This is, in a lot of ways, the most special of the posts for me about London. John and I got to revisit the place where we met, the flat we first lived in, and then the second area of London we lived in too. Plus we got to see squirrels boinging about, which is always good!
On our fourth day in London, we jumped on the green line to Putney East. I love how the last few stops towards that station are overground, and you can see all the rooftops and chimneys from the raised train tracks. It's such a familiar sight to me, and it couldn't look more London-y if it tried. It was a dark morning and the windows added to the general murk and the photos I tried to take on my phone were far from stellar, so you'll just have to take my word for it and imagine fields of stubby chimneys clumped together, a few grand and pointy Victorian brick school buildings and the lush green of the small bricked in back gardens. And then you go over the bridge to the south side of the Thames, and the grey opens up. Magical.
John and I met in a flatshare in Putney's Upper Richmond Road, a good 20 minute hustle from Putney East station. Before we went there, though, we turned right onto Putney High St, and walked down the long hill to the river – stopping at Boots to get Soap and Glory stuff from my last post, and then gawping at the Topshop; there's a Topshop on little old Putney High St?! – but not stopping at any of the charity shops (op shops) I used to frequent as a teenager. We wanted to see Lower Richmond Road, walk past the fancy shop fronts on the corner as it curves to follow the Thames, walk past the old impressive pubs and down to Putney Common.
The Spencer Pub, on the corner of the Common, is kind of special to me. When I was 13, my friend Carolyn lived next door in the dairy – her dad was the milkman – and her older brother Andrew worked in this pub. The dairy was closed or changed or something when we were in our mid teens and they moved to Sutton, but we had a couple of happy years here, riding her two brothers' bikes over Putney Bridge (stern faces), trying to learn to cartwheel again on the grass (having long left that baby-ish habit in our single-digit-aged pasts, of course) and going to to funfair that took over the Common on the other side of the road each year. Here you can get a glimpse of the rows of brick cottages that line the Lower Richmond Road. I was starting to really feel the weight of my camera by now, and it was uncomfortable to have it around my neck ready to shoot, so I don't have any pics of the amazing mansions at the east end. Putney isn't cool, it never was cool, but it was, and is, just really nice. I was fond of it since I was 11 when I spent a couple of months at a school there. And that end of the Common is especially nice, surrounded by imposing houses and then something beyond that too – it's one of those places that just *feel* special, to me. I'm not sure but I think this is the old hospital... looking a lot older now. This is part of the Common, complete with plastic bag in the middle. And this is All Saints' Church, on the corner, just up the road from the bus stop where you catch the 22 through Fulham and to the city. (It was still sometimes a Routemaster when I left, but I don't know how many of those get used now, which seems a shame really.) I don't go to church often at all, but I remember a late night Christmas service here. And the gardens behind it are lush. Here's me, clutching my bag to my face. COnstantly swiggning from plastic water bottles is not conducive to wearing lipstick so I went makeup free. And here are some of the houses I wanted to live in when I grew up. (Fat chance.) These houses are on the corner and will always make me smile, because I *almost* lived in one. I think it was the one on the right. The outside of these four houses were not as much to my taste as the others in the area, but inside the one I looked at was AMAZING. It was literally the most beautiful, outlandish and decadent interior I've ever, ever seen, all bold floral wallpaper in rich colours, incredible furniture, and endless nooks and crannies that felt like little time capsules. I would have loved to have lived there, but I was looking for a traditional flatshare, and the lady that owned it had very strict rules (curfews, no friends over etc) and, as a 19 year old, it wasn't going to work for me. Still. I wonder if it's still the same in there? I really, really hope so. Beautiful ginger cat watching us go by. From there we walked up over the bridge, past the swimming pool, and turned right onto Upper Richmond Road, to have a look at our old flat! It was still there, the grass out the front looking a bit tidier than it used to, but otherwise much the same. It's funny, I almost don't feel any connection to it. I took a photo of it, too, and when I was going through my camera I almost deleted it, wondering what on earth this ugly picture was of... it literally took several minutes for me to work out what it actually was!
But now, pilgrimage over, we could start the day proper: we were going to Richmond Park! Actually we were going to Richmond Park but more importantly, at least for John (and I wasn't exactly complaining) we were going to Richmond Park and then to a pub on the Thames where it flooded when the tide comes in and you get marooned with the beer. (Le horror!) We went to one just before we left, and have fond, adventurous memories of us and two friends clambering out the pub and along garden walls, clinging to the railings and trying to swing legs up over fences as we tried to make our way to dry land. It's all very nice.
We got the 337 bus to Richmond, which is slower than catching the train, but our Oyster cards were only for zones 1 & 2 but apparently work on buses in all zones (and we had no trouble so I assume this is right!). Also, you can see so much more from the bus. It's hardly a traditional Great London Tourist View, but I loved it. Of course we sat upstairs, and had our memories jolted ("oh, yes, I remember Mortlake!") as we bounced along the roads through leafy South West suburbia. And then we were off the bus, and off to the River! Richmond, if you haven't been, is completely, ridiculously beautiful. I had an inkling of how to get to the Park, but wasn't 100% sure. Once we got down to the river front, we were frowning at our phones and looking left and right when a lovely young man popped out of one of the boat sheds and helped us! I still can't quite get over how helpful and friendly people were in London. Where were the surly faces? Why are you all in such good moods???!!! (It's very good, do carry on.) Anyway, dear Lovely Boat Man, thank you for your directions, and we wanted to come back for a row on a little rowing boat but we ran out of time. We'll be back next time, I promise!!! Directions sorted – or at least given, understood, and then followed with hopes for the best, we set off along the water, past the absurdly gorgeous houses, to find the Hill and then the Park. I don't know if this is the Hill, but it's a hill, and up we went. Although we were no where near as fast going up the hill as the lady who was sprinting up and down it. Again, v friendly, told us she was training for a big charity run. We puffed our good lucks and trudged on, along a beautiful windy road with a terrifyingly skinny footpath (pavement) and finally darting across the roundabout to the Park gates. We made it! Riding bikes through the park would be amazing, but we were too far from the Putney gate, where you can hire them. Of course if we'd known that earlier it might have been good..! But still, we were more than happy to walk there. We were hoping to see a deer or two! But first, a moment to enjoy the vintage pink tiling in the toilets. Yes, I did, I took photos in there, but no one else was in there, and the tiles are so cool! Richmond Park is huge, wild, and beautiful. This was actually the second tree I'd hugged in London, but this is the first photographic evidence. We sat on a bench next to a lake to eat our picnic. The trees were the classic shape I miss, and there were more of those excellent ducks. They swam about, doing lots of bottoms-upping, and one got out to show us some enormous great feet. We walked for several hours, but no deer :( even though I did a leopard-y wave. Shame about the deer, but look: SQUIRREL! Caught mid bounce, all four legs of the ground. Gah they're so cute. We then went back to the hill that overlooks the Thames, where there is a map that has a photograph of the view, and names all the buildings you could see on it. It insisted that the chimneys we could see from there were Hampton Court. This seemed unlikely, but we looked, and looked again, and walked around a bit, and looked from different angles, and sure enough, that is what the map said they were. Hampton Court. It didn't look too far, and it would have been so great to see it, so off we went, marching back down the hill and along the Thames, away from Richmond (and the pub.) It was much, much further than we first thought, but crunching on the tiny wet stones as swans sailed past was not at all bad on a mild afternoon. We thought we might have missed a sign, but eventually, finally, we got there. And of course it bloody wasn't Hampton Court. It was Ham House! Which is what I said it was. The map lied. Lied! But Ham House is itself very special and it was lovely to see it, even though we decided, or rather our rumbling tummies did, that we didn't have time to go in. We were also completely exhausted by this point, and the thought of having to walk all the way back to Richmond for a very late lunch was NOT appealing. Even though Ham is small, we were positive there would be a bus back to Richmond. And of course there was! We waited 6 minutes. I have turned into a transport wait time watcher, then. But 6 little minutes! This is a miracle!!! Whizzing through pretty Ham back to Richmond was a nice little trip in itself, although the sitting down was even nicer! We were soon back in Richmond town centre, and after a quick stroll down a narrow lane we were where John had been wanting to be for months: The White Cross pub. We collapsed onto soft couches by the window and had a look at the menu, although I already knew I wanted pie. Tired as I was, I actually went back out on a solitary hunt, leaving John with a pint as I went to the House of Fraser on the corner – I hoped they might have Urban Decay there so I could finally get my Naked palette. I was just starting to get panicky about this; we didn't have much longer in London and I still hadn't found it. And I had to wait a bit longer, as HoF didn't stock it here either, but I did get a primer from Benefit, which was a bit of a flustered purchase but still was something I wanted to get in the UK as it's cheaper. I might have popped in to the H&M too, to look for a skirt I'd seen in another branch but they didn't have my size... and I possibly tried a top on in River Island, but it didn't fit well... and THEN it was back to the pub for my pie.
A sign at the front said that high tide was at 9pm, so we weren't going to see the water rise and get flooded in. Boo. But we were more than happy to eat our food (John had a ludicrously huge plate of ribs and ate them ALL) and drink our drinks and chat with the locals. A couple of women came in, laughing, and I thought I heard them say something about getting wet feet... I looked out the window behind me and sure enough, the tide had come in. You'd think you'd hear something, little splashes or what have you, but we heard nothing! People quickly left to move their cars, pointed at another car that was seemingly going to get a bit of a wash but was moved in the very last seconds, just keeping its axles dry, and John and I had to go! We made it out, just – literally by seconds. It comes up very fast – be warned! We were so CHUFFED to have been there for it! But we still weren't quite finished for the day. Legs aching, we got back on the bus to Putney – top deck at the front, best seat of the bus – and got back on the green line to Whitechapel. I really wanted to see the Beyond Retro there, and see what shopping for vintage in London was like. I had thought I'd do more, but in the end I wasn't really in the mood for it – other things felt more important, and anyway, I kind of switched off and lost my eye for it – I noticed this when taking pictures, too, and it sounds bad, but really it wasn't. It just felt like a rest. We also lived in Whitechapel for about 6 months before moving to Melbourne, and have mixed feelings about it. I'll always remember the first time I walked from Whitechapel Station, crossing the road and behind the Royal London hospital to the house I was checking out. It was completely Dickensian, rows of tall red brick houses and beautiful decay. If I hadn't taken that route, and walked down the main road, it would have looked very different. It was not nice then and it's actually even worse now. I thought that 10 years of gentrification would have changed it, but, that evening, walking up Brick Lane, it was worse than it used to be. My camera stayed in my backpack.
I had checked a map but not well enough, and as we were almost jogging along to make it before it closed, we ended up going straight over Cheshire St instead of turning right and, well, we got to see that much more of East London before we realised our mistake and turned back. And then it's quite a long walk, long enough to wonder if we'd missed it or were still on the wrong road (being completely knackered from our South West adventures obviously didn't help) but then John saw the sign. We made it! It was nothing like I imagined, but I was chuffed to be there at last. There was a lovely girl working there who turned out to be from Melbourne – small world! – and I met Tiny the cat, looked at the racks but left empty handed. I was too tired to trust myself with decisions, and didn't want to get home to find I'd bought a frightening pair of trousers or something. And I really didn't want a cotton dress, although there were a couple that were good: I have a few already and want to fill some gaps in my wardrobe. There was a little old pub just across the road, and John, not fancying joining me for some hearty perusing, went there first. I followed, and we had a whiskey – Dutch Courage for the frankly alarming walk back to (unrecognisable since our time) Whitechapel Station, this time taking the back streets which was, again, much nicer. We crowded back onto a pink line train, changed once, and finally got back to our hotel, happy, exhausted but thrilled we'd got to go down all those memory lanes.