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The Boroughers, 12/05/18 + 20/05/18: Lambeth ‘King Half-a-commute

Back once again like a pair of renegade masters, our new slow approach to Boroughering finds us a little out of practice. I take no blame at all for this, despite being the reason for 2 fallow weekends because I had to spend time in Not London, specifically the delights of Wigan and Sheffield. So, y’know, it’s actually quite nice to be back, and even nicer to stay south of the river in borough number 11: Lambeth.

(In case you’re new, this is what you’ve stumbled upon: my girlfriend Helen and I are visiting all 32 of London’s boroughs, to see what fun we can have. Originally a resolution for 2018, we’ve relaxed the deadline — but only so as to reduce the self-inflicted pressure. We call it The Boroughers.)

Where?

Oi!

Lambeth. Y’know, “doing the Lambeth walk” ‘n all that stuff. Sarf London, gor blimey guvnor, featuring such diverse geographical brethren as Brixton, (bits of) Dulwich, Stockwell, Kennington, and the South Bank.

Facts

  • Lambeth’s first appearance in recorded history is the tale of King Canute’s son, Harthcnut, getting so drunk at a wedding held within the borough’s borders that he died there and then.
  • The two sides of Lambeth bridge are painted different colours, to reflect the two houses of Parliament on the opposite bank – the Lords and the Commons.
  • Glenn Danzig, the BEST GODDAMN SINGER THE WORLD HAS EVER SEEN AND WILL EVER SEE, spent 2 nights in Brixton nick when a Misfits tour got rowdy, and his experience led to the song London Dungeon.

That last fact is guaranteed to be my favourite Boroughering fact of the whole project. I believe it will not, indeed cannot, be beaten. I bloody love Danzig so much. In fact later this year I’m going to see him live in Lambeth. I’m gonna have to work pretty hard not to let this awesomeness unduly influence my score, eh.

Lambeth

So, the plan: I do parkrun, Helen does a quick taster course at the (very) local college about growing vegetables in a window box while I make our picnic, and we go get a train to Clapham Junction then a bus to Brixton.

They call us walking corpses, unholy living dead

Well, I did parkrun at least. But Helen was feeling poorly, full of sore throat and sneezing and other maladies. On my way back from Bushy Park I went to purchase the ingredients for my first picnic attempt of the year, only to discover that the key element is a thing that doesn’t actually bloody exist. Huh. More pertinently, I floated the idea of time-shifting our day – splitting it over Saturday evening and Sunday daytime, to give her a chance to recover a bit.

This also gave the weather a chance to go from warm and sunny to cold, bleak rain. Hurrah! Train to Waterloo and the glory of London opens out to us immediately we step out of the wrong entrance of the station, what with them not having taken down the sign to the bridge across York Road that no longer exists.

Welcome to Lambeth

Saturday evening was still on because we had tickets for the theatre, don’t you know. Up here at the top of the borough, near or on the banks of the River Thames, there’s some proper culture ‘n that - the Royal Festival Hall, the Old and Young Vic theatres, all that stuff. Having failed to secure entry for the most interesting thing on at the National Theatre we’d bought ourselves seats in the Lyttelton Theatre for Absolute Hell, a retelling of life in post-war Soho amongst the drinking classes.

We arrived with about half hour to spare, plenty of time for a tactical and to get booze for now plus order our interval drinks. Turns out the NT do a nice range of craft beer now, and you’re totally allowed to take it in in plastics, even with the seemingly disapproving comments from the woman tailgating us.

Finding our seat was more traumatic than it should have been. Helen had picked us seats at the far left of a row, not knowing until now that we were boxed in because they weren’t aisle seats but buffetted up against the sound desk protruding from the rear wall. D’oh! Still, it wasn’t very busy and didn’t get close to full even when it kicked off.

At 7pm two columns of folk in period dress wander in from the side doors and stand in front of the curtain, singing a version of La Vie En Rose in English. Then the curtain goes up and the play proper starts, thankfully not a musical.

I don’t wanna be here, in your london dungeon; I don’t wanna be here, in your Living (Absolute) Hell

I’m not going to review the whole play. Suffice it to say we left at the interval, 90 minutes after the start and only half way through. It was a slight gamble but one we felt fairly confident of. The reviews online are a bit Marmite: people either love it or consider it a big waste of time, and we both erred towards the latter. It’s not that the acting was bad or anything, there just didn’t seem to be anything recognisable as a plot. We found very little funny, or poignant, or tragic, or indeed anything. Our overwhelming reaction was boredom. I was a little more of a mind that perhaps something good might happen in the second half, but then I’m a gambler. It took virtually no effort to convince me that we should just bugger off to the pub though.

So, almost 2 hours earlier than planned, we buggered off out into the rain.

Some other non-Lambeth bits of town looked kinda nice, but for the grey.

And the Oxo Tower has that mad light thing on it.

On my suggestion we were heading to the recently refurbished Dr Ink’s, now the Fountain and Ink. Except! Except!

Denied! The bloody pub is in Southwark, not Lambeth. Argh! I thought it was a couple of hundred yards further up. Hang on though, if this is the border then you know what that means...

A welcome sign!

A perilous sign though. It’s facing into the road, and this is Stamford Street, a busy street even on a Saturday evening. With that and the rain, how the bloody hell are we going to get a selfie here?

I’ll tell you how – we’ll cross the road in a hurry and then wait for a gap in the traffic, during which I’ll step out and say “Helen! Helen! Quickly before a car comes!” And we’ll grab the picture above. Whew. Not that welcoming, is it?

So, no new drinking venue here. We’ll traipse through puddles and side streets to aim for the King’s Arms on Roupell Street, via a few angry signs about housing policy and er, ABBA discos? Not gonna get much support complaining about ABBA on Eurovision weekend now are you.

Roupell Street is lovely, even in the rain. I think perhaps it would be great to live here, except maybe it wouldn’t due to all the commuters and King’s Arms patrons and filming of movies and that. It would definitely be nice to be able to afford to live here.

In the pub we get a seat, surprisingly. Helen goes to the bar and on my behalf asks for a dark beer, y’know, a stout or a porter. She comes back with a Guinness, because the staff basically had no clue what to make of her request. This despite the list of guest beers on a blackboard above the bar, featuring an oatmeal stout! Grr.

It’s louder than it should be given not being desperately busy; there’s a rowdy table of them young folk over the way, harumph. Before we leave another 3 lads arrive looking somewhat furtive, one of whom is saying to another “look, everyone would shit themselves in that kind of situation” as if they’re debriefing about some trouble they’d just been in, or perhaps narrowly avoided. But we leave and there is no danger en route to Waterloo, nor on the train, where Buster has been waiting to sit on my knee while the Eurovision votes roll in.

Sunday morning arrives, and it’s time to get back out to Lambeth. Though, what’s this? It’s not Sunday 13th, it’s Sunday 20th, a full 8 days later! The time-shifting I suggested somehow got stretched out a great deal due to chores and other whatnots getting in the way.

Despite such a length of time, I was still on picnic duty. Frankly the idea terrified me. Having only discovered last week that lamb isn’t a commonly, available pre-cooked sandwich filling (why, I don’t know; ham and turkey and chicken and pork and pepperoni and chorizo and beef and etc all available, why not lamb?) I only got final inspiration for what to make on Saturday (19th) afternoon, after seeing Helen off on her train to a recruitment fair and went for a solo pint and a half.

Sunday morning then, Helen has a bath while I lock myself in the kitchen and prepare this feast... badly.

Without spoilers, Helen enters the kitchen and says well, it looks like a wall... and there’s a 100 ... century wall? I ask what walls are made of, and what’s another term for century. Ton of bricks? So close! Try transposing the words. Yes, you’ve got it, bricks-ton: “Brixton” in sandwich form.

Since it’s my debut in food preparation, it’s also Helen’s debut in reviewing it.

Pun

100 wall? A century of bricks? Has Darren found some national construction weekend or something? Apparently not. BricksTon it is. 1-0 to Darren for the very clever pun.

Aesthetics

I immediately got it was a wall. The smears of ‘mortar’ spread - not just between - but across the ‘bricks’ set a rustic, handmade tone. I was initially impressed on hearing that the ‘100’ had been sourced from a Post Office birthday card. Such creativity and lateral thinking! But on reflection I became sad. Had we deprived some lonely centenarian best wishes from one of their few remaining friends?

Taste

I like bread. I like ham. Alas the show was stolen from both by the unwelcome appearance of garlic and herb Phillidelphia. Don’t get me wrong - I’m partial to a bit of allium flavoured processed cheese from time to time. Just not when it obscures everything else on offer. What I’m not partial to EVER UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES is paté. And particularly not the ludicrous butternut squash and roasted red pepper atrocity used as mortar in the construction.

In summary, a classic case of mutton dressed as Lamb(eth)

Whew. She spent quite a while on the train to Vauxhall reading up guides on how to write about food, while I tried to discern exactly where the borough’s borders were and failed. Never mind, we knew exactly where we were going first. It’s not new to us, but it also won’t be surpising to anyone who’s read any previous Boroughers episode: we went to a city farm.

We turn right and take a look at the chickens and rabbits and stuff, but are there for so short a time it’s almost derisory. On the other side are young animals with their parents. Good time of year to see cute.

The inquisitive goats are inquisitive, though we get the sense they only have one question and that’s “got any food?”. Our answer is no, but plenty of other folk around have handfuls of grass pellets.

The adult sheep are a fucking mess, and the lambs are very cute. Also it’s LAMBeth, so there’s something to be said about that, right? These two little fellas spend the whole time we’re there just leaning against the wall, constantly chewing in unison. It’s desperately cute.

There are some smaller critters inside again, like this small tortoise(?) and a snake that gives Helen the heebie-jeebies. But it’s a nice day and the better animals are outside.

There’s meant to be 3 of them: Tom, Ben, and Jerry. But today there’s only two, and we don’t know their names. All we know is they’re showing no interest in us, just staying at the far end of their enclosure eating grass, occasionally interrupted by a white faced sheep. In case you don’t know what I’m on about, here’s the predictable reveal.

Hello, alpaca! Hey, come over here. C’mon. No we don’t have any food, but come here anyway!

They ain’t bothered. I watch a pig yawn and we see some boring ducks, then have a chat to the goats and sheep again.

But then... hello!

Come for a chat have we? Excellent.

And then his mate comes along too. Hurrah! No, we still don’t have any food, but the other folk do. Just come look gormless at us for a bit, ta.

As it goes, these here alpaca are possibly the least gormless we’ve seen all year. They’re still very friendly and cute though. Mostly they spend their time scratching themselves.

Then, suddenly, he sits down. Having never seen an alpaca do so before, as opposed to being sat down, it’s a little surprising to see how it happens: he just lets his legs basically collapse under him, and flumps straight down onto the ground directly beneath where he’s stood. Wish I could do that.

Helen gets to pet the first one. He’s lovely and soft. “I’d like to wear him”, she says. Suppose that’s less cruel than me saying “see you at Christmas” to the turkeys earlier.

Back outside and peering back in, we can get jealous of the lazy pig spending Sunday doing fuck all.

Opposite, we see what appears to be the loneliest donkey in the world - despite having a mate in the same field.

Right. Enough animals. We have elsewhere to be, and in fact just the act of getting there counts as part of our cultural experience today: me and my girl are going to recreate a bit of Me And My Girl.

Before that quite happens, there’s a few back streets to navigate. It’s quiet, and interesting around here. Old factories butt up against housing estates that seem like they could be pits of inner city deprivation except, well, they don’t seem to be.

There are allotments and cafes and small parks with play areas, next to garages in railway arches and blocks of council flats and warehouses.

At the top we wander right, then right again, and here’s some proper bona fide tourism right fucking here. Elbows up!

Oi!

You’ll find us all, doing the Lambeth Walk. Well, you’ll find me doing the Lambeth Walk at least. Hurrah! I spent a signficant portion of my life believing I was born in Lambeth, I’m not entirely sure at what point I learnt that Guys Hospital is actually in neighbouring Southwark. But anyway, I still feel kinda at home here. I’m a south London boy, oi oi!

Nearby there are murals about the area. Earlier I’d read online that Lambeth council were responsible for, I shit you not, ethnic cleansing - by building flats in the area and ridding the area of 15-to-a-room poverty.

At the top end of the road is the Henry Moore sculpture studio occupying what was Pelham Hall (I think?), and also some mosaics about Charlie Chaplin. I bore Helen with the possibly apocryphal story that my brother was born in the same hospital at him, in what is now the Lanesborough hotel up by Hyde Park Corner. Bro, is that true?

My favourite thing about (the) Lambeth Walk, apart from giving me an excuse to shout “oi!” a lot, is that a Nazi pisstake was made in 1942 by the then Minister of Information, kinda like Cassetteboy or something only 70 years in advance. Can you imagine the government making stuff like this about Syria or Russia or anyone right now? I think they should, tbh.

So, elbows down and we’re up at the Lambeth Road. Making a bad decision, I lead us up towards Lambeth North tube station and most of the way to Waterloo. An excellent display of bad grammar/wording stops us briefly in our tracks.

Past the end of Lower Marsh and under the lines leading into Waterloo, we make our way round the roundabout and the entrance of St Thomas’ hospital to that Thames River that’s round here. Big Ben is across the way, all wrapped up in scaffold and stuff. Apparently I should’ve known about this because it’s big news. Meh, I had no idea.

A bridge too far

The problem with being at Westminster Bridge is that we weren’t meant to be. I was meant to be leading us to Lambeth Bridge, so along the Thames Path we go. It’s crowded in parts but not horrifically so, and it turns out Helen has never wandered along here before anyway.

I bore her with the story of how I was once interviewed here for Irish TV about Wimbledon FC’s mooted move to Dublin back in 1997 or so. Yawn. Hey, what’s this up on the left? Oh, it’s Lambeth Palace and the Garden Museum. Thank fuck for that, eh.

Half price entry due to our National Art Pass and we’re in. It’s a church with a museum in it, the first attraction being a small room with a gallery of pictures by Cedric Morris, an artist who specialised in pictures of gardens and flowers and stuff apparently.

There are other pictures in the main hall, watercolours made over the last two years by ... someone Verity. Charlotte Verity? I could look it up, I guess. Yeah, Charlotte Verity. Across the way is the Ark gallery, in which there are some cracking exhibits including a “Lamb Vegetable” - something from Russia, where there used to be a belief in creatures which were half animal, half vegetable. In reality I think it was a cauliflower that might have made it onto That’s Life in a slow week.

This is a mould of a dodo. Blimey.

A small shop led us outside to, finally, a garden. To be honest not much garden-y had been present in The Garden Museum, so we both assumed there’d be some impressive outdoorsy bit. Turns out we were wrong.

It was nice, mind. Just not very big, and not very museum-y. There was a bunch of other flowers and that in the corridor next to it.

But we’d seen a map that said there were galleries upstairs. Turns out those galleries are the main exhibits, the actual museum-y bits about gardens, Whoops, almost missed this stuff. First up, Helen sits in a shed.

There’s a fifteen minute video which neither of us can be bothered watching. Instead I look at the stained glass windows, and then there’s, like, old watering cans and lawnmowers and SLUG DEATH and stuff.

Beyond the practical tooling, there are displays about garden design including one kinda-blueprint of the Eden Project.

At the other end, it’s about gardeners rather than gardening. No-one I’ve ever heard of - i.e., no Monty Don, Alan Titchmarsh or Capability Brown - but there is something of interest for those of us who live out in the zone six sticks.

The display of gnomes is quite cute, then there’s another little gallery of pictures donated by some couple whose importance I failed to commit to memory. And that’s it. Our dual conclusion was that it was quite interesting, though not vastly so, and we’re happier at paying half price than we would’ve been at full price if you see what I mean. It’s certainly a nice place to be and spend time, even if you’re not that arsed about gardens.

Back on the ground floor and I’m, like, y’know what? I fancy ascending the tower. I mean, it’s free with our entry ticket and I sincerely doubt I will make it to the top because I’m a wouss and it sounds kinda terrifying, but I want to give it a go anyway. Helen absolutely doesn’t want to but is happy to let me go. Wish me luck!

131 spiral steps. It’s dark, uneven, the steps are narrow, and there are no bannisters except for ropes - a thick one on the external wall, and a thin one you have to prise away from the central pillar. Every few revolutions there’s a door which says NO ENTRY on it, the third of which also says DANGER: NO FLOOR.

Finally - turns out 131 steps is quite a lot - I emerge onto the metal platform next to the top of the tower. Holy shit, this was definitely worth the effort.

It’s nowhere near as terrifying actually up top as I’d feared. I’m not great with heights, after all, nor spiral staircases, which is why even attempting this could’ve been very stupid. But it wasn’t. I wrote in my book “worth it... up!”

I had a look down towards Vauxhall. Helen saw some kind of art downstairs.

I looked at the rooftops of Lambeth Palace itself. Helen saw some flora.

The houes of parliament are across the way. BIG CHEESY PARLIAMENT SELFIE MADNESS.

Downstairs, Helen is still looking at plants.

Away from the river, sort of, is more of Lambeth and Southwark and the city.

Another couple arrive, out of breath. I have a chat to them: 131 steps is a lot, eh? And how about them doors? It’s fun. Then an older woman arrives preceded by her daughter, I assume, and I ask them if they heard voices behind because I want to descend but there ain’t no passing points. No, nothing, they said.

So I left. I decided I’d whistle en route, occasionally dropping into a little bit of “I’m coming down the stairs, I’m a-descending, I’m a hope there ain’t no-one coming up” vocals. After about 4 or so spirals I hear “Oh no, there’s someone coming down, what do we do?”. Uh-oh!

Here’s what we do. The young girl, who must only have been 3 or 4 years old, shouts “who’s that?” “Me? I’m just some guy” Her mum tells her to stand back to the wall, and the girl is small enough that she fits under the rope. As luck would have it, the mum is at one of the mystery DO NOT ENTER doors and can also stand out of my way. Phew!

Descending the spirals is much less traumatic than expected and I stride outside all happy ‘n that, though my legs are a bit annoyed with me for using muscles I don’t normally use. Helen’s in the garden opposite, having moved bench to avoid a weird staring bloke. Hmph.

We’ve one final stop for Lambeth, a straight walk along Lambeth Road. Our progress is briefly interrupted by looking into Archbishop’s Park, in which you can do some kind of chairlift ride thing? And then a Ronald McDonald charity housing estate. Why didn’t I grow up in one of these instead of the Haig Homes? We could’ve had Happy Meals every breakfast ‘n that!

It’s only a 10-15 minute walk until the Imperial War Museum, which lives next to a park which has a world garden that we duck our heads into and ... wait, what? You fucking what? Why do the bins say “Southwark Council” on them?

You are, as they say around here, having a giraffe. We’re in bloody Southwark, not Lambeth! As if they hadn’t forced enough learning onto us when we visited back in January, they’ve even stolen the Imperial War Musem from us. How has this happened? What kind of stupid shape borough is Lambeth? Grr! We’re so angry we have to buy ice creams to help us calm down, and Helen has to pose with them as if they’re a ‘tache.

Well, bollocks. I’m gonna write about what we did in Southwark now, because we weren’t willing to forego the IWM since there was an exhibit on that finishes next week that we both really wanted to see. Just, y’know, this isn’t officially part of The Boroughers.

IN FUCKING SOUTHWARK

The exhibit in question is about post-9/11 art, the reactions to the event itself plus the security infrastructure of the world and warfare/conflict in general since it happened. The opening corridor is a display of newspaper front pages from around the world showing how they reacted to the event, and truth told what stood out most to me from there is that the Racing Post was included.

After that, the art is in many forms: paintings, sculptures and other objects, photography, video, etc. As with any gallery the different pieces will affect or provoke a reaction in each person in different ways, and anyway I’m no bloody art critic. I will say that I have a preference for photography and/or realism than yer more abstract treatments, but I did like Grayson Perry’s Dolls of Dungeness thing too.

My favourite was, I reckon, the “Saddam is still here” series of 6 photographs, of people in Iraq in various situations and holding different opinions, we’re told - basically, half of Iraq still misses him, and the other half is still scared of him - but anonymised by holding an identical picture of his face to wholly cover their own.

Upstairs from there, another exhibit - this time a permanent display, and as with the 9/11 stuff no photography allowed. I probably wouldn’t have taken any anyway because it’s all a bit sombre ‘n that, what with it being a thorough treatment of the Holocaust. Eek. This has to be up there with the Apartheid Museum in South Africa for being a stark, unflinching treatment of something so dark. Fascinating and horrifying, for want of a better term I found the whole thing - it’s large, across two floors - “paced” very well. It’s in chronological order, from the very origins of anti-semitism in Europe, via the nascent days of Hitler’s politicisation in prison, through his rise to power and then the horrors which followed.

It’s not for the faint hearted. Helen went through a little faster than me, but not much. The scale model of the entire Auschwitz/Birkenau camp is, oof. I mean it’s all very hard work, but I don’t mean that as a flippant complaint. It’s a fantastic thing, not enjoyable but very important.

Didn’t pop into any of the other exhibits, but I took the stairs down and what little I saw made me conclude that, unlike the feeling we had in the RAF musem this place has zero interest in kinda promoting or being proud of war. It very much has the feeling of place that says, look, war happens and it’s worth talking about.

Just a shame it’s in fucking Southwark is all. I mean ffhs. Having got outside 10 minutes before me Helen has news: the border goes exactly around this park; across the road in 3 directions is still Lambeth. Maybe that means the Tankard - “aDraft House” - just over there is in Lambeth? A quick check on the internet via gov.uk’s “what council looks after this postcode” page and yes, it’s Lambeth! Thank fuck for that.

Ooh, a roof garden

At the bar downstairs we ask if we have to order there and they say no, there’s a bar upstairs, you’re fine. So we go upstairs and they say, oh, we’ve much much less beer up here, you should order downstairs. Sigh, fine!

Downstairs they don’t have Helen’s choice of tzatziki sour, but do have my coffee stout. That, a replacement cider, and the wrong order of food (my fault, not theirs) and I’m back upstairs in the sunshine.

Food arrives, at which point the error my ways is pointed out to me. Never mind, you can’t have too much cheese. Time for chips, halloumi fingers and mac ‘n cheese balls. The latter are particularly disappointing, tasting neither of mac nor cheese much.

It’s pretty nice, in a “anything is nice if it’s fried” kinda way. It’s definitely nice to be sat in a roof garden with decent beer. Better yet, Draft House will do takeaways and to top it off she says there’s 33% off for doing so. Holy shit! So, a sour and two stouts, that would be lovely.

Time to bugger off, there’s now an opportunity for intra-borough transport which doesn’t involve shoving your elbows in the air and shouting “oi!” a lot, though I’m sure no-one would mind (except for Helen) if you did do that on the 59 bus to Waterloo. After all, there’s a bloke sat by the door with a pair of bongos for fucks sake.

We’re really not far away, reaching Waterloo in about 10 minutes if that. The mosaics in the tunnel, which I’ve walked through probably thousands of times in my life, are much shitter than I’ve ever spent the time to notice before. I’m appalled by their geographical inaccuracy.

From here everything is so familiar we could basically sleepwalk it. Into M&S for some provisions, a train to Surbiton. Wonder how Buster has spent his day?

Busy then.

Score blimey

In the pub I’d argued my case that rating boroughs by numbers across categories doesn’t feel, to me, like it might give as accurate a grade as simply placing them in order by asking “was it better than <current best borough>? How about <second best>?” and so on until a place is found. But no, we’re going to persevere since we’re already 1/3rd of the way through. Thus here’s our 1-7 * 2 * 3 scores:

Darren

  • Fun: 6! I had loads of fun, especially given I had pretty much forgotten about last Saturday when time came to write down a number.
  • Learning: 3. Poor. I learnt very little. In fact outside the pre-Lambeth research I’m not sure I learnt anything, especially given the IWM was in Southwark. That Danzig fact is worth 2 points alone mind.
  • Nice: 5. Not, like, glorious, but the railway arches and housing estates didn’t feel sketchy or owt, and that stretch of river is lovely. Pub was great too.

Helen

  • Fun: 4. A borough of two halves. National Theatre night boring, raining, and I was poorly. Today: London at its best in the sunshine.
  • Learning: 2. Didn’t really learn much apart from some stuff about a bloke called Cedric who was a good painter.
  • Nice: 6. Bits of Lambeth we saw didn’t have the prettiest architecture, but this was made up for by their fantastic effort in city farms, hanging baskets, community garden centres, and allotments. I even saw a bright red butterfly.

So, 26 out of 42 in total, which feels about right. No boroughering next week, but lots of blogging because we’re off on our transatlantic hols - if only to force a way to not stumble into bloody Southwark again.

Created By
Darren Foreman
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