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

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

The day Theresa May stole Clapham's big radio moment

Clapham High Street - here and now, but not on the BBC Radio London Robert Elms show last week thanks to Mrs May's election announcement...but where, oh where, was the wonderful Maxwell Hutchinson?
Was listening to Radio London Tuesday morning.

As, to be honest, I often do....working at home, you know, self-employed teacher....freelance writer and editor...you know, well I will get back to jobseeking when I've had one more coffee. And listened to the wonderful and Reverend Professor Maxwell Hutchinson on the Robert Elms radio show on BBC Radio London - a local radio station that is often more interesting and intelligent than many of the national channels.

That man - the very Rev Prof Max - is quite a wonder. He's a great entertainer and educator on his many and various special subjects - architecture and the built environment, music, the Church and all manner of ecclesiastical matters....and much more. I think he is a world authority on Frankincense. And myrhh.

He's been doing this for ages, alongside running a successful architectural practice and being president of the RIBA, as well as a lay deacon. A couple of years back he had a bad, serious stroke. He was off air for months. But Mr Elms and his very loyal, very solid band of listeners, kept the idea of Max alive. By his own account, Mr Elms and his many listeners helped to keep Max alive. And Max came back and again turns up on the show every week, often on location as a sort of Kolly Kibber character - find Max in your Manor!

This week, the Rev Professor was supposed to be in my manor. I did not know this til 10am Tuesday when I tuned in my dodgy transistor to 94.9fm.

Poor old Robert Elms was having to deal with people from Clapham; he could hardly conceal his distaste for the place. He cheered up when someone pointed out Clapham Junction was in Battersea and it was only through snobbery they changed the name to Clapham.
A crescent moon over the bell-tower of Clapham's Holy Trinity
church: maybe Maxwell Hutchinson was somewhere around
this historic building, marooned like a ship on Clapham

You could sort of tell from the way he enunciated "Clapham" (and even slipped in a naughty "Cla'am" which was bound to annoy some SW4 listeners) that he did not have his usual enthusiasm for this Manor: too posh by 'alf, too silly, was what he  perhaps was half-secretly thinking. ALso it has the disadvatage of being south of the river, and just south of Chelsea.

I sort of agree with Mr Elms ...but I also agree with the caller who said Clapham had always been up-and-coming. But it never actually arrived. Which is (in my view) its saving grace. The High Street is still pleasingly scruffy. It's quite a horrible place but it is also mixed enough to remind you that the Henrys and Banker-wankers and so on are only the most recent and actually quite thin layer of this suburb's social geology.

There is still enough social housing in Clapham to ensure that the Henry&Henrietta brigade never completely colonise. Nor any other group of transients, my own lot of of 80s chancers included.

Then Mr Elms was talking to some chap who represented Clapham Common, a preservation society. He was in fact in Spain as he spoke. He did a so-so job, hardly exciting much interest in the long and outrageous history of this odd open space. Instead he kept telling us there were lots of fun runs. 'Fun run' is surely oxymoronic. He mentioned also 'Australian rules' football and dog-walkers. Yes, alas he was right - that is now what the Common is about. Sport, fitness, dogs and their owners. And in summer, young people eating huge picnics and drinking lots of champagne or prosecco from Sainsburys then leaving all the rubbish on the grass afterwards.

What about the 1985 (?) AntiApartheid free concert? Dr John? Alternative Miss World? Sunsplash? Archaos? Desmond Dekker at the Bandstand? Remember that, do you? etc?

Look, you know I am  a big critic of what has happened around here, and I wouldn't trust myself to defend it now, to be honest, even though it has served me well over three decades - but when we're on a global radio show, we need to stick together, right?

Well, I was waiting with some trepidation to find out what would be said.

Or maybe he was here, Old Clapham Library on the North Side of the
Common. This building was eventually saved and became what is now
the Omnibus, a well-used arts centre which is currently showing
Jim Grover's excellent photos of Clapham High Street life,
low, high and higher.
I was waiting for the chance to ring and tell Mr Elms about the Bread and Roses pub, almost the last place in Clapham I still feel very positive about. A trade union pub with music, free music, theatre and more! The Studio Voltaire contemporary art organisation also seems like a very good thing, deserving of much more praise than it gets. I'd have tried to mention that as well.

But I was also waiting for Jim Grover, the photographer of 48 hours on Clapham High Street, who was due to appear on the show to talk about his book and photo-exhibition at the Omnibus Arts centre.

And above all - I was waiting to find out where in Clapham the Rev Prof had chosen - and even more trepidation as to who he might meet. I began to fantasise. Maybe he will be outside the Holy Trinity Church on the Common - home of the Clapham Sect, one of the key places where the abolition of the slave trade gained momentum.

I think that would be the obvious place for Maxwell Hutchinson to set up shop - a church (albeit not that interesting, architecturally) - with some powerful history, and right by the popular paddling pool and temperance statue to boot.

Or maybe he was at the the new Library. Flashy noughties public-private rip-off architecture. No café any more!
This would have been a good place for the Prof Maxwell Hutchinson to hang out
with his Radio London crew: outside the new Clapham Library, half way down
 the High Street. Andrew Logan's mirrored artworks spelling out "Library"
are popular with all age groups and are arguably more interesting than
the building they stand in front of. 

Or perhaps in one of the leafy upper-crust streets or squares...or in Venn Street, a pleasant enough place. Or maybe he was at the Old Library, now the Omnibus Arts Centre - that would have made sense, especially as those High Street photos are on exhibition there right now.

So yes, I was waiting....and then Theresa May said she wanted a general election, and that was that! The rest of the show was devoted to political analysis and speculation, inevitably and properly, of course.

Ah well, maybe it was for the best.

Clapham is such an odd place now. I don't think it fits Robert Elm's idea of the sort of place real "one of us" Londoners live. Maybe it was once. It does not seem that sort of a place any more, even though, in reality, it of course is.

Clapham. Marginal but not edgy. Common, yes, very common. But not cheap, and certainly not very cheerful. Unless you have a city bonus to spend.

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