A modern Pilgrim’s tale

The Old Kent Road.

Grubby, run down and ignored.

The route for people from south east London and south east England to get into central London but one that has history and is important in its own way because of that.  Now, I am in no way a pilgrim in the religious sense, but I liked that link in the road’s history and my own as it was the road Dad would use when driving into London when I was a child and I always wanted to live in the Ole Smoke, so you could say that I was a pilgrim of sorts and I just liked the title.  So I wanted to place another tale of observation here from my daily bus commute to the Elephant and Castle where I work and those characters I see have a story to tell, or I might add an indulgent little twist to their lives…

The toothless, scarfed old ladies, leaning on their industrial shopping trolleys waiting for the shop to open.  Their coats are missing vital buttons and the trolleys are held together with string and the crossed fingers of hope.  They don’t talk to each other and would sooner poke you in the eye with a sharp stick than let you push in front of them.

A new café opening, optimistic that people will come in and become regulars, but at the moment, there is only one gent wearing smeary glasses who is sitting outside nursing a coffee as his wobbly fingers roll a cigarette.  He has combed the few strands of hair he possess neatly down one side and the production of hair pomade is safe in his hands.

The rows of Victorian cottages, some that are three-storey high.  They have seen the years go by and have themselves changed little but are now being dwarfed by so called, luxury flats with thin walls and little storage.  I know which I prefer.  Some of those cottages however, have suffered such subsidence that at first glance you wonder how they are still standing with their door frames at such extreme angles!

People legging it across the car park to get the bus, trying to hold onto everything as they frantically wave at the driver hoping that he is in a good mood and feels sympathetic towards them.  And the curses when the driver isn’t.

Then passing Asylum Road, which has a fascinating set of buildings you can see from the Old Kent Road.  I have often wondered about them and they have a story which I have never known about in all my years of living in London.

The middle aged lady wearing a grubby jumper and skirt who marches up and down her patch of the road.  I would not be so fascinated by her were it not for the chain and padlock that is tight around her waist.  Perhaps she is looking for an errant bicycle that needs chaining up.  Oh, but I would love to know the history behind that accessory!

The Drovers Arms, an old haunt of mine from the 1980’s when it was still called that.  The faded and chipped tiled mural around the top of the building depicting drovers from a bygone age and I will forever call it that.  Practically every Friday, I would go there with a friend from work and dance to the hits of the day and lust after the blokes with their mullet New Romantic quiffs and shiny silver grey trousers and life was good and we were carefree and we didn’t give a toss that we walked down the Old Kent Road at two in the morning, swaying and giggling our heads off and holding our shoes because our feet hurt.

Passing the car park where small groups of men wait patiently.  They mill about chatting and sharing fags.  They seek a days work and hope that the breakfast they had from the Golden Arches emporium next door will sustain them.

The bus stop by the little park where the street cleaner sits on a bench.  He is taking a break to roll and smoke a cigarette and contemplate life through whatever he hears in his ear phones before getting up to carry on clearing up after us.  And behind him, a dog owner lets his dog run about and get some exercise before doing what dogs do and what the majority of their humans ignore and fail to do afterwards and this human falls into that category, sad to say.  Meanwhile, under a large tree, a rotund tabby and white cat sits with its front paws curled underneath its body and watches the dog, wary of it getting to close and annoyed with it being there and possibly preventing it from catching a bird unawares or a mouse.

Then there’s the man in the pub doorway.  He stands there everyday with his two dogs in their studded harnesses.  He is sometimes alone and sometimes with another man and they chat and put the world to rights and gesticulate wildly in the process, such is their intent to get their point of view across.  The dogs look in better condition than their owner and I suspect he is much younger than he appears, but he is there everyday and not giving up.

And the ever present artery of buses, crawling along and suffering the curses of the cyclists as they duck and dive between them and the other traffic.  The cyclists wearing varying degrees of tightness and padded bottoms in their attire.

East Street: The Egg Incident.

And the ever present Shard…

For sale, to let, under offer, sold, let by, subject to contract.  All that in addition to what is happening to the enormous graffiti covered Heygate Estate on New Kent Road, waiting to be demolished as part of the regeneration scheme.

Onto that building that some say is the biggest bar code in the world, yet somehow reminds me of a lipstick container!  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Strata.

Oh, last but not least, on this occasion as I get ready to get off the bus I spy a fellow passenger calmly plucking her eyebrows as the driver plays pothole roulette…


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