North is pretty, Green is vile

I’ve changed my route to work in the morning, now cutting across Burgess Park and down Portland Street. I’d never realised how nice it is down there; behind the Aylesbury Estate there is a mass of social housing built, if I’m not mistaken, at the beginning of last century, and all beautifully cared for. Also lots of little parks and gardens. It’s a really pleasant street to cycle down, much better than the Walworth Road route I’m used to.

In stark contrast, however, is the bottom of Denmark Hill and around the Green. On the bus back from Brixton last weekend* I noticed that the whole area’s getting scruffier; a few more of those open-fronted yam shops and a few more stalls selling cheap tat starting to spring up, plus the ugly metal grill on the front of the former Kennedy’s and the empty units scattered about. Really, it’s dying on its arse. It’s quite sad to see. Every month sees a decline in variety and (perhaps) quality; anyone who thinks high street chains are going to open here is likely to be disappointed. It’s becoming fragmented. I’m sure this is a subject that deserves more analysis, so please feel free.

But all is not lost! Away from the centre we still have lots of social diversity, and pretty soon we have Camberwell Arts Festival 2008. You should have received some lovely leaflets and guides through your door recently which explain all the events, but if not you can visit the Camberwell Arts website and decide for yourself what you’d like to attend. It all kicks off on the 14th June, which is next Saturday, and goes on until the following Sunday. I will most likely not be attending anything which could loosely be described as performance art, as it makes me grind my teeth.

On an admin note: first, I’ve just updated the software that powers the site, so if anything behaves weirdly please let me know. Second, I haven’t had the time to keep the site updated as frequently as I’d like, owing to work and some potentially interesting developments therein. If anyone would like to help me out for a little while (or even permanently) by writing here, you’d be very welcome. No salary is involved, but you will have the opportunity to take a load of personal abuse from tossers who think they know all about you, despite having never met you. Sound attractive?

* I went to the Ritzy to watch Indiana Jones; it was… um…

Author: Peter

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

273 thoughts on “North is pretty, Green is vile”

  1. I never have understood why cyclists use Walworth High Street and the roundabouts at Elephant. The well marked cycle path is far better. Though someone did say a lot of the shall we say avid cyclist take the harder route just to complain about lack of respect, which is the reason I even hate to admit I cycle.

  2. Its horses for courses — some people want to use the most direct route to cycle to places whereas others prefer to take a more leisurely route, neither is better. The council must recognise this and ensure that when developing new cycle routes it does not neglect to implement improvements to the general roads to make them more cycle friendly — in many cases local authorities (although on the whole not in London) think they have provided for cyclists by merely providing a cycle path when to make a place truly cycle friendly they must offer cycle tracks and improvements to public roads.

  3. newroad — I do not recognise the argument that there are “no-go” areas for cyclists on the roads (except where they are actually illegal, such as on motorways). I actually use the quieter route usually, but if in a hurry I would take the roundabout directly, and ride centre-lane, demanding 1 metre’s breadth either side from motoring overtakers. Less is not just assault, but often attempted murder under the protective veil of effete road traffic laws.

    Certainly some cyclists can be mildly irritating and do the rest of us disservice. But I would rather dress up as a phallus on a sirrus and do wheelies along Walworth than be seen dead driving less than 2 miles to the local supermarket, or be caught in a car in a cyclist box at a red.

  4. I don’t drive. I don’t have a car. But why can’t this debate ever be reasonable?

    The route is neither leisurely nor indirect. It’s easier, quicker and safer. For everyone. Cars can’t go everywhere cycles go and thus it’s fine that sometimes, cycles can’t go where cars do. It’s not combative, it’s common sense.

    If we always start with cars=evil and bicycles=good, then we get nowhere.

    Peter I believe the social housing was built by the church, if I’m not mistaken. The one just before East Street in the square between Portland and WW High St when cycling north.

  5. newroad, I recognise the danger of polarisation in this debate; credit to you for trying to walk the tightrope.

    However, I do not agree with the underlying premise that some motorists — not all — will extract from your argument; that cyclists on busy urban roads deserve “everything they get”. There is an argument that the parked cars along both sides of the shortcut roads create an even greater hazard for cyclists than fast-moving traffic along Walworth, particularly when a car moving from the opposite direction is thrown into the mix. Most drivers I know don’t check their wings before flinging open the driver door to make a pedestrian exit into the public highway.

    If the Council puts up a sign saying no cyclists, I will comply with the law, as usual. Lobby for it — I will not oppose you.

    Until that time I have equal right to share the road, and any motorist “punishing me” for my presence on a busy road by overtaking dangerously is committing the crime of assault at the least. It’s purely about the mechanics of evidence, and our cultural acceptance of serious RTAs being a “part of life”.

  6. A langoustine cyclist dismounts and walks into a Camberwell pub. “Sorry,” says the barmaid, “we don’t serve sticklebacks.” “Cycle paths,” says the langoustine. “I beg your pardon!” says the barmaid, “Any more of yore cheek an’ I’ll ‘ave you served up with fritters!”

  7. I will find rare agreement with Regenguru on the point of free/subsidised parking, which is seen as a right. As part of a wider wish for council housing to be means tested on a regular basis (and not passed on for generations), I would propose Council Esates not provide free car parking. And if someone has a car, it would be counted as an asset to their income. For special needs and those who use their cars for work, there could be exceptions.

  8. A bus goes into a pub. “Do you have oysters?,” he asks. “I told your langoustine mate,” snaps the barmaid, “we don’t serve bivalves.” “Khyber Pass?” says the bus. “Crustaceans!” groans the lass, “End of the bar, turn right.”

  9. It is a rare thrill to negotiate the double roundabout at elephant at full tilt. The back route is more pleasant though, but has its own dangers with the overweight dogs of Burgess and the deranged costermongers of East Street Market. Have you Peter found the magic route which allows you to cross Old Kent, avoid the Elephant, and appear unflustered on Blackfriars Road?

  10. so Indiana Jones no good then; anyone seen Chet Baker biog Lets Get Lost? I saw it years ago, but was in a ‘spiritually distracted’ phase so recall very little, except how beautiful Chet was before the smack.

    Peter, I’m pretty happy to do some blogging for you. I can do opinions when pushed, and suspect people often say disparaging things about me anyway…

    Let me know

  11. “deranged costermongers” – good one. Part of the streetscape though, I like that they’re there running the market.

    Elephant roundabout at full tilt is a thrill too far for me.

    The back way is easier… Across the New Kent Road, through Trinity Square, Great Suffolk Street… and onward

    I often see people I know from Camberwell, Peckham, or East Dulwich, riding this way. It’s fun to ride with friends; it reigns in the racing instinct.

  12. What’d be cool is if you could find some local teenagers or students studying English or media, or whatever, to write here.

    Kids are probably studying blogging by now.

  13. We just got the Camberwell Arts Festival fliers through the door. Looks great.

    “Under Growth” by Rachel Gomme will be my top pick. Walking is art, right?

  14. The Elephant roundabout is a source of much unresolved debate for me and Mrs Dotcom … I enjoy navigating it on my bike, dressed in lycra or jeans, she flatly refuses to set wheel in it …

    As for the back streets/main road debate, I actually feel less nervous on Walworth road than the back streets — I feel car drivers are more cautious on main roads and less likely to come charging out of a side street without stopping to see if a bicycle is coming …

  15. I was hit by a car on the Elephant this morning; wrote off my bike! A thrill, but not a cheap one. Is this blog possessed?

  16. @14 — thanks for your positives, D‑MAN. CA’s director, Kelly, and all the artists have put a really superb programme together; Peter, check out some of the fantastic music that’s on, especially Perunika at the Crypt on Saturday 21st, and the lunchtime classical concerts at the Institute of Psychiatry.

    BTW it’s always important to remember that events like this are closely evaluated by funders; bums on seats really do count. So if someone asks you to fill in a response card, plese do.

    Enjoy the Festival, and be happy.

  17. Florian, I hope I’m right in assuming that if you can write a post you escaped relatively unscathed, but wish you a peaceful day nonetheless.

  18. florian — hope you’re OK, and that you got the driver’s details. You may not realise the full mental and physical impact of the accident until some time afterwards, so call a solicitor straightaway because his insurance needs to cough up.

    He won’t change his style of driving if he doesn’t at least lose his no claims, so an offer to replace the bike doesn’t cut it. Go through the channels please — for the sake of us all.

  19. Drew can you explain further?

    It seems to me if the rents are high, how can these ‘tat’ shops afford them unless they are doing a brisk business? And if they are, and assumedly doing better than our longed for botique deli, that means a lot of people (customers) want them. So I’m confused. Do we want the Council to enforce rent control to bring about our middle class aspirations?

  20. St George have finally published some information on their topical Mary Datchelor development — and they promise rows of “authentic” Georgian townhouses — hmmmm, am I the only cinic? The architect apparently dusted off his his architectural history books, noting that “this sort of architecture has got to be good or it looks terrible”. Now I have never seen believable mock Georgian, but I dearly hope he has.

    Full scoop on pg 44 — 47 of attached link.

  21. I’m not a fan particularly of St George but yours is a cheap shot post.

    They’ve hardly ‘finally’ published details. They published them for five years. Two (three?) of the plans were soundly rejected. The final approved plans were only public display and open for numerous consultations.

    And they stood at Butterfly Walk for weeks with detailed plans, architects to answer questions and samples of the materials they will use.

    So based on all those detailed plans and such, I would ask how someone can now suggest it’s been held in private and will be rubbish: did you speak up during the appropriate time? Do you reject the hard work of the Camberwell Society working group and Council planners who are now pleased with the plans? I think it’s time to accept we did a good job of ensuring it will be high quality and look forward to its benefits.

  22. easy tiger — I was merely pointing out that I am yet to see a successful rendering of a new, old building. It was not an attempt at slandering the architect or the council or indeed anyone else in the wider approval network for new developments.

    clearly this is a topic close to your heart, so I apologise if you have misconstrued my comments.

  23. Sorry. Not particularly dear but it’s dragged on for five years and we should move on. It has to be the longest consultation I’ve ever witnessed.

    There was the ‘mock Georgian’ v ‘Georgian’ debate you would’ve enjoyed. Apparently if it is done to high standard, it is Georgian. Even if done in 2008. Dunno.

  24. I’m fine thanks. Many admiring glances at the bike as it went to the head of the triage queue at the repair shop today. Every cyclist must have his or her war stories, and I now have a corker to run alongside the one about the deranged costermonger.

  25. I’ve noticed a lot of the places around the green (eg Kennedy’s, the shop next to it) have been sold.
    Any thoughts on who’ll move in?

  26. There is alot of good mock-geogain around but because its good you cant tell. The city of Bath is full of it and it is all the better for it.. but yes there is also alot more bad. The plans look good although i cant help but wish they had listened to the Camberwell working party a little more and not had such a long parade of identical houses facing camberwell grove.- its now down to the materials they use.. pointing, windows, slates, bricks etc..

  27. Sorry to hear Florian and glad you are okay. Seriously, check out the alternate routes to avoid the roundabout. It was a bit confusing for me at first but then when I sussed it, I realised how much easier (and safer) it is.

  28. Mock anything, especially Georgian, can end up a cheap pastiche, but with quality materials and the right scale/proportions, the buildings will be better than many of the alternatives. Infact, I wish other areas of Camberwell were treated with the same sensitivity as Camberwell Grove. New builds near me have dominated their area. And they look sufficiently cheap to convince me they are the slums of the future.

  29. The model of St George’s Camberwell Grove development in their Visitor Centre is exquisite. The cars and figures are so true. Just our luck to have this improvement built at the start of the downturn. Several large military choppers flew down the Thames at about 6pm. I thought there’d been a coup and that David Davis had taken over with the support of the armed forces and had replaced Elizabeth on the throne with Lady Thatcher.

    What a liberty, I thought, 10,000 langoustines marching on Downing Street, 20,000 cyclists passing Buckingham Palace in formation, forty fahsund fevvers on a frush… is anyone else finding reality hard at the moment?

  30. Reality?

    Oil shortages? Petrol prices? Oil company profits? Banks not lending? Footballers’ pay? Biofuel production creating staple food famine? Food prices in the third world? Arctic ice 1.5 metres thick in winter? Nuclear power stations commissioning? Pub Companies’ share prices against their exposure to debt? Kelvin McKenzie standing as MP?

    What is reality? Reality is as tough as biltong in a dry mouth.

  31. Yes. Yes! Thank goodness for the Guardian guide to pond life yesterday. We should be grateful to that head girl of our conscience, that pillar of our consciousness, for furnishing us with such a, such a… “Foldie” is their description of what it is. Talk about the nanny state we’re in! “Here is your guide to pond life, here is your foldie.”

  32. Green is vile is balls.

    The Green is getting nicer all the time. Our kids use the playground there now. It’s hugely improved. It’s a well landscaped useable public space.

    As for the wider area around the green then of course a shop that closes down is going to get boarded up. So what? What ever opens may not have all of the meaningless historical sentiment that we seemed to have attached to our now defunct previously unwanted sausage shops but at least it will be able to trade. If not then then the one after… eventually we will have progress. And I believe that busy ‘yam shops’ are progress compared to an empty sausage shop.

    There’s certainly nothing vile about yam shops. That’s ethnocentric nonsense.

    Have you ever bought and cooked a yam? How many yam shops before you try it? How many roads must a man walk down before you can boil him a yam?

  33. Was invited, and went, to the opening celebration of Camberwell Arts Week last night at House Gallery. Thanks to Kelly, Drew, Melanie and everyone involved for a really good evening. I was lucky enough to be able to come with my ‘partner’ (she is my girlfriend really) because our kids are away for a week with the grandparents. Had a great time.

    Stopped off at the New Dispensary on the way home. Good in parts but begs the question: WHY?

    Has anyone else noticed a springing up of ‘churches’ in warehouses in the area recently? There’s two near me; Destiny International Christian Assembly at 95 Camberwell Station Road and another that doesn’t advertise its existence at 108 Warner Road. They don’t have planning permission. This really annoys me.

  34. cycle route: if you’re heading more westwardly, avoid the horror of the E&C roundabout system: turn left at top of Walworth Rd [just before Dragon Castle] into Hampton St, bear right, cross Newington Butts when the green bike is showing, past the new park behind E&C leisure centre, on to Brook Drive, then across the Imperial War Museum garden, King Edward Walk beside Morley College, then on to Westminster Bridge Rd just before Lambeth North tube. the humps on Portland St give me the hump

  35. Beautiful day. Just spent half an hour in Brunswick Gardens waiting for the kids. Now we are in Lucas Gardens enjoying the sunshine. Nice.

  36. Seize the day, indeed, dman!

    One of the emerging highlights of Camberwell Arts Week, with its exponentially ever more spontaneous and surprising practice, is the Front Window multisite domestic location personal narrative space show, where people put up their art in their front windows.

    Not everyone gets to be invited to the exclusive House Gallery opening soiree.

    However, everyone can show their stuff in this exemplarily inclusive, typically Camberwell, up-for-it, c’mon if yer think yer art enough scheme.

    Go to the website and join in now! You will be transported to the strartosphere of the Camberwell art scene in one uplifting, invigorating and liberating act of self-expression.

  37. Dagmar, my apologies, if I’d thought about it for more than a microsecond I would have invited you and your fantastic poetic observations on Camberwell. If you are coming on the Pub Crawl tonight„ or anything else during the FESTIVAL week do please say hello.

    Of course what we’d really like is to have someone like you on our Board of Directors… You fancy? Come talk to me.

  38. I’m a cyclist. I cycle to work every day. I’m also a jogger and jog less frequently than I should. On Monday whilst jogging before work I got mown down by a cyclist who was cycling at full pelt down Camberwell Grove. I would say the blame was equal — I saw him before I stepped into the road and made the decision that I would be more than halfway across the road before he got close. I did probably underestimate how fast he was going but I was already half way across the road when he struck (I landed on the white centre lines) and there was plenty of room to go around me and nothing obscuring his vision. The road was empty save for one car coming up the hill. I can’t say for sure but I assume he was not concentrating at all, I presume enjoying going down the hill and listening to his headphones. I hit my head quite hard on the road and have a few interesting bruises. I’m okay though although was a little concussed and shaken up at the time. He stopped to make sure I was okay, and I think was a bit traumatised by the experience. The feeling of having a bike plough into you at full pelt is not one I would recommend and I wasn’t feeling like stopping to have a chat about it.

    I want to say though that I don’t hold it against the cyclist , and hope he’s okay because he came off too. I love cycling down that hill too and pedestrians can be bloody annoying and do stupid things. I hope he thinks twice now about cycling with his headphones in and pays more attention to what is going on in the road in front of him.

    Be careful everyone!

  39. Drew, my good man, I was merely using the idea of the necessity of the existence of bourgeois structures and patronage for pre-revolutionary culture, to leverage the inspired anarcho-individualistic FRONT WINDOW, the part of Arts Week where anyone can show whatever they want to show in their front windows. Anyone can join in by going to the festival website.

    By the end of the festival, almost every window in Camberwell will be scintillating with visual expression and the town will be crawling with media — Lord Bragg here, Dame Bakewell there, that effete bloke from Imagine here & there — the dealers will be knocking on doors and questioning small children and Camberwell will buck the national trend downwards for morale, house prices and creative banality.

    To put it another way and push the blue sky further, when Denmark does not qualify for Euro 2008, that is art. When England does not qualify, that is just a sort of David Davis-style Carry On Westminster cock-up.

    How nice Euro 2008 is without England!

  40. Green is v‑i-l‑e. Does Dodds always take cheap shots at any other business giving it a go in our third world town? If you’ve got all the answers, why don’t you start a group and change things? Should take you little time since you got it down man. Loved Pete’s jab at Africans. Not pc mate!

  41. Sittin watchin the iron lady bio on bbc 2. What a lady. Turned this country round. Dodds must be from up north. It’s all big business’fault and gov’t ought to take care of our every need. spare no expense! Credit crunch? Blame banks. Not the idiots who kept on borrowing. Footballers salaries? Who you think pays for all those tickets and jersies and tickets abroad? Notice all council flats have sky dishes?

  42. My apologies, my last post wasn’t what I meant to say. This is closer to it.

    JohnnyM. You’ve got it completely wrong, you’re always projecting your own sadly diminished, twisted understanding of what’s going on around you and mistaking it for other people’s views and motives. YOU are the only person on this blog who takes cheap shots at others while hiding behind a convenient veil of anonymity. Perhaps that gives you a thrill. Others here have more courage, eloquence and generosity than you and without doubt contribute far more to the local community in their daily lives.

    I don’t make cheap shots JohhnyM, I make observations which I don’t have a problem backing up if asked to. You, on the other hand, cannot help spraying flippant bile and nonsense out your rear end proving you are nothing but a tiny minded little Tosser. You must get though a lot of toilet paper.

    That feels a bit better.

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