I should have known something was up when Deserter sidekick, Half-life, agreed to visit Kidbrooke without swearing.
My suspicions were further raised by the sight of him helping an (admittedly attractive) woman off the train with a trolley bag, as if he were a gentleman. Then she hopped back on and I realised it was his bag.
‘Ta, love,’ he said, passing her his number. ‘And don’t fucking ring before midday, alright.’
Turning to me on the platform, he said:
‘Are you gonna help, or what? You know about my back.’
I didn’t, but still.
‘Jesus, this is heavy. What’s in it? Have you offed a dwarf, or something?’
‘Don’t even joke about that. Listen, you’ll have to stash me cheese.’
‘I beg your pardon?’
Half-life had ‘acquired’ a wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano from an unmanned pallet in Borough Market. He realised he could not sell it anywhere in SE1 without the victim, a good friend of his, finding out. So he wanted to pass it on to his cheese fence, Johnny Blisters, who, last he heard, lived in Kidbrooke, but who he hadn’t managed to contact.
‘I thought I’d stash it at yours to make it easier for you to pass it on,’ he said, thoughtfully.
I was going to Kidbrooke with the Raider for the beer festival at Charlton Park RFC, partly because old mate and ex-pat, Ivan Osman, was in town. Surely nothing could reveal what a fucking awful idea it is to leave England better than a display of our fermented might? I was a little nervous about introducing him to Half-life, who is notoriously belligerent to new people, recently threatening to stab a friend of mine in the eye if he got his name wrong. But, fuck it, there are always risks stepping out with Half-life.
Having dragged this three-year old lump of milk to mine, Half-life then delivered painfully detailed storage instructions before pulling out what looked suspiciously like a handgun.
‘OK, OK! I’ll keep it between four and eight degrees!’
Half-life told me he never goes to Kidbrooke unless he’s packing, as everyone there is armed.
‘What the pissing fuck are you on about?’ I said.
‘I know they are, pal. I made a grand selling shooters in Kidbrooke.’
‘Couple of years ago. In the 90s.’
I explained that Kidbrooke had become a place for unarmed professional couples and small children with names like Gladiola. Homes whose balconies overlooked the new Cator Park or the Nature Reserve at Sutcliffe Park in what is now known as Kidbrooke Village. He would not be needing firepower unless the Sales and Marketing team were tooled up with more than utopian brochures. He agreed to leave his Desert Eagle 9mm behind, so now I was harbouring his stolen cheese and a gun. And I only came out for a pint.
On arriving at where the Ferrier Estate used to be, Half-life was completely lost. There was not a single building still standing.
‘I’m never gonna find Johnny Blisters now,’ he mourned, as I considered the implications for my dairy safe house.
Gone was the grey, dystopian, concrete fear factory. In its place was an investment opportunity.
Many things have been done well. There are plenty of benches and vantage points looking over the Quaggy River, where you could be left undisturbed, as there’s hardly any fucker around given that so much is still to be built.
‘That river’s new,’ said Half-life.
Actually that wasn’t as daft as it sounded. The Quaggy has been reclaimed from the pipe it’s been in for the last 50 years. The covering up of our rivers is one of the things that London got badly wrong. Sitting in sunshine, before water, Half-life did what came naturally and pulled out a Blue Peter and sparked it up. Suddenly, it wasn’t all so bad, relaxing in a Teletubby-landscaped wonderland.
‘I fucking love Kidbrooke Village, me,’ Half-life declared, mesmerised by improbable water features. ‘Now which way to the village pub?’
Alas, both Kidbrooke’s pubs had long since closed down, leaving only sports and social clubs to save the place from being dry, or to put it another way, worthless.
‘I don’t pity Kidbrooke,’ Half-life said, now clearly irked. ‘I despise it.’
‘Village’ is of course, a marketing term, not a description of something one up from a hamlet. Of the completed builds most are six to eight-storey blocks, with balconies overlooking parkland. After initial plans for the rest of the development had been agreed Berkeley Homes applied for permission to develop more homes, claiming that otherwise it would not be viable. So they were building 4000 homes, 15 minutes from London Bridge, with a £45 million grant for demolition and were unable to make a profit…?
‘Or a pub,’ added Half-life, sagely.
So rather than fire whoever came up with an unviable plan in a goldmine, Berkeley Homes persuaded Greenwich Council, whose own planning guidelines recommend a maximum of 15-storey buildings, to part the arse cheeks of vociferous local objection and approve a 21-storey tower at the centre of the ‘village’, along with several 17-storey buildings.
The plan does include new bars, restaurants and shops around The Hub at the station. The dread with any newly-built heart of a community is that it will lack soul and be populated by dreary chains and braying City boys. My fear for the distant future of the country is that Britain will develop into a giant Canary Wharf, a hideous, character-less void where bland is beautiful. My hope is that there’ll always be a Deptford.
Kidbrooke Village will have 35% ‘affordable housing’, whereas the Ferrier’s 1900 homes were pretty much 100% social housing. It was one of London’s toughest estates, as rough as fuck. Now it has concierges, £1 million penthouses with champagne fridges; now it has waterfalls. The old residents were – please excuse the phrase – ‘decanted’ to other social housing schemes at a rate of one household every day for five years. The last time I visited the Ferrier, there was just a small part of it left standing; forlorn, sad and tatty. I knew then I was going to miss its unique grimness, though I also knew I would not miss the sense of foreboding I used to get going there, back in the day.
Another fear for Kidbrooke is that it becomes a magnet for foreign investors who will not live there, something that Berkeley Homes deny. Far East buyers were offered the opportunity to buy six months before anyone in the UK. Figures on overseas ownership range from 8% to 50%, depending on who you believe. The guy who tweeted the 50% figure was asked to take it down in a phone call from Berkeley. He refused unless proof was provided that it was incorrect. It remains on his timeline. A saleswoman I spoke to said the split was 80/20, with not all the 20% of investment buyers being foreign. If the truth is flattering, why not make it public?
New residents are very positive about the place, with one coming for the nearby private schools and another saying the £2000+ a year maintenance charges are high but ‘worth it for the landscaping, cleaning, concierge and general maintenance.’ Nobody begrudges people a nice home, but the social cleansing of London threatens the very things that have made it special for hundreds of years. Interesting, bold, hungry, imaginative people have gravitated towards it from all over Britain and the globe for centuries. Now, we risk colonisation by the dull rich. Worse, we risk London not being for viable for Londoners anymore. The Independent reports that 50,000 families have been moved out of London, ‘uprooted from their neighbourhoods and dumped further and further away from the capital, cut off from their relatives and support networks’, in the last three years. It begs the question, who is London for, if it’s not for Londoners? Investors? The wealthy? If so, it won’t be the capital of the world for long.
But before Kidbrooke Village gets finished off, it’s not a bad spot for some peace and puff. It might continue to be if new owners remain in far away lands. Everyone’s a winner, unless you’ve been recently decanted, as Johnny Blisters had, it turned out, to Hastings, where Half-life is still hoping I’ll deliver his contraband.
‘This must be the only village with a tower block and no pub,’ moaned Half-life. ‘Good job you took the gun off me, I might have ended it.’
But we did at least have a beer festival to attend. We found the rugby club tucked discretely between two semi-detached houses, like it was having a sneaky fag and hiding from its mum. It opened out into playing fields and a nice vista of Oxleas Woods, struggling up Shooters Hill and has a lovely little club bar with Sky Sports. The function room was lined with casks, many local, but also some welcome guests from around the country. We found the Raider trying to get into festival organiser, Anna’s, private sampling room (not a euphemism) and Half-life observed the beards and bellies.
‘Fuck me, it’s like the Lord of the Rings extras’ catering tent in here,’ he said.
Osman, who had made the world’s first journey from Australia to Kidbrooke, was beside himself.
‘50 beers!’ he cried, with the same joy he had once exclaimed, ‘It’s a boy!’
‘Yep. If we want to try them all we might have to have halves,’ I joked, lamely.
‘I was thinking two of each. I fucking hate the spare hand thing,’ replied Osman.
‘Respect,’ said Half-life, probably for the first time in his life. They were going to get on fine.
Main image: Field of Jeans – Thomas Tallis School
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