Category Archives: New Malden

The evolution of an election campaign

Wednesday 7 June 2017, 21.45
There. It’s over. Apart from the actual voting part. But as far as campaigning for the 2017 general election goes, that’s about it. The last leaflet fell through our letterbox just an hour ago. Like the majority of other campaign comms, it was from the Liberal Democrats. The fact that I have a giant, unmissable LibDem diamond-shaped signboard nailed to a tree at the entrance to our house hasn’t deterred canvassers from thinking that maybe I might change my mind, or that I’m not that committed. Neither has the fact that I volunteered to help with their campaign. I’m ‘known’ to the local party, so one would have thought my property would be spared. But no. Nothing has stopped the deluge of letters, leaflets and newspapers from arriving almost every day.

In the beginning there was Brexit

A bit of background: New Malden is mostly within the Richmond Park constituency, which Sarah Olney (Liberal Democrat) snatched back from Zac Goldsmith in December 2016 when he resigned from the Tories on a matter of principle (he promised to go if the Tories backed a 3rd runway at Heathrow, which they did). He stood as an Indy and duly lost, but it was close. So it’s understandable that the Lib Dems want to hold on to their only London seat.

But the argument has moved on, at least as far as the Lib Dems’ early campaign literature is concerned. It’s all about Brexit now, and their initial door-drops talk about ‘stopping the hard Brexit’. Voters are urged to ‘change the direction of your country’ in the forthcoming ‘Brexit Election’. A few leaflets later and there’s a subtle change in the wording. The Lib Dems are now ‘challenging the hard Brexit’. (Does that definite article annoy you? It does me.) The next leaflet asks ‘What kind of future do you want for your country? That’s the choice facing people across the country on June 8th.’ That’s not a choice, it’s a question. The newspaper-style format gives them room to talk about ‘the’ hard Brexit as well as reprising the third runway issue and concerns about health and education.

Enter the SS

About this time in mid May, the first leaflet from the Conservatives appears, with its Union Flag border and multiple uses of SS (strong and stable). Vote for the Tories and Britain, it is claimed, will be the strongest country in Europe, although it doesn’t say by what measure.

Their next leaflet is from Zac, who’s standing again, back as a Tory this time, despite the Tories sticking resolutely to their 3rd runway policy. How does that work? A picture shows May and Goldsmith wandering about in a wood somewhere, Theresa hanging on his every word. His next leaflet features a quote from the prime minister, delivered outside No. 10. “On June 8th, every single vote for Zac Goldsmith is a vote for SS leadership in the national interest.” There’s no evidence she has actually said these words, and certainly didn’t deliver them in Downing Street.

Letters from leftfield

Back with the Lib Dems, all manner of election comms continues to pour through the letterbox. Some from Tim Farron, most from Sarah Olney, and a few from Mike, Clare and Edward. Who? Well, Mike Smithson runs a political betting website, and he doesn’t want to tell us who to vote for. “I’m not here to tell you who to vote for,” he says. But if Labour voters lend their vote to the LibDems, they could stop the Conservatives from winning locally. “Just saying,” he doesn’t say. Clare is Dr Clare Gereda, a local GP (and ex-Chair of the Royal College of GPs), who isn’t as squeamish as Mike about where we should put our Xs: “A vote for the LibDems is a vote of confidence in our NHS”. Then Edward’s letter arrives. His double-barrelled surname and title (‘Conservative Member of European Parliament 1984-2010’) make me think he’s been drafted in to help the Tories, but further reading reveals that he jumped ship in 2010 and joined the Liberal Democrats. “Like many pro-Europeans, I’m horrified with the direction Theresa May has been taking the country.”

Vote for one of us!

More stuff from the Tories. The copy is indistinguishable from something Ukip might say, and in fact did. A succession of leaflets asks us to ‘Vote Theresa May’, then to ‘Vote for Zac’, and then to ‘Vote Theresa May’ again. The whole presidential-style approach that the Tories have adopted for this election might come unstuck when stupid people – and there ARE stupid people – get to the polling booth and look in vain for Theresa May’s name.

Like the Lib Dems, the Tories don’t settle on a winning format for their canvassing. We get postcards, letters, roll-fold leaflets, pretend magazines, A3 newspapers, mailpacks delivered by Royal Mail, letters from Zac and another one from the Prime Minister. This one ditches the SS references in favour of ‘standing up’. It mentions ‘standing up’ for Britain no fewer than 18 times, a rate of repetition that would prompt a forest of tracked changes if presented by a copywriter to any normal client.

We also get a leaflet from Zac Goldsmith in which he attempts to explain and excuse his flip-flop, flimflam, weaselly and shamelessly opportunistic approach to local democracy. Hopefully it won’t fool anyone.

Brexit takes a back seat

Meanwhile, the Lib Dems continue their onslaught. ‘Changing the future of Britain’ somehow becomes changing the ‘future direction of Britain’. What other direction could we hope to affect? Hard Brexit gains a capital H, like Grassy Knoll did eventually, but overall the focus is gradually switched from Europe to education and the NHS. For the first time, campaign literature mentions an extra penny on income tax to pay for increased investment in the NHS, but the leaflets choose to portray this with a picture of a HUGE penny, rather than showing a tiny penny in someone’s palm.

Speaking of which, a Lib Dem leaflet turns up with something like an idea in it. Albeit an idea of the kind had by a child or by a particularly literal client. It carries the headline ‘It’s in your hands’ and shows an image of…and I think you know what’s coming…a pair of hands. Inside, there’s no mention at all of Brexit, and nobody thought to put anything on the back. 25% of the leaflet is wasted space.

Token missives from the rank outsiders

At some point during the campaign we get the one and only effort from the no-hope Labour candidate. His name is Laurie South, and he sound like a decent sort of chap, although we learn nothing of his lavatorial habits, unlike his predecessor. A leaflet from the local Ukip candidate turns up, showing a stern-looking bearded bloke who’s anti-human rights and who was, in an statement that will draw knowing nods from kids who were locked up for littering or loitering or looking a bit wrong, a serving magistrate. Neither of these guys has a snowball’s chance in hell of even coming second around here.

And still they come

More leaflets arrive. None appears to be printed on recycled paper or claims to come from sustainable sources, so we can only assume that trees are being sacrificed in the name of local democracy. The Tories’ final postcard states that the loss of just six seats would be enough to wrest power from them. The intention is clearly to prick complacent conservatives into voting, but could have a similar effect on Labour or Lib Dem voters who had been resigned to a Tory victory, but now felt stirred into action.

Door-drops from Lib Dems are now going hell for leather over the ‘heartless Tories” Dementia Tax. The last one I retrieve from the doormat plays the familiar two-horse-race angle, but while it shows a picture of Sarah Olney, Zac Goldsmith’s profile is greyed out. The Lib Dems clearly know how much his supposed good looks appeals to certain voters. (The ones we could do without, really.)

The final tally

In the closely-fought constituency of Richmond Park, the results of the 2017 general election junk mail campaign are as follows:

Labour: 1
Ukip: 1
Conservatives: 13
Liberal Democrats: 36
Total weight: Exactly 500g
Minds changed: Probably zero.

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Those pesky canvassers!

It’s Tuesday evening, around 36 hours before voting begins in the 2017 general election. Someone has just rung the buzzer of my house. Rather than answer the intercom and listen to dead air, I leg it down the path to the gate. If it’s kids messing about (again), I want to catch them, if not in the act, then at least shortly afterwards.

Not that I have any kind of plan in mind. I’ll probably make a sarcastic comment. Not a threat or warning or anything like that. Never threaten anyone who knows where you live. So I’m hoping it’s not kids or early evening drunks, but maybe a delivery guy or even friends passing by and seeing if we’re free for a drink. (This hasn’t happened in 20 years of living here, but you never know.)

It’s not kids or drunks or ASOS drivers, and of course it isn’t friends. I look left and right, and the only person in the vicinity is a middle aged man, and I shout ‘hello!’ to him as he rounds the next corner. He turns briefly to look at me before disappearing out of sight.

I open the gate and run after him. In my slippers. As I turn the corner he’s there with two other people, a woman and another man. I can tell from their badges and stickers that they are canvassing for the LibDems. Shame. I was hoping for God-botherers or Tories.

“Can I help you?”

“Did I knock on your door?”

“No, you rang the buzzer then ran away, like a child.” His colleagues snigger at this. I instantly feel slightly ashamed.

“Oh. I was just wondering if I could count on your support for the Liberal Democrats.”

“Yes, you can.”

“Oh. Thank you.”

I smile and walk back to my house, past the intercom button, past the huge and unmissable Liberal Democrats poster that’s right next to it, and wonder briefly whether I’m supporting the right party*.

*I am, of course. I live in Richmond Park. The only other viable candidate is that shameless opportunist Zac Goldsmith. Labour has zero chance here.

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The pub where ‘gastro’ leaves a nasty taste

The local boozer is having a refurb! This is good news. Like many pubs, the Royal Oak has been hit by falling trade and has also suffered a number of ‘incidents’ prompting visits from the local plod. Permanent closure and conversion into flats could have been the alternative, so any kind of determination to keep it open is a good sign.

Speaking of signs, there’s one on the wall announcing that the Royal Oak was an Evening Standard Pub of the Year back in the late ’70s. That probably meant you got an assortment of affable pipe-smoking gents who used the word ‘marvellous’ a lot.

‘Affable’ too, probably.

I hope the refurbishment plans allow for the retention of that dying institution, the separate public and saloon bars. Mind you, the distinction between the two was getting a bit blurred at the Royal Oak. The former used to show football on Sky and could get noisy, especially when Chelsea were playing. The saloon bar used to be somewhere you could escape football on Sky. Then the management adopted the retirement home model of reckoning that people needed to have TV on at all times, wherever they were. So they put up TVs in the saloon bar, and tuned them all to show football on Sky.

The pub served a range of traditional hearty pub fayre. You know the sort of thing. Burgers, steaks, pies and so on. All pretty good value and, thanks to weapons-grade microwaves, delivered to your table virtually before you’d finished placing your order.

But whatever else is changing, it looks like the food side of things will stay the same:

See that?

GASTRO PUB, NOT US!

Dubious grammar aside, I was struck by what these four words say about how the ‘gastro pub’ is perceived. Well, badly, obviously. Perhaps with a deep sense of distrust and suspicion. ‘We’ll be having none of your fancy London ways around here’ is the subtext. Or maybe it’s a veiled reference to the refurb carried out some years ago at another nearby pub, The Railway.

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt about drinking in pubs, it is to avoid any whose name contains the words ‘railway’, ‘station’ or ‘travellers’. Sure enough, The Railway was a seriously dodgy venue. After one disturbance too many, they shut the place down and reopened it months later with a new name, new decor, new prices and a new menu:

Does this shout ‘gastro pub’ to you? It doesn’t to me. But maybe the drinkers at the Royal Oak got terrified that their pub would reopen selling, not burgers, but black cod fillet in a Japanese tamari and manuka honey reduction, served with locally harvested micro greens.

Fair enough, but why so virulent in the denial? Why mention it at all? Is gastro food, whatever that might be, really such a terrible, terrible thing that you have to highlight the fact that customers needn’t entertain the slenderest fear of encountering any?

It’s like trying to reassure customers with signs saying things like:

SALMONELLA & BOTULISM? NOT HERE!
FILTHY CARPETS & STINKING BOGS? I DON’T THINK SO!
RISK OF UNPROVOKED GLASSING? NOT REALLY OUR STYLE!

To me, the sign is stating in a passive-aggressive way that the pub will under no circumstances serve the kind of food many people enjoy. They may as well have a sign reading:

CHEERFUL AMBIENCE? NOT US!
LOG FIRE IN WINTER? GET OUT OF HERE!
or
GOOD RANGE OF ALES? WHAT PLANET ARE YOU ON?!

I’ll give it a try when it reopens, though. Of course I will. It’s the local.

UPDATE 1: I visited The Royal Oak shortly after it reopened. Verdict: They’ve kept the good stuff (antique mirrors, unusual tiny wooden doorway through which one has to stoop to get from the public to the saloon bar, good range of beers, general layout,) and got rid of some the bad stuff (old fashioned furniture, heavily stained swirly carpet). All the TVs are still there, and they’re all showing football. There were plenty of unoccupied tables and chairs. But dim lighting made it impossible to read the paper, which has always been one of life’s pleasures, and a pair of children were allowed to run around and yell at the tops of their voices. THAT I could just about have coped with, but the constantly barking dog in the adjacent bar proved too much. Plus, the owner attempted to stop his dog barking by shouting at it. So I drained my pint and left.

UPDATE 2: Maybe I was unlucky, so I give the pub another try. This time I takeBounder (my cocker spaniel) and a backlit iPad. The place is just as empty as before. But the barman takes one look at Bounder and says that dogs are no longer allowed, except in the public bar. From there I can hear the barking dog above the sound of two teams battling it out on Sky 3 Plus Football Euro Extra, so I leave and strike the Royal Oak off of my list of locals. Shame.

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The mystery of the canopy towel

Some new neighbours arrived a while back. They immediately set about modernising and improving their 1950s semi-detached house. In the garden they repaved everything that wasn’t grass and returfed everything that wasn’t paved. They planted flowers in neat rows, sprayed the outside of the house with white paint and bought a staggering variety of primary-coloured outdoor toys and games for their two young sons.

I don’t know about inside the house, but outside everything is transformed. Their garden furniture is modern and comfortable looking. Everything is clean and contemporary. The little glass canopy they erected over their back door, for example. Nice.

It’s a bit like this. Or was.

Speaking as one with a patchy, lumpy lawn, a brick BBQ held up by gravity alone and  an old pub-type picnic table stained by bird shit, I look at what they’ve done with some envy.

And then one day in early summer I noticed that an old kitchen towel had somehow found its way to the top of their new canopy. I figured that maybe it had been dropped by someone while they’d been cleaning the upstairs windows. A towel to clean windows? Well, yes, MAYBE. Or maybe a workman had somehow contrived to accidentally throw it up there. Regardless, given the owners’ love of everything being clean and well-ordered, it would only be a matter of time before they got the ladders out and removed it.

But no. It stayed there throughout the summer, looking all grey and dirty and dishevelled. It’s well known that a good place to hide is up in a tree as people seldom examine the lofty altitudes. But surely they’d have noticed it by now. I started to wonder if it had been left there on purpose, but failed to come up with a single plausible reason.

Then a strange thing happened. Even stranger, I mean. The towel was joined by a friend.

This new adornment to the canopy is no kitchen towel. It looks more like a beach towel to me, although I don’t claim any expert credentials in this regard. If the first towel wasn’t spotted because it was camouflaged perfectly against the grey summer skies, that surely can’t be the reason nobody has noticed this colourful newcomer.

The two towels have been sitting there for more than a week now. It’s utterly baffling as to why they’re there. Any ideas? Have YOU ever placed a towel in an unusual spot? Tell me now, while I’m still interested.

UPDATE

The neighbours are having scaffolding erected. Not sure why. Something noisy and disruptive, no doubt. But the days of the towels’ presence on the canopy are now surely numbered. A scaffolder, roofer, painter, plumber, glazier, window-fitter or loft converter is bound to see the towels and remove them, isn’t he? (Or she?) I’ll keep you posted.

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The hairdressers of New Malden

You’re looking for a book that isn’t by James Patterson or Maeve Binchy.

You’re under 30 and you fancy a new shirt or a pair of trainers.

You like browsing around antique stores or record shops, or enjoy buying your meat from a butcher and your fish from a fishmonger.

If any of these apply to you, you can safely give New Malden High Street a miss. Try Wimbledon or Kingston instead. But if you want a haircut, then our high street is definitely THE place to come.

At the last count there were no fewer than 11 hairdressers on this half-mile strip of road. (That’s excluding the slightly dodgy-looking ones located up narrow staircases, behind single doorways at the side of shops.) In New Malden, only estate agents and food outlets are thicker on the ground.

Right next to the station, this is probably New Malden’s busiest barbershop.
No one who works here is called Sam.

Inside Sam’s.

Judy isn’t clear about whether to include an apostrophe, so covers her bases.
Judy is also as real as Sam.

Inside Judy’s. Or Judys. Note the modern, understated furniture.

Located just doors away from Judy’s. #koreanhairfight

Inside The Hair Salon. You don’t get that kind of wallpaper at John Lewis.

The long-established Headmasters.

Headmasters was one of just three shops that wouldn’t let me take a shot inside. “We have a marketing department, and they’re very strict on that sort of thing.” Surprisingly, it is also the only local hairdresser to have a hair-based pun in its name.

New Malden’s newest hairdressers*

* Actually, it’s difficult to tell with this site. Hairdresser shops tend to come and go here, sometimes starting off as one neat single store, then growing to become double-fronted before being trimmed back to a single shop. The staff can vary in sex, number and ethnicity, while the name of the shop changes with the frequency of Lady Gaga’s hairstyle.

Only an hour before this picture was taken, ‘BARBERS SHOP’ occupied the left hand side while the food takeaway ‘Baguette, Set, Go’ enjoyed its all-too-brief existence on the right.

Inside Sam & Sunny’s. No idea who’s who.

“J-j-j-ust a haircut please”

Inside Sopranos.

Dee biarsee? Die Bias? No idea.

Apparently there’s been a DiBiase salon in New Malden since 1914. I hope they’ll be playing lots of Haircut 100 next year.

No interior shots, I’m afraid. I know you’re massively disappointed.

Apparently, essensuals is ‘the diffusion group of Toni and Guy’, although it looked like a ‘hairdressers’ to me.

Inside essensuals.

The strangest retail pairing in history.

From the outside, Carrington Wood looks (and sounds) like an estate agents. Then you notice those posters in the window  advertising eyebrow threading and waxing. So what exactly is it? Well, it’s perhaps Surrey’s first hybrid estate agent/beauty parlour/hairdresser/lettings agent. Inside, the front of the shop has a few office desks and filing cabinets in the typical (though slightly down at heel) estate-agent style, while the back is given over to the hair and beauty side of the business. They wouldn’t let me photograph inside the shop, evidently thinking it a bit of an odd request. They know all about odd at Carrington Wood.

“Hi! I’m looking for a Victorian semi, three beds, about £350,000?”
“Sorry mate, the best we can offer is a modern semi for £395,000.”
“Oh. Shame. How about a number two on top and a one on the side?”

Just as some of the best New York shows are found off-Broadway…

Here’s George. Unlike Sam or Judy or Sunni or the other Sam, I’m pretty sure George is his real name. He’s cut hair in New Malden since the 1970s and I don’t think he’s ever going to expand into eyebrow threading, diffusion products or real estate.

£9 to you, squire.

PS – thanks to New Maldenite Matt Lord (@ThatChapLordy on twitter), we now have a pic of the hairdressers that catered for the very, very old of New Malden. Bebe was demolished in 2006 to make way for a vacant area of rubble.

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