Monthly Archives: November 2009

Cycling in South London

As I suspected I have been forced to venture out of my new flat. And not, as I anticipated, because food ran out or boredom got the better of me – a darker force is against me – work.

As you may recall one of the many reasons I lamented leaving my wonderful bolthole in Shoreditch was because my commute to work was a mere 5 minute cycle ride from start to finish (including exiting the flat, calling the lift, riding the lift, attaching D-Lock to lamppost, purchasing skinny latte, hiking upstairs to desk) – well that is not the case anymore. I shouldn’t really complain too much as my total journey is now only about 25 minutes (without the luxury of latte buying time) but still – it is the pack of cyclists that I now have to share the road with that I resent the most.

As you can no doubt imagine, cycling in Shoreditch is a fairly leisurely affair. Skinny jeans really inhibit the pace at which you can pump your legs, and dark Raybans don’t particularly go hand in hand with bullet like speeds. So like the Peter Pan of Shoreditch, out of the estate I would go, second art gallery to the right, and then straight on until the Live East Die Young poster (opposite which I would park my wheels) – a wonderful start to any working day.

Cycling from South of the river is an entirely different undertaking. The cool kids on the Kennington-City cycle route proudly sport padded lycra shorts, bullet shaped helmets, coloured Oakleys, high visibility vests (I know neon’s in vogue at the moment, but somehow I don’t think the fashion gods would approve), fingerless gloves, and the crowning element, only for the most hardcore of south-of-the-river-cyclists: headphones. I find this extremely confusing and contradictory. All the other elements of the outfit present an unabashed ode to safety: lovers of the Highway Code who are simultaneously demons of the type of speed that can only be created by their own lycra-clad thighs. But the headphones present an element of danger, a ‘No Fear’ attitude, a two fingers up to any motorists that dare jeopardise their smooth route into town, saying “I don’t need to hear you approaching, my disco beats will protect me from your metal coated, petrol pumping, killing machine”.

The South London cyclists travel in large, impenetrable packs. The strongest members up front, forging a route, intimidating oncoming cars, making sure they keep in their own lane, and not dare spill into the exclusive cycle lanes which the rest of their herd dominate behind them. The weaker members of the pack, not wanting to be picked off by any hungry bendy-buses, focus on keeping up, jumping any lights that may have inconveniently turned red, consequently separating them from their precious gang.

Having been cycling the Kennington – City route for almost three weeks now, I am not entirely sure which cycle group I best fit in to. Although my bike’s previous owner was a 92 year old man, it definitely could not be described as retro or in any way cool, I generally don’t wear petrol wet leggings and most definitely don’t have an A-Symmetrical haircut, so I don’t think I sit very comfortably in the Shoreditch cyclist crowd. However, I also do not wear lycra, don’t have a bike that anyone would ever consider expending effort in stealing, and far from being a member of the pack, I can let you into a closely guarded secret of mine: the pack actually scares me.


A bit about me….

Having grown up in Edinburgh (a City whose notoriously stuffy and introverted social circle makes it seem laughable that the population sits at almost 500,000), been to school in St Andrews (golfers, old man pubs, Prince William hunters), and university in Durham (proud owner of what has been officially voted Europe’s worst nightclub), when I finally moved to London three years ago I was determined to establish myself in the vibrant, urban heart of the city that seemed to be the complete antithesis of everything I had experienced in my life so far.

 I beelined straight for Dalston (well, Stoke Newington if we’re being fussy – for a slightly gentler induction to the Big Smoke) where I spent my first year squeezing my sizeable thighs into the skinniest jeans I could survive a long night of depleted circulation in, and flitting from warehouse party to neon rave, dancing until 6am and diverting to one of the Kingsland Road’s many greasy spoons for breakfast on my way home. I also just managed to drag myself to Richmond (of all places?!?) where I was interning in a PR firm and pretending to be an adult for 40 hours a week.

 After Dalston came the logical next step to Hoxton where I found myself on the doorstep of all my favourite haunts and a new job just around the corner from my cosy ex-council flat home. Good. So what if my local supermarket was a very over priced, and understocked Co-operative. So what if the only outdoor space for miles around was Shoreditch Park, the only part of Hoxton that the artists seem to have forgotten, with it’s dry, sparse spatterings of grass and urban wasteland vistas. So what that I had to walk several miles in order to find a functioning ATM  to finance my ever increasing list of bad habits. I had Swaparama, The March of The Dead, The Secret Ingredient, Cordy House, BGWMC, Victoria Park, Underground Rebel Bingo, Turnmills, Fabric, The Cross and Key, Boombox, TDK….need I go on?? Oh ok then. I had Columbia Road, Brick Lane, Regents Canal, Spitalfields, Little Vietnam, Exmouth Market, galleries, exhibitions, music, art, fashion, people watching galore…..ALL MINE and all on my doorstep.

 Now, the eve of my 26th birthday, and my sudden dissension in to a mid-twenties-life-crisis has very unhappily coincided with my forced removal from my adopted and beloved homeland of North East London. Dam my conscience, and that after two years my boyfriend and flatmate finally noticed that my 5 minute commute to work was slightly unfair whilst they both slogged it out for 45 minutes twice a day on London’s sweat and stress inducing transport system. In denial I very maturely buried my head in the sand during all discussions about new location, I blindly trailed round flats with an extremely palpable lack of interest, packed up all my belongings in a trance like state, and somehow have found myself in Oval. Oval?!?

 I will be the first to admit that our flat is beautiful. En-suite bedrooms, enormous eat in kitchen and open living room, private garden and communal roof terrace complete with bbq’s, deck chairs and a view straight into Oval cricket ground. 4 minutes walk to the Northern Line, and 7 minutes to the Victoria Line, and an enormous, fully stocked Tesco monolith 300 metres away. But what good is that when the only club I have come across is South Pacific – notoriously rancid, the faux Caribbean thatching dripping with human juices, blasting out Ricky Martin’s Greatest Hits – surely a competitor for the tragic nightlife award Durham’s been holding onto for so long? No sweet boutiques adorn the streets, and not a vintage shop for love nor money.

 I have vowed not to write off Oval before I have given it a go. My complaints above are based on a hasty first look around, and I have told myself that I must remain open-minded whilst I embark on an extensive journey of search (and hopefully discovery) for quirky club nights, local pub quizzes, pop up restaurants, independent retailers, art, culture, and the general creative flair that for me, so defines our wonderful capital city. My current state of mind is pretty dubious, but the silver lining is that at least Brixton is a mere 8 minute bus ride away. Watch this space.