The last embers of Red Tuscany
The centre of Camucia, a tiny town in Tuscany - and as you can see, its left wing pedigree is not so much evident as keenly advertised. Palmiro Togliatti, whose name has been borrowed by the local park, was for almost forty years the leader of the Italian Communist Party, the PCI, by far the most important communist party in western Europe. Sacco and Vanzetti were Italian-born anarchists who were convicted of murder in the US and executed in 1927. There was an international campaign against this miscarriage of justice, and in the 1970s the governor of Massachusetts, Michael Dukakis, acknowledged that the trial and conviction were unfair and that the two men should be regarded as untainted by disgrace.
And the main streets in Camucia? Well, one is named after Gramsci, a founder of the PCI and its leading thinker, and the other after Matteotti, a prominent socialist assassinated in 1924.
On display in Camucia's town square is that day's edition of l'Unita, the daily paper founded by Gramsci - its circulation is now no more than 20,000. There's a similar display given over to the hard line Rifondazione Comunista - and other parties including the governing Democratic Party (more directly a successor of the PCI than Rifondazione, some would say), an environmental party, and - on the other side of the square - the Northern League, with its no-translation-necessary slogan of 'Basta Euro'.
Rifondazione is now a marginal political force, in Tuscany as elsewhere, with no presence in the national Parliament. But it does keep alive one old tradition of the Italian left. The Festa. This year's is imminent, and will be held in the seaside town of Marina di Pisa, described in one guide book as a 'decadent' former resort. But then decadence is also a tradition of the Italian left, perhaps?
Pisa leans to Scot Nats
There's always something faintly alarming when a bloke lurches up to you in the street and says, in an indistinct and unfamiliar accent: "where are you from then?"
When you are en famille, and promenading through one of Europe's premier tourist destinations (see photo above), the sense of alarm is heightened.
"I've been here five years. Brilliant!", said our interlocutor, who was smiling, probably fairly sozzled, and with a brogue which I could begin to place as Scottish - indeed Sauchiehall Street if I had to be more precise.
"I went to a bar for the England match. Fantastic! Everyone cheering. And when you guys lost they put a banner up saying: 'September 18th'. How does it feel when everybody hates you!" And with that he sauntered off.
His jibes had been delivered with such a genial smile, and impenetrable accent, that half the family thought he was a very decent local to engage us tourists in such engaging banter.
Seems like Pisa is leaning towards a 'yes' vote.
A new look at Cable Street
A news photo I hadn't seen before of the Battle of Cable Street of October 1936 - the moment when a mass protest on the streets of the East End stopped Sir Oswald Mosley's British Unions of Fascists marching through this mainly Jewish area. This was one of three press photos I recently came across of anti-fascist demonstrations in London in 1936 and '37.
The caption on the rear locates this photo as taken on Cable Street in Stepney as police sought to disperse the anti-Mosley protesters. The 'battle' took place on 4th October - this new photo, clearly taken on that day, appears to have been distributed to international news outlets a few days later.
And the shop in front of which the demonstrators gathered? Well, Charles Arnold did indeed have an outfitter's business at 4 Cable Street - and the Seamen's Mission was next door.
It's strange the things you spot at summer parties. Sir Rick Trainor (he taught me almost forty years ago) yesterday evening hosted his last summer party as Principal of King's College, London - he heads off over the summer to be the Rector of Exeter College, Oxford.
The party was in the hidden away grounds of King's Maughan Library on Chancery Lane - and it's there that I came across these remarkable panels designed (it seems) by Walter Crane.
Crane was an influential artist and book illustrator - and a pioneering socialist ... indeed his designs featured on the membership cards, in the masthead designs, everywhere, in the socialist movement of the 1880s. He was a close ally of William Morris in particular.
These panels were designed for St Dunstan's House, a publisher's office, when it was built on Fetter Lane in 1886 (when Crane was most actively involved in the socialist movement). His authorship of the design seems to be less than absolutely certain. The building has been demolioshed - and the panels moved to King's property nearby, where they have been incorporated into what you might call a feature, though one sadly rather hidden away alongside the bicycle racks.
What's are these designs all about? Well the company based at St Dunstan's House published maps and novels including Jules Verne's Around the World in 80 Days. There's no particular reason to believe that these panels were their commission - thought it would sort of make sense. There's a bit more detail here.
'To my Smookeys'
A nice find at Highgate's Fair in the Square today - two wonderful French embroidered postcards from the time of the First World War. These aren't uncommon - but what makes these special is their fine condition, including original envelopes, and the inscriptions on the back.
So on the rear of the card above is this rather sweet message: 'Dearest Wife, I received the parcel quite safe and send you very much love. I am waiting for a letter and hoping you got the Cheque safe and Best wishes to all at home Love from Harry. I am sending a letter later Love.' And where the address goes, there's this: 'To my Wife With Love From Harry and Best Wishes x x x x'
Both cards are made in Paris - though the one below is embroidered in English - and you imagine that Harry was serving in France during the war. These cards were not posted either as postcards or in their envelopes - I wonder if they were sent in a parcel, or carried home. They clearly have been looked after down the years.
This card, written in the same hand, is even more bewitching. 'July 29th Kisses for you and hope you are a good girl. To my loving daughter x x x x x x x x'. And in the address panel: 'To my Smookeys with Love From Daddy'
According to the woman who was selling these and other embroidered cards, all are from the same man to his wife and family. There's not enough information here to identify the man or find out if he survived the war - though the care taken in the keep of these cards makes me wonder if Harry didn't come home.
A pity to split up the set - but these two cards will be looked after. And if anyone wants to buy the others - hurry! I got them from a stall inside the Highgate Literary and Scientific Institute.
Four Quarters in College Lane
Something's afoot on Kentish Town's College Lane. After decades of neglect, and much controversy, the former site of the rail workers' social club is being developed. I do hope they don't ruin this very special place - and that they don't destroy the truly wondrous Little Green Street, a rare survival of Georgian shop fronts and often billed as the oldest street in NW5.
The photo above was taken this morning through the gates of the site. The land was bought a few weeks ago for £7 million, it's reported in the Camden New Journal, by developers Four Quarters. The previous attempt at development - buildings thirty houses on the plot and using cobbled Little Green Street as the main access route - came to nothing, but only after years of argument and ill feeling.
College Lane consists of a medley of more than twenty properties, most mid-to-late Victorian, which front not on to a road but a footpath. And it also has one of the most local and telling memorials to the men of College Lane and around, ten of them, who died a century ago in the carnage of the First World War. The memorial is among the local curiosities and landmarks which will feature in a forthcoming book, Curious Kentish Town.
Chole Bhature for lunch
You'll never guess where I went today. ... OK, you've guessed!
It's the first time I've been to Southall since 23rd April 1979. How can I be so specific? That was the night Blair Peach died. On the streets of Southall. But that's another story.
This has for decades been London's Punjabi town - it still is.
Southall's Broadway is a fun place to be - my wife says it reminds her of Delhi's Karolbagh in the old days. The shops spill out into the streets - selling bangles, scarves, jewellery, making jalebis, selling corn (not the grilled 'butta' on the cob, but tubs of sweetcorn - not quite the same). There are lots of Punjabi cafes - the one where we had chole bhature is run by a Hindu family from Jallandhar who moved to Southall in the '60s.
White faces are rare, and those you see often - much like me - have a south Asian in tow.
The shopkeeper selling these headscarves tried to charge me for the privilege of snapping them. Cheekier than in old Delhi! The conversation when a bit like this:
'Five Pounds for the photo'.
Brief stunned silence. 'This is a pavement!'
'Just joking' - but I don't think he was.
Anu said she was surprised that Punjabis of all three of the region's main faiths - Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims - appeared to mix so easily together. At first glance, it's uniformly Asian - at second glance, it's syncretic in a manner that Punjab used to be but hasn't been, either side of the border, since 1947.
Amid all the Punjabi bling, standing there a little bit like Canute as the tide came in, is good old Greggs, about as resolute a standard bearer for old-fashioned Englishness as you could imagine. God bless yer!
This is a really nice half-hour documentary done by a group of volunteers about Tufnell Park. It's charming, clever, and absolutely worth thirty minutes of your time. And yes, I appear in it somewhere along the way - and in spite of that, it's worth a watch.
Our Secret Artist
Prize exhibits! These were a prize, sort of, for getting the right answer to a tweeted question about identifying a corner of our part of London. So being an anorak about NW5 and around for once paid a dividend.
The prize - four wonderful postcard sized prints of the handiwork of 'The Secret Artist', who has taken to painting some of the stand-out buildings in and around NW5. These are all obvious landmarks - but she also paints the terraced houses, the street furniture, all that makes our area our area.
There's lot's more by her on display at 'Two Doors Down', the new gourmet coffee shop which is - yes, you've got it - two doors down from Quinn's at the bottom of Kentish Town Road. They have met the artist but tell me that, just like the rest of us, they don't know who she is. (And even if I did, I wouldn't tell you, because ... it's a secret!)
Here's a nice Kentishtowner write-up on our Secret Artist with more of her work ...
http://www.kentishtowner.co.uk/2014/05/23/heard-secretartistnw5-yet/ ... and she's on Twitter at @secretartistnw5
Andrew Whitehead's blog
Welcome - read - comment - throw stones - pick up threads - and tell me how to do this better!