A WIND to slice ears off whips across the entrance to Walthamstow Central tube station. The temperature is below zero degrees Centigrade and snow settles behind chimney stacks on bleak roofs. This is London at Easter. There are no bunnies . . .
In a corner shop, people are discussing the latest twist in the mysterious death of Boris Berezovsky. No one refers to him as a Russian oligarch, which pleases me no end. In this dog-legged world where buzz-words are replacing language, all rich Russians have become oligarchs, while Murdoch and Trump are just Murdoch and Trump. That’s Murdoch the media oligarch I’m referring to, not the nice guy from the A Team. And Trump the oligarch. Let’s move on.
William Morris. He was a humanitarian with strong political principles and connections with the wallpaper industry. This description could also be applied to the present Chancellor of the Exchequer with the omission of one word. And it’s not wallpaper.
That’s set me off . . .
Is it just me or has the world been turned inside out by a band of Old Etonian oligarchs with a penchant for wrecking restaurants then blaming the hungry? The last time I looked, it was the super-rich and their schemes for getting richer who had driven the economy onto the rocks. But now, it’s become widely accepted that the poor and disabled should pay the price and be blamed, insulted, kicked and demonised into the bargain.
As we shuffle along Hoe Street, it would be timely if Wednesday’s Daily Mail front page fluttered limply past in the gutter – the one with the unbelievably despicable “Vile product of welfare UK” headline referring to child-killer Mick Philpott – but it doesn’t. Shame. I would have taken a photograph. Because that front page is emblematic of the nasty, twisted, embittered place this country has become. And the gutter is where it belongs.
Instead, let us take the opportunity to remember that the Daily Mail was a fanatical supporter of Franco, Mussolini and Hitler right through the 1930s, then changed its allegiance only when its proprietor realised the rest of the country was going to war against his heroes. And let us also not forget that George Gideon Oliver Osborne is the heir apparent to the Baronetcy of Ballintaylor and Ballylemon. You don’t inherit titles like that when you’re trying to survive on £53 a week in a country where the Government has thrown tens of thousands of civil servants, public employees and soldiers on the dole. You have to be an oligarch. Moving on again . . .
We’re walking through Walthamstow in search of the house where Morris spent his childhood, but last night my wife pulled a muscle behind her left knee outside the Zetland Arms in South Kensington and progress is slow, painful and extremely cold. Too much port and lemon, if you ask me.
Walthamstow’s one of those places that everyone’s heard of and probably formed their own mental impression. I imagined tower blocks and grey houses fading into an indistinct horizon. The reality is hilly streets like the streets of any other town, forecourt gardens with snowdrops and daffodils, splendid pubs and an inordinately high number of barbers shops. There’s even a place where you can get your boots cleaned. Must call in there on the way back.
Morris was an artist, designer of wallpaper, writer and publisher of books, champion of the poor and underprivileged, fighter of causes and dedicated socialist. The house of his childhood is now the William Morris Gallery in Lloyd Park, and it’s an oasis of warmth and enlightenment on a freezing day at Easter.
Entrance is free, the chilli and rice is excellent, the staff are ever so helpful, and at present there’s an exhibition of David Bailey’s photographs from the 1960s called East End Faces, my favourite being two women standing against a juke box in an establishment called the Rio Club. There is also an interesting picture of the Kray twins playing with snakes. Whatever turns you on. I prefer matchbox rugby.
Outside the wind is still gusting through freezing streets. I haven’t been this cold since I was on Blencathra about three years ago. At least on the fells you can wrap up in winter gear, but here in Walthamstow there are women tripping past with bits of body bared to the elements. Which reminds me of a line from a Hilda Baker film – but there’s no time for that.
We wander through Lloyd Park and take a circuitous route back along streets where front doors are battened against an endless winter, bay windows are filled with books and flowers, there are cats on walls, bin-bags on pavements, smiling pedestrians, cars with baby-on-board stickers, shops with dim lights and majestic pubs. I’ve decided I like Walthamstow. It’s just like anywhere else. I don’t know why I assumed it wouldn’t be.
Here’s a tip if you’re visiting London and searching for a cheap drink. A round for two people (pint and whatever) costs about £8 in the centre. Just outside Walthamstow Central tube station there’s a pub called The Goose. A pint of Green King IPA is £2.50. A round comes to £4 something. William Morris might not have approved. I certainly do. The wife isn’t complaining either – not about the drink anyway. The leg’s another story.