What’s in a place?
What is it that draws us to an area, makes us feel like staying and compels us to irritate our friends by asking them to help us move there?
We will all have our opinions, of course, but it’s time to set those aside in favour of the rigour of science. In this formal study, carried out in conjunction with South London University (Darts Team), we considered the Deserter ‘attributes of place’, composed them into an algorithm, ran the whole shebang through an IBM 386 ‘Windows’ computer and left it running while we went for a kickabout.
Below, we reveal the places the computer calculated are currently the best places to live. But first, a run-down of those criteria.
The proximity of alcohol is crucial. Even if you’re not drinking – say, when you’re asleep – it’s a comfort to know it’s there.
A local pub is ideal. Preferably a nice, welcoming one, with good beer and a pretty garden. Failing that, a nasty one will have to do. As well as a pub, a micropub, bottle shop and/or brewery tap room is a boon to any area. An offy is a bare minimum.
In Deserter-land, two types of cafe are required to optimise a locale: One lah-di-dah one in which the coffee is fresh, the pains au chocolat are light and fluffy and you’re free to lounge about all day sucking up free wifi; the other, a greasy spoon, where you can nullify a hangover with fried proteins beneath a blanket of chips, before waddling home to sleep it all off.
Does your house tremble as traffic passes? Do you have to keep your windows closed at all times so you can hear the telly? So you can breathe?
We live in the big city. We know that from our blackened ‘kerchiefs and particulate-filled lungs. So it’s nice to have somewhere nearby in which we can step outside it for a while and take a stroll in a fresh, edifying, green space or beside some water, on the way to that pub, perhaps.
Here, away from the urban cacophony, we can clear our minds, retune our souls and commune with nature – though be sure to you wipe it off your shoes before heading back indoors.
Despite the rise of Domino’s and Deliveroo, not to mention the lure of the sofa, it is a fine thing to have the option of one or two sit-in eateries on your doorstep. Being able to wander down the road for a sourdough pizza or a decent curry is what sets us apart from country-dwellers.
Experts are split on this one. Some say that the further away from transport links, the better, in order to discourage commuting. Others that good transport links allow you to reach distant pubs and stay in touch with those friends that moved across town. The ones you never see any more.
We tried explaining this to the computer but it kept asking for a one or a zero. In the end we told it to do one.
The London rent map makes for sorry viewing and you need to be on £200k a year to buy a two-bedroom flat at the Elephant and Castle that hasn’t even been fucking built yet, but there are pockets of South London that are, if not cheap, then less expensive than others.
We had our unpaid interns key in all the relevant data instead of taking a lunch break – that’s affordability, right there.
It’s difficult to put your finger on this category. Think ‘culture’, think some sort of ‘happening’, think weed shops.
It’s art, it’s live music, it’s interesting people. It’s a weekend street festival with those giant sausage rolls, an 8% elderflower cider and a sing-song.
Games are good for the soul so our attention was drawn to anywhere with a couple of goal posts; a crazy golf course, maybe; a tennis or basketball court, perhaps. Double points for shove ha’penny and bar billiards.
And that’s it.
Here, in reverse order, are the Deserter Best Places to Live, 2017. For the avoidance of doubt these are definitely the best places and all other places are not as good. At least until next year.
Brockley’s wide, quiet side streets may be a little too suburban for some but hold on, it’s got restaurants, it’s got green (Hilly Fields, Brockley and Ladywell Cemeteries) and it’s got boozes aplenty.
Apart from cracking pubs like Jam Circus and London Beer Dispensary, it now has its own sit-in bottle shop, waterintobeer. The magnificent Rivoli Ballroom and the Brockley Jack, with its off-West End theatre, are all very well, but it’s the presence of Brockley Brewery that offers the comforting prospect of self-sufficiency during a security lock-down. That and Brockley Market.
Some say that Brockley’s Rock fries the finest chips in all of London, while Jerk Garden, The Gantry and The Orchard are all very highly regarded, not to mention Babur and the exquisite La Querce, down the Brockley Road towards Forest Hill.
Despite the arrival of the Ginger Line, Brockley remains more affordable than a lot of its rivals. Though with grub like that, probably not for long.
7. Herne Hill
With its Sunday market and pretty no-through road ‘piazza’, featuring bars, delis and cafes huddled around the station, Herne Hill is a town planner’s wet dream, especially on market day. Less frenetic than its more famous neighbour, Brixton, it nevertheless offers plenty, just on a more manageable scale.
On the doorstep is Brockwell Park, one of the finest parks in London. As well as providing elevation and a sense of getting away from it all, the park also offers such Desertery delights as bowling, free cricket nets, tennis, a lido and a lovely walled garden for a well-deserved sit down and a bit of puff.
Furthermore, Herne Hill’s erstwhile jewel, The Half Moon, recently reopened and its refurbishment includes new outside spaces, just in time for summer. Sadly the live music is gone, but the commendably kooky Off The Cuff, by the station, has stepped into the breach admirably in this regard. Other HH highlights include Manu’s kitchen at the Prince Regent and the velodrome with its rebuilt clubhouse, where you get to feel good by watching other people exercise.
Now as pricey as any other riverside spot, Borough muscled its way into the Top 8 by virtue of its location, its foodiness and, of course, its legendary boozers.
In Borough, you rarely visit just one pub. You’ll just be finishing a pint when someone will say, ‘Fancy the Porter?’ Or Rake. Sheaf. Head. Clyde. Oak, etc. And soon we will be able to add The Glad to that impressive list, as it reopens at the end of the month.
Borough Market has changed a lot since its wholesale era, but despite its transformation into a specialist food retail emporium it still offers the bustle of a working market and exudes the easy camaraderie of stall owners and workers; it still feels local, a place where people work together and drink together.
In addition, according to Half-life, Southwark Cathedral has the best toilets for doing sniff in South London.
Less self-conscious, less arch perhaps, than Peckham and Brixton, between which it sits, the rugged charms of Camberwell are kept under wraps by knowing locals who want to keep it for themselves. Yes, it remains the only place I’ve been stabbed – twice – but the computer probably considered that a plus, the two-bit tin tit.
Camberwell’s epicentre is a busy, polluted crossroads but it scores highly on ‘action’, with a lively arts scene and a disproportionately large selection of pubs, bars and eateries. New builds going up all around suggest a lot of noobs are going to be wandering around soon, so get it while you can.
Highlights include the Hermit’s Cave and sister pub, Stormbird (both great for summer street drinking), Theo’s pizzeria, Van Hing and Silk Road for food, and late night dancing at The Joiners or the Tiger. Sports fans can watch the footy at the Old Dispensary and then play floodlit ping pong all night on the Green.
Greenwich is still lovely on a weekday in January, but if you live there you have to be there on weekends and over the summer too, when it’s filled with tourists standing around gawping at old shit. But head east and the crowds dissipate to reveal decent boozers, The Pelton Arms, The Vanbrugh and windowless sports pub par excellence, Hardy’s. The Crown has a fine beer garden (more wiff waff) and puts on a regular vinyl night.
Eastward, towards Charlton, a new micropub, The River Ale House, has been granted a premises licence which may see Greenwich’s centre of Deserter gravity lurch even further along the A206.
With its high levels of deprivation and social exclusion, you may be surprised to learn that Deptford is also filled with art galleries, studios, dancers, luvvies and musicians, making the best of a place many of us simply pass on the bus.
Pub-wise there’s the evergreen Dog and Bell as well as The Job Centre, the Royal Albert (bar billiards) and the official Best Pub on a Roundabout, The Bird’s Nest, for live music. The reopened Black Horse is great for ale, pizza and the football and south of the A2, the refurbished Brookmill is building a solid reputation for good beer and food.
The riverside, while lovely and watery in nature, is in another important respect, dry as a frickin’ bone. ‘Shouldn’t the entire river and creekside be lined with pleasure palaces of fine ale, cocktails, hog roasts and bad dancing?’ wailed Dirty South on the subject, not long ago. I can only concur, but you can bet the people in the new flats would moan about the sound of people enjoying themselves.
Deptford Market offers food, clothes and bric-a-brac, complemented by newer independent traders in Market Yard. Fuel up for the experience with a coffee at London Velo or The Waiting Room, finish off with beer and cocktails at the legendary Little Nan’s and then start making plans to pack up and move here.
This hilltop settlement would appear to have the lot.
With less expensive rents than more central areas (you can still pick up a one-bed flat for around a grand a month) Crystal Palace attracts both young professionals and, our preference, young layabouts, who in turn imbue the area with a vibrant social scene.
It has a food market, it has an antiques market and vintage shops, it has cafes, it has restaurants, it has breathtaking views and a world class park and, of course, pubs galore. Highlights on the triangle include the White Hart and Westow House. Down the hill towards Gipsy Hill stands the original Beer Rebellion, which alone is reason enough to consider relocating in our book.
For years overlooked as an adjunct to Peckham or a shortcut to New Cross, Nunhead emerged as our No.1 as the butterfly emerges from the caterpillar, or whatever it is they emerge from.
The smartened up Nunhead Green hosts three pubs, the Man of Kent, The Pyrotechnists Arms and the Old Nun’s Head, which between them offer ale, sport, music, comedy, fine roasts, an eccentric tea room and a distinct Irish flavour. I’d say which does what but that might spoil the fun. Just drop into them all.
Bambuni, the booze and grocery shop, was one of the first places I remember featuring a wall of craft ale, a portend for a beery future, and the arrival of brilliant micropub, the Beer Shop, made that future the present (and meant, finally, there was a bar on each corner of the Green).
Restaurants have popped up to complement the Crossway caff and there are takeaways, a bakery and a wet fish shop, giving Nunhead the feel of a small town, but one that sits in the big city. The grand space of Peckham Rye is nearby along with the sensational Nunhead Cemetery. What more could you want?
As if to confirm the accolade of Deserter Best Place to Live, 2017, Nunhead also has the lowest life expectancy in all of London. About the same as Guatemala. You may go sooner in Nunhead, but by God you go happy.
But our story doesn’t finish there, for so effective was our calculation, so precise the result that, incredibly, we were able to ascertain not only the best area, but an actual address. Yes, the best place to live in all of South London turns out to be… 19, Kimberley Avenue, Nunhead.
We stopped by to pass on our congratulations and a couple of bottles of something nice to Louis and Josie, who have lived at the address for five years.
‘To be honest, we’ve been expecting something like this,’ remarked Louis. ‘It’s obviously the perfect spot. Peckham’s on the doorstep when you want it, but we sit out on the green with a beer and give thanks for Nunhead. If our landlord puts up the rent because of this, we’ll sue you. Thanks for the Champagne, though. Oh, it’s Cava.’
And with that we all headed up to the Beer Shop for a drink-up.
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Image credits: Brockley by diamond geezer, used under this licence; Herne Hill by Matt Brown used under this licence; Borough by f4Niko aka John D Fisher ARPS used under this licence; East Greenwich by Paul Wilkinson used under this licence; Deptford by Julie Kertesz used under this licence; Crystal Palace by CAPTAIN ROGER FENTON; Elephant Park via Chase Evans; Thames beach by Mike Taylor; other photos by the author