Thursday, July 29, 2010

My areas: Battersea (text)

Images here

My first nine months or so in London had seen me squeezed into a box-room in Balham, no refuge for a regular detoxer. But after reconnecting with my wealthier Kent cousins, I took them up on their offer of a spare room in order to improve the work-life balance (what is this revisionism? actually I knew they had one free that’s why I was stalking them). So I replaced the leafy streets near Clapham South with their flat on the Battersea High Street estate (they may have had the Italian name of my mother’s side, but these weren’t cockney relatives, it was a family ‘investment’ as all three cousins had gone to university in London), and immediately felt more settled with life in what we were now being obliged to call ‘swinging London’.

First, I should perhaps define ‘my’ Battersea: it covered an area from Falcon Road at the back entrance of Clapham Junction winding round via the High Street (more residential than retail) and the square up to Battersea Bridge Road (where I left the zone via the 19 Routemaster bus, or my bike), with the western end of Battersea Park Road its southern border and the Thames to the north. Aside from football, I never ventured much into Battersea Park with its pagoda, boating lake and mini-zoo (in fact I tried chilling there once and found I couldn’t relax!) or along Prince of Wales Drive, the nearest analogue for the affluent Chelsea on the other side. Or near the rows of colourful towers around the Doddington and Rollo estates so noticeable from the train. Or the power station at the north end, an obscured icon. Our five-a-side team did win a midweek tournament on the astro pitches near Battersea Park station, but that was years later.

Other borderlines were the dominant railway lines, north to Waterloo and Victoria, and the quieter spur from the junction to Brompton and Olympia (and now Imperial Wharf) that ran just past my flat. This is also an opportunity to say that Clapham Junction, like Northcote Road, Lavender Hill, St John’s Hill and, weirdly, Battersea Rise, arein Battersea, not fucking Clapham. Yes, Battersea covers a big triangular area up to Nine Elms but that doesn’t mean it should be haemorrhaging its fringe to adjacent areas in the name of a marketing opportunity. I’d regrettably see more of these environs than I’d like.

The area has long been in continuous revision. Although it was probably the southwest slice of London most vulnerable to WWII bomb attacks due to its preponderance of riverside factories and wharves for moving the goods, a cursory read on t’net makes clear the mid-century redevelopment is more due to slum clearance and the decline of industry than it being a bombsite. As planners sought to complement or contrast with the isolated but worthy Victorian housing stock, mid-century schemes of every scale and design with rural names like the Surrey or Somerset estate. The lofts with their facility for lifestyles rather than lives would pitch around the same time as I did in the autumn of 97, with Labour’s landslide party in full swing. It’s a disordered jigsaw with unlikely juxtapositions but I always liked that, it’s impossible to have rigid formality unless you’re starting completely anew.

During my time in Battersea there was a broadening of social circles, a bit more clubbing but only small step changes in overall activity from Balham. There were still too many disappointing and dissipatory nights resulting in what ifs, key/wallet losses and kips in stairwells as my cousin Nic slept like a log.

The garage mirage also outlined continued and intensified here. Supreme FM on the dial, if not by me in the daytime then by somebody in the next block, that shortlived great record shop on Falcon Road incubating the micro scene and crews such as So Solid from the area gaining prominence. As London had moved on from robust but wobbly speed garridge to the lithe science of 2-step this area seemed self-sufficient in its development of the scene, personally this element of being nominally close to what was happening may have mitigated against the drive of further immersion within it. Although that restrained adventurism had become a recurring trait identifiable from adolescence.

Like the music, what I also enjoyed about the area is that 10-15minutes away from Clapham Junction it felt that you were in a very self-contained district with none of that transient weekender crowd passing through. The pubs and restaurants were usually pretty quiet and there was little hubbub in general. Drinking friends only came over for the cursory check-out of the new pad, though the tokers found it a bit more to their liking. It’s very indicative that I found out as many nooks and crannies in a few hours cycling and snapping than a year of residence there. (There’s a tiny park just off the high street! And in the latter months I could have avoided Church Street to Battersea Bridge Road to take the riverside path from St Mary’s Church).

The end came abruptly again in late September 1998, after about a year. At various times there had been often two out of the three cousins alongside me, now one had welcomed their friend in, who swiftly bought along her Italian boyfriend. Four grown-ups in a pretty small flat was a bit of a squeeze despite the good relations between everyone (and from Sal I got my liking for the nerrazzurri), and my quick over-reaction in wanting out was probably indicative of the fairly fragile existence I had still plotted for myself in London; as soon as anything changed the delicate order I flexed too. Back to commuting for work and play from Surrey then, for the penultimate time.
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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

My Areas: Battersea (images)

Second in a series where I revisit the places I've lived in London (SW, W, E, N and SE) and offer a historic and contemporary snapshot of the area but also where my head was at the time. Battersea text here.

The Battersea97/98 Rewind starts at Clapham Junction, which you wouldnt think was Britain's busiest people transfer hub from the unassuming back entrance.

A small scale 60s patchwork precinct confronts the traveller as if it the rear end of Clapham Junction was a new town in the HCs. People en route to scoring on the Winstanley may well have pondered the Christian way out offered here.

As Falcon Road bends round to run parallel with York Road, this mosque was going when I was there as grotty pubs foundered and were then bulldozed. It seems to be mostly used by the Somali community.

The Asparagus at the end of Falcon continues to rein in the weak white men of the area, competing for business with another value joint just before it. I wonder whether the building was purpose built by Tim Martin's deliverer of fair priced light poison, sorry product?

Onto Battersea High Street, this end of which retains its Delboy air and has always struggled to be the little Broadway Market-type it would like to be. Still, at about the half units in use this is better than in my the day.

I still can't resist a hyperbolic name for an estate agent. Absolute Living says: come, maximise your life, rent with us and it will absolutely be better than where you are now. You're a loser if you look away. And you'll give in anyway.

Maybe not Absolute Living fodder but this was where I lived for a year, on Trott St just off the High Street. It was a pleasant little block of four-storey houses like these and a couple of 10-storey towers. The church is from more grandiose days while its old vicarage buildings now hosts a dual-language school for primary school children.

Classic French wouldnt be needed at 'Le QueCum Bar' though, which is a fairly dreadful riot of dissonant entreaties. Nostalgic jazz, private affairs (ooh la la matron), hot gypsy swing and Parisian ambience. 1950s St Germain this aint. There used to be two bars within walking distance of each other on the high street, the Original Woodman and the Woodman, the former old-school local and the latter scraping by on reps from any demographic. Market stalinism won it for the Woodman, and the Original became this joke.

That said, you'd probably get good working French if one of the professional partnership insisted on sending the kids to the other private option, St Thomas, which trades on the motto of the old grammar school first sited here in 1700 - 'Rather death than false of faith'.

Battersea Square still looks nice, but even with another new set of restos and bars still won't ever lay claim to being a happening zone due to the relative remoteness of its location. All Bra-Bum has closed, I see.

Round the corner onto Church Street and you're soon confronted by Richard Rogers Partnership's Montevetro. I found little cheer in its construction when I was living there and little at my return now, with its classic use of romance language non-words to create a cool identity ('Mount Windows,, right Rich?), fiddly externals, over-reaching scale blocking out river views (unless you're a resident) and aggressive posturing of the gated culture (I was about to be moved on because I was taking pictures outside of the development but of something else!)

In a classic example of Battersea juxtaposition, Montevetro sits opposite the Somerset Estate, a series of towers like this and lower-rise blocks with pavements in the sky, on the next image. And never shall residents of the twain meet

That something else was St Mary's Church, marriage venue for Blake, inspiration for Turner and burial place for Benedict Arnold. Unusual to see a church right on the Thames, though I am sure there are others (Putney Bridge). It should be acknowledged that the Montevetro project, which did for an old flour mill, did create a Thames Path from the western side of the church to the bridge. So thanks.

This is a nice image of different elements of industrial infrastructure in long-term (Lotts Road Power Station in Chelz) and short-term (rusting barge with containers) disuse.

Twelve-plus years on and they're still trying to create a mini retail and business district in Hester Road, yet the only real takers have been the flat-dwellers above the ground floor of this wormhole. The 19 starts here. or ends, depending on your outlook. Taking this route to Holborn where I worked was a pleasant start to the day soon obviated by fears of impunctuality as it ground through the west end.

But off the routemaster would trudge over Battersea Bridge Road. Guy Ritchie or Jason Statham fanatics will know this by the cockney worship film Laughing Stock and No Barrels of Laughs. Roll Fool's Gold and the dramatic scene with the rifle! (Actually don't).
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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Riding the Boris/Barclays blue lane

Media coverage announcing their launch gave the impression that the new London bike lanes are an old school piece of solo civic improvement. But no Boris turned to his old pals in the city. As i took my occasional route northwards from the bottom of Southwark Bridge Road at the Elephant, I recognised that these wide lanes are in fact the Barclays Cycle Superhighways (spot the virtual web connotation) , which may explain not only their laser blue hue (a bit lurid on a road) but why they're likely to have no discernible improving effect on society.

Fair enough it's a nice initiative and i hope it adds to the numbers of cyclists on the roads/reduces the numbers of polluters but it can only be up to the cyclists themselves to be assertive enough to guarantee their own safety, and a blue strip shouldnt make much difference in this regard at our capital's junctions of imminent danger.

Of course any investment by Barclays in these lanes will be offset with revenue from the soon-to-launch Serco run Cycle Hire Scheme.
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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Wedding mix

Having fallen for the feel of the homosocial a few weeks ago, last Friday it was time to forget one’s inhibitions and prejudices to party pansocial style at the wedding of my half-Basque friend and his Surrey bride, in San Sebastian (Donostia), Spain. Oldens, youngers, middle-agers, rich’uns, poorers, Basque, English.

For my partner and I, this was our first chance to go on a break of more than one night without the twins, and it combined with two glorious days in the often-rainy northern city. The beaches were full, Real Sociedad flags flying on balconies in greater numbers after their promotion, expectation mounting for La Roja to win the World Cup and, with the San Fermin bull-run week down the road in Pamplona, tourists streaming into the area. It’s times like these that I love cities such as this where residents live in the centre and live every aspect of their lives around a tight network of small trader shops and cafes, and flats. Donostia, improbably twinned with Plymouth, seems very well heeled, and it has always been one of the wealthiest Spanish cities, but wages are lower and houses or flats smaller so it’s more a case of social appearance mattering far more than meatworld.

On the first night though the kid-free peace of mind was shattered by a fiasco over my best man’s speech. As briefly as possible: I put it in my partner’s handbag before Stansted and it must have got moved at some stage. In the hotel we couldn’t find it so mild panic set in along with my usual unhelpful pass-the-buck recriminations. No matter, I bought hotel WiFi so could download and print my emailed version, along with the added Spanish bit I’d had translated with the aid of the conserjeria Gorka. On receipt of the ‘Speech’ doc printout it turns out to be a ruby wedding ‘Speech’ for the in-laws the other week. Flaps of piss. B-plans needed. Father-in-law can’t find correct version in Suffolk, so, down in the old town now, using a mate’s iPhone, I resend earlier version to myself and a cast of relevant others including Gorka to print out (con l’espanol) and someone with an iPad, just in case. Leave it at that to get on with a crawl round pintxo bars, but can’t really forget about it. In the morning, I get on the case again and get the old version printed up; shortly after that we discover the printout of the correct speech and a loud yelp of frustration is surely released. Would have had a decent night out last night but for that, etc. No time to groan though, as it’s over the road to help with the final preparations, and read that inbetween times. Soon we’d be walking up the hill to the nun-run church and I’d be discovering the protocol of handing over the ring with the 90-year-old priest, who would then do the opposite in the service. Then after a dual-language ceremony, they were married; Basque girls in traditional dress danced to the flutes to commemorate the moment, and the hugs, kisses and photos could begin.

When the speech came, at the Mirador de Ulia high up in the hills surrounding the city and with a great view centring on the bold Hotel Kursaal building by the nearest bay, I’m glad to say the nerves disappeared and I did ok, especially with the Spanish bit which the locals lapped up. Mic in hand, I didn’t go for too much character assassination, just a few light digs from his adolescence, and made giving the CD I’d made for him a part of the speech. Highlights – Aerosmith’s My Fist Your Face, KISS’s Cold Gin (Live 1976) – stuff I’d have balked at in my shiny electronic youth, as well as that Britrock and Beastie Boys/Cypress hop fodder. Hugs and kisses again and a well done from the father of the groom on my finale. The first musickings would come soon after the speeches - Basque men doing their independence dance chant and an old, but reputedly fine, harmonica player knocking out some Gershwin and other riffs for a while.

There’s a certain period at social dos like these, where music, alcohol (free bar), the setting and the unwinding of responsibilities add to the general positivity to make perception of the event indisputably great in freeloading minds. People’s earlier carping of standard and not-so-standard wedding issues, the hanging around for photos, the food lovely but seven courses seen as excessive, the highly religious service in two languages and faiths, is lost in a sea of subjectivity and the wedding is hailed as ‘the best ever’. Even my wife and I, who pride ourselves on the fact that we put on a decent do nearly seven years ago in south Suffolk, were coming round to this fact. This wasn’t simply a case of mindless indulgence as the drinks kept on coming to fuel the nonce-dancing, people were playing their part by coming out of their little groups and my wife and a friend were getting everyone to record video tributes. Where usually I’d be skulking off for alternative intoxication, here I was in the thick of it, barking in Spanglish. It was genuinely participatory, not just parasitical enjoyment, a bit like the times you see everyone coming out mashed at the end of a nightclub and everyone wants to share the experience even in a garbled way.

The sonic truth of it was that the digital dj was, from a sober and judgmental perspective, not to my taste. But my critique cameras had been laid off for the weekend. Hard rock (the DC), poodle rock (Bon J) and synth rock (Europe), cheesy latin and big percussive euro, cheap covers of old favourites (She Bangs the Drums done in some lumpen medley style), that old student hip-hop bounce (Jump Around), mixes between rock tunes. Jacko’s Beat It seemed to be the signature tune with its bridge of rock and dance mores and was played twice along with several more of his (kids would have loved it). Proper dancing rather than pisstake dancing was probably had to Jay Z and Beyonce and not many more. But we were making shapes and in the throng. My best tune of the night, at both evening reception and later nightclub, was that old euro fave Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams, but it was generically isolated both times. However, the generosity of spirit(s) the wedding permits renders childhood and adult indie/alternative/dance prejudices irrelevant. Skulking in the corner can work at a nightclub you didn’t want to go to, a DJ you didn’t want to hear, but not at a wedding for a groom for whom you’re proud to be the best man (or halfbezzie, the other couldn’t make it from Brisbane). The whole thing worked.

The bride had remarked in her speech that our boy did not quite get the modern music she (10 years her junior) brings into the house and it was a mark of his wilful modern isolation that his dedications to each of our lads were from the 90-94 period; keep up, la! Yet his gift to me, Cummins’ Manchester: Looking for the Light Through the Pouring Rain, served the looking back purpose much, much better and I was very touched by the judicious thoughtfulness here. That would prove good return flight reading until the thermals got too much and I was begging my wife to help get the plane down, from her passenger seat.

There’s more mongrelised pop and ‘swimming pools’ (spirits come in generous servings) at the Rotunda bay-side nightclub (more used to the moderne techno hangout Bataplan down the road) for an hour or two before a long but fine day is signed off by the bride and groom exhorting the willing to go skinny dipping. Only Lucien Freud would appreciate my corpulent decline, so I was ‘busy’ minding the others’ stuff. Actually the main reason I didn’t was I couldn’t be arsed undressing and redressing, only to undress again in the hotel.

The naked bodies did not detract from a really great day the newlyweds can feel proud to have pulled off in a way that made us all enjoy it so much and mix so freely, regardless of their social orientations back home.
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Monday, July 12, 2010

Just what are the hoods up to?

Crofton Park Budgens franchisee Jay Patel tries a humorous tack to accompany a note on his zero tolerance policy even towards low-level crimes, all part of a wider initiative in the area.

It’s unfortunate then that just as I was taking the shot a few sui generis hoodrats turned up on their bikes, conveniently dumped on the pavement so that nobody could get past them without having to detour, and the staff believed at least one (one actually hooded, even in this weather, etc) walked out with a bottle of pop.

‘You seen me come in with this’, he pleaded before pedalling away, and surely wouldn’t a buzzer have gone off if he had jibbed it? In the confusion, it seems talking tough on local shop theft is a far cry from carrying it out. My benefit of the discriminatory doubt is not worth much either.
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