Some buildings are nothing special from the outside but nothing less than magnificent within. Hornsey Town Hall, for instance ... which isn't in Hornsey but Crouch End, and has only been a town hall for thirty of its 80+ years.
From Crouch End Broadway, it looks a touch drab - more like a power station than a hive of municipal activity. And that's in spite of the ample open space which it overlooks - a really fantastic amenity which is only occasionally made the most of.
Hornsey became a municipal borough in 1903. It was another thirty years before the borough took on the task of building a town hall. But when Hornsey did commission a municipal HQ, it did so in style.
Reginald Uren designed what is sometimes described as the first modernist public building in the country - the opening ceremony was on 4th November 1935. Today, as part of Open House, I had a chance to see inside - not the council chamber, which is not currently accessible, but the main hall, and the long gallery which looks out onto the Broadway.
The building is a little decayed, but the detail is all there - magnificently so . Take a look -
Hornsey became part of the London Borough of Haringey in 1965. The town hall was downgraded to municipal offices. The building has been seeking a purpose to match its size and ambition ever since. And broadly, without success. It was for a while on the 'at risk' register.
So Hornsey is - along with similar marvellous buildings in Hampstead, Finsbury, Holborn and elsewhere - a town hall without a Borough.
The hall was once widely used - and indeed Ray Davies has declared that the Kinks played their first gig here, though the Clissold Arms also lays claim to that honour.
Labour-controlled Haringey council has now done a deal with a Hong Kong-based property consortium to develop the town hall into an arts and performance hub, along with the building of a hotel and a hundred or more apartments immediately behind. The plan hasn't gone down all that well with local civic groups.
The town hall should be back in action, reborn, in 2020 (at least that's what they say)!
I'm just back from a few days in New York - an end-of-summer break which included (the first time I've ever managed this) visits to two very contrasting second-hand book dealers. Strand Books, on Broadway and 12th near Union Square, boasts eighteen miles of books, and on the top floor has a very welcoming rare book room. I picked up there this signed copy of a title by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, in my view the doyen of the Beat poets and the founder of the City Lights bookshop and imprint in San Francisco. He turns 100 next March.
Ferlinghetti has signed an awful lot of books over the years and this wasn't a first edition or anything like that - that was reflected in the modest price. I'm so pleased to have a signed Ferlinghetti.
Jose Alemany was a Catalan-American photographer with close links to the Spanish leftists; Ray Valinsky was a Pittsburgh-based Communist who gets passing mention in the minutes of the notorious House Committee on Un-American Activities.
I asked in the rare book room if they had anything in the way of political pamphlets - nothing, it seemed. But a trawl round the shelves proved them wrong. I came across these really nice anarchist propaganda pieces from a century and more ago:
And top marks for the Strand's very apposite selection of badges - I love them almost as much as old pamphlets:
The following day I came across a very different type of book store - the by-appointment-only Jumel Terrace Books near Sugar Hill in Harlem, approximately 150 blocks north of Strand Books, It's run by an exceptionally knowledgeable bibliophile and librarian, Kurt Thometz, whose passion is for West African pamphlets, often libidinous in nature, and also extends to African and African-American literature and politics.
He's also an enthusiast for the American radical Aaron Burr, vice-president during Thomas Jefferson's first term and now destined forever to be remembered as the man who shot dead Hamilton, the guy the musical is about, in a duel. Burr once lived in a very stylish mansion just across the road from Kurt's place.
A real treat to meet Kurt, see some of his library and his wonderful brown stone house - and yes, I did buy a few items. Take a look ...
It's a wonderfully ethereal landscape - the Bayou, the lattice of brackish, slow-moving waterways in the Mississippi delta. We went on a 'swamp tour' just outside New Orleans, a tourist venture, raucous at times, but a memorable glimpse of this curiously bewitching place.
The light coloured, feathery, ectoplasm-like foliage is Japanese moss, a fungus which thrives on the Bayou.
The big attraction of the Bayou is its alligators - lots of them. The Cajun guides on the boats feed them marsh mallows, clearly a much valued reptilian treat. Some of these alligators swim towards the boats in anticipation of the titbits on offer. They are accustomed to the tourist boats, but there is still a menacing majesty to these beasts.
This was a highlight of ten days in the US - which took me and my son to Miami and New York as well as New Orleans. To quote Hank Williams:
Jambalaya, crawfish pie and fillet gumbo
For tonight, I'm-a gonna see my ma cher a mi-o
Pick guitar, fill fruit jar and be gay-o
Son of a gun, we'll have big fun on the bayou
Andrew Whitehead's blog
Welcome - read - comment - throw stones - pick up threads - and tell me how to do this better!