Mid-afternoon on the Brandon Estate, Lambeth: there are surreptitious meetings in the squares, teenagers riding around on those annoying little bicycles, and everywhere there are nods and greetings as if they all know me. Indeed, I feel like I know everyone here, but this is hardly the reception Londoners are known for when crossing paths with strangers. I probably look like someone they know or, at least, like I belong on the Estate.
In the Canterbury, it is much the same. The bartender is a lovely lass with a voice that you would mistake for Kathy Burke if you closed your eyes (well, I find it melodic and I hope this doesn’t cause offense since the divine Ms. Burke hails from across the river). Friendly nods — not so friendly as outside, but better than most bars — come from ’round the lounge. My beer now poured, the fellow on the corner raps the top of the bar twice in rapid succession with the handle of his cane then swirls it in the air over his and his partner’s nearly empty lagers (she’s out front for a fag at the time).
If you look at the upper right corner of the photo, there is a cable junction hanging from the ceiling next to a lighting fixture (just out of shot) that suffered a catastrophic blowout perhaps ten years ago. I’d guess the house is from the late 60’s or early 70’s and shows a bit of wear from maybe the turn of the century but it suits the place. I probably wouldn’t have mentioned any of this, though, but that there was one of those real estate shows on the telly in the background with a couple seeking a detached house and a view of the sea on the paltry budget of £550, 000 or, in terms of the day, about 44,000 rounds for the house.
Do go to this one…here’s a map.
K is for Kennington, part of, nay, most of Lambeth. I did a commute run into work from the Park & Ride this splendid Maundy Thursday so the A to Z run this afternoon was short; however, Kennington packs a lot in its wee boundaries. In fact, mere arrival at Kennington Station starts you off right with the weird architectural stylings of Charles Holden. The dome used to house the lift mechanism on the deep line and has survived the introduction of hydraulics (domes on other stations have all been removed).
My first mission was to run down to Kennington Park to the site of Bob Marley’s squat in 1977. I was led to believe, online (silly Interwebs), that the Rastafarian Temple was at the north end of St Agnes Place but spying nothing that looked — or felt — right there, I walked down toward the Kennington Common where the fence jibed and the building next door still exists (the Rose Apartments, at the bottom of the dreadlocks on the map). Here’s Mr Marley with some mates in the Park 40 years ago:
The Temple, 10 years ago:
The Rasta Temple during the April 2007 drugs bust. Nothing much came of this in the courts, but with everyone out of the house it was easier to get permission to tear the place down (which happened a few months later).
The site of the Rasta Temple today (10 years after). Ghastly.
The Brandon Estate, a public housing development, overshadows the Common and is the site of Henry Moore’s Two Piece Reclining Figure No.3 (1961):
This is a kind of strange find amongst Council towers but it seems to be unmolested on its little knoll. Standing up there, you wonder how many people in the art world even know this is here. Personally, I imagined Tom Baker’s version of Dr Who emerging from the TARDIS and declaring, “back in a tick, but there’s a marvelous sculpture I must take in before we deal with The Master.”
That thought isn’t so incongruous since David Tennant’s version of Dr Who crash landed the TARDIS a mere 75 meters away, over near the Canterbury Arms. I already did a London A to Z Run D for Dr Who on the other side of the river but this one actually had some recognisable sites:
From “The Christmas Invasion” (2005)
From my own “Maundy Thursday Invasion” (2017)
The TARDIS came to rest in this alley:
which is much tidier today:
After my beer at the pub, I headed back out across the Common toward the Kennington Oval.
The area is spoilt for choice with churches. St Mark’s, bombed to the ground save the façade and the cupola, was one of four churches built in honour of the victory at Waterloo. The cemetery is supposed to be full of the great and good of the last two centuries, as well, but on this day it was just a postcard shot on the run.
For a REAL church in the area, you should visit the Kia Oval, nicer, I have been assured, than Lords Cricket Ground and active in one way or another every day of the year:
I’d jogged almost all the way past before it occurred to me that the fence has a ball-and-wicket theme going on:
At the far end (from my direction of travel), you can spot the iconic gas works, next door. The ivy hasn’t yet leafed out but I bet it is gorgeous later in the summer (and colourful in autumn).
The housing nearby is pretty nice, as well. There should be a special prize for any batsman that knocks one of these windows in Harleyford Court for six:
At the next corner, I stopped at the Beehive and took in a few overs of Indian Premier League cricket before continuing on.
It’s a pretty neighbourhood and not entirely gentrified (there are still council housing projects dotted in amongst the astronomically priced real estate in the area). And, there are still a few grand and very old pubs around; my third of the day was one of these, the Old Red Lion just above my starting point at Kennington Station.
But, I had one more planned stop on the way to meet Jackie after work. The video of Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ Come On, Eileen was shot in front of the corner shop at Hayles Street and Brook Drive. This part of town gets a lot of film and video work (some nearby pubs feature in the London A to Z Run F for Film):
It’s an earworm and I can’t shake it. Could be worse, I guess:
Leaving Kennington past the Imperial War Museum to Waterloo, this seems like a successful (and wholly incomplete) tour.
The third “J” bar of the day, the Job Centre, was also the third [nearly] identical hipster bar in a row (following on from John the Unicorn and Jam Circus). This was easily the best of the lot, though, and I’ll let those earlier write-ups stand in for what was wrong with this place.
I sat with my beer near the kitchen’s open window so I could watch the cooks work, an old habit that serves no purpose anymore than to entertain but in the dark recesses of the past — the Olden Times — it would have either been for recruitment of staff (raiding) or to find out if this looked like a decent place to work. I still miss kitchen work because, when you are good at it, you tend to get the approval of your boss, colleagues, and even customers; no such luck in the Sciences.
Near the stairs, I spotted a wonderful machine from my even deeper past. I was a projectionist for about 6 months at a — let’s call it a cinema — money laundering operation for a low level Viet Namese crime family in the South Dekalb section of Atlanta. I was a convenient character for them to have as I was a military veteran, a white guy with a basically clean Police sheet, a holder of a Union Card that allowed me to do this sort of work, and I was beholden to them for a sum of cash due to a — let’s call it a — misunderstanding. That was my entrance into the glamourous world of pornography.
The projectors I used at the Sunshine Cinema (the side of the twin-plex that hadn’t suffered an unexplained fire) were a pair of Simplex projectors that operated via arc lighting, burning welding rods at atmospheric pressure and about 30-40 amps current. I was constantly at the machinists’ shop having parts made to keep these 60 year olds (then; ‘twould be 90+, now) running. Eventually, we could do no more with them. Our replacement wasn’t an EX-4100, like this one, but it was an Eiki (Elf-Lite is another label for the same company), with a much brighter lamp and no need for a vent to carry soot away. The projection booth, which doubled as a bed sit for me, was much quieter and cleaner from then on (and the bong could be vented in the old snoots).
Eventually, my debts were paid off and I moved on to some bar work where there was a different class of pervert and where the constant threat of violence was so much more muted. You can fit a lot of work memories into the duration of a pint down at the Job Centre.
Here’s the map.
Out of breath at the top of the Nunhead Cemetery rise, I let gravity do the work down to Brockley Road and noted the well-kept gardens and litter-free streets. I got the feeling that this neighbourhood was financially better off than the last one and had probably suffered radical gentrification more than a decade ago. The one ray-of-light-and-hope was a gaggle of disheveled ‘street drinkers’ down a side street, but my target — Jam Circus — snuffed out my single candle against the cursed darkness, smothered no less than any of the six (possibly more) babies nursing at various tables around the venue. More like “Mum Circus,” it appears.
Yet, there was a decent bar with a good selection of beverages. Unfortunately, I opted for a Lilley’s Rhubarb cider which was cloyingly sweet (and, not at all a surprise, there).
A lot of effort seems to have gone into imprinting an adolescent personality on this place. There must be a catalogue for hipster bars and cafés since they all tend toward the same things. “I’d like the number 37 package but can I substitute the framed 1926 literary & lifestyle magazines for some Krazy Golf hole markers? Great, we open in 2 days, so rush that right over, please.”
Here’s a map.
John the Unicorn seems a functional enough bar and the sort of place Time Out might push as a safe haven for the adventurous bar-goer. On Peckham’s Rye Street, you couldn’t ask for a less congruous setting for this hipster den run by a obligatorily bearded fellow and some thin, waiter-ish and waitress-y staff that seem more suited to a place serving fusion cuisine (you know, like TexMex sushi or Caribbean-Bavarian tapas, but you can’t get a booking for 6 months). They all seemed very nice, though, and [shudder] eager…yet another thing that just doesn’t fit in with the urban setting in general nor, especially, this one in particular.
The tables all had menus on clipboards that on closer inspection were album covers with the vinyl still inside. I had the gummy bear themed beer (childish, but When in Rome…) which had a strong grapefruit note that deserved better than this ridiculous marketing tactic.
The interior design is actually very cool and the upstairs area more suited to a bit of dining or quiet chat. In fact, I like the place…it reminds me of several youngish bars I either worked in or hung out at in mid-80’s Atlanta. Like this one, those were the thin edge of the wedge that drove prices up and the original residents out (me and Jackie, included) as undesirables and their reliable vehicles moved in.
Here’s a map.
With no clue what to do for the “J” run of the A to Z, I decided to plot a path to pubs starting with J in some unfamiliar part of town. What I found on the way was the ugly side of Jentrification (I know how it is really spelled) and an increasingly pale population of hipster Jackasses (and Jennies).
I take POETS day seriously, each week, and, since the bulk of the lab was also off to a pub crawl of their own, I slipped away early and caught the Jubilee line to Canada Water changing there for a train in the direction of Clapham Junction. Alighting the Overground at Peckham Rye Station (above) I felt quite at home as the neighbourhood seems almost indistinguishable from Kraaienest in the Bijlmer. My first stop of the day, John the Unicorn, seemed to be the only storefront that wasn’t African, Middle Eastern, or sub-working-class British. But, more on the bar in its write-up.
From Peckham, the route skirted the great Victorian Nunhead Cemetery including a massive hill climb (and descent). The approach to the hill passed through some ever-less-bleak housing estates and I seemed less a prey creature than a predator by the time the population shifted to urban homesteaders wearing matching exercise gear and sipping Costa coffees. Jesus-fucking-Christ. I was slightly heartened to see a group of street drinkers as I headed up Brockley Road on the far side of the cemetery hill but was once more yuppied into a funk at Jam Circus (more on the bar in its write-up, to follow).
The third bar, the Job Centre in Deptford (on the Deptford High Street, above, which was once actually poor but now just ironically so — just enough to make the wealthy young residents feel edgy), was yet another hipster hangout, and, again, not a bad bar at all in-and-of itself but a harbinger of doom for this neighbourhood’s previous residents (more on the bar in its write-up, to follow).
So, maybe the theme for the day should have been Juvenile. I boarded my train at New Cross station and glanced out the window to see some Jerks in their mid-20’s WITH A FUCKING FRISBEE. No one over the age of 16 should ever touch a Frisbee (and even then they should be massive pot heads) except to throw it onto a roof or into some briars or over a fence protected by attack dogs or off a bridge or into a bonfire; no one who isn’t stoned to the gills and over the age of 14 should go anywhere near The Disc, for any reason. But, there they were right out in public — in broad daylight! — and seemingly happy as larks. I am depressed.
Yes, Juvenile was the order of things. Those guys, the decor at Jam Circus, the beer choices, the babies (EVERYWHERE…FUCKING BABIES!) left me glad to get back to my awful neighbourhood in the suburbs where these ‘pioneers’ actually belong but where, at least, an adult beverage is meant for an adult palate.
Next time, the letter “K.”
Back to the north shore of the Thames, I tried to stick close to the river adjacent to numerous rowing clubs but was driven inland. Finally, I reached the waters again and threaded a phalanx of entitled mums on the Chiswick embankment (yes, we all know you are exempt from common courtesy now that you’ve ejected that incubus from your snatch but — fear not! — the rest of us will maintain civilisation until they grow large enough to create a blight on society of their own). The zigging and zagging made me thirsty and I decided to give the Bell & Crown a go (thinking, for just a moment, that a Crown on the maternal obstacles’ mating partners’ Bell Ends wouldn’t have gone amiss).
There were more kids inside, some with well-behaved dogs; but, on the whole, the bar was lovely and not nearly as overpriced as I expected. The golden ale was dear, mind you, but not as though actually minted. And, in a favourite (of mine) sort of nod to a real boozer, there was actually a coat hook under the bar…
…and books (which I suspect are entirely decorative). It’s a busy house but the neighbourhood is highly gentrified so you might get an interesting conversation about your retirement portfolio before sport (except, maybe, polo).
There are several other bars along the Breeder Coast, should you want to try them. Here’s a map to the Bell & Crown.