Yesterday afternoon a number of pieces of my life came together in an fairly unassuming south-east London suburb – Kennington.
I was catching up for a drink and dinner with an Italian friend who is visiting from San Francisco, and whom I first met in Singapore about 10 years ago. We were to meet in Vauxhall but I arrived early and decided to wander down to Kennington, the last place I lived in before heading to SE Asia, over 14 years ago.
It is a pleasant stroll of about 20 minutes from the station at Vauxhall to the junction of Kennington Lane and Kennington Road – roughly where The Black Prince had built his palace in the mid-fourteenth century and where today you find Black Prince Road and the new Tesco supermarket. The late afternoon was warm and sunny and it was fantastic to be back in a place I knew so well and see that it had changed so little over the years. Some of the restaurants and shops have changed hands, which is to be expected, but they were still there as shops and restaurants, still serving the locals and visitors alike. It was also good to see that the Durning library was still there and still open – small things like that can make all the difference in helping communities to function and providing a service to those who may not be able to have access to books, music or the internet any other way. Overall the whole place still has a small-town feel to it, a great thing in a city like London.
After walking down the street I used to live on – something I have done often – and resisting the temptation to do a Freddy Eynsford-Hill impression, I made my way back to Vauxhall and dropped into the Royal Vauxhall Tavern for a drink and to finally meet up with my friend AP and a friend of his. It was great to catch up and chat about what has been happening since we last caught up in San Francisco. AP was an amazing host on that trip and gave up his time to take me, a work colleague and my boss at the time across to the Marin Headlands after dinner to view the city and the Golden Gate Bridge glistening across the water at night.
With the best will in the world, nowhere in South London can compete with that kind of view, so we decided to walk back to Kennington to drop into The Dog House for a bite to eat. I can happily say that the fish and chips ordered by AP’s friend were voted the best of the best in the fish and chip category based on their food to date – no small feat! We sat outside enjoying the warmth and the long, lingering dusk and finally wrapped up the evening with a one-for-the-road beer and went our separate ways. A quiet, slow-paced four or five hours with friends in a handsome part of London – just what the doctor ordered I believe.
The final links to home come from the fact that one Francis Towneley was executed for his part in the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion on Kennington Common. Afterwards his head was put on a spike at Temple Bar and then retrieved by his family and taken to Towneley Hall in Lancashire. I grew up on the edge of the old Towneley estates as a kid. And the lady who served up at the pub was on a working holiday from Australia… Small world indeed.