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Mmm… Angel

January 5, 2013

My first rest-day of Janathon coincided with a trip to the shops in Angel.

After I’d wrestled my way through the stacks of Christmas goods that proved impossible to sell due to unfortunate word breaks…

Unfortunate word break
… and the clear sense of shame felt by a bookseller in Waterstones as demonstrated by this Heart-of-Darkness-esque cry for help…
A cry for help from booksellers reduced to selling housewife porn
… I decided to walk back to Seven Sisters. The Waitrose, complete with swanky deli counter and bakery mark the southernmost point of my journey.

Carrying my haul, I navigated through the crowds and aggressively determined cafe culture of Upper Street. Coffee drinkers and late lunchers spilled on to the pavements from artisan bakeries and bento restaurants, wrapped in winter coats, scarves, gloves and clustered under patio heaters.

Although Upper Street is a well-heeled area, where £250,000 may stretch to a studio flat provided you were a particularly skilled negotiator and the property suffered from some fatal flaw (beyond the fact that it consisted of two rooms – one for bodily functions, and one for all other aspects of your life), I noticed a lot of empty shops. The Taproom, a real-ale bar that opened for 21 days in a more-spit-than-sawdust unit with peeling plaster and sinister toilets that served hoppy beers to anyone with skinny jeans and an ironic mustache with £5 to spare had closed, good to their three-week pop-up word. The clothes shop that had proudly proclaimed  ‘We mostly do black, but we do it very well’ for the past year had, it transpired, been over-confident in its ability to ‘do black’ and shut.

Heading towards Highbury and Islington, I passed The Workers’ Cafe – a traditional and historic greasy spoon cafe, slotted in the middle of upper-crust independent bakeries and narrow-boat thin Japanese, Sicilian and Thai restaurants. The haunt of Thatcher-era socialists has not remained unchanged by the shifting demographic of the area; card carriers now dine on eggs Benedict, goats’ cheese and char-grilled artichokes. Rick would not be impressed.

Turning on to Holloway Road, and having passed a Waitrose Mini the area changes to cafes with seats inside, the odd pawnbroker, a few vintage shops, restaurants that double as takeaways. I pass a cluster of London Met Uni’s buildings, proudly from the ‘acquired taste’ school of architecture. They jostle for space with old council estate blocks now turned to private flats, an Art Deco Weatherspoon’s and the first of many off-licenses.

I hang a right at the final Waitrose of the triptych. The skeletons of abandoned Christmas trees line the pavement. Georgian townhouses that have been split into four or five flats line the busy three-lane road, no doubt preferring to be listed as Finsbury Park rather than Holloway.

I emerge on Seven Sisters Road, pass the Happening Bagel Bakery (where, should you be so inclined, you can get a freshly baked bagel at 4am) and cross into Finsbury Park itself. The trees are bare and the grass is matted with the mud that’s still drying out from the second wettest year in recorded history. Families are enjoying the playground, kids are kicking balls, joggers are working their way round the 1.3-mile lap, dog walkers have clad small pooches in jackets, and there’s at least one cluster of drunks occupying a park bench.

Cresting the hill at the centre of the park, there’s a brief moment when a thicket of trees obscures the tower blocks and road surrounding the park. In the distance I can see the narrow wooded area that stretches over a ridge to lead up to Alexandra Palace. If you ignore the drone of traffic noise and the  whine of an airplane tracking across the iron sky, it’s almost like being outside London.

I exit the park, cross the road and I’m down a backstreet leading towards our house. It’s easier to walk than drive round here – the roads are laced with traffic-control measures (one-way systems, speed bumps, recently-blocked throughways) that suggest it’s either a hotbed of joy riding or that a council official has decided that the cut-throughs are just too damned convenient. A police ‘Identifying Unit’ further down the road carries posters that strongly suggest it’s the former.

Most of the buildings are Victorian terraces, but this area once had an industry. There’s a block of warehouses – I can never tell whether they’re converted into residential dwellings or still operate as warehouses – with piles of rubbish and boxes of empty beer cans lined up on the street. Iron railings, a jumble of locked post boxes, battered signs advertising commercial space to let, graffiti and the odd boarded up window. An abandoned chest of drawers on the pavement has been artfully upcycled into a container planter, its drawers pulled part-way out, filled with soil and draping flowers that spill over with greenery despite the time of year.

I cross one more road and I’m back in Seven Sisters, where the streets are lined with discarded chicken bones from countless £1.99-fries-and-wings meals, and exotic vegetables spill out on to the street in piles of artfully balanced plastic containers, and barbers that are open all hours, and unlikely combo shops (Halal-butcher-and-phone-shop, fishmonger-and-phone-shop, pound-and-phone-shop). Where £250,000 could get you a two-bed ex-crack den with poor insulation and a stain on the 1970s carpet that looks suspiciously like blood, religion is sold on street corners with a loud hailer and flyers, and a cantankerous bunny has kicked poo out of her cage and across the dining room. Sigh.

(On an unrelated matter, the title of this post is a reference to series 3 of early 2000s TV series Angel. Don’t say that you never get bleeding-edge cultural references on this blog.)

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