We spent most of yesterday on mammoth walk across South and South East London; starting from the oval, through Camberwell, Peckham, Nunhead, New Cross, Deptford and up to North Greenwich.
I haven’t been through Peckham Rye for quite a while and was impressed with the condition of the residential streets to the West of Rye Lane. Lots of houses have been renovated and we even walked by a couple of bijou, French style coffee bars doing a roaring trade. For a short while I even half expected Rye Lane itself to have undergone a similar transformation. No worries though. About 100 yards before we reached Rye Lane, we passed through whatever wormhole we had stumbled through earlier on and we were back in the South London I know and love. Within the space of 60 seconds, we passed a staggering drunk, a lunatic, then another staggering drunk wobbling their way down the street. The lunatic was particularly entertaining as he gave us a jaunty welcoming salute as we passed by. The fact that he was dribbling extensively didn’t detract from the warmth of his smile one little bit.
Rye Lane is the still the bizarre, heaving Mecca of open-fronted 3rd world food shops, pound stores and evangelical Christianity centres that it has been for long years past. The shops stock a more diverse range of goods now. Most of them, from hairdressers through to impressively over-staffed butchers, supplement their turnover by selling international phone cards, money transfer facilities and mobile phone fascias based on the National flags of a variety of East African countries. We were particularly taken by one Halal butcher that was offering a phone sim card unlocking service as well as meat. One of the staff, complete with blood-stained apron, was actually working on a customer's phone at the counter as we passed. If you’re looking to buy half a Koran-friendly sheep carcass (£27.50) and reactivating that cell-phone you've just 'acquired' (£5-10), without the fuss of visiting more than one shop, Rye Lane is THE place to be.
Anyway, we eventually fetched up at the Dome. This is the second time we've been then in a couple of weeks. We're mad for it. There's something perversely attractive about the whole huge empty Dome, enormous, barely used, Tube and Bus station combo that draws us to the place. There's a lot of expensive infrastructure that would be awfully useful anywhere else but there. Gazing in awe at the line of empty buses and the overgrown car parks you cannot help but be impressed by the sheer demented folly of the entire exercise. Nice one Tony.
And then down to the Tube. Much effort had been expended earlier in the week to keep the Underground going long enough to allow the Olympic inspectors to travel two stops on their own personal train. The strain had clearly proven too much as about half the Tube was now out of service.
It would be heartening to believe that the IOC wouldn’t be so dumb as to rely solely on a carefully controlled, well-lubricated inspection of London to decide whether we should get the Olympics or not. Sadly, the World is rarely that sensible.
But it is nice to fantasise that one day the IOC inspectors will return, dressed as humble pilgrims to walk amongst us mere mortals and see what things are really like. Afterwards, the Chief Inspector would tear away his cloak to reveal the five sacred rings of office. We would fall to our knees and cry out 'My liege you have returned to save us' and all would be well once more in Merrie Englande.
Or maybe I've just watched Ivanhoe one too many times.
Though, on thinking about it, it might be a good laugh to dress us as a medieval pilgrim, complete with trusty staff, and see what kind of reception you’d get in South London cafes and pubs. It might be fun to plonk down a purse of money and say something like 'Landlord. We have travelled many leagues, our throats are parched and we wish for ale, stables for our mounts, a flank of mutton and an clip-on Eritrean cell phone fascia. Get to it my man'.
Well, they'd be no problem with that order in Peckham …