Some South Woodford scribbles from DD, our resident diarist, commentator and observer of all things local
So, lockdown continues as I write this! There are plenty of “Thou shalt nots” to be wary of: not sitting on a park bench, not breaching the two-metre gap, not entering a shop unmasked, and so forth. (Boris, Moses-like, comes down the mountain at regular intervals with a new set of commandments.) But taking exercise is OK. Indeed, recommended. But only locally. Round the familiar streets and parks and woods. My grandmother (the one who survived the 1918 flu pandemic) often used to say that “every picture tells a story”. When you’ve lived here all your life, as I have, every street tells a story, every park, every bit of woodland. Why not come along and exercise with me?
I’m climbing Grove Hill. I was born here in a small maternity home. I enjoy the wide variety of houses. I was once employed as a cleaner in one of the more imposing ones. During the school holiday. I was not amused when ‘the lady of the house’ told my mother I was “rather slow”. I bet her parquet floor never gleamed as brightly before I got my hands, and knees, on it. I’m nearing the top of the hill now. Looking rather tenderly at a small house where lived another lady who became part of my life. She gave me a hand when our children were two months and 22 months old. They loved her, and clearly their love was requited. Decades later, her own grown-up children rang me out of the blue. “Please come and sit with Mum. She is dying. She is frightened.” What a privilege. What a challenge. I couldn’t recall that any conversation their mum and I had previously shared ranged much wider than topics like potty-training and Playdough. But when someone is in distress (“I wish I’d been a better person,” she confessed), you do your best, don’t you?
I’m approaching the narrow footbridge over the motorway. Sometimes, I used to wait on the bridge to watch for my son getting off the 123 bus after school. If he was alone, we could walk home together. If he was with his mates, I would disappear smartish, so as not to embarrass him. On one occasion, as I stood looking down at the speeding traffic, I was approached by a stranger who asked: “Are you OK? Can I be of any assistance? Would it help to talk?”
We can continue down towards the High Road now on a narrow track called Willow Path. Sheltered visually by trees and shrubs, but not audibly: the cars still roar along on your left. We are passing Craig Gardens, stirring up memories of my aunt and uncle who lived there for some years. Crazy but wonderful was the feather game we all played with them at Christmas. Sitting in a circle on the floor with a sheet drawn up under our chins and all blowing like mad in an attempt to keep the feather airborne. Tears of laughter. Essence of family.
We enter Hillcrest Road. Our first address after we married. What a debt I owed to those four lovable teenagers who materialised when our first child was born. “Can we take your son for a walk in his pram?” Had they arrived from just up the road, or from Heaven? It was the beginning of countless walks, park visits, even shared trips to the seaside. In fact, when I was upstairs in labour with our daughter, our son was having tea with “the pals”. They were the first to hold the newborn baby, excitedly updating her brother. “You’ve got a baby sister now!” “Yes,” he replied. “And I’ve got a new red toy car.”
We are soon crossing over the High Road to George Lane. My diary has already covered so many events and people I’ve witnessed there over recent years: the robed barrister fresh from Snaresbrook Crown Court, stooping to recover the vegetables tumbling from an elderly shopper’s inadequate plastic bag; the U3A volunteer gardeners bent double on our behalf in the flower beds; the key cutters and tattooists, the hairdressers and beauticians, the estate agents and sandwich-makers. I much regretted the closure of the Treasure Chest, with its huge stock of really useful home stuff. Next door to Fiori’s the greengrocer, also a serious loss at the time. I can still hear Peter’s resonant voice demanding everyone’s attention to the wonderfully succulent strawberries we mustn’t miss. One day, his hand was all bandaged up. And his head too! “What’s been happening?” I asked. Apparently, he had cut his hand badly and waited so long in casualty that he fainted and fell, cutting open his forehead as well. He ended up with more stitches in his head than in his hand. “Are you going to sue them?” “No, of course not. No-one’s to blame. They were just very busy.” I was sad to see Dave the butcher shut up shop too. Churchill’s, it was called. He said he’d “had an offer he couldn’t refuse”. He gave me one of his red-handled carving knives as a memento.
Round the corner now, past Barclays, into Glebelands Avenue. I don’t think I ever told you about my undignified tumble on the ice a few winters ago. That pavement is always rather unpredictable but I swear the slope gets steeper under the snow. My legs shot forwards and the rest of me shot backwards. I sat there, feeling somewhat ridiculous, not to mention rather sore. “What are you doing down there?” A voice from behind me. Two gentlemen. They took an arm each and I was back on my feet. “You’d be better off at home, I think,” the voice continued. “Come on, let’s get you into my car.” It was the boss of the Wood Oven. “D’you know where she lives?” asked his colleague. “I certainly do! We catered for her 70th!” I was chauffeured to my front door.
That’s enough exercise for today. It’s time for a cup of tea.
DD would like to hear other lockdown stories from local residents. Click here to take part.