diamond geezer

 Wednesday, December 25, 2013

For my very first proper December 25th post, I'm continuing my quest to visit streets in London called Noel. Sorry, but I'm unable to bring you a Yuletide treat, instead whisking you off to the heart of London's largest housing estate... in Barking and Dagenham. Merry Christmas?

Noel Square (Becontree)

Now this one's obscure. And it's not obviously square, unless you're in a helicopter. Imagine a five-way road junction, three sides grass, with a string of interwar cottages along each side. I say cottages, whereas in fact the only residents ever to have thought this would have been the first, relocated to the Becontree estate in the 1920s from East End slums. Think solid but modest, in a hotchpotch of styles, in a terracey semi-detatchedy sort of way. And all of them with gardens, small at the front, rather bigger out back, which would have been heaven for many a Cockney refugee. The number 5 bus stops close by on Longbridge Road, which boasts an ideally situated Lidl, several takeaways and a Cyrillic-scripted off licence. All the sideroads look much the same - nowhere Nigella would live but the bedrock of outer London housing stock. Much in evidence are London brick, stonecladding and pebbledash, the latter unexpectedly popular. We're in the heart of Becontree, nearly a mile from the tube station of the same name, amid a labyrinth of residential roads. The street map in this particular corner features swirling crescents and concentric curves cut by straight line - a bit like a Celtic tattoo pattern, should any local resident consider getting cartographically branded.

On the street corner that is, essentially, Noel Square, the only non-residential building is the 'Kidz' nursery. I thought it was derelict to start with, then I looked closer and realised it was merely very well protected. Elsewhere they'd have named this junction Noel Circus - the main intersection has a clearly circular structure - but thus far a mini-roundabout has been kept at bay. The main thoroughfare is Campden Crescent, which sweeps boldly through between Give Way lines. It's on the southern side of this road that all the interest is, assuming you like municipal lawn and squat shrubberies. Foothpaths lead across this mini village green, protected by very low metal railings, which have somehow never been nicked for scrap. Here I met the local postie, delivering Christmas packages to several addresses, much later in the afternoon than usual. Here I met a stooping headscarved lady throwing what looked like a bagful of cake scraps onto the path, which can only have advantaged the local pigeons. And here I met a mother and daughter both pacing up and down, talking loudly into separate mobiles, as if they'd really rather not be doing this in the house.

The name "Noel Square" appears three times. Two signs are considerably older than the third - one of these above a "No Ball Games" sign, the other above a sleeping cat. Only one Noel Square resident has leapt into the full Christmas spirit with a wreath on the door, while elsewhere decorations are conspicuous by their absence. But I bet everyone around this corner of Barking and Dagenham is tucked away celebrating today, and maybe, just maybe, revelling in their choice of address.

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