Thursday, July 29, 2010

My areas: Battersea (text)

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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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