Wednesday 25 November 2015

London, my London

This post is about that crossing. But before we get to that crossing, let me take you by the hand and give you a mini-tour of a very peculiar corner of north-west London.

Golders Green is a recent, 19th century development with a Jewish-rich history. If Hackney’s Stamford Hill is better known for its Orthodox Jews, then, Golders Green’s “people of the book” are more representative of the middle-class families who settled in the area after Golders Green tube station opened. From Ashkenazims to Sephardims, it is thought that by the late 50s a quarter of the population in this area was Jewish.

Cycling on Finchley Road is one of the ways to discover this lesser-known London gem. Just a little curious fact: when you hear the word “avenue”, do not think of a wide, big, long road, but very often, think of a small, narrow one. Finchley Road would be called an “avenue” in any other city, including Havana, but here it is merely a “road”, or at most, a “high road”.

If this post were about the usually impressive-looking British countryside, I would be using terms such as hedgerow trees, pastoral land and woodland. Instead, I must resort, dear reader, to urban adjectives such as gentrification, young professionals and café culture. The well-kept tarmac made for a smooth surface on which to cycle. At some point I felt almost as if I were gliding. This coupled with the fact that Finchley Road is long and slopy made for interesting double-takes of little shops and businesses. In fact, Finchley Road felt like a preamble to West Hampstead. At the traffic lights with Fortune Green Road on my right, I recognised the area I was in immediately. I used to work here.

West End Lane has changed beyond recognition. It had already changed drastically by the time I joined the travel agency where I spent five and a half years of my life as a tour-operator. Still, one landmark remained almost intact amongst the Nando’s and Japanese eateries: West End Lane Books. This was one of my favourite stops after work on the way to the train station. I still remember the musty smell inside and on this day I could not resist saying hello to this old friend. I strolled into the building and it felt as if every shelf in the bookshop had leant forward to acknowledge my presence. That of an erstwhile regular who has not been in for almost twelve and a half years. West End Lane Books is in a league of its own. At any point the visitor will have access to approximately 10,000 titles in stock. The staff are still knowledgeable and polite.

The nostalgic-tinted encounter with the bookshop gave me the special oomph I needed to complete my journey and that I did. Straight down district-splitting West End Lane I carried on. On one side the blurred boundary with still-Irish stronghold Kilburn where the Tricycle Theatre has provided a fertile ground for up-and-coming left-of-field playwrights.

A distinctive element of London’s urban geography is its confusing and bizarre postcode system, as I mentioned in a previous post. After turning right from West End Lane onto Compayne Gardens, I cycled alternatively between NW6 and NW8. Of course, part of the reason was that, as I explained at the beginning of this series, I was focusing more on the discovery of what to me London’s hidden gems were (not necessarily landmarks or tourist sites). Culture and history over fame. Even with a little bit of architecture thrown in for good measure. All in all, the journey along these mainly deserted roads with picturesque houses and flats was an enjoyable experience. So much so, that all of a sudden, that crossing appeared and… Well, I shall stop my narration here as I leave you pondering who made that crossing as renowned as it has been for many decades. And if you do not know the answer to that question then, well… I cannot help you, reader. You are on your own.

© 2015

Next Post: “Saturday Evenings: Stay In, Sit Up and Switch On”, to be published on Saturday 28th November at 6pm (GMT)


  1. Charming descriptions, fresh with new perspectives and rich with details.
    Sadly, I have no idea what "crossing" you are referring to.

    1. Abbey Road! The Beatles famous cover! :-) No worries. The photo is not a good one and I couldn't position myself in the middle of the road leaving my bike unattended. Some others did. They weren't cycling. :-)

      Greetings from London.

  2. Abbey Road! Awesome! I had that record album for a long time, and I pretty much loved all the songs on it, too! I love The Beatles. :)

  3. A good book shop or shop of anything that one like I suppose can sure make one feel at home and relax away

  4. I love the way you write. It has such a visual impact. Take care.

  5. very cool
    think i need to plan my next london trip soon
    it's a cool city
    last time i was there i was sketching at portobello road
    enjoyed it much

  6. I do love travelling through your London.
    And how I would love to visit that book store.

  7. I think we all know who made that crossing famous! I do love these glimpses of London through your eyes.

  8. I so love your delving into London's secret corners - all those bits of the city that most of those who live there don't even notice!

  9. Of course I've heard of Abbey Road, heard not witnessed. I got the information from the above comments. You are making me want to travel to London to see it for myself, although I do have some memories of places there that I've visited. Looking forward to the next instalment.

  10. Haha! Your close is very funny. I enjoyed your visit--and mine with you. London is such a great city for the exact reasons (and others, I suppose) that you describe and explore--not that you limit your affection to those reasons, but this aspect of all its little differences and corners and windings and book shops and history is quite wonderful. It is, of course, a much older city than New York and I think has much more of that--thanks for your kind visits. Enjoy the week! k.

  11. Cada ciudad tiene su barrio y en Londres hay tantos de ellos me imagino así que da gusto ir recorriendolos a través de tu pluma.
    Un abrazo.

  12. Hi ACIL - it's an area of London I don't know at all well ... but this was a fascinating tour ... and 250 years ago ... it was bustling fields, whispering hedgerows, real flowing rivers ... country life lived full ... and Abbey Road, yes I guessed ... but it's good to see it from a different angle ... the bookshop sounds a delight - and a great place to rest awhile on the way home ... cheers Hilary

  13. Thanks for the tour of your neck of London!

  14. The Beatles cover!!!!Soo nice!! :))))

    Thinking of having a Christmas tour to England!!Beautiful place:))))

  15. Famous crossing!

    I've always found London postcodes confusing....

  16. I was in London over the last two weeks... And this post makes me miss the city...
    Thanks for sharing!

  17. My great grandparents, one set of them anyway, lived in Golders Green. I remember my mum talking about it. Can't remember what she said sadly.

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