London 2005: Dulwich, Peckham, Brick Lane Memories, Gig

Day Two: Friday 5 August

(As usual, click on the photos to see larger versions.)

I used to keep putting off a trip to the Dulwich Picture Gallery because it was too far out of central London (dahling), but now I’m staying in Wimbledon there’s really no excuse any more. And as usual, I arrive to find a gallery so charming it mocks me for my previous laziness. The last time I was in London this happened with the Sir John Soane museum, so there’s a nice serendipity in the discovery that Soane was the architect for this building as well. He designed it without charge out of friendship for its Bourgeois (yes, that’s his actual name) bequestor.


This isn’t the gallery, it’s a gatehouse at Dulwich Park nearby. Feel the twee!


Heading into central London, we have to drive through Peckham, and at times we fear we’ll never get out. Apart from the Stirling Prize-winning Peckham Library, which is very nice, we see rather more of Peckham than we really need to due to one-way street hell and a couple of bloopers.

Me, poring over A-Z: Turn into Mouth Road!
Russ, at the wheel: I don’t see that anywhere, we’re at Bournemouth Road now.
Me: Ah yes, the map cut the road name in two. Mouth Road is actually Bournemouth Road! Turn turn turn!

I even think we pass the VD clinic Alec brought me to on one of our first dates, thinking he was bringing me to an evening of theatre at the Old Vic. (It’s a rather long story, and contains too much sheer daftness to fit comfortably within this post, but perhaps I’ll write about it in future.) Several wrong turns, road closures and funny street names (Bird In Bush Road!) later, we finally claw our way out and Tower Bridge looms ahead, except it doesn’t, because things that loom are not usually welcoming and beautiful.

Foster family

We pass the Greater London Authority building and see the Swiss Re tower in the distance, and I muse on how Norman Foster should have given Singapore’s highest court of justice a cock or ball like these instead of a freaking UFO. (Yes, there are many cynical jokes to be made there. No, I am not about to make them.)


Russ drops me on Commercial Street and goes off to view another flat. The gig I’m attending at the Spitz only starts around 9, so I’ve got 2 hours free before that for visiting old friends – and by old friends I mean streets, vandalism and memories.

Hanbury Street:

The hardware slump

I discover a sad robot I haven’t photographed before. He’s my sixth.


Survival of the graffittest

Law of the concrete jungle or not, I still think a stencilled grizzly bear against a freehanded platypus isn’t really a fair fight.


The Old Truman Brewery car park:

Little pink Corvette?

I do a double take when I see that Banksy’s car is now shocking pink. In the midst of my surprise I am vaguely aware of another shocking pink object in my peripheral vision, moving rapidly towards me. It’s a brightly-turbanned Sikh on a scooter. I get out of his way, feeling insipid.


Anything but frigid

Under a flight of stairs, a friendly fridge!


An altered sign

I guess the London congestion charge isn’t working well enough yet.


Brick Lane:

Wrong way, turn back

“FRESH MAGIC MUSHROOMS” elude what appears to be a street art allegory of the yuppie mindset. Or something.


Philip Larkin stencilled on a club night banner
“I work all day, and get half-drunk at night”

Larkin’ Out Records are doing a party at the Vibe Bar tonight, and this is one of their promo banners. Along with stuff I photographed later in this holiday such as Norway’s fjords and Germany’s ruined castles, I think the picture captures something you don’t get in Singapore. (Another example is Time Out’s headline to its writeup for a documentary on the Hiroshima bombing: “Wave of mutilation.”)


I photograph a lavender Vespa outside The Ten Bells, Christ Church resplendent in the evening sun, a guy with a huge ginger ‘fro outside what used to be Eat My Handbag Bitch. I don’t trust memory alone to record this return. Over time, living in Singapore dog-ears and fades those memories till they feel like dusty offerings at an estate sale – someone else’s life, which I pretend was mine.

I sit in Cafe 1001, eating a crispy bacon ciabatta and reading Time Out, and this is when I start feeling morose. I look at everyone around me with so much envy, not because they all have company and I am sitting here alone (that never bothers me in London), but because they can call London their city, and without bending the facts, I no longer can.

It’s time for the gig, and the Chris Bowden Trio quickly pulls me out of my gloom by making me its bitch. This isn’t smooth hotel lounge jazz, it’s voluptuous outrageously confident music that struts coolly into the room and knows it has everybody’s undivided attention. I don’t always like Ninja Tune’s jazz acts, but it’s struck gold with Chris Bowden. Seriously, don’t pass up an opportunity to see this guy even if you’ve never been that drawn to instrumental jazz music or the saxophone. He could change your mind.

Broadway Project are up next. I suppose I haven’t kept up enough with Broadway Project since the first album, because instead of one guy with a sampler creating moody beautiful found sounds for quiet nights in when autumn’s on the cusp of winter, it now involves about five guys and fairly block rockin’ beats. Still, it’s pretty interesting to listen to after I get over the initial surprise, and they finish the set with the opening track of Compassion, bringing me right back to the wonder of my first encounter with Broadway Project, which is a great place to end.

Mark Rae’s finishing up the night with some good party tracks, but I go downstairs to join Russ and Dave in the bistro, and treat myself to my beloved Fruli. At the end of the evening, Russ drops me near Fleet Street, where I’ll be staying for the weekend in Nav’s flat while she’s off in Wales. I settle down there to plan the next day, write my journal, and count my blessings for generous friends.

I am so happy to be back here.


  1. Good post. The photos capture that understated, surreal London sense of humor.

    The link to the beer database is going straight to my favorites.

  2. Fucking hell, been off the booze for a couple of months now coming up to my exams and I was salivating reading that site.

    Is Banksy incredibly prolific or have people just started producing similar work?

  3. There’s only one Banksy job in the post, I don’t think the others are by him although he does have lots of stuff all around that area. You can usually tell a Banksy if you’ve seen enough of his stuff, somehow. Even if other stencil graffitti looks similar on first glance.

    And yes, that site is rather like the Coke ads they usually do first thing at half-time for televised World Cup matches in Singapore, featuring the pop and hiss of the opened can, and an extreme close-up on the glass as dark frothiness cascades in on top of the ice. There’s no agony (for me, anyway) quite like longing for a Coke at 4 in the morning and not having one available.

  4. I love graffiti, and random fly poster art.

    That Larkin’ Out one is cool.

    An Odeon went past, a cooling tower, And

    someone running up to bowl.

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