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.