I suggest that travel writing can apply to anywhere which isn't 'home.' Maybe I'll expand on that in another post. Maybe I'm just finding a reason to write about East London. For here I want to tell you about a recent trip to Lewisham. For those of you who don't know the UK - Lewisham is in south-east London. It's busy, cosmopolitan suburb but, to be honest, it's not beautiful.
I know, it's not somewhere you'd think of as an ideal place to visit. No museums, no stately homes; even the park struggles. But my aunt was in hospital there and that was good enough reason to go.
It is an impossible place to reach from deepest Wiltshire. I've tried several ways to get there, but whichever combination of buses and trains I use - it takes hours and hours and hours. And last week, when I went - it was sweatily hot. I don't mind hot. Even so, I'd rather have been reading a book in my garden than travelling to Lewisham.
Where, in the middle of this long day, to have lunch? Some years ago, on another hospital visit, I found a little cafe under the railway arches. Was it possible it was still there?
Indeed it was. And here is its website. (I'd have a photo for you if I'd had a camera with me.) It's been here for thirty years, run by an Irish family - their brogue surprising me, somehow, even in the cosmopolitan soup of East London.
It's tucked beside the railway, with tables along the pavement, open to the roar of trains thundering overhead, the grumble to traffic, and thick smells of fuel and general grime of East London. Not an obvious location for a successful restaurant.
The menu - they call it Irish food - but I'd describe it as sound British food, with staples such as fish and chips and sausages. Good food to keep you going in the middle of the day.
Nothing special then? Why write about them?
As well as an efficient Irish welcome, they have 'bottomless' cups of tea and coffee. For just one pound (yes, that's only £1, and this is in expensive London) they give you a cup and saucer and come round with a huge pot of real tea, with jug of milk, and fill you up. The metal teapot is a bit battered now; I suspect inside it is stained dark brown and smells of tannin. And the tea is rich and brown and wonderful. When you have drained one cup, someone appears beside you and just fills it up - and will fill it up for as long as you want them to.
For me - it brightened a long, hot day. If I lived nearby I would go there in preference to any posh chain that gave me hot water and a tea bag, the drink never quite tasting like tea and costing up to twice as much.
If any of you are visiting from abroad, and think that the tea you buy in Starbucks or Costa or Cafe Nero is anything like real British tea - just go to Maggie's in Lewisham. Sit in the sunshine, ignore the passing trains and traffic, and drink as much tea as you can. Tea strong enough, as my mother would have said, to put hair on your chest! (Do we all have mothers with strange expressions like that ...)