Just another day in Camberwell

I coax my friend to come with me on my regular Saturday shop at the Camberwell Farmers’ Market.

“Look, it’s not the Herne Hill market, but where it lacks in quantity, it excels in quality and price!”

Halfway into the Green, before we reach the market stands, we’re approached by a lady in red with a giant set of lips on her head.  She offers us a kiss.  We refuse politely.  She saunters away.

The man attending a coffee stand says he, too, was offered a kiss and also refused.  He sounds French, but I wouldn’t swear to it.

“Maybe it is a performance art or something like this,” he shrugs.  We discuss the difference between the people who offer free hugs and this lady offering kisses.  I may accept a hug, but find the idea of being kissed by a stranger a bit alarming and questionably hygienic.

Friend eyes Coffee Man’s baked goods and tells him before we move on, “You know, you could charge a lot more if you sold these at the Herne Hill market.”

Next is the buffalo man’s stand.  I warn Friend of his tendency to proselytise on the benefits of buffalo.  He is passionate and means well, I know.  And his buffalo yoghurt is very creamy, Friend agrees.

Buffalo yoghurt and sausages!

Buffalo yoghurt and sausages!

Near Buffalo Man’s stand we are approached by a Robot.

*Photo courtesy of Barmycow

*Photo courtesy of Barmycow

He’s trying to communicate with us, waving his silver arms, but it’s windy and hard to understand him through his helmet.  I gather that something is “landing” soon, but can’t sort out what.  We listen politely.  He wants us to know that we, too, can be robots, as he has collected all of his robot parts from Camberwell stores.

After delivering his message, he wanders off, slowly, as if gravity is different for him.  Perhaps he is a Spaceman, and not a Robot.

We investigate a new chutney stand.  The lady tells us she is trying to open a new café in Camberwell via kickstarter.com called The Pigeon Hole.  Friend tries the carrot and chilli chutney.

“You know, jars this size are going for £6 at Herne Hill market…have you considered…”

I drag Friend away.  “Will you cut that out?  We need this chutney!  Herne Hill has plenty of chutney!”

The Lips Lady approaches us again on our way out of the Green, offering us not only a kiss but a cardboard lolly as well.  We refuse politely.

“So, what did you think?” I ask Friend.

“Not bad,” she says.

Herne Hill has more to offer in terms of food selection, we agree.  But are there spacemen?  Free kisses?

“No,” Friend says. “There are no spacemen.  We don’t have that sort of thing in Herne Hill.”

“Well,” I say, just a bit smugly, “it’s what I’ve come to expect from Camberwell.”

Camberwell Market Treasures:

Some alien fruit called "gooseberries" and logan berry jam

Some alien fruit called “gooseberries” and logan berry jam

Black walnut bread and wholemeal loaf.

Black walnut bread and wholemeal loaf.

buckwheat promises

You know that overwhelming urge, the one that comes suddenly on a Sunday afternoon around 4:00, for a buckwheat sandwich and some crepes?

And then comes that crushing disappointment with the knowledge that no place houses both these beautiful dreams under one roof.  And finally, the familiar ache that turns into quiet sobs as you pick at your beans and toast.

DRY YOUR TEARS, CAMBERWELL!!  A MIRACLE HAS COME TO CHURCH STREET!!

malokoTucked under unassuming blue awnings is a tiny little paradise – a new café called Maloko, on the corner of Camberwell Church Street and Camberwell Grove lane.  The décor is simple but unique –   the floor bursts with colour, green drums for tables, coffee bags for a ceiling.  It’s light and airy and filled with happy vibes.

The owner’s usually there to greet you, a young guy bursting with smiles and good wishes.  His joy in opening the new business, and hope for its success, is palpable and catching.

Not many choices on the menu (yet!) but what glorious few they are!  crepes

Crepes, crepes, beautiful crepes – crepes filled with chocolate, lemon, Grand Marnier,  with unicorns and sunshine.

And yes, buckwheat sandwiches filled with cheese, spinach, yams – vegetarian stuff.  The coffee is quite good (this coming from a coffee snob) – I had a macchiato and was well pleased.

The prices are typical Camberwell – cheap!  And Maloko has great hours – everyday from about 8am to 10pm-ish – though I’m sure this will adjust with time, I’m hoping it doesn’t.

Because that buckwheat urge can strike at any time.

buckwheat

year of the snake

brolly

It’s Sunday, 10:00am, 3 degrees with a persistent, grey drizzle splattering the winter-weary ground.  Dude, let’s go to Leicester Square and watch a parade!

The Chinese New Year parade is bound to be amazing, right?  This is freaking LONDON, and they have their own China Town, so I’m expecting Incredible Sights here.

Ha!  Look, a snake!  It’s the Year of the Snake, that’s awesome.

Snake parading down Charing Cross road

Snake parading down Charing Cross road

What’s this?  A bus with some nicely-dressed people in it.  Hm.  Ok.

people on bus

Oh, cool, martial artists!  No, wait.  Those are fencers.

IMAG1147

Um…

This is making less sense as the parade progresses.

Oddly reminiscent of the Olympics Opening Ceremonies...

Oddly reminiscent of the Olympics Opening Ceremonies…

I’m pretty sure none of this is Chinese related.

Dude, Morris dancers?  Are you kidding me, London?

See those badge-thingys on their backs?  They also had them on their nipples.  Dancing to an accordion.

See those badge-thingys on their backs? They also had them on their nipples. Dancing to an accordion.

We try for the ‘fireworks’ at Trafalgar Square.  Dodging umbrella jabs to the eye, weaving through the hoards of people, we’re rewarded with a couple minor spurts of fireworks and some British announcers making lame jokes about speaking Mandarin.  Some stuff probably happened on stage.  But at 5’2″, I can’t see any of it.

Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square

We go for Dim Sum at the New World.   A dragon appears outside the door as we go to leave, accompanied by drummers wearing tee-shirts that read ‘Shaolin Fist’.  This is all second-hand knowledge.  All I see are backs and bums.

"I ordered that dim sum 15 minutes ago. You bring it here or it's a cabbage in the face!"

“I ordered that dim sum 15 minutes ago. You bring it here or it’s a cabbage in the face!”

“What’s happening out there?”

“The dragon is throwing cabbage at the people.”  A tall man informs me.

“Why would the dragon do that?”

“It’s lucky.  Cabbage is for luck.”  Tall Man shrugs.

Once, in Camberwell, someone threw a lemon at me.  It missed, fortunately.  “I don’t think I’d like to be pelted with cabbage.  That doesn’t sound lucky to me.”

Tall Man makes a non-committal noise.

The dragon moves on, we jostle through the crowd, under the red paper lanterns, brolly-fighting as we go.  We pass a store with cabbage hanging from the doorway.

Tall Man spoke true, I think.

I keep my eye out for dragons.

Camberwell pluses and minuses

I love my neighbourhood, but I don’t really know why.

People make fun of Camberwell (‘take a piss out’ of Camberwell?  Is that right?  That can’t be right.).  Anyway, people look down on the place, and a walk through the hood gives you plenty of reasons for pause.  The bins full of trash lining the sidewalks, the insistent beggars waiting to pounce as you exit Morrison’s, the intermittent drama outside the police station…I could go on.

But it has some good points, too.

Let’s make a list, because that’s fun!  Let’s do Camberwell pluses and minuses.

Pluses:

Cheap, good food: Camberwell delights the frugal foodie with several inexpensive neighbourhood eateries.  Top on my list are FM Mangal (Turkish), Caravaggio’s (Italian), and Lamoon (Asian fusion).

Vibe: The vibe is cool in Camberwell.  Walking down Church St, reggae pulses out of the local barber shop, Indian pop from a passing car.  People are chill, relaxed, artsy but not like, pretentious artsy.

The Greek Grocer: The guy I get my fresh veg from is a character out of a book somewhere, I’m convinced.  He always wears this white lab coat, like a white mountain.  He gyps me change sometimes, but I forgive him, as sometimes he gives me extra change.  I think he just makes up the prices.  He calls me ‘darling’, making me feel like I’m back in the American South, and has a calico cat.

Rat Records: A Camberwell institution.  The name says it all.

Minuses:

Drug People:  Often people who are on/want drugs ask you for money or lie on the bus bench or pee on the wall.  Sometimes a fight breaks out or someone gets yell-y.

Jesus People: I like Jesus and all, but maybe don’t want to hear all about him on my bus when I am tired.  Also the shouted sermons outside of the McDonald’s.  This is common in Camberwell.  Also sometimes your doorbell rings, and you think it’s a delivery or someone dropping by, and you rush out of the shower and throw on a bathrobe, but no.  It’s a Jesus Person.  And now everyone feels awkward.

Scary: Some people think Camberwell looks or feels scary.  I don’t, but I like to be inclusive of all opinions.  Of course, there were the riots.  During the riots one day we were let out early from work if we lived in Camberwell.  They said not to go to the Green, but I did anyway.  I asked the Greek Grocer if anything happened.

‘Eh,’ he said, making a face. ‘Nothing so much. They got the place over there. Some kids, you know, they walking around, but doing nothing.’

The only place that got rioted was this cheapo phone store I didn’t think much of anyway.

Sometimes weird things happen in Camberwell.  Like this one time when a bus ran into a building.  Everyone was just standing around, police, mums with buggies, me, others, just staring, trying to sort out what it all meant.  How did the bus get into that building?  I never got the answer to that.

Ode to Camberwell

Your chimney-spiked spine

rises from the grimy, paved street.

Brick-faced, blackened with age, window-lined vacant eyes

watching.

Camberwell, you are

huddled masses of black jackets,

grey hoodies, black umbrellas, plastic covered buggies

splattered with rain and red buses with steaming people.

From somewhere tucked inside

your alley, a child cries, the laughing screech of a fox,

music drifts and blends

into sooty, wood spiced smoke.

A siren tears through your street while

vacant window eyes watch.