Living in Croydon was never part of my life plan.
It definitely wasn’t the plan when a coroner had a go at me for what he thought was ‘irresponsible journalism’ and it wasn’t the plan when a man wanted to fight me in Tiger Tiger because I’d helped a friend reject his advances.
But one Monday morning seven years ago I was at a murder scene and looked in a nearby estate agent’s window. The flats were on sale for far cheaper than I’d seen in neighbouring Bromley and they didn’t look too bad.
Then with plans for a Westfield-Hammerson partnership to build a massive shopping centre in the town centre it seemed like a winner.
Fast forward six years – because winning takes time – and I got the keys for my own flat in Croydon: Addiscombe to be precise.
This weekend marks my first year in London’s most populous borough (at least that’s what I was always told) so I thought there would be no better time to discuss what I’ve learned about life here during the past year.
But first – some facts about Croydon for those of you who have never heard of the place.
It is located in South London, approximately nine miles south of Charing Cross.
Its name is said to come from the Anglo Saxon words ‘Croh-Denu’ meaning valley of the crocus. But its nickname is The Cronx – and you can buy beers from the Cronx brewery.
So far I haven’t met any of them but I have learned a lot about myself and the borough.
I’d been here less than a month when I came crashing to the ground – not my dreams, but me – when the chair I’d had for about 30 years gave up on me.
Crestfallen and bruised I put a message on a local Facebook group to ask if anyone had a chair I could borrow for a bit while I waited until the shops were reopened so I could buy one.
It was my only piece of furniture, apart from a bookcase, and I didn’t want to have to work standing up for weeks.
Thankfully I had more responses than I could possibly have hoped for and borrowed one from someone who lived in my street. Weeks turned into months but eventually close to Christmas I’d reached a stage in life where I could give it back again.
A post on another Facebook group led me to a home two miles away last Saturday afternoon to pick up some food, as a woman called Julie said she had made too much lunch.
Maybe the pandemic has changed my outlook on life, maybe it’s the Croydon effect, because I know I never would have done this when I lived in Bromley. But it was very nice and definitely worth the trip.
And at some point last summer, when it wasn’t warm enough to not wear a hoodie but it wasn’t cold enough to need a coat, I took part in a Covid-19 pandemic portraits project.
Again, I’d heard about it on Facebook. I took part because I wanted to play some role in preserving this unique part of history – where I’m lucky if I get to speak to a person in real life once or twice a month.
For some reason I also wanted photographic evidence of what happens if my hair doesn’t get cut for months.
Firstly, there is a lot more green space than you would think.
I moved to this area because of the Striders of Croydon running club (and hope to join one day when the pandemic is over) and when pounding the pavements (and stopping a lot) I’ve discovered parks and recreation grounds ranging in size from ones to make a slight detour into during a sunny day to the fairly massive Lloyd Park.
It leads through to a woodland and then some hills with great views for miles.
Once you’ve reached the summit of the hills, instead of a more traditional park cafe, you can reward yourself with an ice cream or a beer from the Royal Garden Chinese restaurant, perched at the edge of the woodland.
The high street is gradually becoming more and more deserted with big name retailers going bust across the UK, and the Westfield-Hammerson shopping centre plan is consigned to history as something that’s never going to happen.
But in the smaller shopping precincts there are independent (or small chains) stores where people queue outside to get some hopefully top quality produce.
The one closest to me doesn’t have a candlestick maker but it does have a butcher, a baker, a fishmonger, a hardware store or two, a cafe where I had lunch with Boris Johnson years ago, and a greengrocer where I bought a lemon.
Unless I’m imagining things it also seems to have a lot more postboxes than anywhere else I’ve ever lived. A quick search on the Royal Mail website reveals there are 40 within 0.7 miles of my home.
For some reason the last post for most of the (I haven’t checked all 40) ones I’ve seen is super early o’clock rather than being at 5pm or 7pm.
This didn’t matter too much at Christmas because most of the cards I sent were to people in my block of flats because, for the first time ever, strangers sent me cards.
As well as the glut of postboxes, there are also more tennis courts than I’ve ever seen in one area.
In Bromley the recreation grounds seemed to be mostly grass with a children’s play area in one corner but in Croydon I can go for a run and include two recs on the route and will see at least six tennis courts.
Maybe on year two in Croydon I will learn how to hire one of the courts and find someone to play with.
This year one has shown me that I can always depend on the kindness of strangers, when those strangers are from Croydon.
It has been strange to start living alone during the pandemic but now I’m a year in I know it’s something I can do – even if it wasn’t part of the life plan.
Stay safe for another week!