Hello you, whoever you are. This is an entry in a series of blog posts entitled The Boroughers, in which your trusty correspondents will, throughout 2018, visit each borough of London in an attempt to experience something cultural. (Blame Sadiq, and his “Borough of Culture” initiative). This is chapter 1 of 32: Lewisham.
So, yeah, Lewisham borough. South East London, though not really east enough to warrant that description in my book (but my book is wrong). Just south, innit. There’s a tiny teeny bit along the Thames and then a much bigger chunk spreading out below. This is a borough that’s taking the Borough of Culture bidding scheme seriously, as evidenced by this marvellously produced video featuring the mayor’s heartfelt plea for people to back the bid.
Only two-thirds of the boroughs even entered a bid, so kudos for making even a cursory effort. As it goes they’ve got their own microsite at http://loveitlewisham.co.uk/ and use the same hashtag (#loveitlewisham) on all social media and everything. So surely we were in for a treat. But what else did we know about Lewisham in advance?
- Lewisham has/had the largest police station in Europe
- Lewisham is/was the least peaceful place in the UK (hence needing a large cop shop?)
- Our chosen method of entry into the borough—the 185 bus from Vauxhall—was the 5th least reliable bus service in London in 2002
With facts like that we couldn’t fail but be excited about our day out. Onwards!
Well, not quite onwards just yet. Before setting out I insisted Helen and I record an intro for a podcast I wanted to make about the day and indeed entire project. We did so, but sadly were somewhat hampered by neighbours slamming doors, plus a lack of professionalism, skill, and talent. Also I really dislike the sound of my own voice, and got distracted by the cat.
Never mind. Off to the station with a picnic in a bag comprising leftover chocolates from Christmas and 4 ham & cheese rolls, and we boarded the train to Vauxhall. En route we were surprised to learn that our borough ambassadors would be meeting us at our first destination, having expected to only catch up with them afterwards for booze ‘n that. There is some fretting about whether this means children may be introduced to our day, though I was confident this would not be the case. But anyway, stop fretting, we’re about to get on a 185 bus!
Helen was so excited by this. Honestly, I have no idea why. We actually recorded 3 or 4 different podcast introductions on Friday night and Saturday morning (no, none of them are ever going to get published) and each time she went off on one about the glory of this bus route. I didn’t quite understand the enthusiasm but hey, it’s not all about me. Information about the bus was plentiful with route maps and etc and we barely had to wait for its arrival. What a service!
The route doesn’t so much snake through London as take what feels like an arrow-straight route through boroughs we aren’t yet allowed to be interested in - Lambeth, Southwark - until we got off in literally the first stop across the border in Lewisham. That said, we couldn’t help but take some notice of our surroundings. Helen was quite distressed by me talking cricket for what felt like half an hour just because we went past the Oval; this definitely didn’t happen, because come Dulwich (Hamlet) I’d moved onto football.
I admired the “posh junk” antiques shop next to a caff called Badgers. Then came an interlude, as we stopped next to a tool hire place and the automated lady made an announcement.
The driver has been asked to wait at this bus stop for a short time to help even out the service
The driver himself then came on the tannoy to, I assume, impart much the same information but his voice was totally garbled. In the background we could hear a metronomic tick, like the clock from Countdown. This delay gave Helen the opportunity to learn that KFC now sells chips wi’ gravy.
And then, at just about 12.15pm, we’re in Lewisham. Hello, borough number one.
We got a very nice welcome, by which I mean there was a sign saying “Welcome to Lewisham”. There was not a corresponding “Welcome to Southwark” sign on t’other side of the road, though I should not let this prejudice my opinion of that borough until our visit proper.
Can’t stop and interact. Hungry.
The alpacas start off entirely disinterested in us, because a group of people are behind a different fence and they have a dog. Apparently this is super-intriguing for alpacas.
But once they bugger off it’s all, hey, other humans! Hello! And these dopey bastards trot our way.
Handsome fella ain’t ya?
For a split second the lighter coloured one of the pair pays attention to Helen, so I manage to get a shot which makes them look like they’re in conversation.
And that’s basically it. It’s nothing like as big as, say, Vauxhall City Farm or whatever. There are goats, but they’re up a small incline and not interested in talking to us at all. A sign says there’s a guinea pig but we can’t see it. There are chickens but they are literally cooped up. But there are rabbits, and rabbits are ace.
There are outdoor “musical” instruments, and what looks like a maze for very very very very very short people. In actuality I think it’s just some sunken garden, and there are a bunch of benches on the next level up so you could sit and relax with a nice view if it weren’t so bastard cold.
Hang on though. Before the main bit we’re told we can go look at loads of bees. I dislike bees. This properly gives me the shivers.
The most famous individual attraction in this musem is the big fuck off stuffed walrus in the middle of the ground floor. It’s massive, because walruses are massive, but also because old-school taxidermists were ignorant. Supposedly, having had this carcass brought back to them, they’d never seen an actual walrus in real life and had no idea they have folds of skin and the like. So they just stuffed him as much as they could, so Forest Hill now has a big unrealistic fat walrus. It being 2018, he now has his own twitter account and stuff because of course he does.
At the end is some weird clock thing, then upstairs a load more cabinets with smaller stuff in like disembodied bird heads and flying squirrels and stuff.
In the basement we go to the temporary exhibit which is the reason Lewisham is our first call this year. There’s a wildlife photography thing going on, full of the best pictures from the UK in 2017 judged by ... someone or other, maybe the WWF? No, not that WWF ... and it closes next week. It’s really quite excellent. Some of the photos are alarmingly local - one winner is of a deer in Bushy Park where I run every Saturday morning.
PLVS FAIT DOVCEVR QVE VIOLENCE. Presumably Latin for “Our pianists are entitled to perform their roles without fear of violence”, or summat.
There are some modern electric guitars, but seemingly no explicit representation of local band Wonk Unit, who have even written a song entitled Lewisham. You should all listen to this.
Next door is a room where you can go in and actually play instruments, so we bang a couple of drums, I one-handedly stumble through the two bars of The Entertainer I can play, and Helen plays the “only the middle 5 notes sound good” xylophone. Before leaving the musical bit I stand next to a fucking giant brass instrument while various bad jokes are made about “a lot of hot air” and stuff.
That’s it. We’re done. Let’s grab a photo of the totem pole and other externally interesting bits while we wait for a bus to our next cultural venue.
Mike takes charge, ensuring I’m making correct notes and then striding forth to make the P4 stop. Helen is not quite as enthused by this ride as the 185, though it does feature on-demand owls because Mike has a video call and asks his kids to show them off.
Seriously, there’s a fucking henge. OK so it’s just a bunch of rocks arranged in a circle and not exactly neolithic, being made as it was about 15 years ago or something. But it’s still a fucking henge in my book, and I love me a henge.
The real Christmas tree on the next street has a barrier around it, not even covered in tinsel. We’re told all such trees in the borough have had this treatment. There’s a “Dominic’s Pizza” which I’m very distressed hasn’t totally ripped off the Domino’s colour scheme, font, etc; and there’s an excellently shabby social club.
Next, food. Through Brockley high street and under the railway bridge with the big sign that reminds you (a) where you are (b) that you’re allowed to walk in either of the possible directions.
Masala Wala is empty, despite tales of previous woe about getting a table. Their menu is deliberately sparse, concentrating on getting 4 dishes very right rather than spreading themselves thin. They have a PPA (Pakistan Pale Ale - fuck you, India) brewed specially for them by the Brockley Brewery, plus some amazing (apparently...) sour beer.