Tag Archives: upnorth

Nutter’s Platt

Friday’s intention was to walk south out of Lower Penwortham (the other side of the river Ribble from Preston) to Longton or Lostock Hall or maybe Leyland (where the cars came from). Perhaps even to Chorley (though that might have wanted a bus back). But I woke up too late. And then I fell asleep again. And it was the afternoon and late and dinner was going to be cooked and there wasn’t much walking time.

But I’d been indoors (except for a brief visit to the pub on Thursday) so a walk was needed so I went down the mysterious path beside the Methodist church to see where it went.

methodist_church_7055 old_penwortham_bridge_7054 path_behind_methodist_church_7023

And it is a little mysterious because its dead straight and connects with other paths (as paths usually do because they are so often older than the buildings around them) and many of those paths in that district are old tramways or torn-up rails but the north end of this path crosses the road and hits the river in a dead straight line just about ten metres from the old bridge at Preston Riverside – right by the Bridge Inn – and at an angle that looks far too sharp for any tram to turn. And that bridge doesn’t look at all like a tram bridge, its older and cobbled. So what was the path before?

[Commenting on my own post I was an idiot when I wrote that. There is a ruined tram bridge right beside the old bridge. I have known it was there for nearly twenty years:]

old_penwortham_bridge_7053 old_tram_bridge_7036

[On the other hand the old bridge at Penwortham is pretty wonderful. And once upon a time it would have been the main north-south road west of the Pennines. No wonder 18th-century armies had trouble moving around]

near_factory_lane_7043 path_behind_methodist_church_7026

Anyway, up the path through or past playing fields and onto a bridge over the new dual carriageway (Penwortham Bypass?) and through some suburban estates mainly (as far as I can tell) occupied by overmadeup teenage girls who shout at boys on bicycles “Stewart! I saw you at school this afternoon!”

Penwortham is what I think of as a classic suburb. Which is a term I made up myself when walking round London and I am sure there are all sorts of geographers and town planners and people who have different names for it. Its basically residential, but quite high density. There are little clusters of small shops and public buildings here and there at road junctions. Perhaps they are the remnants of pre-existing villages, or little 1960s shopping centres or maybe they just mark some shop opened by an enterprising woman in the days before planning permission. There’s one where Cop Lane meets Pope Lane in Penwortham, with the Black Bull pub (which an old man told me was the oldest in the Preston area, which seems unlikely), a launderette, a fake tan shop (do people really pay to be dyed orange?), an Italian takeaway called “Puccini’s” (with pictures of the great man himself on the walls) and some sort of school.

Penwortham_3045 Penwortham (Black Bull)

These places are different from high-density inner suburbs which have a natural network of streets with ribbon-developments or corner shops or small businesses that bind them together (except where post-1945 ideas of planning have allowed the local council to destroy the network with big blocks) Though the road leading through Lower Penwortham from the old bridge towards Pope Lane (Leyland Road or Penwortham Lane) has enough buildings that look as if they used to be shops to give me the feeling that it was once one of those stretched-out natural shopping ribbons – as the housing there is late 19th or more likely very early 20th century (you can tell by residential street names – Gaskell, Buller, Stanley – later twentieth century town councillors short of a name for rapidly might have named a street in some Poet’s Corner for Elizabeth Gaskell and maybe even Henry Morton Stanley (though unlike her he didn’t deserve it) but hardly Redvers Buller) it looks more like an extension of the higher density more urban or inner-suburban building over he river from Preston than it does any autonomous growth of Penwortham.

They are also different from outer suburbs which are too low-density for walking to the shops so have commercial centres you have to drive to. Though that is the visual image most people have when they thin of “suburb”. These “classic suburbs” are the creation of the bus, the tram, and local councils. And with buses rare and trams extinct and councils powerless they are now not what they used to be. Almost anyone will walk a quarter of a mile to a corner shop or a church or a pub or a primary school. Not that many people will walk a mile to get to them if they have a car instead. And once they get in the car they are off out of their locality to wherever.

Why Pope Lane? Is it some survival of Lancashire catholicism? Or just named after some bloke called Pope?

There is a kind of suburban house here that I’ve not seen many of in London (though there are some in Worthing and in the outskirts of Ipswich – why does “outskirts of Ipswich” sound like a Middle English poem?) Low-rise, often just single-story, more or less filling their plot. Small gardens – too much at the front, not enough at the back – one or more likely two garages built into the house (do they call them “car ports?”) approached by a little drive that is the only obvious way in – there seems to be no separate pedestrian access as if no-one is expected to arrive on foot. Big ornate gates that often look as if they are operated electrically and have pillars with classical style bits of garden-centre sculpture on them. Huge hedges or fences often only a metre or two in front of the windows. I imagine they are lovely inside, but from outside they look like houses I would hate.

If you walk to the end of Pope Lane you get to Nutter’s Platt. As far as I can tell the name is more interesting than the place. It seems to be a large lorry-ridden roundabout where some 1960s dual carriageways meet. With fields on one side – real fields with crops in them – and a little suburb called Kingsfold on the other. I don’t think its the Kingsfold the hymn tune was named after.

I turned left walked along the side of the road (The A582 to Leyland) for a little well but it was getting dark (I said I got up late) and the road was noisy and smelly and full of cars driving home so I cut into the first footpath I found and jumped over a stile and over a muddy field. Yhere is a lot of mud round there. On the map many of the fields are called this-that-or-the-other “Moss” and the little burns or streams or ditches are called “gutters”. Which is a clue to the nature of the ground. I was glad I was wearing my boots.

More of those houses on Bee Lane. On the map the houses round here are called this-that-and-the-other “farm”. But they are not farms any more. They are suburban houses and the residents are driving back from work. I pass a few walking from their cars to their doors. “Alright?” they say, in an uncommittal Lancashire way.

I heard a bird calling. Again and again and again. I’d love to be able to recognise birds by their calls. I’m crap at it. I guess that goes along with not being able to sing myself. Often I’ve had to relearn the songs of bird like garden warblers and blackcaps and willow warblers in the summer, because I’ve forgotten them from the year before. Each year its new. This wasn’t a warbler. (Not in February in Lancashire after dark) Maybe it was a short-eared owl. I want it to have been a short-eared owl. But for all I know it could have been some sort of plover.

There was one place that looked like a real farm. A yong woman was walking out of it into some kind of concrete outhouse. A little dog in a coat dashed out and barked at me. The woman yelled at the dog and apologised to me. I said it was alright and walked on. You always walk on when a dog goes for you, even if its a little one. As I walked away I could here another, older woman talking to her. “What was that all about?” She sounded cross.

path_behind_methodist_church_7024 view_from_hill_road_7044

Down into Park Lane in Penwortham and I see a church spire in the near dark. It looks huge. I mean really huge, the biggest thing for miles. None of the Penwortham churches can be that big? The tower is is taller than any building near it, and the spire on top of the tower a lot taller than that. Of course it isn’t one of the Penwortham churches, it is St Walburge’s, a Roman Catholic church in Preston on the sother side of the river well over a mile away. Famously one of the tallest spires in England. It doesn’t look that big when you are near it.

Overheard in the pub that night: “I hate being called a ‘milf’. Even my fifteen-year-old daughter said it. I don’t know where she got it from” A conversation interuppted by the arrival of a young woman who for all I know could have been the fifteen-year-old daughter. I think that might be the first time I have ever heard the word “milf” spoken. I only know it from webpages.

Later on in the same pub, landlord to distressed young barmaid: “get some water in a glass and throw it on it!”. I found out later that there had been a fire in a bin outside where customers smoke. The landlord seemed neither suprised nor worried.

The street my Dad was born in

So to Jarrow in the rain with a metro ticket, my camera, and a mobile phone which I use to phone my Mum, who still has my Dad’s birth certificate somewhere and can tell me what house he was born in eighty years ago, give or take a few weeks.

The first thing you see when you get off the Metro at Jarrow is the flyover of a dual carriageway that splits the town, or what’s left of it, in three. (*)


The second thing you see in Jarrow – though you can’t get to it easily because the road is in the way – is an uncovered shopping mall with intrusive metal security gates and calling itself the Viking Centre. Who on earth thought that up? In a thousand years time will Hamburg have an RAF Centre? Will New York boast an Al Qaida Tower? (**) Some shops boarded up, plenty of charity and discount shops. There’s no getting over it, Jarrow is still a poor town, even compared with Sunderland or Shields, never mind the centre of Newcastle. (***)

Anyway, I bought some batteries for my camera and set off round in circles to try to find these little streets, Monkton Road (or Street), Tyne Street, Albert Street (or Road) ad St Bede’s church, where my grandparents were married and all their children baptised. The church was easy enough. I suppose if it had been open I’d have gone in. Behind it streets named after Victorian statesmen with some rows of small houses with good back yards and alleys.

St Bede's RC, Jarrow

St Bede's RC, Jarrow

Loop back to the station rond the other side of the Viking Centre and over the railway. There’s an Albert Street behind the station.


The houses are a couple of grades above the smaller terraces round the Catholic Church, perhaps my great-grandparents weren’t quite as poor as some of their descendents made out. (****) Not too many photos, partly because the camera memory was filling up, partly because I was mostly walking though inhabited streets with people in them and it always feels a bit odd to take random photos of other people’s houses, partly becuse it was raining so heavily it was hard to take a good picture. Maybe I’ll go back some time when its slightly drier and colours show up better. It would be unfair, as well as a cliche, to take nothing but dull photos in the rain. Maybe I could finish them all in monochrome for the real stereotype.

Albert Road Jarrow

At the end of Albert Road (Which is a street! Not a road!) there is a small and high-density low-rise modern estate, 1970s I’d guess, maybe newer. Quite attractive-looking as these things go. I think I’ve seen vaguely similar looking housing in a few places in South London (in Lewisham and perhaps Merton) and also up somewhere near Archway.



At the end of that, a bridge over the railway, with a few small new blocks of houses called Monkton Terrace just off it. Maybe that is where my Dad was born. Or maybe this road, which leads back towards St Bede’s and is now mostly a houseless roundabout, is Monkton Street (and or Road).

Well, here it is:



Not a lot of that was there in 1927 I guess.

There’s a St Bede’s School as well, that looks old enough to have been used by my older uncle Joe, and my aunt Vera. No phots there because odd men who stand at school gates at chucking-out-time and take photos of children they aren’t related to tend to end up explaining themselves to the police (or to irate parents and neighbours which could be worse) My Dad (Bob) and his younger brother Frank went to school in Brighton (and I think the older ones might have finished school there). The family moved around because my grandfather (who I never met) was in the army, but Dad was born in his grandparents house in Jarrow. When my grandfather died sometime in the 1930s I think, the family relocated in the Brighton area. Almost part of a mass migration, we had aunts and cousins and great-aunts and second-cousins all the way from Portsmouth to Hastings. The women went into domestic service or became nurses, (yes, just like Catherine Cookson) the men got jobs in the military or on the railway or in the post-office.

Which is why I associate a South Tyneside accent with old people. On the train from Pelaw to Jarrow there was a woman behind me who sounded just like some of my old aunts, now dead. I glanced round half expecting to see an old lady and saw a rather attractive blonde woman maybe in her early twenties, scolding a rather snotty-nosed little boy.

And how come the South Tyneside accent is different anyway? (*****) Where did it come from? Its not quite the same as Sunderland, even more like Newcastle, but it is different. I’ve met people who say they can tell Jarrow from Shields or Hebburn. (but then I’ve met people who say they can tell which colliery someone used to work in in County Durham by their voice) I don’t think I could. But I’m pretty sure I can hear the difference between them and Newcastle or Sunderland (which is not quite the same as telling which is which). Its not a very different kind of voice and there is a huge over lap but there is a difference. More sand and gravel in it somehow. Deeper and flatter.

And how is the accent sustained by such a small community? People are leaving all the time (though not so many coming any more). These places are within walking distance of each other (if you like walking round towns all day). Industrial Lancashire is even more diverse for accent and dialect (though I don’t think the Leeds area is (I’m open to correction), and the huge variety of Glasgow and Clydeside accents aren’t so geographically sorted as far as I can tell – I bet there is some real research on it somewhere) but they are based on a pre-existing network of market towns that had been industrialising slowly for a couple of centuries by the time the Depression hit and recording technology existed to preserve the voices.

South Tyneside and the industrial coast of Durham grew very fast in the late 19th century. Jarrow was a village without a railway station in 1850, probably larger than it is now by 1890. My own great grandparents were amongst the first generation of industrial workers there. Workers came from all over. Many, perhaps most, from the surrounding countryside of course, or from rural Yorkshire, or the older mining areas of Durham and Tyneside. Many from the south-west of England or from Wales, bringing skills in metal work and mining. Also skilled workers from Scotland, and small numbers from farther, Germany, Scandinavia, eastern Europe, (there is still a prominent Jewish community near South Shields). But the largest visible minority were from Ireland, both Protestants and Catholics, but more of the latter.

So the accent grew up in a generation. The oldest people I met who spoke it were born before the Great War. Their parents might not have spoken it – their grandparents certainly didn’t. The working-class South Tyneside culture that sent its men to London to crusade for jobs was only two generations deep. The Jarrow marcher’s grandfathers (maybe even some of their fathers) could have been iron miners in Wales, sheep-farmers in Northumberland or tailors in Galway.

Where did the accent come from? Is it the underlying local rural accent straightforwardly adopted by incomers? Did it spread downriver from Gateshead (and if so why is Sunderland so different, five miles away on the next river?) Is it simply a Tyneside accent modified by a large dose of Irish and Welsh? Is that what the Geordie accent itself is, a sort of Northumbrian Scouse? If so, why doesn’t it sound remotely Irish to me (maybe my ear just isn’t good enough)

And why does it seem (and this is purely anecdotal) that dialect is holding out on Wearside but not Tyneside. Just eavesdropping in the streets and on the trains, most voices I heard in Newcastle sounded clearly Northern, clearly North Eastern, but people were speaking standard English with a northern accent. If you wrote down what they said it would be pretty much the same as a southerner would have said. But over in Sunderland people really do say “aye” rather than “yes” and “gan” rather than “go” Or maybe that’s because the Metro floods with office workers at 5pm on a Friday, but the centre of Sunderland doesn’t.

As for Corbridge, where I’m staying, I couldn’t tell you how they speak. Everything from RP to Canadian it seems. This is a posh place. Though the handful of bored teenagers sitting in the bus shelter on Thursday night sounded like they could have come from anywhere between Whitely bay and Carlisle. Which I suppose they probably did. Durham’s just that little bit different again. Its a cliche to say its “softer” and has a “lilt” to it, and I couldn’t describe what I mean by those words, but it is and it does. Sort of sexy to be honest. And changing only slowly as you go up into the hills and over the top of England through to the West Coast and down to bump into Lancashire accents just outside Barrow.

So back to Newcastle on my way to the mythical beer festival, and a pint or two in the Percy Arms for old time’s sake.


Yes, they still have a rock disco there. Not that I went. Or have been for twenty-five years.

(*)Putting little loops of highway around or through town centres is almost always a social disaster and I expect it was here, though I’ve no memory of what it looked like before. All those “Inner ring roads” and “Civic Drives” and “Ring Ways” and so on rip gaps through the network of streets, block lines of sight, segregate people on each side of them and generally tear the fabric of the city apart. Roads unit people in the country and the outer suburbs but in the city and town centres and inner suburbs or high-density suburbs streets unite but roads divide. Even where the shops in the centre are prospering (like Preston or Croydon or that vomit-washed exhaust-wreathed suburban wasteland that used to be a town called Romford) inappropriately wide or fast roads cause social problems. Where its not, like Jarrow still isn’t, they just rub in the relative powerlessness of the locals compared with the more prosperous drive-pasts.

(**)The whole point of the early history of Jarrow, the only memorable point, the reason that it was well-known at all before they started building ships, was that St Paul’s monastery was there, which along with its sister St Peter’s down the coast at Sunderland (OK, OK, Monkwearmouth) are the real mother churches of Christianity in England. (Don’t believe what they tell you about those Kentish types). And the monks were forced out by the Vikings who were (as the story goes) doing their rape and pillage bit and went to Lindisfarne and then Durham. And thus was the Empire forged. OK, OK, we know that the Vikings were no-where near as bloody as painted, impoverished Nordic economic migrants, and they mostly settled down quite quickly and got on rather well with the English. But they did do a little bit of rape and pillage. And they did some of it right here, well, about five hundred yards down the road by Jarrow Slake and the little hill. Does any crime become an opportunity for commercial branding after enough time? I suppose it does. The Ten Bells in the East End called itself Jack the Ripper for a while but it was too much for most people to take. Maybe there will be a Myra Hindley Tea Shoppe at Ilkley.

(***)Obligatory nod to say yes, I realise that nowhere in Britain, maybe even nowhere in Europe, is now as poor as Jarrow was in the 1930s – there is relative poverty and there is absolute poverty and then they were absolutely poor. Any poorer and they would have died. Its really not like that now.

(****)But then neither was Jarrow or the industrial north-east as a whole in the 1890s or 1900s when these houses were perhaps built, it was the decline in shipbuilding after 1918 (and steel and coal and chemicals) that made it England’s most desperate town. Whatever JB Priestley said, these streets aren’t and weren’t all quite the same and there were gradations in poverty.

(*****) OK, OK, its shorthand. There is no “The South Tyneside Accent” There are very many idiolects which share more or fewer features with each other. And people move, both consciously and unconsciously, through a range of levels and usages. I know all that. Its a crude shorthand.


Its cold up North

Extracts from the Diary of Ken Brown, aged fifty and a half. Some jotted in my notebook in the normal way, others recorded on our new Olympus voice recorder. Which is actually meant for work, but I need to learn how to use it and thought it could do with a bit of a test under field conditions.

The field in this case being the pitch of the Tynedale Rugby Club at Corbridge in Northumberland, where we’ve been camped since Thursday. Well, not any more because this is Sunday evening and I’m writing it now because I didn’t have my computer up there. Computers and holidays don’t mix.

10:40 Friday morning

Friday dawned late and I am hungover in my little tent with the broken pole and one side too high and the other too low and everybody else has left to find breakfast and the pub. But its a little early for that for me.

So does this recorder become the blogging weapon of choice then?

They said it wasn’t cold up north. But it is! They lied!

Euuugh…. its raining, I’m by the waters of Tyne, there are Roman Ruins two miles away – but there is a railway station half a mile away
And the railway station will at least be dry and there will be trains to Newcastle. But its very tempting to go the stations to see what times the trains are.

Gosh, it gets more tempting the more I think about it.



Well its June. Its the week before Midsummer, I came up north to go to a beer festival, and so far I’ve spent more on waterproof clothing than beer. And now I’m in Sunderland and I’m about to look for a pub and try to change that.

I quite like Sunderland. Its about the right size for a town or a small city. Big enough to have one of everything but not so big you can’t take it all in. It was so wet I had to buy a waterproof top and wear it. On top of a jumper. In June. I wasn’t doing that in London in March.


There are gulls in the air, herring gulls, the sky is full of their cries. Sunderland is by the sea. I had almost forgotten that. Well, not so much forgotten it as not bothered to think about it. It smells of the sea. There is heavy rain and a strong east wind and its windier on the east coast than inland. If it was wet in Corbridge this is almost a storm. Gulls are rare nowhere in Britain – the herring gull is one of only about two or three birds you can see anywhere from mountaintop to saltmarsh , town centre to forest – though if you were in a wood they would be flying overheard (the others are crows, swifts (though overhead again) Oh and wrens, Bill Oddie has just reminded me.) But they are more abundant in towns by the sea than they are in other places and coming from Brighton I’m used to them as an almost constant backdrop to everything, which I only now realise I miss when it comes back again. It smalls right. Why did I ever leave the seaside? Will I ever go back again? I’m probably too old to do anything else but stay where I am or go home to Brighton now. The Downs and the sea are always in my mind if only as a contrast to to other places. They inevitably define for me what is “normal”, the defaults from which other landscapes differ.

And I never did get to a pub in Sunderland, but had a bacon roll and mug of tea in the “Golden Chef” visible at the bottom of this picture:

Of course its a poor town – it looks poor even compared with Newcastle, poor and run down. The shops are mostly pretty downmarket, ort at any rate cheap. Though I don’t think any part of it figures among the very most deprived neighbourhoods in Britain (they tend to be in Liverpool and Glasgow and London IIRC) and it doesn’t have the pockets of extremely deprived areas that still exist in South Tyneside or round Hartlepool. And there are posh-looking early 19th-century terraces with cobbled streets and BMWs only a few blocks from the station.

And I have a Metro ticket in my pocket now and they are still shiny and yellow, so I think I’ll go and play with the best urban railway system in Britain – time to set off for Jarrow.

The Quest for Upper Penwortham

Well, I found Higher Penwortham.

Quite different from Lower Penwortham. Large parts of it are very like a sort of northern version of Woodingdean. Other parts could be in Worthing, or some of the more downmarket bits of Hendon.

Lower Penwortham is basically a southward extension of Preston. Houses get newer as you get further from the bridge. One main street, with solid brick buildings that the builders probably called “substantial villas” when they were flogging them, a few side-streets from about 1890 to 1914, an few slightly sider streets with 1920s and 30s houses, and some (rather more upmarket) infill from the 1960s to now. It looks as if the builders of Broadgate in Preston got to the river, moved over and carried on.

The newest houses of all, being built in between Upper and Lower Penwortham, on the hill facing the bypass, seem the poshest of all. Some of them look as if they might be worth millions. But most are largish traditional-looking houses, made from apparently local brick, semis or even terraced, with quite small gardens, The gospel of redensification seems to have finally got even to these newly Tory suburbs. About time too, because the “bypass” is a huge gash in the landscape replacing the old railway, leading up to Preston, splitting what might once have almost been a town into two, and isolating the old church, St. Mary’s, at the end of a long and not-very-winding avenue. This is car territory now.

St Mary's Penwortham from Church Avenue

The church looks like a thoughtful 19th century restoration from outside but I only looked at it for a minute or two.

St Mary's, Penwortham

I spent more time in the graveyard with Victorian families that lost four children in as many years, followed by their father, but whose mother survived another thirty. Or one where the mother died aged 22, not long after her brother and her father, and only weeks before her son and then the father of her son. But her mother lived to see the 1930s, and her sister was “killed by enemy action” in 1941. And the memorials of men who made it to the second half of 1918 but still never came home are always poignant.

Wild garlic in churchyard at Penwortham

Beautiful wild garlic in flower all over the churchyard. All over the banks of the Ribble. It smells like Durham in the rain. If you are willing to go through some holes in fences you can get down from the churchyard to the banks of the river without having to go all the way back along Church Avenue and walk along the river for a while.

Penwortham churchyard

Then back up to the centre of Penwortham, for what its worth. Upper Penwortham is larger, more traditionally suburban than Lower. There is a rather sadly nostalgic shopping street, and quite a few more shops ribboned out in a big loop from Upper to Lower. 1910ish mostly at the street front, most converted to shops, some older Victorian buildings scattered around (& maybe a few much older). There are a few streets of 1920s and 30s housing and what looks like a small council estate, and some very swish new crescents and closes with Mercedes and Jags. It also seems to be getting posher as the houses get newer.

At the centre (such as it is) where Cop Lane meets Liverpool Road there is a watertower turned Estate Agents, some otherwise anonymous “Government Offices” (looks like 1950s or 1960s low-rise redbrick and prefab sheds with tarmac rooves that look like my old primary school), and a large attractive old pub, the Fleece. Slightly disappointing inside, a bit ersatz and chainlike (the staff wear uniforms, never a good sign in a pub) and the building is grossly overheated.


St Leonard's, Penwortham

Penwortham (Catholic church?)

And yes, if you walk along Cop Lane to Pope Lane and carry on, it does turn into Leyland Road as it arrives back in Lower Penwortham, just after another small group of shops, a co-op and a health centre, and some rather more attractive pubs than the one on Liverpool Road. Well, they look nice enough outside, especially the Black Bull.

Penwortham (Black Bull)

Next time, maybe.

Overheard in that pub in Upper Penwortham:

“I’ve got no time for all this software stuff. I just use my computer for what I want it for. I’m not interested in fiddling about with software.”

Then back to London by train. The wonderful London transport system isn’t so wonderful when you are arriving from outside and you’ve forgotten that your travelcard has expired. It must be even worse if you don’t know your way around. The wonderfully transparent and flexible London transport system becomes very opaque and intransigent when you have no weekly or monthly pass.

I found the bus stop at Euston and was going to get a 68 or 59 down to Waterloo and than another bus to Old Kent Road, but forgot that I didn’t have a ticket. They don’t sell tickets on central London buses any more, you have to get one from the machine by the side of the road. And it costs two pounds for a single or three pounds fifty for a one-day pass (the idea behind the outrageous prices being that you are supposed to have a pass, ideally an Oyster card). But the machine gives no change and accepts no small coins, so even though I had £3.50 in change I had to buy a £2 ticket.

So I got on a 59 or 68 (I for get which) and down to Aldwych, where the bus collided with a taxi. No-one was hurt, but the drivers got into an argument so the passengers disembarked and on to a 171, whose driver didn’t bother to make us pay again, which was actually better for me because it extended my two-quid ticket to Brockley, almost home. But knackered and carrying bags after midnight I didn’t fancy walking the last mile so I got off at New Cross and was then faced with having to get change for another two pound ticket. Where can you get change in New Cross? Well there are a couple of bars I could have gone in to, but I’d already had enough beer and was carrying too many bags for comfort and needed to get home, So to one of the grottier of the grotty kebab shops of New Cross to buy some chips.

They looked as if they were closing but fried some more for me. I felt almost guilty about making them do it. I didn’t really want to eat – I’d had dinner and also some sandwiches on the train, and chips seemed the most harmless purchase. A fizzy drink would have been cheaper but viler. An apparenlty pissed African bloke came in and asked for a chicken kebab, was told that there was only lamb left (though I could see two doner machines and one of them didn;t look like lamb to me. It didn;t look like chicken eitherm but I wasn’t about to investigate closely), he walked out, came back a few minutes later after talking to someone invisible outside in the street, asked for the lamb anyway and got into some complicated negotiating about the difference between a large doner for four pounds and a small for three, much to the frustration of the sellers. I think he actually only wanted a small one, but it seemed to be an matter of honour for him to not be seen to be caring about the price – the kebab shop people were, he said, from A-broad where all they are interested in is money, just like the government who put VAT on everything even ESOL lessons. (He’s not the only person I’ve heard moan about that – I wonder if the government has the slightest idea how many votes they lost over ESOL charges). But then an east-Asian couple came in, Chinese, or maybe Koreans. They didn’t order any food but asked the people serving if they knew any hotels nearby – there was a sort of just-off-the-boat feel to he conversation, not that very many boats call at Deptford any more – and then after somethinelse I didn’t catch, they asked if the women could use the toilet. She could, and they were told where it was, but her English wasn’t up to it (or maybe the perhaps Kurdish English she was listening to wasn’t up to it, even though it was little more than down the steps walk to the end and its on the left) so the man with her translated directions for her and the pissed small-kebab-eating man started parodying his language loudly. Sort of “Ah DONG wa PING-pang-ting” Sticky moment, for a moment. But everyone smiled it off and nothing happened. One of the things about people who work in kebab shops is that they use what are in effect floppy swords or large flensing knives to slice the meat of the giant doner sausage. I don’t know if this makes me feel safer or not.

The chips were nice.


Bank Holiday Monday was the circumnavigation of Preston. Starting and finishing in Penwortham, on the other side of the river – and now sadly represented by a Tory council – I wonder if they will change the rather unconservative-sounding slogan of the council: “Forward with South Ribble!”. Why do local councils need slogans and logos and brand identities anyway? And when they get them why are they always so naff? Redcar – “its not red and we can’t afford a car”. Why has anyone in the English-speaking world, even once since the 1970s, called any public building “The {whatever} Centre” or named any freeby news or propaganda sheet “The {whatever} Voice”.

Whatever. Starting and finishing in Penwortham and walking round the city but never quite going into the centre, trying to stick to inner suburbs or the transitional zone between the central and suburban areas. Which in a city the size and style of Preston isn’t at all hard to do – its not very big and its mostly all inner suburb, residential terraces, post-industrial refits.

Miller and Avenham Parks, along the river past Frenchwood, up past Fishwick…

Banks of the Ribble near Avenham/Miller Park


(which sounds like it should be in Sussex) to Ribbleside, through Deepdale to the North End ground…

No Ball Games at Preston North End

…then Moor Park and almost back into the centre, quick pint in the Lamb and Packet (local beer, regulars, some kids playing pool, county cricket on the TV), slower one in the Britannia Inn (at least six real ales, organic beer, pork scratchings, 70s music on the juke box, middle-aged bikers, rugby fans, some people discussing the location of the Dun Cow pub in Durham City (I could have told them!), a few elderly bearded blokes who seemed a little the worse for the afternoon and whose wives wanted them back for tea), backtrack out towards the docks, back up to behind the County Hall, (there is a pub that advertises “Disco’s ECT” as part of its exciting programme of entertainment), down to Broadgate, another pint or two in the Ribbleside Inn (a very different sort of pub, a bit downmarket of the others, bar staff and quite a few of the drinkers seem to have London accents, seems to have a few thirty-something mothers with premature wrinkles, too much makeup, and young kids in tow. I was asked to play killer pool by two of the kids) – and back over the old bridge to Penwortham.

St Stephen's, Broadgate, Preston

There’s plenty to see round the north side of Preston. Well, there is if you find semi-ruined post-industrial desolation fascinating and or beautiful. Or if you are intellectually fascinated by the range of different solutions to the problem of packing in decent housing and open space into a high density urban network cheaply enough so that lots of not-very-well-off people can live there.


Oh well, maybe that’ll just be me then. Lots of nice houses, a few good parks, but still quite a lot of waste ground, places where buildings once were but now aren’t, gaps in the fabric of the urban continuum of a sort that you don’t see so much in the south any more (although there were lots in Peckham until about 1997).

Some dinky little mosques in a presumably new vernacular style, shiny dark red brick like the ones used in the posher terraced houses of a hundred years ago, slate rooves, little towers with with rather pretty little minaret tops to them, usually in green and gold, that look more Indian than specifically Muslim to me, but off-the-shelf panel doors and PVC double-glazed windows that could have been bought from B&Q.

Preston, mosques, infirmary

I didn’t take many useful pictures of the mosques because people were using them or going in and out or at least standing around chatting and I tend to avoid looking as if I’m taking pictures of people rather than buildings (though will make exceptions for very public places and events)

Odd building on Barnabas Road

A rather odd building near Burrow Road that looked cross between an engine shed, a church hall, and a ballroom.

Rail to Nowhere

And an apparently disused railway that doesn’t seem to go anywhere, but disappears underground just a block away from it

Preston has loads of good pubs, but they are all located in the same corner of town. In the unlikely event that anyone is reading this who is both intimately familiar with the geography of Preston, and not a member of my immediate family (who will know all this already) this is how you find the good pubs. They are nearly all in an area roughly bounded by Fishersgate to the south (the main shopping street, running from the bridge to the station to the museum square), by the town Market and Friargate and Adelphi Street to the east, and by the Lancashire County Hall to the west. I’m not so sure of the northern extent of the zone. I suspect it peters out before Plungington, maybe somewhere in the region of what used to be Lancashire Poly and is now the vital beating heart of the University of Central Lancashire. (Who can’t have either “ucl.” or “ucla.” as part of their DNS domain. Believe me, they tried. Well, believe third-hand rumour then. I never saw the application.).

Anyway, more research is needed.

Overheard from kids in Deepdale:

Two young children – maybe four years old? Possibly even younger? playing in the street. One of of those impossibly cute golden-ringletted little girls with a boy r perhaps her brother. She is trying, and failing very badly, to climb a drain pipe, he is failing to help her. I’m briefly worried that she is going to fall off backwards hand hurt her head. Which is probably silly as she is barely half my height off the ground and weighs perhaps one tenth of what I do. Older boy maybe 8 (crew cut, ManU shirt) cycles by and asks:

“Are you chasing Kim”


He cycles off. Boy turns to girl

“Who’s Kim?
“I don’t know”

Two other children, maybe six or seven, run out of a back alley giggling, and off into some waste ground on the other side of the street.

“That must be Kim!”
“Lets chase him!”

In Preston accents so broad that if they had been Rochdale accents you could have been in a Gracie Fields biopic. IYSWIM. (I’m sure there must be some famous people with Preston accents but I can’t think who at the moment. And no, its not the same as the rest of Lancashire).

And I got sunburned. On a rainly day in Lancashire. I can get sunburned by spending more than an hour or two out of doors on a cloudy day.

And for my next trick: The Quest for the Lost Land of Higher Penwortham.

It must be round here somewhere. Try going up Leyland Road…