Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Kentish Town/West

I wandered from Paddington to Trellick Tower, a foray under the Westway and into a bit of London I was unfamiliar with.  Soon I found myself in a sort of community green space where a man appeared to be practicing some form of boxing or maybe a more assertive version of Thai Chi. Either way, I kept a cautious distance.

After a drift along an unfamiliar but fairly typical bit of London main road for a while, I spotted the Tower a little way off to my left, clad in some sort of blue netting. Arriving at a busy junction shortly afterwards, I took the left turn. Suddenly I couldn't see the Tower. It was blocked out by the buildings immediately around me, paradoxically much smaller ones.

At the Union Tavern pub I took some steps down to the canal towpath, having resorted to google maps to find the Tower . The canal was lined with trees and a park/garden to my left and canal boats to my right. Across the water were houses and flats and a bizarre sort of garden with statues or sculptures of some kind, apparently only accessible from the water.

At this point I hadn't figured out that if I'd looked up and been able to see through the trees, I'd have seen the Tower looming up above in close proximity. But my attention had been diverted by the scenes across the canal.

In my ignorance I'd drifted past the tower before doubling back along a road, passing the Cobden Working Men's Club and Institute building. Originally opened in 1866 as a liberal free trade supporting institution with its own publishing arm, it's apparently the oldest surviving purpose built working men's club building, although no longer operates as such.  Sometime in the 1990s it was turned into a private member's club for local celebrity types, although the local working men were allowed to continue using the ground floor in exchange for a peppercorn rent of a bottle of scotch a year between them. The club closed in 2010 then the building was bought by  Caprice Burret, a model and reality TV person. Apparently Bill Clinton played his saxophone in the building when he was a student.


Following this unintended diversion, I arrived at Trellick Tower. The netting I had seen earlier was covering scaffolding. Renovation and repairs are taking place to the building, which is listed so presumably means doing it on the cheap is less of an option for the council than they might have liked. I had assumed that the renovations were a sign of decanting out the council tenants in order to sell off the flats into private hands, as happened at Trellick Tower's twin Belfron Tower as well as numerous other places. But apparently this isn't the case here and thankfully the council tenants are staying.


On the ground floor there is a row of shops including a social enterprise, The Goldfinger Factory. Attached to this is a sicillian cafe/restaurant which does a 'peoples kitchen' where donated food from Queens Park market is cooked up into a free meal for locals. Gentrification so far seems to have been resisted. I didn't get a photo, I felt it would be a bit of an intrusion on the people sitting outside the cafe.  I also felt a bit self conscious taking photos of the area in general, particularly as I had a suit on having come from a meeting. I didn't want to be mistaken for a seedy speculator of some kind. I was in close proximity to people's homes after all and it felt like a breach of their privacy.


The community spirit was evident in this piece of art showing solidarity with the victims of Grenfell, fellow North Kensington residents.


I walked back to the canal via the gardens around the back of the Tower. I was intrigued by the green behind the wall on the picture below. Again, I felt a bit self conscious so didn't go and investigate it. I was pleased to see a lamp post of the same design we had on the estate I grew up on in Cherry Hinton in Cambridge. The black sort with a circular UFO-like lamp.


I drifted away from the Tower and doubled back up to the busy junction. Then I headed down Elgin Avenue which looked like it was heading roughly in the direction of North London and Kings Cross Station. I hadn't planned on much more of a walk and was going to catch a random bus back at least part way. But following sudden arrangements to meet a friend for a drink in Kentish Town I had two hours to kill so kept walking.

Not far into Elgin Avenue the scene became noticeably posher. There were few shops and a seemingly endless parade of big brown well kept houses. At some point I took a diversion through Paddington Recreation Ground. I can't recall if that was after or before I stumbled upon the end of Woronzow Road. For me (and no doubt at least some others) a site of significant psychogeographic and psychedelic importance. Woronzow is the name of the record label belonging to Nick Saloman of (or who is) The Bevis Frond. I had been told by someone, or possibly read somewhere, that the label was named after a fictitious trap street spotted on an A-Z. Of course, this turned to be untrue as I read or heard somewhere else a few years later. The street is real and in the vicinity of St John's Wood where Nick Saloman grew up. That I've never actually sought out the road suddenly seemed odd, and I was surprised to have stumbled across it even though in the back of my mind I suppose I knew it was around here somewhere.

There  was more of the same brown houses for quite a while. Not a lot else registered until I arrived on what was a sort of border separating Primrose Hill and the area of Chalk Farm, Camden and Kentish Town. The physical embodiment of this is an iron railway footbridge, where streetart/graffiti (depending on which side of the divide you are on) made its first and sudden appearance since Trellick Tower and it's environs. A series of sheild shaped iron 'picture frames' lined the street featuring  a varied selection of motifs. Probably my favourite is the one below. I crossed the bridge into Chalk Farm and as I did so felt like was making a transition into another realm.



I'm a bit long in the tooth to get excited about Camden I supose, and was mildly irritated to be nearly run down by three young men evidently heading in that direction on scooters (the sort that children used to have, not the mod sort). I headed down Prince of Wales Road which links Chalk Farm and Kentish Town.


Prince of Wales Road is familiar yet unfamiliar. I have been down it several times, particularly the Kentish Town end where the University (ne Polytechnic) of North London used to have a premises in an impressive old school building. Opposite this is St Pancras Baths, a similarly impressive building which I'd never paid particular attention to before. In the ''golden hour" of late afternoon the sun rendered the building a glowing orange which was slightly other-worldly. The building was re-vamped in 2010 for continued use as a swimming pool, narrowly escaping being sold off for flats as the old University building had been. I also recalled an interesting stay at a bizarre BnB called Michaels Guest House just over the road and of course nearby is the excellent Drinkers Paradise off licence.

On the other hand, the stretch of road leading from Chalk Farm to Kentish Town West station felt only vaguely recalled. I hadn't remembered that the station was even on this road, imagining it being somewhere else.


Underneath the statues of St George and St Pancras were two religious types stood behind a board that asked the question ''Will the suffering ever end?'' The pub was less than 20 minutes away so the answer to this was undoubtedly yes, at least for a while. Not that I was suffering, but a pint and a sit down would be welcome. I managed to avoid their attention and departed the scene.


I headed up Kentish Town Road, which is like a more low key Camden, a little more off the tourist map. It's probably got a bit posher over the years but still has a bit of a ramshackle feel. Having saids that, the painted sign that rises up on the side of a building overlooking the railway bridge is not that low key I suppose..

Round the corner I lingered for a while outside the Bull and Gate. I'd not really taken much notice of the outside of the pub before when I used to come here to see bands many moons ago. It has an interesting and bizarre 'frontispiece'. The central feature of this is a bull in front of a gate, being hovered over by a head resembling a hybrid of a green man and the giant stone head from the film Zardoz. What this means I cannot be sure, but it was time to go to the pub (a different one).