intending to take the DLR to Bank and Northern Line to Euston. And then found that, as this is the dreaded Bank Holiday Weekend the DLR was closed from Mudchute to Westferry Circus. (In passing, one of the reasons so many car drivers think that trains are shit in Britain is that they only ever take them on non-working days – when they are usually shit – long-distance trains usually work fine on weekdays outside holiday times). So I took the mainline to London Bridge instead, intending to get the Northern Line to Euston. And got there to find that it was closed for track works as well, or at least the Bank branch was. So I got the Jubilee line to Waterloo, changed to the other side of the Northern Line, and went up that way, and still got there with 25 minutes to spare. Has I known about the tube I might have taken the train to Victoria instead and gone to Euston on the Victoria Line. Or had there been no trains at all at Lewisham I could have taken the bus to New Cross Gate and gone up to London Bridge from there – or possibly even got the East London Line to change to Jubilee at Canada Water or through to Whitechapel to get on the Met or the Hammersmith and City to Euston Square. Or if no tubes at all I could have carried on by bus to the Elephant or to Bricklayer’s Arms and another bus via Aldwych for there – a journey that to night only takes 40 minutes, not counting waiting time, but is probably a lot longer in the Saturday shopping times.

Try doing that with the once every third Tuesday services you get in most places.

complexity makes the system more redundant which makes it more robust and possibly more resilient.

That got damn near a train-spotting post….

We just passed Watford Junction.

Talking of trainspotting, this is a Virgin train and its a bank holiday so I suppose we are lucky its moving. No buffet though. I could do with a cup of tea 🙁 I should have realised and got one at the station (even though it was Euston)

Either that or their brand-merge with NTL has infected the railway operation with whatever dread disease destroyed customer service from that Lewisham head-end, passed on from Videotron to cable and Wireless to NTL and now to Virgin. The Internet is fine, and the cable TV is more or less fine except taht it mysteriously needed a new box at our end that they didn’t tell us about till the bloke came round supposedly to fix the phone which doesn’t work and hasn’t worked for four months now, but a new phone company would make me take at least a day of work to install their line and this is cheap, considered as a way of paying for cable TV and Internet connections, so the phone is an optional extra really. Or in this case, not an extra, because Virgin/NTL don’t know how to make their phones work.

Train driver (or whoever does these things) just announced that “hopefully” a “we will be picking up a member of the onboard catering team” at Coventry or at Birmingham International. Halfway there & I bet it takes 40 minutes to get everything ready & then there will be a queue.

Why is it that when you start thinking about food and drink you want some? If I wasn’t on this train I’d probably still be in bed at the moment (12:30 on Saturday, a civilised time for a lie-in), or maybe just getting and having a bath wouldn’t have dreamed of getting food or tea yet.

We’ve been waiting at Rugby for a long time…

… and the food bloke finally got on at New Street, and didn’t open till we were well beyond Birmingham, and there were 18before me in the very slow queue including someone whose credit card didn’t work and who was 60p short (in the end another customer gave him the 60p because it was going on so long) and I was still in the queue at Stafford, and at Crewe, and got back to my seat just in time for Warrington.

But trains are good. Really.

ANZAC Day – BOOM!

A factory blew up last night.

Spring is sprung, and the canopy closed, again. The planes, last of the common trees to get their leaves, are more than halfway there, as are the limes. Most of the sycamores are in leaf as well – though not all (sycamores are much more variable than the others) and the horse chestnuts are in flower, candles everywhere. Lilacs bloomed last weekend and walking around South London you get whiffs of their beautiful smell from all sorts of gardens and alleyways.

But rewind briefly. Before that I’d popped into a pub and seen John the Buddhist at the bar talking to a tall white-haired bloke in a blue shirt. I half joined-in and eavesdropped, as you do. I couldn’t suss out his accent at first – very posh Irish? A rather unplaceable sort of northern English? I’d almost settled in my mind on a soft Anglo-South-African when I’d picked up enough conversation to work out that he was Australian but had been living here for twenty years. And he was a very angry man. Bitter and very drunk, an Australian ex-soldier on what I did not at that time realise was ANZAC day, which must have been an emotionally intense anniversary for him, alone amongst others who didn’t understand.

He is in his 60s and said he had been an NCO the Australian army for fifteen years, and then in the British Army. He said the had fought in Vietnam and had very unflattering views of the American army there. Apparently they were ruined for combat by all the niggers – his word – who were into nothing but drugs and Black Power. He made some offensive gestures and parody salutes. Apparently the US NCOs used to drink in the Australian mess, avoiding their own men, who were a greater danger to them than the enemy. According to him the sensible US officers deliberately got their platoons ambushed so that the VC would kill the “niggers”, which would increase the white soldiers chance of survival. And the Australian units were more effective because they were all white, as the Abos weren’t intelligent enough to operate weapons so they didn’t allow them to join up. And how black soldiers were useless and always beaten by whites and the the Rhodesians had the right idea with UDI with patrols of volunteers to keep them down.

No-one understands him, according to his own estimation, and no-one knows what it was like to have been in the Airborne (shouted, with a quick salute) He also thinks the modern world has gone to the dogs and made the usual moans about governments and taxes and various moral laxities. The one thing he wants from government is to cut Council Tax, which takes twenty quid a week off him to subsidise wasters and immigrants.

Meanwhile, just behind us, there were two younger blokes giving it large about being black Millwall supporters. “You think you’ve had it hard – try running away from three thousand white men at South Bermondsey Station – looking over the fence and yelling ‘Nigger Nigger’!” “Born and brought up in Greenwich, I’m more Millwall than you!” “Don’t diss the ‘Wall man!” Loud comments, aimed into the pub as a whole (and successfully irritating the landlady), about their troubles and successes at work, and how one of them got made redundant with six thousand quid to go. “Who’d have thought a black man could get hold of that much money in this white man’s country without stealing it?” And then hassling the barmaid: “You look like you need some vitamins in the morning. Try me, vitamins supplied and installed, free of charge.” It sounded a lot ruder the way he said it. Actually it sounded very rude the way he said it. He was marginally less offensive than the Australian, but a lot cleverer with words, and a lot funnier.

There was a white woman with them, and Australian says, quietly, “call me a racist if you like but I still can’t stand seeing a nigger with a white girl”. Like something from an old film. I’m praying that a fight doesn’t break out. All I managed to think of saying was something along the lines of “I’ve got no objection at all” to which the reply was “You may be a liberal but…” so I could do nothing but make the old crack “I’m not a liberal, I’m a socialist” and move further down the bar to try to talk to someone else. John, peaceable as always, talked about a neighbour of his years ago who married an Asian woman who was then rejected by her family, with threats of death, but they’ve been together for nearly thirty years and brought up a family of their own. But the answer to that was that Muslims are the Enemy Within and we should never have let them in in the first place.

I don’t know how I’d have reacted to the Australian ex-soldier (whose name I never found out) if the circumstances had been less public. Knowing my own distaste for confrontation (other than intellectual) and my love of arguing I suspect I might have wimped out of moral objections and tried to go military-historical on him, and mentioned conflicts in which black soldiers had fought effectively or beaten white soldiers – the Haitian Revolution, or the Zulus, or French African troops in the Great War, or Hissein Habre, or even pointed out that the Africans beat the white Rhodesians that he respects so much (though he’d have then been quite entitled to point out that it hasn’t turned out so well) or the US Army right now. But it would have been pointless I suspect, because he obviously wasn’t putting forward a theory about military history, he was just having a bitch.

I was glad when the Australian left. But not, for some reason, really cross with him. He seemed lonely, misunderstood, and angry. Would I have reacted to him differently had I known it was ANZAC day? (He never mentioned it) Would he have reacted to me differently had I known? (Should one memorise the national days of all countries before going to the pub?). Would I have wibbled on about Gallipoli as if I knew anything to compare to his twenty-one operational jumps? Would I have done what I do so often and trawled my experience and memory to find something that connects with the person I’m talking to?

And there wasn’t a fight. There probably was never going to be one, but most of the pub were glad when they all left. “Nigger” is not a word in common currency round here. I think I’ve heard it used more often in discussions about racism than in actual performance. I think I heard it more times last night than in the last twenty years. But the other black bloke had been three years in the army – he seemed to young to me, hardly more than a kid, but I suppose that’s actually normal – and that got some respect from the Ozzy, who was reserving his nastiest comments for us middle aged white men, keeping himself to ourselves. I did not feel good about that, but I felt less bad about it than I would have if there had been a blazing row.

And then a quiet pint and back home and standing in the garden with Abigail who was smoking a cigarette – it was a very warm night and I prefer her smoking outdoors rather than in the flat – talking about James Blish and John Clute and Diana Wynne Jones (I got mentioned in Language Log!) when a very Loud Noise echoed through the sky.

“What the fuck was that?”

“Thunder I guess. It looks like its going to rain heavily. I don’t really know of course, but last time I heard a big noise like that I said it wasn’t a bomb and it turned out to be a bomb after all. So I have no idea!”

We didn’t find out till this morning. It did rain, but it wasn’t thunder and it wasn’t a bomb, it was a factory or warehouse or goods yard. And it was right by the main line and there were no trains to London Bridge station this morning. That does odd things to Lewisham. If a couple of thousand people wandering around talking to their mobiles at 10am counts as “odd”. I got a 136 bus to New Cross, a 172 to Aldwych and A 188 up to college. Took about an hour and a half. For once my boss wasn’t cross with me for being late. Came back from Southwark Cathedral on the 21 and met four people I know from church on the bus or waiting for it. That never happens in central London, does it?

London is good

Easter over, lets get back to learning about London.

Today showed me just how much easier life is in urban environments than out of them. Just how much the well-connectedness and mutual interependence of things can make life simpler. I didn’t go to work today and stayed in bed all morning. At 3pm (2pm in God’s time) I was lying on my bed reading the Ship of Fools. (I have a posting from 15:09 to prove it – Isn’t wireless Internet access wonderful?) I then washed, got dressed, walked to the station (phoning my daughter on the way – she’s somewhere in the Midlands looking after puking persons), bought a week’s travel pass with my credit card, got on a train, went to Greenwich, bought a ticket to the film, went to the toilet again, and was in the cinema well in time for the 15.45 showing of Amazing grace. (Which is worth seeing apart from the last scene). Not that there was any point in being on time, there were ten minutes of trailer to sit through before the actual film. And they have decent air-conditioning (it was actually hot in London today), reclining seats, and a bar right next to the (very small) auditorium with a panoramic view of Greenwich and you can take your drinks into the show. (I has an espresso – it was only 4pm). Then sit in the bar afterwards for a decent pint of Staropromen and a great view and back home by train, taking me all of 15 minutes. Try doing that in the country. Sometimes cities just work.

Today I like London.

Tomorrow I have to go back to work.