Sunday, 23 July 2017

Split perambulation: Croydon and London Bridge to Kings Cross

Having been sent to  Waddon for work, just a mile or two  South West of the centre of Croydon,  it seemed only sensible to get off the train at East Croydon and take the opportunity for a bit of ambulatory activity. I've only ever been to Croydon once before at the start of a walk along the River Wandle. I didn't recognise the station from my last visit. There was a lot more development going on since I was last here.

I'd arrived with the best part of an hour and a half to get to Waddon and find somewhere for breakfast. I left the station through a side exit and the vicinity immediately outside was devoid of much except for a Co-op so I kept going towards the main road (A12). Croydon is well known as being a place festooned with 60s office blocks which featured in abundance. Among these I noticed a particularly tall purplish skyscraper, a far more recent building called Saffron Square, a new residential development. It's had it's critics for it's design and for being marketed to overseas investors rather than providing much need homes for normal people (just for a change). But the height of it (43 storeys) and garish colour makes it visible from most of the rest of Croydon and probably beyond  so at least it was a handy reference point.

I walked up the main road and passed Lunar House, a large white building housing the Home Office immigration/visa centre where people wanting to apply for a visa in person have to come. Similar I guess to going to Peterborough for getting a passport but probably an even longer and more costly process. Last time I came to Croydon it reminded me a bit of Peterborough, particularly the shopping centre area. Both places are ones that are often derided. Both have been developed extensively in the 60s and 70s although Croydon much more impressively if you like brutalist architecture. Lunar House was built in 1970, along with nearby Apollo House, the names inspired by the 60s space programme. Apollo House is also the name used for the block of flats the main characters in the sitcom 'Peepshow' lived in. The actual block of flats used in filming for the exterior of their abode is Zodiac House. The green plastic looking interpretations of the signs of the zodiac above the entrance are bizarre. I don't remember seeing them in the TV show and I didn't pass Zodiac House while in Croydon which was a shame.

I'd mentioned the idea of mapping TV sitcoms based in London in a previous post and have since discovered, unsurprisingly, that i've been beaten to it. So hat's off to whoever plotted the google map. Purley, just up the road from central Croydon, was the setting for Terry and June in the 70s. More recently Croydon been the setting for a BBC 3 sitcom about the staff working in a Fried Chicken takeaway ('Fried') and for Jo Brand's comedy 'Going Forward'.

Further up the road I went past a sign for West Croydon and it felt like I was heading the wrong way out from the centre.  A quick map check confirmed that so I doubled back down a parallel road.
Masonic Hall
I thought this church a bit unusual. I didn't have time to stop and have a closer look, the need to find breakfast becoming more of a priority. A bit of post walk research revealed it is not a church but the headquarters of the Croydon Lodge of Freedom, a masonic hall.

I walked on, heading to what was referred to as the Old Town, and fairly soon came to a main road that I needed to cross to get to Waddon Road. I'd somehow managed to miss the Town bit of the Old Town or at least the bits with anywhere that sold breakfast so pressed on to the Waddon Cafe, a decent grease cafe in the proper tradition. On a corner along with a handful of other shops/takeaways that are facing a Morrisons over the road (not one that sells breakfast).

Meeting over, I headed back to East Croydon through suburbs after turning off at random somewhere on Purley Way. I followed a road alongside Duppas Hill, Croydon's first recreation ground and previously site of the Croydon workhouse. I was tempted to walk across it but this would probably have taken me in the wrong direction..not normally something that would worry me too much but I was a bit restricted on time.
Prior to crossing the A232 I passed these dilapidated looking garages. The doors didn't look quite right, as if they were made from cardboard.
Croydon subway underpass
Taking the  underpass crossing the A232,  I made an educated guess and came out in roughly the right direction to head back into the town. Not much further from here I passed a pub. It wasn't opened and it may not have been in business any longer. The frosted and patterned windows made it impossible to glance inside to see. But once all pubs were like that, offering uncertainty to the non-local as to what (and who) might be found inside. More often than not now it's possible to look through the window before going in. On the plus side allowing a look at the beer range is half decent and t check that the company looks convivial. In some ways this is a good thing but it also means the windows are more boring and customers are on show in the manner of a goldfish or shop mannequin. For anyone trying to maintain a low profile (bunking off school/work, hiding from your husband/wife/mum/Dad/the Police) or for the innocent just wanting a bit of peaceful solitude this is not ideal. For the onlooker any wonder and imagination about what might be going on inside is lost. I remember walking past pubs when I was young and wondering what could be going on inside and why I wasn't allowed in. Similar (but not quite as interesting) were bookies with their beaded curtains. The possibility for these sort of imaginings is fast disappearing.
I knew I was heading back towards East Croydon when I could see Saffron Square looming in the distance like a purple a beacon.
Croydon Towerblock

Nestle brutalist
Walking along George Street I noticed the Nestle Tower, an impressive enough piece of 60s brutalism. Nestle (always pronounced 'Nessels' by people I knew when I was a kid) vacated the building 5 years ago and it's been purchased by Chinese developers with, unsurprisingly, a view to residential conversion

I was quite taken with Croydon as a place to explore, something I would do a bit more of when I had to return to Waddon a couple of weeks later. It is obviously a place in the grip of gentrification but still has plenty of so far unaffected areas in the centre. As well as the 60s architecture and  older buildings there are plenty of regular shops catering to the 'ordinary' person. A Lidl on the main drag and a Wetherspoon (I passed one - there may be more) as well as plenty of independent shops selling things that are useful shops. It hasn't been heavily populated by Nathan Barley types or beardy-man-bun clones just yet. Maybe worse, that phase of gentrification may be bypassed or fast tracked- straight to the really weatlhy, most of which invest in their flats- rather than live in them.
Funeral directors Croydon
In the approach to East Croydon the presence of the clock in front of J R Shakespeare Funerals serves as an ominous reminder of the relentless march of time.  Clocks are not uncommon outside funeral directors, an obvious choice of decoration I suppose. This one is also handy to check if you are about to miss the train. 
50p buidling
The 50p building
The iconic  'No 1 Croydon' building is just past the station.  This is more informally known as the 50 p building, the three-penny bit building or the wedding cake. Formerly it's proper name was the NLA building (NLA standing for Noble Lowndes Annunities- no, I've never heard of them either) when it was put up in the 60s. It featured in the opening credits of Terry and June and was later called one of the UK's top eyesores in a programme on Channel Four (around the time it underwent a refurbishment).
Croydon gentrification
View from the Boxpark
I was in need of refreshment before getting the train and luckily there was an outlet for excellent local brewery The Cronx right next to the station. This was part of  a complex called 'Boxpark' which appeared to be a temporary structure containing various food and drink outlets with a large area in the centre to sit and eat whatever food you have bought there. This was I suppose a typical example of hipstery gentrification but it's temporary nature indicated it was soon to be swept aside for development for the benefit people further up the food chain of the gentrification hierarchy and this re-enforced my earlier perceptions.

One of the outlets, selling meaty products and bourbon, had artwork depicting people with animal and skull heads. I'm not sure what this was supposed to signify, if anything. Maybe the skull in the suit is meant to represent something about cultural death with the coming of wealth. But it's probably just supposed to look cool - and it did I suppose.
Psychogeography Croydon

Croydon psychogeography

The train back travelled back through the wilds of South London, places unknown to me or only briefly passed through like Norwood Junction and Penge West. Back through slightly more familiar territory of New Cross Gate. Then the City of London looms into view.

View from the train Psychogeography
I headed back in the rough direction of Kings Cross.
London Bridge and the Shard
This was Southwark Cathedral (I think) with the Shard in the background. The mix of old and new in this part London, as elsewhere, is stark and moreso since the Shard was put up. I've never really been tempted to go up it despite the spectacular views from what is said to be the tallest building in Europe. It's about £25 to be being granted access to the specatcle, probably involves queing and I'm not really one for heights. Prior to it being complete it was 'hacked' by urban explorers. Theres a good article about that here.

Further along somewhere past St Paul's Cathedral I passed this building. It's been a Youth Hostel since the 70s and was previously St Pauls Choir School. I was drawn to the Scallop Shell motif. The scallop shell has been used as a fertility symbol asscoiated with the Roman Goddess Venus. It's also been used as a symbol for religious pilgrimage. More recently of course for Shell Oil. I don't know what the intention of  the architect was here but my feet were telling me I was making a pilgrimage of sorts..albiet one with no religious intent, much direction or anything in mind to revere at the end of it.
Psychogeography Shell Motif
Nearby a crow or possibly a rook, I'm never sure. The saying goes 'if theres more than one crow they are rooks, if theres only one rook it's a crow. So I'm going with crow. Crows have been associated  with death and the 'other world' in Britsh Folklore. While I didn't think mortal danger was imminent I think crows do have a bit more mystery and command more respect than pigeons even when scavenging on bits of dropped sandwich. Further east, Ravens, which are larger versions of crows, reside at the Tower of London. It's said that if they leave England will fall. I think their wings are clipped to make sure they don't fly away.
Soon after this after passing the Old Bailey, I found myself at the corner of Guiltspur Street and Cock Lane. Here the Golden Boy of Pye Corner marks the point where the Great Fire of London is said to have stopped. This was orginally the site of a bawdy pub. Probably not unconnected is the blaming of the fire on the sin of gluttony, as described in  the enscription on the wall. Being on the edge of the City, the epicentre of greed in London, any warnings of future restraint have fallen on deaf ears but there's been no repeat of the fire - yet. I'd never heard of the somewhat defiant looking Golden Boy before. He reminds me of a post-piss version of the Manequin Pis in Brussels, mocking puritancal warnings about gluttonous behaviour having relieved himself in the street. I'd seen the name Pye Corner on a map of Harlow before and had imagined the name derived from the location of a former Pye electronics factory, possibly now derilict. I'd wondered if this might be the inspiration for the electronic music artist known as Pye Corner Audio. Probably not. Of course 'Pye' is an old spelling of 'Pie', hence the association with gluttony. There are several Pye Corners in the UK. The character 'Neil' in 'The Young Ones' had the surname 'Pye' so theres a tenuous comedy link there..
London Psychogeography
Somewhere a bit further along near the Barbican was this mural/street art. It seems to depict a young person with an affinity for the animal world. A hipster version of The Beastmaster or Johnny Morris perhaps.
Gentrification Hipster
Then I found myself on Goswell Road which leads from Barbican to Angel. Somehow I'd never heard of or walked along this road, despite usually ending up on the almost parallel routes of City Road, Farringdon Road or Grays Inn Road on meanderings back to Kings Cross from central or  Eastern bits of London. This was nicely disorientating. I felt like I'd slipped back in time to the 1970s London of  the Sweeney and Minder. The front of the establishment pictured below features the Pepsi sign once common on places with names like 'Jim's Cafe'. This conjured up images of formica, silver foil ashtrays, plastic tomatoes, cheap and basic grub (fry ups, liver and bacon, shepherd's pie) and Crusha flavoured milk. A mixture of memories from TV programmes and holidays in Yarmouth and Cromer as a kid.
London Payschogeography Cafe
Further along the road is Turnpike House. I immediately thought of the LP 'Tales from Turnpike House' by St Etienne and it's cover featuring what I thought was this tower block on the front. Except on checking this out the album cover I was thinking of was for their 'Finistere' LP which features the image of the tower block Ronan Point in East London - just before it was pulled down. When I first heard the title of the LP, to confuse things more I'd assumed it was about somewhere in Turnpike Lane. The London Trilogy of films the band made with director Paul Kelly are esssential viewing but I've never really listened to any of the bands music properly. This would probably explains my confusion around album covers and locations. Kelly resided in Turnpike House when collaborating with the band on one of the film'What Have you done today, Mervyn Day?' The Turnpike House imagined in the album and it's songs of kitchen  a sink drama was as much inspired by suburban areas as the actual location including Croydon, bringing things back to the beginning of my walk.
Turnpike House Psychogeography
Despite being named after a place in France, St Etienne have definate London and psychogeographical connections.  One album is  called 'London Conversations' and another,  'Words and Music by St Etienne' features an image of a fictitious A-Z style map with street names made up of the bands favourite songs. Bob Stanley of the band is quoted as saying ''the idea is that you can follow roads on the map and end up with a playlist of different journeys. There are 312 song titles on the map—it's our hometown." The most recent album is called 'Home Counties', traditionally a place where people end up moving to from London in middle age, motivated by suburban/rural ideas of  more space, peace and quiet and a perception of a safer place to bring up children while putting up with an extended commute. Whether this is still as prevalent and has happened to the members of St Etienne in recent times I'm not sure.

Turnpike House date from 1965, part of the Kings Square Estate built on behalf of Finsbury Council. The estate is currently undergoing development to include 70% 'affordable' housing at 'social rent'.  Judging by the number of hits for estate agents adverts a search for 'Turnpike House' produces I doubt that many of the original flats still fall into that category.

I diverted East somewhere before reaching Angel before heading to City Road and across to the excellent Wenlock Arms for light refreshment and a sit down. The pub dates from 1835 and now sits in a conservation area following an earlier attempt by delevopers to demolish it. On a previous visit some years ago me and some friends were accosted by an excitable and slightly incoherent French woman telling us something about the pub being under threat and that she thought she'd have to start drinking in the pub near the Eye Hospital instead. She need not have worried about the pub but Wenlock Road is almost unrecognisable since the first time I visited, probably about 15 years ago. The pub acts as a symbolic and physical buffer against more 'beige' development spreading any further along that side of the street. It featured in the Simon Pegg film 'The Worlds End', which was set in the fictional Newton Haven, nothing to do with London or it's numerous pubs of the films title. The Wenlock also featured in the opening titles to a comedy quiz show on Dave, presented by Al  Murray with the dubious sounding title 'Compete for The Meat'. On the programme people compete for a frozen chicken, with a second prize of some sausages while Al Murray hosts it in his 'Pub Landlored' character.

Across the road is Shepherdess Walk Park. I'd never walked across it and decided I ought to. I was drawn towards the mosaics in one corner of the park which depicted the seasons. One is labelled 'Hackney 2012'. The first mosaic in the park was created that year in celebration of  life in Hackney's parks during the the olympics. Here, nearer to the border between Islington and Hackney it is four and a half miles from the actual Olympic Park but it feels a world away.

Mosaic Olympic Park
I exited the park through an alleyway which lead into the street containing a former pub. The Blockmakers Arms closed in the early 80s. I wonder how many people have stumbled towards it since only to realise that. I guess the occupants get a few random and unwelcome visitors too. Having already refreshed myself at the Wenlock I wasn't one of them.
Closed pub psychogeography
Regents canal psychogeography
I walked back in the direction of Angel and Kings Cross along the canal, where as a pedestrian ot makes a nice change to be given priority. Although not everyone agrees evidently. On the canal path the pedestrian has to coexist with a high volume of cyclists and joggers (I don't think they count as pedestrians). In the main this isn't a problem, but joggers do sometimes seem to assume superior status over slow(er) paced wanderers and ambulators who they expect to always step aside for them. They are not prepared to stop or move aside and insist (not vocally-it's just a given) that it's you who must instead. So even in a car free environment the walker is still seen by other 'modes' as at the bottom of a mode of travel/movement heirachy.
I was quite happy to slow down in the light of this and besides wasn in no rush.

Along one of the side roads leading into Upper Street I noticed the coffee shop above. The name Daily Grind was a good pun, recognising one of  the main reasons for the success of coffee shops is the few precious minutes of solitude and peace accompanied by a caffeine boost they offer on the way to work. The interlude between being half awake and coming to life before enduring another working day.
After eating in the always good Indian Veg I walked back to Kings Cross. Uneventful save this window. Kogan Page was a book publishers but it looks like they are closed and the building is being used as a temporary art space or squat. There was a train to Cambridge due so I didn't hang around to look closer. When I'm next here I'll see if it's still there, but my guess is it wil have been 'developed' into something else by then.