diamond geezer

 Friday, June 07, 2024

I've not been especially balanced in my recent reporting of the capital.

Yesterday I went to Carpenters Road in the constituency of Stratford & Bow where Labour's Uma Kumaran is going to walk it.
The day before I went to Ham in the constituency of Richmond Park where Liberal Democrat Sarah Olney is sure to keep her seat.
The day before I visited five stations in Brent West where Barry Gardiner is firm favourite to retain the seat for Labour.
The day before I climbed three peaks in Lewisham North, Lewisham East and Lewisham West and East Dulwich, which are baked in for Labour.
Even my 13 mile coastal walk from Littlehampton to Shoreham is pencilled in for three Labour gains.

To redress the bias I've made a special effort to visit a constituency where the Conservatives are expected to win at the upcoming General Election. I checked the latest predictions on the Electoral Calculus website and was relieved to see there's one London seat they're projected to retain. So I went there.

Old Bexley and Sidcup

Importantly that's Old Bexley, not Bexleyheath where all the big shops and services are. Old Bexley's where the history is, like the flinty medieval church and the old watermill, not to mention the pub in the high street which dates back to the 15th century. The good citizens of Old Bexley are such proud monarchists that the King's Head's innsign already depicts a smiling Charles III. Also the hair salon opposite has not one but two Union Jacks dangling outside, each additionally adorned with poppies and mention of D-Day 80 because it wouldn't be right to get your perm done otherwise.

All is not entirely well because the ULEZ starts at the bottom of the high street, but anyone who insists on not paying can always turn off down the A2018 instead. More cheeringly the almshouse front gardens are glorious, the bakery sells cream horns and the Village Emporium is well stocked with Everything You Need For A Party including stationery. Also the sex shop has longer opening hours than the library nextdoor, which for many a resident is the correct ordering of priorities. I always think it's very appropriate that Bexley street signs have a defecating dog where the borough logo ought to be, because nothing says true blue better than a passive aggressive fingerwag.

The chief town in the constituency is Sidcup and that's where Old Bexley & Sidcup Conservatives have their HQ. Here it is on Station Road, an end villa identifiable by the St George's bunting in the tree out front. The sign by the garden wall is "sponsored by Signs of the Times (GB) Limited" but contains no other information, i.e. it's literally just an advert, which seems an appropriately mercenary way of raising money. This is where Old Bexley & Sidcup's latest MP will have been selected, that's local lad and former financier Louis French who took the seat comfortably in a by-election in 2021. He says on his website he's particularly proud of "the new library and cinema in Sidcup", so that's where I went next.

The library was closed. That's because it was a Thursday and not even the biggest library in the constituency opens more than four days a week nowadays. This in turn is thanks to 14 years of Tory economic policy voted through by Louie and his predecessor, but it's fine because their constituents voted for it too. By contrast the accompanying cinema is open daily and its cafe opens at 9.30am, which no doubt explains the lingering smell of popcorn in the lobby. Who needs Dickens and Shakespeare anyway when you've got The Garfield Movie upstairs? It's worth noting that this redeveloped civic site also incorporates nine new flats, none of them affordable because it wouldn't be right to have poorer people taking advantage.

The constituency contains three grammar schools because in this corner of former-Kent educational opportunity continues to depend on divisions created in the 1950s. The most central of the three is Chislehurst and Sidcup Grammar, known locally as Chis & Sid, which is actually in Lamorbey. Do well in your 11+ and you get to wear a purple blazer, do badly and you're sent to Hurstmere further down the road in black. This prestigious grammar school was rescued from the imposition of comprehensive education by the indefatigable Margaret Thatcher, although I'm not sure she'd be overly impressed by the Progress Pride rainbow flag that's currently dangling out front.

To sample a less woke corner of the constituency I also ventured to Blackfen, a suburban crossroads by the A2. It's a great place if you like living in the 1930s, indeed even the very old-looking pub on the corner is a complete 1931 rebuild. Key voters looking to spend their triple-locked pension will be pleased to hear that Tonics! is fully stocked with menswear for grown-up mods and rockers, while J Ayre bakery still sells gypsy tart like your favourite school dinnerlady used to make. Residents who fled the inner city after the war should find their lunchtime needs satisfied by LB's Pie & Mash, or alternatively the Blackfen Cafe where 'Stewing Steak' is permanently one of Today's Specials. Full marks too to the chip shop which has been frying since the unbeatably nostalgic year of 1966.

The constituency's sense of defiant independence is perhaps best summed up by the gentleman with the tattooed head who I spotted buzzing up and down Westwood Lane in his roofless Reliant Robin. He had a fake numberplate [FUQ KHAN] to tell the populace know what he thought of ULEZ, and an actual numberplate suggesting he was being charged £15 a day for the privilege. Such is the way of things in the wild blue yonder of Old Bexley & Sidcup. Of course the constituency's most famous MP was former Prime Minister Edward Heath, he who led us willingly into the Common Market, and it turns out he grew up around here so I went to see where.

This is 106 Green Walk in Crayford, two streets back from the River Cray, where Ted resided until the age of seven. He was born in Broadstairs but his father had a job making wooden frames for planes at the Vickers factory because there was a war on, so initially Crayford took precedence. It's possible to imagine him trotting down the front steps into what would then have been an unpaved front garden, but not then heading off to piano lessons because he didn't start those until he was eight. However his house isn't actually in Old Bexley & Sidcup, it's in Bexleyheath & Crayford, and according to multiple polls that's currently leaning heavily for Labour. The very idea feels incredulous, but perhaps Ted's former seat will help to prevent a total Tory wipeout in the capital.

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