5 October 2015

Jungle

"The Nag's Head" on Camberwell Road
Sunday morning in The London Jungle. By a rundown shopping parade on Camberwell Road, a tall black man in a loose tracksuit is listening to music from his mobile phone. He is leaning on a wall and there is nobody else around. As I approach I realise that he is singing along to the beat and as I pass by him I hear his monotonous and desperate lyric - "Too much pressure. Too much pressure. Too much pressure."

It seems like an anthem for London. Beyond him, I notice that the sign above the launderette is missing its "d" so it reads "LAUN ERETTE" like the name of some forgotten minor film actor. Perhaps she had a role in a film titled "Too Much Pressure" about romance on a runaway steam train.

Behind her and Singhs' grocery shop and the Asante Barbers and the William Hill Betting Shop is a grim postwar housing estate in which the blocks are all named after English poets - Pope and Keats and Marvell for example. Most of the tenants are first or second generation immigrants like the "too much pressure" man. I wonder briefly if any residents have even a little cognisance of the poetry crafted by these long departed men whose names always appear on their humble addresses. I also wonder how Andrew Marvell - from East Yorkshire - might have felt to see his name on such a sad residential block in the heart of South London. What an accolade!
There are always sirens. Mostly ambulances heading for Kings College Hospital at Denmark Hill. I watch as two ambulance women unload an elderly patient. She is on a stretcher, old and frail. Her hair is white and unkempt. A bony arm - the colour of wallpaper paste - extends from the blanket. She sees me through the railing, our lives colliding for a fragment of time and we make thin smiles. She is not long for this world.

Ahead, another "too much pressure" man from another continent is arguing the toss outside A&E with three security guards and two police officers who are trying desperately not to arrest the incandescent fellow. He won't depart easily and I really cannot understand his beef but he has probably kicked off inside the hospital and has just been escorted out. Why can't he just go away? He could be mentally impaired.

There's an information sign by Camberwell Green. It tells readers that the green was in existence as early as 1245 AD when Camberwell was an agricultural village to the south of London which would then have had a meagre population of some 25,000 souls. So the green has endured for a thousand years as London has grown monstrously, devouring the small communities that once surrounded it.. I see someone sleeping on a bench there. Hood up. Can of cider on the pavement below. It was eleven o'clock in the morning.
By Camberwell Green
By our daughter's flat which is in a block not dissimilar to Marvell House or Keats House, I notice two Polish men taking photos with their camera phones. What have they seen? At the corner, close to the recycling bins,  is a healthy looking London rat. Not one of those that spouts verbiage in The Houses of Parliament or writes rubbish for "The Daily Mail" but a furry brown rat with a pink tail. He is preening himself quite brazenly and he is the size of a wild rabbit. Almost fearlessly, he takes his time to amble away in search of yet more delicious human detritus.

We exited The London Jungle via London Bridge, The Bank of England and The Angel, Islington. Riding high above the city in our "uprade" hire vehicle, I was white van man for the weekend. The sign at the start of the motorway said "M1 - The North", like the star that guided those kings to Bethlehem.
The Peabody Estate, Camberwell Green
Frances's flat is on the ground floor.
By the entrance to Camberwell
College of Arts on Peckham Road

"The Nag's Head" again with a Southwark Council rubbish sack
P.S.
When I have fears that I may cease to be

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain,
Before high-pil├Ęd books, in charactery,
Hold like rich garners the full ripened grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starred face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love—then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.

By John Keats
(1795 - 1821)

25 comments:

  1. Very descriptive YP. Do you think you could write a counter argument for the beauty you saw in the 'jungle'?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. P.S. Hope Frances is safe on the ground floor.

      Delete
    2. You are right Carol - ground floors can have more security issues. I would have been happier if she had been on the first floor. Camberwell Green is certainly vibrant but also edgy. I could write a more positive piece - this is why I included the door detail from the College of Arts.

      Delete
  2. Well, you've done it again -- produced a fabulous post. I love the unlikely juxtaposition of the sublime Keats sonnet with the sack of rubbish and the poor soul sleeping on the bench.

    I must say I had the same concern as Carol regarding the ground-floor flat.

    How did you know the two men were Polish?

    If anything would drive an atheist to prayer it might be concern for the safety and well-being of a daughter living and working in the London jungle you have described. If even that won't do it, some of us out here in Blogland will stand in the gap and take your place.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I knew they were Polish because they told me they were when we chatted about Mr Rat. I shall tell Frances that you plan to pray for her safety even though her Yorkshire common sense has made her a militant atheist like me.

      Delete
  3. A great descriptive piece.
    What a dump it is, even the drinking water tastes awful and the place stinks. I was hoping it may have changed from my last visit fifteen years ago.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Fifteen years ago? Did they have horses and hansom cabs back then?

      Delete
  4. Some of my ancestors were Polish, so I wondered the same thing. How did you know the men were Polish? Is this something that people could also discern about me? What subtle clues might I be harboring?

    What struck me most about the Keats poem is how much different it would be if he wrote it today. Instead of leaving behind his pens and books, he'd be talking about the clever tweets he never made, and how he'll miss seeing who won Dancing With the Stars. How nice of you to post his poem, Mr. Keats not having access to a blog of his own.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your reflections on Keats made me smile Jan. The two young men simply told me they were Polish when we chuckled about Mr Rat together. Years ago I was surprised to discover that the term "Poleack" is often used as a term of abuse and belittlement in white America. I had never heard of such a thing before. All the more strange when I considered Poland's rich cultural history and the tragedies it has had to endure in the last hundred years.

      Delete
    2. Many of the so-called racial slur words are rare on the west coast, where we had primarily Asian and Mexican migrants for most of our history. Polish, Italian, Irish, etc. are simply more white people.

      Delete
  5. Your post once more made me glad I don't have to live in London. Everything so expensive but what you get is certainly NOT value for money.
    Altogether, the place looks surprisingly clean; the only rubbish (apart from the one neatly collected in the blue bag) that can be seen is underneath the bench with the sleeping person. And behind him or her, a sign advertising a farmer's market. All is not lost yet, it seems.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I can see why Frances wants to live there. Apart from the fact she has a dozen good friends in London - and her brother - the place really buzzes with life and energy. There's a cosmopolitan feel about it as in no other city on Earth. If I were younger I could easily live there for a year or two but now I prefer peace and walks in the countryside.

      Delete
  6. Looks like all your blogging friends had the same first reaction. "First floor flat? There?" Me too. She is a strong, independent young lady and we will all be awaiting at least some reports on the adventures she finds in London.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. p.s. I haven't seen a telephone box in the States for many, many years!

      Delete
    2. The telephone boxes are disappearing here too. Mostly they are unused. All because of what you call cellphones and we call mobile phones.

      Delete
    3. Our telephone boxes were disappearing too, but have started to pop up again as wifi hotspots.

      Delete
  7. Keats words written so long ago are relevant still. Everything changes and yet nothing does.

    The pressures of city living wouldn't sit well with me these days...give me the peaceful, rural areas, I'm too well settled into the comforts of a quiet, hassle-free (mostly) existence.

    Welcome back, Yorkie...now hurry up and get your act together and give us some of your wonderfully inviting photos of rolling green pastures! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ma'am you are a hard taskmistress! For the last ten days the weather has been quite lovely in central England but last night it changed to grey drizzly stuff which is not much good for photography. I will be out and about, as instructed, when I see a nice weather forecast.

      Delete
  8. I enjoyed this post and pictures about London. Thanks Yorkie.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I wouldn't have rated this post as entirely negative, I think it presents a view of any really big city, anywhere in the world. They are not always a pretty picture and all sorts of people inhabit them. A good post Mr Pudding..

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for reading it Alphie and for thinking about it too. Much appreciated.

      Delete
  10. I gave up my Bar studies because I just couldn't stand London life. I love Keats though. (And, coincidentally was discussing Endymion and Hyperion with a friend yesterday).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What a dark horse you are Graham! To think that you almost became a barrister! And as for discussing Hyperion and Endymion, they are both regular topics in my local pub along with cosmology and the London train robber Buster Edwards. Any relation?

      Delete
    2. As so often Neil the discussion arose because someone said "A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:" and wondered where the quote originated: a question that I happened to be able to answer. I suspect that cosmology is a topic of conversation by many more people that your comment obliquely suggests. As atheism become more out in the open so does the topic of the origin of us all. A relation? As close as you and I probably.

      Delete

Mr Pudding welcomes all genuine comments - even those with which he disagrees. However, puerile or abusive comments from anonymous contributors will continue to be given the short shrift they deserve. Any spam comments that get through Google/Blogger defences will also be quickly deleted.