Friday 18 February 2022

Diary of a Cycling Instructor 20th September to 1st October)

Cycling back to Edmonton and its incinerator


Phallic and menacing: the beast in the background (photo by the author)

Edmonton never stood a chance against Cambridge. Not as a vis-à-vis encounter. After all one is a ward and the other one a city. The imbalance was shown more in the way of how campaigns played out in each area and how effective they were.

It always feels strange going back to Edmonton. As soon as I cycle past White Hart Lane (or Tottenham Hotspur Stadium as it’s called now) and enter N18 territory a sense of nostalgia overcomes me.

I lived in this neighbourhood of Enfield for more than twenty years (my abode was in N9). Whilst some people have long had reservations about this part of north London (diverse, multicultural, working-class), I’ve got a soft spot for it. I was one of Edmonton’s residents, one of the many immigrants shopping in the Green, having my hair done (when I had long hair) at Victoria’s on Fore Street and buying jollof rice and chicken from Rebecca’s Kitchen.

But when I went back recently in order to deliver some cycling training at a primary school off Fore Street, there was another thought doing the rounds in my head. A Facebook friend of mine had just sent me a link a few days before to a BBC Sounds podcast. The programme – called “Power to Which People?” – focused on the planned expansion of the Edmonton incinerator, the largest of its type in Britain and a bone of contention for environmentalists and community groups for many years.

I had already moved to Edmonton and my son was still a small baby when I first spotted the monster in the distance. It stood erect, a carbon dioxide emission machine coughing up smoke continuously. I still remember that in those years we had someone from Greenpeace or similar outfit camp up in our fifteenth-floor flat for a whole day, monitoring the incinerator.

Since the news was announced, there has been a campaign to stop the extension of the incinerator. “Power to Which People?” touched on that. A village in Cambridge faced a similar issue. A developer wanted to build an incinerator in Waterbeach. Had they gone ahead with their plans, the new structure would have been taller than Ely Cathedral and visible for miles around.

The council stopped the project on its planning stages arguing that it would have a detrimental impact on the landscape and nearby historic buildings.

Sadly, Edmonton is not Cambridge. It is an urban, heavily populated and deprived part of the UK. There are historic buildings, however. Salisbury House, on the northern side of the A10, is a Grade II listed late 16th century three-storey building. The poet John Keats lived on Church Street with his siblings and grandmother. A blue plaque links his presence to the area. But instead of cathedrals, there are chicken shops, kebab joints and Poundstretchers.

Edmonton is already at the receiving end of a pollution onslaught. It’s surrounded by the North Circular to the west, the aforementioned A10 to the north (officially called Cambridge Road. Oh, the irony!) and Southbury Road (already Ponders End territory) to the east. To the south, Mollison Avenue completes what I used to call when I lived there “the square of death”. Lung-wrecking fumes from cars, lorries, vans and buses engulf the local population.

As I cycled away from the school the first day, I turned around, looked up and locked my eyes on the beast. The incinerator still looked menacing. Phallic and imposing, it was the tallest structure dominating Edmonton’s urban landscape. I set my pedal and rode off. Power to which people? My answer to the question is: power to the people trying to stop the incinerator’s extension.

Every school has them: the eye-rubbing, guilty-looking, late-running children pushed gently (and occasionally not so gently) towards the school gates by angry-red parents.

The location of a headteacher’s office tells you a lot about the way a school is managed. There are pros and cons when it comes to the headmistress/master’s office location. Put it in close proximity to classes and I can smell micromanagement a mile off. Place it away from the madness and it’s a hands-off type of SLT (Senior Leadership Team), trusting teachers to do their job.

Or a headteacher who doesn’t give two monkeys how the school is run.

I love a staff room with a sense of humour: a hatted skeleton looking like a version of a mambo-dancing, “The Mask” era Jim Carrey is just the start we need every day.

It will probably have to wear a “mask”, being so close to the incinerator (photo by author)


“Cuban, Immigrant, and Londoner”, on sale now.


  1. I live in a rural area outside a small town and we have an incinerator plant that's caused much controversy over the years. Thankfully the wind rarely blows our direction.

  2. Yo tomé la decisión hace veinte años, de marcharme de la ciudad a un pequeño pueblo, precisamente por motivos de la contaminación del tráfico rodado, ya que en Sevilla podemos presumir de que no tenemos industrias tan contaminantes cerca de la ciudad, y además, las autoridades lo están haciendo bastante bien con la peatonalización del centro de la ciudad, y bastantes calles de la periferia. Todo esto lo han complementado con unos excelentes carriles para bicicletas.
    Espero que más pronto que tarde, vuestras autoridades, que tienen el deber entre otras cosas, de velar por la salud de su población, tomen medidas y quiten esa incineradora, y puedas volver a pasear por tu antiguo barrio en tu bici, sin peligro alguno, y por el bien del planeta.
    Gracias por compartir tu día a día, y me has sorprendido con lo que cuentas, ya que tenía a Londres, como una ciudad bastante avanzada, y observo que aún tiene cosas que no se pueden permitir.
    Un abrazo, amigo.

  3. Another thought-provoking post.
    Love the hatted skeleton.
    Have a grand weekend.

  4. In reading this, I was thinking about a part of a book I recently read (Erik Larson's "Thunderstruck") where a neighborhood in London had a prison where capital punishment was carried out (this was in the early 20th Century) and the required ringing of the bell afterwards made it a less than an ideal place to live. The incinerator wouldn't be the best neighbor.

  5. A monster indeed! Thanks so much for sharing.

  6. Me encantas lo que escribes
    me encanta Londres aunque no lo conozco
    Tus fotos son divertidas

  7. Nice photoes and story Cil!
    I will look up your book at Amazon!

    Greetings Anita



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