Tag Archives: urbanwalks

Erith, land of sheds

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


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


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

belvedere_4283 erith_4272
erith_4267 erith_4261

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

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

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

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

bostall_4331 bostall_4330

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

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

bostall_4327 Path from Abbey Wood to Bostall Wood bostall_4328

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

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

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

Bostall Woods Bostall Heath Lodge

Historical Archives of the First Circumnavigation of London

Select the map for a bigger picture:

First Circumnavigation of London

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

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

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

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

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

Night journey through Bromley

The last two stages of the walk round Zones 4 and 5 were from Beckenham and Elmer’s End to Bromley, and then Bromley to Grove Park. Done mostly in the evening, mainly because Saturday being the Day of Rest I have trouble getting out of bed until after the early music programme happens on Radio Three. And then a nice bath is called for. So by the time I’ve bought some bread and juice and taken the bus down to the Outer Darkness of Suburbia, the sun isn’t far from setting.

The Hall Evangelical Church,  Beckenham, at night

To be honest there isn’t that much to say about the walk. Nothing very odd happened. I don;t think I had any stunning insights into the human condition or urban geography or even

The outer suburbs of south-east London would fit most people’s ideas of boring. In fact they are arguably the most boring places in Britain. (Though on the whole I prefer them to the outer suburbs of west London – more hills and fewer motorways

Beckenham churches

Beckenham St Edmund's RC

Beckenham is nicer than it sounds. Also higher density than you might think, at least near the centre of it. Lots of infill and little blocks of flats. And the scene is dominated by church towers. A sort of fake old town.


Beckenham by night

Beckenham churches from the park

As you walk round the suburbs you are never out of earshot of suburban life, even in the middle of a largish park. Not just the ever-present noise of cars (I’m not sure there is anywhere in the south east of England you escape from that) but you can hear the odd snatches of talk, occasional shouts and raised voices, kicks of boot against ball, some partying teenagers, kids out late, now and again a dog barking. You can smell cooking too. Small whiffs of pizza or chips, a late season barbecue, Indian takeaways.

And then, fireworks. I’ve no idea why, or what it was all in aid of, but someone was letting off fireworks from their back garden somewhere round Langley Park. Maybe it was on Barnfield Wood Road. The first of the year. Fireworks always lift my heart. Just great fun.

Langley Park is apparently an Area of Special Residential Character whatever that means. (it seems to be a sort of conservation area for wealthy suburbs) Except they call it Park Langley on the signs.

The approach to Bromley town centre from the south west takes you through another one of those estates that turn out to be a lot higher density than you’d expect. Quite a successful layout for what it is, with shops and restaurants integrated into the blocks. But why so many blind-ended blocks? Neary all the blocks show blank brick walls at one or both ends, and quite a few do along their length as well, the houses set back behind walls and turned inwards. Its pathetic. It just makes dog toilets. Why not just put windows in end walls? It makes the rooms inside more pleasant and lets you overlook the public street, making everyone safer.

The worst are the seven or eight foot high walls at the sides or ends of gardens, or the fences out in front cutting the front of a block of flats off from the streets. Not only do they make even more dog toilets but they reduce the safety of the inhabitants. I suppose they think they will protect against burglars, but they won;t stop any professional thief who knows what he is doing, they won’t stop a fifteen-year-old pissed on cheap cider who doesn’t and they won’t stop a desperate junkie. The illusion of security while making us less safe.

Everyone I see in the street after dark seems to be in their teens or twenties. Where are the other 80% of the population?

Bricklayer's Arms, Bromley

Bromley town centre is not a pretty place any more. It looks like it might have been once, and its got some nice old buildings – and some nice modern buildings – but the sprawl of multiple-lane roads surrounding the overlarge overheated mall make it all a bit inhuman. Not as nasty as Romford (where is?), but not as lively as Croydon or Kingston and on a more inhuman scale than either.

And there are plenty of brutal little buildings tucked away at the back:

Garrard House, Bromley


JW Kingdom Hall, Bromley

I started by getting on the first bus that went past the bottom of our street bound for anywhere beyond Lewisham, and it was a 136 to Grove Park. So I came back on the 136 from Grove Park. Which meant I had to get to Grove Park . And I didn’t fancy walking along Burnt Ash Hill so I went down into the Downham estate and back up again

Downham is in some ways the most unpleasant place I’ve been on my walks round London. Its also in some ways the most familiar. Its very similar to the sort of place my Dad’s relatives lived around Brighton when I was a kid. If it wasn’t for the absence of the South Downs it could almost be Moulscoombe, where Dad was brought up and only a mile or two from where we lived on a slightly newer estate.It is a similar product of the municipalised ebb of the Garden City movement. The Garden City was cut away from its economic and political roots and turned into the Garden Suburb, low-rise low-density council houses covering entire hillsides with families who didn’t have an economic reason to be there or enough money to get out. If they were allowed out. At Valeswood Road in Downham, just round the corner from where I was walking today, they actually built a wall across the street to cut off the LLC council estate from the private suburbs of Bromley. I always feel odd in Downham. Its too much like where I actually come from and don’t particularly want to go back to. I like more obviously urban places.

But seriously, if this is as bad as it gets we’re doing OK.

And where are the photos I took in Downham? I need to look at my camera again!

Well, I’m back.

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

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

But I finished, I did it.

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

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

But I did it. And I’m chuffed.

Playing by Faversham rules

There are certain rules by which English small towns are ordered. Some shared between them, others unique to particular towns – such as Faversham in Kent. Thanks to my stupendous powers of observation I can now share these with you, so you will never again be dazed and confused in Faversham. Over the weekend I spent all of twenty hours in in the town. During most of them I was either drinking or asleep or both. But so strong are my natural abilities in this line I can assure you I have got the placed pinned down already! The Rules are arranged in suras of decreasing order of length.

Faversham station

  • The prosperity of a small town can be judged by the ratio of shops selling silly toys or expensive antiques or second-hand books or organic food (on the top of the fraction) to charity shops, junks shops and cheap antique shops (on the bottom of it). By that rule Corbridge is better-off than Faversham which is better-off than Lewes which is better-off than Woodbridge which is better-off than Chichester which is better-off than Huntingdon. (Note the failure of the North-South Divide in Small Town Land – this is partly because southern small towns have a quota of poor people who can’t afford to live in the city, and northern small towns have rich people who can afford not to)
  • No-one of European appearance is allowed to work in a shop that sells food after 6pm. Walking down into Faversham on Saturday evening I passed maybe six takeaways and three restaurants, all staffed by Asians, but only one Asian-looking person in the street (a little boy riding a chopper bike down a twitten) But all the pubs, which are many, seemed to be run entirely by white people.
  • Every small town has at least one pub with bare wooden floorboards populated by women in their twenties or thirties with piercings in uncomfortable looking places who drink cider and snakebite and put rock music recorded before they were born onto the juke box. In Faversham it seems to be called the Swan.

    The Swan, Faversham

  • Most locals never walk anywhere except to the pub. They all drive. So if you ask directions to anywhere and they tell you it is a long way away don’t believe them. They only ever go by car and have no idea how long it really takes to walk. London is the last stronghold of human-powered mobility in the country.
  • All women are beautiful. Even the fat fourteen-year-olds sitting in the street between the Hole in the Wall and Wetherspoon’s, too pissed to get up, drooling into their bottles of cheap vodka and giggling at their slighly older mates pathetic attempts to chat up the bouncers.
  • No-one can do simple artithmetic. The otherwise very wonderful
    Shepherd Neame shop webpage is advertising a case of 24 cans of Spitfire for £22 – and four cases for £110. That’s about 14p a can more expensive.
  • All women aged between 16 and 60 are married with children. But that doesn’t stop them cuddling random blokes they just met. Even when their husbands are in the next room.
  • If you go to the pub over the road from the station for one last pint before you return to London, you will miss your train. (Also known as the “Lansdowne Arms Rule”)
  • Somewhere there is a pub full of people who look like they used to drink in bars in Brighton twenty-five years ago. If you talk to them it usually turns out that they did.
  • There is a creek or a river. It usually doesn’t have enough water in it to float more than a rubber duck. This is why the small town is still a small town and not a big city.

    Faversham Creek

  • The older and narrower the roads, the nice the town. If there is anywhere called a “by-pass” you can be sure it is deadly.
  • Sleeping outside on a bare wooden floor is often more comfortable than inside on a mattress. Until it rains.
    Wooden thing

  • Middle-aged men who have been in the pub since lunchtime do not need to drink Margaritas after midnight.

    Oddly brutalist Health Centre

  • Ten-year old girls who play pool in pubs and know the words to Iron Maiden songs actually exist.
  • Lax enforcement of the smoking ban is not confined to South London.
  • Spitfire actually does taste better than Master Brew.
  • It was a really great party, thanks Mark and Stella!

    Elephant, Faversham

  • Fish and chips is usually nicer outside London
    Ossie's Fish Bar
  • Breweries are larger behind than in front.
    Shepherd Neame brewery from in front

    Shepherd Neame brewery from behind

  • Acts of Morris Dancing are perpetrated
  • They no longer have cattle markets
  • They still have Co-ops.


Its been a good weekend for found sentences.

(and I’ve been in five pubs, and saw people smoking indoors in three of them – so if the new law is going to work They are going to have to do a few pub landlords PDQ – I suspect they won’t)

Overheard in a street in Faversham:

“We can’t go in there. Children aren’t allowed in pubs”
“Its not a pub. Its a Wetherspoon’s”

(girl of about 11 or 12 talking to boy of similar age)

Overheard in a public lavatory:

“Did that English boy win the Grand Prix?”
“Dunno, do you mean Lewis?”
“Apparently he’s English now. The Great White fucking Hope of England. I’m sorry but I’ve been waiting a long time and now he’s English?”

(by their accents two thirty-something West Indian blokes)

Overheard in Catford:

“When I went to Jamaica I was in a club dancing and there was this woman with bleached blonde hair who stood on her head for about a whole minute. She was wearing a miniskirt and no underwear. It was disgusting man. I didn’t know where to look. She had this big blonde hair and brown arms and a fair skin and it was all out of a bottle cos I’m telling you her pussy was black, man. You wouldn’t have liked it if you saw it.”

(young black woman trying to persuade a white male friend to come to Dancehall raves with her)

Overheard in a street in Faversham:

(retching noise)
“Did you really smoke them all?”
“Take a look in that little alley!”

(Small blond boy of about 11 or 12 years old)

I was walking down that little alley at the time and this is what I saw:

Faversham Marketplace, next to  Woolworth's

Overheard on train:

“What have we done? What haven’t we done! Come and get us you lazy mare!”

(Middle-aged woman with strong south London accent talking to her mobile)

Overheard on train:

“But baseball! Baseball is catastrophe! If I have son and he likes baseball I kill him!”

(tall muscly young bloke with film-star looks and some kind of Slavic accent. Talking to a man who might have been Italian, sitting next to two rather flash looking blonde women who were chatting away in what might have been Russian or Serbian or Czech – I’m not good at identifying languages. I once mistook a group of Polish students for Spanish)

Smoking’s last day at the pub.

To Battersea briefly.

A. went to the Pride march, and I went to the Vicarage Tea Party. OK, it was the sort of Vicarage party with Rioja and Cotes du Rhone, and it wasn’t our vicarage, but it was over soon after eight and I missed the last episode of Dr Who – the things we suffer for the Faith.

St Michael's  Battersea

Has Battersea changed or have I? When I first started visiting London back in the 19-ahem-0s I used to go to Battersea to see friends from Brighton. Some living in a squat, some in one of those slab blocks by the railway. It was one of the grottier bits of London as far as I could tell. Not so different from next-door Stockwell or Vauxhall.

But nowadays I read Battersea as posh.

Maybe it because I’ve been living in Lewisham or nearby for twenty-odd years and compared to South East London Battersea always was a bit upmarket. Maybe its because I’m remembering the area towards the river and this church is up almost on Wandsworth Common. Though even the shops by Clapham Junction (which never was in Clapham, its always been Battersea) are rather trendier and flashier than anywhere in the South East. (Maybe they always were – Battersea, unlike Lewisham, kept its department store, even if it is now only a Debenham’s) Or maybe its creeping Claphamisation. There were certainly plenty of bars with plate glass windows or cafes opening onto the street and rather unfeasibly cute 30-something mothers eating organic food with young kids and with skinny white-haired blokes who in Lewisham I would assume were the children;s grandfathers but here I suspect their fathers.

Round the back of the church a small high-density estate (“…nicely in scale, with pedestrian ways replacing some of the roads” according to Pevsner) that looks a lot like the one I saw in Jarrow the other week.


Behind Cobham Close

Then walking in the pouring rain through some medium-sized streets towards Clapham Common, (“Between the Commons” to estate agents) and a Blast from the Past at the sight of a house. Not because it was unusual but because it isn’t unusual any more. An ordinary house in an ordinary terrace, large bay windows with no net curtains or blinds, almost inviting passers-by to look in. You can see straight through what must have been two rooms knocked into one, with some sort of French doors or large window at the back, so you can see right through to the garden. The floor is polished bare floorboards, with maybe a round, shaggy, dark green rug towards one end. There are tasteful prints on the walls – these vaguely early 20th-century black-and-white drawings of dancers or tramps or something. There is a musical instrument of some sort. Two or three bookshelves, maybe one or two hundred books in them – more than most people will have but still nothing like as many as a vicar or sf fan might.

A young couple, maybe late twenties or early thirties. He is tall and thin and sitting on a chair, dressed all in black, clean-shaven with slightly spiky short hair. She is actually sitting on the floor, with her arm resting on the arm of the chair, smiling up at him in a Sergeant-where’s-mine-evoking sort of way. She’s wearing a chunky knitted jumper. Which she (or rather her mother at the same age) could have been wearing thirty years ago, except she probably wouldn’t have been wearing it on the first of July, such are the strange effects of global warming.

Back in 1967 or 1968 when we were kids helping our Dad campaign for the Labour Party for Brighton Council there were probably five hundred houses like that in Brighton (for all I know they might have been half of the whole number that there were in England) and it sometimes seemed as if we we knew all the inhabitants. These were the sort of Labour supporters who did not (as we had been) live on council estates or in little flats, but had just discovered that you could University lecturers (they were well-off in those pre-Thatcher days), advertising copywriters, architects, people you who didn’t quite seem to do anything for a living but mysteriously ended up working for the government next time Labour got in (and one or two, then in their twenties not in their fifties or sixties, who have been on the outer fringes of the Cabinet these last ten years)


Knocking through was all the rage, and white-washed minimalism and Chinese paper lanterns were big, though on the way out, moving through stripped pine towards “restoring” the “original features”. A fashion that still seems to have the artier half of the middle-middle-aged middle-middle class in its grip. It had just become possible to make a living by stripping out old Victorian and Edwardian decorations from poor people’s houses and selling them to the richer people moving in next door, as the middle classes started to move back into the city centres and inner suburbs. Though it took the government and councils twenty years to notice – so by the end of the 1970s you had councils still wanting to demolish terraces that were by now full of prosperous lawyers and well-informed accountants and replace them by slab blocks and dual carriageways in the name of redevelopment and regeneration, and by the middle of the 1980s millions of people all over the country had knocked through and pulled up carpets – though in a slightly jollier version of the style with walls brightly painted in solid colours, and shiny ethnic ornaments.

The thing that stopped me about this house was the way it was so very, very, exactly like my memories of houses years ago when all this was rare. Though of course it is probably all different really.

Webbs Road Battersea

And of course no photos – as I’m not really given to taking pictures of people I don’t know just as they start a canoodle in their own living room. You can get arrested for that.


Later that same night, waiting in the rain on the north side of Clapham Common for a bus back to urban civilisation, a genuine bus-stop conversation. You don’t get many of those in the South of England. She perhaps 60, years old, from Glasgow. He (or she?) maybe in his thirties, very camp possibly Scouse accent. He being English wants to move on, she is up for a chat.

Had I heard about the idjits in Glasgow who drive a car into the airport? No, I hadn’t – I’d been at a party then walking for a couple of hours.

She reckons its a good thing, as they’ll all take notice in Glasgow now and do something about all the wee Paki shops. Apparently the trouble up there is that these Muslims and Pakis are all integrated. Not like Leeds where she lives now where they all keep themselves to themselves. The thing about the Scots – and especially about Rangers supporters – is that they take no shite. Or so I was told.

On the other hand she (like me) says she has both Protestants and Catholics in the family, so there cause of integration is perhps not yet lost.

Clapham Common North Side

They go indoors. I wait for a 37 bus to Peckham. When it gets to Clapham South a whole load of posh white people get off the bus, and lots of rather less posh black people get on. Battersea is behind me, and the last night of legal smoking in the pub ahead. Once in the pub I win 20 quid at Texas Hold’em which can’t be bad. Though between the beer and fags I must be down on the deal somehow.

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.


Norwood: Hilly and Proud!

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

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


Brockley Rise in the Rain, May 2007


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

William IV, Elmer's End

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

I’ll be back.

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…

Spring comes to Camberwell

So pictures as promised of Peckham.

I’m just getting the hang of this flickr thing. So I’ll try just pasting the links in the way they set them up to see how it works.

If it doesn’t really I’ll edit it in to a table like I usually do. Maybe tomorrow. This all takes longer than I thought.

Select the little pictures to see some bigger ones.

Camberwell skies

Camberwell, sky, stuff

Burgess_Park Daffodils

Addington Square, February

Burgess Park blossom, February 2007

Camberwell chimney

Burgess Park blossom

Camberwell looking at gherkin

Camberwell demolition

Camberwell - big round flats



Some older pictures of the same area, just for fun.


North Peckham Civic Centre (by night)



Spring is here, spppring is here…

… and I walked from Peckham through Camberwell up to Walworth after church today, ending up in one of the exvaginations of the Protean Burgess Park. Planted crocuses and daffodils are in bloom, as are the first of the rose-family street trees (some kind of cherry I think – I was too nice to pick any of them and look closely enough to i.d. them)

Photos tomorrow if I remember. Despite the so-called Broadband, uploading pictures is still a lot easier from work than from home.

Burgess Park is a really odd place because it isn’t a park at all. Or wasn’t. It is a collection of parcels of land – some genuine parks, old playgrounds, a couple of rather elegant squares, some never-rebuilt bombsites, reclaimed industrial brownfield, and 1960s and 70s slum clearance, all vaguely linked together by the course of the western arm of the old Surrey Canal, and joined into a virtual park two or three decades ago by some lines on a Southwark Council plan.

Its a legacy of the days when “Inner City” meant blight and decline and local government thought it was their job to demolish houses, get the population density down, and move the people out to shiny new estates in the middle of nowhere. By the 1980s that idea was obvious nonsense in south London, land was in demand again, people were clamouring to move back in, and slums were being sold to the sons of stockbrokers for more money than their previous inhabitants had earned in their lives. But the officials managing the council planning departments had been trained in the 40s and 50s, and still thought that private rented housing was the enemy. They had also seen what had happened to the high rise blocks in the 60s and 70s and realised that that wasn’t the answer. So in Southwark they

At the time I thought it was a crap idea. If I’d been the Dictator of South London I’d have laid 90% of Burgess Park out for streets and built three-story terraced houses. (Still the highest-density livable family housing we can tolerate in our culture – I have seen the future and it looks like Haringey) When we lived in Nunhead it made a convenient route for cycling around without having to play with the traffic – up the old canal from where Peckham Library is now then left to Walworth road, or right to Old Kent Road, or try to get over Albany Way to get lost in the Aylesbury Estate. But most of “Burgess Park” was pretty much wasteland – but not pretty wasteland. These days its a lot better. Trees have grown, some leisure facilities built, people are using the park. It still might have been better if they had rebuilt some or all of the demolished streets, but it seems to be working. Sort-of.

And there are pretty flowers. As well as lots of pigeons.

It’s trendy oop North

I’ve been spending a lot of time in north London over the last few days because my Mum is staying at my brother’s house. (He’s not there at the moment himself – another story) We were there over Christmas for three nights and I’ve been up once before and so far twice since.

My main problem with the district is what to call it. Its the northernmost cranny of the London Borough of Islington, in the angle between Holloway Road and Seven Sisters Road. And more precisely is an island of once rather upmarket housing between Hornsey Road, narrow, full of Turkish clubs and shops, and Stroud Green Road, which becomes Crouch Hill round the corner, once an island of West Indian settlement in a mainly white district, and now surprisingly trendy, if still a little downmarket of nextdoor Crouch End, full of theme bars, traditional bakeries, and delicatessens – but we are unreliably informed that Dave Stewart, Bob Hoskins, Lily Allen, Gillian Anderson, Ho Chi Minh, Marina Sirtis, Josette Simon, and most famously Bob Dylan got there first – almost as cool as New Cross!. Climbing up the Northern Heights, full of infill and rebuilding, very densely populated. The local authority ward is “Tollington” but no-ones ever heard of that. I suspect that mildly dishonest estate agents would sell it as “Finsbury Park”, and very dishonest ones as “Crouch Hill”. But both those places are on the border of Hornsey, nowadays in the London Borough of Harringay – which apparently started as a typographical error for “Hornsey”. Or perhaps the other way round. Hornsey Road is not Hornsey, its the road to Hornsey. We’ll have to settle for “Upper Holloway” in the knowledge that most people who hear that name would think of somewhere about a mile to west. Most of the few people who know anything about the detailed layout of inner London suburbs that is,

On Christmas Eve we went to St. Thomas’s Finsbury Park (same street as the better-known mosque) for midnight mass. Wonderful place. Well it was then. Enough incense to blur the edges of the robes of the gold-clad priests against the golden east-facing altar with traditional Christmas carols with dodgy new words bowdlerised by brain-dead Anglo-Catholics from the New Engerlish Horribymnal. All this and a woman celebrant too. Wonderful. Our clothes still smelled of incense the next day.

On Sunday morning and Christmas Day we worshipped at the parish church, St. Mark’s Tollington Park (Rt. Rev. Preb. +Sandy Millar, NSM incumb.) which was really rather nice. I was half expecting – no, be honest, three-quarters expecting – a congregation of young middle-class white couples with excessively clean children, but it wasn’t like that. Well, it was at first, but this was a real Anglican church. Most people arrived late. I sat down two minutes into the service at the back of a mostly white congregation, and stood up an hour later in the middle of a typically Inner London congregation, maybe 40% black , 50% white, the balance made up by Asians. In fact a lot more diverse, both by ethnicity and age, than St. Thomas’s.

Bishop Sandy can certainly preach. Twenty-five minutes of decent rambling evangelicalism, with a gospel challenge at the end. Illustrative quotes from Thomas Merton, the Book of Common Prayer, St. Francis, and the Times. As well as that dubious anecdote about the secret police who burst into a church and said everyone had to leave or they would be shot – I know you know it, so there is no point in repeating it. The burden of the Christmas Eve sermon being that just as we prepare materially for Christmas – food, drink, decorations, presents – so we should be preparing ourselves spiritually for receiving the gift of Jesus Christ. The early church decided, and the Reformers agreed, that today is still the Fourth Sunday of Advent in the church calendar. Which is why we are talking about John the Baptist this morning, and waiting till evening to talk about the baby Jesus.

If I was giving point scores it would be eight out of ten for delivery, nine out of ten for content, but maybe only five out of ten for form and structure – it was all good stuff but you had to keep awake to see how it fitted into his theme. But a good sermon, and we could do with more preachers like him.

A posy for mother Mary

Its no surprise when roses bloom on in suburban gardens in north-east London on Christmas Eve. Everyone knows roses flower all through winter, at least some varieties do. Rosemary is another plant that famously flowers in winter.

Dandelions are just being ruderal and opportunistic, like the ubiquitous (in London) annual mercury no-one (except me) seems to notice, or the little patch of chickweed I just saw, trying to get a breeding cycle into even a few frost-free days. And so far we have had no frost at all this winter so they are in luck. The very struggling Michaelmas daisies might just be late, continuing in flower till winter really starts. (if it ever does)

Those primroses look planted. Maybe they are some weird variety. The Pelargonium do look like some florists variety, and they aren’t native, so might not have the cues they need to flower at the right time in our environment. The violets by the gatepost are just about believable – after all there are winter-flowering pansies – though they look as if they might be a florists variety as well.

But hollyhocks? Hollyhocks???? At Christmas? That is absurd.

Almost as absurd as walking home from church on Christmas Eve in North London and seeing over ten species of plants in flower in gardens. Maybe its global warming. Maybe its so the shepherd’s can pick a bouquet for Mary. But whatever it is, its strange.