In my hand I hold a small and elegant hart-shaped jewellery box.
Inside, there is a set of two jewellery pieces: a brooch and a necklace. A bizarre set, crafted by a mad goldsmith, it seems, the pieces did not actually both belong to each other.
The brooch, so bright and elaborate, so shiny, it could easily be confused with those locked up in the Tower of London, if not for the scale. By the amount of attention and wealthy admirers it looks to be in a perpetual denial over its non-royal status. It has a rich history, immaculate top position and a shrine of powerful owners. As light shines in into the box, it bounces of the tiny precious stones that submit to the dictatorship of the large centrepiece, green and purple sapphire with the golden incrustation on top – a couple of tennis rackets.
The necklace is more plain. It is made of about a dozen beads: some quaint, elaborate, others damaged,shabby or new, tacky that replace the missing ones. It is held by a few strings, each one is more painfully faint, arbitrary than the other. It seems like the beads are together just because of the memory, rather than the actual force. It is not, of course, eye-catching: everyone appreciates a big bulgy brooch. It takes a real connoisseur to grasp the eloquent tenderness of the necklace.
The brooch is Wimbledon. The necklace is Wandle river. Together they represent the most delicate and contrasting jewellery set – The Borough of Merton.
“Merton” itself is a fiction though, a distraction tactics. As a neighbourhood it only is a make-believe power. The most well-known part of the borough is Wimbledon, the seat of the Council is in Morden. Merton is an accidental half-place stuck in between. Perhaps, they only named the whole borough after it so that no-one in both activity centres would be jealous. Or perhaps it is a nod toward the most notable resident – Lord Nelson, who owned Merton Place Estate and enjoyed four years of living there with his mistress Emma Hamilton.
My set looks like a wedding gift on what is now a fifty-year long marriage. The union happened not due to a natural attraction, but more of an arrangement that follows the common pattern of London’s 1965 expansion to join the more well-off areas with the poorer ones in an attempt to create where possible, socially balanced communities. Hostage to its history, today Merton still is a divided borough: the deprivation indice is average in everywhere but Wimbledon and the surroundings, which enjoys to have some of the wealthiest neighbourhoods in the country.
I’m weary of toting, such a heavy load
Trudging down, that lonesome road
(Madeleine Peyroux, Lonesome road)
Wandle river’s end is lost somewhere in the South-East, up in Sutton and Croydon. From there it cuts through Merton and goes on to become Wandsworth’s gift to the Father Thames.
The giant beast of industrial revolution took a good use of this river: factories, watermills rose – and fell when their hegemony was disputed by the more efficient offsprings.
The giant beast bred its’ army of factories and watermills here. It was one of the hardest-working – and of the most-polluted. They rose high – and fell in a B-rated sci-fi fight when a another giant came – the octopus of the urban sprawl. As they fell, they broke apart into many pieces and got scattered over the map of Merton. Wandle picks those peices up, organises things within its realm quite like a thread organises beads on a necklace, – you do not have to see it, but the very reason the beads are clinging together is only due to its soft power. Those monsters of the past are now petty, retired. Like the those under your bed, you can hardly ever see them. They are only dangerous if you believe in them, and nobody seems to.
I am coming from afar, to explore all things subtle and sublime, to go through each of the beads. One of them has fallen off and bounced on the floor, making it half-way away – Mitcham Town.
I got off the train at Mitcham Eastfields. The deprivation indice map was right – the place is not lush: concrete dirty gardens and rusty cans on the pavement. A short trip around discloses a place called Lonesome, but of course that would be some disastrous marketing to call a station like that.
Lonesome does not end though. It perpetuates itself into the centre of Mitcham that is displaced about fifteen minutes’ walk from both the national rail station and the eponymous tram stop. Long walk undoes the shopping and transport synergy usually offered by the suburbian paradises. One of the rusty fences has a sun-burnt sign offering quick cash – with an old Elgar £20 note.
The main street is called the Magical Way – but apparently the potion has died away long ago.
The heart of the town is entangled by a semi-circle of busy roads. Life is slow, giving birth to a multi-coloured but faded selection of pawnbrokers, poundshops, fish and chips and African hair specialists.
There is an evidence of a regeneration attempt, a restored Victorian town clock is standing in the circle of concrete benches. It marginally saves the setting: there you can sit and look on the gasholder skeleton at the distance or seize the excitement of the slow swirling road traffic around and think, that perhaps Lonesome did not end near the station but perpetuated here, in the town centre suspended in the vacuum of city fabric.
It lacks both charm and connectivity to cash in on, but provides something more important, a cheaper alternative to the posh Wimbledon, with the similar access to the council services.
It should have really had a railway stop and the life would have been completely different. But the destiny has decided otherwise and it stands as a strange disconnected centre of activity, a lonely host in the middle of the trashed living room when the party is gone.