Booker Prize nominee wrote debut novel while living in borough of Lewisham

Former Honor Oak Park resident Fiona Mozley (Credit: Hodder & Stoughton)
Will this help Lewisham’s bid to be London borough of culture?

Fiona Mozley, 29, just announced as one of the short-listed authors for this year’s Man Booker Prize, was living with five friends in Honor Oak Park when she wrote her debut novel.

She gained inspiration for the book, Elmet, when travelling on the train from York to London and she wrote the first chapter before pulling into King’s Cross. Much of it was written as she commuted between London and York. She kept its existence secret from her flatmates at the time.

Described by one reviewer as “a wonder to behold”, the book is up against five other novels, including Autumn by Ali Smith.

Although the setting for the novel is Yorkshire, it was fuelled in SE23, where Mozley was based while working as an intern at a literary agency a few years ago.

Now based in York, she described her life at the time of the book’s inception in an interview with the Evening Standard in July when the longlist was announced:

“I was finding London life difficult – the strain of the capital was taking hold.

“I was living for the next pay cheque and at a loose end. I didn’t know what career I was going to have or where I was going to live in the next year.”

“I feel no one can say anything these days without bringing up politics, but this book does touch on a community left behind.

“It’s no coincidence that I started the book when living in London.”
The winner of the prize will be announced on October 17.

Suttons Radio silence… for the time being

When will much anticipated new watering hole crackle into life?

Suttons Radio on Lewisham High Street
On Lewisham High Street you can just make out the outline of the old Suttons Radio shop front

The launch party invites were being prepared back in June. The site, flanked by a betting shop and Poundworld on a busy stretch of Lewisham High Street, was a hive of activity.

And anticipation was rising for the latest South-east London branch of the Antic pub empire, at least in the Lewisham Lately household.

Farewell old Antic favourite at the Ravensbourne Arms, greetings new watering hole in temptingly easy-to-reach location.

And since then… pretty much nothing from Suttons Radio, so named for the preserved old shop signage unveiled when workers began stripping back the late, unlamented Market Tavern. Continue reading “Suttons Radio silence… for the time being”

Sparrow restaurant: welcome to a Lewisham pioneer

A fancy new restaurant called Sparrow has landed in Lewisham. Could it be the shape of things to come?

The words “fancy restaurant” and “Lewisham” don’t usually spend much time together.

Could this month’s arrival of Sparrow change that? It’s the first restaurant venture of husband and wife team Terry Blake and Yohini Nandakumar, a culinary duo who met while working in the Michelin-starred kitchen of St John in Smithfield (“a glorious celebration of British fare and a champion of ‘nose to tail’ eating”, according to the Michelin guide).

Sparrow lands officially in central Lewisham today (March 28), where there hasn’t been as much excitement for a new opening since the Model Market offered refuge from the long, hot summer of 2014.

It had its soft launch last week when Mrs Lewisham Lately and I managed to bag a table. Tucked just off the high street on the fringe of “old” Lewisham, the restaurant looks out over the “new”: the soaring towers and cranes of the Lewisham Gateway and the four-lane traffic that surrounds it. Continue reading “Sparrow restaurant: welcome to a Lewisham pioneer”

Not on TripAdvisor: The king of the Lewisham greasy spoons – and why you should go

This warm, unfussy place, run by a Turkish couple for the past 13 years, has largely slipped off the radar

If, like me, you are used to TripAdvisor and its astonishing breadth of reviews, it can be baffling when you can’t find information on a café. Not even a snippet – and you know it’s been going for more than a decade.

But that’s the case for one institution on the eastern fringes of Lewisham borough, where the smell of a full English would easily waft into the Royal Borough of Greenwich. There’s simply no trace on TripAdvisor.

Mind you, the clientele at the Centre Café in Leegate don’t immediately come across as TripAdvisor types. The first time I go, there were two elderly regulars (“is it your turn to pay or mine?”) supping a mug of strong tea; and the Trinity schoolchildren politely ordering bacon butties before lessons start for the day.

On my next visit, there’s a smiling lady in the corner  by the window poring over a small, gilded bible. Two septuagenarians come in to wile away the time before a doctor’s appointment with a bottle of chocolate milk, followed by a sneaky fag outdoors. Then there’s the man in the high-vis jacket ordering a number two from the menu.

I may be stereotyping my fellow diners as the sort that don’t post TripAdvisor reviews. But the fact that there are none bears me out. So, without that as a backup source, you will just have to take my word for it when I tell you that, with my 8-month old little girl in tow, I had a more child-friendly welcome than I ever expect again. It was magnificent: like we had walked unannounced through the door of a long-lost auntie.

Throughout our breakfast, our host took every possible opportunity to smile at my daughter and wave as I tucked into my bacon and eggs. The teabag stiffened my tea, and my little one attacked two triangles of buttered toast when she wasn’t trying to paw at the giraffe illustrations on the bumper-size high chair – and throughout she got waves, was cooed at and fussed over.

Aziz Garip the owner of the Centre Cafe, Leegate
Aziz Garip of the Centre Café in Leegate

My daughter won’t remember the smiles or the place, obviously, but this was her first taste of the classic greasy spoon. Magic FM was on the radio; there’s a grey-tiled floor and a giant yucca plant guards the entrance to the cafe. On one wall there’s a Matisse print, on another there’s that classic shot of the New York skyscraper workers sitting on a beam eating lunch.

It’s also as spotless as they come (and that’s official). The owners are kind and welcoming. The food was exactly what you would expect. No signs of any organic free-range gentrification here. And yet this warm, unfussy place, run by a Turkish couple for the past 13 years, has largely slipped off the radar – on TripAdvisor and elsewhere.

It’s a story rather like that of its home, the Leegate Centre itself. Glibly dismissed as the worst shopping precinct in Britain – and it has been shamefully neglected – it is at the heart of a painfully protracted re-development plan. You sense its owners, the “regeneration specialists” St Modwen, would simply rather it weren’t there so they could get on with the real business of building over-tall apartment blocks and making lots of money.

And yet, even locals are guilty of forgetting there are still a number businesses trying to eke a living in pretty challenging circumstances.

Would I still be smiling after years of declining trade, of pushing back opening hours because the footfall simply isn’t there any more? I hope I never have to find out. But the people at Centre Café Shop still are – and then some, if you happen to bring a baby along.

That’s not all, either. Last month, the owner was in hospital to have a kidney stone removed. That lunchtime, his wife would join him there in unexpected circumstances. While he was away, the cafe was attacked by students from nearby Abbey Manor College, a pupil referral unit. She was punched repeatedly and had to take refuge in the upper floor of their café, locking herself  in with her son. Around 50 schoolchildren had to be dispersed by police, three of whom were hospitalised themselves. Four teenagers were arrested and charged, including one with grievous bodily harm.

A terrifying one-off you hope.  Certainly other retailers on the site say things are better now, and the police have stepped up their presence and communication.

But it seems just another reason to show solidarity with those that remain in Leegate – and the Centre Café in particular.

Don’t bother with TripAdvisor. If you like a traditional fry-up – or even just a cup of tea – vote with your feet. Yes, the precinct may be bleak. But doesn’t that just make the rays of sunshine all the brighter?

Lewisham Glass Mill centre and the battle of the silver chair

Mothers brawl at Lewisham pool during their children’s swimming lesson

Glass Mill Leisure Centre Lewisham (picture from Google Street View)
There were even more colourful scenes than usual at the Glass Mill Leisure Centre [pic: Google Street View]
There are 1001 ways to entertain yourself around Lewisham. One moment you could be watching a swing band inspiring Manor Park to move to its rhythm. Another you could be grinding up Hilly Fields with 250 others in the latest park run. And then you could be watching blood being spilled at the local pool between two mothers watching their children take a swimming lesson.

Such was my experience in the Glass Mill Leisure Centre this afternoon. As my four year-old kicked his legs on the other side of the glass and learned the finer points of clinging to ribbon float, a heated discussion broke out beside me between two mothers who were also spectating.

It was, as these things so often are, an incredibly worthwhile flashpoint … over a chair, and whether the recent arrival had asked politely enough to use that space. (One of those silver cube chairs if anyone who knows the poolside café is wondering).  There was more back and forth. A little bit of under-the-breath effing.

“Or you’ll what?” one of the women postured.

“There’s enough fighting in the world,” another watching mother told the pair. Children looked up and stared. And that, bar a bit of muttering and staring, seemed to be that.

But no. As the lessons drew to a close, the chair war flashed back into life. Two more women got involved. Voices were raised. Children got properly spooked. Punches were thrown. Big men rushed over to stand between the combatants. Blood was spilled. Security called. By the time my four-year-old was changed from his lesson, seven police officers were on the premises, hearing the whole sorry tale for themselves.

And those silver chairs aren’t even very comfortable…

Who is the DLR’s mysterious ‘voice of Barry White’?

The mock seductive voice that has tickled commuters on the Docklands Light Railway was captured once again on social media yesterday – this time as the train pulled into Lewisham.

Thousands of commuters have been entertained by the conductor’s unusual announcements, which have also gained him the nickname of jazz voice. Continue reading “Who is the DLR’s mysterious ‘voice of Barry White’?”

The winter wonders of Sydenham Hill Wood

“If you really want to know your trees in winter, you have to get physical with them. In an appropriate way of course.”

Daniel Greenwood, a conservation officer for the London Wildlife Trust, smiled wryly as he gestured a gnarled trunk behind him.

It was an early gambit on a winter tree identification walk last Sunday, a bright, frosty afternoon in Sydenham Hill Wood.

Chuckles came from our cluster of fellow walkers standing on this large preserved stretch of the Great North Wood, one of the closest tracts of ancient woodland to central London.

“Run your hand across their bark,” he went on. “Even hug them if you want.” Continue reading “The winter wonders of Sydenham Hill Wood”

The Deptford Dame

In and around SE13, London


In and around SE13, London


The park needs TLC. Lewisham Council propose to re-landscape using Heritage Lottery Fund grant. Completely OTT, all that is required is upgrading of what is there already and maintenance. The Mansion House, on the other hand, is a whole new ball game.

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