In Which Celia and Isobel Visit Woolwich: the Third and Final Part

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.

The Woolwich Arsenal Cooperative Society

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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.

Almost Derelict

Each For All and All For Each

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In Which Celia and Isobel Visit Woolwich, Part Two

I realise I need to reel back to the barrier bit of our our afternoon.

You can see the barrier from the station platform at Pontoon Dock. There are worse views. We were a bit puzzled by the hedges which at first sight suggested a maze, then waves, and provided some children with great hide and seek opportunities. It also made it feel quite private as we walked the length of it.

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It turns out the waves are to remind us of the docks, but they also provide a micro climate which encourages a variety of plants and wildlife.

Now I’ll skip back to Woolwich. Beyond the market square there’s a busy road with vehicles of all types roaring along it, and an estate agent branch of a well known swanky firm. We were about to find out why. We had reached the Arsenal, the original home of the football team, now associated with north London, but born down in se18.

The football team

The military used to be in these buildings, but now they have been, as the increasingly heard phrase goes, repurposed. I should say it was shortly after entering this repurposed area that we met Ben for the first time. Or rather Celia did. I missed the moment but turned around from studying the statue of Nike to see she was playing a game of catch with a small boy with curly dark hair, a winning smile and a very inaccurate grasp of how catch is played. For those of you unfamiliar with the game, one person throws an object, often a ball, sometimes a bean bag, in this case a small plastic toy, to another person who catches it. When the thrower throws the object in an entirely different direction from the person who is in the catching role, the game loses some of its flow. I made a lucky catch when by some miracle Ben launched the toy in my direction, returned the toy to him, and we moved on.

Nike

As with the barrier park, what was striking was the feeling of space. The buildings are low, the ground between them well tended. Military space has become residential and leisure space. Work is going on for Crossrail, the Elizabeth Line making Woolwich to central London journey times impressively quick.

New Railway

Elizabeth Line

Our experience of being on the edge of a regeneration zone where Berkeley Homes is involved made us a tad cynical. For all Berkeley and the other developers trumpet the mantra of creating community, their goal is to make money. The communities they want to build are not the people already living in the area, but newcomers with money.

Military History Rended Nostalgic

History as a marketing

Community

An area’s history is sanitised and repackaged in a golden nostalgic vision of the past. I can’t say it’s not seductive. But in our local area I have seen history boards that play fast and loose with neighbourhood boundaries, and where uncomfortable parts of the history are edited out. I imagine it’s the same in Woolwich.

Still, I began to think that MasterB and I could quite happily relocate, and Celia very generously said she’d allow me to live in Woolwich.

Among the older buildings are new blocks of flats. But it was this building which inspired our first real surge of property envy.

Property Envy

Nice Front Door

Later we learned the service charges are £5,500 pa. I currently pay £1,000 in service charges.

The museum has closed and is to relocate. It occupied an enviably large space, no doubt now destined to become flats. This underlines one f the conflicts of regeneration, where conservation and archives collide with profit. It’s the ideal place to have a museum telling the story of the area’s past, but the economic argument wins each time because we place a higher value on money than we do on education.

This was Woolwich

I am very doubtful about giving the responsibility for telling history into the hands of people whose prime motivation is to make money from it. Inconvenient truths can be lost very quickly.

To be relocated

Once the museum

We peered through the windows into the empty spaces beyond. It reminds both of us of the naval dockyard at Chatham. Who knows if that might yet be turned into desirable homes.
Naturally there is some public art, and a fair amount of ordinance lying about, now less defensive than ornamental. Children climbed on cannons.

Engine Mount (don’t ask me, I don’t know)

Assembly, Peter Burke Assembly, Peter Burke

Cannon Balls

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In Which Celia and Isobel Visit Woolwich, Part One

Brexit has sapped me of energy so completely I thought I might be coming down with some ghastly lurgy. Not even the birth of a new baby in the family on Friday was enough to revitalise me.
However, a trip to SE18 was wonderfully restorative.
We set out after lunch for the Thames Barrier. There’s a great deal of redevelopment by the park on the north side of the Thames next to the barrier, but even so, what struck us was how quiet it was, how calm. Compared to our patch of inner city, this was spacious and unpopulated. I felt I could live with views like these of the river.

Thames Barrier

Rays of God

Exposed Foreshore

A tug bringing empty containers came up the river to the barrier, passed through and beyond, making for the City. This containers are filled with London’s rubbish and towed away to be burned, buried or composted.

Tug and Containers

Nearing the Barrier


There was one block of flats we both agreed was very stylish, the design owing something to an ocean going liner of the Queen Mary type. Oddly I didn’t photograph it. I made friends with a young cockapoo called Dobey who was finding his first spring immensely exciting, and Celia sat and listened to the birds and the quiet. A pair of magpies were carrying on a conversation with each other, one bird in a tree, the other perched on a balcony. Continue reading

Remain a Star

By twelve midday, when I was still with my clients, Parliament Square was already awash with banners. Cyclists were circling the square (sic) to the accompaniment of Electric Dreams, a song I have never really liked, but from now on shall listen to with affection. My clients, from the US, were captivated. In particular as we made our way into and across Green Park they were stopping to photograph banners, deriving special pleasure from any deriding Trump. We were supposed to part company at Trafalgar Square, but they stood and watched as marchers moved slowly by, banners and placards held aloft. There were some real corkers, and I am so cross that I forgot to charge my camera battery last night. I’ve got a few pictures on my ‘phone which will have to do.

We all agreed we were witnessing history, I intended to join the march, and I really shouldn’t be surprised to learn they joined in too. Finally they left to get some lunch and I sat by a statue and ate the salad I had brought with me. The woman beside me was German and we chatted. I said I was hoping to meet some neighbours, one of who is also German. Texts suggested they might be some time, then they said they were on Pall Mall, and we fixed a rendezvous by the lions in the square. There was a French couple beside me, and once they had made friendly eye contact a conversation started between us. French is my second language, and it may sound silly, but marching to say I want to remain in the EU, it felt positive to be able to converse with these fellow Europeans in their language.
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Winds of change

Nineteen days until the UK leaves the EU and we still don’t know how it’s going to work. Or not. Any pretence at smoothly running government has long since gone. In many ways this is far more interesting, and I do hope the same old familiar party lines will not reappear 30th March. Anyone who thinks that it’ll be over in any aspect is deluding themself. There is no sign of the fat lady waiting to grab the microphone, though quite a few people with megaphones and a lot of flags. The far right have (again) grabbed the Union flag. This does annnoy me. It’s my flag too and I don’t see why a bunch of nationalists should be allowed to wave it about as though they are its keepers.
So while flagged deprived, I have finally filled in my application for my Irish passport, having received an answer to my query about whether I could submit a witnessed copy of my UK passport rather than the real thing.
I am supping with Octavia, and she will witness my signature, sign my passport photos in which I look like the perfect candidate for the post of Rat Catcher in Chief, and endorse my photocopy.
Then it’s a matter of some six weeks wait. Continue reading

Finding my inner anorak

A couple of weeks ago on a gloriously sunny morning three of us joined a group of people on a platform at Ealing Broadway.
I don’t think I have been there before. We were given orange wristbands and then stood about, peering down the track, amid a buzz of happy chatter and an array of serious cameras.

On the platform

One of us was wearing an anorak, but it’s fair to say just being there our spiritual anoraks were on show.
For those of you not familiar with the term, an anorak is a lightweight waterproof jacket favoured by trainspotters. I’m presuming trainspotters exist the world over. If not, they are enthusiasts, usually male, who spend their free time on railway platforms noting the type and registration number of the trains arriving and leaving the station. They are not heroin addicts despite Danny Boyle’s celebrated film Trainspotting.

Like the term anorak, the film’s title has a wider meaning: people with a simple and often single-minded obsession with a single subject.
looking around we were surprised at the wide demographic represented. Some people had dressed up. We were going to ride on a 1930s tube train, one of the last journeys it will make on the network before new signalling makes it impossible.
These trains went out of service in the 1970s, I will have travelled on them on journeys across London, but by the time I came to live in the capital they were gone.

Later generations of underground trains shared some of the same features: the wooden floors like duckboards, the wooden panels, the hanging straps which look like upside down mini punchballs, the rounded profile, the red paint. All this brought on waves of memories.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Doughnuts, Dolls and The Dead

I don’t usually have doughnuts for breakfast, but the on the other hand I have never, ever seen a doughnut that looks anything like this.

Doughnut Breakfast

The topping contained more sugar than I usually eat in a week. But it was nice.
I didn’t buy it, it was brought by a young relative who came to supper last night. I filled us up with ribollita until neither of us could face pudding, though true to form I picked at the bunch of grapes in the fruit bowl. I eat grapes as though I’m in a competition.
It was a good evening. MasterB took to the YR immediately, striding forward with his tail hoisted like a flag. I’ve already got her marked down as a potential cat sitter.
Apart from the unexpected doughnut it has been the week of the unexpected visit to one of the magnificent seven cemeteries, in my case Kensal Green. It was a fine cold morning when I set off rather later than I’d intended as MasterB had brought up a hairball on the bed which necessitated some unplanned and urgent washing before I could leave home. I met Badger the Staffie on my way to the tube. He held up his paw. I expressed sympathy and his owner laughed, saying Badger had been milking the sore paw for days.
My visit to the cemetery came about by accident rather than design. Lindy Lou took me to Kensal Green.
Here she is, newly unwrapped from the towel in which she travelled the tube for (I’m fairly certain) the first time in her existence.

Lindy Lou

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Octavia is my Lab Rat

As someone who loves, and I mean loves, fairy lights the sheer range available in the pound shop in December was severe temptation. I was almost salivating. I had to get myself out and away before considerable damage was done to my pocket.
Now, in the cool light of January,my decorations down, cards undisplayed, but fairy lights still twinkling as they do here all winter, I found myself thinking of those lights again. I returned to the shop, imagining I might, in a more restrained, less Christmassy frame of mind, be able to choose wisely from the selection.
All gone.
We have moved onto St Valentine’s Day. So I could have bought heart shaped candles, various tacky objects in shades of red. No fairy lights. Perhaps it’s a blessing. But I am thinking that if they have the same wonderful array next year, all the friends to whom I give presents will get at least one string of lights for Christmas.
Meanwhile, Octavia made a fleeting return to the capital and we ate together on Sunday evening. She is my lab rat, or guinea pig if you prefer, when I am trialling new dishes on visitors. Unusually we ate at mine. This was because I was making soup and didn’t fancy carrying it around to her house. The chances of spillage which would have been messy, were too high. My experimental dish was a Freekeh salad. Now I have had Freekeh in a local restaurant but not been able to buy it. Apparently it sells out very quickly. So Lyn very kindly got some for me in Auckland, and then Celia managed to bag a packet which was part of my Christmas gift from her.
So now I am Freekeh rich, but with Brexit looming, I don’t think I’m going to be rich in much else. I am particularly worried about fresh veg as I eat a great deal of it. I might get by on home grown tomatoes in the summer, but there’s no chance of that in April.
Maybe by some miracle the MPs will put a stop to the madness and we can reboot. Brexit’s wounds are going to take a long, long time to heal, whether we leave or stay. The bitterness, the hatred, the anger the referendum threw up will leave scars.
I have just watched Brexit: the Uncivil War, a drama about the campaigns starring Benedict Cumberbatch. It left me thoughtful, and more than a tad depressed. I had seen part of it being filmed in 2018 and been told by one of the crew it was to air the night we left the EU. In that case, I hope I never see it, I replied. But we are still in the EU, and it has aired. Watching it on catch up I didn’t get the full complement of ads in the breaks (it was a Channel 4 production for anyone looking to find it) but I did get that it had been sponsored by Lexus, so presumably that was the type of buying power the anticipated audience was expected to have. Not I. Among the more ridiculous accusations levelled at remainers is the one that we are the metropolitan elite. Some of the poorest parts of London voted solidly to remain. My own neighbourhood among them. Apparently, and especially as I read the Guardian, I am also a member of the chattering classes, which perhaps I am, though not alas with any influence. The term was coined by Auberon Waugh whose politics were more than a bit extreme.
We are seeing the unedifying spectacle of MPs, journalists and others being racially abused; women having misogynistic comments hurled at them by a group of vociferous pro Leave protesters who gather outside the Palace of Westminster. How anyone hearing them could embrace a future where their views dominate is a mystery.
I don’t agree with Owen Jones about much, but when he says the right wing press and the language of hate and prejudice that adorn its front pages has much to answer for, he’s right. He didn’t mention the lies the Mail and the Express serve up on an almost daily basis. According to them, climate crisis is a lie, we are overrun with malign foreigners, the NHS is being bled dry by health tourists. All these stories have been shown to be false, but still they keep peddling them. It worries me that the newspaper proprietors push this trash, it worries me even more that people buy these newspapers and want to believe them. That is self-deception on a frightening scale.
But I can only take a little of Brexit at a time. It looks horribly like I shall be living in an ex EU country very soon. Any problems will be blamed on the EU which has become some sort of whipping boy for the right and far right. Any success, any minor survival, will be hailed as victory. And as I don’t want to see my country go down the pan, I and my fellow remainers will be doing our darnedest to make something positive out of this disaster, and not relying as the leavers seem to do on fairies at the bottom of the garden.
So expect recipes, pictures of MasterB, poetry, anything that distracts and keeps me sane while this lemming like race to destruction continues. Meanwhile, beneath the surface my legs will be paddling like billyoh.

Oh hush the noise, ye men of strife

Night fell a couple of hours ago. The shops are closing. Celia and Charlie have left for Brighton. Octavia is in Yorkshire. In the block of flats where I live, only a handful of residents are at home, and in the section where my flat is, only my lovely neighbours opposite and I are here for Christmas. We’ve decorated our shared landing and exchanged gifts.
Inside, I have candles and fairy lights, tinsel that has so far survived MasterB’s interest, clean sheets, and parcels piled up on the table. Nanci Griffith’s voice fills the air from an old cassette tape.
I am feeling Christmassy, but not Christmassy enough to play CDS of carols. Anyway, I have managed to miswire the CD player of the stereo and sorting it out is beyond me right now. Continue reading

Of Jet Lag, Disappointing Theatre and Amazing Poetry and Science

I thought I was over the jet lag. I’ve been back at work since Saturday, and MasterB’s insistence on breakfast at seven in the morning has helped get at least that part of my routine re-established pretty quickly. I had one evening when I went to bed shortly before six. It was that or nod off on the sofa. The dark evenings haven’t helped me stay awake. By eight it feels like midnight. I tried having a second cup of coffee one day, but that was disastrous; I was jittery and jumpy, and speaking so fast my tongue felt seriously tired. However, day by day I was gradually staying awake longer and later.

But this week I had tickets to two events in the evening. The first, on Wednesday, was to a play at the National Theatre, the second to a poetry and science event at the Shaw Theatre. Both were with Celia and we have had the tickets for some weeks.

I love the National Theatre. It is quite simply one of the best theatres in the world in terms of the three auditoria it comprises, in terms of its creative vision and commitment, in terms of its productions. actually, it is probably the best theatre in the world. This is the home of War Horse, and the puppeteers who work their magic in that production say there is no other theatre in the world where this play would have been staged; the work that went on for months behind the scenes to make it possible would not have been contemplated anywhere else. You get spoiled in london. It is the the theatre capital of the world.

So you’ll understand I had high expectations of the evening. The play was by David Hare, a writer I respect. On the way there Celia told me the reviews had been mixed. We were surprised to see many of the seats were empty. My experience of the NT is almost uniquely of full houses and anticipatory audiences. The lights dimmed. The opening scene was great, snappy, clever, promising. bUt after that it was slow. A lot of polemic and not a lot to watch. My eyes began to close. I was still listening, but the voices were sounding more and more distant.

I made myself open my eyes. I’m a fidget at the theatre. some people stay in the same position throughout a play. I don’t. I move about in my seat, cross and uncross my legs and arms, reach for my water bottle, lean forward, lean back. This time a lot of my fidgeting was to keep awake. I thought I was doing quite well, but then my head dropped and woke me up. I didn’t last beyond the interval. I wasn’t sure if it was me or the play. Celia stayed. She texted me when it was over: thumbs down. Oh well, put that one down to experience. Continue reading