diamond geezer

 Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Random borough (20): Croydon (part 3)

Somewhere famous: The BRIT School
BRIT SchoolIf fame costs, then SE25 is where you start paying. In Selhurst to be precise, in the UK's first state school for the performing arts. The BRIT School arrived here in 1991, and since then it's pumped scores of famous names into the musical mainstream. Leona Lewis for one, and Kate Nash, and Katie Melua and Adele, and even that Dane Bowers bloke who had a hit with Victoria Beckham. Plus Amy Winehouse, which just goes to show that not every school discipline policy works long term. Various record companies sponsor the place, not surprisingly given the royalties they recoup as a result. This is the type of educational establishment that ITV had in mind when they developed Britannia High, only rather more successful and with a far better long-term future. The school's on two sites, both along The Crescent and separated by a car park. One's a typical redbrick Edwardian building with high windows, nabbed from a former girls' school. And the other's much more modern, like a white-legged glass caterpillar squatting beside the road, and considerably lighter and brighter within. On a Saturday morning there's not much going on. I spotted a few extra-curricular students carrying instruments across the playground and heard the sound of animated performance somewhere within, but it was a pale reflection of the seething creating cauldron this must be on a weekday. I wonder which well-rounded alumnus wannabe we'll all be discovering this year.
by train: Selhurst   by bus: 50, 75, 157, 468

Somewhere sporting: Selhurst Park
Holmesdale Stand, Selhurst ParkTo the slopes below Upper Norwood, to the home of mid-Championship Crystal Palace Football Club. Selhurst Park is a 1920s ground that's been slowly upgraded and expanded over the years and is now a hybrid architectural hotchpotch. Along Park Road the stadium looks fairly traditional, all gates and turnstiles and tiny ticket windows. From Whitehorse Lane the stadium looks suspiciously like a boxy out-of-town trading estate, with a none-too-inviting staircase leading up from Sainsbury's front entrance towards the executive boxes. Meanwhile the Holmesdale Road grandstand resembles a very tall block of boring redbrick offices with a curved black roof on top and stacks of seating behind. I took the opportunity of a home match against Ipswich to explore more closely within the gated perimeter. Three hours before kick off the stewards were all in place, even if there was nobody to steward, and the programme sellers were similarly poised but premature. A cheery bloke in a red and blue scarf trundled by in his wheelchair, while a few bullet-headed stalwarts arrived early because Saturday is football day and it'd be wrong to stay away. Low winter sun glinted on the inscribed bricks in the Centenary Wall ("Palace 4 life", "Till I die", "Come on Eagles" "Glad All Over!"). Busy inside their solitary trailer, the executive chefs of the British Burgers Company readied their deep fat fryers for an expected onslaught of hot dog guzzlers. And in the official shop by the ticket office, twitchy retail staff watched an early trickle of punters buying not much, not even the 20%-off babywear. Oh yes, there was definitely a whiff of pre-match optimism in the air when I headed off to the bus stop. Alas, when I passed by later in the afternoon the floodlights were beating down on a 4-1 home defeat. Palace's intermittent glory years remain little more than memories amongst these suburban avenues.
by train: Selhurst   by bus: 468

Somewhere random: Purley Way
It's a three mile section of the A23. It was opened in 1925 as the Croydon by-pass. It was the first road in the UK to be lit with sodium lights. Today it's a grim arterial bottleneck. Let me take you on a journey.

Purley Cross Rotary ClockPurley: Welcome to Purley, a pleasant but rather ordinary suburb that looks like it'd much prefer to still be in Surrey. Purley Way starts at Purley Cross, once a focal crossroads but now a joyless concrete gyratory in need of urgent upgrade. No such luck, not until the Tesco supermarket alongside has its plans for expansion approved. Maybe they'll also give the Rotary Clock a kickstart, because it definitely wasn't half past six when I shuffled past into the underpass. No sign anywhere of a cemetery, alas, because I really wanted to take a photograph entitled Purley Gates. So onward up the hill, past Lucinda's handbag & blouse emporium, and very carefully across the treacherous one-way system. It's no fun for pedestrians round here, nor indeed up much of the rest of the road.

Airport HouseCroydon Airport: In the week that the Government planned to turn open fields into London's main airport, here's a location where things went the other way. Croydon Aerodrome was the departure point for airbound bright young things of the thirties, saw fighter service during World War 2 and limped to a commercial close 50 years ago. Hey presto, a runway replaced by open space - it can be achieved. I would tell you more, but I've visited this airport previously as part of my random borough trip to neighbouring Sutton. Rest assured that the Art Deco terminal building still stands, that the De Havilland Heron perched on the grass outside has seen better days, and that one day I will come back on the first Sunday of the month when the Visitor Centre is actually open.

Waddon PondsWaddon Ponds: Off-road, surrounded by housing estate, is a thin strip of municipal parkland with a secret. That curvaceous lake surrounded by trees is all that's left of the River Wandle in Croydon. It's an impressive remnant, not just for the amount of water visible but also for the many colonies of waterfowl that make their home here. Maybe it's because it was mid-January but there were birds everywhere, including up on the grass and footpaths (Important notice: Please do not chase the wildfowl). I'm not very good at identifying any bird more complicated than a duck, but I think there were coots aplenty and some geese-y creatures plus some red crested small things, erm, sorry, dunno. And, other than a lone couple walking an agitated dog, I had the flocking lot of them to myself.

Purley Way Centre (outside Sainsbury's)Big shops: Ah, so that explains the traffic jams. The northern end of Purley Way is a series of massive out-of-town shopping centres with giant warehouses fronted by expansive car parks. This is where South London comes to buy stuff, be it plasma TVs, cheap carpets or a month's worth of groceries. Start at one end and you could spend all day traipsing from one megastore to the next, and probably visit several big chains more than once. But only car drivers seemed welcome. There was no expectation that any pedestrian might dare walk this way, and at the top end they're banned from the flyover altogether. Instead I had to divert via a bleak alley past two foul-mouthed cherubs sitting on a wall (don't look at them, they'll lose interest if you don't look at them). For the first time in my life I was glad to reach IKEA, although I didn't risk my life further by popping in beneath the landmark power station chimneys for a 93p cooked breakfast.
by train: Purley   by tram: Waddon Marsh   by bus: 289

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