DD’s 62nd Woodford Diary


Some South Woodford scribbles from DD, our resident diarist and observer of all things local. Illustrated by Evelyn Rowland

Doris took me to The King and I. At the London Palladium. Doris is 90, only I’m not supposed to mention it to anyone. She usually wears a velvet hat. I met her in the butcher’s last month. At least, I was in the butcher’s and she was heading past the butcher’s at purposeful high speed in the direction of Woolworths.

Doris uses a stick to good effect. Not so much to lean on or to steady herself. More for brandishing. Other pedestrians tend to clear a path. I called out. She changed course instantly and lurched in amongst the steaks and sausages. Dave had already weighed up my kidneys but he sensed an imminent hiatus and moved on temporarily to the next customer. “Thanks so much for shouting at me,” says Doris, a bit out of breath. “I don’t hear too well these days. People have to shout. Do you ever manage to get out to the theatre? I’d like to take you. Not next week. In about three weeks. Give me time to book. I’ll write to you. Then you can let me know what you want to see.” Doris shouts too. Her normal voice might strike others as a touch dramatic. A wonderful reader in her day, with carrying power even in the open air. So, there we were, the two of us, shouting at each other in the butcher’s. And everyone knows we are going to the theatre.

At this point, observant and in particular, any long-standing readers will have realised that I have gone back down Memory Lane. George Lane still, of course, but in the days of Dave the Butcher and Peter the Greengrocer, the Pet Shop and the Gift Shop and Woolworths. Before the arrival of the International Supermarket or the tattooists or Creative Biscuit or glorious Greggs or ‘Our M&S Food’. Surely, it’s OK in this Christmas edition to indulge in some shameless nostalgia? Doris was, after all, a South Woodford phenomenon. A successful businesswoman. Worked in the City in her younger days. She lived in Pulteney Road, I seem to remember. She was the treasurer of a charity I helped with. It was she who handled all our connections with the Charities Commission. At one point, she told us, they informed her that from then on she would have to submit all our financial statements in a different format and ‘online.’ She let them know immediately, and I’m sure politely, that she was 90 and would continue to submit her figures on paper and in the usual way. I don’t think we heard any more about it. I’ll never know really how it happened that she invited me to the theatre. Perhaps she recognised my situation in my long-term carer role and wanted to give me a treat.

It all came to pass as Doris had ordained. Letters were exchanged. We met at South Woodford station at 6.15. “If we’re too early, we can look in Liberty’s shop windows,” she said. “They are usually rather splendid.” I learnt that Doris had ‘gone up twice in person’ to the box office to get the tickets. I pictured her negotiating all those steps at Oxford Circus. Her “plastic wouldn’t work” on the first visit.

We sat in the stalls. “You must have the gangway seat!” she insisted. 

The lights went down. It was all colour and dance and exotic costumes and gorgeous absurdity and ‘suspended disbelief’. And all those songs: Shall We Dance?, Something Wonderful, Getting to Know You and Hello, Young Lovers. For a few hours, we escaped on the music and the lovely, wonderfully silly story. I did anyway. Doris admitted afterwards she hadn’t been able to pick up much as her hearing aid was playing up. At one point, she dropped a small component out of it and I had to crawl about under the seats, groping amongst the feet of predominantly sympathetic strangers to rescue it. But she had seen that I was enjoying every moment. “And that was the whole point of the exercise!” she said. 

Back on a crowded Oxford Circus platform, there were only two seats left for a very necessary recovery phase before the next Epping train, due in 12 minutes. The middle two seats in a clutch of four. 

“D’you mind if we join you?” says Doris, gracious as always. She gave no sign of noticing their green hair and pierced eyelids. 

“Of course not. Take a seat!” (She had.) “So long as you don’t mind us smoking and being terribly drunk!” He moved the open wine bottle from its precarious position between Doris’s sensible shoes. 

“Heading home?” she enquired. 

“Heading out!” said one. 

“The night is young!” said the other. “Why don’t you come clubbing with us? You look like a goer!” 

They delighted in Doris. Ten minutes’ animated conversation passed between equals. The train came in and they waved us off.

To contact DD with your thoughts or feedback, email dd@swvg.co.uk