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1958 house again (and why not?)

We remained very happy with the 1958 house as our second autumn here got under way in a blaze of gold. As the leaves swirled down from the many trees aroundabouts, we watched the ‘weather’ rolling in from the west across a wide valley. Full frontal banks of dark cloud head straight for us sometimes, and we can judge how long it will be before the rain arrives. Rain and storms have been of considerable interest, because until just recently the flat roof was leaking. Even though that is now fixed, we are perched on a bank that we sometime fantasise will crumble down into the road below and take us with it in a heap of rotten timber and ‘Blackheath beds’. These beds are a strata of Thames Basin soil full of slidy little pebbles from the sea – how on earth, pray, did these get into our garden, up here on the rim of the basin, near the gentler side of the North Downs, so far from and above the river (300 feet above), and indeed far from Blackheath too? Our comfort is that worrying about a landslip makes a pleasant change from worrying about how to stop the groundwater, surface water, rain, sewage and Quaggy stuff invading the previous house when the day comes – as it will – that the upstream flood water coming down the Thames meets the incoming storm surge coming up the same. This will leave the little old Quaggy with no place to go except sideways, in the way it always used to before it got channelled, canalised, culverted in the cause of human progress.

Now we can worry that when that terrible day arrives, we may be safe and dry up on the rim of the Basin but we will be flooded by people instead of water, all looking for food and shelter, some of them armed and possibly dangerous, as is the norm for Lewisham residents*.  Our urban paranoia was fuelled a few years back by a mockumentary which depicted a major London flood,  which included the immortal words, spoken I think in a meeting of COBRA or somesuch…”Lewisham will have to go”. Tough choices!

This bad daydream reminds me of the days after we moved into the house near the Quaggy in 2000 and were disturbed by circling helicopters – an armed raid was in progress on our local Sainbury’s. We joked about the badlands of south east London to our distant friends and then when one friend bravely came to visit a few days later he found a dead body on the pavement outside our new home and he was no longer laughing. Pausing to wonder what to do about it, he soon found the body not quite as dead as it had appeared to the uninitiated, and he let himself into our house to ring for help and fetch some blankets and a pillow. The ambulance crew merely said ‘Oh, you again…’ to the former corpse, a familiar local character, and took him away to dry out again somewhere warm and cosy, like Lewisham Hospital. It’s not these sorts of London characters that we will need to worry about if the big flood ever comes – they seem unlikely to be able to walk this far.

Thinking about those we have left behind in the move here, I am further reminded that further up the hill hereabouts are the remains of an iron age fort, from perhaps 200 BC. As one might expect after 2200 years of weathering, there is not a lot to see except a long straight ditch or two, unnaturally deep and angular, partly hidden in the woods on the common. I am not clear whether this was built by Londoners of the day to keep out the Men of Kent (or the Kentish Men), or by the latter to keep out the noisy cockernees from the basin below. The men of Kent were Cantii, and I sometimes imagine I hear ghostly cries echoing through the woods along the lines of ‘…’ere, wot you lookin’ at, you Fracking Kants!** as the uncouth residents of the Thames Valley prepared to charge the fortifications. Some things haven’t changed.

* Don’t take this too seriously. Lewisham is a great pace to live, actually.

** Fracking exploration licences have been granted recently. not too far from here.

Paean to Pooter, London N7

Somewhere in Holloway, N7, lies Brickfield Terrace, a modest street of Victorian houses, off the Holloway Road I fancy, one of which (The Laurels) in 1888 was the wonderful newly-rented home of Charles Pooter and his slightly plain wife Carrie.  Only a mile or two further south at Upper Street, merely the Holloway Road by another name (also the road to Edinburgh, it may be noted), is the King’s Head, the last remaining pub-theatre in London, another fine Victorian building.  The two worlds are connected by more than the A1, as the tiny independent theatre is currently showing a very funny stage adaptation of Mr Pooter’s diary, The Diary of a Nobody. This modest journal was affectionately transposed into a series of illustrated Punch stories in the 1890s by George & Weedon Grossmith, and is surely the prototype for all personal blogs, Twitter feeds and Facebook updates. It should haunt the imagination of everyone who attempts to write anything of their own circumstances in the first person in anything like a diary format. No matter how hard we may try, something of the Pooterish quality in all of us shines through all of our accounts of our daily doings, such was the Grossmiths’ comic insight.  As Pooter’s own introduction to his slim volume says “I have often seen the reminiscences of people I have never heard of, and I fail to see[  ] why my diary should not be interesting”. Amen to that!

The 1958 house Pt 3

Hello again. We bought the house and duly moved in.The roof has been replaced and we are tidying and improving the garden and thinking of ways to update the interior without undoing the character of the place. In fact I want to keep every remaining original feature, but this is considered a bit unrealistic by the other party involved in decision-making here. I am also happy to keep various elderly lampshades and curtains on the grounds that there has been only one previous owner of the property, and his tastes reflected the period in which he lived here, but I can see that I am not going to win that one. I did win however on the question of light switches and plug sockets, where some rewiring took place recently. These remain original 1958 items, and very nice I think they still look,with that dull sheen of 55-year old plastic – and increasingly rare to see as so many homes get a repeated duffing-up as part of the national obsession with domestic makeovers and brutal remodelling. I was sorry to lose the old fuse-wire fuseboxes in the cellar area, but they were full of asbestos and even I could see that they had to go. I wish I’d taken pictures of them for the world to see, but instead here is a photo or two of the house, which may look a bit like a school classroom extension to the uninitiated. (How much did you say you paid for that??!!)

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Happy New Year

This is just for any followers who may still be signed up after such a long silence. Thanks for not deleting me from your list…and maybe I will get around to carrying on where I left off, sometime soon. Have a great 2014 2015.

In the event of somethin’ ‘appening to me…

The Bee Gees’ first big hit and in my view one of their best was recorded in 1967, and made a considerable impact (‘New York Mining Disaster 1941′). Robin Gibb, who co-wrote it with his brother Maurice, died yesterday.* It’s been said that the song was inspired by the Aberfan disaster in the South Wales mining village of that name the previous year, something which made a terrible impact on all of us here at the time, especially perhaps if one had some welsh blood.

Given the song’s opening words it’s perhaps ironic that Robin was personally involved in another gruesome disaster later in 1967 – the Hither Green railway crash which killed 55 people (just down the road here in fact). A London disaster. Strangely I don’t remember it at all though it was truly awful.

* it was yesterday quite a while ago now. This is in fact an old post craned in haphazardly from a redundant blog.

The 1958 house pt 2

It seems to be nearly ours. A few more weeks of legal stuff. I have cold feet as well as hot flushes of excitement – how absurd at my age? I’ve always lived in the inner city (bar one year) so will I feel uncomfortable in a suburb so outer that one can see horses, sheep and even cows at times from ones’ living room? Will I cope with so much land to manage? For a born and bred townie like me the garden seems huge.

Heading towards me there’s a whacking great one-off tax payment to Her Majesty’s Government, a levy which these days is called ‘stamp duty land tax’. It’s my not inconsiderable contribution to reducing her majestic Kingdom’s National Debt, which I understand is a modest £1.6 trillion overall and rising by the minute. In fact the one-off tax I will pay for the privilege of moving house is more than enough to cover my share of the annual per-person cost of paying off the National Debt. So I am paying not so much my alloted notional share this year, but my actual share, unlike most people. Suddenly its not notional at all but truly painful! No wonder no-one but me is trying to buy a house.

All that aside, I am still a little anxious about the major life change rushing towards me (us). Will we feel isolated when we can no longer hear our neighbours through the walls either side, coughing and decorating, and jabbering on their mobile phones in the garden while they chain smoke? Will we miss the comings and goings in this little street, which has a school at each end and thus a huge daily ebb and flow of yummy and not so yummy mummies (and daddies) and their offspring. Will we miss the vast supermarket just around the corner, and being in walking distance of about 20 quite good eateries of an infinite variety of cuisines, and three different railway lines into town (‘uplondon’)? Will I miss having my daughter live at the end of the street, even if she works all hours and we barely see her once a week. Will we be surrounded by oldies like ourselves, with no young couples and no-one with an inadequate income (shall we call it that?)?

It’s all a worry. For I have never lived in the 20th century suburbs, and I am aware that it’s a different experience. We may have to work hard to adapt and get the best out of our new surroundings and lifestyle, even though it’s still in London and not actually the Outer Hebrides.

The bomb site

The 1958 house (see earlier post) is built in the former garden of a very large Victorian house, and appears to include some remains of a wartime air-raid shelter within its foundations. While most domestic air-raid shelters were a fairly modest affairs, often made of a few sections of heavy corrugated iron bolted together and partly buried, this shelter seems to have been a substantial brick and concrete structure. The story goes that the big house had been requisitioned during World War 2 (WW2), being quite close to a major airfield of the Royal Air Force and thus handy for billeting military personnel. The shelter was perhaps built for these billeted servicemen or servicewomen.

At least one bomb landed at the big house, I am told.

If I find out more I can update this post, but meanwhile the story prompted me to look at a newish website, where it is possible see a map of the bombs dropped on London during the most intensive period of WW2 bombing, namely the Blitz, which is generally considered to run from October 1940 to June 1941. Sure enough, this shows a bomb having landed somewhere in the road in question during this period (only approximate locations are shown), though one can’t be sure it’s one and the same incident because bombing occurred all through the six years of war, not just during the Blitz.

The website is part of an academic mapping project, which suddenly ‘went viral’  even before the mainstream media picked it up.

One reason for my interest in this subject is that my mother came from Bermondsey, in a flat overlooking Tower Bridge. She and her parents survieved the blitz and other later raids on the area, but were clearly affected by them. Grandad was a fire watcher and when not at work would have taken up his station on the roof of the flats watching out for fires starting at the surrounding warehouses and other buildings, and alerting the fire/civil defence teams accordingly. He was thus in a highly exposed and dangerous position during the height of multiple attacks on the docks and railways all along the Thames  I don’t think his bravery was ever recognised, as it wasn’t for many who served their communities in these various roles in wartime despite the high risk to their own safety. And what was his ultimate reward? An unmarked grave in Nunhead Cemetery, following a council funeral.

We are now attempting to buy the 1958 house.

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