Tag Archives: southeastlondon

Secret History of Streets

Well. I just managed to see the recent BBC “Secret History of our Streets” documentary about Deptford. Right up this blog’s street. After all it is mostly about what I see and hear walking around London’s streets.

Obviously I was going to be fascinated by it, as I live round here myself, I’m a big fan of Booth’s map, I’m obsessed with the design and layout of London (which is most of what this blog is about) and I’ve met some of the people they interviewed (though I know none of them personally). I’ve also drunk in some of the demolished pubs they talk about and walked down every street they showed and been in the shops they filmed in. And those Abercrombie Plan and Motorway Box maps look scarier every time I see them. How could such well-educated well-meaning hard-working planners be so utterly ignorant of the way cities really are or how people live in them? (Maybe Alison and Peter Smithson could have told us – though as far as I know they never damaged Deptford with their misplaced buildings – yet I noticed that the TV sneaked in shots of what looked very much like a corner of Robin Hood Gardens and a bit of the Balfron Tower at one point)

This programme was genuinely interesting and well-made, It was a better film than “The Tower” was, though perhaps an even more unfair picture of the place. But so many problems with it. They literally demonised the West African preacher, yet a he’s just about the only person they showed actively trying to improve things. Almost the only West Indians they showed were, well, rather scary. Not to mention “lowest class, vicious, semi-criminal”. When listing the folk exiled to various other suburbs they lumped Greenwich and Brockley – places you can walk to from Deptford in ten minutes – along with Grove Park and Woolwich and Bexleyheath, which by comparison are the Outer Darkness.

They somehow managed to make Nicholas Taylor the villain of the piece. I’m sure he’s made his mistakes but he doesn’t deserve this. In real life he was one of the few voices on the council opposed to the new brutalist redevelopment, and perhaps the only architect who was. Yes the slum clearance reports they showed made the council seem like authoritarian bullies – but after all these years we don’t need to be told how anti-working-class the “regeneration” industry can be. But Taylor wasn’t was one of the people who warned us of that way back then, and he wasn’t even on the council when they did it. And he actually lived there, and as far as I know still does. At the end when it was obvious that they were going to show some gentrifiers taking over I was briefly worried that they’d be showing Nick Taylor’s own, presumably reasonably presentable, house, to complete the fix-up. At least they got their floppy-jawed wimps from somewhere else. And they were the only people in the show who felt alien to me. Maybe they were actors. I rather hope that they were. Though the Canadian-sounding woman was quite cute.

Yet again they show the local people, or the working class in general, as mere passive victims of the plotting of those set above them, whether to send them to war or demolish their houses or destroy their businesses or replace them with dubiously dark-skinned incomers. (The BNP and their friends will love this programme). On the surface it seems to be sympathetic and even radical but its a deeply, deeply, establishment rhetorical stance. Resistance is futile. Opposition is pointless. The working-class people they interviewed aren’t depicted as actors in their own drama, more as a kind of stage-cockney chorus of cheeky chappies, drunkenly staggering through events they cannot be expected to understand.

Getting that church to sing “May the circle be unbroken” at the end was a cinematic and emotional triumph. Even if its probably not at all typical of what they’d actually sing. Not that I really know what they would sing. I go to a quite different church in Deptford, even if most of our congregation are Nigerians.

Not sure what I’m saying really, its four in the morning and I’m not being very coherent. maybe time to go to bed. Or else look around and see what others are saying about it. But well-done as it was it doesn’t leave a good taste in the mouth.

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Meanwhile back at the ranch, the next morning…

Now I’ve had a chance to think about it a bit more, there are some other niggling doubts. The way it showed women was very strange. They were almost all entirely sitting still and talking quietly and sadly, both in the present day and in the clips from the past. Lively women, strong women, happy women, angry women, were only shown in still photos. Whenever they talked they seemed to be doing it in a spirit of passive obedience, quiet resignation. Especially the women in the clips from 1960s and 1970s documentaries who seemed to be portrayed as meekly putting up with whatever their husbands dished out to them, just as those husbands themselves were rather less quietly taking whatever the landlords and local authorities did to them, living in quiet desperation and getting through the day on pills. One of them said something like “I was so depressed till my husband made me go to the doctor and he gave me the pills.” The women are shown as the victims of the victims, the underclass of the underclass.

Yes it makes you cry and it ought to make you angry. And yes that is certainly how some women lived then. How some live now. Its partly true and entirely tragic. But its not how most people live now. And I think I remember enough about the 1960s and 1970s – I think I remember enough working-class women in the 1960s and 1970s – to know that it wasn’t how everybody lived then either. “My nan had very nice curtains”

OK, the filmmakers probably know perfectly well they are doing that. They are no doubt decent well-brought-up BBC journalists, sympathetic to the community they are filming, well-meaning activists. Maybe they reckoned they only had time to show the worst, maybe they want us to be angry at the abuse those women received. But they showed effectively all working-class people as hopeless and desperate, the men reacting with drunken violence and bitter humour, the women by sinking into depression. Like I said it leaves a funny taste in the mouth.

As does the way they conflated the social decline of the new high-rise estates with the arrival of large numbers of black people. I’m sure they would say that they didn’t mean to do that, but they did, by the stringing together the fact that the new high-rise estates were unpopular with local people and soon became hard to let with Nicholas Taylor talking about the council going to the bottom of the housing list to find tenants (if only there were any council in the south of England that had that luxury now!) and then showing Black and Asian people all of a sudden when everyone up to then had been white. Every picture tells a story and their pictures told a story that I hope they did not really mean.

Also the film seemed to mix up two levels of argument in a rather confusing way.

On the one hand there was the exposure of a genuine wrong done to a specific small group of people, the owners of the houses in a few condemned streets off Deptford High Street (and, as they didn’t entirely make clear it is the owners they were talking about, not the tenants – who if they hadn’t been moved out by the council in the 1960s and early 70s would have probably been priced out by gentrification in the late 70s or 80s). If the allegations they made about the council and council officers are true (and I suspect they are) then it was a disgrace. If it had happened five years ago instead of fifty there would be an inquiry, probably compensation paid, maybe even criminal charges. Perhaps there should be now. Though it would be a heck of a lot of compensation. Tens of millions.

On the other hand there was some much vaguer stuff, at a larger scale, repeating the now familiar litany mourning the “white working class”. There are shades of the Rod Liddle about this or even (god forbid) Garry Bushell. Or maybe more respectably Michael Collins (no, not that one – the one who writes about South London) Billy Bragg or Gary Robson (or Gary Younge even though he’s black – why do so many Garys write about this stuff?) Or the blokes in our local pub who will tell you more than you ever wanted to know about East Street Market or the Surrey Canal or various dodgy night clubs back in the day. (More than you want to know, not more than I want to know, I’m a sucker for this stuff) Amazing they never mentioned Millwall. And its a story that is worth telling, even though its been told again and again and again over the last fifteen years or so. And even though a very similar story is the basis of half the racist lies the BNP and UKIP and the others are peddling. Starting with the very dubious mixing of categories of class and race.

But its a different story from the one about why this house was demolished and that one wasn’t. And they didn’t make any connection between the two. Just laid them side by side and strongly implied some things that I suspect that they would deny meaning if you asked them directly. Yes you can link them, yes you ought to illustrate general points by showing specific facts, and yes you need to have a mental framework to understand isolated incidents, but you need to make the connection and I don’t think they did.

I didn’t get the feeling that they really understand how big cities work, about the balance, or tension, between change and continuity. They tried to suggest that there has been some kind of long-term stable community of settled families in 19th and early 20th-century Deptford. But there wasn’t really. Or anywhere else in inner London. Of course there were families who had been around for generations – loads of them. But they were hugely outnumbered by incomers. Every generation millions of new arrivals came to London and its suburbs, every generation millions left. In the mid-19th century there was almost no district in London where the average person had as many as half their grandparents born in London (I think Bethnal Green might have been and exception). In the late 19th century vast numbers of working-class Londoners moved out to the inner suburbs, including Deptford, and even larger numbers of non-Londoners moved in to the same suburbs because they were neither rich enough nor poor enough to live in the city centre. The fastest turnover was probably the 1880s and 1890s, just the time that the grandparents and great grandparents of the families we saw on the TV were living in the houses that were demolished. Things slowed down after the First World War, because London stopped growing, and from the 1920s to the 1980s huge numbers moved out entirely, to the outer suburbs or beyond. But all the time others were moving in, and in the last thirty years that movement in has outgrown the exodus again. Most of the population of most districts of London is replaced every generation or so, and that has been true since at least the late 18th century. That’s how great cities work, its part of their life rather than their death.

And yes the Prices seem to have been shafted. And yes, at least some of their neighbours and tenants and friends who moved out to the outer suburbs didn’t want to go and would rather have stayed in Deptford. (Though I suspect that given the choice between private renting in Deptford and a council house in Downham in the 1950s. 60s, or 70s most people then would have gone to Downham – and some woudl even now). Yes the new estates in Deptford mostly went bad very quickly (though not all of them) and on the whole they were a disaster. We already know all that. Yes the grandiose plans for rebuilding London from the 40s to the 80s were mostly shite. Yes the more recent private estates that turn their backs on the city are a different kind of disaster. (and need fixing) Yes the whole rhetoric of “regeneration” is loaded against city-dwellers, implying that they and their neighbourhoods are degenerate and that cities need to be saved from their own residents by wealthy outsiders. Ands yes Deptford is still a wonderful place (even at the Cold Blow Lane end) despite all the crap that’s been handed out to it Those are all stories worth telling.

But this documentary, wonderful as it is, still leaves a bad taste in my mouth, from the way it shows women, the way it shows black people, the way it shows working-class people, the wasy it shows some individual peopel who are my neighbours, and the way it shows Deptford.

And this rant has gone on far too long.

Bits of London in the rain

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

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

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

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

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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 (3)

“Footpath Diversion. Footpath Closed: The footpath between Silwood Street and Surrey Canal Road is closed while we improve your railway”

Things have changed a lot in only two weeks. Now, if you want to walk from Surrey Docks station through to the football ground by the route I described in my previous post, you see this sign:

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

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

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

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

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(That photo and the next two mysteriosly miss out the police van parked right by the turning – either the Met have discovered the Klingon Cloaking Device, of I for some reason omitted to photograph the coppers resting in the van about three metres from where I was standing)

So turn left and you see this – one of Deptford’s few one-track-roads-with-passing-places. There are three or four round here, including the famous Cold Blow Lane. If the car drivers are in a good mood they honk their horns before turning the tight corners.

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

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

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

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But this is Bolina Road, so instead of putting us out right between the power station and the ground it wanders beneath the arse end of South Bermondsey Station then wraps itself around the back of the stadium to come out near the main entrance – something like fifteen minutes walk instead of five.

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

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

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And then another bend and one last bridge:

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The police here don’t seem to have turned on their Klingon Cloaking Devices. Well, not all of them, I counted somewhere between forty and fifty vehicles, many of them vans or minibuses with real sleeping policemen in them. At least two hundred police, possibly quite a lot more. Also dogs and horses. I stronly suspect that the Met – or maybe even other police forces – rotates units through Millwall duty to give them practice at crowd control. Sorry, student protestors, its all our fault that the cops are so good at kettling these days. They learned on us.

We’re almost there now, here’s one of the police horse boxes near the main entrance to the ground:

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

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And just to prove it, here are some of London’s Finest – along with some of the Metropolitan Police who had been called onto the pitch by the referee to assist the linesman in his duties:

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You might notice a lot of footballers standing around and rather obviously not playing football.

As things turned out they called in a few more police and a large number of stewards before they felst able to restart the match:

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And believe it or not after that it was actually a good game. Genuinely exciting.

Don’t ask about the score though.

The Road to Millwall (2)

OK, this is how to get to wonderful Millwall in Sunny Deptford. Or was, until last week, when they closed the path under the railway.

We’ll start in Lewisham, waiting in the rain for a 21 bus to come:

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

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

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Get off at Surrey Docks Station:

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

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And go into this estate here:

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And between the new flats and the railway (trust me, this is a lot more salubrious now than it was ten or fifteen years ago)

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And that brings you to the first of the railqway arches you have to pass through – this is the bit of the walk that has just been closed so this is the last time we’ll get to see the strategically-placed blocks of concrete or the lovely broken barbed wire of the “Danger Keep Off Japanese Knotweed” signs.
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Past the big fans on the power station that look like the business end of a Saturn Five and howl in the dark:

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Through here:

And here:

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

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Down this path:

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And there you are, right by the Cold Blow Lane turnstiles. If you look carefully you can see the half time smoking area in the car park. That must be just about the apex of British sporting society. What have Henley or Wimbledon or Royal Ascot or Cheltenham or Goodwood got to match the sight of the smoking pen at the Den, out in the rain between the power station and the DHL warehouses?

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And just to show it is really there, here is the game from two weeks ago. We won – Lisbie scored in the 90th minute. Jolly good show, eh chaps!

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The Road to Millwall (1)

The nice people from Network Rail and London Transport have closed off some of the paths under the many railway lines that separate the Den from the rest of the world. Apparently because they want to knock down some bridges and build new railways.

So, in the spirit of documenting the rapidly changing face of South East London (sounds like bollocks when you put it like that, doesn’t it?), I thought I’d post some pictures showing how to get to Millwall football ground. More later. But first we’ll kick off with this nice shot of the main entrance from Zampa Road:

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Those ten thousand people you can’t quite see because the stadium lights are too bright for the cheap camera are making a very large amount of noise.

Not exactly the prettiest sports venue in the country, is it?

Though, unless you are a serious fan of post-industrial urban desolation and brutalist architecture (which I suppose I am), this is almost certainly the least grotty direction to approach the stadium from. And possibly the least intimidating for visiting fans, apart from the penned-off approach from South Bermondsey Station (of which more in a few weeks probably)

Who needs East Enders?

Overheard in the garden of a pub

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

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

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

Who needs East Enders?

Millwall and Charlton, part one.

Its unlike me to talk about football here – well, its unlike me to talk about any sport at all anywhere at all really. But this is a blog about places in general and south-east London in particular, and the two professional football teams with pretensions to be the local team for south-east London are in the running for promotion from League One to what I still think of as the Third Division to the Second – that is from League One to the Championship.

And that is a matter of some local importance. And I think Millwall will probably make it, and Charlton probably won’t.

Why such a low opinion of Charlton? Well, I was at the Millwall-Charlton match on the 13th March. I saw all ninety minutes. Charlton turned up as well, but the left about half an hour before full-time.

It was as they say a game of two halves. Or rather a two-thirds and a one-third. The first half was really boring. Both teams were playing for safety. Millwall got a goal just before half time, but it was lucky, and (for the home crowd) not enough. Charlton had the better of a rather dull play. Millwall supporters were slagging off their own team.

At half time I went out for a fag and spent the first ten minutes of the second half downstairs chatting to a bloke who works at our place and drinking overpriced lager while watching the rather boring game on the internal TV. Then I had a piss (the bogs are full of smokers) and went back into the stand – which took about ten minutes as the rather odd local interpretation of “all seater stadium” and “all ticket match” meant that there were some hundreds more spectators than seats and we were jostling for good spots on the stairs (I never got to sit down at all – I was standing on the steps just behind the Charlton goal – I and a couple of others got knocked over by rejoicing fans at one point).

Millwall substituted Neil Harris on, as they usually do in the second half. And the local crowd got behind their team, as they usually do when Harris comes on. And, right in front of my eyes, Charlton fell apart. They fell out of their collective pram. Maybe it was the psychological effect of playing in front of the loudest crowd in the league. They walked backwards off the end of the pier. They collapsed. Harris set up Hackett who tried for a goal and it bounced in off a Charlton player. They were stunned and didn’t know what to do. Within two minutes Morison (who the Millwall fans had been screaming stuff I wouldn’t want to repeat at in the first half) scored another goal (from the angle I was looking at it I thought the goalie saved it but it went over). From then on it was all downhill for Charlton. Some of their players were visibly shaking. It was almost sad. As if they were saying “how can they do this to us????”. A once good football team – only half an hour earlier a good football team – blundered around like amateurs. It was like seeing an old geriatric person going senile. A sad shell of their former self. Morison scored again less than five minutes later and from then on Charlton made no plays at all, no serious attempt to score, and the best they could muster was few egregious fouls that the ref let them get away with. They had lost the plot.

Seriously, it could easily have been five or six nil. By the end Millwall fans were singing “Let them score, let them score, let them score” out of pity – and “There’s only One Christian Daaaaailly” out of some other emotion. But Charlton never really had a hope.

Honestly, that isn’t an exaggeration. I have no idea what happened to them but they basically stopped trying to win. Christian Dailly – who has the own goal to his name though it probably wasn’t really his fault – looked as if he was crying and spent the last few minutes of the game (after his own foul Jonathan Obika led to a Millwall free kick that could have made it five-nil) apparently injured but not getting substituted, he sat out some of it over the side line. What I didn’t know at the some, being a clueless newbie at these things, is that Dailly was the West Ham player who scored an own goal for Millwall at the Mother’s Day Massacre exactly six years ago. So his career total of Millwall goals is larger than many of the players who actually play for Millwall. No wonder he was upset, it must be like a curse. A couple of other Charlton players seemed almost as shellshocked. They were a trainwreck.

Don’t just take my word for it – the official Charlton website says “in the closing stages Charlton capitulated tamely” and “The Valley boss said his side were simply not good enough in the second half after they surrendered meekly in the closing quarter of the game.” and “”Defensively our composure and possession in the second half went out of the window.”

Both the BBC and the Sky Sports websites report the Charlton shots on target as zero. Maybe if you put your hand into the lion’s den around Mother’s Day you should expect to get bitten.

Some-one made a nice video and put it on YouTube:

Nuts, it won’t post on the blog.   Well, until I can make it work you will just have to take my word that that is  that’s just what it sounds like 🙂

Not quite the Wire

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

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

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

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

The Dark Streets of London

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Trainers in trees

After reading about the presumably American fashion for throwing trainers into trees (on the Ship of Fools here – though being a presumably American fashion it is there called “Sneakers on wires”) I’ve actually seen some. Not very far from me in fact, by an estate just off Rotherhithe New Road, near Southwark Park, between Surrey Docks and the Millwall ground.

Right by the street so easily visible from the bus. Must have passed the place dozens of times this year but mostly in the dark, which is my excuse for not noticing.

Didn’t have my camera on me though. Maybe next time.

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.

Late free lunch in Deptford

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And tomorrow: to Bromsgrove – and beyond!

Lewisham Bridge roof protest

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

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

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

And this is where we are now:

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

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

Tamils gone

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

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

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

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

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

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

Assuming the shops open again tomorrow .