Electric light outside – as streetlights, spotlights, making our streets and subways safer: an undeniable blessing. But spotlights, bright and colourful advertising? The featured photo is of a rainy night in Busan South Korea. Cheery colours certainly, but far more than we needed to find out way round. And look at this. These hotels are out in the country, in a small mountain resort, surrounded by forest. The lights went on as dusk fell, and remained on till morning …
All the same, it’s hard not to enjoy streetlights reflected in the water while mooching round a city. Here are a couple of shots near the river Guadalquivir in Seville.
It’s mood-enhancing to see the city become a playground at night. Here are the fountains of La Alameda, also in Seville. And the neighbourhood of la Viña in Cádiz, where post-Christmas groups relax over a meal or a few drinks in the still-decorated street.
But metro stations and subways need lighting too. Here’s Barcelona, and London.
But the other evening, taking a late walk round the village, best of all was the glow surrounding the houses as families wound down for the day. A cosy, comforting and gentle radiance.
We have a friend whom we’d never have met if she hadn’t started following and commenting on my blog, years ago when Malcolm and I were in France. But we’d never visited her home in London. The other week, with our London family in school, nursery or at work, we put that right and travelled to Ladbroke Grove, where we had an interest -packed day illustrating so well why while I no longer wish to live in London, it’ll always be a city I love.
Take her street for example. It was built in the late 19th century by speculative builders hoping to sell to the monied middle classes who could afford live-in servants. There were gardens, front and back, and both had one or more carefully chosen trees, which gave a pleasing unity to the street. Trees grow, as we know, and now the roots of many of them are presenting problems.
Almost every other builder in some parts of London was in on the speculative building, so the houses failed to sell. They were carved up in different ways into apartments, right from Day One. They found a ready market following the building of the Hammersmith and City Tube line, which first went from Farringdon to Paddington but then was extended both east and west. This created an immediate client base in urgent need of somewhere to live. These were workers in the City, clerks mostly, on relatively lowly salaries, some single and some with families, who could for the first time take cheap and reliable public transport into the City rather than walking. So the houses were hastily subdivided into flats and rooms, where the tenants probably shared the bathrooms that were originally built for the house as a whole, usually two per house. The subdivisions were probably very basic, maybe with curtains sometimes rather than walls. Now the street has spacious and gracious apartments in the main but there’s a real social mix. Apartments can change hands for over £1 million, while other buildings belong to Housing Associations who let out their premises on more modest rents.
The whole area reflects this trend. From her bedroom window, our friend can see the shell of the notorious Grenfell Tower, scene of the disastrous fire of June 2017 in which 72 people died. The residents of 129 flats lost everything and were rendered homeless and deeply traumatised. We left her flat and began our walk on the social housing estate it formed part of, Lancaster West.
Discreetly sleeved as investigations continue, it overshadows the area, actually and metaphorically. Tributes, graffiti – the angry, the political, spiritual – seem to gather in certain spots: in a memorial garden; under a flyover; round closed-because-of-Covid small workshops.
Almost randomly, a few rows of once-humble terraced housing remain: no longer humble, but commanding large prices: perhaps because they’re traditionally built, with a small garden on an individual, human scale.
We were on our way to once notorious areas of poverty – the Piggeries and the Potteries. Well, the Piggeries are no longer there – they’ve been flattened to make an attractive urban park. The Potteries are represented by one single remaining pottery kiln, which used to turn out the simplest of wares for the working population. Here it is:
And it’s close by something else that no longer exists: the Hippodrome Racecourse. Built in 1836, it was intended to rival Ascot or Epsom. But what with its crossing old-established rights of way, the heavy clay ground being prone to water-logging for much of the year, and any number of smaller disputes, the last race was run in 1841 and the owner declared bankrupt. All that is left to commemorate it are a couple of street names: Hippodrome Mews and Hippodrome Place. These have very narrow pavements. Best that way – the area was notorious for pick-pockets, so squeezing them out seemed a good idea.
Cheek by jowl are houses that were and are intended for the well off. Through the gates of one, we glimpsed a quirky statue. Then on again, past graceful terraces, This part of the neighbourhood has a few shops, but ones more likely to sell must-have accessories for dogs than a late night pint of milk and pack of digestives.
We were off now to the market areas – Portobello Road has long been famous, but a victim of its own success, is something of a tourist trap, so we passed it by in favour of Golborne Road. On the way we passed a former monastery, now the Instituto Español Vicente Cañada Blanch, an international school using the Spanish curriculum for children from 5 – 19. The Portuguese, among many other nationalities, have also colonised this area, and we wanted to lunch at the Lisboa Patisserie for a slice of Portugal in London. No luck. Already too full, under Covid regulations. Instead we went to Café O’Porto, also Portuguese, but full of Moroccan customers. Toasted sandwiches had of course to be followed by pastéis de nata.
As we walked homewards after lunch, we had a glimpse of Ernö Goldfinger’s 31-storey Trellick Tower, built as social housing in the style of Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation, is a well-known and well-documented brutalist building, and loved and loathed in equal measure since it was built in 1972.
And that was almost that. Time for home. There was just time to take in a little street art. This:
And the featured photo shows – not actually street art, but a work composed entirely of bottle tops – which we saw earlier in the day.
I haven’t done justice to our friend’s tour of her own neighbourhood, partly because I was still lacking my camera, and my phone battery seemed unreliable. But this post is written for me as much as for my audience, to preserve memories of a rather special day.
Last week meant a visit to London, to see the family we haven’t had sight of since last August. This was no tourist trip, but on our last day, the children securely occupied at school or nursery, we did venture forth – more of that another day. Today, I’ll simply share views from the escalator at Canary Wharf Station, because I always find this sight optimistic and full of light.
Last week the visit to my London primary school way back sixty years ago seemed to go down quite well, so today for Fandango’s Flashback Friday, we’ll go back to that era again, to the post I wrote in 2016. But this time, we’ll go shopping.
Off to the shops
In 1953, my family moved from Yorkshire to London. At first we lived in Earl’s Court. In the years following WWII, it was where Polish immigrants congregated and lived, so that’s probably how we ended up in this busy, grubby, cosmopolitan area.
It had shops – exotic shops to country hicks like us. There was an Express Dairy, a supermarket, one of the earliest of its kind. Rummaging round on the shelves, my mother found unknown surprises such as yoghurt. It was thin, acidic, an improbable shade of pink and none of us liked it. Not even my father. Yet my father taught my mother to set out soup bowls of milk to sour and eat as a cold, refreshing soup. It was a part of his Polish heritage.
She found chinese gooseberries. We didn’t like those either. These days we call them kiwi fruit and realise the ones we had bought must have been rancid and fermenting.
Now let’s go on to Tachbrook Street Market. That’s where we mainly shopped, once we’d moved to Victoria. I loved it. It was a whole community of shopping streets and market stalls. Even though I didn’t then drink coffee, I loved to pass the coffee blenders’ shop, and smell the rich aromas drifting through the door as the coffee beans gently roasted and toasted on giant metal grates.
I remember the neighbourhood Italian restaurant. We didn’t have the money to eat there, but I could see through the window and watch as waiters wielded those giant pepper grinders they seemed to like so much.
We’d pass the neighbourhood grocery store – ‘Home and Colonial’ . I seem to remember we actually got our groceries in Sainsbury’s. There was a Tesco store, a very early example of a supermarket. We didn’t shop there (‘Supermarkets won’t catch on’ opined my mother).
There was a MacFisheries. I was fascinated by the glistening fish laid out on the marble counters of the open shopfront and watched as my mother’s choice for the day was expertly de-boned and filleted in seconds.
There were fruit and vegetable stalls. I loved to hoard the richly decorated tissue papers that protected each orange, each tangerine. Occasionally, in late summer, my mother would buy us a peach each, as an exotic treat.
Once I got to be about eight or so, I’d be sent off to Apple’s the Hardware Store to buy a gallon of paraffin (Aladdin pink, as opposed to Esso blue) to feed our paraffin heaters. There was Mr. Apple himself, with his bristly grey moustache and his grubby brown overalls. The paraffin glugged out of its storage tank into our can. I’d count out the money, then I’d struggle home, the heavy can banging against my shins, the contents splashing my socks, along the street, and across the busy Vauxhall Bridge Road.
Because my father was Polish, we did quite a bit of shopping at the delicatessen near Buckingham Palace Road.
Here were thin sticks of kabanos, the drier the better. Nobody but me ate this at school, and my friends assured me it was donkey meat. There was Polish boiling ring – a horseshoe shaped sausage that was my favourite meal, boiled and served simply with mashed potato and cabbage. Sauerkraut of course, and bigos. The plain cookery of 1950s Britain was largely unknown to me apart from school dinners, but that’s a whole other story.
Besides Polish foods, we’d often have pasta or risotto or wienerschnitzel. Oh – apart from two things. On Saturdays, my mother always bought a pint of brown shrimps from the above-mentioned MacFisheries. Saturday tea times would see us all sitting round the table with a pile of brown bread and butter, peeling those fiddly shrimps. And she was very partial to a kipper too.
I can’t leave out ordinary grocery shopping though. We went to Sainsbury’s in Victoria because it had fresher, better goods according to my mother. It wasn’t a supermarket. We’d go into the shop, with its brightly-tiled floor, and there, to left and right were the counters. Dry goods, dairy products, bacon and ham… and so on.
Young women, their hair concealed under net caps, skilfully wielded wooden butter pats to reduce great slabs of butter into manageable half-pound portions.. Others bagged up sugar into dark blue ‘sugar paper’ bags. There was always a man at the bacon slicer, turning a lethal looking metal disc to slice bacon and ham according to the customer’s particular requirements (Thin? Thick? Gammon rasher?) .
There were glass-topped tins of biscuits – digestives, custard creams, Lincolns, nice, arrowroot…..: these were sold loose. People on a restricted budget would choose a mixed bag of broken ones. My mother regarded all of these with disdain. We made our own.
And when it was time to pay, we’d find that all our receipts, from each counter we’d visited, would have arrived at a small wooden kiosk near the centre of the store. An efficient type would add it all up, we’d pay her ( it was always a ‘her’) and we’d go off with our groceries.
The scenes played out here are so clear in my mind, but I can’t find a single image to support them. Not one. Can anybody help?
One thing we never had to buy at the shops was milk. That was delivered, every single day including Christmas Day, in glass bottles which we rinsed out and returned, on an electric-powered milk float something like this….
I remember our shopping trips fondly. They were time-consuming, certainly. But the rich variety of a morning walking from shop to stall to shop again was quite a highlight in my week.
I have another blog, now more or less discontinued, called Notes on a Family. I wasn’t so much concerned about a wide audience, as about recalling my family and personal history for my children. It’s one of my regrets that I never talked enough to my parents about their own past. To my Polish father, who came over, like so many of his countrymen, during the war. To my mother: a clergyman’s daughter. He himself was Cambridge educated, despite being raised in poverty in a large family. Why did I never ask her how that came about? I was born in Yorkshire, but spent most of my childhood in London. All of these stories are told in my blog, and others too.. Here’s one from 22nd May 2016, for Fandango’s Flashback Friday.
ANOTHER YEAR, ANOTHER SCHOOL
A few posts ago, I told you about my first London school. It became pretty obvious to my parents that it simply would not do. But still … I was a Bulge Baby, born, like so many thousands of others, shortly after World War II ended. There was still enormous pressure on school places. My mother had found a good job teaching classics at Mayfield School, a Girls’ Grammar School in Putney, so really needed a place for me in a Putney school, so we could travel to and from school together.
There were no places.
Finally, they found somewhere. It wasn’t a state primary, though, but a tiny, old-fashioned private school, Ebley House School. Even for the time, its fees were modest.
It was a funny old place, run from a church hall, because its original premises had been bombed during the war.. The head, Miss Egleton seemed a rather frail old lady, with wispy hair gathered into a skimpy bun. The only other teacher I remember was Mrs. Coate-Bond, whom my mother thought rather racy, as she read the left-leaning Manchester Guardian.
The ‘babies’ or kindergarten class, were in the vestry, and the rest of us were divided into two groups, Lower Transition and Upper Transition, and worked at opposite ends of the hall. Once I passed the 11+ and got to grammar school, I realised what an old-fashioned seat of learning it was compared with the lively places my new friends had been to. I remember some of the lessons:
We copied line after line of this stuff, with scratchy steel dip-pens which at the least provocation spattered unwashable ink onto our books and over our cardigans.
PE: We didn’t change out of our ordinary clothes, but stood just as in this picture here, doing star jumps, running on the spot and similar. No games pitches, therefore no outdoor games.
Monday mornings after break were worst. The boys went off to …. hang on, I have no idea what the boys did. The girls did embroidery. Tray cloths. Every single week. We gossiped instead, of course. It took weeks and weeks to complete a cloth. At the end of every class, we’d line up and show what we’d done that week. It was always a total exaggeration. The only times we were compelled to put a bit of effort in was on those rare occasions when we had to start a new cloth off, and we really couldn’t pull a fast one about our achievements. Like every girl in the school, I loathed Monday mornings. It put me off sewing for life.
Most of the other lessons were reasonably conventional for the time. I enjoyed English, spelling, maths, singing, and scripture (though I wondered for years why a good man like Jesus would promise to make his disciples ‘vicious of men’). At play time, my earnest little friends and I wrote, illustrated and put together magazines with an extremely limited readership ( just us, I think). In my final term, I wrote a dashing tale in which boarding school chums (modelled closely on the girls in Angela Brazil‘s school stories) got the better of a dastardly burglar. It was performed at the school prize-giving.
In the morning, I travelled to Putney with my mother, and at the end of the school day, walked over to Mayfield to return home with her. When I was eight, though, she got another job teaching Classics at Fulham County School. By then we were living in Victoria. So every day I walked to the station, crossing two busy main roads. I caught the Tube, the District Line to East Putney, sometimes changing at Earl’s Court.
Then there were two more busy main roads to navigate. I was a nervous little thing, but it never occurred to me to be frightened of this journey, which is not one the average eight year old would do alone these days, I think.
It wasn’t a stunningly exciting education. But I was happy enough. Apart from the time when I missed almost a whole term because I was in Isolation Hospital. But that’s another story.
I thought immediately of the year we came back from France, 2014. That was the year too when the Tour de France came to Yorkshire. We went Tour de France mad, and some people even decorated their houses in red spots in honour of the King of the Mountains.
I remembered Brian, the dog my elder daughter had. No dog is spottier than a Dalmatian.
I thought of a bubble-producer extraordinaire we met in London once, delighting children of all ages.
There was that extraordinary murmuration of starlings that took place over our house. It’s an annual treat round here. Thousands and thousands of starlings polka-dot the sky. And afterwards, leave the car spotted and dotted.
Or what about Seville orange trees with glowing orange fruits brightening the winter Spanish streets – and then lying discarded as the season ends: until we come along and bag up a kilo or two to transform into marmalade back at home?
But then I thought about spots and dots in the here and now. Spots and dots in England mean rain on the window, rain on the windscreen. So I begin and end my post with weather, English style.
But … one more thing. No rain = no welly-boots. No welly-boots = no cheery whimsical feature in a garden just down the road.
I am very late in joining Jude’s Photo Challenge #51, but here I am. She invites us to make a collage of images, some of which have strong geometric shapes, others of which are organic in form. I had fun looking back though my collection. And what I soon realised was how hard it is to determine what makes a good photo when those images are so bound up with the memories they represent. I suppose that’s what makes me a snapshot-ist rather than a photographer.
I also found myself choosing photos which were primarily geometric – of buildings and so on, but which were enlivened in some way by more organic forms. So Jude, I may not have quite stuck to your brief (again!) but you’ve made me think (again!)
The featured photo shows Brimham Rocks in Yorkshire. Nobody could accuse them of being geometric.