Yesterday we made a very exciting return to our London LOOP walks after a hiatus of over five months. We celebrated with a double bill by combining the short sections 6 and 7 into one, and although they are not the most majestic or visually spectacular pair – section 7 is basically just a walk through the ultra-suburban streets of Epsom and Ewell – the weather was perfect for an afternoon picnic and ice creams in Oaks Park. We’ve now completed 17/24 sections of the LOOP and I am hopeful that we can build up some momentum again without a pesky pandemic getting in the way.
Epsom and Ewell is a place with quiet significance. By rights (just look at a map) it should be part of Greater London, and indeed this was the plan when London was expanded in the 1960s. But the locals kicked up a stink on the basis of “civic pride” and “the standard of planting of roundabouts and flowerbeds” and – just perhaps – a reluctance to pay any council tax to London even if, as commuters, they relied on London services. The government relented and the borough was allowed to remain with Surrey.
In a spirit of ingratitude, the borough continues to agitate for its rail stations to be included in London’s Zone 6 (thus benefiting from cheaper fares) and elects Chris Grayling as the local MP. This is the very same Chris Grayling who – as Transport Secretary – blocked TfL’s takeover of London’s suburban railways on the basis that areas just across the border – like Epsom and Ewell! – wouldn’t have any democratic input into TfL because they can’t vote for London’s Mayor. Because they’re not in London. Because… they didn’t want to be. Sigh.
So I’m not well-disposed towards Epsom and Ewell. But – wait – there’s a “who are the real monsters?” twist coming! Because at least Epsom and Ewell is honest: they want all of the benefits of London services but don’t want to be part of London, thank you very much. Absurd, but straightforward. And it is on the border, it does feel more like Surrey than London, and drawing the line around the edge of the city is always going to be a little arbitrary and messy. In contrast, nobody could be confused about where I live, right? It’s Tulse Hill, in the London Borough of Lambeth. It’s Zone 3. Over 70% of households live in flats.
And yet, just a few streets away from me, local residents are busy opposing planning permission for a 7-storey apartment block on derelict land. Some choice quotes:
- “This application is not exactly sympathetic to its Georgian and early Victorian neighbours […] This area has a certain charm about it that is historically linked. Our children and young people need to see the restoration is sympathetic to the original architecture.”
- “Balconies that receive little light and are part of small plan area flats are likely to be used as storage areas which rapidly degrades the appearance of a building.”
- “My greatest objections to this development is the lack of parking in an area with hardly any provision for parking. would underground parking provision be feesible [sic]?”
Guys: I love Victorian and Georgian homes too. But when the Victorians and Georgians built their homes they were also “not exactly sympathetic” with the surrounding area, i.e. the fields. And newly-built blocks are much greener and more energy-efficient than poorly-insulated terraces from a century ago, as well as providing more homes for more people on a much smaller land footprint. But beyond all that: your Victorian house is not going to disappear just because someone else is living in something new.
I am tired of anyone posturing that they “care deeply” about the environment / the cost of living / welcoming immigrants / protecting the countryside if – in practice – they always find some reason to object to building homes for people in dense, well-connected urban areas. The more sophisticated objectors will usually cloak these complaints under a superficial language of “affordability”, as if the affordability of a flat is built into the brickwork. Pick any progressive housing policy you want: none of them will work if there aren’t enough homes.
So maybe I’m too harsh on the good people of Epsom and Ewell. NIMBY nonsense knows no borders.
Anyway! Last weekend was the very welcome three-day Bank Holiday and we kicked it off on Friday night by watching the incredible My Cousin Vinny. Randi’s boss had been recommending it for ages and we immediately realised why: Mona Lisa Vito (the standout character in a crowded field of great characters) is basically Randi in a thick New York accent. Highly recommended.
The next day we set off on an epic journey to the North (…of London) starting with a delicious fancy breakfast with Cat and Matt at The Wolseley near Green Park to celebrate Cat’s birthday. (Non-food highlight: Randi getting her temperature checked on entry but having no frame of reference for normal body temperatures in celsius.)
We then wandered as a group to Regent’s Park before Randi and I took the canal route to Queen’s Park for novel in-person catch-ups with our respective colleagues Jess and Jill and their families. By the time we made it to my mum’s for dinner with Alix (and a really delicious fish pie) I was happy but regretting my lightweight choice of walking shoes.
The next day we visited my dad and then pushed on to the veritable extremes of northernness (i.e. Kingsbury) for a Bang Bang lunch delivery at Josh and Anna’s. They provided our next film selection (Waking Ned, which we also both loved) and in return we gifted them with their own incarnation of my favourite activity fox which joins their impressive collection of baby paraphernalia. I’m very excited about this baby and regard it as a deep and personal triumph that it will grow up on the Jubilee line rather than the Bakerloo.
All in all, the Bank Holiday was a really lovely last hurrah of summer. This weekend, other than walking the LOOP and becoming furious at the comments on the council’s planning website, the social highlight was a more autumn-appropriate evening of melty Raclette from Katie and Kim’s authentically Swiss raclette grill. They also both demonstrated their much-trailed Rubix cube solving powers, fed us giant slices from Katie’s “I only have one baking dish!” chocolate cake, printed me receipts (because I was excited by Kim’s real-life payment terminal) and gifted us Pierre, a penguin teapot. We promise to take good care of Pierre.