Sunday, 9 March 2014

Children on the move

Max in his new kitchen
I have spent the weekend helping Max and Inna move from their flat in Balham to Penge.
I think this is the 10th London move I've done and there have been some interesting days. I remember the spiteful, predatory traffic wardens when we moved Sam into halls at King's; the wreck of a van Sam hired for £15 to move from Lancaster Road to Blackstock Road, self-store warehouses in Leighton ...
There was also the famous time I was to move Tom and Hannah to Bow. I arrived at their flat in Peterborough just after 9am to find them both asleep (Tom had been out drinking until 3am at the Met Lounge and was quite clearly still rat-arsed) and nothing packed.
This move was much better planned. Max and Inna had been packing and preparing for a little while and much was already boxed when I arrived on Friday.
The plan was that I'd get down about the same time as Max got home from school; we'd load the BMW, wait until the traffic died down and then take the first load across to the house to make a bit of a start.
Let me say straight away that I don't like driving in south London (who does?). Cross Kew Bridge or pass under the Blackwall Tunnel - the two points where London's inner-ring road crosses the Thames - and it's like driving from the first world into the third world. The two or three lanes of the North Circular Road become the South Circular - a single-track road with passing places and a bus lane. There are better roads on the Isle of Mull!
A couple of weekends past, Margaret and I had visited Max for Sunday lunch and we'd gone via Kew Bridge. It turned out to be a nightmare journey even on a Sunday morning, with the last 10 miles taking as long as the previous 100. This time, I decided I'd go via the M11 and Blackwall tunnel and it was better - marginally. I made good time until I hit the tunnel approaches. Just the thought of driving south of the river seemed to have frozen drivers in terror.
The route took me all the way along the South Circular, past Dulwich College (I could have picked Max up) and into Balham by the Bedford. I was waiting for Max when he got home from school and we soon got the car loaded up.
The drive across to Penge takes us through Streatham, Crystal Palace, Anerley and turn left for Penge. I was keen to see the new place, but first we had get there - easier said than done. The first, and most formidable obstacle, is the junction of the A214 and A23 above Streatham. Instead of bulldozing a couple of historic churches and a row of houses to build a decent junction, the south London road planners have constructed a one-way triangle comprising Ambleside Avenue, Streatham High Road and Tooting Bec Gardens, controlled by a set of traffic lights which allows you 15 seconds on green every half an hour.
To make matters worse, getting in the correct (middle) lane for Streatham means that you're the victim of every aggressive or stupid car driver in the area. Everyone (including buses) takes the lane of least resistance until they get to the junction and then just push across to where they want to go. It's not unusual to see a double-decker go all the way from right to left, without a hint of shame. On Friday evening, it was gridlocked, in comparison Streatham seemed to flash past.
South London isn't short of hills and this is an up-and-down journey. The next summit on the ridge is Crystal Palace which is reached after another frustrating traffic jam, testing my hill-start skills and tiring my aching clutch leg (why didn’t I buy an automatic car?). There are some great views from the higher points, especially as you approach the Crystal Palace triangle and then it’s downhill all the way to Penge. Anerley Hill is something of a renowned challenge for London cyclists and Max was planning to have it as part of his morning commute – I’m not sure how long that will last.
Penge doesn’t look quite as nice or have as many facilities as Balham, but it’s perfectly OK. The house was nice (an interesting lay-out): it’s semi detached, but the entrance is at the side, so the side of the house is the front. There are two rooms downstairs, plus a kitchen and bathroom; and two bedrooms upstairs.  There’s a large garden at the front (side) and a drive with a garage. Not many plants in the garden, but when I’m able to I’ll help stock that up.
We dropped off the boxes and headed pretty much straight back, parked in Sainsbury’s, Balham to get a few bits for the next day and then popped into an Indian take-away to order supper (and then the Bedford for a quick pint). One of Max’s old colleague from St Joseph’s was in the Bedford; he was waiting for some friends, he was drinking water (cheap round) and he was very pleased to see Max.
When we got back, we realised that Max and I had packed all the plates and sealed the boxes, so we had nothing to eat the curry from. We ended up eating it from three pans – that worked all right.
Next morning, Max and I went by train to Battersea to pick up the hire van, drove it back to Balham and set about loading. A couple of Inna’s friends had come along to help, so there were plenty of hands. It’s odd how your possessions build up in each move. Max and Inna still don’t own big furniture like beds, settees and fridges, but they will do next time round. Everything was packed in the van pretty easily and was going to go in one trip, with the remaining boxes packed pretty tightly into the BMW. As we had some time to spare, Max and I walked down some bags to the charity store, popped into the hardware store and I grabbed coffee and cake for everyone from Starbucks. I’d felt too full for breakfast after the massive curry the night before, but was now a little peckish. Starbucks coffee is really strong; it has a real kick, so just the thing to keep you moving.
We were across in Penge around noon and Damien, Max’s chemistry teacher chum, was sitting on the wall waiting for us. Everything was piled into the house and we left Inna and her friends to unpack while we took the van back. Damien came along for the ride and I agreed to drive the car to Battersea and then drive back to Balham, where we had to let in some cleaners. Max and Damien had set off before me, so I just set the sat-nav for Battersea and let it take me there. The one thing I can say in favour of the South Circular is that there are one or two good views across London. I got to the car hire place (after getting a little lost) and found no sign of Max or Damien.
I’d got into the car without my rucksack, which contained my phone and wallet, so I had a couple of quid in change and no comms. That wouldn’t have worried me at all once upon a time, but these days, panic sets in if you can’t make a phone call. After what seemed like an age, probably 20 minutes, they turned up, handed in the van and we all headed back to Balham.
The cleaners – two east European girls – were sitting on the lawn when we got there and soon got to work, with a host of powerful-smelling chemicals. They needed Max’s vacuum cleaner, so we had to go back when they’d expect to finish at about 7pm.
So, it was back to Balham via the Anerley Arms for a quick pint and I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to make Max’s garage theft-proof. The doors were shaved to make them close properly, the Yale lock repositioned and a new internal padlock fitted. I’m not sure what his bike is worth, but it’s unlikely anyone is going to get in there now!
After dark, it was back to Balham for one last time. The cleaners had done a really good job, so we picked up the last few bits (including the vacuum cleaner) and locked up Balham. New people are moving in on the Tuesday, so it would be empty for just two days. Max and Inna had asked to get out of their contract a few months early and so were hoping it could be re-let. Such is the demand for rental property in London that it went within a couple of weeks and the landlord had also upped the rent by a couple of hundred pounds per month. Rent would be £1,500 per month for a two-bed flat in Balham – I don’t know how anyone affords to live in London.
Back in Penge for one last time, I left Max and Inna to it. They were going to head out to check the local pubs and I headed for the South Circular, following my less-than-trusty sat-nav. Actually, it wasn’t too bad a journey, traffic was fairly light and the sat-nav was taking me towards the Blackwall Tunnel. There was a queue to get into the tunnel and a slow crawl through, but as soon as I hit north London and the A12, it was three and four-lane heaven. In no time, I was on the M11 and the cruise control set at 70mph.

I think it will be easier to visit Max and Inna in future, Penge is closer to the Blackwall Tunnel and there will be less South Circular to navigate. We hope to go in a few weeks, so I’ll test it out then.