diamond geezer

 Friday, August 30, 2019

Local History Month
ExSites  Cantley Gardens, SE19

August is Local History Month on diamond geezer. Over the years I've circumnavigated my local borough, walked the entire length of the River Lea and crossed the capital on a line of latitude, to name but a few of my eclectic quests. This year I thought I'd revisit all the places in London where I've had sex, in a series I'm calling ExSites.

The first place I had sex wasn't in London, so thankfully I'll not be revisiting that, but eventually events ticked around and I found myself making the most of a night in the capital. Later there'd be that time I passed Michael Foot on the walk of shame, that time room service interrupted at the crucial moment and that time the action was terminated by a sofa delivery. But let's not rush ahead too soon, let's start off on a summer's evening in 1990 when my eyes were opened to the delights of Upper Norwood.

6pm, Leicester Square

I'd only intended to come up to London to watch a film. That film was Gremlins 2, which was enjoying a very successful opening weekend, and the cinema in question was the Warner West End. These days it's better known as the Vue West End, but I visited a year before its interior was knocked down and remodelled into a nine-screen multiplex. As one of the very first to watch the film I was handed a questionnaire on the way in, plus a free pencil, and I loved it so much I ticked the 'excellent' box while the credits rolled. I don't think I understood then why it was set in Clamp Tower and featured an insane businessman called Daniel Clamp, but I certainly understand now.

I could have gone straight home afterwards but thought I'd take the opportunity to go for a drink because I wasn't up in London very often. I had no set plan, nor any ultimate agenda, but I was quite pleased with my new haircut and was wearing my smartest shirt so thought I might take advantage. The drinking establishment I selected is long gone, replaced by an office block with a downstairs gastropub, but at the time it had a lively reputation. It was also within walking distance of a tube station, which would maximise the amount of drinking time I'd be getting in the likely event that I'd be going home alone. I'd never translated a chance meeting into an overnight liaison before. There is always a first time.

10pm, Islington

First eye contact occurred even before I'd reached the bar. I ordered a pint of cider, because that was the limit of my alcoholic adventurousness in those days, and handed over my very first small 5p coin as part of the payment. They'd only been in circulation for four weeks, so it was quite a memorable transaction. Then, glass in hand, I plucked up the courage to say hello and a somewhat stilted conversation ensued. Discussion topics included cranes, lemons and the career of Leslie Crowther, who'd taken the helm of Stars In Their Eyes for the first time the previous week. This somehow succeeded in moving things along, and once events relocated to the rear terrace I soon realised my night was sorted.

Two Coca-Colas later I learned that my bed for the night would be somewhere in the vicinity of Crystal Palace, and agreed to be shepherded through the streets of London to wherever it was. I had a One Day Travelcard so expense was no issue, and was reassured this worked just as well on nightbuses as on trains. It was however important to make a start while the tube was still operational, so I was told, so a rendezvous was kept with the last-but-one Victoria line service of the evening at King's Cross. Many of the other passengers were boisterous and considerably worse for wear, whereas I'd been staying sober-ish in readiness for whatever lay ahead.

12.30am, Brixton

London's nightbus network was considerably smaller in those days, so it was fortunate that the N2 headed in pretty much the right direction. Services were also less frequent, what with only four Metrobus vehicles in operation along the entire route, so a lengthy wait proved necessary. This was of course the week after the N2's allocation had been transferred from Holloway and Muswell Hill garages to Finchley, but I had other things on my mind as I hung around patiently on Brixton Road. At least the drive through the empty streets was swift, careering through the unfamiliar sights of Tulse Hill and West Norwood.

Even after alighting at the Crystal Palace terminus there was still another mile to walk. I remember saying what a long way it was, although I don't remember the precise route taken. My best guess would be along Belvedere Road, but it might well have been via Church Road and Sylvan Hill instead. At least it was all downhill. My destination, it turned out, was an oblique run of tapered townhouses built on the site of some allotments in 1969, namely Cantley Gardens. Creeping indoors proved necessary so as not to wake other residents, and I was quick to agree that yes, the room was a mess. This is when the sex part happened.

7am, Cantley Gardens

Waking in a strange bed is something you eventually get used to, but this was a first. Also nobody warned me about the perils of unsynchronised sleeping patterns, so I spent the next hour listening to birds, passing trains and contented light snoring. A brief conversation occurred around eight, the gist of which was that sleeping until Sunday lunchtime was the normal run of things around here. I managed one more hour unconscious, then endured another of birdsong and trains in not quite half of a double bed. I think I may have leaned or nudged simply to bring this prolonged period of purgatory to an end. This is when the sex part happened again.

The bathroom had mirrored tiles. It also had an unexpectedly good view, this being the first time I'd seen the area in daylight, looking down across the treetops towards what I now know to be Beckenham. How I wished I'd thought to bring a toothbrush. It was shortly after this that telephone numbers were exchanged, although I must have offered a false one because I wasn't destined to have my own personal landline until the following year. I guess I already knew the night's events would never be repeated. This appeared to be confirmed when, rather than attempting some kind of breakfast from the unseen kitchen, all I ended up with was an ice lolly from the local paper shop.

11.30am, Crystal Palace

Instead of cutting and running it seemed only polite to hang around a little longer. With Crystal Palace Park almost on the doorstep this proved the place to go, entering near the stadium then walking down past the zoo towards the dinosaurs. The weather was now warm and sunny - it'd be hitting 38° by the end of the week - which was a good excuse to slump on the grass with a couple of cans and watch the donkey rides. It had been an interesting introduction to the locality, although conversation was now starting to dry up so it was soon time to head for home. I caught the 12.43 to Victoria, which was a damned convenient means of escape, and no attempts were made to arrange a second visit.

On the journey I had time to mull over the events of the day, and ponder whether the twin periods of activity had been worth the associated faff. I didn't yet know there'd be other days I'd awaken in a random part of town, learning a little more about the outskirts of the capital as I attempted to navigate my way back to the centre. And I also didn't yet know I'd end up living in London just over a decade later, my choice of which of the suburbs to live in at least partly coloured by when I'd woken up in them... but no, it was never going to be Upper Norwood.

Update: I'd love to tell you about the second place in London I had sex, the architecturally-iconic Southwyck House off Coldharbour Lane in Brixton (built to shield a road that was never built), but alas the month has run out and there isn't time.

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