diamond geezer

 Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Two minutes walk from my front door

1907 The door to Morlock's bakery is wedged open and welcoming, wafting the smell of fresh-baked bread out into the high street. A flat-capped East End husband waits patiently outside while his wife buys buns and scones for afternoon tea. The flower seller beneath the gaslit lamppost is pinning a buttonhole to the lapel of a gentleman's jacket. Yes, she has change for a sixpence, thank you kind sir. Across the street it's opening time at the Rose and Crown. Above the doorway hangs a shiny glass lantern bearing the name and logo of the local brewery. Jack and his mates from the docks will be propping up the bar and downing the landlady's finest ales until she throws them out at the end of the evening. Jack hopes he'll make enough money down by the wharf tomorrow to be able to get the wife's engagement ring back from the pawnbroker. Business is quiet at the undertakers, and Selby's fine-trimmed horses pass the time by depositing steaming manure onto the cobblestones. Two petticoated servant girls arrive at Mrs Edwards' steam laundry to collect the household's fresh-pressed bedlinen. One of them catches sight of her sweetheart leaning against the drinking fountain on the village green, and giggles and blushes. Business is brisk at a dozen market stalls along the roadside. Candles are four a penny, firewood is plentiful and cheap, and the greengrocer even has oranges in stock. Grubby children in Board School uniform run rings around the horse trough, shrieking and laughing before their parents summon them home for bed. Miss Mary Anne Read rushes from the schoolroom to the butchers to buy herself a brown paper bagful of braised liver as a special suppertime treat. At number 12 Mr Samuels the fishmonger scrubs his green and white tiles clean of scales and slime, before raising the awning and closing up shop for another day. A queue of orphans, invalids and chancers has built up outside the Good Shepherd Mission Hall, hoping for overnight shelter and charity. Perhaps they'll be fortunate tonight. Poverty has aways been visible here on the streets of Bromley. Nothing changes.    2007 The shutters at the newsagent have come down early. A pot-bellied East End bloke pops into the chemists nextdoor for three months supply of tubular bandages. He banters semi-incoherently with the headscarfed lady behind the counter as she drops his boxes into a plastic bag. With a grin he exits, turns left and pauses for breath outside the boarded-up pub. Three centuries of drinking came to an end last year, the last remaining slice of history in this Blitz-ravaged high street. All the windows at the Rose and Crown have been nailed shut, and the paint across the lintel has started to peel. Above the doorway hangs a grimy glass lantern bearing the name and logo of a former local brewery. Several of the pub's regulars have shifted allegiance to the neighbouring betting shop and are stood, or slumped, outside the open doorway clutching cans of value lager. Their faces are glum and grizzled, and only a winning raceslip can brighten their narrow-focused world. The local barber shop has moved away to a brighter location on the main road. Three hooded youths are intently inspecting the graffiti on its whitewashed wall. "Kombat E3" woz ere. "We set the levels". They appear to approve of what they see. A single midweek market stall has been erected on the concrete piazza, just outside the Bangladeshi greengrocers. A white-bearded man sits patiently while two fully-cloaked women haggle over the price of south Asian vegetables, then shuffle off home with this evening's meal in a blue and white striped plastic bag. In the chippie the smiling Polish fish fryer waits while a family of five select unbranded fizzy drinks from the chiller cabinet. A plump old lady in a pink fleece sits alone at the front formica table dining on Pukka pie and chips - best meal of the day. She watches through the window as two young kids cycle round and round in vicious circles before zooming off towards the dry cleaners at great speed. Regeneration has passed this corner of East London by. Nothing changes.

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