Places I love, Issue 1: South Norwood Lake

Simply enough I plan to write about places that I love. A mix of nostalgia and beauty. Here’s the first issue:

South Norwood Lake

This view doesn’t give justice to South Norwood Lake, notice the Crystal Palace transmitter peeking over the trees in the background.

This view doesnt give justice to South Norwood Lake, notice the Crystal Palace transmitter peeking over the trees in the background.

What can I say about this little slice of perfection apart from that it’s the scene of many, many good times. From BBQs to dens created as a child this place has seen it all. I lived beside it for many years and to a great extent it was where I grew up. An idyll of sorts. The lake itself has played a part in this but the majority of my time was spent in the surrounding parkland. At the weekend the local dinghy sailing club fills the lake with Toppers, lasers and Oppies, making the place seem very old fashioned, but completely amiable. It’s a real shame that the refreshment kiosk/park keeper’s hut near the southern gate has been demolished. Instead there is a plasticky one near the bowling green.

That old kiosk features prominently in my memories. Twisters, Feasts, Calypso’s, Mini Milks, Funny Feet – All filled my early life with sugary delight and innocence. So yeah, I was sad to see it’s dilapidated old husk get torn down. I wonder whatever happened to the old dear who used to run it. Perhaps she was destroyed along with it? That would explain why it’s now a patch of rather gorgeous flowers. Poor thing. Kiosk-lady Memorial Park.

I believe the woods are technically private property, but that never stopped an adventurous group of teenagers from exploring them properly. There are long-jump sand pits used by the local college, near a small stream that disappears under a huge sports field through a concrete pipe. Bear in mind that if we get warning of nuclear war this is where I shall be secreting myself. This was all planned out several years ago now so none of you bastards are welcome to squat. Unless you bring corned beef supplies.

The rest of the woodland experienced several fires, an innocent tree got its bark stripped, and therefore murdered, in front of me – something I’m still upset by today, various dens were created and moved, we attempted to utilise the SAS Survival Handbook to build dead-fall and spring traps (to no avail I must add). We even found a rusty old machete down there. Lord knows why that was there, I don’t even want to consider the possibilities as to what it could have been used for…

The playground is at the opposite end of the park from the lake and also full of interesting memories like capturing my brother high in the air with the lighter end of the see-saw, followed by the dreaded ‘Bumps’. Good times. There used to be old tree stumps laid out in a curve in the style of stepping stones but they were another casualty of time. They began to disintegrate and lord knows what they’ve been replaced by now. My train whizzes past the playground every morning so I’ll try to catch a glimpse. Sometime in my mid-teenage years there was a cable zip-line installed with a tyre dangling below. It was incredibly dangerous and the site of several near-death experiences. But, I think it’s managed to tough it out and make it through the fog of health and safety law we’re now mired in. The swings and the slide have been ever-present. They may have been replaced or updated but their position has remained. Good. Perhaps one day I’ll take my own child down there and try to instil the same love for the place that I have.

Blackberry picking up the so called ‘Dead Man’s Alley’, climbing massive spruce trees, hiding in the hollow crown of a spider-infested tree, burning smoke bombs in the drainage ditch, chucking ‘things’ onto the frozen lake surface. All amazing fun. I would love to be able to replay those days in my mind properly, in HD, with surround sound. It will never be the same again, and that’s one of the saddest things I can imagine.

Still, it’s now there for adult pursuits. More barbecues, games of football, terrifying a friend’s dog, sunburn, and that amazing silence and solitude you can find there sometimes. All of this in a leafy suburb of South London, under the imperious yet safe and familiar gaze of a five-hundred foot steel television mast.

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