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