diamond geezer

 Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Onward to my next London street called Noel, and it's a beauty. Today we're dipping in towards the centre of town, to the Angel Islington, where I can promise you canalside living, an infamous homosexual murder and the Mayor of London. It must be Christmas.

Noel Road (Islington)

You've likely been past this one too, that is if you've ever walked the eastern half of the Regent's Canal towpath. Just before the waterway disappears into the Islington Tunnel it passes beneath a row of fine houses (with crenellated basements) on the upper bank. That's Noel Road, that is. You can see it better after climbing the ramp to street level alongside the tunnel portal... but don't head there yet. Instead pause to look at the first house to your right, on Colebrooke Row, where a certain very important tousled politician lives. From the rear you can see how large number 20 is, complete with what looks like a long-standing extension, whereas the front appears a little less monumental. Four steps lead past a decorative shrub to the front door, while at least three bikes are kept locked alongside in a rack above the canal path. That Christmas wreath hanging from the door knocker is a nice festive touch, and the wine merchant's van parked out the front may be too, or that may be a complete coincidence. Noel Road begins a couple of doors down the street.

This is a lovely place to live, in a not especially ostentatious way. Three-storey Georgian townhouses line the street, except in a couple of places where bomb damaged homes have been replaced in not quite so lovely a manner. The ground floors form a run of white stucco while the upper levels are brick, with basements down below behind smart iron railings. You could almost imagine a BBC costume drama being filmed here, with bonneted ladies gossiping as they step lightly through snow sprinkled to cover the speed humps. Glance up at number 25 to spot the street's only plaque, not blue but green, commemorating a playwright and his lover. Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell rented rooms here in 1959, which was also when they began defacing book covers from the local library and altering their jackets. That mischief earned them six months each in prison, followed by four years of increasing fame as Orton's plays gained critical acclaim. Halliwell hated being overshadowed and in 1967 bludgeoned his partner to death before taking a fatal overdose... just up there, behind the second floor curtains. It looks such a respectable street today, but appearances can be deceptive.

Noel Road zigzags in the centre, crossing equally-pleasant Danbury Street before continuing askew on the opposite side. The houses here seem grander than before, their design essentially the same but with mighty chimneypots on top and the road now a gentle curve. It seems quieter on this side too, the bustle of the Angel much further away, except at certain times of day where two particular buildings intrude. One is a listed pub, the Island Queen, with palms on the pavement and a horseshoe bar inside. And the other is Hanover School, a major structure backing down to the City Basin on the Regent's Canal, where a helterskelter spiral counts down the £20,000 funding target needed to upgrade the playground. It sounds a lot, but that sum is about 1% of what each of the houses along this Islington street is worth. Just never mention that the London borough of Hackney begins at the far end of the street, should you turn right back towards the canal towpath to enjoy the view.

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