diamond geezer

 Monday, April 12, 2010

Random borough (25): Kingston (part 2)

Somewhere random: Norbiton/Surbiton
Two 1970s BBC sitcoms sealed this area's reputation as quintessential suburbia. Both featured stuck-in-a-rut locals turning their back on the rat race, much to the amazement of friends and family. In one the main protagonist faked his own suicide, and in the other a middle-aged couple ploughed up their garden to go self sufficient. I wonder how many Reggies, Toms and Barbaras there are around Kingston today.

Reggie Perrin lived in the fictional suburb of Climthorpe. Its location was never specifically stated, but the opening minutes of episode 1 show Reggie walking through through a succession of residential streets to board the 8:16 at Norbiton station. There was always some reason why his train was 11 minutes late, and the offending disruption was usually at some local station like New Malden or Berrylands, so that's evidence enough. Not that the BBC filmed any of the rest of the series round here. Shots of Coleridge Close, from which Reggie set out every morning, were actually filmed in Beaufort Close in Ealing. His routine walk through the avenues of the Poets Estate was filmed in W5 too, but I guess ending up at Park Royal tube station was never an option.

Norbiton station is a fairly ordinary halt on the Kingston loop, boasting little more than two platforms and a pedestrian subway underneath. One one side of the tracks the residential avenues start straight away, while on the other side there's a car park, a newsagent and a funeral directors. Here too is Hanover House - a squat brown office block that's ugly enough to be a modern Sunshine Desserts. The whole station area is overshadowed by the backside of Kingston Hospital. I discovered later that David Cameron had been inside visiting the maternity unit at precisely the same time I'd been walking by, but all I saw was a lone medical underling sneaked out for a quick fag.

Tom and Barbara Good, meanwhile, very definitely lived in Surbiton. Even the name screams "suburbia", in this the last London outpost before the Thames slips quietly into Surrey. Their house was supposedly in The Avenue, although again the BBC used artistic licence and did all the filming outside a house in Northwood. But a few local scenes were slipped in, notably of Surbiton's unmistakeable station, plus use of a number 71 bus when Lenin the chicken attempted to escape.

Surbiton may have a stereotypical reputation, but I was pleasantly surprised by the place. Independent shopping retains its niche here, from a proper florists by the station to the Regency Bookshop at the foot of Victoria Road. Peering in through the coffee shop windows I spotted several well-to-do couples - modern-day Margo and Jerrys - perhaps preparing to head off to Dollie Mountshaft's Music Society or Mrs Dooms-Patterson's Pony Club. It's easy to see why people might settle here, tempted by near-river terraces or sweeping exclusive drives. But I also noted that the old Woolworths had been taken over by a lowly 99p store, so presumably there are still plenty of Tom and Barbara types ekeing out a less than good life hereabouts.
by train: a) Norbiton; b) Surbiton

Somewhere sporty: AFC Wimbledon, Kingsmeadow
No, of course Wimbledon football club don't play in Wimbledon. The original team upped sticks to Milton Keynes (where the money was better), while a fresh club continuing the old south London spirit attempted to continue nearby. With no home of their own they crossed into the neighbouring borough and entered a ground-sharing deal with Kingstonian. Several seasons, and promotions, later they're riding high in the Blue Square Premier League and on their way to maybe overtaking their upstart Midlands impostors. But not yet.

AFC Wimbledon's stadium is a non-photogenic arena on the banks of the Hogsmill River. Accessed beneath an arch on Jack Goodchild Way, the outer shell has the look of a row of cheap warehouses on a trading estate. The main stand is sponsored by a roofing company, not that it looks especially sturdy. Far more unlikely a sponsor is the independent record label who've conspired to name this The Cherry Red Records Fans' Stadium. Thankfully 'Kingsmeadow' will do for most users. Not that there were any users when I turned up on Saturday morning. Four hours from kick-off (although admittedly for lesser partners Kingstonian), there wasn't a soul in sight. Nobody tweaking the pitch, nobody firing up the hotdogs and absolutely nobody practising a few last minute ball skills. It'll no doubt be busier on Tuesday night when AFCW host an end-of-season battle against the not-so mighty Grays Athletic. And one day, who knows, even those blessed MK Dons might find their team coach pulling in here. London can but hope.
by train: Norbiton   by bus: 131, K5

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