diamond geezer

 Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A Battersea/Wandsworth
This undelivered London borough would have been created by combining the Metropolitan Borough of Battersea with the western end of the Metropolitan Borough of Wandsworth. Long and thin, it would have hugged the south bank of the Thames from Putney to Nine Elms, a stretch of riverside now increasingly given over to towering flats. For my visit I decided to focus on the Battersea end, and wandered aimlessly in search of vaguely interesting things to tell you about.

Postcards from Battersea

St Mary's Church faces the rippling river, nudging the Thames Path around its historic Anglo-Saxon site. A crowd in black has gathered on the steps beneath the four white columns in front of the main entrance, and is talking quietly. The vicar waits at the gate to greet the chief mourners, just stepped from a spacious vehicle with a sign on the windscreen politely requesting that it not be towed away. Down by the slipway a young man oblivious to this solemn gathering sways beside a bench, his streaming service on full blare. Another man, twice the width, shuffles round the back of the church and finds himself in the path of the approaching hearse, as the funeral party looks on. In the chamber above the tower, half-muted by a passing helicopter, a clock chimes.

The Battersea Bar, in the shadow of the Badric Court Estate, appears to have tried everything to stay afloat, save doing up the exterior to look attractive. Live music, pool and darts were once a draw, but no longer. The words "+ Food" added to the pub's name hint at Caribbean cuisine once served within, but no longer. The windows of this drab brick box are boarded up, allegedly protected by live-in guardians, but by the looks of the place I wouldn't recommend a stay. A property company bought up the bar in 2013 and closed it with the intention of replacement by a four storey block of flats. That dream stalled, and the site is now a Residential Development Opportunity, Under Offer. An entirely different local clientele prefer to fill themselves with craft beer at the Tap Room alongside.

Battersea High Street is not the central parade of grocers and tradesmen it used to be, nor the bubbly boutique hub my reading of Time Out suggested. A curving spur remains, before the housing estates begin, its cobbles narrowed by bollards and insufficient parking spaces. Two tables stand idly outside the gluten-free bakery, waiting for spring, while a Deliveroo rider with L plates prepares to set off with his cargo of Portuguese chargrill chicken. Round the corner on the Battersea Park Road there's noticeably more life, where interior design havens mingle with charity shops, and eateries offer focaccia or chips (but not both). Here Batterseas old and new intertwine, one immaculately scrubbed, the other getting by, and each within walking distance of home.

Battersea Park may be chilled and icy, but SW11's dogs need exercising nevertheless. They lead their owners through the trees by the pagoda, past the bandstand and around the frozen lake. They hunt for chucked balls on the lawn outside the zoo, and pant quietly afterwards in the tent by the turned-off fountains. Inside the Tea Terrace kiosk a millennial with nobody to serve stares into her phone, which pings intermittently to pass the time. A film crew has turned up to use the whimsical Fifties pergola as a backdrop, and waits for a pair of dawdling runners to jog on. The Pump House Gallery is closed until further notice due to unforeseen circumstances, we read, which turns out to be flooding. Fear not, the remainder of the park is a joy.

It's still possible to see Battersea Power Station from the south, its four chimneys in various stages of reconstruction, but from the west it has already disappeared behind a barrier of apartments. Deep foundations reveal where the next glass screen will arise, while the cranes beyond hint at more. The new terminus of the Northern line is marked by a stack of white portakabins and a tall metal staircase, with a chain of trucks and lorries queueing to enter the combined site beyond. Up the road at Nine Elms the cuboid American embassy/fortress is almost complete, and surrounded by an emerging community of high-value high-rise flats. Workmen on lunch break perch alongside sushi-shoppers at the Waitrose juice bar, and there is so much more building yet to come.

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