Yours truly (above left) with Jon at the largest plane tree in England, Festival Walk, Carshalton, just before we headed to mum and dad's and a historic cycle up Dog Shit Alley. Middle photo shows three Christmas cakes – one for me, one for Jon and for our sister Clarissa, known as Criss. Top pic is the West Street end of Dog Shit Alley, you can see Jon cycling in the foreground.
Having swam around a mile and a half this week (three half-mile bursts in Purley Pool on Monday and Wednesday and then an evening swim in Richmond) I was feeling pretty good this morning when I woke up and was ready for a cycle to Woodmansterne Green.
We decided to nip round to see mum and dad in Carshalton? So off we toddled. En route we decided to take a detour in order to take in some of our old haunts. We passed the Greyhound, a Young's pub in the village, where Jon, myself and various friends boosted the profits of Young's for some time during the late seventies and eighties. It's changed a bit since our day. I will always remember the 'back bar', which was always full of bikers and dense cigarette smoke and the Swan bar, which is probably still there; it was where all the snobs went for a drink. Anyway, a great pub, it has to be said, especially in the summer when there were the ponds across the road. These were the days of the old licensing hours when you had to be out of the pub by eleven o'clock at night and by 3pm on a lunchtime. I don't know why, but in some ways it was miles better than the current all-day drinking scenario.
We used to love going to the Greyhound on Christmas day lunchtime and then come home for mum's turkey with all the trimmings followed by a snooze and then the realisation that all the pubs were closed on Christmas night and that there was absolutely nothing to do bar watching the television. Of course, in those days, the programmes were good: The Morecambe & Wise Christmas Show, Disney Time (well, when we were a little younger) and, of course, the Christmas Day Top of the Pops during the day (normally, if I recall, before we went to the pub).
In those days we used to drink Young's Special but today I much prefer Ordinary bitter. As they say in the industry, it's a good 'session' drink, which basically means you can knock back four or five pints and still feel fine (ish), you can't drive, put it that way.
Across the road from the Greyhound and to the left of the ponds is Festival Walk, a shaded path that leads on to West Street. The shade is caused by a huge plane tree that once made the Guinness Book of Records as the tallest in the country. Whether it still holds that record, I don't know, but the plaque is still there explaining how the tree is a couple of hundred years old, probably about 250 years old by now as we're not sure when the plaque was put there.
Turning right on to West Street we cycled up past what used to be the Carshalton headquarters of the Sea Scouts. I remember as a boy being intrigued by the Sea Scouts but not intrigued enough to join them. There was something cool about being in the Sea Scouts as opposed to the land-based ones, but strangely, we never, ever saw anybody in or around the building, certainly no Sea Scouts.
Across the road from the Sea Scouts building, which, incidentally, is no longer there and is now housing, there are some amazing old houses set back from the road. I know little about these houses but I'll try and find out more and report back.
Carrying on along West Street we eventually reached the great Dog Shit Alley, so called because, at night, and because somebody always managed to knock out the street lights, there was a high risk of stepping in some dog shit. Taking Dog Shit Alley home was always a little scary but it cut off the alternative journey of walking up Pound Street, turning right on to the Carshalton Road and then right again down Short's Road and home. If you were really brave you would walk home, in the dark, walk, not run, and not whistle to yourself either. If, like me, you found it all too much, the best thing was to whistle and break into a jog and hope you wouldn't meet anybody coming the other way.
If you take a train from Carshalton to Sutton, the line runs parallel to Dog Shit Alley and it was possible to read the graffiti on the wall, which has now been painted over with a horrible, garish pink paint. The wall, incidentally, belongs to St Philomena's school where my mate Alan and I used to nick apples. The graffiti was never offensive. "Smoke it, don't plant it" was one and I think there were a few peace signs too plus some names, like Tony Croker and Cliff Levens. I know that Tony is dead but not sure about Levens. His dad used to run The Bell in Cheam but I didn't know him, my mate Andy did.
It's weird cycling up Rossdale because that's what we used to do as kids. I used to pretend my bike was a train and I even mapped out a few imaginary stations: Plumbury being so named because of the Victoria plum tree that overhung the street from the garden of shop at the end of the road.
The shop's gone now; it too is now housing, but it used to be a grocery store called Pullen's and then Len's of Sutton, a shop for railway enthusiasts that was incredibly well thought of in the world of trainspotters. Once, my mate Andy was asked directions to the shop by a man who had travelled all the way from Aberdeen. Amazing.
Mum and dad's house hasn't changed much over the years, it's still a very cosy place especially now that mum has the Christmas decorations in place. When we arrived they, mum and dad, were having breakfast. We stopped for a cup of tea, a Maryland cookie and a chat and then headed home, parting company at the end of the road and going our separate ways.
We're on for tomorrow, though, and who knows where we'll be going?