Friday 25 October 2013

EDINBURGH LOG( Coffee time) ( Part 2)

A cup of delicious coffee.

Edinburgh has many cafes. The chain shops such as Starbucks and Costa are there, in fact, recently when I was in Edinburgh, I discovered one of each. They were hard to find. I came across them unexpectedly. It appears the big chains have not been successful in dominating the café world in Edinburgh.  The Edinburgh Coffee Shops are mostly individual businesses, some of them family run establishments. A few are what is termed,” pop ups.” The Edinburgh Festival held each year, during the month of August, attracts people from all over the world to view artists work, performance art, experimental theater productions, comedy and music shown at various venues around the city. The cafes thrive. Their use continues throughout the year, being frequented by locals and the large student population who attend Edinburgh University with its campus sites situated in the heart of the city and further out in the suburbs.

I was walking along Princes Street towards Calton Hill. I had passed, Princes Gardens, The National Gallery of Scotland, with its multi-coloured Ionic columns, Waverley Station down in the hollow of the N’Or Loch and the cathedral like gothic spire of Walter Scott’s memorial were all on my right. In front of me I could see the  memorials high on Calton Hill, Nelsons Tower, The Dugald Monument, like a small round temple from Ancient Greece, and, The National Monument or, as it is termed by many Scots ”The National Disgrace."

The, "National Disgrace."

At the bottom of Calton Hill, before I was about to make my way up the steep road to the monuments, I saw a small café called, “Pep and Fodder”. There were a few tables and chairs on the pavement outside and some clean deal tables with harp back chairs inside. The ceiling was high. It was an old Victorian shop and by the tiles on the walls it looked as though it had once been a butchers shop or maybe an old dairy. A young couple were behind the counter. The girl, with tattoos up her arms and a neat workmanlike striped apron, asked me what I would like. I looked up at the menu behind her on large blackboards, painted carefully in bright white paint. I chose an Americano with milk and decided to try one of their delicious looking cheese and ham paninis. She heated the panini for me in a grill. I chose a table inside by the café window so I could look out at the world. A couple of other people came in and ordered coffees and sat down at one of the other tables. It was a welcoming place, warm and fresh and new. I noticed on the pavement outside that a sign had been stuck to the pavement saying, “pop up.” I asked the waitress what this meant. She explained that a ,"pop up," was a small business that is provided with a premise for a short period at a low rent to enable the business to get established. If the business is successful,  then a more substantial rent is  charged and the business can continue. The Pep and Fodder, fresh and bright, seemed popular. It was offering, good coffees and freshly made food. I noticed new pieces of art work on the walls. The bloke behind the counter informed me that they were painted by friends, art students who were trying to make their way too.
I left the café and explored Calton Hill and took photographs of Edinburgh from on high. There was a fantastic view of, Holyrood Palace, with Arthur's Seat and Salisbury Crags, massive, behind the palace. Edinburgh stretched out towards the castle and I could pick out many famous Edinburgh sites now that I had got to know Edinburgh.

Holyrood Palace from Calton Hill.

On my walk each day from and to Priestfield, about a mile and half from the centre of Edinburgh, I passed many local cafes. As I walked down Nicolson Street each day I was  attracted  first by the sight of The Festival Theatre, glass fronted and modern which is the main venue for the Edinburgh Festival every year and  the Greek columned  Surgeons Hall on my right, then the domed edifice of Edinburgh University on my left. At first, little did I know, that just before the university entrance and across the street from it, was, SPOON, a very famous Edinburgh café. I walked past it a few times and didn’t even look in. This was one of the cafes JK Rowling sat in while she penned Harry Potter. Being so close to the old and main part of the university it is often full of students with their Apple Mac laptops open, writing essays.

The Hula Juice bar in the Grassmarket area, just down behind The Royal Mile, was one of the friendliest and heart-warming cafes I went into. It too, like the Pep and Fodder café had a sign on the pavement outside announcing it as a ,"pop up," business. It was immaculate inside and the people running the shop were warm and friendly in their welcome. The coffee was freshly roasted and ground, it smelled and tasted wonderful,appealing to all the senses. The food was delicious and made right in front of me. I sat down at a table near two ladies discussing their children. A brash young man with his girlfriend sat two tables away. He spoke so loudly in his American accent, I knew all about his business in no time. A student at Edinburgh he talked about Paris and Amsterdam, Rome and Berlin, places he had been to while in Europe and he talked on and on, laughing at his own witticisms, about where he was going next when the university term ended at Christmas. I wondered what his degree could be. The girl with him didn't say much. A couple of free newspapers lay on the table next to me and I picked one up. It was a local student paper. It had articles about new music, art and  places to go in Edinburgh. It had interviews with students asking about their experiences of Edinburgh. Some of it, the arts pages were analytical and thought provoking. There was an article about  a sex club just set up in Edinburgh based on a club that somebody had come across in Barcelona; bondage and mild forms of pain, that sort of thing. I turned a page and there was a full page about the Hula Bar itself. The girl behind the counter I now discovered was the owner and she was interviewed on the page. There was a photograph displayed on the page taken of her, taken just about where she was standing as I looked across at her.  In the article she spoke about the, “pop up,” schemes in Edinburgh and the ethos and philosophy of the Hula Café and her plans for the development of the cafe. I was most impressed and mentioned the article to her. She smiled and was pleased. She told me about another place I should visit, which a friend of hers had set up.

The Dugald Monument on Calton Hill overlooking Edinburgh.

On another day I was walking up the cobbled street of The Royal Mile between high sided shops selling kilts and tweeds. I walked past The Whisky Centre and a restaurant or two, and just before the entrance to the forecourt of Edinburgh Castle there is a tall 18th century church with a high steeple that is now called, The Hub. It is the offices and  focal point for The Edinburgh Festival. I walked inside and  discovered the layout with gothic arched windows and a vaulted barrel ceiling with wide oak beam arches. The church has been divided into rooms.There is a café and restaurant to one side and various offices and performance and display spaces. In the entrance there was a wonderful display showing sketches, finished watercolours and hand written text with annotations. It portrayed the  development of a children’s book called," Ruffled Russell"; a collaboration between Mary Paulson the story writer and Audrey Grant the artist. It is the existential journey of a dog called, Russell, who is in search of a soul.

Ruffled Russel in search of his soul.

I sat there looking at the various elements of the display and actually began to think about my own soul and what it’s essence was. 

One afternoon it began to rain and I escaped into a café called the, Brew Lab, situated again on The Royal Mile. Two nice young ladies served me a coffee and I took it upstairs. There were a lot of people up there, mostly students with their Hewlett Packards, Acers  and Apple Macs flipped open in front of them. They sat singly or in pairs. Most of the tables were taken except one small table by a window. A bespectacled girl sat at the table close to the table I was aiming for. The back of her chair was touching the rim of the table I wanted to sit at. She was totally focussed on the screen of her Apple Mac. She had a couple of weighty looking books open on the window sill next to her. She had marked pages by placing post it notes sticking out with page numbers and an annotation on each. Without looking at me or removing her gaze from the laptop screen she muttered, “sorry,”  and shuffled her chair sideways to allow me room to get to the table. Her focus on her bright screen never wavered. I couldn't help look over at her screen. She had got to the end of her essay. I could see she was working on the bibliography and she was formatting the essay. I glanced at one of the books. It was a book on theology. I tried hard to glimpse the first line of her concluding paragraph. I wear glasses and my eyesight isn't great. I squinted. I didn't want her to realise I was looking at her work. She couldn't see me. I was slightly to one side of her and behind. I managed to work out a sentence, something about Jesus as a philosopher. I couldn't quite get the full gist of it. I looked around me and noticed that all the other people in the café appeared to be working on essays too.

The Elephant House where J K Rowling drafted some of Harry Potter and The Philosophers Stone.

It made me think of what I had heard about JK Rowling who as an unemployed mother with a baby, living on government benefits, who worked on  her first Harry Potter novel, The Philosophers Stone, in Edinburgh cafes. Indeed, The Spoon, opposite the Edinburgh Festival Theatre was one place where JK Rowling wrote.  I came across The Elephant House, another JK Rowling haunt. The Elephant House is interesting, because the rear of the café, where JK Rowling is supposed to have sat, overlooks the back of Edinburgh Castle high on its rocky outcrop. I have never seen anything more like a vision of Hogworts School. Just across the road from the Elephant House is the National Library of Scotland. A library member can study and research any subject they choose. JK Rowling, if she had been a member, could have requested every book written on witchcraft, black magic and the dark arts. Edinburgh is famous for its haunted graveyards and the ,"haunted," cemetery of Greyfriars Church is nearby the cafe too. Close by, The Elephant House, there is an old,  renowned Edinburgh School called George Heriots. It is a private school housed in a stone built and turreted mansion. High achieving  pupils do very well there. It is a mixed, boys and girls school and in the late afternoon I watched the pupils on their way home walking past The Elephant House in their smart dark blazers, striped ties and white collared shirts, the boys in grey flannels, the girls in tartan skirts. The pupils of Hogwarts, no less!!!!

The cafes in Edinburgh are places to read papers, to enjoy reading novels, for students to write their essays, for Mums to relax and for authors to set themselves on the way to fame. They often display art work, live music is performed in some and next to John Knox House not far from Holyrood Palace is the Story Telling centre, which is a café and restaurant. It is where poets and story writers come to perform their work to the public.

John Knox House with the Story Telling cafe next door.

 These varied and inspiring uses for cafes in Edinburgh reminded me of the cafes of the 18th century that first of all sprung up in Oxford and a little later, in London and their importance to all forms of public, artistic, scientific and economic life.

       Tom in The Rakes Progress outside of Whites Chocolate House. St James's Palace is in the background.

It is easy to compare Edinburgh’s coffee shops with London and Oxfords Coffee houses in the 17th century, as places of gossip, news, education, discussion, art and literature. Nothing has much changed. 

Roasted Coffee beans.

A cup of coffee, depending on its strength, has 20 to 100 milligrams of caffeine in it. Caffeine has been proven over the centuries to be a mild stimulant that reduces tiredness and can make people more alert. It is easy to see why from the 18th century right up to the present day coffee shops in Edinburgh, they are places for discussion, debate, writers, writing, thinkers and academics. The other sort of place for social gathering, the pub, which involves the drinking of beer, can very quickly prevent thinking clearly. Caffeine can also help remove headaches, increase heart rate, the metabolic rate and blood pressure; just the things to promote exciting performances from poets, debaters, musicians and comedians. But of course it has its down side, restlessness, nausea, sleep disturbances and cause the heart to have an arrhythmic beat, so it needs to be drunk responsibly!!!

Friday 11 October 2013

EDINBURGH LOG (Feeling alone) (Part 1)

Edinburgh from Calton Hill.

I have spent the last four days in Edinburgh, by myself.
After I had registered at the Priestfield bed and breakfast, just a little out from the centre of Edinburgh I walked into the centre of the city. The bed and breakfast was situated just off the Jedburgh Road and close to the base of Arthur's Seat and Salisbury Crags, a great volcanic shelf of basalts and granites tilted up like a rough lop sided table top, savage and rugged, reminding Edinburgh of its volcanic origins, 

I was in the High Street, the Royal Mile, just by the road that slips down to the North Bridge. The Royal Mile sloped down to my right, grey cobbled, hard granite buildings, four or five storeys high. St Giles Cathedral with its granite crown surmounting its main tower to my left.
I was on my own, in twilight Edinburgh, and the streets were full of people, partners, families and groups of friends, talking, laughing, being together and I was on my own. I began to have that dull feeling, slightly panicky feeling, when you have nobody to talk to; you stand on your own; you try not to be noticed and make people think, he’s on his own. You try to look as though you are about to meet somebody or you are stopping for a short moment before you go to meet somebody. You have a nonchalant air and look about you as though  you don’t care about being on your own, because it won’t be for long. You try to portray that image and I very quickly found myself doing that. It was a subconscious act; a survival tactic emerging from a natural human impulse. I felt uncomfortable and the thought seeped into my brain that I have three more days of this feeling. What should I do?

I walked up and down the Royal Mile, just looking. If I kept active, looking and thinking about things, learning as I went, that could occupy me and create a way of interacting and learning even if it was just with my surroundings. My time would not all be, feeling alone.I was going to be positive or as positive as I could. This would be a good experience
The time was getting on towards eight o'clock on that first evening and I hadn't eaten. I started looking at places to eat. All the pubs, their bright glossy fronts, red or green or blue areas of gloss paint, had their menus displayed prominently. The prices didn't matter. How was I to get inside, get a table, order some food? That was what concerned me. On my own in those packed establishments heaving with people who all knew somebody, who all had somebody to talk to, how was I going to do this? I didn't have the courage at first to just go in and brave it.

Deacon Brodies on The Royal Mile.

I saw a pub called Deacon Brodie’s that had a garish life size portrait of the deacon on the outside in his 18th century attire. He looked coarse, a little worse for drink with pink cheeks and his black bushy prominent eye brows. He was not judging me anyway. I thought, if I just go into this pub, find a quiet corner at the end of the bar, out of the line of sight of everybody, just order one pint, drink it slowly and then leave, maybe that’s what I would do. It would be a start. So I walked in and sidled past people and said, “Excuse me,” to get past a couple and then three tall young blokes parted to let me continue through the middle of them and eventually I got to the end of the bar. There were two bar maids dressed in black blouses, black pencil skirts and black tights. Their costumes fitted the dark sombre feel of the place with its dark brown stained panelled walls and leaded windows looking out on to the street. I called to one who was standing waiting. To be truthful she had already spotted me and was making a gesture towards me.

“Could I have a pint, please?”

“What would you like sir?”

Her voice sounded bright and welcoming, a smile split across her face parting her lips, bright red with lipstick. Her eyes showed friendliness. Her voice, a mixture of that gentle Scottish lilt and an element of  toughness, a confidence against the world, underlying the softness that shows the Scottish character. She was not judging me because I was on my own.

“I’m a southerner as you can tell.” 

She smiled  some more.I began to smile too. Her look encouraged me, lightened my mood and I asked.

“What would you suggest?”

“Nicholsons is a local brew. Would you like a dark beer or a light beer?”

”I don’t mind, which one you would suggest?”

“The brown beer has the best flavour.”

“I’ll have the brown beer.”

She smiled again. I could see the other barmaid smiling at me too. They were both welcoming and made me feel relaxed.
I noticed there was a menu. I asked them about food. The taller of the two barmaids, the one who had served me said,

“If you want to sir, just go upstairs to the restaurant and our colleagues will sort you out.”

She made me feel, after my earlier apprehensions, that I could do that. So I drank the brown pint. I enjoyed it very much. The beer tasted slightly sweet, but it had a hoppy smell and flavour to it. The pint went down very nicely. I said thank you to the two barmaids and they looked at me.

“I’m just going upstairs to try my luck,” I said. 

That feeling of nervousness made me seek reassurance again.

”OK,” said one.

The tall barmaid said.

”Enjoy your meal.”


And upstairs I went. The staircase was lit dimly with lamps on the walls as the stairs twisted to the right. Wood panelling lined the walls of the stairwell and large ornately framed prints of old Edinburgh hung at each stage.
When I got to the top there was a small lobby area before the restaurant room opened out in front of me. The lobby was brightly lit and a young couple stood waiting. In front of us a red rope looped between short posts barring our way. The young man said in an Italian, accent,

“If you wait here they will see you.”

His young lady looked slight in build and shy with a gentle unassuming prettiness about her and she stole a glance at me and smiled. She didn’t say anything.

“Are you from Italy?”

“Yes, we are from Rimini, do you know it?”

“I’ve been to Rome and Naples and Venice but not to Rimini, I hear it has a beautiful coast. I will go there one day.”

A young waitress, small, slim and neat with red hair cut in a short tight Joan of Arc crop came and asked me if I would like a seat.

“There is only me. Can you fit me in? I’ll understand if that is difficult. Don’t worry. “

“No trouble sir, I’’ll find you a place. Don’t you worry now. You might have to wait a minute or two.”

“Thank you. That would be nice.”

I was beginning to feel good. The two barmaids downstairs, the Italian couple and now the the waitress. It wasn't so bad being on my own. I could talk to people and feel good.
The two Italians went in first.

“Enjoy your meal. Nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you too,” said the young man. His girlfriend smiled again.

The Royal Mile.

It wasn’t long before the little waitress came back and showed me a table by the window overlooking The Royal Mile and St Giles Cathedral.She gave me a menu to read and left me to it. I sat in a position so I could look out of the window and also into the room at all the other diners. I could see the Italian couple ordering their food on the other side of the room. They looked happy. They looked in love. They looked so easy together. I thought of home and Marilyn and Abi and Alice and Sam and of course Emily in Cardiff. I wished that they were with me. Marilyn would have enjoyed being here.

The little waitress came over standing in front of me talking with fun and happiness in her voice. I’d overheard her at other tables. She appeared so happy to meet everybody and to talk to them and she was being happy and fun with me too now. I loved the experience of ordering my meal. I could feel my mood becoming lighter and a good feeling was coming into my voice and I could hear myself sounding light and funny.

“This is my first time in Edinburgh. This is my first time in Scotland. I must have a haggis.”

“Haggis and tatties, sir?”

“What are tatties?”

“Tatties are mashed potatoes. They traditionally go with haggis.”

“Yes please.”

“What gravy would you like? There is a lovely gravy we do with whisky in it.”

“That sounds wonderful.”

She had been writing down the codes for the different things I had ordered and I felt tempted to try another pint of the Nicholsons brown brew, so I ordered another pint.
I was warming to Edinburgh and Edinburgh people and Edinburgh eating places. This was going to be alright. My feeling of apprehension when realising the consequences of being alone were beginning to dissipate.
The haggis and tatties with a jug of the whisky gravy arrived. The brown pint came and I began on them. I was hungry.

Now, haggis is a mixture of things and if I was to describe what went into a haggis, a lot of unmentionable parts of a sheep, my description might make you utter the expletive,”Ugh!!”  All I will say is that it tasted wonderful, meaty, aromatic with herbs and the texture was like warm porridge and the gravy indeed had a tang of whisky to it and the, "tatties," were soft and fluffy. The eating of it all and the drinking of the pint was a real joy. The meal filled a space, I can tell you and this second pint of the brown stuff began to make me feel a warm comfortable glow inside.

When I paid the bill and walked out into the night air I was beginning to feel good about this whole adventure, this whole escapade.

Holyrood Palace in the dark.

I thought I would walk to end of The Royal Mile in the dark; there was some moonlight. I gazed at Holyrood Palace through the railings of the gate and saw the massive hump of Arthurs Seat looming behind it. I spent a moment looking at the modernist architectural confection of the Scottish Parliament building across the way and then walked all the way back to Priestfield and sleep.

Friday 4 October 2013


Where I am sitting now, in my kitchen, this very spot, just a little over eighty years ago, a cow could have been standing ripping grass up with its teeth and gently chewing away, ruminating. There could have been a haystack or perhaps just a muddy patch in the middle of a field where the fridge freezer is. Up to the late 1920’s this, here, where I live, was farmland. A family called the Raynes had their large farmhouse,  about seven hundred meters from where my house stands just to the north west of me. A little over to the east is Blakes Lane, named after Farmer Blake who owned the land  where Motspur Park Railway Station is now. And, the name of the road I live in,  West Barnes Lane, recalls some large barns that stood along this road when indeed it was a country lane.

West Barnes lane, just outside my house.Notice the preponderance of trees in a garden suburb.

To be precise,my house is 83 years old. It was built in 1930 and was first owned just before the 6th June 1930. The pond in my back garden has a rough, pebbled concrete border around it and in the concrete is marked, “6th June 1930.” All the houses round here were built in the 1930’s. It is a time warp. We live here in a time gone past. We don’t actually think we are living in a museum, but I suppose if you stop to think, we are custodians of this bit of built British history. The thing is, the houses are good and solid, made of brick and hefty timbers and good weatherproof clay tiles cover them. They have been loved and cared for and extended and improved over the decades and the generations. They are almost the perfect house for the British. We have been born, brought up in them and continue to live in them. 

The bureaux on the left of the fireplace was bought by my great grandmother, in Southampton, in the 1930's.

The 1930’s in Britain were not a good time. We were not recovering well from the First World War. We had, The Depression, a time of unemployment and poverty for many.The traditional industries, coal mining, shipbuilding, iron and textiles were struggling. The infrastructure was old and needed replacing. We were not competing in the world markets as well as we used to. There were hunger marches coming down to London from Tyneside, the traditional shipbuilding areas. Oswald Moseley’s fascist party was vociferous but didn't ultimately gain significant support. Communist groups were popular too but again they didn’t make headway either. What people wanted were jobs. Many of the industrial cities and major conurbations were blighted by old Victorian terraces, back to back housing with no lighting, and poor sanitation. The toilet facilities for one of these slum terraces would have been in a small shed at the bottom of the garden. Flush toilets did not exist for the working class. The toilet was a bucket with some soil in it which ,once full, was emptied into a cess tank. The tank was emptied, every now and then, by the local council. Clean water for the house was provided by a tap in the backyard. Hot water had to be heated over a fire, using precious coal,  and bath time happened in a zinc tub placed in the middle of the kitchen floor.
The Art Nouveau style glass next to my front door.

Eventually new industries began to flourish in the south east and in the Midlands, such as car manufacture, synthetic textiles, chemicals and light engineering and so people began to get money. They also wanted better housing conditions. The dream for everybody was to live in an idealised rural setting, so the garden suburb was invented. This was a mixture of new housing with modern facilities, gardens and parks. A significant feature of these suburbs were trees. People who bought these new houses and moved to the suburbs felt they owned a piece of the countryside. Each suburb had its infrastructure to enable good comfortable enjoyable lifestyles. These modern new houses were a world away from the dirty grimy slums that many had been brought up in. They had electric lighting. They had modern kitchens with cookers and fridges. They had inside plumbing with gas boilers that provided hot water and not just to the downstairs kitchen but to a proper bathroom with bath, sink and a decent flush toilet up stairs. They mostly were built with three bedrooms, two double rooms and single room. The single room, as in my house, were invariably over the front door. Theses house all had front gardens where people grew shrubs and plants and had their little patch of grass. What is more they were all provided with back gardens where they could create their own little cottage garden or their own piece of luxurious parkland. Cooking new things became popular and pamphlets and cookery books were published. In their gardens many people planted fruit trees and dug over a small vegetable patch. My own back garden still has two apple trees, quite old now, but still producing fruit in abundance each year.

This 1930's house has bow windows. A Georgian feature.

The council provided what we term, allotments, for people with smaller gardens who wanted to grow crops. They are still very popular today. Allotments first developed at the end of the 19th century to provide the urban poor with a piece of land where they could grow good healthy food. Growth of allotments intensified during the first and second world wars when rationing reduced the amount of food people could buy. My mother always says that rationing created a healthier population than we have today. People got a balanced diet and received what they needed and no more. Gluttony didn’t exist!!! After the Second World War interest in allotments declined but they are on the increase again because of green issues and people are becoming more aware of healthy living. It is also a great way to exercise.. Allotments do produce a healthier population. They also can help towards sustainable development. One of the initial benefits seen for allotments was that if somebody was unemployed they could still grow their own food. Some kept chickens for eggs and would be able to provide the occasional roast dinner.

Some Merton Council allotments near where I live. Not only are allotments places to grow produce but the people working on them form societies and hold meetings. They have produce shows in the Summer. A community feel is created. Cultivating an allotment is a life changing experience. 

Motspur Park, where I live, in the Borough of Merton South London was and is one of these ideal semi rural suburban living areas. Within a few hundred yards of my front door, there is a parade of shops that even now, even for the dominance of  hypermarkets such as TESCOS nearby, still has a butchers shop, a green grocers ,a couple of restaurants, two newsagents and a fish and chip shop. On the corner by the railway station, which allows me to get to central London and be standing next to the Royal Festival Hall looking at the Houses of Parliament within twenty minutes, is The Earl Beaty, my local pub and next to that is Motspur Park Library. Just behind the shopping parade is the Sir Joseph Hood playing fields. It has all weather tennis courts, artificial climbing walls, a zip wire and basketball courts. The grassy area is big enough for four football pitches in the winter and a couple of cricket squares in the summer.A little bit of British heaven.
My house in West Barnes Lane. The white is pebble dashing plastered over London Stock Bricks, which helps prevent weathering. An old Roman recipe.

These 1930 style houses have claimed a deep and close relationship with us British. They feel part of us. There is something quintessentially English or British about them which is different from all other styles throughout the world. They draw very much from the Arts and Crafts Movement that developed at the end of the 19th century, from 1870 onwards, and was pioneered by John Ruskin the writer and art critic and William Morris the Pre-Raphaelite designer and entrepreneur. Ruskin examined the relationship between art, society and labour. Morris put Ruskin’s philosophy into practice placing great value on work, the joy of craftsmanship and beautiful materials. Incidentally Morris’s workshops were situated at Merton Abbey mills and many people in The London Borough of Merton learned the crafts of printing materials, dyeing, furniture making and tile making when they worked for Morris & CO.They learned the skills of the medieval craftsman.

This house in grand drive, which adjoins West Barnes Lane, has many Arts and Crafts features, the medieval timber frame look, the clay tiled farmhouse roof style, the leaded windows, the white plaster facing which recalls medieval wattle and daub , the front door set centrally is a farmhouse feature too and the door has a certain art nouveau look to it with its flowing curved shape. The dormer window and sharply pointed eaves over the front door , are all Tudor features.

If you were to stand outside my front door and look up and down the road,  you would be able to see that all the houses are not exactly the same. They differ in some architectural details. Some are a little bigger than others and perhaps have an added bedroom. Some are detached and some, like mine, are semi-detached. However, essentially they all fit a certain style and have something English about them. If you know your British history it might begin to dawn on you. Many houses have bay windows, a key Georgian feature. Many have peaked eves which essentially hasn’t changed since Tudor and medieval times. Some even, to make it more obvious, look as though they might be timber framed. They are not. A closer inspection will reveal that the timbers are thin wooden cladding attached to the wall surface to make the house look timber framed. Others have oriel windows , which you find in Elizabethan mansions.

As well as the influence of Georgian bay windows in these terrace houses , you can also see small oriel windows positioned above the front doors. This is a feature reminiscent of windows found in Elizabethan mansions.

They all have clay tile roofs which give a mellow warm feel to them. You will find clay tiled roofs in every country village throughout the land. Many of the shops in the parade down the road, in the centre of Motspur Park, are built in brick with a herring bone pattern to their construction, a Tudor feature. I have stained glass set within a frosted oval at the top part of my front door. It has Art Nouveau design features. Many of the front doors in my road, indeed my front door is just such a one, are constructed from heavy timbers like a farmhouse door. Although there is a preponderance of brickwork, many of the houses in my road are pebble dashed on top of the basic brick construction of London stock bricks. Pebble dashing is something the Romans used to weather proof the surface of some of their buildings. Some houses, and these are fewer than the arts and crafts style  houses, are art deco,with clean smooth white walls, austere flat roofs and curved glass windows framed in thin steal frames.

An art deco house, Church Road , Worcester Park, near Motspur Park. It's clean efficient lines appealed to a few.

The appeal is that these garden suburbs are really a mixture,a coming together, of all the great architectural features that England has produced. They are distilled Englishness.  The garden suburbs, Motspur Park and all the others put together, comprise four million homes built in the 1930’’s

Tudor timber frame exteriors, or not!?Notice that the top floor appears to overhang the ground floor. This is a feature of Tudor town houses designed to create more floor space in cramped conditions within  a walled city's confines. 

We do not live in the past in these 1930’s homes. We change with the times. My own house has had a double story extension added to it in the 1970’s. The extension doubled the size of the kitchen and added a fourth bedroom. This year Marilyn and I have been lucky enough to save enough money to extend and renovate the house further. We will add a fifth bedroom with en suit bathroom, and create an open plan living, eating and kitchen area along the back of the house. We will create a modern patio where we can have barbeques if the weather allows, next summer. Bifold doors will open up the back of the house and make the garden into an extra room on balmy summers evenings. The chimney pots on the roof now vent the central heating. We still have our old analogue TV aerial attached to the roof. We do have broadband and television cabled into the house so the aerial is just one of those historical features from the past. The walls and roof have been insulated so the house is more energy efficient. However, on the outside it still looks as though we are in the 1930’s and we are proud to retain some of the 1930’s features inside the house too.

The 1930's fireplace in my living room.It is constructed with tiles and creates a farm house feel.

In some ways we are very lucky our house is still here. Mr Hitler tried to remove it from the face of the earth. Between the 7th October 1940 and the 6th June 1941 the Luftwaffe bombed London,all the major ports in Britain and the industrial areas of the Midlands. It was called the Blitz. The history department at University College London have produced a map documenting where all the bombs during this period, landed on London.

West Barnes Lane is my address. You can see how close the high explosive bombs got. Often houses that were not apparently affected by a bomb blast later formed cracks in walls and inside their roofs. Local builders had a boom time during and especially after the war repairing the damage.

 Looking at the part of the map that shows West Barnes Lane, one bomb landed at the far end of West Barnes lane near the station. Another landed in Station Road, it seems they were trying to obliterate the station. Others destroyed the Church of England Church round the corner in Adela Avenue, a bomb landed in Arthur Road a mere few hundred yards from my house, another landed in Marina Avenue and one in Byron Avenue. These were high explosive bombs that took out half dozen houses in one blast. My house survived.!!! In Motspur Park there were a lot of small manufacturing units and it was these, as well as the station, they were trying to destroy. Half a mile from me in Raynes Park there was a  film unit that produced training films for the military. A couple of other factories produced the new radar equipment.

This was taken in Woolston, Southampton, with the railway station in the background. An exmaple of how railway stations such as Motspur Park station were targetted by the Luftwaffe. I live in Motspur Park but my family lived near this staion and lived through the Southampton Blitz.

One bizarre story from our local park is told of a German pilot baling out over Motspur Park and parachuting down to land on top of the  gasometers that stored and supplied gas for many of the households in South London. These gasometers are still there beside the Sir Joseph Hood playing fields although not used nowadays. He apparently landed on the top of these great cylinders and then promptly fell off to his death.

As an addenda to all of the above, and just in case you are interested, a house in West Barnes Lane cost between £500 and £600 when they were first built. In the year 2013,a kind of symmetry has been achieved. They are valued at between £500,000 and £600,000.