Monday, June 15, 2009

Not for These Two Pilgrims

'No, of course there's no satellite dish. It's a Grade II Listed Building!'

I should have known R would never fall for what looked like a small-scale castle, in the middle of a housing estate. It was a typical London surprise that reminded me of the pagoda at the top of our road, built for Caroline, the wife of George IV and also now part of a housing estate, called Pagoda Gardens.

I'd gone alone to view the property after a contretemps in Sainsbury's Homebase - alone, that is, except for Becky, the estate agent's assistant, who lived in New Cross. She seemed to be very good at her job.

The flat I'd gone to see was small, but exuded a mellow charm, from the stone-arched entries to the curious indoor window-shutters. A system of pulley chains opened sky-lights at the top of funnelled ceilings in kitchen and bathroom. It had no separate bedroom, and 'studio' seemed rather fancy when applied to the small living area. Some flats had drop-down beds fitted to the walls, said Becky. I thought that was a good idea, and easier than opening up a sofa every night.

They'd have probably been considered spacious by the '42 aged pilrims' for whom they'd been build in 1831, under the auspices of one William Peacock, partly paid for by 'public subscription'.

They weren't literally pilgrims, despite the Southwark location, but pilgrims in the John Bunyan Pilgrims Progress sense of pilgrims treading their earthly road to heaven. In effect, the 30 or so flats in the two storey dwellings built around a central courtyard were almshouses for the elderly.

And what a courtyard - enclosed on all sides by yellow brick and stone, the plants were of a tropical nature - huge fig trees and a variety I'd last seen in Singapore, called a Fan Palm.

A young man was sitting on the grass, singing and playing a guitar. It almost seemed staged.

It didn't occur to me that R would object to the local ambience: Lewisham's hardly salubrious. Following an email from Becky about a TV aerial in the loft I was sure he'd be won over by the charm of the interior. But two people who'd argue about a replacement loo seat would hardly be in accord about a flat.

I was taken aback when R told Becky he thought the walk from the bus stop, between tower blocks positively sprouting dishes, would lower the spirits. After all, he was brought up not very far away, in one of the barrack-like blocks opposite Camberwell bus station. Although not intended as almshouses they'd also had been endowed by a nineteenth century philanthropist, Samuel Lewis, with his own ideas about how the poor should live. They lack charm entirely, having more than a hint of the gulag about them.

William Peacock, by contrast, was a romantic. Not only did he he think the pilgrims should have bathrooms, and a garden, he stipulated that the ground rent for the properties should be ' a single red rose', to be paid annually. He also requested that he and his wife should be buried in the courtyard.

I can see R's point about the flat being too small, so I'm secretly relieved, although it was a pleasant weekend fantasy.

'Mmm. Not a bad loo seat, this. I think we should take it with us when we move.' I'm glad we finally agreed on the replacement. I hope he's joking about taking it, though.

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