(6) Stratford, (7) New Cross and (8) Tooting

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Going east from the city, this is the last bit of vaguely familiar territory for a while for me. On the left, number 6, that is the Town Hall at Stratford in east London. I have been inside there once, while I was a student at Queen Mary University of London in nearby Mile End, and I took a French exam there. I studied French, though I probably didn’t study it as hard as I could have. I lived in Belgium and France for brief periods, but my French is not the best. Chaucer made a joke in the Canterbury Tales about one of the pilgrims, the Prioress, speaking only the French of “Stratford at Bow”, not the “proper” Parisian French (“And Frenssh she spak ful faire and fetisly, After the scole of Stratford atte Bowe, For Frenhssh of Parys was to hire unknowe.”) Seems to me he was making a joke at my own poor French, learned at Stratford atte Bowe, seven hundred years early. Oh well. You may know Stratford from the 2012 Olympics in London, that was a beautiful occasion wasn’t it, still my favourite opening ceremony, made me miss home for sure. I’ve spent a bit of time in Stratford over the years, seen it change, I would never have guessed the actual Olympics would end up there some day, but that happened.

Right let’s not linger, time to jump on the Overground and end up in New Cross Gate, across the river in southeast London. Have I ever been to New Cross? I don’t think I have. It was always one of those places I’d see interesting indie club nights advertised on fliers handed out in Soho or Camden, but then I’d see where New Cross was and I lived in the complete opposite end of London. If it was beyond the river, yeah probably too far. I don’t know south London very well; as a north Londoner you grew up with a lot of people basically acting like it was a different city entirely. They talk different them Saaf Landoners, and there aren’t as many tube lines down there, and cabbies won’t go saaf of the rivah after dark, see. Not that I ever got a cab anywhere. I did get to know some of south London in the late nineties though through the medium of going out with women that lived in Clapham. That’s an interesting area, divided into Clapham North, Clapham Common and Clapham South, but there’s also Clapham Junction but that’s not on the Northern Line. It’s an area so full of European au pairs that my friends referred to it as “Nappy Valley”, though I didn’t get the pun on Napa Valley at the time, I assumed it was some saaf London thing. I love that we call it “saaf” London, even though I also pronounce “south” as “saaf” more than half the time. My norf London accent can be quite thick, even now I’m Californian. For example when I was a kid, true story, I though Bran Flakes were called that because of their colour, because they were “Braan”, literally brown flakes. Not all norf London speaks like that, in fact there are loads of slightly different accents across London, but most Burnt Oakers like me have quite strong cockney voices. So no, I’ve never been to New Cross. Why did I include it here? Not sure, maybe I really wanted to go to nearby Goldsmiths College years ago, doing art and whatever else they are famous for, but I ended up choosing Queen Mary and studying French and Drama, and life takes whatever turn it has to.

Right, turning away from New Cross, I now have to get across south London somehow to reach Tooting. I probably should have left this stop out, or drawn Greenwich or moved directly to Canterbury, but I didn’t want to be so dismissive of South London that I would draw New Cross and then be like right, that’s all there is. So I went (virtually) to Tooting, which is a stop on that lower part of the Northern Line, the line that stands on one leg, and a place I have never been. I know it only from that TV show that was on when I was about 3 or 4, Citizen Smith, with Robert Lindsay as Wolfie Smith. Aparently when I was 4 and filming a TV show at BBC TV Centre in White City I saw Lindsay and went up to him excitedly. My mum told me that years later. Never been to Tooting, but I’ve been to nearby Balham a couple of times, both times going to parties there in my early 20s. Being on the Northern Line, that meant I could get home without changing trains, theoretically, so I wouldn’t be lost in the wilds of saaf London. This sketch is of Tooting Market, which looked interesting but I will probably never go to. Maybe I should have drawn Croydon, that’s a more interesting place, but in my mind I probably still thought, yeah but I should be near the tube so I can get home in time for dinner and watch Gladiators and Noel’s House Party, even though actually I’m sitting at a desk in California in 2020.

Ok, enough norf-London bewilderment at saaf-London, now time to get all London-centric with the rest of the country. Next stop, Canterbury! (checks notes) I mean, next stop Broadstairs! Broadstairs?

observing the olympic village

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We really wanted to see the Olympic Stadium in Stratford, East London, and here it is! As close as we are able to get to it anyway. The Olympic Village is not quite ready, and the public cannot access it, but you can get a great view from the new, massive shiny Westfield mall, opened as part of the Olympic regeneration project, and pretty much the only way into the Village from the station. Stratford is completely unrecognizable to me now. I used to come over here occasionally when I was at university in nearby Mile End to visit friends, and the idea of the Olympics, the actual Olympics, coming to Stratford back in those days was a laughable idea. Well it has happened! But of course they have had to remove a lot of Stratford to make it happen. From what I saw, I was impressed. Even the train from Camden Road, now part of the modernized ‘London Overground’ system, was a much improved pleasure. I got this quick sketch in from the viewing area inside the Olympics giftstore on the top floor of John Lewis; that tall red metal thing is a bit odd, its as if Wembley Stadium has had an argument with Magneto or something. It’s an imressive site, the Olympc village, though the stadium is not quite the eye-catcher that the Bird’s Nest was, and as for those other big expensive-looking modern buildings, I cannot recall what the signs said they were to be used for, clay-pigeon shooting or roller-skating or something. Still it’s exciting isn’t it! All the Londoners I spoke to seemed less than excited, sick of it already, too much money, blah blah blah. I can understand. The Olympics is a couple of weeks of sports you would never watch otherwise but it is such an honour you need to flatten decades old businesses to make it happen. I don’t like the corporate sponsor nonsense, how in the Olympics area you can’t use your Mastercard because Visa is the sponsor, I hate all that nonsense, making it more difficult for people. It will I believe ultimately be good for London – the city had its best face on, and I was impressed at the overall vibrancy in the city, being the Olympic and Jubilee year. I am happy for East London too. I for one was hugely proud of my city when it was selected (July 6, 2005), and then of course we had to deal with the terrible events on the day after. It may be a bit crazy when it’s on – security will be unbelievable, media rabble-rousing even more so, but despite the price-hikes it will be a great time to be in London, to show it off to the world.

I’ll be in Davis, watching it on the telly.