A south London past – musings on Crystal Palace
A few days ago I stumbled over some trivia. One of those ‘Did you know?’ kind of tidbits of more or less useless information. It said:
Did I know? More importantly, did I care? Those of you who know me well enough to have an idea of some of my more dearly held views on the world probably know my opinion on football (aka soccer. Though, in all fairness, my opinion on the aka football variety of that sport is pretty much the same!) I could, were I not inclined to rather disregard Leviticus as completely outdated and bordering at the outright dangerous in its so called laws, even quote that abysmal book to underpin my arguments against this sport. (If you’re curious nonetheless, check 11.8)
In any case, even though this is a post about various pasts, none of those concerned go back that far in history. All pasts, of course, though we arrange for their meeting in the present, have only the past to meet in. So why am presently arranging for a meeting of bygones? And how come that an anti-football enthusiast even brings up what has so far in this post has been brought up?
It has to do with a short interlude in my very personal recent past: For the better part of three weeks Crystal Palace had the connotation of being ‘my hood’, as the hipster-wannabe urbanite would, approximating hyper-real hip hop lingo, put it. After a short stay in Hammersmith – after a few, final ‘Nö Sleep till Hammersmith‘, (to borrow the name from a Motörhead album here) days in Vienna – and then a weekend of vagabonding through various more- or less inglorious hotels, I took lodging at The Lodge – a hostel that is part of the National Sports Centre. This is located on the grounds where the aforementioned football club used to have their home – in Crystal Palace. (There seemingly are plans by the club to return there. Allow me to express a properly yawned: ‘who cares’. ) I will, btw. come back to the topic of Hammersmith in one of my future posts, as it is ‘just around the corner’ from Shepherd’s Bush, the current location of the Ivory Bunker. This narrative is not unfolding chronologically. Just sayin’. OK, back to the squirrel, ahm, story:
The Lodge, however, though not as symbol-laden or spectral as the famous Black Lodge does have a certain Lynchesque feeling of its own. Rising 12 floors high in the middle of a park where ravens fly and squirrels mock you. It is therefore (or nonetheless, depending on how you are inclined) actually a pretty decent place to stay – quite reasonably priced and close to the Overground and Railway services to Victoria and London Bridge.
What it is not, however, is very central. Let’s get geographical: Crystal Palace is an area of south London, eight miles to the south-east of Charing Cross, as wikipedia tells us. It is named after the location of the second home of the eponymous building which was, after the Great Exhibition of 1851 at Hyde Park had ended, erected there in a park in between Sydenham and Penge. You can read more about this in the linked wikipedia article. I for my part rather digress: Already during my stay there could not help but repeatedly associate the name of the place and the history of that name with a scene in one of my all-time favorite TV shows – you may have guessed: Monty Python’s Flying Circus. It is in the 3rd episode of the 3rd series in the ‘The Lost World of Roiurama’ sketch that John Cleese’s character says:
“It was a great expedition” – upon which a picture of the Crystal Palace from the Great Exhibition at Hyde Park is shown, causing Cleese to repeat – with taking special care of a clear pronunciation “ExPEdition”.
This sketch, which is actually a continuation of a sketch called ‘Jungle Restaurant’ which starts with one of my all time favorite segues, the ‘Never resist a beautiful sentence’ (Baudrillard)-worthy: “Meanwhile in the jungle next door”. This sketch, after being interrupted by an alleged scene from Ken Russel’s ‘Gardening Club’ leads on to the above mentioned ‘lost world’ sketch… And by now I’ve truly digressed far beyond any reasonable boundary.
Well, back to Crystal Palace (not the picture of the building, but the area). Well, its worth to mention that the building burned down in 1936 which actually leaves much more area, especially in the park in which stands the Lodge which is part of the National Sport Center, etc….
Besides a small museum – which I never managed to visit while there, though a sign on its wall claiming that it was protected by anti-vandal paint amused me (I mean, what if instead of Vandals Goths, or Visigoths were to haunt it?!) there is still one steel frame of a corner standing at the site, as are some sphinxes and a stone balustrade/stairs close to the top of Sydenham Hill. This area of the park is still popularly used for temporary amusement parks – as I was able to witness on Guy Fawkes day – including, of course, the ‘mandatory’ fireworks.
Two television transmitter masts, one of which was dead center in the view from my room at the Lodge, still make the area a landmark visible from many parts of London. On top of that hill lies Upper Norwood, quite a picturesque place with a great view of the city. On clear days, that is. According to a poster from the Victorian Area (available in replica from Upper Norwood Library) one of the places in London where, even (or only?) back then you could live healthier thanks to all the fresh air coming in from the sea. It was also from the vicinity of Upper Norwood that the wood for Drake’s ship, the Golden Hinde was allegedly felled.
It may even have come from where Crystal Palace park is now. – On another pop-cultural side-note: Should you ever have found yourself wondering, btw., where the outdoor rave scenes in the Chemical Brothers’ Setting Sun video were shot – it was exactly that park and exactly the spot towards the higher regions. Should you (like me before I learned of it) never have thusly wondered, you can still watch the video to give you an impression…
In the nether regions of the park – close to Crystal Palace Station – are a couple of lakes surrounded by the Victorian version of an educational nature trail. Remember, those were the times shortly after Darwin had published his Origin of the Species. And, as it turns out, also the times of one of the first Dinosaur crazes. So, all in the spirit of enlightenment of that era – which also brought London the Horniman Museum and Goldsmith University (and a few other gems of south London) – a bunch of concrete dinos – all very scientifically inaccurate – were placed in a pseudo-romantic (i.e. romantic in the sense of the so called historical period) wilderness. These were restored only relatively recently but seem to be one of the few reasons Crystal Palace may show up in tourist guides at all.
The park also features one of those (to me) somewhat weird British past-times, namely a maze which was built in memory of the founder of the Girl’s Scouts. Its gate is beautifully (but misleadingly) named ‘The Escape Gate’. I did, however, quite obviously neither escape nor get lost in that maze.
Thus ends the meeting of pasts in the past. While I’m finishing this post snow is falling on (west) London and I’m reminded of another piece of trivia which I picked up during my stay at the Crystal Palace Lodge (which was one of those interludes characterized by the presence of TV, since that came with the room): How much snow has to fall in Britain on Christmas for it to be declared a ‘white Chistmas’? – Believe it or not: One [expletive withheld] flake…
My London picture galleries can be found at http://londonpix.ivorybunker.com