On Thursday, I made an offer on a flat in Peckham and, following a bit of negotiation, it was accepted. Although I'm sure I got a good price, I don't mind admitting to a degree of anxiety: should I maybe just sit tight for a few months? What if the market crashes and I end up paying over the odds? What if the crisis leads to an exodus from London? Eventually, I pushed most of these doubts from my mind. Whatever the impact of the virus, I like and want to live in London for the foreseeable future; and whatever the impact on house prices, my goal is to find somewhere to live – most likely for the next decade – and so there's little point in trying to second-guess the property market. Or indeed anything right now.
On Monday, I got a reminder of what a rollercoaster flat buying can be. An automated email from the estate agent told me the seller had cancelled our 'transaction' and was moving to an online auction instead. Immediately, my mind was racing: was this a ruse to extract more money from me, the buyer? Had the seller read reports of an unexpected boom in transactions and had second thoughts about accepting what may have been too low a price?
After a gloomy couple of hours, the agent called and sounded unexpectedly chirpy. Terribly sorry, he said, but their online auctioneers had got muddled up with another property on a street of the same name in North London (the city is big, there are often two or three of everything) and they were trying to sort it. My transaction was fine and on course. Phew. Cock-up over conspiracy every time.
Conscious that I might be tempting fate, I began researching what will soon – fingers crossed – be my new neighbourhood. Glengall Road connects the Old Kent Road (I still haven't figured out if the definite article is necessary) to Peckham Rye, via Burgess Park and what remains of the old Surrey Canal. Until I first checked out the property a couple of weeks ago, I have to confess that the Old Kent Road was alien territory for me, and I thought I knew the city quite well.
All I knew was that it was a cheap square on the Monopoly Board, and it remains curiously underdeveloped given its proximity to Central London. Indeed, it'll be just a 20-minute cycle from there to Parliament – assuming I'm ever allowed back at my desk. The area is an engaging mix, as a colleague put it, of hipster-dom and traditional South London. Glengall Road and the surrounding area were once heavily industrial. There are old factory buildings opposite the flat I'm intending to buy, while further up the road – which boasts some ostentatiously grand homes – once stood Stuart's Granolithic Company.
This had its origins in Edinburgh and a previous enterprise of Peter Stuart (1836-1923), known as the 'Granolithic King' through his invention of an 'improved' form of paving made from granite chippings mixed with Portland stone cement. Stuart's firm paved the City of London, but by 1887 he had been compelled to sell up, with London operations continuing at Glengall Road in what was then Millwall. The Building News
praised the 'very effective appearance' of a decorative stonework chimney on the Company's site.
It's not clear when this was cleared (it's now modern housing) but Stuart's Granolithic Company moved to the West Midlands in the 1960s, where subsidiary firms continued to produce flooring, including for the new British Library at St Pancras, laid in the late 1980s and early '90s. The firm was wound up and liquidated in 2012. Little slices of Scotland in London have always intrigued me, so I find it reassuring to have found another on (what will soon be) my doorstep.
A few weeks ago I declared an intention to build a life-sized (or should that be alien-sized?) Dalek from scratch, with the help of my brother. Alas, once we sat down to digest what this would entail in terms of materials, labour and ingenuity, it was clear we were being over-ambitious. Fortuitously, however, eBay threw up a Glaswegian moulding firm which has just started producing full-sized fibreglass 'builders kits'.
Not only will this save us from the trickier aspects of moulding the Dalek's 'skirt', shoulders and dome, but it leaves a bit of necessary construction to satisfy our nostalgic and creative urges. It'll still need an eyestalk, plunger and gun, not to mention hemispheres (provided) for the skirt and, of course, a paint job. We (my brother and I) spent a bit of time choosing a colour scheme and have settled on black and blue, a livery used in late-1960's instalments of the 'classic' series of Doctor Who
My brother's partner, from whom permission was sought to store – and work on – the creature in the basement, thinks we're mad, though I've noticed that other acquaintances of a similar vintage are almost as excited as we are. It'll fall to me to source and buy the remaining materials, which isn't as straightforward as finding an old sink plunger and some ping-pong balls. Still, eBay in this case (as in so many others) will be my friend. And, once it's finished, it'll reside with me in Peckham. Stairs – once the enemy of the Daleks – won't be a problem, I just hope it fits through the doors.