Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Signs of the times

 It is a place that gives concrete jungles a bad name, an urban nightmare famed for its tram system and some of the ugliest architecture outside the old Soviet bloc - London Evening Standard (2007)

Yesterday we went to Croydon, which used to be a large town in Surrey but is now a 'major metropolitan centre' since it merged with Greater London in the '60s.

The last time we had any dealings with Croydon (apart from frequent visits to Ikea, which I'll come to later) was 40-odd years ago when we were returning from Southend on Sea on a very cold and sleety-rain-lashed Sunday night, in a small car, with a small baby in the back, who happened to be very hungry.  This was in the days before motorways and big major roads and our route took us home via Croydon. (It was also in the days before computers were in common use, or sat nav, or route planners.  All you had was a not-very-good map).  This experience made us rather reluctant to view this town in anything other than a pessimistic light.

All was well until we neared Croydon; we followed road signs pointing to that place but then all signs stopped and we were hopelessly lost!!  We circled Croydon several times, went along a one-way street the wrong way - followed by several other vehicles - got stopped by a policeman; which turned out to be a stroke of luck because he pointed us in the right direction, with our backs to Croydon and heading home where places were signposted and we rarely got lost.

Ikea, Croydon

Ever since we have avoided Croydon......... that is, apart from Ikea.  But this Scandanavian paradise (or hell, depending on your point of view!) is on the ourskirts.  Still a hellish journey BUT it's on major roads and very straightforward.

Anyway, as part of our family history research we had a need to visit the library in Croydon so bearing in mind our last journey in this region and the fact that we would have no idea where to park, we thought we'd take advantage of one of the advantages of getting old i.e. our cheap train travel.  Getting to Croydon by train is a bit of a faff - drive to Guildford, train to Redhill, another to East Croydon - but at least you can relax and watch the countryside, read or chat and arrive at your destination in a relatively good mood.

Guildford Station

Except that Guildford station has lots of platforms but no obvious signs of which train arrives at which platform.  They have very nice manned information booths but they are individually located on the platforms, only reached by loads of stairs or steep ramps.  We managed to nab a passing official-looking bloke who confidently informed us that we needed Platform 8.  Super.  Off we went only to find that the trains using that particular platform were going the wrong way.  Made our way to the information booth.  The only one not manned.  Getting grumpy now.  Then we spotted another official-looking bloke on the other side of the track and following a conversation in extremely loud voices (because of the noise, you understand, and not 'cos we were grumpy), we made our way to Platform 3.  You'll be pleased to know the rest of the journey was uneventful.

We arrived in Croydon.  Apparently, Croydon still has an issue with signs - not necessarily road signs - they looked ok on their very busy and congested roads - but we wanted to find the library.  I have to say that there were plenty of little blue signs on lamposts pointing to a large, ornate building which told us that that was the direction for Council Offices/Library, but after doing a circuit of this building, with its many doors, we found not one sign that said 'Library'.  We found lots of locked, unnamed doors and the main entrance to the council offices (unmanned), but it was only after asking the third passer-by (the other two didn't speak English) that we were directed down the stairs, through some very modern, unsigned glass doors into the bowels of the building.  Eureka..... home of the library, amongst other things.

I'm not going to bore you further.  We did eventually find the required department, although it wasn't exactly straightforward and the lady we spoke to was extremely nice and helpful.  Making our way home was easy; we knew where we going!

We have to go back, at some stage, because the records we want to see are original and very old and have to be pre-ordered, and I'm sure we'll find it a piece of cake.  We're considering using one of these:

Which used to be like this: 

But, I'm sorry, Croydon - you'll never be a place that I think of with fond memories

1 comment:

Carver said...

I liked the shots you took even if it's not high on your list of places to remember fondly. I'm not big on concrete jungles but sometimes they work out for photography. That is annoying when signs aren't placed when they are needed. I'd have a hard time with the signs stopping.