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.

Fallout Boy — Take Two

Something like summer is here, and I’m writing this post for the second time. Annoying.

Let’s start with the news that our infamy grows ever stronger, with the report that we are a leading supplier of victims of the disgusting and barbaric practice of female genital mutilation. Of all the abuses carried out in the name of religion, this must be the most revolting; it makes me seethe that parents can make drastic decisions about their child’s health based on their own superstitions.

On to lighter subjects: there’s activity at the former Zara’s Kitchen (and, briefly, British Raj). At the moment the old signage which I remember from years ago is exposed, and I keep meaning to take a picture for the archives but always end up forgetting my camera or forgetting to take the picture. With the new building in Zara’s (I’m going to guess it’ll be a new food outlet; I could look it up, but where’s the fun in that?) and the promised Italian Cafe further down Camberwell Church Street, not to mention the opening of Angels & Gypsies in 2011, it looks like we’re about to get a few more culinary options.

Is there a nuclear bunker beneath Camberwell? I meant to mention this before, but it slipped my mind. I might start carrying a notebook. There’s a patch of land at the corner of Peckham Rd and Vestry Rd which has never been built on, and recently there’s been a placard up for a project called Words are not Enough, which says there’ll be a peace garden put there, and mentions the cold war nuclear bunker. I’ve got no reason to disbelieve them (except for their being artists, who are notorious liars), but the only mention I can find of this bunker is in connection with this project.

If there is a bunker, let’s open it up and go inside for 20 years, then come out to see what the place is like; I bet it’ll be exactly the same.

Church Street Hotel and Waterloo

My wife’s cousin and her friend have paid us a surprise visit, arriving from Portugal on Saturday morning. This, unfortunately, coincided with an overnight stay from my Mum, who was in town to watch a Rod Stewart concert. Our flat isn’t quite big enough to comfortably accommodate four extra people, so we arranged for cousin and friend to stay at the Church Street Hotel.

I was quite looking forward to seeing it inside, so we arranged to meet them in their room before going out for a drink afterwards. I have to say, it’s very impressive inside. Painted throughout in strong Mediterranean blues and reds, the Spanish theme is continued with lots of religious iconography. There are candles and icons and similar decorative touches throughout the hotel.

Their twin room was small but very pretty; they were enchanted by the complimentary chocolates and hot sauce (caution: we ate some last night and it’s extremely hot) and soaps, shower gels, etc. The bathroom was shared but so nicely decorated that they took a series of photos of it. Cousin and friend said it was the best hotel they’d stayed in on their two-week trip around Europe.

It wasn’t cheap — £89.99 for a twin room with shared bathroom — but they loved the decor, the ambience, and the breakfast and services, and declared themselves more than satisified with the whole experience. I have to admit, I fancy a stay there myself now. Can’t wait for the bar and restaurant to open.

We went for a drink at the Dark Horse, which was reasonably busy. I had Addlestone’s while we persuaded our guests to try different beers. We wanted to eat some bar food while we drank, but the kitchen had closed while we vacillated so we had to make do with some wasabi peanuts and a charcuterie (which in my day used to be called a cold meat platter).

The wife and guests then went for a drink in The Castle while I went to Waterloo to meet my mum from the train; we waited an hour and 20 minutes for a taxi while making polite small talk with some drunken Finnish businessmen.

Booze and crime and mental health

It was remiss of me not to mention Bonkersfest! last week; I had it in my mind, but it slipped away. I wasn’t able to attend as I was on a marathon bike ride around London, but when I passed in the late afternoon the Escola de Samba was in full flow and it looked like a great time was being had. Anyone care to provide a report?

Camberwell gets a fairer hearing in the FT’s review of the Church Street Hotel, helped by the fact that the author seems to have friends in the area who can give him some background. It would be foolish to pretend we don’t have crime and drug problems here, but that’s not all we have; if it were just guns and drugs and unrelenting misery, I very much doubt that most of you dear readers would be living here. I certainly wouldn’t.

Having said that… there’s been another incident down on Camberwell Road. As I passed this morning I saw the Nag’s Head and the neighbouring Costcutter sealed off with police tape, and plenty of coppers around it. Seemed to be centred around the Nag’s Head. That little area down there’s had its troubles recently.

From Peckham Rye to the future

Why has nobody ever told me how beautiful Peckham Rye is? On Saturday the wife and I took our new bicycles out for a spin, and I headed over there thinking it was just a large expanse of grass, like Burgess Park.

I wasn’t expecting to see gardens American, English and Japanese, a lake full of duck and goose families, an arboretum of great variety, and lots and lots of flowers… this huge, lovely resource right on our doorstep. A very well-kept secret.

Picked up a copy of the Camberwell Quarterly earlier that day; it contains an interesting biographical piece on Henry Maudsley, founder of the eponymous hospital.

Also in the magazine is the news that the owners of Butterfly Walk applied for permission to extend the centre with an extra storey and more space out back, for restaurants and a six-screen cinema. The application has been refused, but it remains to be seen whether or not they will try again.

The school on the corner of Southampton Way and Peckham Road (the name of which escapes me) has been closed down, to be replaced by flats. Everywhere we look permission has been given for new housing, yet we have few amenities, fewer schools and no improvement in transport. The new residents will have to send their children to distant schools, on overcrowded buses on congested streets. What is to become of Camberwell?

Silly me, the school is being refurbed, not closed down. Ignore my final paragraph lamentation.