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The Boroughers 06/01/18: Lewisham This could be Lewisham, or anywhere.

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.

Where?

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?

FACTS

With facts like that we couldn’t fail but be excited about our day out. Onwards!

Lewisham

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.

The bus had deposited us directly outside our centrepiece cultural experience of the day. At the very southern edge of the borough, as mentioned by the bloke in that video, is the Horniman Museum. First stop, the nature walk. There’s alpacas here, and aside from the 185 bus this is basically the only thing Helen had wanted to speak about during them recordings. Fine, let’s go get them out of the way.

Oh. Somehow we’re too early, but about 10 minutes. Is there anything else to be done in a short time while waiting for someone to open a gate? Well, there’s this ram made of wood.

But then the gate opens, and we can go see animals. These sheep want to say hello. Well, not really - they actually want to just go shove their faces in the midday food someone’s put out for them, but we can at least get a look at them as they head that way.

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.

And a very docile and wise looking small, but fully grown, sheep.

See? Only about the size of a couple of PIgeons.

There’s a butterfly house next door to the animals, but we don’t want to pay, nor see butterflies really, so we instead opt to walk about the grounds a bit. There are nice gardens and stuff and, being up the top of a hill, some cracking skyline views.

Totally intrigued by those blocks of flats

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.

But it was bastard cold, and I couldn’t tell the time on the sundial despite the sun being out a bit, so we moved on.

There’s a big glass house with fuck all in it.

And then, finally, we entered the museum proper. While browsing the gift shop my phone went off: our ambassadors had arrived, mercifully without their kids. Listen, they know it’s nothing personal, me and Helen just aren’t fans of being around kids. Unfortunately everyone else visiting the Horniman on this day hadn’t taken this into account, and the place is teeming. Who brings their children to an interesting educational and free place on a Saturday? I ask you.

Anyway, let’s go look at dead animals in cabinets. First up, a big cat and a dodo.

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 main exhibition is just tons of stuffed animals, skeletons, etc. Look, I’m not going to do a sales pitch on the Horniman because you can get much better, and more, information from their own site. The short story is it’s a museum of natural history which hosts shitloads of taxidermy and other specimens, all collected by this bloke called Horniman 150 or so years ago. And there are owls.

ANGRY OWLS ARE ANGRY.

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.

Not all the taxidermy is shit. Here, look at these/

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.

It’s distressingly educational, doubly so when Mike and, especially, Charlotte bombard us with extra information. I like the bits of displays that are arranged not by species but by behaviour or faculty or technique - e.g., a cabinet just displaying different kinds of predator evasion techniques, or an explanation of how different beaks have evolved to be tailored towards killing and eating specific prey/food.

Also we can look back at the badly stuffed walrus from up here.
Mike likes to demonstrate that we’re not so far removed from our ancestors.

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.

Next, for some strange reason as it’s not remotely natural history, is a room full of musical instruments, piping Jamiroquai through speakers while we gawp at ancient pianos and cabinets full of oboes.

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.

Now it’s time for me to be excited. We get off the bus next to a cemetery and then walk a couple of streets up to visit Hilly Fields because fuck me, there’s a henge.

I am more impressed than I appear in this pic.

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.

So it’s a bunch of stones in a circle, and with a stone calendar sundial thing in the middle of it, and then these two other stones that form a sort of incomplete arch/gate just across the way. It’s great! I spout some shit about the unification of modern and ancient and feeling the power of ley lines and stuff, but really I just love the fact that stone circles were ever and still are a thing.

HENGE

Right. Culture done. Now we can go sample Lewisham’s liquids and solids. We wander out of one corner of Hilly Fields, feeling much sadness at the graveyard of discarded Christmas trees. It’s even sadder that at least one of them has detritrus from presents still around its base. Two kids are scavenging but seemingly come up empty. Aww.

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.

But we’re not going to the social club. We’re going to the Brockley Brewery.

Beer! And cider. I have the porter, and it is excellent. Our ambassadors have golden ale, and Helen has an apple pie cider which she adores. Cheers!

A fly flies into my second pint. I “rescue” it with my pen and put it on the table, where it staggers around for the next few minutes. Pisshead.

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.

The four of us share one of each of the curries, two rice, 4 rotis. It’s all very bloody nice, and wolfed down too soon to get a picture. Mango kulfi sees us right at the end, and we leave. It’s about 10 minutes until the bus to our final venue, which gives us just enough time to pop into a very good off licence in which Helen and I each buy two interesting beers. Then it’s the 171 to the Blythe Hill Tavern.

This room is entirely golf themed, but for football on the TV

This is a “proper” pub. No hipster bullshit. I mean yes, they have award winning ciders and a couple of guest craft beers plus interesting bottles, but the layout, staff, and clientele is entirely hipster-free, save for me and my ginger beard and thick-rimmed glasses. It’s also very warm, and crowded in the first 3 rooms. But the 4th room is empty, and its walls are entirely covered in golf paraphernalia. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a golf theme pub before.

Come the end of a drink there and frankly we’re all too middle-aged and tired to carry on. Our ambassadors have to head east, and we must head south west. The bus stop to Lewisham station is just outside, and I’ve just enough time to take a photo of a takeaway. There’s a chain of takeaways called Morleys in this neck of the woods, and they are seemingly so aspirationally successful that numerous fake-ass copycats have sprung to life - same colour scheme, font, everything. From the earlier bus we’d had Monleys point out to us, and here next to the Tavern is Fantsatic Morleys. No, Fantsatic is not a typo. It’s on every sign on the shop, not just one.

The bus goes through Catford and into Lewisham town centre, past the aforementioned giant police station. It looks dull. Not just the police station - everything. The bus is fairly empty with no itinerant youths. Also, nowhere today have we seen evidence of any of Lewisham’s 10 best drill rappers, a video of which we’d seen on YouTube on Friday night. Whither Young Yizzy?

Train out of the borough to Waterloo, train to Surbiton, cab home. The souvenirs come out of the bag, and our day is done.

The judges’ scores are in

So Lewisham, eh? It’s the only borough we’ve been to so, with that in mind, I can proudly announce that as of January 7th 2018 Lewisham is absolutely our favourite London borough when it comes to cultural stuff this year. But we have no idea how long it’ll last. Anyway, we’re going to distil everything about our experiences in and impressions of each borough into numbers. Our scheme is this: rate each borough out of 7 in 3 categories:

  • FUN: did we enjoy the day?
  • LEARNING: was it educational?
  • NICE: did we find the place and its inhabitants to be non-threatening, non-grim, etc?

Enough of this ado. The scores are in.

Helen

  • Fun: 5/7
  • Learning: 6/7
  • Nice: 4/7

Darren

  • Fun: 5/7
  • Learning: 5/7
  • Nice: 6/7

So there you have it, for what little it’s worth: combined, we have rated Lewisham with a score of 31/42.

Created By
Darren Foreman
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