Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Ghost of Christmas Past

During the interregnum that inevitably features between Christmas and New Year I took the radical (for me) step of going shopping in the January sales.  As I was staying with my parents down South for a few days I had the somewhat unedifying choices of Crawley, Brighton or Croydon.  I finally decided to go to Croydon as I'd been working in store before Christmas in Crawley so didn't really fancy going back and the train down to Brighton felt like a bit of a drag.  

It was only as I got off the train at East Croydon station that I started to think about how long it was since I was last there.  I reckon it's close to a decade which was a bit sobering.  For the uninitiated  I grew up and went to school in this part of the world - so always have half an eye out for news from this unloved London Borough that I called home until I was 18.  I never really 'came home' after University - I lived for a year in York after I finished with my studies and then moved to Nottingham for work. 

Anyway, train done, I wandered down towards the town proper from the station and started to feel oddly nostalgic.  But then you know when you go back to somewhere or something that it totally familiar to you but then it turns out not to be quite the same as you remember it?  Very dislocating when you're convinced that something has moved.  For example - I often frequented (after the age of eighteen, obviously) 'The George' pub on George Street but if you'd asked me if Croydon's tram ran down that street I would have sworn that it ran on a parallel road.  As I say, very odd.  

I spent many happy hours as a teenager browsing the serendipitous racks of Beanos record store (I love the bathos of the phrase in that article, "STUFF marketplace officially closed on 30 April 2010 due to too little business") and owe my love of Elvis Costello's 'Armed Forces' and the lost genius of The Beekeepers (seriously, if you want a treat then get can a copy of 'Third Party, Fear and Theft'; it's brilliant) to that place.  So I was naturally very sad when it closed down and this meant that my CD shopping was restricted to popping into 101 Records.  They were handily enough having a half price sale so was able to make progress on my Dylan completism for relatively little money.  

I'd somehow created a further false memory for myself that Croydon was included in Owen Hatherley's smart and provocative book, 'A Guide To The New Ruins of Great Britain'.  I've just checked and it's not but you should read this book anyway anyway, not least for the chapter on Nottingham. 


For a much maligned placed architecturally, Croydon does have some gems of Modernism that have a real place in my heart - Apollo House and Lunar are famous for (i) being hilariously dated by their moon-landing inspired names, (ii) now housing the UK Border Agency so a key first destination for many migrants to the UK and (iii) appearing many times as filming locations for 'Peep Show'.  But whilst structurally the town was looking much the same, the changing face of the shops and rest of the streetscape was striking.  The closure of Allders has obviously hit a blow at the heart of the community and I kept expecting to find other shops that had long gone and moved away.  Sad.  

Finally, and on a more upbeat note, there are some good signs of regeneration and redevelopment happening.  An active BID (a model that works well in Nottingham too) looks to have put together some good plans and is certainly very visible.  And there are some great looking plans for East Croydon station (itself an iconic cantilevered building) that will improve its links to the rest of the town.  

Just a collection of thoughts really but hopefully a little treat for my midlands friends...

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