A Camberwell Christmas

Good morning, and a merry Christmas to all of you — unless you are one of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who were banging on doors in my street early yesterday morning, in which case you can get stuffed.

We decided to stay at home this year. No family, no friends; just the two of us. That may sound a little misanthropic, but it was the first time we’d ever had Christmas alone and it did us the world of good to lounge around in pyjamas all day.

Bought locally where possible; all our vegetables from Cruson (£3.20 for three days worth of vegetables; that’s value you won’t get in the supermarket), all our booze from one of the plethora of shops around the Green, all our supplemental foods from Spar. Only the duck came from elsewhere.

Christmas Eve we went out for a drink and something to eat. First to the Phoenix: we arrived at just after 7pm, and there were about eight other people there. The quiz had been abandoned due to lack of interest, again. So quiet was it that they decided to close the kitchen at about 7.15pm, so we went elsewhere.

We knew the Sun & Doves was closed, so we decided to try the Dark Horse. That was closed too, so we ended up in the Grove/BRB for a pizza. It too was very quiet; only about six people in there, until a large group arrived later.

The Grove is going to close down on January 27th for a month; they’re removing the pizza oven and going to install a kitchen upstairs to serve more standard pub food. The feel is going to be modern traditional, apparently. It’s going to be like the Clock House in Peckham, if you know that one; the landlords from there are coming to run the Grove.

Went to watch the Arsenal game in the Cadeleigh Arms yesterday; their refit is finished now, and it’s working a lot better than it was. Lots of sofas, some well-placed TVs for the sports, and the same welcoming atmosphere from the staff and regulars. You wouldn’t go there for a big night out, but it’s the perfect place for a relaxing pint or two. Some of the regulars walk (or drive) past five or six other pubs to get there.

I’ll be in there next Saturday if anyone fancies buying me a pint to celebrate the festive season.

Author: Peter

Long-time resident of Camberwell, author of this blog since July 2004.

50 thoughts on “A Camberwell Christmas”

  1. Merry Xmas everyone!

    Hubby and I also had a quiet one at home together.

    We currently have no plans for New Years Eve and are thinking of just pubbing it in Camberwell…Not sure where though…

  2. Merry Christmas! I went away, and am going away again for NYE, but I’m sure Camberwell will be lovely.

    This is entirely off-topic for Christmas, but I was wondering if anyone could recommend an SE5-based doctor/doctor’s surgery? I am new to the area and have to register somewhere, but I know not where…

  3. Howdy neighbours. It’s time I stopped lurking and actually posted something.
    We catered for ten on Christmas Day and sixteen yesterday. Entertainment included an improvised puppet show and some ukulele and guitar bashing. Four generations spanning two to ninety-two and a heap of old friends made it a joyful and moving experience — even for this devout atheist.
    Mrs Tinfoil will be hoping for a bit of dancing to see the new year in. Any suggestions for bopping in Camberwell?

  4. hey Alex — welcome to sunny Camberwell.

    Can’t speak highly enough of St Giles Surgery in St Giles Road. Might be a bit of a waiting list though, to get on their books.

    Amanda — Apparently the Castle is open for free on NYE up until 9pm when entry is ticket only (not sure what tickets cost.) So that’s where we will be — thankfully, they still have Blanc on tap.

  5. I had a half of Blanc there the other day — yuck! What’s all the fuss about? it’s really horrible!

    Merry Christmas btw.

  6. No pizza at BRB?


    That’s the only reason I go there, unfortunately. Perhaps they should just succumb to the inevitable and start serving average Thai food like every other pub in London.

    I hate it when somewhere that does something I quite like stops doing it..

  7. Eyechild — The BRB has been really poor over the last year or so — the last time I had a pizza there it wasn’t very good not up to their original standard when they first opened — I would welcome a pub that did traditional grub — Sausage and Mash,Steak and Kidney,Fish and Chips — done properly and with a bit of loving care, you can’t really go wrong…

  8. Sun and Doves is always free on NYE and always good atmosphere — like a large house party very friendly and happy. Also we’ve invested a couple of grand in a new pa system and dj decks (as yet unused) and that’s on top of the new seats, interior, new bar and all the rest — and we’ve been there since the dawn of time — only Brendan at Hermits Cave has been an owner of a local hostelry longer than we.

  9. Thanks for letting me back in and sorry for any confusion over my exclusion.

    I went to the George Canning on Christmas Eve. good atmosphere but no difficulty in getting a seat.

  10. Alex — We’re very happy with the Camberwell Green Surgery, on the corner of Camberwell New Road and the Green. They will only admit people from specific streets, however — you will need to check.

  11. If you don’t mind travelling a bit for your pizza, head over the hill to the Magdala in Lordship Lane. They do 2 for 1 on Mondays and Tuesdays and are far better than the BRB has ever managed.

  12. I’m all for a trip over the hill.

    I don’t agree with people who begrudge East Dulwich its relative success.

    Our proximity to East Dulwich and Clapham should be seen as a strength.

    Rather than criticise the gentrification of areas such as these I think we should embrace it in the hope of following suit.

  13. When trying to register recently with a doctor we found that all the practices had clear catchment areas (even down to different sides of streets) they dealt with. Most said that they were unable to register patients from outside their area unless there was a good reason.

    The full list of surgeries in the SE5 area is on the Lambeth and Southwark Primary Care Trusts ’ websites http://www.lambethpct.nhs.uk and http://www.southwarkpct.nhs.uk. We are resgistered with Myatts Field Surgery in SW9 which apparently is closest to us in the Myatts Fields area — they seem to be good although I have only attended for the initial registration consultation so far.

  14. Got sidetracked up there… as for doctors’ As Mumu says there’s a catchment area issue but St Giles’ surgery have been consistently very good for us — two adults, male female and two children, for well over a decade.

  15. Hi Alan, welcome back. Another of your comments got caught in the spam filter, but luckily I spotted this one and was able to rescue it. If it happens again, let me know by sending a private message on the SE5Forum and I’ll try to rescue again.

    My wife’s also a fan of Odie & Amanda, and I’m glad we have it here and hope it is successful. I think Camberwell needs a good balance and variety of shops in order to thrive.

  16. Hello, i hope everyone had a good Christmas. as usual i was in the country with family so missed a Camberwell Christmas, but i’m enjoying these few quiet days before New Year in London.

    The boyfriend and i went to The Phoenix on Wednesday night , and although it wasn’t very busy we had a great evening, i think it’s becomming my favourite pub in Camberwell, after the Sun and Doves.

    If anyone is looking for pub pizza i can recommend the pizzas at the Gowlett arms — i went there a couple of months ago and was very impressed — they’ve manged to get the balace of new and old right so it feels family friendly but still like an old school pub.

    Alex — Advice on doctors — as other people have said here it often depend on where you live. I go to the Corner Surgery on Coldharbour lane — i find them perfectly good — although i didn’t have muc choice in the matter!!

    And on a final note — more news about the apparent decline of the Castle — my flatmate went there just before Christmas and reported the filet steakburger is now a shadow of its former self.

  17. Walked past the BRB last night at about 7pm — almost deserted, just two tables of people and a couple of guys at the bar. Oh dear.

    The Phoenix has redeemed itself — it now has a reliable supply of Frulli on tap as well as other interesting beers, a Canadian one and Erlinger.

    On a separate note, does anyone know anywhere that is more drab and depressing than the Camberwell post office. It feels such a sad place, all it needs surely is a lick of paint a bit of colour and some more cheerful people behind the counter.

    It gets my vote for the most depressing place in Camberwell.

  18. I couldn’t agree more about the Post Office. A couple of years ago a sign went up saying that it was to be refurbished by means of a partnership with the private sector — I assume this meant that a company such as Rymans (which took over the running of a post office in High Holborn a few years ago) would put money into improving the premises, retailing stationery and similar items, and generally providing a better service. But that all seems to have been forgotten — presumably because the proposed partner got cold feet.

    To make a bad situation even worse, it’s not even possible to post a letter there when the premises are closed.

    The staff seem to me to be remarkably good humoured and patient, in the circumstances. The place seems to attract some of the saddest and most unlovely people in Camberwell — I used to dread going there because during my 10–15 minutes in the queue someone was bound to start swearing at the staff or one of the customers.

    These days we go wherever possible to the small PO in Peckham Road, opposite the Art College. Service with a smile not always guaranteed, but certainly a better experience than going to Denmark Hill.

  19. yeah the main camberwell post office is awful. From what i’ve seen the Peckham road PO has a strange policy with the drinkers who live in the flat above. From what i’ve seen personally, coupled with stories from friends who’ve lived nearby the deal seems to be that the drinkers cash their giros tin the PO for booze, and then can earn more booze by sweeping up outside etc. hence the presence of the plastic chairs for them to sit on etc.

  20. @squidder —

    If that’s true about Peckham, Jim Fitzpatrick would be pleased. After taking away several essential community services from Post Offices, he wanted them to think more creatively about revenue.

  21. I think that all Post Offices should be abolished — Why do we need such large premises for the simple task of posting letters or a parcel? And they always smell of mothballs and stale urine — what’s that all about — I’ve always been liberal left but I think that Post Offices are unessasary in an urban metropolis (the rural countryside is an entirely different matter) — all their facilities could be incorporated from specially designated newsagents or independent shops (which would benefit them with extra passing trade) — most of what the PO do is dead simple…although Parcels may well have to be sent from the Parcel Collection Office…

  22. We live in different worlds eusebiovic. In mine we need more post offices not less. Its not possible or practical to incorporate all PO services into other types of shops. This is actually what the government is currently trying to do. Of course you realise that posting letters and parcels represents only a fraction of the post offices activities. Are you suggesting that small shops have copies of the thousand odd forms that the post office dispenses, plus someone to explain what they’re for and the right stamp on completion? Or do you think that in a metropolis everyone has a computer and knows how to find the relevant form online? An independent shop can’t offer all the services needed for this bureaucratic society. Fantastic idea about the Parcel Collection Office, it has such convenient opening hours.

  23. eusebiovic — interesting point about rural communities.

    I am worried that the Government’s real motive in taking away the PO card account is to make less visible the burgeoning population who are either (a) economically inactive and dependent on the Government pension or (b) trapped or content in welfare, without belief that work will lift their quality of life. I don’t think we should pretend these people are not there and growing in number. It would be a mistake to hope for them all to remain in their hovel high rises, get their giros by Internet and take meals on wheels. Far better that such vulnerable individuals are encouraged to come into communities areas regularly, and perhaps to find an economic role, paying taxes which would benefit us all.

    My own view is that urban communities, particularly in inner cities, need small POs even more than rural areas, because their sense of community is weaker, and their need for community greater, than rural areas. But this is because the concept of urban locality is often misunderstood. I, like many, do not regard a twelve minute walk to Camberwell Green as local, and no more convenient than a bus trip to Pimlico, or car ride to Dog Kennel Hill.

    In addition, policy makers routinely refuse to recognise shopping areas outside recognised centres such as Camberwell Green. So I am really grateful to the Camberwell New Road PO for giving us a badge of retail respectibility with which to negotiate with Southwark for fair trading conditions.

    But this comes down to whether the PO is primarily a business or a public service and opinions will vary, rightly. Even the Government recognises, however, that POs have a public service element.

  24. Ok maybe not all post offices but a great example of a modern Post Office is on Westminister Bridge Road near Lambeth North Station — The PO there has been incorporated into a Spar convienience store — it offers the full range of PO services including a foreign currency exchange and the staff are fully trained — 2 tills deal with shopping only and 4 tills deal with PO matters and any shopping you may have picked up — The staff are always really friendly, which helps much more than the usual PO staff!!! — I quite like this set-up but wouldn’t want it in say a huge Tesco or Sainbury’s — I think a tube station or train station is also an excellent location for a Post Office…

  25. I’ve been in that one, it’s good. Having these sorts of post offices so as to avoid scrapping local ones is a fine idea. But, judging from the queue at the Camberwell Green PO (which one Saturday morning took me 45min to get through to a rude and slapdash cashier), there’s a supply and demand argument that suggests this is not just a question of needing to fundamentally realign PO functions with those of other trades in order to make them sustainable. Again, the smaller POs just can’t stock all the forms, when I tried to do my business at the PO opposite the then Somerfield on Peckham Road I was told that they didn’t have hold passport renewal forms there — they don’t do much more than the basics. The increase in online trading, not least ebay, has meant that postal services are in demand as never before. Email may have cut down on some business processes but these have been more than matched by new internet driven needs.

  26. Regeneguru has yet again hit my nails on their heads.

    More post offices should be the norm in densely populated areas. Each urban community centre should be provided with eveything the locals need so they never have to use vahicles. Indeed I reckon that urban areas could easily be regarded as rural areas without any of the drawbacks (which all revolve around there being NOT ENOUGH PEOPLE) and treated as such by all and sundry. We should be able to get everything we want within an easy walk so there’s no need to even think about transport, bikes, cars buses. Going up town should be a treat done once a year or so.

    Incidentally there’s no reason on earth why a post office can’t have a computer and print out forms as needed when demand, er demands.

    Camberwell Post Office is a particularly politicising experience. I spend far too much of my life in there. Probably around three hours a month whcih is ridiculous. see here for what it’s like if you don’t already know

  27. Good — So more Post Offices like the one on Westminister Bridge Road…and before anybody says that that branch might not have the social aspect of Camberwell, it too gets the majority of it’s custom from the surrounding housing estates where there are vulnerable people that need to be helped and attended well…

  28. Eva is quite right to say that the postal service is in demand as never before because of the increase in online trading. I do not understand why Royal Mail has failed to recognise that simple fact. Instead it cuts deliveries to one a day. And though I have no doubt that most of its employees are conscientious, it seems to have recruited a few in Camberwell who specialise in delivering mail to the wrong address.

  29. Carole — I’ve noticed that the Royal Mail have been using more than a few agency staff around here lately — A lot of my neighbours complained and our original postman was re-instated on his regular round…

  30. @ Eva — comment 24 above — I love the sideswipe at Camberwell Sorting Office. They refuse to deliver parcels or “signed for” mail to where I live and instead put a card through saying “sorry you were out when we called”. This went on for years and, as I work, I assumed that they had actually tried to call, but one day, I heard the card come through, opened the door to a flustered postman and asked for my parcel. He told me he didn’t have it on him and that I had to visit the Sorting Office — which only opens during normal working hours plus Saturday mornings. I wrote to Harriet Harman about this and they denied that they were doing what they were doing. As if by magic, I started receiving this sort of mail once more, but they’ve started their old games again in recent months.

  31. I have a very similar story. I used to write complaints to Royal Mail after receiving calling cards despite being in. I have had lots of replies along the lines of ‘sorry you had a bad experience… bladee blah… tough titties, yours sincerly’. Sorting Office hours are not even full working hours- 8am to 1pm on weekdays, until 12 noon on a Saturday. I now give out my work address for anything oversized or requiring a signature.

  32. I agree with eusebiovic about reducing the number of post offices.

    I think they should be replaced with increased library based free internet.

    There is no sense in keeping hard copies of forms that can be easily downloaded in an instant.

  33. The forms for the new biometric passports are not available online (or I would have downloaded them). The post office charges an £8 fee for their passport service which includes some kind of validation. I believe the only alternative is to go to Westminster to sort it out. So, the Home Office and several other government departments would also need to sort their acts out to make your suggestion realistic.

    One of my jobs involves teaching people who’ve never used computers how to do the basics. Some people, primarily but not exclusively people of older generations, have major problems learning how to use computers. They really totally don’t get it however patiently you explain the same thing for the tenth session. Fair enough. So the problem is not just about internet access or even about training. If you teach someone how to download a form, and then they don’t need to do it again for a year, they just forget. Or else they get lost in a maze or shite website design (and there are so many terribly designed governmental websites!).

    When I first moved to Camberwell I had a few months without Internet access and I realised what a nightmare the Public Library is. It’s got rubbish opening hours, too few computers and you have to book your Internet time slot way in advance. The amount of investment needed to make Library Internet access a realistic alternative, and then to maintain the licences and keep the computers up to date, would be much greater than the money needed to sort the Post Office out.

    Not that I’ve thought about this before or anything…

  34. It sounds like you are advocating improved websites, better internet access and more assistance with internet access. If so then you have my support.

    Not sure about your figures for the relative costs of internet access versus post offices.

    We already have very cheap internet access at a number of web cafes in Camberwell.

  35. re web cafes — ID theft is the fastest growing crime in the UK.

    Good points Eva.

    2005/2006 Number Crunching — Private Eye style

    Amount spent by government on consultants, on work that could have been carried out using existing civil service in-house capacity: £2,800,000,000.

    Cost of underequipping our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan: £1,264,000,000.

    Amount ‘lost’ by the Post Office: £208,000,000.

    Whether our priorities are social inclusion and the free circulation of resources, or headline costcutting, this is the spending context.

    For some, added value graphs and modelling are more important than continued free banking, stronger local economies and lower crime. Others will see the threat to Post Offices as part of the trend of a dramatic decrease in social mobility under Labour, and increased ghettoisation (recent LSE study).

    The PO logo is also economically valuable to Tourism UK plc, as one of the most famous logos in the world. However, balance sheet bean counter purists will have difficulty with this concept, as with the concept of money saved from strengthening communities and lowering crime.

  36. Are there figures for IT costs available somewhere too? I work for a higher educational institution that has 200 members of staff and around 2,000 students. The cost of keeping IT secure, functional and legal is massive! It needs to be continuously renewed and the costs get higher every year.

    The time cost is another consideration. I consider queuing for 45 min at the post office for a form too much. I likewise consider making people spend 30–45 min to log onto a computer, find the form and print it out too much. For a lot of people anything to do with computers is stressful and Internet cafes are inconvenient if you’ve got wailing kids with you. At Columbia Internet cafe it’s 50p minimum computer charge plus 10p per page printed. Some forms are lengthy. That may not sound like a lot of money for some people but it adds up and I don’t think we should have to pay for government forms on principle — we pay enough to have them processed.

    Still not convinced?

  37. Once we are regularly logging on for these forms, as with tax returns, I suspect we will also be submitting them online very soon. This is already the case with car tax for which, yes, you do need your credit card — or debit card — details.

  38. Online fraud is always a risk which is why many card providers now include free insurance cover. It still seems that you are not advocating post offices so much as highlighting the shortfalls of the current alternatives.

    All of the shortfalls highlighted are valid problems but adressing them is the issue rather than resigning ourselves to their failure and sticking with old fashioned post offices.

  39. The forms for me are a side issue. However, if and when a workable internet alternative presents itself, I won’t object. Pending that, let’s keep frontline services intact.

    I gave plenty of positive reasons for advocating Post Offices above.

  40. I did intend a stronger implication that no viable alternative has yet been suggested. My suggestion, born from this discussion, would be for a POST OFFICE with print-on-demand terminals á la supermarket self-checkout counters, with a weigh-it-yourself function from the same model (parcel ‘stamps’ are already machine printed), and some terminals dedicated to new services such as digital photo print-outs á la Jessops, Snappy Snaps et al. A simple touch screen interface such as these supermarkets and photo shops use wouldn’t be difficult to provide and would be free and easy to use. There would still be some counters for those prefering to speak to someone. All this coupled with a mini stationary or digital services shop, the new smarter cleaner PO would have shorter queues and still provide services for all. This is not far from what other people have been suggesting, my emphasis is that rather than starting by transforming a newsagents and dropping PO functionality if it doesn’t fit, we should start by transforming the POST OFFICE and drop the newsagent functionality if it doesn’t fit.

  41. Ok,Ok I say keep the Post Office — I was in a bad mood the other day because before christmas I had to queue up like a lemon for at least half an hour just to get some international stamps (the automated machines only offer 1st or 2nd class)…

  42. Two suggestions for Camberwell post office:

    1 — in the same way that supermarkets have a queue for handbaskets only, the PO should have a queue for postal services only — ie. buying stamps, sending parcels.

    It is very frustrating to stand in a line for 20 minutes behind people cashing giros, paying car tax, getting passports, paying gas bills — simply to buy an overseas stamp.

    2 — Paint the place and try to create a nicer atmosphere in it — maybe play some background music or something

  43. I read on the Forum the PO is about to undergo major renovation. It’s nice to debate it here though. How many of you so keen to argue it’s fate have submitted your views where it matters?

    Didn’t think so.

  44. JohnnyM — tell me where to submit my views and I will do. I thought posting them here was sufficient??

    And not wanting to stir up things but I get the feelng that the Forum doesn’t achieve very much ?? It seems to me like a bit of a toothless tiger, but hopefully I’m wrong and am being unfair.

    I get the feeling this blog is more influential than the Forum.

  45. JohnnyM and sg — it has never been so easy to make your views known to local representatives. Simply send them an e‑mail with your name and address, preferably from an address attached to your home address, such as a bt.com or other internet access address.

    The ultimate decision makers are:

    [url=http://www.southwark.gov.uk/YourCouncil/CouncillorsHome/MeetExecutive.html]Meet the Executive[/url]

    Ask for the name you need via Southwark switchboard (020 7525 5000) or write to them at firstname.​secondname@​southwark.​gov.​uk. En masse you can very easily bring pressure to bear.

    Your local Labour councillors will maintain that there is nothing they can do on most issues (however, check out their planning and licensing responsibilities, at the core of regeneration). In many cases, you do just need to go straight to the top.

    To be effective, the Forum does need to improve the way it channels residents’ views to local government and makes them public, which may happen through continuing development of the site. Every assistance is welcome, and I recommend that true Camberwellians able to give of their time attend future meetings, including committee meetings, to discuss how they could help.

    Meanwhile, keep lobbying individually as well and remember that the Forum lives or dies by the extent to which SE5 denizens engage with it.

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