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"Use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?"

Thursday, 10 October 2013

In (reluctant) defence of Clapham

Murder on Clapham Common - the nicest residents are crows
Murder on the Common: some of my best SW4 friends are crows. 
Heartily in agreement with all the Crap Towns stuff about how awful London is published earlier this week (See Daily Mail, etc). But a much better demolition job on the capital can be found on the Vice magazine website.

Not only did this say everything we all hate about London in a far cleverer,  funnier way than I could ever have managed - it also distilled another of my feelings: that if London is the worst place in the UK - no, the world - then Clapham is definitely the worst place to live in London.

So these days, when I say I live in Clapham (and sometimes I even lie and say I live  sort of in Stockwell/Vauxhall/Battersea borders) - I find myself adding things like, well it 's very convenient for transport or, well when I moved here it was still quite bohemian - etc.

Because all the things  in that Vice piece are true - especially the bit saying that, above all, what makes Clapham so, so ghastly is the people.

Not just the banker families with their SUVs parked nose-to-nose in Lilieshall Road, nor the scrubbed infants being dragged to the private schools on the common by their nannies, not just the stupid city boys renting their £600 a week shitty flats in identikit new build blocks on "Wingate Square",  not just the perfectly-formed gaggles of posh girls jogging and braying in their lustrous pink lycra, not just the shouty ex-squaddies running their profitable boot camps on the Common, not just the posh middle aged ladies with their three or four pedigree dogs moaning about their East European workmen....no, there are loads of other ghastly types living in this once unremarkable and now totally insufferable suburb.

But - and god I know hard this can be - we should remember these appalling characters are merely the most noticeable stratum of the local population, not the whole lot of us. These people are like the vile skin on a rich custard.  But I would also like you to believe that, crushed beneath this foul layer are  many perfectly good people who are indeed in need of your sympathy.

But not too much sympathy, because the area is in fact not too bad to live in, once you learn how to filter out or avoid the above-mentioned annoyances.

So here goes,  here are 10 not quite so awful things which perhaps make it possible to live in Clapham, all the above notwithstanding:

1. The charity shops, including a great Save the Children shop  near Clapham North tube, the FARA shops in Northcote Road and Lavender Hill, and the four Trinity Hospice charity shops. The latter vary greatly reflecting the social mix of their locales - cheap and cheerful on the High Street, a bit posh and pricey in Old Town, yummy mummy-rugby daddy in Northcote Road, and a wee bit Up the Junction on Lavender Hill.

The last bastion of bohemianism in Clapham - Rectory Gardens2. Rectory Grove/ Rectory Gardens -  the last of the Clapham's old bohemian residentsfight repeated attempts by Lambeth council to evict them. Do read this brilliant entry on the Faded London blog, and especially the fascinating comments by jakartaass etc. See also some amazing photos on Sam C.'s Mixbook
of life in this tiny L-shaped street of early 19th century cottages. Arriving as squatters in the early 1970s, they gained short-life housing tencies from Lambeth, but are having to fight for their survival here as the stench of fat fat profits insinuates its way in the nostrils of their local authority landlords.

Slavery abolitionists including Wilberforce remembered at Holy Trinity Church, Clapham3. Clapham Common itself - a great place to get mugged on, to be gay-bashed on whether you are gay or not, to to be hit in the face by rugby balls and frisbees, to tread in dog shit, to be barged out of the way by joggers or shouted at by cyclists. Oh yes, that's just the start of it.
Still a nice place to lie down on and undress on a hot, a rare hot day. And it is home to some of Clapham's least offensive residents - a fine murder of crows.

4. The Clapham Sect  - the group of wealthy Christians who drove the movement for the abolition of slavery in the late 18th century used Clapham's Holy Trinity church as a base. They were also not great believers in alcohol, which is apparently explains the lack of pubs in many of the area's oldest residential areas.

5. Vivienne Westwood: apparently she still lives here, and has always said how much she likes Clapham, unlike so many famous people who once they make it get out. Wonder if Thunderclap Newman still breathes the air of SW4?

6. The new Clapham library: after years of expecting the worst, many of Clapham Public library users agree that the new building, inspired by the spiral-ramp design of the Guggenheim Museum in NYC, is
actually rather good. Andrew Logan's installation of broken mirrors and  bric-a-brac is also popular.
Another possibly good thing to come out of this is the  new Omnibus  community arts venutre being created in the old Library building on Clapham Common Northside.

Reflected glory of Clapham:  artist Andrew Logan created these ornate letters, spelling out LIBRARY, outside the new Public Library in Clapham High Street
Andrew Logan's mirror-mosaic-bric-a-brac
 sculptures outside the new Clapham
Public Library
7. Transport:  good that it has three tube stations, shame that they are all on the Northern Line. Buses are good and trains from the Juntion to anywhere in the universe - unless you want to get to Clapham High Street.

8. Angela Carter, Natsume Soseki, Graham Greene, etc, lived in Clapham for a while. OK, they are all dead and at least one of them hated living in Clapham - but at least the place has some literary connections. Amazing how often it appears in novels as the default place for lonely, failing types to live in bedsits, in the early 1960s.

9. Which leads straight on to Trinity Hospice  itself - the oldest hospice in the UK, and occupying a beautiful house  with even more beautiful gardens on the north side of the Common - which might seem more like a good reason, not  so much to live in Clapham, but to die there.

10. Finally, perhaps the best thing of all about this place - it's only about 10 minutes away from Brixton.

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