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

Monday, 26 October 2015

Nine Elms disease enters its repulsive fourth stage

Now look what they've done to our quickest route into central London (the Wandsworth Road, 77/87 bus routes)….and it looks like another dismal cylinder of silly yuppie-boxes is being erected, a dud Duracell AAA battery, 
sister to the stupid helicopter-killer of a building further down the road.
For the last few years I have been calling it Nine Elms Disease, but now I realise this is far too soft and benign a description for what's happening along the south shore of the Thames between Vauxhall and Chelsea Bridges. 

It's now looking much more like the the plague - the one that stole or ruined the lives of hundreds of thousands of Londoners back in the the seventeenth century.

This cheerful thought came to me on the top deck of a 77 bus last week. It used to be the quickest, easiest and most entertaining way for people living around here to get into town -- a 77 or 87 bus along the Wandsworth Road, then over Vauxhall bridge and into Westminster, or along the embankment to Waterloo and the South Bank Centre.
Look what they've done to our river, ma….a view of the Nine
 Elms-Battersea development from Vauxhall Bridge.
Why do the words 'suppurating open sores' come to mind?

Trying this route last week for the first time in ages, we hit the same "Road closed" signs at Lansdowne Road that I remembered from about a year ago, and the hellish stop-start began again and continued all the way to Vauxhall.

As the bus turned right at the diversion, we glimpsed the closed stretch of Wandsworth Road ahead, and had to do a double take: it was unrecognisable. 

The last time I'd gone down this road, the former Sainsbury's superstore had been flattened, there were some low-rise new blocks going up, and a flashy marketing suite had been built.  

There was loads of that annoying highly colourful fencing around all the building sites, daubed with moronic and meaningless phrases.

At that time, they said the road had to be closed for improvements to the sewage pipes. No wonder, thinking of all those fat cats living in their high-rise luxury apartments. Just think of all that expensive shit being added to the system.
No, and neither did the Bubonic Plague 

But now the road's closed again, until the end of November, they say. And this time - it is clear - it's partly to allow massive trucks to unload bits of pre-fabricated luxury flat, which seem to be winched straight from a lorry, lifted high over the road by crane, and bolted onto the steel frame of the building there and then.

Yes, it is a high-end example of the plague of luxury-apartment building that is sweeping London and the south east of England. Right now, at Nine Elms, the parallels with bubonic plague are obvious - a deadly infection spread by fleas living on the furry bodies of rats.

And in this significant outbreak,  the disease has entered its most virulent stage: the bursting of the buboes: "At advanced stages of the infection the inflamed lymph nodes can turn into suppurating open sores".

Where we used to shop - food at Sainsburys, bargains of all sorts in the Sunday car-boot markets – is now one such suppurating open sore.

Oh yes, they say, but look we are giving you all two new tube stations! People of the Larkhall Estate, and the Patmore estate - fear not, you will be able to get to Kennington in less than five minutes! We'll give you a linear park and all manner of leisure and employment opportunities!

So when the plans first came out, we all thought, why are they linking it to the Northern Line, and not the much more obvious, closer solution of building a branch of the Victoria Line out from nearby Vauxhall, or even under the river to the transport node of Victoria itself?
A suppurating open sore…or in this case, a nasty
open saw of stupidly-shaped balconies

But think - where will the people living in the new million-pound-plus apartments need to get to quickly, and back from, quickly, without having to mix too much with the bumbling locals? Why, the City of London of course, and Canary Wharf! 

And this Northern Line extension will enable them to do that far more quickly. Except that the City branch of that line is already well over its saturation point at 8am weekdays….there's a train every 2 minutes and there's never room to get on. But maybe the Battersea Power Station gang will get priority through trains to Bank….nothing would surprise us.

So - as we've said before - let's at least hope that the two boroughs, Wandsworth and Lambeth,  whose populations are most badly affected by all this construction world violence, this daily mugging by men in hard hats and hi-vis vests, get some decent wads of cash out the developers. Wads that are repeated at monthly intervals over the next half-century or so.

Lambeth, for example, must be compensated for the damage to roads, to the quality of the air we all have to breathe, to the added congestion on the roads, and the danger and even death caused by those enormous lorries rushing around from building sites to cement depots all day long.

How many hundred thousand human hours have been wasted sitting in buses stuck on Lansdowne Road this year?

And what about compensation for loss of amenity? Permanent loss of beautiful views across the river? The Disneyfication of Battersea Power Station? The loss of an area we liked, no matter how scruffy it was.

It's encouraging to see the old car scrap dealers around Pensbury Place and Stewart's Road are still there. Long may they survive to provide a visible reminder that this was Battersea Marshes, considered uninhabitable until the stench of money lured  developers onto the mushy, deeply polluted alluvial soil. 

Surely these developers would hardly notice the few million it would take - for example - to ensure Lambeth could continue to provide decent public libraries to all its citizens in all wards of the borough (as opposed to gyms with a few books around, which seems to be their latest plan).

And - if they want a little quick PR coup - why not pay to put on a free firework display for everyone, to make up for the lost Brockwell Park show?

Well finally, a few more shots of this fascinating new neighbourhood. No doubt in 2022, if I live that long, I'll be enjoying the lovely linear parks of Nine Elms, jumping on the tube in Wandsworth Road, and shopping in a fab new Sainsburys superstore. But I will still be a grumpy old fucker.

A certain irony in this photo, but it could be true that refugees with a spare £2million will be very welcome in those
new high-rise blocks. Also sad to reflect that this is the spot where, in 2012,  a helicopter crashed, having struck nearby 50-storey luxury flat tower, killing both the pilot and a man walking along Wandsworth Road.

What remains of Battersea Power Station, now gift-wrapped for property developers

I can see for (a good few less) miles ….than I could before they built this weird meccano toy town

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Peter the Greek, Captain Cook's widow, a lyrical student film from 2003…and much else besides

Clapham High Street 2015: it has changed a little bit since Mrs Elizabeth Cook, widow of Captain James Cook, lived here over 200 years ago

It's been an odd week.

Something strange has happened each day, and each time it seemed essential to write an entry for this blog, if only to get these matters out of the brain and onto the internet, where the strangeness could be shared. Then, I found I could not write anything down.

Well, today's strangeness sort of brought all the other strange things together. As previously arranged, I go to see my new friends up on Prescott Place.

Peter's shop is looking good, with loads of stuff on the shelves, LPs and books and stuff. People are looking and even occasionally buying (an old chrome-plated alarm clock, 50p).

I pick up a copy of Jung's memoirs and offer to pay. Peter won't take money from me. I have given him a print-out of the first entry I wrote about his second-hand shop last week, and now he wants to tell me more.

First though, he wanted to make sure I fully understand that Elizabeth Cook, widow of Captain Cook, really did live on Clapham High Street - in a house that could now be the Trinity Hospice  shop, the Barber's, or maybe the McDonald's next door.

He has an old local history book. It looks like a 1960s or 70s book, with photos that I hadn't seen in any of the more recent crop of Clapham Society books. The framed page I saw on the last visit was a photocopy of the page from this book, the pages about Elizabeth Cook.

So - to remove any further doubt - Elizabeth Cook, widow of Captain James Cook, did live in Clapham from  1788, until her death at the age of 94, in 1835.  She outlived not only her husband, but also -
The page from Peter's local history book showing
a contemporary portrait of Elizabeth Cook and
the bit of Clapham High Street where she  lived
(as it looked in the 1930s).
horribly - all six of her children.

The book suggests she lived in a house in what are now shops, at 136 - 138 Clapham High Street.  These are typical London suburban  single-storey shops built over the former front gardens of once quite smart houses, and if you cross the road you can begin to imagine this ageing lady, living out her long old age there.

Now, back to Peter - because he also had more to tell me about his time in Clapham.  As we were talking another local celebrity appeared. Yes, Andy, the barber of Landor Road.

"I had no idea you knew each other" I said, stupidly.

"Of course we did, we're both Greek and we were both in Clapham since way back. I was barber as well in 1967, but not in Andy's shop".

At some point though he moved into selling stuff. He starts showing me old magazines. One, an accountancy mag,  has an article about one of his sons, who's now a successful accountant working in Poand.

Some more recent local history: Peter
outside his lock-up shop in 2008, as featured
 in  The Economist's Intelligent Life
Another has a great full-page colour photo of Peter standing outside his lock-up - exactly where we are standing right now. It's a very upmarket glossy mag, that was distributed free with The Economist back in 2008, called Intelligent Life. Peter's a star of their regular photo-essay, this time the subject was "Shops with character". You can see the pic in its full glory in the Economist's online archive, here.

Interestingly, Peter's store has a sign above - "Joe's Television, Audio, Video, DVD repairs" – where now he has a big "Closing Down Sale" banner. The caption states that Peter's looking after the TV repair shop in Joe's absence. It also speculates on Peter's future: "…you wonder much longer such a place can remain in business….The problem is it's not just the proximity to such a competitive and relatively upmarket shopping area…it's also the success of eBay".

Well, that was six years ago, and here he still is. Well, until November 18. Clapham High Street is still not really "upmarket", and I'd say it was as much charity shops as eBay that have driven second-hand dealers out of business. But in Peter's case, the real problem is the sky-high value of land in this part of London. Peter says his former landlords are planning to build a house on the little plot occupied by his lean-to.

The Morning Song, 2003: Peter becomes a film star

Next, he gives me an old VHS videotape and a few DVDs to watch at my leisure. The VHS tape is labelled "Peter's film" and I put it on as soon as I get in. (Of course I still have a VHS player, check the title of this blog!)

It turns out to be a really charming, lyrical documentary, made (I think ) by students from the London Film School in 2003. It's called The Morning Songand was edited and directed by  Giusi Vittorini. They've chosen eight people - a butcher working at Moen's on Clapham Common, a Chinese girl working in  a food store, a retired primary teacher, a fireman working at the Soho station in Shatfesbury Avenue, a girl working in a cafe, a girl working in Neal's Yard cheese shop in Covent Garden, a motor mechanic - and Peter.

Peter inside his 'Pandora's Box' of a lock-up shop in 2003
(still from the film, The Morning Song, LFS and Giusi Vittorini)
Oh yes, and one other - a liquor store owner who looks very much like the proprietor of the famous Gerry's Wines and Spirits in Old Compton Street, by far the most interesting booze shop in London. I always imagined this guy was Gerry himself, but looking it up I find his name is Michael Cyprianou, yes another Greek Cypriot who arrived in London in the 1960s, and became a legend. What a generation!

And outside as well - apart from the colour of the shutters, nothing
it's amazing how little has changed in 12 years
(still from the film, The Morning Song, LFS and Giusi Vittorini)
The film gets each of these characters to speak about themselves, and they each have three appearances.  First talking about their work, then what they like (or don't like) about it, and then their dreams, or what makes them happiest. It's an absolute delight, this short film, and you can see it - along with more of this director's work - on  her YouTube channel.

Peter is shown inside his store. It looks very neat and much less crowded than his current lock up, and he refers to it as his "Pandora's Box".

He also says it's the "best job of his life…" (Remember this is back in 2003).

I like his answer to the final question: "If you like your work, and you have a good drink, and a nice woman for sex, then life is kind…"

I need to know more about this video. I'll be going back to talk to Peter again next week - but if anyone has any memories of his shop, or of similar characters in the area, please leave a comment here.

Meantime, something to look forward to: your man,  Daniel Ruis Tizon, the real voice of South West London, the one who is Available each week on Resonance FM, is getting Andy the Barber of Landor Road onto his show soon. If both Daniel and Andy are on their usual form, then it will be an unmissable bit of radio. Hyperlocal subject matter, yeah right on, Landor Road is as hyperlocal as anyone could want, but it should be listened to wherever you happen to find yourself in this strange old solar system we all seem to inhabit. It'll sound just as good in San Salvador as in Stockwell.

Black Georgians at BCA - feeling the echoes on the streets of south-west London

Brixton's Black Cultural Archives goes back to the eighteenth century for this small but powerful exhibition for the autumn: Black Georgians - the shock of the familiar.

The walls of the BCA's main gallery are lined with old prints, cartoons, paintings, documents, and quotes, focusing on the lives of some of the estimated 15,000 black Africans who lived in the British Isles in the tumultuous era, 1714 - 1830.

The "shock" of the title refers partly to the fact that there were so many Africans living in Britain so long ago. The exhibition makes the point that while a handful of former slaves found  fame, acceptance and wealth, the majority lived in the same abject poverty as most of the indigenous population. Many escaped slavery only to find themselves in an equally bad, possibly even more humiliating position of domestic servitude - which has sinister echoes in present day London.

There were the exceptions, and one of these rather steals the show by the sheer beauty of her portrait. It's only in reproduction here, but the amazing double portrait of  Dido Belle and her cousin Elizabeth Lindsay,  attributed to Johann Zoffany (1779) is stunning, and haunting. No wonder they use half of it for the posters.

So, two posh girls showing off in their finery in their millionaire uncle's back garden in Hampstead - what's so great about that? Well, the one on the left is black, and she's so full of life, so animated, it's hard to believe the painting's over  200 years old.

Her strong personality shines straight out at us, almost defiantly. She's pointing at her own face, as if to say, "Yep. I'm black, and yep, she's my cousin. So, why the hell are your staring at me like that?"

She's half standing, holding a bowl of fruit, as though she might have been about to offer them to the other girl…but no, she also appears to be on the verge of skipping away from her cousin, who's put out her arm as if to pull her back. Yes it's one of those wonderful, playful paintings that can be read in many ways.

There she is: the BCA poster featuring the mysterious portrait of
 Dido Belle, outside the BCA on Windrush Square, Brixton.
Dido's story is as amazing as her appearance. Her mother was a slave, Maria Belle, her father a naval officer, Sir John Lindsay. As the story goes, Lindsay "rescued" Maria from a Spanish ship his fleet had captured, and took her as his concubine. Their daughter was born in 1761. Four years later, Lindsay took her back to London and left her with his esteemed uncle, Sir William Murray, who happened to be the Lord Chief Justice and owned Kenwood house. But he also held surprisingly radical views and was respected by the abolitionists. It's been suggested that Dido herself could well have had a part in changing his views, and looking at her you can well believe this.  In his care, Dido was brought up as a "gentlewoman" alongside her cousin Elizabeth Murray, who's the other girl in the painting.

But despite  enjoying many of the privileges of aristocratic life, she was not always treated as an equal. For example, she did not join the family for formal meals. But nor was she treated like a servant, and seemed to enjoy a deal of fun as companion to her cousin.

Another exhibit caught my attention for a different reason: it's a list of the names of some of the African boys brought to England to attend a new and distinctly experimental African Academy, which opened in 1799 at No. 8  Rectory Grove, Clapham. A little later it was moved the Church Buildings on Clapham Common Northside, not far from Holy Trinity church where the Clapham Sect met and worshiped.

The list, inscribed in black ink on parchment in that marvellous copperplate style, conceals an incredibly sad story that isn't actually told here:
8 Rectory Grove, Clapham: now a house worth millions, but in 1799
the site of the African Academy, a misguided and ultimately tragic
educational experiment.
what's actually so good about this exhibitions the way it triggers curiosity, intrigue, with just the right amount of info, the right quotes, and lots of very provocative prints and cartoons from the collections of

I could never claim to be a local history freak, but this small, thought-provoking exhibition set me off on a maniacal quest to find out more about this strange, ultimately very sad school.  Because one of the first things I found out was that, within five years of its opening, all but six of the original 21 African pupils had died, either from pneumonia due to the harsh winters and damp conditions, or from a measles outbreak one summer.  The school (not surprisingly) was closed  in 1805.

The story of the African Academy is told with extraordinary poignancy in the letters home from some of the pupils, on the Learning Zone website. 

I was leaving the exhibition, curiosity fired up. The text alongside each of the exhibits nearly always ended with a question: "Why? How would you have felt…? And so on. And this approach, which in some museums just seems a bit annoying, really worked here. Because we don't know enough.

The resonances, from the Caribbean to Kenwood to Clapham, and the horror of slavery. Then the thought of those unfortunate, shivering African boys, many were the sons of tribal chieftains in their home countries, being marched across the muddy Common for compulsory attendance at church services.

The same Common which - 150 years later - the great great grandchildren of some of their enslvaed fellow-countrymen would be taken to from the SS Windrush, for temporary lodging in the deep air-raid shelters of Clapham South. It's such a strange bit of geographical coincidence: did the Ministry of Labour's planners in 1953 realise this, or was it just simple expediency? There were surely plenty of other disused deep shelters around the underground network, many in the East End near to the docks.

Thinking such thoughts, I was about leave the BCA when one of the two members of staff chatting at the reception counter asked me what I'd thought of the expo. This was a  tall, softly spoken guy with great dreadlocks, tied back and right down his back. We chatted for a bit. When I told him I now wrote mainly for my own blog he looked a bit disappointed  ("Another blogger!") - but really just seemed genuinely interested to know my views, and to talk about Brixton and Clapham and history and the Archives.

As he spoke, I thought he might be the curator of the exhibition (who I had heard on radio, his name was S I Martin, the historian and slave trade expert). So I ask him, and he says…"No, I'm the director…" Yep, it was Paul Reid, one of the small group of people whose work over decades has made this dream, a beautiful building to house this archive in Brixton, into a reality.

And as you leave the BCA, you'll find yourself further detained by the colourful installation in the courtyard - a new take on the old pavilions and pergolas of London's 18th century pleasure gardens, such as the one just up the road in Vauxhall. It's the work of Brixton-based design studio 2MZ, and like everything else here it brings together many different cultural influences. Catch it in a bit of late autumnal sunshine and it's a true joy to behold!

2MZ's "Pleasure Garden" installation in the courtyard of the Black Cultural Archives

Monday, 19 October 2015

City too sad, I'm heading for the hills….

 Not quite a hundred miles from Clapham. Sydenham Hill Woods offers a curiously urban experience of nature, just three stops down the line from Brixton. Inhale.
Getting that feeling it's definitely the end of the end of the Indian summer, and maybe it's the last chance to get out of the stink for a few hours, to soothe the soul with a bit of greenery.

I don't mean Clapham Common, I don't even mean Tooting Bec Common. Putney Heath? Certainly not. No, I'm talking ancient southern English woodlands. I am talking Sydenham Hill!

Yes, all the way to SE26 - that's so far it out it must be nearly the seaside, surely? It's past Dulwich, for pity's sake – and that's where Mrs Thatcher once thought of living, so it must be a long way from big bad London.

You can go by bus or bike or, but the quickest and most comfortable way is by train. It's only three stops from Brixton on the old southern railway line. Getting to the station, it's a sad thing to walk up
A bad start: our favourite food shop near brixton Station has
 closed down, thanks to Network Rail's determination to make
lots of money out of the tenants of the Atlantic Road railway
arches. Note the spoof estate agent's sign.
Atlantic Road, and to see that the A & C Continental Grocers is already closed. At least they have left behind a pointed comment on their reasons for moving out.

A & C was one of those old-school delis where where you'd have bought all your ingredients for a delicious picnic, and still have change for a drink in the pub at the end of the walk. Gone, like so many others of this breed (horrified to see the Italian one in Caledonian Road, just by King's Cross station,  has also closed).

Now it's essential to enjoy this bit of Brixton while it's still here - standing on that platform with the 1986  bronze sculptures of mysteriously romantic passengers – yes, and your soul once again soothed by the clear tones of Dennis Brown soaring up from a market stall beneath the bridge. It's at this point I think maybe   Lee Perry's City Too Hot would be an appropriate song for my mode….but it's not hot today. But Perry's dirge-like song (which I think he recorded after he'd decided to burn his studio and quit Jamaica) has a deep mournfulness that suits the autumnal mood.

The train swoops in, we whizz down by Railton Road to Herne Hill, then into a sort of green tunnel of trees….we are already in the country, or so it seems...

Next, West Dulwich…a station I always love passing though because I think of Robert Wyatt, and one of his final recordings with Soft Machine - Moon in June - in which he reminisces, affectionately, about  this suburb, the rain, pitter patter, the house where he used to live, in what was it, Dalmore Road?

Then it's on to Sydenham Hill. Out, up the stairs - and almost immediately you enter the world of south London walking. On the footbridge is a sign for the Green Chain pathway, which  essentially links you right through to Eltham Palace, and into various other networks if you want to do the entire circumnavigation thing, like Iain Sinclair.

The first part of this walk is  quite a shock to the system: you go up, and up, and up. The hill must be at least as steep as anything Highgate can offer. Then you get to a pub and a very posh crescent of massive redbrick villas….you are reminded that this part of South London has had a strong appeal to the very rich way back in the mid-19th century, after Brixton and Camberwell became too popular. We are no distance from Forest Hill and the Hornimans, Crystal Palace and the Paxtons…or Dulwich itself and the Alleyns.

Just before you hit the South Circular, there's an escape route though black railings in Sydenham Woods, and within seconds you are plunged into a deep, dark, dank, dripping forest, deep leaf mould underfoot, dead and living trees all around, a path meandering down hill again, past vestigial remains of some old buildings….a wall here, a bit of a chapel there…trees bursting through everything, soaring …

And you continue, down, down through glades of magnificent trees, following this snaking path, until you reach the route of the old Nunhead to Crystal Palace Railway line, now long gone, now just another woodland path…until you find yourself staring at the boarded-up mouth of an enormous brick-walled tunnel. The metal sheet barrier has been well tagged, but if you peep through the gaps you see there's a second, far stronger looking steel barrier behind it, to deter 21st century troglodytes or people like me who just like walking into tunnels. Especially when we know bats are supposed to live in there. 

Pissaro's suburban steam train would have entered this tunnel
seconds after he saw it fromthe footbridge. Now the
  tunnel is said to be a home for pipistrelles.
And so back to the more crowded part of this wood, near the DUlwich Park and golf course, big families out with their posh dogs, to the footbridge.

This was one of the reasons I came here. Ever since I was about 14 I was fascinated by the idea of a famous painter from PAris coming to this unglamorous part of south London. This bridge is the spot Camille Pissaro chose to paint his view of the railway from Lordship Lane. In his painting you see grass and distant houses of encroaching suburbs. Today you see trees and thick undergrowth. But you also see it's the same place. The same magic of south London woodland is at work. 

From now on it's downhill all the way, past the attractively overgrown church and the inevitable golf course, and then almost immediately you hit that strange bit of the South Circular that dances around some of the most expensive real estate in all England, the Dulwich Village/Dulwich college area. 

Here, another huge closed down pub, there, another huge £7million mansion; and then more public space, Dulwich Park, a slightly more sedate version of  Battersea, with its inner ring road infested with pedal-go-caarts, and its  lakes. Just over there is the world's first purpose built art gallery. Like so much else today, as you head for West Dulwich station with old yatt songs spooling through your brain, you think: that is for another visit.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Studio Voltaire brings some southern warmth to Clapham High Street

Venezualan artist Sol Calero' s installation " The School of the South" at Studio Voltaire, Clapham, London, October 2015
Victorian chapel on the outside,  tropical school room inside: Studio Voltaire, housed in an old Mission Hall in Nelson's Row, Clapham, is home to a truly joyful installation by Venezualan artist Sol Calero
Clapham is certainly no Hoxton, Hackney Wick, nor Camberwell when it comes to the contemporary art scene - but it has at least one outstanding art space, Studio Voltaire, which right now has an amazing installation that should bring joy to young and old alike.

Studio Voltaire occupies a former Mission Hall and Sunday school in Nelson's Row, just behind the Methodist church and only a few yards from the vomit-puddled main drag of Clapham High Street.
Venezualan artist Sol Calero' s installation " The School of the South" at Studio Voltaire, Clapham, London, October 2015
Its latest exhibit is an installation by a Venezualan artist, Sol Calero, which opened last week.

The work is called La Escuela del Sur, (The school of the South), and it occupies the entire hall. When you walk in you are in a space that is both familiar and (at least for a North European native) truly strange. Calero has effectively rebuilt part of a Venezualan community school classroom inside this Victorian chapel-style school-room.

On a bright day, with sun streaming in through the big church windows, the whole place glows with the primary colours of the south - yellows, oranges, greens and reds. There are huge blackboards at each end covered with gorgeously stylised patterns of natural forms, and the ceiling is painted, panel by panel, in these different primary colours, a sort of aerial Mondrian.

 Parts of the floor are painted with   geometric patterns giving the illusion of a third dimension. There are little desks and chairs set out in rows, there's an art area with easels and art and craft materials ready for use, there are tropical plants climbing up and up, some raised wooden platforms forming a sort of walkway or landing stage, and corrugated plastic roofing over parts of the room.

It all seemed heart-lifitng to me, creating the kind of environment that will invoke pleasure and excitement in children and their teachers - as opposed to the fear and oppression created by a typical Victorian English school room.

In that sense the artist has certainly achieved what (according to the press release) she's aiming for - to show that the South is well ahead of the north in its understanding of the importance of emotional intelligence. The great thing is that local schools are going to be using this space, and it's fascinating that many new British schools (at least the progressive ones) strive to create environments just as bright and cheerful as these - at least for younger kids.

There's also - again according to the press release - a deeper political message here - in that this apparently child-friendly place could simply reinforce northern prejudices that the south is somehow childish, less mature, or maybe that it does not really know about "serious" education. Maybe an Oftsed inspector would be worried that it might be hard to get kids worried about SATs  in such an environment?

The artist has also painted a series of windows on the wall, each with a view out into a stylised glimpses of a sort of tropical paradise.  Is this also a comment on (as again the press release puts it) "the carnavalising identity of the Other"?

I have no idea. It does, however remind me of another, now forever lost work of art in this area - the Mauleverer Road murals, which were destroyed earlier this year by property developers.

This massive lost mural on the wall of a former brewery included scenes of lush formal gardens, and a trompe l'oeil window opening onto a typical Caribbean beach - as if designed to remind the West Indian families living in these  terraced houses at the time (the 1970s) of what they'd left behind.

This is just a personal reaction to an amazing bit of art work. All I can say is I loved it and hope plenty of people go along before the exhibition closes on December 6.

Sol Calero, The School of the South at Clapham's Studio Voltaire

Venezualan artist Sol Calero' s installation " The School of the South" at Studio Voltaire, Clapham, London, October 2015

Venezualan artist Sol Calero' s installation " The School of the South" at Studio Voltaire, Clapham, London, October 2015

Clapham's last real junk shop given two months to clear out

Closing down sale of the last century: Peter and his son outside their Prescott Place shop, which looks set to disappear for good by November 
Walking east down Clapham High Street, it's very easy to miss a hidden survivor of an old but almost extinct London institution - the pavement junk-shop.

Next time you walk this sticky main drag, keep to the north side pavement, and when you get to Prescott Place (just after Snappy Snaps) look to the left and you'll see a scene that looks more like a bit of Brick Lane in the 1980s rather than Clapham in 2015.

The narrow street, which has one of Clapham's best known gay bars, the Two Brewers, on one corner, is also home to Peter Chrysostomou's second-hand store. When it's open, all manner of stuff - pictures, furniture, coats, old radios, books, potted plants, hatstands, boots, you name it …are spilling out of his store-rooms across a non-existent pavement and onto the double-yellow lines. The interior looks too crammed with stuff to enter.

Eager bargain hunters know this is a great place for nosing out old frames, china, glass, an ancient camera...you name it….Clapham's very own one-man flea-market. Surely this little bit of old London will be treasured by the new generations of style-conscious hipster-yuppies?

Not a bit of it. Peter has been served notice of eviction, and has just had one possibly final stay of execution, two months after the expiry of his lease.

He's now facing demands he clears out the premises by November 15. So the big sign advertising his  long-running "Closing down sale" is finally, sadly, going to be true.

On one of the shelves outside there are two picture frames, each containing what looks like a page of text torn out of magazines. The articles are both about the house in Clapham High Street that once belonged to the widow of Captain James Cook,  Elizabeth.  I am not sure if these are there for information or for sale, and try to catch the owner's eye. But he's shutting up for the day and framed pages are put away before I can read any of the detail.

So I decide to come back another day, and I ask him about the "Closing down sale" and how much longer he'll be there. He immediately seems suspicious: "Why? Who are you? A taxman?"

 I assure him I'm just a drifting unemployed refugee from the modern world, a low-grade scavenger of stories,  and then he opens up a lot and starts listing the various authorities by whom he's being chased. "Police, Fire Brigade, council, all the people in uniform…"

They are, he says, all out to get him and this time there seems to be no hope of avoiding the ultimate killer blow, eviction. "I've been in Clapham 50 years" he says. "But this will be the end of it."

I have no idea about the rights and wrongs of Peter's case. He's understandably stressed and distressed and feels hemmed in by people who just want to make him and his shop disappear.

All I know is that the sort of place Peter runs is now a seriously endangered species in London. It's a truly scarce commodity that should be valued. You walk past all these dreary chain stores, or even worse the endless estate agents occasionally punctuated by silly overpriced food stores or gift shops, then you see down this dark narrow street a glimpse of a pre-(Falklands)-war world of bartering, thrift, bargaining, men in big coats arguing over a bit of furniture, it's all straight out of an Ealing comedy or something earlier.

It's also real, and as such will inevitably die. But does it have to die so soon? In this new age of Mr Cameron's austerity, there are an awful lot of us who need to pick up some stuff dirt cheap, and I haven't seen many decent saucepans at the 99p Shop recently.

Peter has a son who tells me his shop used to be on the High Street, in what is now a Trinity Hospice Charity shop. This is double-edged blow for me. It reminds me that I am here as part of an attempt to update an earlier entry on the best charity shops in the SW quarter. It also reminds me I once worked for these Trinity Hospice shops. And it reminds me that charity shops - much as I love them - have severely cannibalised the second-hand retail trade. Charities have insuperable financial advantages over all their independent retail rivals. They pay no tax or VAT, they get low or zero rents, they get their stock for free and they don't pay most of their staff.

Like I said,  I love charity shops (and my nearest and dearest will say I love them too much). But it's clear they more or less wiped out that whole tribe of junkshop entrepreneurs. Some of course have joined the charity bandwagon (because there is money to be made there still - the ragging, the occasional gem that be picked up for 50p  and flogged on to antiques geezers for 50 times the price.

But, overall, this massive retail shift has squeezed out the mid-range antiques shops, nearly all the low-price second-hand book shops, and many others. Old clothes shops now have to be "retro" or "vintage" to compete.

So, back to Peter. I am hoping to talk to him at more length soon. But if anyone has any reminiscences of this shop, or knew it in any way, or knew similar shops in their area that are still operating, please for pity's sake let me know!

Thursday, 1 October 2015

So, you've read the Standard….well, here's a different perspective of life on Brixton's Angell Town Estate

If you're hooked on the Evening Standard's week long series of "hard-hitting" articles on life (and death) in Brixton's Angell Town estate, I'd like to recommend some further reading….well, in this case, further listening.

Two weeks before the Standard started publishing David Cohen's vivid and highly dramatic despatches from this low-rise, 1970s estate just north of Brixton town centre,  the south-west London born-and-bred writer and broadcaster  Daniel Ruiz Tizon posted an hour-long interview with  an old friend of his - Mitchell - about his life in Angell Town. Mitchell, who moved to Angell Town as a kid, from very cramped accommodation in Battersea, gives an entirely different perspective. He loved the place, and still does.

The Standard's series is billed as giving "a unique insight into a hidden world of gang violence and community".

Unsurprisingly, the emphasis is (so far) more on the headline grabbing gang violence part of this promise, and a bit less on the community. There's a very useful guide to which gangs rule which estates, which will be invaluable to Standard-reading urban adventurers. There's even a little tuition on gang-speak.

But, to be fair, it does feature some sharp input from residents of various ages, particularly on the topics of police tactics and gentrification. 

 I worked on the edge of this estate for a while last year, and his descriptions of its strange quietness ring true…but then again, massive areas of London are eerily quiet at certain times of day.

However,  while Cohen spent one week living on the estate, staying in three different homes, Mitchell has been there for 40 years. He was one of the first residents to move in back in 1976 when the estate was brand new. What's more, he's determined to stay put on what the Standard always refers to as this "notorious" estate.

The interview is a real treat: it is two friends reminiscing, with some great stuff on Brixton and the surrounding areas in the late 70s,  80s and  90s. The real voices nail the history and sociology: what we read in urban planning texts or sociological treatises come alive when we hear Mitchell talking about the impact of removing the aerial walkways, or his encounters with a certain Willy Wonka.

This interview is a special edition of Daniel's regular show, Daniel Ruiz Tizon is Available, which kicks off again this coming Monday October 5 at 10pm on. There's an amazing archive of this show on Daniel's website which I am going to work my way through…it's all about the stuff that matters so much to anyone who is interested in being alive in London, now.

As for David Cohen….well, his articles are certainly well researched and written. They are a good example of this genre. The embedded journalist. From our own correspondent. Gritty stuff,  gangland south London. It's a good read, to be honest. It will probably win some awards in the 2016 gong-distribution season. I'm waiting for tomorrow's episode to see if he has any suggestions for reducing this  apparently insoluble nightmare of youth-on-youth crime, the stabbings, the shootings, the ricochet victims.

For the casual reader, the abiding impression will be of violence, tragedy, death, blood, and not much of the joy or just the normal daily life of people who, like Mitchell, came to this estate early on and appreciated all the new possibilities it gave to them.