I think it’s about time I wrapped up the Woolwich visit, or another month will have passed.
The contrast between the couth regenerated area of Woolwich Arsenal and the main shopping drag is marked. Plenty of shops catering for those without a huge amount of disposable income; fast food outlets, garish colours. A huge branch of Tesco, a Primark, a Wilkinson’s, A TK Maxx; no sign of a Marks and Spencer. Oh but some of the buildings were grand, and the evidence of independent shops representing the ethic diversity of Woolwich is heartening. Give me a Turkish deli over a mini Waitrose any day.
The old co-op building caught our eyes and we gazed up at the statue of Robert Mackay who seems to have held every senior position in the venture. I had all but forgotten Woolwich’s strong association with the co-operative movement.RACS are initials familiar from childhood, but I can’t say when I saw them last.
Across the street two more buildings in a sorry state were also once part of the RACS. We couldn’t make it out at the time, but my photograph, when enlarged on my laptop, showed the motto Each For All and All For Each. Not Thatcherites then.
The light was fading and the air cooling. We repaired to the pub, nicely housed in an another ex military building, the one by the statue of Nike. We went in, there were comfy looking chairs and Celia asked me what I’d like to drink. My mind was more on locating the Ladies. Naturally Celia didn’t need to go. As I have said before, she is a camel. By the time I returned Celia had a drinks list, and had learned that the pub served Little Bird, gin made in Peckham, a locality not far from Sunny Walworth. We opted for gin. Celia bought a bowl of chips (Fries to those of you across the pond). The table and chairs beside us had also been taken. A small boy in a striped t shirt beamed at us, and let us know he considered us sufficiently part of his party that we could play hide and seek with him.
So that was how we met the three adults he was with. Afterwards, Celia and I discussed how we slowly realised who belonged to whom in the group. Two of the adults were Ben’s parents, one was a friend. All were male. Celia guessed first that one of the adults was Ben’s father, possibly separated from his mother. When I began to understand the relationship I thought one of the men was Ben’s biological father, and that he had been born to a surrogate mother, but I couldn’t decide who the biological father was; the child was such a mix of both parents. All this time we were discussing Brexit. It has replaced the weather as the main topic of conversation on these islands. We were getting along famously, and Ben was being a total sweetheart. We learned how they made a living, where they lived, how their friend lived in Woolwich in one of the buildings we had admired, the one where the annual service charge is £5,500. We did not learn their names.
Celia and I had had a second gin, served with juniper berries and slices of pink grapefruit.
And then we learned how Ben came into their lives, adopted when he was ten months old after twenty registrations of interest in other children once they had been approved as parents. It was moving and shocking in equal measure to hear how they would put in an application for a child (that may not be the right terminology, so please forgive me and correct me if I have it wrong), wait and hear nothing, until such time had passed that they knew they had been unsuccessful. What that strain does to a relationship I can’t imagine; the hopes, the disappointment, the self-questioning. The twentieth child was a little girl. When that was unsuccessful too they wrote a letter, a letter that moved someone in social services it seems, and they were matched with Ben. To say this induced warm and fuzzy feelings in Celia and myself would be about right. By the time we finished our drinks and headed off to the train station, we were suffused with a feeling that however dire Brexit is, there are some things make the world a wonderful place. We had both lost bits of our hearts to Ben.
If we go back on a Saturday and stay until the evening, I for one shall want to head for the pub and the chance of meeting this little family again.
But that will have to wait until Celia has been to Crete and back.
Watch this space.