Hackney's Broadway Market at the south end of London Fields has a bit of an edge to it. Shops dispensing goat's cheese in ciabatta and a Costcutters; a Situationist bookshop - one of three bookshops in this not very long street - next to a hardware store. And then at one end, the less than might glory of the Regent's canal.
Leaving aside Stoke Newington Church Street, which is (can't resist it) a touch hackneyed and past its prime, Broadway Market is the epitome of Hackney cool. So cool that is bound to be lambasted any day now by Iain Sinclair and others who rejoice in the Hackney grime of the 1970s.
But I think this Broadway is every bit as tasty as my pastrami and cheese on rye.
I don't read much about war - I'm not a military historian - the details of combat don't interest me. All the same, I have recently been reading two commanding works about the Second World War, one fiction and the other historical narrative.
Alexander Baron's The Human Kind is a sequence of short stories that takes the readers from pre-lapsarian adolescence to demob and on to the Korean war. As you would expect from one of the most accomplished writers about war, Baron deftly looks at how conflict corrupts the human spirit and degrades all it touches. It's a wonderfully engaging book.
The Road of Bones is journalist Fergal Keane's powerfully written and impressively researched account of the siege of Kohima in north-east India, where a British and Indian garrison halted the Japanese Imperial army's advance. Fergal has gathered the memories of Japanese and Indian combatants as well as British veterans. As with Baron, Keane is also a writer of great compassion and humanity, and he recounts the intense suffering, the brutality, and also the valour and sense of comradeship.
Which gives the greater insight into the misery of war? Although I am a historian, I'd say the fictionalised account is the more revealing. It gets inside human experience in a manner the historian cannot seek to emulate. Both have their place, but good fiction
amplifies and humanises the historical narrative - the two literary traditions, at best, complement each other.
Of all the pastimes I might perhaps wish to try out, paintballing wouldn't be in the top thousand. But if you have a twelve year old son with a mission, well, you just have to tack to the prevailing wind.
So it was that I spent today trying to capture and then defend an Afghan fort made of hay bales, and to protect and then kill a 'Black Hawk Down' pilot on the edge of a massive crater in the woods of Hertfordshire. If I had more stamina, I might also have rampaged through a Vietcong Village and otherwise relived some of the key military encounters of the post-colonial era.
Verdict on paintballing - worth doing once. The problem is, I suspect my son wants to go again.
I have taken to the Parkland Walk, along the line of north London's lost railway, with the enthusiast of a convert. On a Sunday morning, I get up early and cycle. And on the northern stretch - on a bridge over St James's Lane in Muswell Hill - there is one of those views which hits you in the stomach. Looking east - with the Gherkin the most southerly spot in views, stretching to the bounds of London and beyond. You can get a sense of it here. Worth a glance!
If you head west into Alexandra Park, there's a another hidden gem - a cafe, the Grove, on a cycle path. On summer weekends, it opens at nine. I popped in this morning for a sausage sandwich breakfast to sustain me on the resy of my cycle ride, after which I cook a breakfast for the family. Sausages, of course.
I came across this one by chance - fantastic views over London (particularly looking north and east) from the top (16th) floor of the Novotel St Pancras on Euston Road. I could make out Hampstead Heath, Highgate cemetery, the Holly Lodge estate and Alexandra Palace, and could see the ring of green beyond suburbia.
There's not a single shot of the view on the Novotel site, and while there's a small viewing space on the 16th floor, it's not developed as a feature. And I didn't have a camera with me - so you'll have to take my word. But it's absolutely worth a dekko.
Photo - Igor Clark
Of all the slum novels of the late nineteenth century, A Child of the Jago is one of the most compelling. And the historian Sarah Wise has tracked down the life and death of a young East Ender in the 1890s which gave the novelist Arthur Morrison the outlines of his plot. Do take a read. She also spells out how Morrison misrepresented the area he wrote about - the part of Shoreditch on which the Boundary Street Estate now stands.
There is one corner of Morrison's Jago that still stands - the little alley he called 'The Posties' through which the central character of his novel runs with goods pilfered from stalls on the high stree. Its real name is Boundary Passage. I'm posting a wonderful photo taken by Igor Clark of this alley - it captures something of the air of menace which Morrison writes about. Thanks to Igor for allowing me to use his photo - you can see his Flickr stream here.
Andrew Whitehead's blog
Welcome - read - comment - throw stones - pick up threads - and tell me how to do this better!