Monday, 16 January 2012

The Walk from My Flat to the Pub

The walk from the York Way Estate, where I live to the Admiral Mann, where I drink is not the prettiest stroll in London but one I have come to realise one brimming with traditional London businesses and brilliant shops.  You meet interesting local characters and find beneath the veneer of what many might call a scruffy area, is a working class neighbourhood that in many ways embodies true London life. The following is by no means all of what's on offer, but a slice of what stands out for me.

We start our journey at the estate I call home, the York Way Estate N7. Built on a former cattle market the land is owned by the Corporation of London and it is they who built the housing in 1969 in what is now the London Borough of Islington.

 Turning right, and crossing the road I am now in the London Borough of Camden, living as I do on the border between these esteemed local authority divisions.  At number 3 Camden Park Road, NW1 is Andrew's barber shop, so I shall pop in here for my usual number one clipper job all over.  Andrew, originally from Cyprus opened this shop on 1st of May 1969 and is a stalwart of the area. He is a true gent and legendary figure.  His charismatic son also is often on duty.  A place to come for banter, wisecracks, and outspoken opinions.  More about Andrew's on here:

Following the joys of a fresh haircut, my walk takes a rather sad turn, as further down the road an old laundrette is on it's last day of business.  A typical example of an un-refurbished classic business of a dying breed. The signs. machines, and furnishings all look very old. I thought I'd grab some photos of the place by way of some quick historical document. I don't know a lot about the shop, as we have our own washing machine at home, but no doubt this has been a feature of the area since the 1960's or beyond and indeed the propriator tells me some fashion and film shoots were done inside due to the period decor:
Back across the road now and onto Kris's beer shop, at 394 York Way N7, to get a bottle of beer for later. Kris is a Sri Lankan Tamil and another true gentleman.  He start the shop in 2001 as a regular off licence, but since that market is so competitive he had the brilliant idea to specialise in obscure, imported, and traditional beers.  On one shelf from floor to ceiling is German lagers, another Belgium Trappist beers, another still British bottled ale. Pretty much anything you want Kris has it. Also all kinds of wine, ciders, and spirits. True paradise for a CAMRA member like me to have this in the neighbourhood.  Their official website here:
Next is Austin Flowers at 396 York Way, a proper London grocers. The guys who run this place are salt of the earth geezers who certainly know their onions! They sell high quality fruit and veg at very good prices, driven in each morning from the New Covent Garden market south of the river. They also drink at the pub I will end up at so they are always up for a chat or to exchange cookery tips.
 And finally, after crossing Camden Road and onto Brecknock Road, I turn left and find the Admiral Mann at 9 Hargrave Place, N7 0BP.  A backstreet boozer, one of the few traditional ones left, I was delighted to find this place since they serve my favourite beer, McMullen's Country Bitter.  Very friendly staff and regulars, and a very fat pub cat called Smokey, this is by far the best pub anywhere near this area.  So time for a refreshing pint. 

The review on here is spot on:,_9_Hargrave_Place&Pub=175

Above: notice Smokey the cat on his favourite stool.
Chris and I have a game of darts.
Peyvand wonders if somebody spiked her drink (they hadn't).


Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Things to do in Stevenage

 The archetypal new town, mostly built to house Londoners after the war, Stevenage is the post-war housing experiment rendered in all its modernist glory.  Not many towns can claim to have been founded on a utopian concept, but here we have the embodiment of the planner’s vision, all laid out like somewhere in between the sets from the A Clockwork Orange and Fahrenheit 451 films. 

Europe’s first pedestrianised shopping prescient, modeled on the principals of Cubism, becomes especially bleak at night. The glowing sodium-lit concrete reflecting off the stagnant fountain in Town Square.  A mural on the side of what is now Primark wouldn’t be out of place in east Berlin, depicting as it does scenes of industrial workers and farmers working collectively for a prosperous future.  Well the future is now- and with rising unemployment thanks to declining orders from the former British Aerospace factory in part due to the conclusion of the Cold War.  

One day the arms factories will once again yield the anti-aircraft missiles and Space technology necessary for modern total warfare. Britain shall require new allegiances, new rivals and new orders for Rapier Missile systems.  Until such times, many shops will remain boarded up, many people out of work.  

The Library, a two storey building at the edge of the prescient has changed little in 30 years.  The upstairs automatic door system still creeks and shudders open as it did when I was a child.  It is here you while away the hours under the shadow of the tower blocks. 

The Old Town, the area which predates the war still retains some of the features from centuries past.  Many pubs line the High Street from when the original Stevenage was a coaching stop on the Great North Road (now known as the A1M).  Hertfordshire’s locally produced beer, McMullen’s is certainly a good drop to drink. My preferred pint in this locale is the McMullen’s Country Bitter, at the Prince of Wales on Albert Street.  Framed photos on the wall show the area in its heyday including coach trip ‘beanos’ to the seaside in the 1950’s. 

Despite there not being a highly visible community from the Asian Sub-Continent in Stevenage, the five curry houses scattered along the High Street are very good.  There is sadly however little other culinary options worth mentioning in the town. 

Musically, 1977 era punk band The Bleach Boys are from nearby Hitchin and still seem to play quite regularly, as does Chas, from Chas & Dave.  Chron Gen, also local and were at one time the regular support band. Goths might be interested to know Fields of the Nephlim are from the town and John Cooper Clarke lived in Stevenage in 1982.  According to a BBC documentary “he drifted there to take drugs” and was known to do his shopping in Sainsbury’s on Thursdays.