The past fortnight in London provided the opportunity to observe living in London from Catford through to Sloane Square.
Catford, the location of the airbnb flat, is composed primarily of endless, brown brick, two-up two- down Victorian terrace homes whose heyday is long past. Each has been subdivided into three or four flats, providing affordable accommodation for new wave immigrants from the Middle East and Africa. There’s a dreariness to it all. The facades are in need of maintenance, front yards have been crazy paved for car parking, and wet rubbish piles up around wheelie bins and against crumbling fences. When people heard the flat was in Catford, there would be a pause, a certain stillness and looking into the middle distance, followed by “aaah”. It is apparently in one of two areas in London you want to avoid. I know you can’t buy a sharp knife in Catford – the kitchen lacked one – because sharp knives are not allowed to be sold in the area.
However, it was a well appointed, cosy little flat and only a half hour walk from the relatives. The half hour walk, which takes you across a stream, a railway line and through a park, sees a complete change in the housing. There are still endless rows of terrace homes, but they are maintained, with neat box hedging, polished brass door knockers and letterbox flaps.
A double-decker bus ride (45 minutes to Greenwich) provides a low-cost opportunity to see really run-down, tiny terrace homes abutting railway lines; countless terrace houses in various states of repair; imposing towers of council flats; and exquisite Georgian buildings and high-end shops at the end of the line.
A train ride (45 minutes to Blackfriars – a station over the Thames) provided views of back yards, of more endless terraces, of more towers, into modern glazed apartments, of the Shard, the London Eye, the Gerkin (really the Swiss Re Building but no-one calls it that), some new building that looks like a gigantic refuse receptacle, and Tower Bridge.
Amble around London and the glass towers of the banking district, the imposing edifices of the Victoria and Albert, the Natural History Museum, and the National Art Gallery press down. Get to Sloane Square with its immaculately presented Georgian homes and find a place so privileged that the beautiful green at its centre can only be accessed by a pin code in the security gate in the wrought iron fence.
London is still the city of Charles Dickens. It’s all about poverty and privilege.