Even in a huge city, sometimes you don’t need to go searching for anything—the best things are close to homeby Jonathan Nunn / July 11, 2020 / Leave a comment
I was born in London at the tail end of the 1980s and I’ve never seriously considered living anywhere else. While friends contemplate using the pandemic as an excuse to finally escape, something about the city’s vast anonymity will always appeal to me. But during the lockdown, suddenly the raison d’être of living in a sprawling city got turned upside down.
For many of us, these past few months have seen our worlds shrink into mini-communities. I’ve been limited to a piece of south London I hadn’t really got to know until lockdown. My walks have become reconnaissance missions: each day I learn a bit more about my neighbourhood. I make note of the variety of the architecture, see the hidden nooks and alleys between palatial townhouses, and examine the mulberry tree, which an artist has helpfully labelled. One day I even talked to my neighbours. An unintentional side effect of all this was that I fell in love with the Old Kent Road.
One of Britain’s most ancient paths, the Old Kent Road is a superficially unlovely thoroughfare whose two miles form the start of the A2. Nowadays, people know it as the cheapest property on the Monopoly board but throughout its 2,000-year history, it provided a route for pilgrims to Canterbury, was a major site of Victorian industry, and today acts as an escape route to Dover and the Channel. Its lack of proximity to a train station has meant that, compared to its flashier neighbours, it can be forgotten about, like a jar of pickles at the back of the fridge. But what has fermented is an extraordinary ecosystem of communities, full of locals from Algeria, Vietnam, east and west Africa and Latin America. With its halal butchers, African churches, Bolivian ice cream shops, and plethora of languages, you can imagine a far-right activist taking in the bustle and claiming that London has gone to the dogs. But it is precisely this quality that makes it the single most important street in the city: a vision of an alternative London away from the regeneration and corporatism that dominates elsewhere.
When lockdown started, the road was suddenly drained of life—gone was the normal busyness, where outside…