Putney Village 10/02/2010Posted by brendan in Avions, Trains et Voitures.
Tags: bishop's park, foxes, fulham, hammersmith bridge, london, putney, putney bridge, thames, travel
After a very long day, a very long time ago, we were tracing the American/Canadian border in search of shelter. On a two lane road lit only by our headlights the car was suddenly surrounded by little fox cubs, running to keep pace. Deprived of sleep and rattled by the one-two punch of seeing Shrek and surviving an unsuccessful attempt to clear foreign customs, these little black-footed creatures descended like angels. Everyone yelled at me to quit grabbing and close the door.
I had no idea London was home to foxes. Alligators in the sewer, sure. Whales in the Thames– I’ve heard. Standing on the porch of Paul & Sam’s apartment I was caught entirely off guard by silhouettes creeping along the back wall. When my primal terror subsided I was left thrilled.
People see them in different parts of town, but I only encountered foxes in Putney. Riding the south bank of the river due west of downtown, this quiet district may as well be another city. Sleepy residential blocks intersected by a couple high streets, you need only walk a couple minutes in any direction before you feel you’ve left the civilized world behind.
Paul described it as a place where people wanted to live because it was nice and girls felt safe. Sam didn’t contribute an opinion on behalf of her gender but if the poor musical taste of the Australians upstairs were the worst problems then it seemed like a good neighborhood. Well, Paul’s car was victimized by an errant falafel one night.
There’s no attractions, just a couple of parks and the river. The bridge crossing over to Fulham was first constructed in the mid-eighteenth century, but I can’t imagine what public demand was like for such an investment. On the north is Bishop’s Park, the grounds of an old church open to public strolling. I strolled, joined by people enjoying a New Year’s Day brightened by sunshine but suffering a subzero chill. The waterfront has undergone massive rehabilitation efforts in the past decade with new identikit building developments displacing old brick and mortar wharf warehouses.
Past Craven Cottage, home of the Fulham club, you come to the Hammersmith Bridge. This is what bridges should look like, opulent but commanding, the perfect marriage of engineering and aesthetics. The IRA has targeted the structure on more than one occasion which seems ridiculous. If you want to cripple infrastructure you go after a central bridge. If you want to make a statement you go after the Tower Bridge. Maybe it was a trial run for the big show– they never managed to do much damage.
All I’d ever heard of Hammersmith was White Man in Hammersmith Palais by The Clash. I crept carefully down the streets expecting poverty and crime but found nothing save for some tired looking shops and a mall without bathrooms. Back towards the river, past the collection of house barges lined up before historic pubs, and back across. The south bank was muddied by snow-melt, passing bicyclists had muck splashed across their backs. Entire families picked their way through the puddles and sinkpools, determined to enjoy the day. I walked along a wetlands preserve but dusk was falling and I didn’t want like all the signs saying the perimeter was patrolled by guard dogs.
Putney Highstreet is an interesting blend of chain pubs and chain stores. Subway, Caffe Nero, Starbucks, Witherspoons, Pret á Manger. There’s a mall rising out of nowhere, The Putney Exchange, housing more chain stores and the local Waitrose supermarket. The decidedly more grim Sainsburys had better prices but I wouldn’t bank on their produce. People walked the sidewalks but this is not a magnet district, just the evening routine for a thousand middle class aspirants or entombed office drones. Amenities enough to survive, and to survive well, but the local character seemed locked away in apartments, not shared in the streets.
A suburb that happen to fall within city limits. I befriended the Turkish guy working the counter of Caffe Nero Location 2 who talked about his coffee consumption and Anatolia. I chatted with the supermarket girl about Chorly Cakes. I wound through the streets at night wondering what was there. It gets quiet early, even the corner market closes before its posted hours. Just me and the foxes out under the moon. And that made it almost like a real vacation.