Tag Archives: urbanwalks

Cobblepunk Edinburgh

Edinburgh must be the most three-dimensional of our British cities. I like that. It appeals to my inner sf fan. All those old illustrations covers with bridges between towering buildings and streets in the sky and monorails and personal jetpacks.

OK, this is the steampunk version of that, with all those 18th and 19th century buildings, or perhaps a little earlier than that – we could call it the cobblepunk version. One of the characteristic sounds of the city being buses rumbling down cobbled streets.

Beneath Regent Bridge

The four bridges or viaducts that have the biggest effect are all 19th century – North Bridge, South Bridge, Regent Bridge, George IV Bridge – the latter two names are a bit of a giveaway – so they really are the gaslight era, but somehow they look and feel older. The basic layout of the Old Town and its immediate surroundings is mediaeval even if a lot of the buildings themselves are later Scottish Baronial imposters. And that mid-century cobbled Edinburgh was the one Robert Louis Stevenson and Arthur Conan Doyle were born and brought up in, so its one of the original homes of steampunkery and gaslightery, even if London (and a little bit New York) are where such things found their dark corners to hide in.

You could click here for some more pictures

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And some nice plants to show its not all doom and gloom even in January:

Snowdrops in the New Town

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Gentrification and crap beer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 (5)

, or, collapse of once-stout QPR

So how do we get to Millwall from central London for an evening kick-off match?

Its easy and quick. The Millwall ground is the nearest professional stadium to the City of London – only about two miles away, just a tad closer than Arsenal, and there are plenty of buses and tubes going sort-of in the right direction. Away supporters get advised to go by train from London Bridge to South Bermondsey, so we will avoid both statios for that very reason!

We start by a well-known building in the lively dead centre of London and wait for a Number 1 bus

As all London transport geeks know, the oldest bus route in London – and therefore almost certainly the oldest bus rout in the world – is the number 12, from Oxford Circus to Camberwell. It is the direct descendent of the first motor bus route run by Tilling’s back in 190-something, and that itself was a descendent of probably the first horse bus route. Though some argue for the 9, and there are a few running-dogs and revisionists and who hold out for the 24. Splitters! (And why does everybody on a southbound 24 in Goodge street in the evening look so sad or hassled?)

So why is the number 1 the number 1? It’s not a particularly important route, nor a very long distance one. OK, the 12 was adopted into the London Transport numbering scheme a few years after it started, as it was being run by a private company who didn’t yet use numbers – but what gave the Lewisham to Willesden route precendence over the numbers 2 to 9 – all of which still exist, and have at least some of their route in common with what they were doing a century ago.

Its just one of those mysteries.

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Its hard to take photos on this journey because its dark. Though we get occasional chances – like this photo of Waterloo Station. We could get off the bus here and go down those escalators you can see in the picture to try to get to Bermondsey or Surrey Docks by tube. But we won;t, because the Number One takes us almost all the way.

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That’s about it for the view. Also I’ve already put lots of pictures taken from buses online – some linked to in this post on the Dark Streets of London

So I came back the next day in daylight & will post those pictures soon.

Other than that, nothing of interest until the first siting of police activity just where the bus is about to turn right from Southwark Park Road to Galleywall Road. One of the other unfailing signs of the imminence of Millwall, an extrem number of railway bridges, is also in evidence. There was one just beside us as we turned by the police car (I was taking photos the other way of course) and there is anoither one at the bottom of Galleywall Road, just before you turn into Ilderton road. Which is as dingy a spot as you will find in inner London.

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From the footballing point of view Tuesday evening was rather good. QPR seemed to be playing for a draw, and didn;t look as if they were seriously trying to score. Millwall’s defence was better than theirs and their offence was at least more enthusiastic and committed. When Millwall managed to score QPR appeared to realise they could in fact lose, at get demoralised quite quitely. Or so it looked from our end. Millwall made all the running in the second half , attacking at every opportunity – a tactivc that failed agains ‘Boro (though it was exciting to watch, drew against Forest, beat QPR, and triumphed at Burnley. If they manage to keep up the improvement against Cardiff they are going to win five nil 🙂

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The Road to Millwall (4)

Or:

Somewhere Over The Railway

Also Known As:

Funny sort of recession, innit?

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

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

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

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But we take our stand by a smaller one:

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

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

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They even let buses into pubs nowadays:

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

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

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

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

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And the power station – we must be near!

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

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

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

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

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The 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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Distant suburbs with names starting in H

To Bedfont Lakes for a work meeting, or sales pitch. Second time I’ve been in the Heathrow area in a few weeks – I popped over to have a drink in the bar at the end of Eastercon (as usual I couldn’t go to the con myself as its one of the busy times of year at church) That was train to Feltham, then local bus to the north side of the airport, today train to Feltham and little local bus to Bedfont.

Architecturally its still the 1960s out there in the outer western reaches of London where where placenames start with “H”. If not the 1930s. As always in buildings 30 or 40 years out of date looks more dated than 300 or 400, and the Heathrow area looks very dated. OK, know a lot of the hotels and offices are newer than that but they don;t look it. Compared with the buildings you see in Inner London these look dull and unimaginitive. Air travel was once a thrill and airports were once stage-sets for the party of the future, but now they look boring. Inner London. even the parts of it full of Gearogoan or Victorian retrofits, looks much more futuristic

The most interesting buildings you can see from the Heathrow Perimeter Road are in fact the older ones that look left over from the 1940s or 50s or even before. Rows of sheds with unlikely looking corporate logos advertising some small company you have never heard of that is in to import/export, or oil exploration, or even “aviation” whatever exactly that means nowadays. Its as if the old between-the-wars civil aviation culture of small engineering firms, dodgy dealers, and mechanics tinkering with This and That that I vaguely remember in the backdrop of old films and TV programmes has somehow managed to survive in the gutters and beneath the onramps of the corporate monocultures that replaced them.

In a similar way the little 1920s bungalows in the suburbs round about, squeezed between rows of 1970s officed or 1990s blocks flats, some retrofitted into newer larger “properties”, others still looking like small sheds with fake beams and tarmac sheeting rooves (but all I suspect double glazed) are more interesting than the EMEA HQs and cheap business hotels.

The whole place is caught in a sort of fast-moving limbo. Its not the network of semi-rural suburbs it once was, before the War and the motorways and above all Heathrow Airport turned it over, although it is full of survivals of that era. But its not quite the American-style low-rise decentralised suburban landscape it could have been – there is just too much naff 1950s and 1960s municipal Englishness about, a whiff of the the Council Estate, the H-Block, the Nissen Hut and the Scout Hut. The overlaid palimpsest of the 1950s, a hint of Durrington. Yes, if Woodingdean was thirty times the size, flat instead of hilly, and had a major international airport inside it, and was nowhere near the sea, it might look like this. Maybe that’s why it feels like the early 1960s to me because the buildings (nothing else, just the buildings) remind me of where I spent my own early 1960s. And it hasn’t gone forward to the kind of post-modern high-tech complexity that it might one day become.

From a literary-architectural point of view the Heathrow area left John Betjemen behind, bypassed JG Ballard (though he chased after it and nearly caught it) and hasn’t yet arrived at Ken MacLeod.

Not too many photos from the Con I’m afraid. It was dark most of the time I was there.near_heathrow_8178

I do have a few of the hotel bar though. Like most cheap/mid-price hotels, whether in suburban sheds with legoland trimmings (as this one was) or in old buildings in town it seemed to have that tedious interior design that’s a sort of mixture of fake vaguely 18th century English wood-panelled massiveness and late 19th century French frippery. Flock wallpaper and cut glass, the direct descendent of the Gin Palace without the over-the-topness. Both unimaginitive and deracinated.

But the room the bar was in was much better! A sort of truncated atrium dominated by a vast garden water-feature with pastic glow-in-the-dark fish on sticks. And big Buddhist pots in piles of pebbles. OK jsut as ersatz and off-the-shelf but at least its different and most importantly it was a pleasant and easy space to be in – though I guess a lot of that was due to the lightly-arched glass roof that meant the whole room was adequateley and indireclty lit by natural light right up almost to sunset. Follow th link for more (though not better) pictures: easterc0n_8170

The visit to Bedfont Lakes produced even fewer photos. I’ll have to go back one day when I’m not working. Its a nightmare to navigate, no rationality to anything and no signage. Took us longer to find the building we were looking for once there than it did to get there from Feltham Station over a mile away. Everything assumes you are coming by car. What I should have done is follow the car road in and walk straight in ignoring the barrier that said “No Pedestrian Access”, which was how I got out. As it was I ended up getting to the Cisco building by going round the back of one of the IBM buildings and past the lake. Which was pleasant. I’m sure there is another way in on foot – I can even guess where it might be – but its not signed.

These places are too planned, too centrally controlled, and have too few children visiting them. A council estate laid out like that (and the word ones are) would soon be crossed by “paths of desire” taking you everywhere you need to go. That doesn’t seem to happen here.

So to Staines, just because I’ve never been there before. Much the same applies to Ashford and Staines as to the places begin with H. Except that the river is of course wonderful. Staines looks a bit sad, its not what it once was. Of course in an absolute sense it and its inhabitants are much more prosperous than ever before. But in a relative sense, over against London or the countryside round about, I get the impression that it was at its peak in the late 19th century. Its full of places that look as if the used to be small shops run by locals and are now rotting.

It would have been as small but prosperous market town, connected to the rest of the world by river, canal, and railway, with enough industry (Lino a speciality I think) to provide work for the locals and the nucleus of an industrial proletariat and skilled workforce. Near enough to London to commute to work, but too far to do your regular shopping there. There woud have been libraries and churches and social clubs and a full range of shops and services on the High Street. On Saturdays and Sundays Londoners might come up for a spot of boating or a walk by the river and a pint of local beer in the Swan. (All of which are still available to them and I can tell you walk and the beer are very pleasant) An HG Wells or Jerome K Jerome sort of place. staines_8201

Destroyed as a viable and distinct economic community by the Great War, the motorways, Heathrow Airport and shopping malls. Its still there, it still has some lovely houses, its probably very convenient (if expensive) if you have a car and you work bear Waterloo Station, but its not quite a Place of its own. It has become a node in the broken network of outer suburbia. At least its a lot prettier than Bromley, Dartford, or Romford.

And Ali G exists. There really are young Asian men in baggy trousers and hoods talking rap. Well there were some at the end of Platform One at the station. Or are they consciously living up to the stereotype? Maybe they are Londoners taking a day trip to Staines to act like Ali G? The trainers and hoodies as real or as fake as the blazers and Oxford bags and straw boaters that other young men wore on days out to the same station a century ago?

Why do the outer reaches of West London always smell bad?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday afternoon walk

Blackheath to Greenwich to Deptford – Sometimes Pubs Just Work (2)

My brother came down South of the River on Saturday for the first time in a while (he used to say he never did – when I bumped in to him in Brixton one night he said that it was honourary North London). He cycled to Blackheath, all the way from Holloway more or less) which took a little longer than he thought, especially the hill at the end (*) and we had some wonderful cider at the Princess of Wales. A license to print money that place, on a sunny summer Saturday.

Then down to Greenwich through the Park in the sunshine, and some noodles and more beer at a Vietnamese restaurant, and walk to Deptford and a final pint at the Dog and Bell:

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And my brother says “where can I put my bike” and I say “over there on the bike racks”. We are civilised in Deptford these days. And he says “Is it safe” and I tell him it is. After the obligatory scare stories about Milton Court and the Pepys Estate of course. Not as dangerous as people make out. So we have beer and a fag in the back garden of the very very nice pub and I hear a few loud bangs that, if I knew what shots sounded like, might have been shots. And I walk my brother to Evelyn Street and put him on the right road for Rotherhithe, and wonder why such a traffic jam.

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And I walk back towards the High Street and there are police everywhere and sirens and scene-of-the-crime types, and the roads taped off and I asked someone what was happening, and yes, it seems as if someone has been shot. So much for my telling everyone how not-dangerous Deptford is.

For some reason one of the blues-and-twos vans had “Metropolitan Police Marine Policing Unit” written on it. The river cops? Why? For a moment it was like being in the second series of The Wire

So back past the Cranbrook (where someone I have never met before bought me another pint) and to the local where there was some kind of party going on and various people there…

And I really ought to lay off booze for the next few days to give my liver a chance to recover.

Only in South East London could there ever be a fake Morley’s:

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(*) Mildly irrelevant Pompous Geology Witter – why South London is steeper than North. London is (as NE Fule No) in a the London Basin, which is formed by tertiary [i.e. after-the-dinosaurs] deposits of sand and gravel and mud (much hrdened into clay) in a syncline,. a bowl-shaped fold in the underlying chalk. The Thames didn’t make the Thames Valley – the river flows through a valley that was made by a great fold in the earth running hundreds of miles east from the centre of southern England into Belgium and even Denmark (though the sea came in and washed most of it away during the Pleistocene…)

There are three steps up from the Thames to the sides of the basin. North of the river they come one after the other . First the river terraces, accumulated gunk on the edge of the flat alluvial basing of the post-glacial Thames. In Central London the river is at the northern edge of its little plain, so it buts onto the terraces – the Strand runs along it. Which why Trafalgar Square slopes, why Villiers Street is steep, why the north side of Waterloo Bridge is higher than the south and why Upper Thames Street is Upper and Lower Thames Street is Lower.

Then a mile or two back, the so-called Northern Heights – a line of hills of clay and sand, including Stamford Hill, Alexandra Palace, Muswell Hill, Hampstead, Highgate, Horsenden Hill, Hendon, Harrow and so on (I don’t know why there is such a wave of “H”s in suburban north-west London – it carries on in a big arc round the city to the not-at-all hilly Hillingdon, Hayes, Harlington, Heston, Heathrow and Hounslow.) There can be quite a steep scarp to this in places, you see it best round Archway and Highgate Tube, even though the hills themselves aren’t very high. I suppose its because the muddy clay isn’t very strong and collapsed in places, leaving natural quarry-like sides. (Not that I cam at all sure of that)

Then there is a another big flattish step, even a valley in places, until you get to the dip leading up to the Chilterns outside Greater London which are proper chalk Downs, and the start of the anticline, the other bit of the fold. They aren’t exactly high, not even as high as the South Downs (which are the real Downs of course) but they are proper hills and higher than anything you are likely to find in north London.

South of the river you get the same three steps but they all come at once. The terraces at the southern edge of the Thames floodplain run in a pretty straight line from Camberwell to Greenwich, abut five to ten metres above what used to be the marshes, which is why the old Roman road ran there. Peckham High Street, Queens Road, New Cross Road, and Deptford Broadway still follow the line. You can see it clearly around New Cross, where the roads and paths leading north go steeply down hill – the main roads have been levelled but the side roads and footpaths fall down fast. The original Deep Ford that Deptford is named for is the place that the Ravensbourne flows through these terraces into Deptford Creek.

But unlike north of the river these terraces butt on to the clay hills behind them, so the two steps up become one. And the chalk hills are immediately behind them. So if you go south from central London you rise immediately and almost continually from the Thames to the first of the North Downs. And – also unlike north London – the chalk isn’t very far under the clay. You can pick up chalk off the ground at Woolwich. There were lime pits in Blackheath and Lewisham where chalk was dug out by hand. The railway cuttings at Lewisham exposed chalk at St John’s – if you wanted to stretch a point you could make a rather stingy claim that Hilly Fields Park and St John’s Church were the northernmost gasp of the North Downs.

Two old photos of Deptford Creek, just because I like them:

The Creek is Red Mouth of Deptford Creek, from the Greenwich side

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!

Pseudo-aleatoric traverse of North London by bus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunny Hill Park

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

Sunny Hill Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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:]

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[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]

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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.

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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.

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
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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

I knew South-East London was tough, but I never knew it was this bad.

When I was a little Evangelical they told us we should walk along the King’s Highway every day. Well, I found it, its in Plumstead. So I walked along it. And they have some very strange things up there!

This must be the ultimate Charlton supporters weapon against Millwall.

Cars in Plumstead Water Dale, Plumstead, exit from Bostall Woods
plumstead_4335 The less sylvan end of Waterdale Road

The second picture is repeated from the previous post because I like it a lot and its just at the end of the street. In fact its more or less my favourite picture so far this year. And no-one looked at it on Flickr yet! The relevant words are in the yesterday’s blog entry.

All four of these photos were taken within about a hundred yards of each other.

And a few more I didn’t post before:

The Slade, Plumstead bostall_4318
Woolwich seen from Welling Woodlands farm
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