Nice legs, shame about the boat race

I had to pick up some clothes from the dry cleaners/menders on Camberwell Church Street today, but had to make a quick detour via Clerkenwell first as I’d left some meat in the fridge at work. As the wife’s out having lunch with a friend, I made it a leisurely voyage and allowed myself the luxury of stopping frequently to look around me.

What it reminded me is what a lovely place Camberwell can be; lots of Georgian & Edwardian terraced housing; long, straight leafy roads; little parks and squares dotted around it; plenty of sports facilities; nice pubs & bars.

What lets the whole area down is what most people see: Camberwell Green and its surroundings. Traffic-choked, dirty pavements, an abundance of off-licences and no shortage of clients for them. It doesn’t look nice, it doesn’t feel nice; it isn’t nice.

At the end of the voyage I dropped into the menders to pick up my clothes; two pairs of trousers, both of which had been fixed well, and at a very reasonable price. The name of the shop escapes me at the moment; it’s on the side of Cruson/Sophocles, further towards the Green. I’d like to know the story of the co-owner who, tragically, died on his 50th birthday, but I’m afraid to ask.

I noticed that work is still ongoing in the former Zara’s Kitchen; whatever’s going to open there, it involves a substantial refit. The former Rumeli has now definitively changed to Grills, etc. KFC is having a refit too; at first I thought they’d closed down, but no such luck. Still no sign of life in Angels & Gypsies.

Finally, a few nights ago I was in the Spar on Vestry Road, where a young man and his girlfriend were buying chocolate. Nothing seemed amiss, but the young man suddenly said “I want to shoot someone tonight, man; I feel like shooting someone up”. I wanted to slap his silly little baby-gangster face.

Author: Peter

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

130 thoughts on “Nice legs, shame about the boat race”

  1. Firstly I would have had a word in the ear of that scrote buying chocolate and told him what a real sh*t he really is and risked it. This black gun crime bollocks has to stop, I know that when you say a “young man” he was black, he was wasn’t he?

    If he was why TF don’t you say so?

    I must agree that returning to Camberwell after a trip always makes me feel at home, ‘cos it is and has been for 17 years. I love the place and even after a lottery win would, apart from moving house, not leave.

  2. @ Marget: Because a) this gun bollocks isn’t limited to black people and b) I wouldn’t have said a white man or black man or asian man unless it was relevant.

  3. If we were living in Liverpool I would agree with your statement.

    But this is Camberwell.

    He was black wasn’t he?

  4. Er. I’ve had Scotland Yard three times using my facilities for surveillance for Operation Trident. And I know three other people locally whose homes / buildings have been used for same.

    Operation Trident is not active in Liverpool as far as I know.

    I reckon he was white.

  5. Yeah the Green & around is scummy, but at least its isn’t dead & full of fucking hoorays like Clapham & ED for that matter.Junkies, thieves & pissheads are a small price to pay for
    NOT living in sterile Notting Hill style theme park .

  6. Denmark Hill is horrible. Southwark Concil need to cut the lanes of traffic down to two (one in each direction, widen the pavements, maybe plant some trees, employ a town centre manager and do everything they possibly can to encourage the reopening of Camberwell Train station. Then it might start to resemble something like a proper high street, rather than an ugly and congested through road.

  7. Of course he was black. I don’t know why we shy from the facts and instead cast carefully hidden hints around the edges that aren’t any better.

    Even the wonderful black neighbours on my street are frightened of the black gangs. Any social work in Camberwell also admits the black cultures dominating the area are the challenges. Let’s just put it on the table and not shy from it. If it were Liverpool or even Tower Hamlets, it would be a different challenge.

    African cultures also offer a lot of positives for us to build on and like you say mean we won’t become Primrose Hill. Balance and mutual respect is key anywhere. Right now, we don’t have balance and we don’t have mutual respect, the latter being mostly black communities. Not because they are black, but because of a host of other issues common to any race when they are poor, fatherless, motherless, lack education and move in from other countries in overwhelming numbers.

    And let’s not kid ourselves that this and similar blogs/websites for improving things are dominated by a relatively small band of white, middle class (or aspiring) people not representative of the huge majority of Camberwell residents.

    Dunno what it all means but we can at least be honest and not shy that the truth is racist. Otherwise we’ll get nowhere.

  8. Southwark News notes that Camberwell is the ASBO capital of Southwark.

    The boasty black kids who hang around Vestry Road Spar are a pest. They are a million miles from the majority of black people in the area, who consider them a pain.

    The whole colour aspect is a bit boring and embarrassing, but the hip-hop thing has turned “revolt into a style” as Thom Gunn put it. As was drawn to our attention on this site when Jamail Newton was killed, it is the black youth of any colour, so to speak — of any cast of mind, and especially with those who don’t follow the herd — who are at risk and whose freedom of movement is restricted.

    A black mother whose son has to go by bus to secondary school in Lewisham on his own at the age of 11 because Camberwell schools are over-subscribed has reason to worry.

    We will be accused of having “bleeding hearts” (unfortunate phrase) but this sombre subject is fair game, as we discuss the merits of the Bear while waiting for the next death.

  9. What does it matter what colour the mock-thug Peter had the misfortune to encounter is? … He’s a messed-up kid … that’s the important thing, whether he’s black, white, Portuguese, Serbo-Croat, Inuit, Pygmy or Tamil … to focus on his colour implies that his desire to shoot someone up is a by product of his race, and that, my friend, is sheer blatant racism. And it doesn’t help solve the problem

    Let’s focus on his stupidity not the colour of his skin.

  10. @Peter — I share your thoughts about how beautiful Camberwell appears when you take off the glasses of familiarity. Most days, I barely notice my surroundings, because they are so familiar and then the sun picks out a building and it hits me.
    Yesterday, I went to visit a friend in Thornton Heath and got the 468 from Denmark Hill to Beulah Hill. That is an amazing journey — up Denmark Hill, down Herne Hill, Tulse Hill, up Knights Hill to Crown Point, where you think the bus isn’t going to make it, it’s so steep.
    I see Maigret is back with a vengeance!

  11. Agreed ditdot. But the stupidity we face ’round here stems from the black culture, thus understanding issues unique to their culture that lead to stupidity is important.

  12. The fact is that there is a problem with families in Camberwell, (It’s not fair to say it’s solely a ‘youth problem’, even though this is often how it manifests itself on the streets).
    I see really young kids running up and down the street, screaming and shouting, as late as midnight. It’s clear that no one is taking the slightest responsibility for their well being. These are the kids that whilst getting older, will never properly grow up.
    Many of the ‘gangsters’ are just frustrated, unsocialised kids who don’t know how to react when they don’t get something their own way.
    The impulse to ‘shoot someone up’ without thought is the result of an adult in a state of arrested development. It’s an extreme progression of the tantruming child, who has no more sophisticated way to express their frustration or attract attention, than screaming, shouting and hitting out at those around them.
    I don’t know what the answer is. Maybe investments in schemes such as sure start and the money put into primary education might help. Better sex education might stop some of the unwanted preganancies and making sure that men are forced to take responsibility once a kid is created (rather than just disappearing) might help change the culture of family neglect. But the problem of broken families is one that has developed and worsened over a very long time and will not be fixed easily.

  13. American branded goods — worldwide appeal. Nike. Black Americans major contributors to modernism — pared down, unencumbered with tradition. Gangsta culture nihilistic, built-in no future. Defiance and stoicism.

  14. The kid was showing off in front of his girlfriend. They were buying chocolate. Real gangbanger stuff.

    “He’s a messed-up kid … that’s the important thing, whether he’s black, white, Portuguese, Serbo-Croat, Inuit, Pygmy or Tamil.”

    He wasn’t any of those things, except black. Muhammed Ali once said, “No Vietcong ever called me nigger.” Well no white, Portuguese, Serbo-Croat, Inuit, Pygmy or Tamil ever tried to mug me.

    Really silly comment, dickdotcom. Your statement is liberal hand-wringing.

    Well said Benhill. Very good summation.

  15. da pygmies r big enuff 2 take tha hit
    they aint no pussies when it comes 2 it
    but tha camberwell peopls hv 2 take tha shit

  16. I tried Grills Etc on Saturday I had a Tikka roll. Not bad at all.

    That said I’m not sure how healthy all the ‘with chips’ combinations can be.

    I had a much healthier steamed fish and joloff rice from 4T4 Lip Smacking African Cuisine last night. Excellent place.

    I can see why some perceive gun crime as a problem for Camberwell’s black community but I don’t feel comfortable labling it as such as I’m not sure that the label tackles the issue rather than just making white people feel safer or absolved from any blame or duty to intervene.

  17. Quite disappointed with some of the reading on here? Go away for a week.. come back and everyone is racist?

  18. On a brighter note, what is that random “bits and things” store that has opened near the Bingo hall next to the Portugese mini arcade?

  19. Can I just interject before we all get into a slanging match of who’s racist and who’s not, and say I’d really prefer we didn’t go down that route.

    Can we stipulate that stupid is stupid regardless of race?

    I’ve seen boys holding up two fingers like guns and making shooting noises, and I’ve seen boys making ridiculous comments like the one I heard in the Spar, and they’ve been made by boys of different colours.

    Stupid is stupid.

    I actually saw someone get shot when I was in Brazil a few years ago, and anyone who could see that and still think it was cool is an irredeemable idiot.

  20. I agree with you Peter. Further clarification on which I think we’ll all agree.

    I’ve been here 10 years. Every spring someone new moves on the street full of Camberwell optimism. They just can’t believe what a find so close to London. It’s bound to come up. All the signs are there. Most usually take about a year before they appear lackluster. Another year and they sell up. They do alright with profit on the house but are crestfallen by the reality of Camberwell.

    One, about four years ago now, said to me after a few months ‘things just want get better with all THOSE people here’. That’s racist to me.

    However, if someone were to ask me about living here, I would say ‘you will be a minority. The African community is very large here and bring with them all the pros and cons of their community, particularly poor African communities.’ I don’t think that is racist. It is the daily reality of Camberwell. We like it. The pros outweigh any cons. And it is those cons we all as a community have to work with and resolve, for all of us.

    That’s the reality. We are challenged by the problems (mostly) unique to a large and growing population of poor African people. The beauty of Camberwell is most folks here for the long-term want to find a way forward that includes them. I think that is right. It will be hard. Most folks here are not part of that community but certainly are sensitive to it. And if we are honest, we often are frustrated by how we want Camberwell to be and if not careful, our wants don’t square with keeping everyone here. But if we can get it right I think it will make us different. Won’t be easy.…

  21. There’s nothing about Camberwell that could not be sorted out by people communicating better with each other.

    But THAT, in itself, is a massive challenge without a LOT more input from the local authorities.

  22. @Benhill

    Chadian, Ethiopian, Ivory Coast and Senegalese communities in London, to name but a few of our African diasporas, arguably contribute far less to gun crime than the white community (which by the way is not in the minority here… check the Census), although they probably suffer far more from it.

    Think about that for a second, and about what “black on black” really means.

    See also my recent post on the Forum on the local authority’s differing strategic approach to Camberwell’s ethnically diverse population.

  23. None of our social problems stem from race. It’s just a clash between those who have money and those who don’t. Does anybody know of any area in London where rich, middle income and poor people happily mix?

    Politicians offer platitudes about helping people escape poverty, while actually writing them off. The elite live in a different kind of Britain anyway. Meanwhile, the poor do awfully in school, heading for a life of under achievement. Their kids will do the same.

    I’ll stick around for now and gladly contribute to life in Camberwell. But to be honest, once I can afford somewhere with nicer shops and friendlier people I’ll go there. Life’s too short.

  24. Thanks Mumu, and excellent post from Butterball.

    However, I would add that some of our problems stem from preconceptions about — if not race — then cultures and communities closely associated with race, by local authorities, in the way that they plan:

    They don’t like local shops
    They don’t like exercising unless it’s playing basketball or football
    They eat burgers and jerk chicken, primarily
    They like to drink a lot
    They shop at Iceland
    They don’t go to the theatre
    They’re incorrigibly criminal, so it’s a waste of money trying to rescue that area. Better invest in the good ol’ boys of Dulwich.

  25. if that’s so, how come peckham has a spanky new library and leisure centre [no footer or basketball there]. plus lots of “local” [sic] shops. it has a similar demographic to camberwell, so your hypothesis shld apply equally. but it doesn’t seem to. or have I misunderstood? east dulwich has an iceland.

  26. Peckham has media gun chic — you’ll note that many of the recent Camberwell killings were reported as being in Peckham; more grist to that funding mill. Not investing in Peckham is politically indefensible.

    I’m not suggesting there’s a eugenics programme. Just that some people’s judgment might have been affected on certain issues.

    PS — anyone that works for the Council has a duty to declare that if specifically defending their policies.

  27. I like the idea of the patrons of the Camberwell Hotel reading ‘American Psycho’ & ‘Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas’
    during their stay here in Camberwell.
    We’ll know who to blame if we start getting a spate of serial killing . The drug psychotic Mr Thompson & his ‘attorney’ would be the last people you would ever want to stay in your hotel — so an amusing choice of authors for the hotel trade.

  28. but @ 30 I thought criminality meant the council gave up on an area? the only confusion in terms of reporting crime is between kennington and camberwell and that’s to do with the location of the nick.also, isn’t camberwell a media pin-up in terms of deprivation and criminality. kids company’s in the press every week; even the
    archbhisop’s in on the act. i’m not sure what you say is quite right.

  29. I fundamentally disagree that Camberwell has the same profile for crime and deprivation as Peckham in the national media. Have Brown or Blair visited SE5 recently with attendant cameras?

    As stated, Camberwell killings are often mistaken for Peckham killings — never vice versa.

  30. Benhill — thanks for the stats. One of the big strategic challenges facing Camberwell is that no-one has really accurate statistics for it as an area, though, as it overlaps with Lambeth.

    Florian — Dead link.

    Nothing wrong with a bit of pedantry, as our debate needs to be informed if it is to be useful — thanks for this.

    I’m sticking with my point that Peckham has a historical profile of media gun n gansta chic which has given it unstoppable funding momentum, and I deny that the current Peckham investment has much to do with SE15’s actual need for resources, but everything to do with political embarrassment nationally were there to be no action taken.

    I admit that Livesey Ward has got all Southwark licked (used in the Twainian form) for crime, deprivation, poverty and need, but the Green comes equal second. Why then are there three strategic investment areas outside the Green, only one of which — Peckham — has equivalent deprivation, crime or low life expectancy?

    I am raising the spectre of an unpleasant reason for this, without saying that it is conclusively the case. Absent a rational answer, of which none has been forwarded, that reason cannot be completely dismissed as part of the explanation for local policy on Camberwell, of successive administrations. It could also be party politics, but it isn’t clear.

  31. I agree Regen — the Lambeth end of Camberwell is often thought of as Brixton and regarded in the same way as Peckham in terms of deprivation etc (perhaps even more so due to the riots etc) and so it has attracted investment. Wards such as Vassall and Coldharbour which fall partly in SE5 are amongst the most deprived in the borough and so have received attention.

  32. I for one have become disillusioned. As someone mentioned, life is too short. same price, less shootings. I’m off to Forest Hill. I feel disappointed and carry affection for the area, and smell the potential. I also guiltily smell a healthy profit on my investment.

    Anyway, good amateur community planners of Camberwell, pack up your opinions and join in a debate. And booze is free on teh night. (Sorry this is me with my RIBA job hat on) anyone would be welcome to come along, just contact Mike at the email/number below for a ticket. Let Mike know you’s from here if tickets become short and we’ll fit you in.

    Publc debate: “This house believes planners should stop social engineering”

    What future for socially concious planning? What is a mixed community? Does it work? Is planning a prohibitive force in encouraging innovative design?
    Building Futures / RIBA lecture

    Time and Place Date: Wednesday, October 24, 2007
    Time: 7:00pm — 8:30pm
    Location: Building Design Partnership
    16 Brewhouse Yard

    Info Phone: 02073073620
    Email: buildingfutures@​inst.​riba.​org

    hope some of you come along. I’ll be the tall ginger bloke.

  33. Wookie, lecture sounds interesting. I will book a place and say Hi on the night.

  34. Wookie, I am working that night, but I would have loved to come along. Know a few RIBA people and would definitely recommend it.

  35. My business is slap in the middle of the most deprived wards in the UK but my freeholder — Scotstitch-u-up & Newcastle Pub Enterprises — behave as if we’re in Knightsbridge.


  36. Your business is also next to one of the largest busiest hospitals in the country, round the corner from an art college, near a university hall of residence and within spitting distance of a 1982 Wates develoment of flats and two bed-room cottages.

    I can see that they may be hammering you for rent but you are hardly in just an average estate pub location.

  37. There are only three ways to get rich in Britain.

    The lottery, capital gains on housing and enterprise.

    The influence of luck on each of those routes diminishes down the list but it it still highly significant in all.

    Good luck Mark.

  38. Agreed again Alan.

    And thank you.

    Part of my general point about Camberwell is that businesses in Camberwell need inordinate amounts of luck. without Kings I would have been out of business ten years ago. But Kings is not a guaranteed cash injection (issues of whether or not S&D adequately and consistently satisfies Kings’ staff’s multifarious needs aside) and I chose S&D because Kings was nearby. If the building had been 100 metres further along Coldharbour from Denmark Hill there is no way I would have taken on a lease.

    As it is, people who have known about S&D for over a decade, and believe it is an asset to the area by reputation but who live on the other side of Camberwell, have never visited, never spent a quid there. Never been inclined to go anywhere else in Camberwell either. A lot of this does not apply in Knightsbridge. Or Portobello. And on.

    Cambwerwell is not a lucky place.

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