So I’m here! I’ve had just over ten days in the new flat now, and while I need to get a sofa, my pictures are not up, and it’s going to take weeks and weeks to get phone and internet installed, I’m pretty well settled now. It’s the first time I’ve ever lived on my own, or had my own place, but it’s amazing how quickly one adapts to these things; already I’ve taken to it so well it’s hard to think about how things were before.
The move wasn’t all smooth. It was never going to be when I had to fetch stuff from three locations, and that was always going to be a nightmare. But thanks to the help of my dad, and particularly of Mike (who attends to detail to an extent impossible for someone as impatient as me, and without whose help my blinds would be a mess and my shelves wonky), everything that I unpacked had somewhere to go, and everything worked.
Of course, as soon as my helpers had left me, I did manage to cause a minor flood by using the old washing machine I had been given (faulty seal!) and then to lock myself out, both of which set me back about £350 each – for a new washing machine and a locksmith to come and reduce my nice high security lock to a large pile of brass dust on my doorstep, my consolation was that it was definitely high security; it took him two hours to drill out, which mainly accounts for the exorbitant charge. Best laid plans…. I’ve also twice completely misjudged the amount of time it would take me to get to work, arriving more than an hour earlier than usual by bike this morning, and quite a lot late by bus last week. But, as busy as last week was, I felt a lot of pleasure to be coming back home to my own place, and to feel properly comfortable there.
There are all sorts of treats about being reunited with my stuff again. My vinyl collection, for example. Having been apart from it for more than two years, I’d forgotten some of the records I had, and sorting through them again felt a bit like opening Christmas presents. But the best thing of all so far has to be the area itself. One of the big attractions for me was living right next to a large street market, and it is no disappointment, selling everything from plastic bowls of fruit and veg for a quid, to distinctly back-of-a-lorry-looking computers and laptops. There’s a library two streets away (free wifi!), a small theatre four streets away, and five stations within a mile. And the shops are all small, independent, and selling an unbelievable variety of stuff, randomly selected, even more weirdly arranged, and with a leaky roof at the back dripping gently into a bucket. It feels like what Colruyt might have been trying for, only more organically developed, and with more smoked sheeps’ heads and tripe lying around at the meat counters.
The challenge is to try and engage with what’s already there, rather than being a sort of arriviste, making the most of the services and then moving on when the rest of the middle class trendies move in. But whether or not it makes me a ponce, I really like being able to wander out and do my Saturday shop by walking 20 metres from my front door, and to have a realistic chance of getting my groceries on foot without having the single realistic option of Tesco. Whatever else they are doing, Lewisham council are getting something right around here.
And there are plenty of characters. The most entertaining by far was Harry, boss man at a nearby the charity shop and day centre opposite the end of my road and, as he was keen to point out, a recent recipient of the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service. I took in a clothes donation and asked if they needed any photos or work done by a volunteer. When Harry (who says he was born up the road, and is now eighty) sat me down for a cup of tea and we chatted, he asked what I did for a living. We talked about prison a bit and he asked me which prisons we worked in. Then said: “Never been in any of those ones. Spent quite a bit of time at Pentonville and Dartmoor, though. See, that was because of the bank we done over in 1952”. Half an hour and several photos of Harry with Frank Bruno, Harry with dearly departed local resident Wee Wee (quite short man, apparently), Harry with the Krays, and so on.
So: so far, it’s all good. You should come and visit some time.