Where, precisely, are three miles north, east, south and west from the statue of Charles I in Trafalgar Square? [1 mile], [2 miles][map]
THREE MILES NORTH: Hilldrop Lane, Holloway (behind St Mungo's on Camden Road, N7)
This isn't pretty. I had hoped it might have been. Walking towards my target destination I passed through several streets of solid four-storey Victorian villas, but also crossed several undistinguished modern estates, and this road felt closer than most to the bottom of the heap. A back lane, divided by a barrier, once home to greenhouses and a garage, now a row of mundane flats and lock-ups. No front gardens, just an iron grille facing onto tarmac. Some homes have floor-to-ceiling grilles behind their ground floor windows, just in case. In the shared garden, someone's discarded three broken office chairs. Humps ahead, maximum speed 5mph.
Lined up on one windowsill, a collection of commemorative beer glasses. Pinned up on one door, Beware of the dog. Attached to the foot of several up-and-overs, a mechanical 'Garage Defender'. Last time the lockups saw fresh blue paint, heaven knows. Private parking only, with permit, penalty £100. Just two streetlamps, and good luck after dark on the stretch inbetween. No access to Belmont Lane. A row of bollards. The Tansley Close Community Garden, leaf-strewn and locked. The sound of drumming from the Baptist church at the end of the lane. A trio in trapper hats walk past drinking from cut-price cans. The shadow of Moelwyn Hughes Court. For several Londoners, home. One mile from New King's Cross, three from Trafalgar Square.
THREE MILES EAST: Park Vista Tower, Wapping (Cobblestone Square, opposite Tobacco Dock, E1W)
Go back forty years and this spot was off-limits within the London Docks, midway between the Western and Eastern Docks, bookended by two swing bridges. Then the basins were filled in for extensive housing, none of it especially highrise because this was the 1980s, leaving a single ornamentalcanal to snake through the development. But what I've managed to hit here, quite by chance, is Wapping's sole multi-storey tower, squeezed in where Ballymore spotted a slim gap. It's long and thin and stacked and silver, with an Italian restaurant at the bow, rising increasingly steeply to a penthouse pair. It's very 2014, so glass not brick, which is probably in its favour.
Whoever called this Cobblestone Square was having a laugh, or a liar hoping the name'd put prices up. A long slabbed walkway leads to a locked gate which keeps the riffraff of Wapping Woods out, but also the joggers of Park Vista Tower in. A fake canal runs along one side, pumped to ensure movement. An empty chamber of muscle-flexing machines props up the ground floor, because residents have paid extra for gym and concierge. Somebody's moving out today, their worldly goods being trolleyed in taped-up boxes into the back of a van. At the end of the road London's hippest musical youth are milling by, making their way into BBC Introducing Live at Tobacco Dock. Early arrivals are taking advantage of a break between masterclasses by smoking alongside the pirate ships. I feel hideously off-trend.
THREE MILES SOUTH: Cottage Grove, Clapham (Fenwick Estate, nr Clapham North station, SW9)
The Falcon, with its mustard frontage and beer terrace, is certainly trendy enough for Clapham. But Cottage Grove alongside is the gateway to a dead end council estate, knocked up in the 1960s and hidden away beside the railway embankment. The Fenwick Estate, a loop of courtyard and linear blocks, has seen better days. The Vehicle Testing Station on the way in is a big clue, with its blue MOT triangles and the offer to fix CARS, MOTOR CYCLES, THREE WHEELERS. Shabby wooden doors face the pavement, or can be accessed up backstairs along balcony walkways. A tabby cat looks down from a concrete ledge. Children kick about in a high-fenced football corral. A mural commemorates Billy Cox, 1991-2007. Someone's rice takeaway fills a puddle. The Residents Association Winter Party is pencilled in for mid-December.
A few runs of flats are boarded up, their windows firmly pinned shut. Squibb Group Limited started demolition last month within a zig-zagged sliver alongside the railway. The site's being developedby TfL as part of their new role as the Mayor's housing provider, and will shoehorn 55 all-affordable flats into this awkward space. If I say bricky and balconied, you already know exactly what they'll look like. The remainder of the Fenwick Estate is on Lambeth council's regeneration list, hopelessly delayed, but already pumping out newsletter after newsletter to keep existing residents informed. Everyone'll be sequentially decanted, rather than kicked out in favour of rich incomers, but not for a while yet. Don't expect open staircases in the replacement.
THREE MILES WEST: Kensington Place, Notting Hill (at the junction with Hillgate Street, W8)
Here's your sharp contrast. Kensington Place runs a couple of streets back from Notting Hill Gate, sloping down towards Kensington Church Street, and is nowhere the hoi polloi would normally go. One side is perfect pastel terraces with sash windows, basement steps and prices approaching three million apiece - ideal for purchasers who want reconfigurable internal space with hardly any garden to fuss over. The other side is a school playground, colourfully marked, and a block of brown flats built on the site of a garage on the site of a disused reservoir. The street could have traffic both ways, but folks need to be able to park their Mini Coupés out front so it has to be one way only.
A kid from the flats speeds down the pavement on his silver scooter, and thanks me ever so politely for stepping to one side. Two floppy haired blonds with brogues and Barbours walk down the middle of the road, confident of not being run over. Some terribly nice vases are on show on parlour tables, unless the shutters are down because there's nothing, or too much, worth ogling. Someone in the unpainted stretch has got the scaffolders in. The primary school offers weekend classes in Family Yoga. A copper-spired church on Campden Hill dominates the top of the street. The display of autumn colours at number 30 is currently stunning. What a difference a compass point makes.