John Walsh: Tales of the City

I used to live in Dullsville but this week we awoke to find we were famous - as Sleepville
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The Independent Online

Even Crouch End, the otherwise pedestrian address of my colleague Deborah Ross, could boast of the day Bob Dylan dropped round for a meeting with Dave Stewart of the Eurhythmics, went to the wrong house, asked the woman at the door "Is Dave in?" and was put in the front room, with a cup of tea and a Hob-Nob, to wait for her husband (another Dave) to come home.

Everywhere in London has a Famous Event connected to it, something that got in the papers. Not SE21. Local minicabs have computerised screens on their dashboards; the address "Dulwich Village" is glumly shorted to DulVil. This is where I live apparently - Dullsville, Arizona. The famous college once gave us PG Wodehouse, Raymond Chandler and Michael Ondaatje. The private co-ed school, Alleyns, has the curious reputation of having launched both Kelvin McKenzie and Jude Law on to the world. Today, Monica Ali lives behind the supermarket in East Dulwich. Daniel Bedingfield is rumoured to own a house nearby. It's not exactly Bloomsbury, is it?

All the land is owned by the College, which keeps the rents high so that no riff-raff-friendly shops can move in. Youths do not gather on street corners looking for action. Strumpets do not patrol Croxted Road flaunting their charms. Very few incidents get reported of torched cars or handbrake turns during police chases. The most exciting thing to hit Dulwich in 15 years was the news that Mrs Thatcher planned to retire to a Barratt Home there. But once she'd had a good look round, she decamped pronto for the smarter purlieus of Chester Square. Apart from that, zilch.

Now look what's happened. A 15-year-old schoolgirl was discovered, the other day, 130 feet above street level, perched at the end of a gigantic crane - and she was asleep. God almighty, what a story. A chronic sleepwalker, she'd apparently drifted out of her family home, climbed up the crane in a trance, walked along the 21-yard beam - in mortal peril every inch of the way - and snuggled down at the end, from where she was rescued by an astonished firefighter.

Can you see what this means? We have a 24-carat intrepid heroine in the village, albeit an unconscious one. We can dine out on her exploits. We locals can impress our neighbours: "Oh yes, we all sleepwalk in the village. We do it all the time. We're very deep and troubled people. Do you sleepwalk? I thought not. It's a very Dulwich thing. Hypnotic trances, we're keen on them, too ..." Young urban wannabes will flock to high cranes in the area, desperate to emulate the girl's feat. The crane will sport a blue memorial plaque. Tourists will gawp and flash. The movie rights to The Girl on the Crane (written by Richard Curtis) will go to Miramax.

At last - something to rival the Granita Lunch and the Dylan Teatime. The Dulwich Somnambulist has put us all on the map at last.

Gloop loop

The River Café Quiz has become as firmly fixed as Henley Regatta in the rain-drenched, Tupperware-skied, gunmetal-clouded, tepid soup of disappointment that men call the English summer. Held every year on a summer evening at the Thames-side Valhalla in Hammersmith run by Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray, it features a handful of star writers and their nearest and dearest - John and Penny Mortimer, Robert Harris, his wife Gill Hornby, her brother Nick, their friends Stephen Fry, Alan Yentob and Jeremy Paxman - plus a pride of national newspaper editors, lots of TV bigwigs and a few politicians and showbiz types. It's killingly exclusive. It's the place where any number of social loops intersect like a Venn diagram.

Paxman comperes the evening, wearing an expression pitched between amusement, fathomless disgust and genuine surprise that grown men and women should care a toss about what you get if you take 90 old pence from a ten-bob note. But part of the quiz's charm is that the questions (set by Gill Hornby) veer appealingly between the serious ("Which two kings met in a field outside Calais in 1520?") and the frankly silly ("Would you expect to find a miniature Snickers bar in a tub of Congratulations or a tub of Heroes?" - Paxman really turned his nose up at that one).

I like the way, every year, the minxy Ms Hornby gets a restaurant-ful of serious foodies to identify vulgarly plebian comestibles. Two years ago, it was potato crisp flavours - I swear I saw a couple of Oxbridge scholars have a blazing row over whether Crisp C was Prawn Cocktail or Barbecued Beef. Last year, it was types of digestive biscuit. This year there were sauces, to be tasted and identified. We easily got the aioli, the cranberry, the salsa verde and the arabbiata - but what the hell was the gloopy yellow one with the green bits in it?

Six of us round the table, friends and in some cases colleagues for years, we scoffed openly at each other's fatuous suggestions: "Dill mayonnaise? I don't think so. Puttenesca? That's got olives in it, you moron. Hollandaise? Jesus, have you ever eaten out?"

I wouldn't have believed we could spar over something so silly. Mind you, the pride I felt later in being able to identify the name of the Lone Ranger's horse and Tonto's as well will take a bit of living down.