diamond geezer

 Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Random borough 2: Islington (part 2)

Somewhere Big Brother: 27B Canonbury Square
This is a picture of the very first Big Brother House, tucked away in the southeast corner of Canonbury Square. You're looking for the ground floor flat with the faint green disc to the right of the door - a tiny plaque to show where it really all began. This is also another Islington house lived in by Mr Blair, although in this case we're talking Eric Blair, better known as George Orwell. Sixty years ago Canonbury Square wasn't the prestigious address it is now, and when Orwell moved into this rundown apartment in 1945 he was inspired by its imposing shabbiness. It was here that he started to write his classic satire Nineteen Eighty Four, basing Winston Smith's home 'Victory Mansions' on this very flat. It all looks much more upmarket these days, but listen carefully outside and you can still hear the clocks striking thirteen.
The hallway smelt of boiled cabbage and old rag mats. At one end of it a coloured poster, too large for indoor display, had been tacked to the wall. It depicted simply an enormous face, more than a metre wide: the face of a man of about forty-five, with a heavy black moustache and ruggedly handsome features. Winston made for the stairs. It was no use trying the lift. On each landing, opposite the lift-shaft, the poster with the enormous face gazed from the wall. It was one of those pictures which are so contrived that the eyes follow you about when you move. BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU, the caption beneath it ran.
Somewhere retail: Camden Passage
I've spent far too much of my life being dragged round antique shops. Dank musty emporia stacked high with useless objects, the sort of stuff your gran used to have before she threw it all away in favour of something modern that actually worked. Rusty metal picture frames, wooden tables with deep authentic scratches, a selection of hideous porcelain voodoo dolls, all for sale at vastly inflated prices. If you have a penchant for antique shops then there's no greater concentration anywhere in the country than in Camden Passage, a maze of narrow lanes off Upper Street. Just don't go on a Sunday like I did because they're (almost) all closed. Upper Street itself is full of more modern boutiques selling equally overpriced must-have items, interspersed with a frighteningly large number of places to eat and drink. Halfway up you'll also find legendary estate agent Hotblack Desiato, the name used by local resident Douglas Adams for the lead singer of rock band Disaster Area in the HitchHiker's Guide To The Galaxy.
by tube: Angel

Somewhere sporty: Highbury
Few major sporting stadia are tucked away in the middle of respectable suburbia quite like this, but Arsenal's home ground lurks almost unnoticed amongst the quiet residential streets of Highbury. That is until you turn into Avenell Road and see the huge Art Deco facade of the East Stand looming up over the local neighbourhood. Forget Old Trafford, Anfield and other lesser arenas, this is the true field of dreams. Well I think so anyway. It did feel strange to stand here on a crowd-free non-match day with the streets deserted, although that may have been the fault of the drenching rainstorm playing out overhead at the time. Alas in a couple of years it'll always be this quiet round here as a brand new Arsenal Stadium is due to open just over the railway at Ashburton Grove. I'm sure it'll be state-of-the-art, but the thought of new housing going up around the old pitch feels somehow sacrilegious. Seaman Street, Wenger Way, Rice Road and Double Drive anyone? I'm sure you can come up with better.
by tube: Arsenal

Somewhere random: Zoffany Road
This final photograph shows the ultimate London address. Oh yes. Turn to the very end of the index at the back of the London A-Z and there you'll find Zoffany Road, a tiny residential street nestling deep in Upper Holloway, N19. It's not even 100 yards long, containing six trees, two streetlamps, one new car, 21 old cars, and one abandoned brown armchair decaying quietly on the pavement. The north side of the road is taken up by the concrete playground of a centre for children with special needs. It's hideous on the outside but no doubt inspirational on the inside, and the site has recently been rescued from evil property developers. On the opposite side of the road you'll find a single terrace of eight identical and very ordinary houses. The residents do normal things like getting in their cars and driving to the shops or popping out in the middle of a thunderstorm to drop bulging binbags outside their front door. Wonderfully average. Unlike the other eight places I visited on my random day out, this is where the real residents of Islington live.
by tube: Archway


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