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A sunny day in Deptford

May 1, 2018

I expect everyone’s eager to hear about my first proper holiday in half a decade. Well, to start with, I wouldn’t call what I recently had a holiday. It was more like a marathon. But it was still a break from the island, so…

As you know, I had a rather lovely going away present in the news that my play, An Unhelpful Complication, had advanced to the second round of a competition. That was the last rather lovely thing about the journey itself. I will never fly Air Canada again, no matter how much cheaper they are. (In this case it was a couple of hundred dollars and it was a false economy.) Okay, the screaming baby nearby wasn’t their fault, but the food was. If you stick enough glutinous sauce on airline mystery meat you can call it chicken, but it doesn’t mean it tastes like chicken. And, call me crazy, but if you’re on a long haul, overnight flight, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect some pre-landing sustenance to keep you going for the rest of your journey. Breakfast (if you want to attempt calling it that) was the tiniest tub of yoghurt I’ve ever seen and a minute, stale blueberry muffin. And if you wanted coffee you had to drink it from a Styrofoam cup. (So no coffee for me.) I know it’s five years since I flew KLM, but I truly believe their standards can’t have fallen so low. (Correct me if I’m wrong, Jane, as I know you flew KLM recently.) On the plus side, I was able to catch up on a lot of entertainment I’d missed: Three Billboards, Darkest Hour and Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange chewing the scenery as Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in Feud. (Yes, all six episodes. It’s a long flight.)

A funny thing happened on the Piccadilly line: within moments of the train pulling out of Heathrow station I felt completely at home. How many times have I done this journey in the past? Dozens of times? Scores of times? Lots of times. Even though I was underground, I was in London and it seemed the most natural thing in the world. And, of course, the journey immediately reminded me of one of my favourite London songs.

My friends Rowan and Matt, with whom I would be staying, had lived in a cozy cottage in Kent for several years, before moving back to Deptford in southeast London. I had never been to their new house, but we had a plan: when I got to Canada Water station I would text Rowan on my pay as you go Canadian mobile to let her know and she would walk to New Cross Gate station to meet me. Great plan, but when I got to Canada Water, of course my useless bloody phone had no signal. Foreseeing this as a distinct possibility, I had written down the directions from the station to her home. Aggravating, nonetheless, as every other bugger on the platform was using their phone. Fuck it, I thought, and walked up to a complete stranger, asking him if he would please send a text for me. After he got over the shock of being spoken to by a stranger, he agreed. Job done.

Rowan did indeed meet me and how lovely it was to see her with her blue hair and Gidget the terrier in tow. Lovely, too, when we got to the house, to see Matt and Cosmo, their aging bull terrier.

cosmo and gidget

(I did take a couple of photos of Rowan and Matt, but they’re both awful images of both of them, so I won’t post.)

When Rowan and her friend Simon first bought a former council flat in Deptford in the late 1990s, estate agents were laughingly attempting to cast the area as “east Greenwich”. Yes, Deptford did indeed border Greenwich (and the equally posh Blackheath), but the two areas were chalk and cheese. Two decades later the term is slightly more relevant, what with some new cafés and craft beer pubs, but there is still a long way to go and thank heavens for that. Greenwich is so lovely it’s almost not real. Deptford is still very real, tatty market (which Matt enjoys immortalising) and all.

deptford market 2

When not photographing the market, Matt can be found mud larking along the Thames, unearthing clay pipes and very old coins.

old coins

A week before my arrival it had been snowing. The day I arrived the sun came out for the first time in a long time. (Somehow appropriate, don’t you think? And proof positive that I should have stuck with my instincts and ignored the weather forecast when I was packing.)

A walk down the high street with Rowan to pick up a couple of bottles of prosecco (is there anything else to drink when you’re reunited with old friends?), then back to the house to sit in the garden in the sunshine and try one of Rowan’s prosecco and Campari cocktails. (Much yummier than I anticipated.) At some point around dinner time I got my second wind, which was just as well, as there was something I really wanted to do that evening: take a stroll to the Dog and Bell.

dog and bell

Do not be distracted by the Beck’s sign. This is a proper old back street boozer, complete with a selection of real ales and a bar billiards table – quite possibly one of the last remaining in a London pub.

bar billiards

Although it must be at least fifteen years since I last had a game, although I’d long forgotten the rules, although Rowan always used to beat me, I still wanted to have a game of bar billiards with my first pint of proper bitter.

As it happens, Wednesday is the evening a group of Irish fiddle players get together at the Dog and Bell just for the pleasure of playing together – and very much pleasing any punters who happened to be in the pub. So no bar billiards. Next time.

And that, folks, is day one.


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One Comment
  1. Gidget looks like Rhody.

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