diamond geezer

 Monday, October 04, 2004

Random borough 3: Enfield (part 2)

Somewhere sporty: Picketts Lock
If all had gone to plan the world's athletes would be gathering to compete in Enfield next summer. But things didn't go to plan, they went 100% completely and utterly wrong. A local sports centre was built at Picketts Lock in 1977, a brownfield site by the River Lea with plenty of room for expansion. In 2001 the place was earmarked for Britain's proposed National Athletics Centre, and the IAAF were impressed enough to award the 2005 World Athletics Championships to London. Mistake. Costs spiralled, transport links were poor and the whole project fell apart in a public display of high-level backbiting. The government pleaded with the IAAF to move the games to Sheffield, but the IAAF were having none of it and moved the whole prestige project to Helsinki instead. Dead embarrassing.

Picketts Lock limped on as a local sports centre, but "came to the end of its sustainable lifecycle" a couple of years ago and was closed down. I found a very sorry site, with the entrance to the building locked and its glass windows smashed. The famous 1997 General Election count where Michael Portillo lost his Enfield Southgate seat was held here, but I saw no signs of a blue (or even red) plaque on my visit. All that remains outside the centre is a multiscreen cinema and an under-frequented pizza restaurant. And a golf club, which is still doing very well thankyou (not that golf counts as a proper sport anyway). To the south, on the exact spot where the new stadium would have been built, all that remains is a disused driving range, a few buddleia-covered tennis courts and some empty car parks. By next August, while you're watching the world's best runners competing in Finland, the Picketts Lock leftovers should finally have been demolished. They're hoping to replace them with either a new National Athletics Centre or a small bowling green. I wouldn't bet money against the latter.
by train: Ponders End (¾mile), by bus: W8

Somewhere retail: Enfield town centre
The place to be, even on a wet Saturday afternoon, is Enfield town centre. The shops are packed with people out bargain-hunting, or just standing around bitching and trying to look cool. I don't think I've ever seen quite so many spotty teenagers in baseball caps, hoodies, white trainers and nylon trackies in one place before. One carelessly discarded match and the whole town's youth would probably go up in flames. Enfield boasts a proper town centre, far enough from any large out-of-town shopping mall to have maintained its own retail identity. There's a traditional high street and a small market, as well as a decent 80s shopping centre carefully tucked out of sight behind the existing façades. You can sample the delights of Pearsons, a department store which has somehow survived since 1931 (although it looked to me to be stuck somewhere in the 1960s). But Enfield's biggest retail claim to fame is that the world's first cashpoint machine was installed here, at Barclays in Church Street in 1967. On The Buses actor Reg Varney was invited to officially open the new ATM, and he obliged by withdrawing £10. Nobody I saw in the queue on Saturday looked old enough for their parents to even have been born at the time.
by train: Enfield Town, Enfield Chase

compass pointsSomewhere random: Crews Hill
This is a photograph of north London. In fact it's the northernmost point in London - a muddy track beneath the M25 between junctions 24 and 25. You can get slightly further north than this if you park along the clockwise hard shoulder of the motorway ¼mile to the west, but this concrete bridge is as far north as anyone can walk. The cyclist in the foreground of the photograph is a few yards into Hertfordshire, whereas the bridge, tunnel, cattle grid and green fields beyond are all part of Greater London. The driving rain during my visit provided a physical manifestation of the boundary, which lies exactly where the light grey track in the photo turns to damp dark grey. I got absolutely drenched walking the half mile up this unmade private lane which leads north from Crews Hill towards Goffs Oak (most famous residents, Posh Spice's parents). At the bottom of the lane stands the Glasgow Stud, and also a lockable gate labelled "Trespassers will be prosecuted" painted in Union Jack colours. The village of Crews Hill itself is nothing but the largest collection of garden centres I have ever seen in my life. You can't move for shrubs, sheds, greenhouses and gnomes, and families in 4x4s driving 20 yards from a car park on one side of the road to a car park on the other. Verily this is the end of the world.
by train: Crews Hill, by bus: W10

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