Saturday, 14 March 2015

The one about the pop star, two famous authors, and the man pretending to be something he wasn't.

Yesterday was Friday - I had an appointment in Croydon. I lived in Croydon for exactly 6 months back in the 90's - it was a 'bridge' between moving out of London and moving towards Brighton. I rented a small lodge house in Southbridge place and lived with someone who never paid any bills, spent all my money, sat around waiting for me to come home so I could cook their dinner and fucked up the only think they ever agreed to do for me - organising a cleaner to come and give the house the once over when I wad driving with all my furniture to Brighton. Hence, I lost my £700 deposit. I liked Croydon - it was only ever a temporary juncture - and a very strange town - but was 15 mins from Victoria station - so despite living outside London, I was suddenly far more mobile than most people who lived in it - easily making my way around town at a much faster pace than someone in Clapham or Battersea.

I had to be there at lunch time - arriving at the station for the ludicrous 2 hour journey I found at the cash window that my travel card had expired a day previously - the man behind the counter tried to help me out by selling me a ticket to London for £17 - only telling me afterwards that there were restrictions (this necessitated buying a single ticket at Croydon station to get home - costing me another £28.00 - trying to get around this country is a fucking joke).

The journey was long and boring, I'd forgotten my book - but have about 6 hours of unlistened David Sedaris audiobooks to get through - so I settled in. Standing for part of the journey, trying not to make eye contact with the mad looking people on my train and blotting out the annoying teenage girls who kept shouting 'Awsome!' really loud. If I could have one wish, it would be for the woman who did the intro voiceover from anything by to be taken out and beaten in the street - although I suspect she may be a robot.

Arriving and alighting at Croydon was strange - it's something I once did every day - but not for about 12 years since. It's exactly the same in many ways, but totally different. I struggled not to be hit by a tram or a speeding London bus. Croydon is a strange town - it doesn't make any real sense, a random collection of styles, shapes, layouts and roadways that seem to have been collected together from other places and dumped on a flat plane - carefully hidden from London by the hills around Crystal Palace, in much the same way we hide things behind the sofa, and with nothing structural designed or completed to a particularly high standard. The strangest thing is the wind - clumsy town planning and road building creating a network of vicious wind tunnels and bleak concrete canyons sprinkled with a mish-mash of random, crumbling and abandoned public spaces. There always seems to be a lot of thwarted enthusiasm and failed public spirit in Croydon - almost heroic, and multi storey car parks that are like sets from SAW movies. Once you get away from the actual town centre - it's really nice, little streets of lovely houses that were once occupied by the workers that kept London going but who were brave enough to reach out to the countryside - and huge, sprawling estates, but central croydon is a confused, schizophrenic mess. And I quite like that.

My purpose in being there was, well - unexpected and the stuff of fantasies. I'd been asked by my friend John (author of the spectacularly good and deservedly successful Concretopia) to 'pop over' and take a set of photographs of him and a couple of guys who were going to be 'doing some talking stuff about growing up in Croydon - in a theatre type of thing'. The two other guys were Andy Miller - author of the spectacular 'The Year of Reading Dangerously' and Bob Stanley. THAT Bob Stanley - one-third of St Etienne and author 'Yeah-Yeah-Yeah' - the definitive history of pop music. So, well - I obviously wasn't going to say no.

All three grew up in Croydon, have fond memories of the town and it's been a huge influence on them all in different ways. The day was spent wandering around taking group shots - some of the locations were more salubrious than others - and generally having a relaxed time with three very nice, very funny, very interesting men. I've had a quick look through the images already and they are actually OK - I'll work my way through and let them have a couple of dozen selected shots for publicity etc - and probably just brag about it to anyone stupid or bored enough to listen.

Afterwards there was time to have a pizza in South Croydon, catch my absurdly expensive train home and have time on the journey for a bit of a think about work and stuff, which isn't great, isn't enjoyable and isn't doing me any favours at the moment. I even managed to hatch a tentative plan to sell everything, walk away and probably have enough money left over to rent a house for a year down the coast with better transport to London, and start again from scratch. At 48. And a half.

John had a very spicy pasta, Andy had the egg and sausage, Bob had the spag bog, but wanted the pie (it was off) and I let everyone down with the vegetarian option, which was a panini - and probably made me look really pretentious.

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