Saturday, 13 February 2016

London, my London

Tottenham Hotspurs Football Club’s headquarters, White Hart Lane, stayed behind as I cycled on, on this – already – pretty warm August summer morning. My three-stadium bike tour was just getting going. Haringey’s High Road morphed into the A10 at Bruce Grove train station and the smooth surface gave a much-needed respite to my calves and legs.

Before you arrive at Stamford Hill, Stamford Hill is already coming out to meet you. Even before you get to the traffic lights on the intersection of Clapton Common and Amhurst Park, this north London district’s distinct feature makes itself known to the visitor. The conspicuous, high-crowned-black-hat-wearing, frock-coat-sporting Haredi were out en masse. To see them was to transport oneself to 18th-century Europe whence these strictly-Orthodox Jews apparently originated. It is estimated that more than 20,000 Haredi live in this five-ward area of London. Their solemn-looking demeanour concealed a feverish, almost demented passion. I was aware of their ecstatic approach to praying, even if I had never ventured into one of their synagogues.

N16 is also renowned for another more recent, gentrification-related phenomenon. To some, the demarcation of Clapton Common to the east and southeast, all the way to Victoria Park, southbound Stamford Hill itself (including when it turns into Stoke Newington Road and eventually into Kingsland Road), Commercial Road to the south and Essex Road to the west, constitutes the Hipster Republic of North, North-eastern and Eastern London. Unfair, some others might say, after all, not everyone in Shoreditch or Hoxton has a £5-a-bowl cereal for breakfast or wears checked shirts. However, the label has stuck and the deeper you go into east London the more heavily hirsute mugs you come across. Ironic beards, never forget the irony.

I did not go down that way on this day for my date was with two other stadia: Arsenal’s Emirates and Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge. To reach the former I turned right on to Manor Road at Stoke Newington train station. A sensuous ease took over me as the combination of the late-morning warm sun and a – now – downhill trajectory allowed me to soak up my urban surroundings better.

An Arsenal fan: probably still waiting for another title... 12 years on
This was provincial London in almost-the-centre-of-the-city. The N16 postcode changed into N4 as soon as my front wheel crossed Green Lanes to get to Brownswood Road. Cars were advised to slow down as this was now a 20mph zone. Speed bumps became ubiquitous. Roads narrowed further down. All that was missing was a donkey-drawn cart to take me back to the trading days of the Nag’s Head market in the 19th century. I do not know if any other major city in the world has the same knack as London of conveying intimacy, even when I knew I was getting closer and closer to its sought-after, much-visited tourist hub. These were not the suburbs anymore. N1, Islington is a tourist attraction in its own right with two main hubs, one, Islington itself, around Angel tube station and the other one, in Nag’s Head indoor market. I was only a short distance away from the latter. I had arrived at the Emirates, Arsenal Football Club’s stadium. I was still, however, on enemy territory. The sun had reached its zenith and the temperature was fast climbing up to the 30s. I needed to get away quickly, not only because on taking the photo accompanying this post people took me for a Gunners fan, but also because I still had to find my way to SW6, Chelsea Football Club’s Stamford Bridge. The next stage of my bike journey would take me through central London and along the Thames, a ride I was really looking forward to.


Next Post: “London, my London”, to be published on Monday 15th February at 6pm (GMT)

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

London, my London

Irony of ironies. I sat down to write this post in August, last summer, whilst my bike’s tires were still red-hot from having been in all-day contact with the seething London sun-kissed tarmac. My feet were still being massaged with one hand as the other one, keyboard-aided, left a trail of disparate, off-the-cuff, spur-of-the-moment, but rather original and enthusiastic thoughts on the hitherto blank page. I had just returned from my three-stadium bike-tour, a tiring journey that had taken me from north London to the southwestern part of the city. I was exhausted but in high spirits.

Irony of ironies. The idea for this cycle trip had come about after my AlexandraPalace-to-Camden-Town excursion. As I parked my vélo in the midst of this human zoo, I recalled a phrase I had inadvertently thought up earlier when I slid down Prince Albert Road and which I ended up using in my previous post: the Holy Trinity of cricket, rugby and football. Not being an expert in the former two, I decided to explore the latter through a post I innocently thought of calling at the time “the English football league top division: from past to current glories”. This was a logical (if somewhat un-sporty) appellation after I decided to begin my route at Spurs’ homeground White Hart Lane (last-time league winners in 1961), cycle down to the Emirates, headquarters of the Gunners, AKA, Arsenal Football (no league trophy since 2004) and end at Chelsea Football Club (last season's winners). But instead of a defence-splitting, straight journey from N17 to SW6, via Islington, Euston, Hyde Park and South Kensington, I opted for a different route. In an elegant tiki-taka, Barcelona-like possession-focused style I would take off from Bill Nicholson Way, bike through part of Stamford Hill, whiz down Drayton Park, past the Emirates on my way to Farringdon Road, turn right on to the Embankment without crossing the river Thames, keep biking westwards and arrive at Stamford Bridge: the “current glory” in my jaunt. A longer trip, but far more picturesque than the “kick-the-ball-long-and-hard-straight-at-the-bloke-at-the-front” approach.

Irony of ironies. Luckily I never wrote that post. I would have been laughed out of town. I would have had messages of sympathy and commiseration instead of trolling. Please, do Google the English League (Barclays Premier League) now and see where Spurs, Arsenal and Chelsea sit at the moment. It is eerie that this was exactly the order in which I set off on my cycling trip.

I did still take off in the manner I had planned. Saddling up just outside the front gate of White Hart Lane on Bill Nicholson Way I looked to my right. Down that way the High Road would have taken me further up north and almost out of London, through the multi-faceted and multi-tasking chiefly-African-run Tottenham barber shops, still charging six or seven quid for a trim and serving as Speakers’ Corner and Relate counsellor at the same time. After that, Edmonton Green, with its revamped shopping centre and its three emblematic high-rises. Relics of a time when apparently Tories favoured contractor-designed tower blocks in contrast to Labour’s preference for cottage-style estates. It was near here in 1805 that young ten-year-old John Keats moved to with his family. So, if someone ever were to ask you “Where’s the Poet? Show him! Show him!/Muses nine, that I may know him!/'Tis the man, who with a man/Is an equal, be he King/Or Poorest of the beggar-clan/Or any other wondrous thing”, you could very well say: he lived here, on Church Street, Edmonton.

I looked to my left and psyched myself up for the long journey ahead. Tottenham’s High Road is mainly populated by low-rise buildings on either side. This made my trip more bearable as I did not feel crushed and overwhelmed by the surrounding architecture. Add on the colourful shops near Bruce Grove train station and you are being given a snapshot of a London not many people are familiar with.

This is an area where the Western Union Money Transfer business mixes with that of fresh fish and seafood. Chains include the ubiquitous McDonald’s next to the Hackney-founded, family-run bakery Percy Ingle. The High Road becomes the A10. Turn right at the traffic lights, go up the hill and you will end up at the Bruce Castle Museum, a 16th century manor house where you can trace back Haringey’s local history. Carry on, as I did, and you suddenly find yourself at the Marcus Garvey Library immersed in culture and tradition.

Pan-African, Jamaica-born Garvey led one of the most organised mass movements of people of African ancestry. The library has a special place in my heart. In 2000 I taught a series of Afro-Cuban dance workshops with a fellow Cuban drummer as part of Haringey’s Black History Month celebrations.A couple of years later I returned, this time as a story-teller, with more percussionists and an artist. I always felt that in a small, but significant way we all managed to capture and convey Marcus Garvey’s message that “For man to know himself is for him to feel that for him there is no human master. For him Nature is his servant, and whatsoever he wills in Nature, that shall be his reward. If he wills to be a pigmy, a serf or a slave, that shall he be. If he wills to be a real man in possession of the things common to man, then he shall be his own sovereign. When man fails to grasp his authority he sinks to the level of the lower animals, and whatsoever the real man bids him do, even as if it were of the lower animals, that much shall he do”.

Of equal importance is the building next to the library, the Bernie Grant Arts Centre, named after the charismatic, Guyanese Labour MP for Tottenham who held his seat from 1987 until his untimely death in 2000.  Bernie’s tireless activism led him to support various worthwhile causes, from feminist ones to educational ones, like a multi-racial school curriculum. At present the arts centre offers a varied programme of events, including world music gigs.

I pressed on, the morning sun warming the back of my legs and neck. I was cycling away from Spurs’ territory (or, as I call it, enemy territory) and entering Stamford Hill. The stage was set for the next chapter of my journey.

© 2016

Next Post: “London, my London”, to be published on Saturday 13th February at 6pm (GMT)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...