Tag Archives: southeastlondon

The micro-ethno-geography of football.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And who on earth supports Brentford anyway?.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Millwall are going to Wembley!

Bed leg city

Overheard in a pub:

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

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

“QPR? QPR are all about Stan Bowles”

“Tell me about it!”

“I just bloody did!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walking between churches

We have three churches in our “team ministry”. After last Sunday’s service I started at the Ascenscion and walked to Holy Trinity, then to St Johns, stopping every 50 paces (I counted) and taking a photograph.

Walk_between_churches_0_ascension Walk_between_churches_1 Walk_between_churches_2 Walk_between_churches_3 Walk_between_churches_4 Walk_between_churches_5 Walk_between_churches_6
Walk_between_churches_7 Walk_between_churches_8 Walk_between_churches_9 Walk_between_churches_10 Walk_between_churches_11 Walk_between_churches_12 Walk_between_churches_13_holy_trinity
Walk_between_churches_14 Walk_between_churches_15 Walk_between_churches_16 Walk_between_churches_17 Walk_between_churches_18 Walk_between_churches_19 Walk_between_churches_20
Walk_between_churches_21 Walk_between_churches_22 Walk_between_churches_23 Walk_between_churches_24 Walk_between_churches_25 Walk_between_churches_26 Walk_between_churches_27_stjohns

So its a sort of transect of our “parish”. It shows the diversity of ways of life round here quite well I think.

If you click on them you get to flickr and there are loads more photos of the area – I have tagged the pictures taken in the parish with “geographicalparish”. We’ve got tower blocks and an 18th-century mansion and streets of houses that sell for a million quid a floor and genuine slums and more than one railway station and herons and kingfishers and tidal water and filled-in quarries and shops and nightclubs and restaurants – all in about half a square mile of London inner suburbia.

Uberhauses (pardon my lack of umlaut)

Three or four of my microprojects coalesce in one photo!

Click on this photo to see a bigger version and read the words on the sign:


Not only a grotesque or silly signboard (the list is rapidly growing), not only an insight into the rebuilding of the bits of London tourist guides don’t go to, but also an absurd new word. Result!

What on earth is an “Uberhaus”? And why? Well, I know what it is, its a largish flat with an upstairs garden, (which might be on the roof, or on a big balcony, or on the roof of a next-door building such as a car-park). But why? But why do the estate agents think that peopel willing to part with half a million or more squids in order to live on a reclaimed gasworks with a view of the A13 flyover will be attracted by fake German?

At least I got in first. Google has 8 hits for the word – six of them are estate agents, one is an article in the Daily Telegraph and first on the list is my photo linked above, which was only posted on Flicker last night.

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.

Wandering around East Greenwich and Beyond

Been walking round East Greenwich as a side effect of attending church there for a few weeks as part of the Reader’s course. Taking lots of photos. This week they are mainly of the peninsula and up and down the Thames.

There are, I suspect, few Anglican churches in Inner London that have a grain elevator in the parish.

Can’t really think of anything relevant to say. Well, I did, but it had the word “palimpsest” in it as a metaphor, so its probably a bit pretentious! As before the pictures link back to bigger ones on Flickr. Not as pretty is the ones with smoke in from Tuesday though.

Pink Sofa Marsh-wiggles in Greenwich

Greenwich Peninsula Odeon Greenwich_Peninsula_4510
Greenwich_Peninsula_4512 East Greenwich abandoned machinery by warehouse
Greenwich_Peninsula_4535 Greenwich_Peninsula_4505
Greenwich_Peninsula_4515 Dome and ruins

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A Slice of Life, Greenwich Peninsula Grain silo, Greenwich

East Greenwich Fire Station across wasteland Paper pulping machine in Greenwich
Greenwich_Peninsula_4553 Ecological Park, Greenwich Peninsula

Amylum Works, Greenwich

Sunset on the Greenwich Peninsula Sunset on the Greenwich Peninsula
Greenwich Peninsula 4573 Greenwich Peninsula
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Amylum Works, Greenwich Greenwich_Peninsula_4615

At last a use for Stave Hill.

At last a use for Stave Hill.

Stave Hill in Rotherhithe, on the site of a filled-in Surrey Dock, is an artificial mound at the end of a ceremonial way planted with various runically significant trees, which was built, along with other oddities like Hilly Fields Stone Circle, in the megalithic frenzy of the years 1999 and 2000 which rounded off England’s twenty-year love-affair with crop circles. Who knows – maybe if we could ask the folk who built Silbury or Stonehenge or the Long Man or the Nazca lines or Carnac why they did it maybe they would say “well, we were having a few pints in the pub and it seemed like a good idea at the time”.

But there is, I have now found out, a use for it. If there is something really bad going on in the East End you get a great view.

Stave Hill Stave Hill

This was a clear cloudless blue sky – all the darkness in the sky was from a fire at Stratford, some miles away in north-east London, off to the left from the point of view of this picture.

I was on a bus on my way to work after a morning doing other things when I saw this:

From Canada Water CIMG4638

So, just in case, I wandered round trying to find out what was going on and work out where the fire was. I wouldn’t want to get onto a train and find myself stuck in a tunnel as lines closed down or people were being evacuated past me. As it turned out the fire was miles east of where I work and there was no problem, but I was being very cautions until I either heard some news or got a good enough view to see where it was.

So I walked over to Stave Hill about a quarter of a mile away and got a view over the whole of south and east London. I reckon the cloud was at least five miles long and a mile high. An astonishing sight.

Canary Wharf from Rotherhithe Looking East from Stave Hill
CIMG4642 CIMG4632

Bonfire 2007 (1) Blackheath, 3rd November

The Blackheath fireworks are always a bit weird.(And it is only fireworks. There has been no real Bonfire there since some time in the 1980s – I think I was at the last one – a sad loss. Well, there is a funfair, ice cream stalls, disco music and the longest row of portaloos I remember ever seeing, but that doesn’t make up for no Bonfire) It starts when we walk up to the Heath. For miles around people leave their homes and all start walking in the same direction.

Someone must organise the evening – someone from the Borough Councils I suppose, they seem to be the ones through whom we pay for it – but no-one ever seems to announce it, or publicise it. Everyone who lives in Lewisham or Greenwich or Deptford just knows that on the nearest Saturday to Bonfire night (and some other big public occasions) you walk up to the Heath. So we all do. About four or five people in my street were leaving at the same time I was. A couple outside their front door pulling on wellies. A parent packing a child into a pushchair. With no interaction or co-ordination we all start walking in the same direction.

A few metres away we get to the main road. its not crowded with pedestrians (though the motor traffic is totally jammed as always on this night) there are only a few more than normal, but they are all going in the same direction. Slightly disconcerting in a way, Just a little bit odd.

As we walk down towards the station and round the corner into Lewisham Way more people join us from side-roads and shops and pubs. Most of them look happy, many of them have drinks in their hands. The pavements are now crowded. We are all doing the same thing but separately – we are in little parties of two or three or four, or walking on our own, but walking in parallel, all bound the same way. Its like those sentimental photographs of crowds walking to football matches through carless streets in the early 1900s, fans of opposing sides walking together. Or some sort of 1950s or early 1960s horror movie when everyone leaves their homes to eerie theremin or glass harmonica music and sets off to the meeting place or the alien landing site, with no idea why they are going. Keep watching the skies!

These streets aren’t car-free. They are blocked with cars and buses unable to move, jammed for miles. The police try to keep Shooter’s Hill and the A2 open – though they are reduced to a crawl – but every other road in the neighbourhood is blocked by thousands of happy walkers. People who don’t know what is going on look stunned. Has there been an accident? Is there some problem? Pity the poor bus-passenger.

The rest of us are having fun of course. It is fun, in a relaxing sort of social-solidarity way, all walking in the same direction together. It feels good. I take the back way up Granville Park rather than straight up Lewisham Hill which looks too full of people to be easy to walk along. For ten or fifteen minutes I wind up through the narrow tree-lined dark streets on the western slopes of the Heath, past Victorian and Edwardian “villas” and “mansions” and “cottages” whose asking price increases by a thousand pounds for every step you take (genuinely – if I had gone up the quick way it would have been more like a thousand pounds a foot – the Orchard and Lethbridge Estates and Sparta Street council flats at the bottom of the hill are among London’s lower-rent areas, houses on Dartmouth Row only a few hundred metres higher up the hill can fetch well over two million each more than similar houses in Lewisham)

By the time we got to Blackheath we were eighty thousand strong.

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Blackheath always turns out to be bigger than it looks. Urban eyes overlooking it from the edge read it as a flattish open park or recreation ground, crossed by a few roads, and surrounded by large houses and hotels. You expect it to be a larger version of something like Parker’s Piece in Cambridge, or Hackney Downs, or Primrose Hill, or the Level in Brighton. Instead you find a confusing maze of larger and smaller bits and pieces of surprisingly wild open land and lawns and sports grounds mixed up with houses and churches and pubs and shops. As if someone had taken Hampstead and Hampstead Heath and mixed them up together, shaken not stirred, and laid them out at random. And it is only one part of a connected web of open spaces sprawling over suburban south-east London. Its north side overlooks the centre of Greenwich at The Point and is adjacent to the utterly different Greenwich Park, – London;s most beautiful large park, surrounded by its flint walls and landscaped centuries ago, to create a like Bushey park with a posher palace. To the south and east it merges into sports grounds and recreation grounds towards Kidbrook, which can then lead you south to Mottingham and almost to Bromley, or east via Charlton and the old woods on Shooter’s Hill and Plumstead back almost to the Thames at Erith (as in my previous posts here). You wouldn’t think there was a peat bog in inner London would you? I was lucky I was wearing my boots.

The fireworks, as always, were magnificent,

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pumpkinhead_4354 pumpkinhead4356

And so back to Lewisham and a party at the pub and more fireworks and foolishly staying out too late and almost not making it on time to church in Greenwich the next morning, which would have been embarrassing under the circumstances. I wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t been picked up by a passing evangelist from my home town in a car who stopped and asked me if I wanted a lift. Genuinely true. I walked into church beaming and grateful. Praise the Lord.

N (he knows who he is) would protest that he is not an evangelist, and if he ever was it was years ago. But he was good news to me on Sunday.

Erith, land of sheds

The centre of Erith is marked by a giant brightly-coloured ceramic sculpture of three-in-a-bed oral fish sex right by the great big roundabout in front of the Town Hall. The photos is work-friendly, unless your boss is a moralising, monagamist herring.


Why Erith? I’m still trying to redirect Stuff and Thingy towards south-east London (if only because of the looming East
Greenwich) so I dreamed up the idea of trying out the bus routes but an 89 came before the 108 so I got on it instead to see where it went and it went to almost to Slade Green. Almost because the passengers – myself, one small drunk old lady, and about two dozen 14 or 15 year-old white boys from Bexleyheath with short hair and crutches whose idea of fun was talking very loudly about how well they had handled themselves at some mythical fight outside a nightclub, saying not-at-all work-friendly things about young women and the size of their genitals, planning to defraud the railway company, and running up and down the stairs screaming – all got kicked off outside a pub about two stops short of Slade Green station at a council estate with and a view of the Dartford Bridge, and some real ships. Big ones.


So I walked back towards London and found myself walking up a long gently curving dual carriageway with giant sheds on either side. Not garden sheds but the sort of huge aluminium clad box that could contain a shop or a factory or a warehouse, and mostly did, this being the nearest London has to a genuine industrial area.

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That, as far as Lesnes Abbey (which there is more of left than I thought – you can clearly see the ground-plan where the church used to be) and I got bored of dual carriageways and sheds and so into the woods. Lesnes Abbey Wood to start with (hence “Abbey Wood” station) and over to Plumstead to meet up with the place the walk of a fortnight ago ended.

Lesnes abbey looking north-east Mulberry by Lesnes Abbey
lesnesabbeywood_4317 lesnesabbeywood_cacorns

Once upon a time British botanists indulged themselves in a futile Quest for a Genuine Wild Wood (our version of the almost as futile Quest for the Historical Jesus) with various naturalists putting forward the argument for this that or the other stand of trees never having been felled for agriculture or for some reason resembling a real natural woodland. Whatever that is, as in these islands humans are older than the woods, we’ve been here longer. We have lots of so-called “ancient woods” that have been around since before about 1600, but there are probably no woods that were never managed by humans, at least for a few centuries (and some of them for many centuries continually).

And it is not clear whether or not a “natural” Natural British Woodland would be one that resembles the woods that existed before the introduction of agriculture, or one that resembles the woods that might have existed had agriculture never been introduced,or one that had never been subjected to agriculture, or one that contains only native British species (that is plants that got here between the ice going away and the North Sea coming back), or one that resembles the woodlands that might have been here at this stage in previous ice ages, or one that was simply left alone to look after itself for a few centuries – and all of those are different.

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Whatever, there are a dozen or so bits of woodland in England that someone or other claims to be the last, or the only, or the best, or the biggest piece of wildwood in the country. And apart from a two or three really weird stunted oakwoods in the north or west (and ignoring the claims of the some of the obviously artificial old deer parks such as Hatfield or Hainault or Petworth or Epping or the New Forest which preserve an artificially high density of large grazing animals which makes them in some ways more “natural” than any other woods since our ancestors killed off the mammoths and bison and wild cattle) just about all tof them are in historical Kent and Sussex, and some of the best ones now in the more industrialised suburbs of South East London, including Abbey Wood and Oxleas wood only a short busride away, which preserve more of the look and feel of the ancient countryside of England than just about anywhere else in the country, in bits of dogwalking rough land on the hills between some of London’s grottier council estates. Someone noticed a few years ago and invented the Green Chain Walk which (if unlike me, you don’t like walking through the council estates and industrial areas and concretey bits) will take your from Crystal Palace to the Thames at Erith through as many (more?) diverse little woodlands as any other walk in England.

But the most notable wood today wasn’t one of the ancient ones at all. I’ve never been to Bostall Wood before. Its lovely. Or at least the part of it I wandered through is. A very strange wood, hard to read. The trees on the flat past of the wood that I walked through are are mostly beech and birch. No ash or oak, not even a sycamore, but there is the occasional pine. Very little undergrowth, easy to walk through (which might be because so many people and dogs walk through it) and apparently very few characteristic woodland herbaceaous plants (though maybe thats because this is October, I should go back in April or May) The nearest to an understory is holly, with some brambles around, there seems to be or very little if any hazel or elder or small oak (though the steep edges of the wood are full of oak). Just over the road in Lesnes Abbey Woods I’d seen oak and ash and elder and hornbeam and holly and some cherries or other Prunus and Viburnum andClematis and ivy and dozens of other plants.

bostall_4327 Path from Abbey Wood to Bostall Wood bostall_4328

Here its quite different. Nearly all the tree trunks are quite thin – is that because they are close together or just because they are still quite young? Its obviously quite a new wood.

Most of the trees are perhaps not much older than I am. But is it self-seeded or planted? And who plants dense beech woods, or birch at all? And if self-seeded why no ash or sycamore? They get anywhere. Or oak? There is abundant oak, piles of acorns, just hundreds or even tens of metres away. And where did those pines come from? Did this use to be a golf course or some kind of public park?

Whatever the reason for it (whcih I might be able to disover by looking at my bookshelf but I haven’t yet because its more fun speculating) It’s beautiful. The ground is covered with golden-bronze beech-leaves and crunchy beech-mast. There are park benches to sit on, from the Green Chain Walk people. The sunset filters through the trees wonderfully. It smells nice.

Bostall Woods Bostall Heath Lodge

Boom boom boom again

Another fire in a small industrial building by the railway here, the third in less than three weeks. London Bridge station closed again The Dartford and Hayes trains are all being diverted to Victoria. So they will run through Nunhead, on the line for whch this blog is named.

All this and someone set fire to the Cutty Sark. South East London’s burning down, burning down.

The Cutty Sark is (or was) only about a mile from here. I passed it every day when I worked on the Island. It can be seen from the side door of our church. I haven’t got a picture of that view online at the moment, but I do have a few from Greenwich Park with the Cutty Sark just visible. Here is one I prepared earlier:

Greenwich Park, 2005

Click on it to see the bigger picture and links to others. You Know it Makes Sense.

Overheard on the more-than-usually-crowded bus:

“Stuart’s her-indoors is a psycho-killer bitch!

Well, she’s a bit crazy anyway.

She’s like, odd.

If he wants to watch football, Stuart has to buy her a pair of shoes. She, like, doesn’t let him get away with anything. He has to give her an item of clothing to go to the pub. And its not, like, a two-pound pair of flip-flops. Its like hundreds of pounds. Imagine what that sets you back if you add it to the cost of going out.

She’s like, very strict with him.”

Uttered, as nearly as fallible memory makes out, by one of three apparently very drunk twenty-something-in-the-city young men.

Spring Sprang Sprung

Only two days after the previous post and spring is in Deptford already. Walking towards church this morning I noticed little clumps of flowers growing out the base of some council estate walls. Afterwards I saw at least a dozen species of flowers blooming on the old railway embankment at Brookmill Park – though I’m not going to risk naming them till I get home and look at my books! Well, not the various yellow groundsels and suchlike daisy relatives anyway… I think I can safely say that we have white dead nettle back 🙂

a flower? a flower? a flower? flowers
a flower? a flower? ladybird a flower?

And the flower buds of the magnolia outside the college door have now opened!

Magnolia bud, 26th March

(I hope those pictures work – I’m still trying to see what I can get away with here…)

Blessed are the Cheesemakers

Spring is late this year. The plants obviously believes all those TV news scares about us having a cold winter, We didn’t – well not here in London anyway – but things are growing later than before.

None of the main kinds of street tree round here in leaf yet, not anywhere near, not even breaking bud. There’s a frosting of bright green on the hawthorns along the railway line around New Cross, and Buddleia is just about in leaf, but then it was never really out of leaf in the winter.

Weedy stuff is a bit behind as well. There are a few ragworts along the track that look as if they have flower buds on them, but no flowers yet. The annual mercury is in flower (“How can you tell?” they ask) but then it flowers in just about every month (is that why they call it “annual?”) Its taking over my grotty garden, as it does every winter when there is little competition from more robust plants, except for the ivy which is creeping along from the other side.

It was a lovely morning though. Cool and over-cast just as I like it. A cormorant flew over the 188 bus as we crossed Waterloo Bridge, and there were flocks of herring gulls calling overhead when I arrived at work.

Magnolia bud, 24th March

The magnolia outside the front door of the college hasn’t broken flower bud yet. It usually blooms before it leafs. Last year the buds broke on the 13th of March so its already over ten days behind. The rather lovely magnolias outside St Mary’s in the Strand were blooming on the 19th last year – no sign yet from the bus (I didn’t look that closely)

On the train up to Waterloo there were a couple of women talking (I almost said “old women” but the chances are they aren’t actually that much older than I am nowadays. Self-image seems to take a few decades to catch up with reality). One seemed to be talking about a divorce or similar, she kept on saying how it was useful to meet on “neutral territory” – that’s the word that caught my attention and turned my eavesdropping on. She said it loudly and significantly. Its good because you can meet and talk in public, with no shouting (tell me about it). She was telling the story of her last meeting: “He came round to the house but he didn’t come in. I met him at the door and we went to the pub. He did come back to the house for a coffee as far as he was concerned”

“…as far as he was concerned”? What does that mean?

And then she was worried about food. Someone else came round to her house for the first time – someone who apparently was going to be visiting a lot in the future. I couldn’t catch who. A new boyfriend? A son-in-law? A work colleague?. She was worried about what to feed him. Another friend is – horror! – a vegetarian and she had reason for thinking this new person might be too. Apparently this makes it almost impossible to know what food to give someone. It seems to be a real problem, a cause of panic, sufficient reason not to invite someone to the house. She talked for a while about planning menus, all sorts of reliable advice about re-using some things and freezing others and chicken and lamb and stew and curry. And then said that she had asked X out for a meal and he had ordered steak and eaten a huge portion “so I’ve got no problem there”. My mood changed from fellow-feeling to perplexity. What was she on about? How could someone else not eating dead animals cause her such self-doubt?

But while I was feeling superior I began to have my own self-doubt. What if I read the whole conversation wrongly? What if this mysterious meat-eater was in fact the same person who had to be met with on neutral territory, and I had misread her anxiety about not being able to feed him with large amounts of meat as the emotional baggage of a messy break-up? What complexities life on the Bexley-Sidcup Borders must have. People are hard to read, or else I’m bad at reading them.

A little later, on the bus, there was a dark-skinned young woman with a headscarf and a long dress and long coat down to her ankles. She was reading from a book and writing notes in another. “Ha” I thought. “Obviously a Muslim” Perhaps she is reading some devotional book about the Koran, or how to wear long dresses. Obviously she is in thrall to oppressive society that keeps her wrapped up in such clothes. When she got up to go I saw it was A Foucault Primer: Discourse, Power, and the Subject

Which reminded me of an old woman, a genuinely old woman this time, perhaps in her 80s, a sweet granny type, who was reading on a bus I got on at Lee Green after having a pint in the The Prince Arthur where the local police used to hang out after hours. I was trying to guess what she was reading. Some romance? Maybe The People’s Friend? No, it was what is to be done by V.I. Lenin.

Blessed are the Cheesemakers.