Hi, hey, hello. Welcome aboard the 6th instalment of The Boroughers, a year-long journey to each of London’s boroughs ostensibly in search of culture. Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, is actually going to announce the Borough Of Culture 2019 and 2020 in just a few days from now, but that won’t stop my girlfriend Helen and I from gallivanting around and passing our own judgement. As you saw above, this time around we went to Bromley.
The London Borough of Bromley is London’s heftiest borough, taking up a giant chunk of the south east – 59 square miles or something. Visiting it 6th balances our north/south divide at 3 apiece, after the hat-trick of Harrow, Barnet, and Tower Hamlets which collectively did not exactly form a Northern Powerhouse. As it happens Bromley did not submit a bid to the Borough of Culture scheme, but if they hoped that would stop Helen and I from visiting they were sorely mistaken.
What did we know about Bromley before we went there? Well, on the Friday night we watched a few Bromley-based videos on YouTube and read a few web pages about the Borough and were delighted to learn these things:
- Bromley has more gritting lorries than any other London borough
- The term “spend a penny” for needing a piss originated from how much it cost to visit the reading rooms (thanks, Victorian prudishness) at the Crystal Palace, built at Hyde Park but then moved to Bromley
- The world’s largest amosite mine is called “Penge” because a British director of the mining firm thought the part of South Africa in which it is situated looked a bit like that part of London.
So, off we go then. Being a Saturday, I headed out first to do parkrun (my 194th, and 5th fastest) while Helen prepared the picnic, a now traditional part of our day. Once ready, Buster assured us he’d be OK sunbathing in our absence.
The contents of the picnic were kept secret from me. Actually the first bit had been eaten on Friday night, a chocolate nest with a chocolate “dinosaur” (Easter) egg in it; this was preposterously messy and, having come out of the fridge, tooth-shatteringly hard. Not a great start. And now on Saturday morning, I’m told to keep a firm grip on the paper plates. Helen is nervous about whether this will actually live up to the standards she’s been promising.
There’s actually two sets of sandwiches, rather than the more traditional one. They are fantastically branded. This is looking good.
Lo and behold, we’ve got dinosaur shaped sandwiches split between spicy cheese and ham, both with carrot. Awesome. And they taste great, too. She’s pulled a winner out of the bag here, the only downside of which is that subsequent picnics have way too bloody much to live up to.
Second impressions are good too; being in the beautiful south, there are signs. We like signs, especially when they are immediately outside the station and pointing us to exactly the things we’re interested in visiting. Dinosaurs, see? Them sandwiches weren’t quite so random as you might surmise.
A few more steps away and there’s the Crystal Palace museum. It only opens on Sundays. Bugger. Also one of the many maps of the park, which makes it look like a big shield.
Er, oh. This is a shit henge. I wonder if by sitting and contemplating it a bit (having been instructed to do so) I can connect with the ancients and gain some profound insights into life, the universe, and everything.
No, I can’t. It’s just a bench next to a shit henge. Poor show, Bromley, poor show.
Then, aha! An owl! Helen loves owls and I’m a fan too. Let’s look at the owl!
And, there’s really nothing much to be said except how much fun it is walking around here on a nice sunny day. These things are wonderful. Yeah, we’re laughing a bit at the inaccuracy, but it’s also great to appreciate just what a step forwards in paleontology this was, and to place them outdoors rather than some sterile musem. “We’ve built a load of dinosaurs near Penge, everyone come have a look!”
And this ... bell thing. No idea, and no explanatory plaque.
We stop at a van to buy smoothies and flapjacks which are as unimpressive as they are expensive, and follow the path towards our next designated stop: the maze. By now I am angry as fuck, “heh, bit cold innit!” cheer subisding as quickly as the feeling in my hands and being replaced by “STOP BEING SO UNREASONABLY FREEZING BASTARD COLD AND WINDY” rage. For fucks sake. Right, here’s the fucking maze, let’s just get this shit over with.
Turns out it’s not windy in the maze, and therefore not cold, and my rage dissipates immediately. Good. I allow Helen to drive and the very first choice, at the entrance, is left or right: we go right, and it’s a dead end. Oops.
So we go left, and then in, and then do that stuff you do when you’re in mazes: make decisions and junctions, retrace steps, get led in circles, become frsutrated at how this maze – the hedges of which are below shoulder height, and all wintery and sparse – can be so difficult to solve. Damn it!
Obviously, once we get to the other side the ducks have fucked off to where we first stood. Damn it! But there’s a coot to throw jubbly at, and the ducks notice and slowly head over. We’ve tons of feed so keep throwing and throwing.
At this point I am fucking livid at my phone, which has decided to disable itself and refuse to let me unlock it for 15 minutes. It’s been in my pocket all the time except for when I’m taking photos, so why the fuck it thinks I’ve failed authorisation repeatedly is beyond me.
Having literally thrown away all the duck food, we wander back past a headless statue, then a statue of a head.
Unexpectedly, I completely love it. They are having a takeover by Signature Brew and the coffee porter is spectacular. There are only 3 other punters, all solo and keeping themselves to themselves. It’s small and quiet, background music at just the right level
On the wall is an art exhibition, “Dino Island and the Lake”, a bunch of photos taken by two local photographers of all the stuff we’ve just seen. I make the mistake of reading the spiel about the exhibit as a whole, and have to stop at the bit when it says she “gravitated towards the healing power of water”. Pfft. Apparently had I read about the other artist I would’ve been less turned off, because the most desperately-seeking-profundity thing about him was “once took a photo of Eddie Izzard”.
Now we had a bit of a problem. Everything on our list for Bromley was complete, but we hadn’t eaten (the flapjack from the calorie cart doesn’t count) nor had we used any intra-borough transport, a subject close to Helen’s heart. Thankfully, during our beer stop, Helen had discovered we were quite close to a shit canal.
At the top of the high street is a genuinely historic pub called the Crooked Billet, but we can’t get a photo because holy jesus it looks sketchy as fuck and the smokers outside would probably not appreciate our snapping. So we wander further up, failing to find anywhere to eat or drink except for a wide selection of no-sit-down takeaways. One of them is “Maaleys”, a fake Morley’s reminiscent of Lewisham.
This is a good move. We get a seat, though the place is heaving and noisy because it’s full of middle class white folk like us except not like us, because we’re not using the nearest decent pub as a place to descend upon on Saturday afternoon to show off our latest child. Seriously it’s like a fucking creche, but the drink is decent and I’m a big fan of my burger, as well as the leftover mac and cheese Helen donates to me.
The table next to us is populated first by a couple of lads who I think may be on their first date, since they’re saying things like “yeah, normally I like my hair shorter and beard longer” and other learn-about-the-person smalltalk that mates wouldn’t bother with; when they leave, a woman sits there with a dog that alternates barking incessantly at all the other dogs, and begging Helen for some macaroni.
We get off one stop early, deciding very late to get a few twilight close-up shots of the transmission tower. It does look very cool, tbh.