South of the flyover

By - Monday 24th October, 2016

Memories and meaning in South End

Photo by Jakob Spriestersbach for We Made That, used with permission.

Pizza Express on South End: that’s where I became an adult. I was there with one of my oldest friends, on a wet Wednesday in October, and she told me she was divorcing her husband. Wow, I thought. This is where it begins. We’re grown-ups now. The cars whizzed by outside, heading down to Brighton Road. The street lights fizzed. My friend put her head on Pizza Express’ faux marble table and wept. I always remember that moment when I pass Pizza Express on my way up to town, past the funny pub with its gabled roof, and the music shop, and that office building with the windy car park. The psychogeography of your hometown.

South End does that to a person. It shows you all your sides – good, bad, indifferent – and reflects them back to you, all wrapped up in glittery neon, rainy pavements, traffic lights and too-close parked cars. On Saturday nights, the street heaves, people out for fun, good times, good food. We walk the streets, memories raining down from each doorway: happy, sad, indifferent.

Mai Ping, where we went on our first night back from travelling in south-east Asia, tired and jetlagged, longing to be back in Thailand, eating mussaman curry and saying “do you remember..?”. The Treehouse, cocktails and cigarettes in hand, deciding in the pub garden to buy a house in Croydon (you were priced out of the market long before that moment, my dears). Osushi, where my father and I ate every Tuesday for a year after my mum died, the kind waitresses and delicious teriyaki don bowls a balm for our grieving souls. The formica-clad fish and chip shop down by the dry cleaners, where we went on the night of the riots in 2011, and they served us our steamy parcels of wrapped chips while hooded youths ran by and we looked out at them, wondering where they were going, not seeing the smoke from the Reeves’ Corner haunting the sky until later.

The flyover is the border betwixt the two states of Croydon

South End is the go-to place for all the detritus of life that worries you when you don’t have it direct to hand. I need picture hooks, nails, tweezers, a tin of tomatoes. I know, let’s go to South End. I want my dress for the wedding dry-cleaned. I need a cake for tea. Can you get me a copy of Vogue, please? South End.

It’s tatty in places (always the curse of Croydon streets) but when the night comes down and the lights go up, South End glitters like a mini Times Square… okay, a mini Blackpool, maybe. Kids crowd into the ice-cream parlour, gorging on sundaes, staggering out on a sugar high, stumbling into the long-married couples heading into Bagatti’s for their Italian supper and a few glasses of a nice chianti. The rock kids flood the Scream Lounge, passing the Topshop-pretty girls heading into the Apatura for drinks before making their way to up to Croydon proper for their big nights out. The flyover is the border betwixt the two states of Croydon: we don’t need your big bars, East C, we’ve got Bar TXT and the Crown & Pepper right here, thanks very much.

It’s kind of done up down in South End now. It’s a restaurant quarter; it has a brilliant food festival in the summer (thanks for introducing me to gin and ting, Street Cocktails); it’s busy and bright and brash. But it’ll always be the place where I grew up and realised this place – this funny, noisy, scruffy street – would shape my life and my world for years to come.

Cassie Whittell

Cassie Whittell

Cassie has lived in and around Croydon since 1988. She's a digital project manager and editor with a passion for welsh rarebit, cats and Rotherham United (in that order). She's also Operations Director for the Croydon Literary Festival, and Production Editor on the Croydon Citizen.

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  • Paddy Blewer

    Lovely, dreamlike, stream of consciousness piece of writing. I’ve had a few major moments on Sth End myself and agree it has it’s own feel. Looking forward to reading more of your stuff

  • Croydon Radio

    Beautifully told :)