I compare my relationship to Chislehurst with my feelings towards the Star Wars franchise: in the case of the latter, I could reel off a decent list of characters with ease – and could probably even call up a plot line or two, at a push – even though I’ve never seen so much as a clip; as for the former, it’s a place where I strangely feel, in many ways, like I’ve grown up, despite never actually having lived there.
My grandparents moved to Chislehurst before my dad was born and never moved away thereafter. In fact, eight years ago, when they decided that a change of house was in order, this took them no more than 350 yards down the road.
As for me, save for an eighteen-month stint in Eltham, during which I spent a great deal of time either visiting or being looked after by my grandparents, I have never even lived remotely close to Chislehurst. Nevertheless, it seems as though a considerable part of my life so far is invested in that place.
I have wonderful childhood memories of feeding the ducks on Prickend Pond with scraps of the slightly stale crust left at the bottom of the bag of bread (while of course maintaining a healthy distance from the geese, who were often not so much smaller than I was): memories of walking my grandparents’ golden retriever, Mollie, over the Commons and Scadbury Park; of my sister and I playing on the playground in the Rec and, one particularly snowy Christmas, my dad taking us sledging on the banks of the pond. Mercifully (and, I would have thought, exceedingly luckily), we all managed to avoid plunging headfirst into the icy water. Perhaps not one to try at home…
St. Nicholas’s church, the location of my aunt and uncle’s wedding, was where I was a bridesmaid for the first time. I wore a beautiful white dress with big red roses on the straps and, at the age of three, I struggled to believe that the day wasn’t actually secretly all about me. Being the rather arrogant child that I was, I certainly pretended this was the case.
A few years later, while living in Eltham, my dad and I would sometimes go out for breakfast, often in Chislehurst, and one such occasion particularly sticks in my mind: I was six years old and we were just about to move away from the area when Dad and I went to Wrattens café. I asked him to tell me more about our new house and he got creative: soon enough, almost the entire street was mapped out right in front of me, in condiment bottles on the table. (Our house was a salt shaker, if I remember correctly.)
These days, we live in the Midlands and our time in Chislehurst is generally reduced to weekend visits, during which we have developed a number of firm traditions: Diet Coke runs to Sainsbury’s (an absolute necessity in our family), treasure-hunting at the 2gether Shop (never, of course, leaving empty-handed) and afternoon visits to Annabel’s (1 and 2). And, of course, no trip to Chislehurst would be complete without a spot of compulsory window shopping in the various estate agents’ windows. (We can but dream.)
Chislehurst really is a great place: commuting distance to London but with a wonderful array of green spaces; the facilities of a town but the feel of a tight-knit village. It has played a hugely significant role in my eighteen years and I owe it a great deal. I think that may be where it differs from Star Wars. Well, that and the lack of extra-terrestrial life forms, of course.
By Millie Brierley