We’re getting our house at the Oval SW8 tarted up and have fetched up in the ‘burbs for three months to avoid the dirt and dust of the builders as they go about their business.
Apparently more than 50% of the UK population lives in the suburbs but it’s all new to me. I’ve lived in the centre of London for most of my life.
I’m more of a Zone 1 guy but here we are in Zone 4 way out on the Central Line. More specifically we are holed up in South Woodford. We are Essex.
This is car country. Every driveway is paved and planted with at least two gleaming BMWs. Seeing the power hoses going on a Saturday morning as the good Burghers of Redbridge sluice down their motors must strike fear into the heart of Thames Water. Some houses sport four or more cars out front and there’s some twat who keeps ponsing about in a seasick green Lambo that sets my teeth on edge. Net worth ‘round these parts is judged by your wheels, or lack of them.
I told our next-door neighbour we don’t have a car and she gave me a pitying smile that seemed to indicate that I must be some indigent hippy who would no doubt be knocking on her door later in the week begging for scraps.
We are rammed up close to the North Circular and the M11 which provide an aural backdrop that resembles a constant muted roar. Our house is on the Chigwell Road which also gets busy during rush hour with Mercs and Jags getting to where Merc and Jags must get.
In their song Suburbia the Pet Shop Boys don’t paint a very appealing picture of the place that isn’t city and certainly isn’t country.
‘Let’s take a ride and run with the dogs tonight, In suburbia
You can’t hide, run with the dogs tonight, In suburbia.’
The only dog I get to run with these days is Bucket so I unleashed City Mapper to find the local park where we could both get a bit of exercise.
Bucket and I plus the daughter head out the door, make a right, and walk into Rodding Valley Park. Five minutes into the outing the daughter has already named it Sodding Valley Park. She’s not a great lover of walks.
I’ve subsequently been back many times, in fact barely a day goes past when Bucket and I don’t tale a stroll there. It’s the most extraordinary place both god awful and wonderful in equal measure.
One of our favourite walks is along the Rodding River with its reed beds which are home to nesting birds and various forms of wildlife that city dwellers struggle to name.
Then there are the beautiful Silver Birch woods and the many mature Sycamore, Oak and Beach trees that were obviously chosen with great care by some long-forgotten council planner. Plus there are meadows, the favourite haunt of dog walkers and kids playing football. Sounds heavenly right?
Just one problem, you’ll remember I mentioned the slew of arterial roads near our house, well they all pass directly through Rodding Park with a constant thunder of din and dirt. There are great stanchions that hold up the motorways jutting into our rural idyll and even when you can’t see the traffic there’s no escaping the noise.
Then just to add another nuance, the landscape is littered with electricity pylons. Just walking under them I feel my cells start to mutate.
Along the river there are Blackberry bushes or brambles everywhere thick with ripe black fruit that nobody picks. Maybe it’s because I’m part of the immediate post war generation but I’m from the waste-not-want-not school of thought and would always go out with my mum to pick the free fruit.
In another part of the park the council had planted an orchard with various fruit trees which unfortunately has run to wrack and ruin. I found an apple tree laden with cooking apples which nobody had thought to harvest. Maybe all the pollution coming off the roads puts people off, but I’m looking forward to some Sodding Valley Blackberry and Apple jam sometime soon.
For all its conflicted craziness I’ve grown to love the place and I wouldn’t be surprised in a few years’ time, when we have long forsaken the burbs, if I don’t make a quick trip back to check on how Sodding Valley is doing. It’s a place like no other.
I’ll be revealing more secrets of the seedy underbelly of suburban life as soon as someone lets me know what they are.