Sunday 1 August 2021

Coronavirus streets in London - XXXIX

Peckham of the ethnics

Out from my hotel in the afternoon to meet my best friend at Highbury and Islington Station having realised it is the best place to get a train to Peckham Rye opened a century before I was born, we were caught in the confusion of two similarly named stations the first Dalston Kingsland was well known but Dalston Junction, where we had to change trains, was less so but got our changeover right and were soon at our destination.

Peckham is unwieldly schizophrenic, with ungentrified parts still ethnic and unreconstructed, stuck in the past of dreary and need, sounds and sights as familiar as parts of Africa you might want to avoid, some things here have never changed, you wonder, if ever.

Not a banger of taste

The restaurant I was taken to had a good menu sleeve with a menu that could do be helped with a professional touch, on the many choices on offer, we settled for the Banga soup and pounded yam. As I had never tried Banga soup before, I was in for adventure. It arrived in a clay pot, bubbling hot and ready to scald my fingers then sear my oesophagus, if we got that far.

I cannot say Banga soup was as exciting as it was made out to be, with fish, cow foot, tripe, and beef, the pleasure was lost to temperature control, and it is unlikely another attempt would be made of the fare. I was not disappointed, just not persuaded.

I used to live here

When we were done, the changeable weather could have stopped us from walking, but we started on Peckham High Street and a course of memories 30 years old came into mind. The National Westminster Bank where I opened an account, and I can still remember the Sort Code and Account Number from when the account was closed on my emigration to the Netherlands 21 years ago.

The North Peckham Estate lost to the modern development of pastel brick buildings, the Sumner Road access to Peckham Road is now a park and pedestrianised, I lived an estate to the right, it is all consigned to the history of the long forgotten, then abuse I received in my stretch jeans, I was called a ‘Bloody African’ too many times to count.

Stones on the sides

It rained a bit and soon, we were at Camberwell, the busy junction with a lot of traffic, we crossed the road towards the Oval and passed by the St Mark’s Church, we had to go into the churchyard to read the plaques on the walls. A historic place that was once notorious for being public gallows, the Wesleys, John and Charles did preach their Methodism nearby and the church that stands today was built by subscription. The father of Field Marshall Montgomery of Alamein was a vicar at the church too. [Wikipedia: St Mark’s Church, Kennington]

Old gravestones of what would have been the church cemetery are lined up against the walls of the church courtyard, this was quite all too different except in the ghosts that might have lingered since their markers were moved.

Memories of decades ago

At Archbishop Tenison’s School, named for a one-time Archbishop of Canterbury was the opportunity for a photograph that I sent to an ex, he was a teacher there over two decades ago. The Oval the cricket ground and home of Surrey County Club once sponsored by Foster’s and now by Kia.

The Royal Vauxhall Tavern is a Grade II listed building protected from developers and the oldest gay entertainment venue in South London where on Sundays in the early 90s we came to see drag acts like Lily Savage before she had a television career and dropped that persona for being himself as Paul O’Grady. When the Sunday pub hours kicked in, we decamped to another bar that served Chilli Con Carne, on which site now stands the new American embassy.

Out to Vauxhall, we veered on to the river walk by the River Thames all the way past Lambeth Bridge and Westminster Bridge with The National COVID Memorial Wall on the wall of St Thomas’ Hospital to the London Eye before parting ways at Waterloo Station. Another discovery of London that can only be experienced by walking.

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