The Coronavirus Diaries, 3rd April 2021

Easter weekend which means it’s two years since Celia and I did the Guildford circular walk via Watts gallery. I am cold. I have been sitting outside with B&J having an al fresco meal. I didn’t feel cold then, but coming in I suddenly want to wrap a blanket around myself, convince MasterB he wants to sit on my lap (he doesn’t, he’s sitting across from me, on the chair, having a wash), snuggle into the sofa cushions.

The meal was delicious, from a Vietnamese takeaway close to the Elephant which I have known was there for years, but never tried. The exterior does not invite. The interior is plain, there are no takeaway menus to take away. J had heard about it, then read reviews, all of which were full of praise to the point of ecstasy. There is no website, it’s cash only in these cash less times; it’s very much old Elephant rather than the new shiny, sanitised, any place model being promoted by the developers. I’d say its days are numbered.

There are plans to put a penthouse storey on top of the council flats where I used to live. I am affronted. We called our flat the penthouse suite as it was on the top (seventh) floor with views to die for. We also called it Seventh Heaven, though that was usually ironic and when the lift wasn’t working; or the Centipede With a Wooden Leg, because of the joke and we lived at number 99. Now it seems the joke was on us.

Gradually the Walworth Road is changing. I used to say we were a caff society, not a café society. It was a road of greasy spoons, all day breakfasts and mugs of tea, pie and liquor, jellied eels, mushy peas. I don’t drink tea. Pies, eels and bacon sandwiches are very definitely not my thing, so it may seem contrary of me to regret their passing. But Walworth Road had its unique atmosphere, was comfortable in its own skin, it had a certain élan. It also had a wonderful bespoke library, a famous street market, some dodgy and some not at all dodgy pubs. Some of the pubs remain, but without trying too hard I can think of several that have closed, become shops or banks, or in one case a pharmacy after a few years as a bookies.

So these are the in between times, the chrysalis phase, where people who have lived here far longer than I have are wondering where they will fit in in a few years time, if they will fit in, or are they the chrysalis casing which will be shed, discarded. And as for the butterfly, what will it be like when it emerges?

Neighbourhoods change all the time. They evolve, come in and out of fashion. Walworth developed as a suburb for the well to do middle classes. The arrival of the railways, then the tube, meant those people moved away to the leafy suburbs leaving central London districts like this one to the poor who needed to live in walking distance from their work. The houses, built for single families attended by servants, became houses of multiple tenancies, shops were built in the front gardens as the main road became commercial.

I have lived here for over forty years, longer than most of my immediate neighbours, but not as long as many in the wider community. My grandmother was born within shouting distance of where I live, and her parents moved when it was clear Walworth was not what it had been, so it seems strange that I should be here as the wheel turns back towards something they would have been more at ease with, and stranger that I was more comfortable here when Walworth had no pretensions to being the next new place, and those of us who lived here hugged the knowledge of our overlooked and under appreciated neighbourhood to ourselves, knowing we lived in a great location, where people from all backgrounds loved to chat, and most of London didn’t even know where it was.

Stay safe. Keep well. Be careful what you wish for.

2 thoughts on “The Coronavirus Diaries, 3rd April 2021

  1. Yes – for years Walworth was an un-recognised area, a secret shared by only a select Walworth cogniscenti. Another couple of things I have always appreciated about it since I came here 30 plus years ago are its closeness to central London and it’s fantastic public transport provision.

    • The conversations used to go along these lines:
      Where do you live?
      Walworth.
      Where’s that? /That’s a long way out! / I’ve never heard of it./ Woolworth’s?
      The bus services aren’t as great as they were, but it is still very connected, and two time stations in easy walking distance.
      Blimey, I sound like an estate agent!

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