Felbridge Close

There is no immediate reason to walk down Felbridge Close, a residential cul-de-sac behind 1960s flats off Leigham Court Road. The street is more of a service road, hidden behind a pleasant, but ordinary, block of flats called Newdigate House. Its name is recorded on maps but there is no street sign – just ‘Private Road’ painted on the tarmac. St. Peter’s Church opposite, perched on a slope, confident and chunky, looks more exciting. Yet, around the corner is one of the most remarkable views in Streatham. Past a long row of garages, the hill drops away behind bungalows built into the slope. The gradient is astonishing, especially for London. This is the edge of the ridge between Streatham and West Norwood and, from its crest, the whole of South West London is visible, in a sweep from Wimbledon Common to the North Downs. The ground immediately below was too steep to build on, and scrubland blends into hidden woods below.

The bungalows have gardens that gaze into the sunset. On one of the hottest days of a too-hot lockdown July, the street was still and soundless apart from a low hum which we took, at first, for a generator. It took time to realise that, in fact, it was made by bees. The back wall of the communal garages, 60 feet long, was entirely covered in a blanket of ivy alive with bees, more than I had ever seen in one place. Reality stuttered and paused, as it had at regular intervals throughout lockdown and, in the moment before it restarted with the cough of a motorbike on Leigham Court Road, the bees, the Streatham slopes, the outer boroughs, the greenbelt and the Surrey Hills merged into a complete whole.