About Me

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

Friday, 21 November 2014

Faith in Clapham restored by Radio 4 and John Agard

Just when it seemed this district was hopelessly engulfed in dirty money and booze-swilling, Maserati-driving  rich kids, came a timely reminder on (of all things ) Desert Island  Discs, of what Clapham used to stand for.

The guest this week was poet John Agard, and the presenter gently persuaded him to recite one of his best-known poems, the 1986 satire on academic views of poetry, Listen Mr Oxford Don.

Agard didn't need much persuading and spoke the lines with as much passion and precision as he did nearly 30 years ago:

Me not no Oxford don 
me a simple immigrant
from Clapham Common
I didn't graduate
I immigrate 

Back in '86. of course, Clapham was still a truly mixed-up place, but the yuppies were already flooding in. 

Oddly enough I din't think Agard ever lived in this area. When he first came to the UK in 1977 he settled in Shropshire, and I think he's stayed there. The Clapham reference harks back to the arrival of the Windrush era immigrants, many of whom were temporarily housed in the deep shelter near Clapham South Tube station - in fact, on the Common, less than a mile from the church where the Clapham Sect met 150 years  previously.

 The full story is here on the History Today site.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Just when I was getting reconciled with Clapham, along comes this bugger

I've been trying hard over the past few months to remind myself of the things I used to like about Clapham, and to dig out other good things that make living in this land of the rich yob bearable.

Thought I was doing well until I started reading another local blog, which was going on about food and why the SW4 area was up there with the best in London. Well, given that said blog had recently run a paean to a series of new burger joints on the high street, I didn't set too much store by their views on cuisine. But what really turned  my blood cold was the author's use of the word (I can hardly bear to write it) "Clappers" - to refer to this most common of suburbs.

Why does this annoy me so much? Is it because I am an elderly curmudgeon and cannot bear the affectionate diminutives so often used for things these days?

Yes, in part, I am guilty of that. I don't like hearing people refer to "uni" for university and barbie for barbecue. That I suppose is part of the Australianisation of English can mainly be blamed on Kylie and Neighbours. Fine in Brisbane, annoying but unavoidable all over affluent south-east England.

But this one goes back further and deeper - it stimulates one of my deepest hate-glands, and it is all to do with ball games and the class system.

The only other bit of London that gets abbreviated in this was by a certain type of young male adult is Twickenham. And that is usually referring to the stadium where rugby is played. The people who call Twickenham Twickers often call rugby rugger and if they visit or live in Clapham (which is quite probable I fear) they might well call it….well, you get my dismal drift, don't you?

But seriously, is there anywhere else that gets this treatment? (excluding, of course, names that have the -ers ending in their full version, such as Chequers or Yonkers, or Arsenal's nickname…)

Well, at least this outburst of disgust led me to a new word. According to Wikipedia, this usage is a form of  "hypocorism", from the old Greek meaning "child-talk" and now often referred to as pet name,  term of endearment, nickname, etc. Another word, infantilism, springs to mind.

 I wouldn't have minded it at all if it was not for the rugby connection. You will deduce that I loathed that team game which I was forced to play for two of my most miserable years at an English boys' grammar school.

Odd, though, that some nicknames seem fine. I like Pompey for Portsmouth and Big Apple for NYC, The Smoke or the Great Wen for London. Auld Reekie is  just fine so long as it is said in a real Scottish accent. No, it's just the context, it's that attempt to revive the demotic of rich young Englishmen of the 1920s, the chaps and chapesses; it should definitely stay within the pages of P G Wodehouse, old fruit.

Ironic then that I should end up in this suburb full of beer swilling types with those wide-striped shirts with turned-up white collars.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Transpontine: my new favourite south London blog

Am here to praise a not so buried treasure - Transpontine. Just a quick note - but heavens, I could write a ream or roomful of words about this blog.

It's transpontine - like trastevere or oltrarno or rive gauche, so blah, blah and on - but do note it is specifically south east London, and as a south west London resident I applaud that. SE kept flag flying long after SW capitulated, the crowds crossing yahoo bridge - Chelsea, Battersea, you know.

So, this one has the feel, the great feel of a sort of student mag from the 70s, but still being written by the same people now in their 30s or 40s or whatever:  better writers, more mature, funnier.

It's actually a rather grown up blog of the twenty-whatevers, which keeps filling me in on all those gigs back in the early 1990s that I so nearly went to and then failed to get to. And on all the great things that are happening just a 35 minute 37 bus ride from my front door, almost all of which I shall miss.

Especially stuff at The Venue, New Cross, and so on. But this does seem to be the blog that digs deeper than most….love it.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

I love Brixton College for exactly the reasons many think it's obsolete

Lambeth College, Brixton - the college remains but the building will probably go.
Glad to hear that if it's true - but it probably won't be in this modest but
remarkably workable and friendly building, but something more like
 the flashy Clapham branch a couple of miles west of here.
Read on the excellent Brixton Blog that the future of the old Brixton College of FE site on Brixton Hill is  again under discussion.

I'm a part-time student at this place, which is one of the three campuses used by Lambeth College, and I have grown to love its 1960s utilitarian simplicity.

It really is a classic example of school/college architecture of that late 50s to 60s era - lots of metal-framed glass, block-colour panelling, hard floors, a simple, elegant quadrangular plan with a large dining area at one end with an equally spacious library on the floor above. The classrooms are what some Labour minister might have called bog standard - a run of rectangular rooms, spacious, all well lit, though the ones facing Brixton Hill get a lot of traffic noise.

I can't be certain, but it looks like "system built" or CLASP (Consortium of Local Authority Special Programme) college. Between 1957 and the 80s, CLASP provided a set of basic, approved  architectural designs for community buildings - not just schools, but clinics, libraries, community centres and even fire stations) for use across the UK (for more on this system, read Chris Matthews' fascinating piece on the legacy of CLASP buildings in Nottinghamshire and beyond on his blog,  Internet Curtains ).

 Economies of scale, partial prefabrication, standardisation of sizes of classrooms and gyms and assembly halls - all of these things made for cheaper but not necessarily poorer quality buildings. If the basic design had been hideous or hideously wrong, it would  of course have been a different matter - but these modest buildings, in schoolyard Corbusier  manage to fit in, to rub shoulders with many older styles without seeming to be rude or aloof.

Yes, they were designed for a time when  education theory was different: there was optimism, the child was to be at the centre of learning, the schools were as far as possible open plan and filled with light. These were anti-austerity buildings in a way, modernist, but they were also utilitarian in the good sense of the word - they served a purpose (I hate to use the modern version of that phrase, 'fit for purpose').

So, back to Brixton Hill - and just look at  the courtyard or quadrangle. Even in its current entirely neglected state, it's a godsend, a breathing space, a lovely echo for Brixton's ESOL and other students of the classic style of old universities. To modern ways of thinking, it is just a waste of space.

The building is friendly, unshowy,  and it works - although I've no doubt it costs too much to heat in winter and that it probably gets over-hot in summer. These issues could have been addressed with adequate investment, maintenance and improvements back in the 80s and 90s.

Instead, they let the building get a bit run down, then say no-one likes it any more. Half the site has already gone to a so-called free school. Now the remaining bit, fronting Brixton Hill, seems destined to be destroyed. It still houses most of Lambeth's ESOL classes and at certain times of day the place is buzzing with hundreds of different languages.

It's true the place is underused, especially in the evenings, and staff cuts mean the excellent library is not  open late, which is a real shame.

I tell you, I infinitely prefer the old school style of this place to the stomach churning colour schemes, garish carpets and gormless sloganeering of the modern equivalents -- all those purples and green carpets, the silly wooden cladding,  those inane slogans you get painted in huge letters on the walls of  21st century schools and colleges, the annoying curves and confusing layout. Visit the newest Lambeth College building, at Clapham Common, and you will see what I mean - it's a nightmare to find your way around this place, and after less than a decade it is already looking a bit frayed.

Maybe I am just a 60s nostalgist  - but I will miss this place, and am glad at least I chose to do a course there in its latter days.