People talk about London having ‘villages’, neighbourhoods, pockets, corners. In my mind, though, Deptford is an island. Once it probably was literally an island (and one day it may become one again). It’s an island because it has its own logic and landscape and quite possibly laws. It is simultaneously archaic and progressive: the archaeology of the past is everywhere; the new is constantly encroaching and invading. Bits of it metaphorically fall into the sea every so often and a new marina complex is metaphorically always about to be built.
You’re reminded constantly of London’s history here, its tides of settlers and immigration, its social and economic ups and downs. Go to Buster Mantis for rum punch then Mama’s Jerk for a chicken (or saltfish, or soya) ‘biryardi’. Eat Vietnamese or shop for African food and cloth and look up: some of the buildings on the High Street date back to the seventeenth century. That hasn’t stopped them being chopped around and generally made to look a bit crappy. There’s no fake heritage here (well, not much). Deptford was involved in the slave trade; it was badly bombed in WWII; it was neglected and under-funded and has been unsympathetically redeveloped umpteen times. Its scars are visible everywhere. The council removed its landmark anchor and hid it in a shed. Locals campaigned for years to get it back; they succeeded. Islanders cling to these things in the middle of London’s vast ocean.
Deptford has an island’s sense of hospitality and its sense of wariness. I feel it every time I have to go to the mainland, and even more so when I return.
You can find anything in its junk market – the flotsam of seven continents washed up in south-east London. You can eat plantains and pounded yam and gizzard from Tomi’s Kitchen. You can buy a directional houseplant and a single-origin flat white from out of a railway arch. A friend coming round ours once wanted to know which bus stop was nearest to our house. I told her to get off when she saw something properly weird. She rang the bell after spotting an old man riding a BMX completely naked. It was exactly the right stop.
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