Sunday, 3 October 2010


We go to a party in deepest darkest south London. We walk along a street of massive, grand, slightly crumbling Victorian mansions, and knock on their door. The hostess opens the door. She is wearing a magnificent hat, like Marie Antoinette's galleon hat, but with a mini washing machine and mini clothesline with tiny clothes hanging from it. Her partner is wearing one with what looks like a small wind turbine on top of it. It spins around magically by itself. He serenades us with an accordion to welcome us in. (If this all sounds too annoyingly show-off, the warmth and friendliness with which they greet us counteracts that.)

They wave us into the house - it's a beautiful old pile divided up into flats with about a million people in it, all artists, set designers, art lecturers, musicians. My eyes must be the size of saucers, because there is stuff to look at everywhere. The ceiling is red and gold, there are paintings, wall-hangings, shop dummies, fabrics, artefacts everywhere you look. A life-size horse's head constructed from sellotape in the living room. Once a month they have a big party and people dress up and people come and perform & entertain. People come from all over, I can hear German, French, Italian... and all ages, from teenagers to mid-forties. Everyone has dressed up, half fancy dress and half burlesque showgirl style, I feel fearfully underdressed. They lead us up the grand staircase (finding us both hats in a small living room along the way - we arrived hatless) to the jewel in the crown on the top floor.

In the front attic room, the man who lives there, who works at the National Theatre, has converted his bedroom into an actual theatre. Actual pillars, minescule stage, proper theatre lights, painted ceiling and wall panels, velvet curtain and all. Tiny stools to fit an audience in. We watch a belly dancer who gets everyone up and dancing, the boyfriend of the hostess' teenage daughter and his electronic band (the teenage daughter, a willowy beauty at drama school and her friends are all gorgeous, they look like they stepped out of the cast of Skins, but are strangely charming and friendly, not what I remember at all of teens from my teen years.) The boys stand on stage with their little synthesizers and gaze at their shoes in classic indie stylie, as photos are projected onto a screen at the back.

I go into something of a trance (imagining what it would be like to live in this house, maybe too much all the time) til Rae pulls me out for a cigarette and to fetch a drink. We go down into the garden - it lives up to the house, there's a wraparound porch with a hammock, massive trees with rope swings, they've constructed a tree house and are beginning to build a stage. In the summer, she says, they sit around a bonfire and play music and drink wine and smoke spliffs all night. She crashed out in a teepee in the garden last year. The neighbours don't mind because it's only once a month and there is so much space the sound doesn't carry too badly. The landlord lets them get on with it, he's an orthodox Jew who has rented this palace to them for years at a nominal rent and doesn't intefere as long as they don't expect him to fix anything.

I'm looking forward to the parties in the summer, and getting to know this bohemian crowd of people. Except shortly afterwards Rae's friend does something so back-stabbing, so unforgiveable that she never wants to see her again, and thus endeth our connection with the south london mansion. That was the first and last time I went. Why am I telling you this story? I don't know, except that I was thinking about it. Because it made me hopeful that with all the difficulties people have in making their lives in London, with all the struggle to pay the rent and escape the system, it seems that some people can still lead the lives they want and it doesn't have to centre around ambition or even wage slavery. It gave me a vision of a life that was sociable and centred around something creative. I felt like the south London bohemians were somehow beating the system, that there are still pockets of resistance left in the big city, and it made me happy.


  1. That's what life is like for us South Londoners. Very Bohemian!

  2. I love hats but only ever lived north of The Drink.
    Back-stabbing sucks.

  3. I think you may have slipped through a knot-hole of time-space continuum on the way there and ended up in the late 1960's.

  4. Steve I always thought us East Londoners were the most cutting edge but we've got nothing on you.

    I once went south, Arabella. Streatham. But Brockley is apparently where it's at. I know, what a shame.

    Rog, it was a bit sixties, good to see in the straight-laced 2010s...

  5. It's like "Le Grand Meaulnes".

  6. Em, it was JUST like Le Grand Meaulnes.

  7. Where in South London was this ensemble piece?

  8. It was in Brockley (I think)