#30 A Colombian-flavoured micro mini break at the Elephant & Castle

In London on February 4, 2010 at 3:03 pm

My postcode-centric lifestyle has induced profound cabin fever. Those who still have jobs may yearn for more time at home, but the daily routine of get up-> take kids to school-> sit at computer  while wondering how long you can stick it out before you have to turn the heating on -> fry up leftovers or pick from fridge for lunch -> computer -> get kids from school -> sit at computer while throwing biscuits at kids to keep them quiet -> make their tea -> start own tea-> get them to bed  while burning own tea -> eat tea-> clear up tea -> sit at computer to make up for time lost throwing biscuits -> bed, is just as monotonous as a daily commute.

So I thought I’d find an excuse to get out, maybe even cross the river; one came in the necessity to pick up specialist magazines from town for another doomed job app. As all roads in South London lead to the Elephant & Castle, my travels took me past the sad site of the Heygate Estate beginning the process gradual dismantling. It is with mixed feelings I watch it go as I am part of a minority who think that, in the right light, these are actually quite elegant structures.

No, I know I don’t have to live in them, but I would argue that not all the Estate’s problems can be pinned on the architecture – look to poor construction and maintenance, poverty, lack of facilities, unemployment, illconsidered rehousing of undisirables, dumping of bemused refugees, social exclusion, terrible security – for other culprits. Consider that Ernö Goldfinger’s Trellick Tower became a fashionable address once they installed a concierge system in the 1990s, and Le Corbusier’s Cité Radieuse in Marseille is now a bourgeois enclave because urban Continentals don’t have hangups about living in flats.

I believe my dear friend Mr Hodges was also waxing lyrical  in his Slice of Life column this week about the demise of a local pub known locally as The Murder Shack. My tour took me past this too and I can report that the armour-plated façade has been stripped off to reveal traditional bottle green tiles, decorative mouldings and its proud original name – The Tiger.

Now it is possible that Mr H and myself are both romanticising situations that we are lucky enough to be in a position to walk away from when we choose. However massive regeneration is underway in SE1 (you can already see the first tower from across London) and as the Elephant & Castle has been a part of my life ever since I moved to London, letting go is hard to do. There are few places left like the Elephant & Castle shopping centre and I love that in the middle of its abandoned concourses you can find gems like La Bodegita, a throbbing kiosk cafe that is the epicentre of London’s Colombian community.

Somewhere you can still get a hot, homemade chicken empanada with fresh salsa for £1. Or Papa reliena – balls of potato, beef, rice, sometimes dipped in batter, and deep fried (it would go down a treat in Scotland). You’ll find it just next to PriceMark – ‘Top Brands, Bottom Prices!’ – between the money transfer operations.

Even the Royal Court is coming to the E&C, setting up what I suppose we must call a ‘Pop Up Theatre’ in Unit 215 on the first floor of the shopping centre. They’ll be staging a series of productions between 3 March and 28 August, with the first night of each offering a Pay What You Like policy.

For me it was a micro mini break: travel, historic sites, foreign cuisine, some flâneurie, a brush with culture, and even time to buy some souvenirs for the kids.

Amusingly named lollies from Colombia via SE1. 10p each.

For the Shopping Centre, its days are numbered. By 2020 it will have been replaced by ‘a new and thriving urban quarter for South London’. All I can hope is that our online London chroniclers –Mr Big Smoke, Mr D Geezer, Gareth Gardner, Tired and Ian – are documenting it all for posterity.

If anyone knows someone who is, do post a comment with details.

  1. What a bloomin’ good and rather inspirational idea. I have lived in this fair city all my life and have missed so much of it. I found myself in Whitechapel the other day – not somewhere I would really recommend for a weekend away, but an interesting part of town that I simply don’t know. Thanks for the incentive.

  2. Seriously, you should! But be quick because it’s not going to be there long.

  3. I think it’s something I might need to do!

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