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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