The Peckham Diaries Part 1: Porn Mags And Post Office Robberies

From the hair shops to the pool halls, the art students and the estate kids, this summer in Peckham was something special.
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From the hair shops to the pool halls, the art students and the estate kids, this summer in Peckham was something special.

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I love living in Peckham. Not cos it’s the new Dalston. Cos it isn’t. Yet. Maybe these are the last precious days of chaos and normality here. Maybe it’ll stay semi-wild and the pristine Dulwich borders will be enough for Foxtons. I doubt it. London is constantly evolving, no reason SE15 should slip past unscathed. Which is its beauty and its curse.

In the meantime, shouts to the African hairshops and Irish pool hall, to the estate kids on roller skates, the single mums, the art students, the butchers that push their meat deliveries along in battered trollies on searing days, and to everyone who is basically just getting on with it. From the broken-down buildings, the reservoir, and the Bussey.

It's not the homogenized whitewash of Angel that makes London one of the best places in the world, it’s unkempt rabbles like Peckham. Actually it’s both. But I know where I’d rather be.

March 5. A lovely Spring morning in Peckham. Neon clad community service litter-pick condoms and gold cans from the bushes.

April 20. In a mad rush. Head down walking. A smart man and woman coming from the other side of the road frantically wave me down to get my attention: ‘Scuse me!’ Scuse me!’. I stop. Yep? ‘Jesus loves you and everyone one of us!’. Ok cool bye.

May 13. Saw a woman in a shop bite a coin to see if it was legit today. Real recognize real.

May 18. Just saw a man steal a can of Fanta. Failsafe ‘buy-a-pack-of-fags-put-a-can-in-my-pocket’ vibe. Fanta though? Jesus.

May 21. An old Scottish alky who hangs out around Peckham, the kind who uses 3 or 4 pubs in rotation, drinks halves and always wears a suit to project an air of respectability but is routinely waiting outside 'Spoons at 9am and shitfaced by 1, said to me out of the blue: 'I could be your Grandad and you'd never know'. Later on the same day a similar character further down the road asked if he could smell my hair. Maybe this was dare day for career drunks in the area.

May 30. Second time in 2 days I've found a red rose on the streets of Peckham. Ain't all dogshit y’nah.

May 31. Two youngish mums in the park discussing their probation terms.

June 5. Around this time of year the men in 3/4 white shorts with tribal tatted calves throw off the shackles of their year-round trackie b's and parade grubby trainer socks and slip-on Lonsdales in a defiant display of 'what-do-you-mean-even-David-Beckham-in-1998-couldn't-make-these-shorts-work?'. It happens every year. It looks awful. And yet you have to admire the white-van-man-guide-to-short-wearing, he’s like a sartorial incarnation of open pub windows blaring the end of the football season or the Euros or whatever in early evening heat, and in his own way he's as ‘British Summertime’ as Carnival or Pimms at Wimbledon.

June 14. Overheard a woman as she swigged a pint of Estrella through a straw: 'You know what, it's been 3 days since I had a Walkers 24 pack, this diet must really be working'.

June 21. Man bursts into Peckham Post Office, shouts 'this is a robbery! gimme all your cash!'. People roll their eyes, some suck their teeth, everyone carries on. Man stumbles out.

July 4Three young mums, fresh from the school run, stand around their parked car in the middle of the estate. Their kids razz about on bikes and scooters. All the car doors are open and the radio gurgles out dancehall. The women smoke and chat. Atop the car is a half drunk bottle of Courvoisier and three multipack cans of Coke Zero. Immediately prior to this a man in a convertible drove past with a registration plate that read 'Y35 L0RD'. South London doubters: look upon these treasures and weep from your East London ivory turrets.

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July 12. British summertime: people sunburnt and pissed by 3pm, queuing for stuff in Tesco Metro.

July 14. Still boiling at midnight. Waking home through the estates I can hear a bunch of old dears having a proper rowdy sing-song to some gramophone Vera Lynn shit. I turn the corner and a man is pacing round the block with his baby in his arms, rocking it and singing calypso to coax it to sleep in the heat.

July 18. Just when I thought I’d seen all the bellends the world has to offer: a rotund man in a cheap-looking slightly disheveled suit, doing a Badly Drawn Boy 'beard n beanie' look, rollerblades through the pub to meet his friends in the garden. He keeps the inlines on for the remainder while they smash back real ale like there’s no tomorrow.

July 21. Saw something today which I thought no longer existed in inner city areas thanks to an abundance of freely available Internet and cheap smart phones: a torn up porn mag littered amongst the sidewalk shrubbery. Still goes on apparently.

July 29Overheard a couple talking in the pub late 30s, drunk, teachers I think, or just real keen OFSTED conversationalists. She would make a heartfelt declaration ‘I think about you all the time’, he would return with a line from ‘Juicy’ by Notorious B.I.G. adapting it slightly so it mirrored whatever she’d just said. So the last one was met with ‘I think about the life I live / went from negative to positive’. It was weird and cringe. Particularly as he was one of those too-big bodybuilder types who have army regulation haircuts and spray on v-neck t-shirts and kept flirting with the male bartenders whenever he got the chance. I’m guessing she was simply too drunk to care which is sometimes a good place to be.

Aug 9. Saw a man dressed as a penis at the bus stop. This was the best I could do. Sorry bout that.

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Aug 6. Went in the bank. Blink 182 was on the radio and there were Sonic The Hedgehog grafs everywhere. Part of Rye Lane is forever 1999.

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Aug. 28. Chicken Shops in SE15 operate a strict equal opportunities policy.

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