Wednesday 10 February 2016

London, my London

Irony of ironies. I sat down to write this post in August, last summer, whilst my bike’s tires were still red-hot from having been in all-day contact with the seething London sun-kissed tarmac. My feet were still being massaged with one hand as the other one, keyboard-aided, left a trail of disparate, off-the-cuff, spur-of-the-moment, but rather original and enthusiastic thoughts on the hitherto blank page. I had just returned from my three-stadium bike-tour, a tiring journey that had taken me from north London to the southwestern part of the city. I was exhausted but in high spirits.

Irony of ironies. The idea for this cycle trip had come about after my AlexandraPalace-to-Camden-Town excursion. As I parked my vélo in the midst of this human zoo, I recalled a phrase I had inadvertently thought up earlier when I slid down Prince Albert Road and which I ended up using in my previous post: the Holy Trinity of cricket, rugby and football. Not being an expert in the former two, I decided to explore the latter through a post I innocently thought of calling at the time “the English football league top division: from past to current glories”. This was a logical (if somewhat un-sporty) appellation after I decided to begin my route at Spurs’ homeground White Hart Lane (last-time league winners in 1961), cycle down to the Emirates, headquarters of the Gunners, AKA, Arsenal Football (no league trophy since 2004) and end at Chelsea Football Club (last season's winners). But instead of a defence-splitting, straight journey from N17 to SW6, via Islington, Euston, Hyde Park and South Kensington, I opted for a different route. In an elegant tiki-taka, Barcelona-like possession-focused style I would take off from Bill Nicholson Way, bike through part of Stamford Hill, whiz down Drayton Park, past the Emirates on my way to Farringdon Road, turn right on to the Embankment without crossing the river Thames, keep biking westwards and arrive at Stamford Bridge: the “current glory” in my jaunt. A longer trip, but far more picturesque than the “kick-the-ball-long-and-hard-straight-at-the-bloke-at-the-front” approach.

Irony of ironies. Luckily I never wrote that post. I would have been laughed out of town. I would have had messages of sympathy and commiseration instead of trolling. Please, do Google the English League (Barclays Premier League) now and see where Spurs, Arsenal and Chelsea sit at the moment. It is eerie that this was exactly the order in which I set off on my cycling trip.

I did still take off in the manner I had planned. Saddling up just outside the front gate of White Hart Lane on Bill Nicholson Way I looked to my right. Down that way the High Road would have taken me further up north and almost out of London, through the multi-faceted and multi-tasking chiefly-African-run Tottenham barber shops, still charging six or seven quid for a trim and serving as Speakers’ Corner and Relate counsellor at the same time. After that, Edmonton Green, with its revamped shopping centre and its three emblematic high-rises. Relics of a time when apparently Tories favoured contractor-designed tower blocks in contrast to Labour’s preference for cottage-style estates. It was near here in 1805 that young ten-year-old John Keats moved to with his family. So, if someone ever were to ask you “Where’s the Poet? Show him! Show him!/Muses nine, that I may know him!/'Tis the man, who with a man/Is an equal, be he King/Or Poorest of the beggar-clan/Or any other wondrous thing”, you could very well say: he lived here, on Church Street, Edmonton.

I looked to my left and psyched myself up for the long journey ahead. Tottenham’s High Road is mainly populated by low-rise buildings on either side. This made my trip more bearable as I did not feel crushed and overwhelmed by the surrounding architecture. Add on the colourful shops near Bruce Grove train station and you are being given a snapshot of a London not many people are familiar with.

This is an area where the Western Union Money Transfer business mixes with that of fresh fish and seafood. Chains include the ubiquitous McDonald’s next to the Hackney-founded, family-run bakery Percy Ingle. The High Road becomes the A10. Turn right at the traffic lights, go up the hill and you will end up at the Bruce Castle Museum, a 16th century manor house where you can trace back Haringey’s local history. Carry on, as I did, and you suddenly find yourself at the Marcus Garvey Library immersed in culture and tradition.

Pan-African, Jamaica-born Garvey led one of the most organised mass movements of people of African ancestry. The library has a special place in my heart. In 2000 I taught a series of Afro-Cuban dance workshops with a fellow Cuban drummer as part of Haringey’s Black History Month celebrations.A couple of years later I returned, this time as a story-teller, with more percussionists and an artist. I always felt that in a small, but significant way we all managed to capture and convey Marcus Garvey’s message that “For man to know himself is for him to feel that for him there is no human master. For him Nature is his servant, and whatsoever he wills in Nature, that shall be his reward. If he wills to be a pigmy, a serf or a slave, that shall he be. If he wills to be a real man in possession of the things common to man, then he shall be his own sovereign. When man fails to grasp his authority he sinks to the level of the lower animals, and whatsoever the real man bids him do, even as if it were of the lower animals, that much shall he do”.

Of equal importance is the building next to the library, the Bernie Grant Arts Centre, named after the charismatic, Guyanese Labour MP for Tottenham who held his seat from 1987 until his untimely death in 2000.  Bernie’s tireless activism led him to support various worthwhile causes, from feminist ones to educational ones, like a multi-racial school curriculum. At present the arts centre offers a varied programme of events, including world music gigs.

I pressed on, the morning sun warming the back of my legs and neck. I was cycling away from Spurs’ territory (or, as I call it, enemy territory) and entering Stamford Hill. The stage was set for the next chapter of my journey.

© 2016

Next Post: “London, my London”, to be published on Saturday 13th February at 6pm (GMT)


  1. I do love your feet(wheels) on the ground approach to your city. Thank you so much.

  2. What a great way to plan a trip round London! (With the way things seem to be going it won't be that long before a trip between libraries becomes a comparable expedition!)

  3. So much to see indeed. Neat to go near where well known people lived and wonder what may have inspired them there.

  4. Oh I do so enjoy these trips around London. You have taught me so much, so many thanks...very much appreciated!
    Please do be careful on your bike though...kinda scares me to think of you risking life and limb on two wheels in all that traffic...

    Have a great day.:))

  5. Hi Blogoratti - football - lots has changed this year in the League - I don't follow or watch, but I hear and note .. when I first started working back in the dark ages - there was a woman who went with her family to the Gunners every Saturday - I'd no idea about them!! I sort of paid attention thereafter .. cheers Hilary

  6. Hay que aprovechar el buen tiempo para darse unos buenos paseos con la bicicleta, ella nos mantiene ágiles y a la vez se puede disfrutar descubriendo bonitos trayectos.
    Un abrazo.

  7. I do admire that you embarked on such a trip..... on a bike, too. I would have been terrified with only two wheels to transport me. Still, I like what you produced for your blog. Maybe someday I will get to see some of those places.

  8. I imagine you see more exploring on a bike that you do in a car.

  9. You have both more ambition and energy than do I, CiL .... or, at least, utilize it in different ways. I enjoy going off the beaten path when traveling in as much as it is practical, but to travel by bicycle is far more strenuous than I prefer.

    The writing is terrific, I think, and of a manner and style which keep the reader interested and entertained.

  10. Another great cycling adventure! Thanks.

  11. I like your trips and long to be back on my bike! Walking is the best way to see, but a bicycle is second best, as it allows you contact that you'd never get when enclosed inside a car.

  12. Your posts about your adventures around London on a bicycle makes me miss bicycling, although I must admit, I used a bike to get from point A to point B, and to relish the feeling of downhill speed, and not to savor my surroundings. Alas, I was young then. Now, I'd be more inclined to relish my surroundings, but (shhhh) I have never been on any other kind of bicycle than one with pedal brakes. No "speeds", other than how fast my legs could spin, and no scary hand brakes. I don't think I could handle a regular bike anymore, and I'm too old to learn how to ride a more modern one. Guess I'll have to stick with walking. :)

    Anyhow, keep up your biking, and telling us about your adventures. It's the next best thing to doing it ourselves.

  13. What a wonderful view of London! So rich with detail. Thank you.



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