‘Armagideon Time’ – The Clash

(12 inch single – B-side of ‘London Calling’)

As the opening bars of choppy organ come in and Joe Strummer’s reverbed moans float out of the speakers, 10 year old frowns. Then Joe starts to sing.

10 year old: It’s a bit weird!

She frowns some more. Then screws her face up.

7 year old and 3 year old were in bed but come running downstairs at the sound of echoey dub bass.

7 year old: Heyyy, this is good.

Three year old does a funky bum-sticking-out dance in the middle of the room and waves his arms around a lot

“What do you think?”

3 year old: Good!

7 year old” Yeah!
10 year old shakes her head in disgust

Jane from Occupied Europe – Swell Maps

(LP)

For a while at the end of 1980 this was my best album of all time. It was the perfect mixture of one chord guitar thrash, whiny vocals, underground synth drones and clockwork toys – with the odd moment of sublime pop melody.

On Friday mornings the kids usually come and hang around in my study when they’re supposed to be getting ready for school. But today, with Jane From Occupied Europe on repeat play, they kept their distance. Eventually 10 year old came in and said she’d been listening to it from her bedroom. She told me about two songs she liked (‘Cake SHop Girl’ and ‘Whatever Happens Next…’ I think).

10 year old: I like it. It’s nice and rocky. But the singing is terrible. It’s a bit scary. Do they sing badly on purpose? But this is good. (She was referring to the 8 minute instrumental ‘Collision With a Frogman vs. the Mangrove Delta Plan’ which is like a theme tune for a spooky kids TV series that never got made)

Then she went off downstairs to brush her hair.

At quarter to nine 7 year old came up to say goodbye. I asked him what he thought of Swell Maps.

“It’s cool. It sounds like me playing guitar.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well it’s rubbish guitar playing.”

‘Anticipation’ – Delta Five

(7 inch single)

The kids dance funky style then wiggle their hips, jerking their arms about like little robots. Then when the vocals start they both look at each other with pained expressions and start laughing.

10 year old: That was good until they started singing.

7 year old: Why are they singing like that?

They continue to look troubled as the jerky chorus comes in, then start laughing again. 10 year old starts to tell me about The Little Mermaid, the Disney film, and they both start to do some sort of fishy dance. It’s the two basses sound that they like, though can’t quite explain it. 10 year old starts a robobtic, hippy jive but looks concerned.

“What’s up?”

“It’s pretty rubbish”.

“Why are you dancing, then?”

“Because it’s funky,”

The View Down To Highbury Vale/St John’s Church

My late neighbour, Edna Crome, seemed to know more about Highbury then anyone I know. She was always telling me stories about some aspect of local history, often relating to architecture, football and schools. One afternoon, as we chatted over the garden fence, she started to tell me about St John's Church. I didn't know anything about this and she explained that it was demolished int he early 80s and a block of flats was put up, on the western side of Highbury Park. (Like many old talkative people Edna had never had her stories put down on tape future generations. All I have the memories of the countless conversations, usually conducted over the garden fence or out in the street when we bumped into one another.)

Oldtree  This spot is is one of my favourite parts of Highbury. When my daughter stared school at the top of the hill I'd sit on the bench at the junction of Highbury Park and Northolme Road and look down into the vale and beyond, marveling at the semi-rural template that lay beneath the concreted scene.


I haven't managed to find any photos or illustrations of the old church. In some ways it doesn't matter so much that the church is no longer there. If I concentrate I can see it just as plainly as it was there in front of me. It's the same with other parts of the village. I sit on the viewing bench and imagine the scene without the buildings, imagine looking down over pastures and meadows with the new river winding its way through the landscape from Hornsey over towards Stoke Newington. And there, to the left of the scene, snaking down from the Crouch Hill heights to the west, is the Hackney Brook.


There is still a C of E primary School named after St John's. Going back further there had been at college of St John's around Aubert Park (it was demolished in the mid 40s and a block of flats put in its place) in this area (there still exist some old illustrations of this http://www.antiquemapsandprints.com/p-3679.jpg). Arsenal FC bought part of the college grounds to build their original stadium before the First World War. Going back to the mediaeval era Highbury had been given to the Priory of St John of Jerusalem, also known as the Knights Hospitallers in England. by the landowner Alica de Barrow in 1271.  They controlled the area until disbanded by Henry VIII in the 16th century. The thread still survives in the name of the school.


I have a more recent example of this feeling for "ghost buildings" for it is not that long ago that the old tin box factory on Blackstock Road was demolished to make way for a new block of flats. On the other side of the road, where now Il Baccio restaurant and further new flats exist, was an old-fashioned garage.


Unlike some London churches, such as old St Mary's in Stoke Newington, , the Church of St John in Highbury Park was relatively new. It was only consecrated in 1881 so according to the information available didn't even last 100 years as a working church. Perhaps the people of Highbury built simply too many churches in that late 19th-century is their rush to development of the area. As wel as St John's there was also Christchurch a few hundred yards up the road, Saint Augustine's in the smart backstreets of Highbury New Park and St Thomases in St Thomas's Road  down in the Vale. Highbury_park1  


Almost 20 years ago,  when my wife lived above a launderette at the other end of Blackstock Road, I'd sometimes walk southwards until I got to Highbury Vale. And for some reason I never walked up the hill towards Highbury village proper, the Barn and Highbury Fields, as if I wanted to keep some kind of mystery for a later date. So we moved in here together in the late 90s it was with great excitement that I began to map out the territory to the south Blackstock Road and was pleasantly surprised to find old-fashioned little shops and a tree-lined boulevard.


There's a smart new bench now at the junction of Northholme Road and Highbury Park. It's more comfortable than the old one but for some reason I'm less inclined to sit on it for very long. I tell myself that I should spend half a day sitting down at this spot watching life unfold around me and see the changing light over Stroud Green and FInsbury Park as the afternoon unfurls. These days I tell myself I'm too busy to do this. Perhaps one day, soon.

Highbury_park2  


 

The Auld Shillelagh

Stoke Newington Church Street, N16

This used to be my favourite pub in North London but I haven't been in for a while. I must be getting old because the ruralesque walk around Clissold Park at night doesn't seem as appealing as it once did.

I was there with old friends from the Real Psychic Genius Football Prediction Society. The Shillelagh is really our spiritual home but we now tend to wander a bit down the road to the Rose & Crown, where the music isn't loud and there's lots of space for assorted fortysomethings to shuffle around slowly. Leeds v Spurs was on the telly. I picked a famously unlucky seat – where I had watched England lose to Brazil in the 2002 World Cup and from where countless times I'd seen Ireland throw away the lead in the last minute in qualifiers. It didn't disappoint. Leeds lost. But the Guinness was as good as ever and there's still a good mix of old and young drinking away. One big change is last orders which is now an orthodox 11-ish rather than four in the morning. But I suppose that's progress. As my wife said when I rolled in, last orders was invented for people like me who need authority figures such as barmaids to tell them what to do.