Sunday, May 15, 2011


I once had to do a Criminal Records Bureau check at work to be able to do volunteer work with some little'uns, and had to list my addresses for the past five years. I couldn't remember every postcode, of course. There were at least six or seven addresses - I'm sure every other London-dweller has a similar tale to tell.

I think it's gone something like this: Orpington (shudder), Southampton (university, a.k.a. many, many long days of pyjamas, films and the munchies), Balham (the first sweet taste of SW London and will always remain close to my heart), East Dulwich (lovely, green, but enormous 4x4 buggy central), Tooting (a near escape), Clapham (rah, happy singledom and bars, yah?), and finally Streatham (which brought domestic bliss, in an unloved area of SW2 that feels a bit now to me like a ratty old pair of shoes that are also my favourite and I can't throw away). And so it goes.

In less than 3 weeks, I’ll be upping sticks again to an area colloquially known as ‘Little Lisbon’, which is enough to make me all dreamy-eyed thinking about that fantastic city I love, with the beautiful horizon and the seascape and the trams and the elevadores and the fado and the inevitable pasteis de Belem

All right, with that I fear I may be building it up a smidge, but our new flat will be a 15 minute walk from the river and the Tate Britain, a stone’s throw from the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, that queer institution of raucous comedy and drag acts (a local tells me that Lily Savage lived on our street once), and already, putting out the feelers for local community projects and hangouts is really coming up trumps. A search for ‘Pilates classes Vauxhall’ brought me to the Bonnington Centre, a Community association in a sweet little house in Vauxhall Grove which lets rooms out by the hour for classes, meetings and therapy sessions, hence they have a regular schedule of yoga, tango, acupuncture, psychotherapy and bi-monthly film screenings, plus a cafe.

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A stroll around the new neighbourhood a couple of weekends ago saw us find a unique venue which has been winning accolades for its café's food from everything from the Evening Standard and Time Out to May's Eurostar magazine, so it’s generated quite a buzz. This is the Brunswick House Café, located at the Lassco architectural salvage shop at Vauxhall Cross. Walking through its many rooms stuffed with antiquities, reproductions and oddities, it feels like a museum you can touch everything in - an appealing cross between John Soane's house, the Antiques Roadshow, and a very upmarket car boot sale. I swear I will never buy another mirror or door handle at Ikea again.

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So, an exciting new set of delights to discover awaits us. But as with all new beginnings, something else must end, and so we have to say goodbye to Streatham Hill. I've come to feel a fondness for this area too, although unloved by many and considered to be on the periphery of what is an appropriate commute from our friends in North London to come and see us, it has a charm all of its own and the most diverse community cross-section I've ever come across, in any part of London I've ever lived. Good work is being done here, too - from the valiant efforts of StreathamPulse to both unite and inform to the laudable local work of our MP Chuka Umunna. There are so many new businesses here which are thriving too, from the gorgeous Earl Grey and Rose cafe to The Hamlet bar and Thompson's deli adjacent to Streatham Hill station. The latest addition which has drawn rave reviews is The Manor Arms gastropub on Mitcham Lane, serving up Sunday roasts at £15 a pop and pulling in the punters. Me? I'm just as happy at Bar 61, drinking cheap red wine and nibbling on tapas for under £4 a plate. The point is, there's variety, and it's a good thing. I'm sure there's more on the way for Streatham, and it will be a shame to leave just as it finds its feet. But good things await SW2 and SW16 - of that I have no doubt.

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