7.30 on a Sunday morning. Last night was the first time after all the travelling that I got a good night’s sleep only for the fire alarm to go off at 5.50. Hundreds of people cascade out on to the Strand, some looking embarrassed by their nightwear and bath robes, some coming out with packed bags, and me with my T-shirt on back to front, no socks and a major scowl. Much amusement to the passing clubbers on their way home and the group of soemwhat dazed young men who appear to have been sleeping outside the station. No fire and probably a hoax.
Yesterday, headed down to Plumstead where we used to live. A grey day with threats of rain. The journey is one I’ve done hundreds if not thousands of times, but there’s always something to look at and I’m keen to see if anything new has been built. Immediately struck by the level of graffiti which rather puts Devonport into perspective, but also just how many buildings there all crammed together. I’d forgotten just what an efficient use of space the terraced house is, and the luxury of having your own ‘section’.
Arrive in Woolwich where the centre is undergoing major reconstruction for the arrival of the Docklands Light railway which will come under the Thames and end up in Woolwich in 2009. This will, it is expected, bring regeneration rather than the degeneration the town has experienced over the last 20-30 years. At the moment, however, it has simply led to the knocking down of some buildings and the appearance of a very large hole in the ground. You can see some early signs of pioneer regeneration,; new apartment blocks; a Costa coffee place (I promise to write a blog without mentioning Costa one day). In particular the old Royal Arsenal, for hundreds of years the base for providing weaponry to the British Empire, is being redeveloped as a residential area plus cultural quarter. This had started before we left, and the building goes on with some very fancy and very expensive riverside apartments and houses. Eventually, it will be it’s own little town. I suspect that much of it is investment oriented. When the first group of 500k (pounds) houses were sold, 22 of them went to South Africans (living in South Africa) unsighted. It’s a very quiet area, still with a feeling of being walled off from the rest of Woolwich. There’s a ferry goes up to the City in the morning and I suspect most of the people who live there are commuters whose social centre of gravity is the centre of London. There are some seriously heritage style buildings going back to the 17th century here. Interestingly, because it was an Arsenal no detailed maps were available until very recently and if you look at ordnance survey maps it’s just a big blank (to make sure the germans couldn’t find it). Occasionally they used to get things wrong and there would be a major explosion and all the houses in the area, including the one we lived in, have cracks in their structures because of this. Oh dear, I’m going into historian mode!
I visit the Greenwich Heritage Centre there which brings together the old Museum and the Local History Library (now called the Search Area). I’m wondering whether they have any information for my book and they give me some useful advice. Then walk out onto the waterfront and head back into Woolwich. A waterfront garden was built a few years ago aas part of the Thames Walkway development (you can virtually walk the full length of the Thames, nearly 200 miles). The policy of Greenwich Council is to let grass grow and encourage a sort of wildness which is often very interesting, but in this case the wildness looks like wasteland, particlarly as they put a skateboard park in the middle and this has been virtuallydestroyed and there is graffiti just all over (now where have I heard this story before?!). The Council seems to have lost interest and the paths have not been weeded. However I still love to walk along the river. Ann and I used to work around the corner and this was Daisy’s lunchtime walk.
Head up into central Woolwich and remember why everyone is looking forward to regeneration. Go through the centre and walk up the hill to where our house was (is). Going for lunch at Ed and Jan’s who live six doors away. They have a flat with the most heavenly garden. Both are green fingered and the garden is an urban oasis. They have three cats, a fox and three cubs, and an adult and a baby squirrel, as well as fish. So a lifestyle section really. The grey day is cheering up and we sit outside having a simple mediterranean meal and it’s all very peaceful. They have the chance to get online to Ann with athe webcam (they’re technophobes and this is part of an education campaign to get them to get a computer). I fancy a walk around some old haunts so Jan and I set of to look at our old house. A lot of new apartments have been built around the area including the conversion of the huge Victorian School. Our old house looks very similar though it’s now got window boxes. The houses on each side are still kept in disgusting condition by our disgusting ex-neighbours……Moving on quickly, we go upto the Common where the annual Plumstead Make Merrie is, I’m told, taking place. Established a few years ago by the Plumstead Common Enviromental Group – at this point Alex and Julia should stand up and take a bow – it combines opportunities for local volunteer groups, local retailers, and local people to use the common for the purposes originally intended. It’s very busy, a bit cheap and cheerful, but there are musical slots, play area for the kids, volunteer groups advertising their wares and somewhere, I suspect, some Morris dancers. A really nice feel on what has become a sunny day. Go across to the Environmental group stall and introduce my self to Nick Day who took over from Julia as the Chair and is doing a sterling job. Take a picture for Julia and Alex (coming your way soon). We then walk up to Jan’s allotment where she produces a great range of vegetable and herbs, and then wend our way back to Jan’s flat via the Indian shop which has been there since whenever. The young woman behind the counter was I’m sure the little girl who used to run around getting in people’s way when we first moved there. We lived in the area for maybe 15 years, so the whole thing brings back memories good and bad.
Then head off into another part of South London – Lee Green – to vist Steve, Maggie, Thomas and Rebecca. This is another traditional haunt. I can’t remember how often we went round there. Thomas and Rebecca, as always, seemed to have changed a lot since I lost saw them. Have a great evening. Another webcam session – the wonders of laptops, vodaphone and Wi-Fi. They’re contemplating coming back to New Zealand next year for a holiday. Rebecca remains resolute that she intends to live in New Zealand but only after she has made a fortune. She will then marry someone, move to New Zealand and lounge around and drink whiskey. Who am I to argue? I also discover that there is to be a memorial service for one of my ex-colleagues at Greenwich University – who I heard had died. It’s to be held in the Royal Chapel. John, who was never less than extreme in his ambitions, was the person who managed somehow to acquire the Royal Naval College at Greenwich as a University campus. Only he would have thought it possible, never mind pulled it off. So Steve and I decide to attend a week on Tuesday.
Get a cab back to Charing Cross through a very busy and lively London. At the hotel the clubbers are pouring out of the station on their way out for the evening. Me, well it’s well past Devonport curfew time, so I’m off to bed for a good nights sleep, which is where this blog started!-