Category Archives: Battersea

Battersea Park Fireworks (Comin’ at ya. Bang!)

“Big up for Wandsworth Council” shouted the DJ/ compere at Battersea Park Fireworks on Saturday night. The 30-somethings who made up most of the crowd, wearing Hunter wellies and referring to Clapham Junction as “Clapham J,” did their best to ignore him, but it wasn’t easy. His amp was almost as loud as it was distorted and their earmuffs were only so thick. “Give me a scream if you’re at the hot dog stand,” he cried only to be met with shuffling apathy. A woman muttered that he was “shattering the ambiance.”

This year you had to buy tickets via Ticketmaster. In the past it was the council website or one of the various huts within the park. It also used to cost £5; now it’s £6-£10 and booking fees for the privilege of using a site that counts down how many minutes you have to enter your card details (2.31, 2.30. 2.29, oh my god, what’s my ‘verified by visa’ security code???) The American Embassy is coming, the Boris Bike stations are in place and you’re no longer allowed to bring your own sparklers. Battersea is changing. But you just need to look at house prices to know that.

In some ways, the Battersea fireworks display is morphing into a corporate machine where anyone coming to watch simply exists to keep the ferris wheel of fortune turning. Whether you’re queuing up to have your ticket stamped or to exchange pound notes for doughnuts, someone is shaking a charity bucket in your face (“it’s only a few pence. Don’t you have a few pence?”) or flyering you to join a £50 a month gym. But there’s still something magical about staring into the sky with a crowd of people doing the same and waiting for the lights rain down – even if it’s to the sound of a DJ shouting, “In a few minutes fireworks will be coming in ya face. Bang!”

This year’s theme for the display, which is always accompanied by music, was “Shrieks and Skulls,” which is pretty avant-garde compared to what we normally have. Indeed, I’m not even sure if there normally is a ‘theme.’ Last year, it might have been something to do with the Olympics and mainly involved a lot of R&B, perhaps in an effort to appeal to the audience the organisers would like to bring to the event rather than the one that actually comes.

However, whoever designed this year’s display achieved a remarkable feat: they made a mainstream council-organised piece of entertainment their own. I have an image of them in my head: a middle-aged man in a Metallica t-shirt and black jeans with a CD collection dating back to a former life as a suburban teenage goth in the early 1990s. “How can I get away with a soundtrack that solely consists of the likes of Meatloaf, The Specials and lesser-known tracks from The Rocky Horror Picture Show?” he may have pondered. “I know. I’ll fuse two distinct and, until now, entirely separate events together and tell them it’s ‘Halloween themed.’” And it worked! Good for him.

With skulls formed from flames – made all the more sinister by the fact one’s eyes didn’t properly light – some asymmetrical rockets and offbeat chrysanthemum bursts, at times it even felt a little bit punk; a stark contrast to orderly queues to buy overpriced produce going on elsewhere. Maybe they’ll let this mysterious maverick behind it all back again next year and ‘punk’ will be the theme. Catherine wheels will spin to the sound of “Anarchy in the UK.” It would, after all, fit in well with what Guy Fawkes, a man who tried to blow up parliament, was all about. Or perhaps they’ll just revert to the classic ‘Bonfire Night’ and bring back a proper sized fire? I’m not sure why the usual mountain of blazing wooden pallets had been replaced with something that had less heat that a single hob gas cooker, but suspect it had something to do with whoever decided to ban the sparklers.

Advertisements

Thatcher and Me (and a quiz)

Just in case there’s anyone who feels they haven’t read enough articles about Margaret Thatcher over the last few days, here’s another one for you (with a quiz). It’s not about Thatcher and the miners, pole tax or the backstabbing Cabinet, nor is it about her relationship with Europe, America or the Falklands, nor has it been hanging around in my desk since 2003. It’s written today and it’s about the time I met her in Battersea Park with Coco the dog.

It was two years ago and a sunny empty day in the park, made all the better by the fact that most people were at work and unable to mess it up with mystery meat hotdogs, sprawling picnics and an electric train that runs over dog walkers as children on board dribbling ice-cream laugh at their screams.

We were walking round the ponds, the best part of the park, and Coco ran up to a group of well-dressed people and jumped up at a lady wearing a tan woollen coat. It looked expensive and Coco looked muddy. As I tried to catch Coco, the lady took off her glasses, the same way a former prime minister used to in PMQs, and said “Is that a spaniel?” “No, it’s a shih tzu,” I replied, as those famous eyes locked on mine and I realised who it was. “We used to have spaniels,” she said.

Apparently Russell Brand also met Margaret Thatcher around this time. He describes her as a pale phantom, watering plants: a little old lady. Don’t believe him. He is clearly prejudiced against gardening. Even though we were in the park, even though we were talking about dogs, Margaret Thatcher was impressive, formidable and arresting – so much so that when I got home I was inspired to do something I’d never normally consider. I began to read The Downing Street Years. It took me so long I ran up a £25 library fine.

Despite costing us the price of a meal for two at a dog friendly pub, Coco and I have been hoping to bump into the Iron Lady again ever since. There have been reported sightings of her in the park over the past months, but it’s only today that I finally managed it – as she glided past in a union jack covered coffin during her funeral procession.

The Other One and I were packed into a crowd of people, many wearing tweed or the muted tones of classy work wear, outside the Royal Courts of Justice. As the coffin passed, a business man in a suit, clutching a flag and sitting on top of a red phone box shouted “We love you Maggie! Round of applause for the best prime minister ever.” And everyone either clapped or booed excitedly, depending on their preference.

A chap from the Northern Echo interviewed me about my opinions ‘as a Northerner’; a self-proclaimed Thatcher supporter got teary-eyed talking about inflation rates; and a frazzled looking woman told me off for being too cheerful. “Show some respect. It’s a funeral,” she said, clearly disappointed I wasn’t droning on about my taxes or singing “ding dong, the witch is dead.”

When I was a kid, growing up in the North East, pretty much everyone hated Thatcher. I’m not sure anyone hates anyone or anything as much as they did then. Maybe that’s why Thatcher’s death has inspired so much feeling in the last week, whether it’s anger, sadness or a mix of both. We’re nostalgic for an era of ‘toffs’ and ‘wet liberals’; a time when everyone knew which one they were and what they stood for and against.  Penguin biscuits were bigger, politics meant something, pop songs had a proper tunes and we were all young.

***

A Quiz: What kind of a Thatcherite are you?

David Cameron says “we are all Thatcherites now.” Answer the following questions to find out what kind you are:

1. What was your reaction when you heard that Thatcher was dead?

a). Quick, update the website!

b). As long as I’m alive, Thatcher will never die.

c). Sad, because she was an old woman. Annoyed, because she destroyed the industries

d). Who’s Thatcher?

2. What have you been up to the past week?

a). Carefully constructing elaborate effigies and burning them in the street.

b). Downloading our leader’s greatest speeches from YouTube and quoting them at work.

c). Feeling uncomfortable about people celebrating someone’s death. However, she did destroy the industries.

d). Eating crisps, going to the cinema, why – what’s happened?

3.  How did you mark Thatcher’s funeral today?

a). You woke up at 3am, made a banner saying that you’re unhappy for your taxes to pay for all this (not that you pay any), had a four hour journey into London (which you live-tweeted), and when the big moment came you turned your back on the coffin. That’ll show her.

b). You woke up at 3am, put on your best suit and pottered down to Fleet Street to ‘soak up the atmosphere.’ You made a banner saying that you’re happy for your taxes to pay for all this (not that you pay any), cracked open the champers, and when the big moment came you toasted The Lady as she passed. Chin chin!

c). Watched it on the BBC. Nothing like a bit of pomp and pageantry, whatever your political views, and nobody does this kind of thing better than the beeb. It almost makes up for the fact that you missed the Olympics Closing Ceremony due to work commitments. However, she did destroy the industries.

d). When was it again? I was probably asleep.

4. What key item of clothing would you be unable to do without on a day like this?

a). My ‘Kill the Rich’ t-shirt with badges on. I wear it to all of these things.

b). My ‘True Blue’ scarf. It’s been hidden in my gym locker since 1987.

c). A Union Jack hat left over from the jubilee. Might as well use it again.

d). Leggings. They’re more comfortable than jeans.

5. What do you miss most about the 1980s?

a). My job.

b). Everything.

c). Duran Duran.

d) Before my time.

Results

 Mostly As

You are as anti-Thatcher as it gets and have been waiting for this day since 1979. You had a website counting down the days to her death before websites were even invented. Your numerous blogs, Twitter feeds and Facebook status updates are all themed around how much you hate ‘that woman.’ However, despite making and burning more effigies than you can count, you now feel a strange sense of loss. What will you do tomorrow? It’s almost like someone’s just died.

Mostly Bs

You are an old skool Conservative who has been in the closet since 1992. This week you have been finally able to reveal your true (blue) colours. No longer do you need to feel guilty about drinking bottles of lovely fizzy stuff on a Friday and wearing ridiculously expensive shoes. You’re not alone. Other people own diamond cufflinks and they will accept you for who you are. It feels great!

Mostly Cs

You are what would have formerly been called a ‘wet liberal’. You are neither one thing, nor the other and you certainly don’t want to upset anyone by saying the wrong thing in the minefield of things that have been said this week. Obviously you never liked Thatcher, but you have to admit she was impressive – even though she did destroy the industries. But she was also a strong woman. But what about the miners? And the industries? She destroyed the industries.

Mostly Ds

You are too young to remember Thatcher. You don’t know or care who she was ‘cos all of that happened literally hundreds of years ago. The last thing you need is a history lesson. Why’s everyone so obsessed with the past? What’s the point of protesting against someone who is dead? They can’t do anything anymore. They’re dead, duh! What about tuition fees? Why’s no one talking about tuition fees?

Battersea: The Last House Standing

Landlord: “I’m putting your rent up. Reply within 3 days”.
Me: “The walls are crumbling. Reply within 3 days”.
Landlord: “Your rent is now overdue. We will be starting legal proceedings”.
Me: “OK, here it is. What about the walls?”
Landlord: (no answer).
Me: “The walls have collapsed”.
Landlord: (no answer).
Me: I’m trapped under the rubble”.
Landlord: (no answer).
Me: “Help!”
Landlord: “Wanted: new tenant for beautiful Battersea home.”

This is what happens. Instead of paying £1000 a month for a flat where the living room doubles up as the kitchen and you can’t open the bathroom door without hitting the bedroom wall opposite, The Other One and I are now paying £1100. Are you shocked? I doubt it. If you rent in London you’re probably used to such things. You anticipate and accept them. You may even be thinking “£1100 a month? In Battersea? That’s really cheap!” If so, congratulations – Foxtons owns your soul.

In the old days, the wealthy people in Chelsea used to joke that Battersea was far enough away that you didn’t have to deal with the peasants living there, but near enough that you could throw sticks at them. Now-a-days, the river running between the two isn’t so much a divide between rich and poor, but rich and even richer.

Tiny terrace houses, like the one I live in – with eight other tenants, crammed into three flats – now sell for millions of pounds. These used to be owned by the people who worked in nearby factories, for the railway or Battersea Power Station. What was an average two-up, two-down little place is now a premium ‘period’ property.

Despite rising costs, I love living in Battersea. It’s friendly in the way people tend to think London isn’t. With council estates next to glassy penthouses along the river, it’s one of the few places in the city that feels neither edgy nor pretentious. It’s full of bizarre little shops that only manage to exist because someone bought them for three pounds four decades ago. They sell things like desk lamps, rat poison and different sized nails in cellophane bags. Best of all, there is Battersea Park. It’s a magical place that it’s impossible to tire of, no matter how many times you walk around it. But I grew up with grass, trees and flowers on the doorstep and it didn’t cost an extra hundred thousand every time you moved a street closer to them.

While rent is going up, landlords are enjoying some of the best mortgage rates ever. Many of them are people who bought property when it was cheap and then lucked out due to rocketing inflation and interest levels being kept artificially low. Well done them! Only now they’ve made some money, they want some more. They aren’t increasing the rent because they have to; they’re increasing it because they can. They are leaches sucking the blood from those less fortunate themselves and justifying it by spewing out phrases such “in line with market value.”

“Why don’t you just buy a house?” homeowners often say, unable to appreciate that if they already own three, they are not creating an environment where this is ever likely to happen. The Other One and I went to look around the block of Barrett flats being built on Battersea Park Road. They were nice. They also cost half a million. Ones with a ‘view’ of one of road even more. “Is there any ‘affordable’ housing?” I asked the pleasant lady who was showing us round. “This is the affordable housing,” she smiled. “Will any be available to rent?” I asked. “Oh yes,” she replied. “Lots of the people snapping them up would love a tenant like you.”

All along the river, from Nine Elms Road to the Power Station and beyond, new houses are being built in Battersea. They are tall, glass monsters covered in billboards of affluent looking city workers slipping wine, using gyms and laughing with friends at how they’ve managed to get one, two or ten rungs on the property ladder.

Even if I could afford to buy one of these fish tanks in the sky I wouldn’t. I want to own a real house with real people in a real street. And one day I will. Things can’t continue like this. At some point the property market will crash – and when it does I will cheer. What home owners and politicians dread, I am desperate for, waiting for, willing on. The fact our economy will then be fucked, none of us will have jobs and a black cloud of despair will engulf the country is insignificant to me. It will all be worth it if I can have the satisfaction of watching all of my landlord’s sixty properties repossessed, as I hand him a cheque for three pounds fifty to buy just one. This one.

Smashing Up Slides in Battersea Park

No matter how many cuts the government have to make, no one should ever have to watch a children’s slide being crushed by a bulldozer. Wandsworth Council clearly agree. Before sending in heavy machinery to tear down Battersea Park’s adventure playground they sealed off the area so neither TV crews or dog walkers, nor the Occupy London protesters who had been there for the past three weeks could get anywhere near.

Since dogs have no regard for the law or places they’re not supposed to go, I sent in Rufus the beagle – who I was walking – to investigate. Unfortunately, he is more interested in eating rubbish out of bins and it was impossible to understand what he had to say with half a Cornish pasty in his mouth.

A group of evicted protesters were hovering about outside the park’s fence, trying to poke camera phones through more police tape than you’d see at a murder scene. I asked them what they were going to do next. “What can we do?” they replied, despondently staring into their Boden flasks of coffee. “Whatever the outcome, you’re doing a great job,” I told them. That seemed to cheer them up. But was it really true? Surely, if they were doing a great job they wouldn’t have been chucked out. They’d be still chained to a climbing frame or laid with arms interlocked in front of the rapidly approaching teeth of diggers.

The council is apparently going to install new playground equipment. This will be cheaper because it won’t require staff to supervise it – something that hardly makes it sound ‘adventurous’ like the zip wires and rope bridges that were there before and used by older children and teenagers.

The protesters suggest that the council are all white and middle class, but from what I can see, so are they. Pretty much everyone who comes to the park is. Maybe that’s the problem. The people who use the adventure playground like it, but they don’t really need it. If they did they’d be shouting ‘scab’ at the workmen knocking it down and forming a picket line to prevent them from getting past. What kind of a person goes to work to knock down a playground anyway?