I've lived strolling distance from Kentish Town High Street for longer than I care to remember, but still there are fresh delights to discover.
'The Wine Cellar' has a distinctly humdrum appearance - but inside there's a small cafe selling Portuguese pastries. It's also a delicatessen. And downstairs there's a sizeable wine cellar - all Portuguese.
It's a friendly family run business. I went there for a wine tasting just before Christmas - and went back to try the cafe just this morning. The pastries - some shown below - were wonderful: fresh, firm and beguilingly sweet.
I remember eating pastries just like these - still warm from the oven - at Belem, just outside Lisbon.
The Wine Cellar is just below Owl, near the junction with Prince of Wales Road. I am sure many of you have known all about it for years. So - why didn't you spread the word!??
My son is blessed with a prodigious memory. As we turned into Leicester Forest East services this afternoon, he piped up and declared: 'This is where we were when you found out that man had died'.
His memory is much better on places and moments than names, you understand. But yes, four years and a day earlier it was at this service station that we found out that Benazir Bhutto had been killed. As I queued up there today at Starbucks I recalled that it was in that same queue four Christmases previously that, prompted by a text message my wife had got, I rang my news desk, so nicely gumming up the works as they were getting word on air that Benazir was dead.
I was reflecting on all this while sipping my skinny capo today when I was drawn to the Starbucks background music. Not muzak at all but, I am fairly sure, the Grateful Dead. Acoustic, aethereal, not on 'Workingman's Dead' or 'American Beauty', so at a guess a very early and rather beautiful piece of the Dead's back catalogue.
How remarkable, I mused, that a song from forty years ago sounded so fresh. Could I ever imagine music from the 1930s playing when I was young and sounding contemporary? That's when my daughter made an off-tone comment about the old fashioned music that was playing. I suppose it was a bit at variance with the Tinie Tempah CD which had helped time pass earlier on our journey south.
After the Dead, another very old, mystical, whimsical song - I realised I was listening to the Incredible String Band. Haven't heard them for decades! So, please tell me, is there a CD out there that segues from the Dead to the ISB. Let me know the details - and I'll put it on my 2012 Christmas list.
'To those whom God has forsaken is given a gas-fire in Earl's Court.'
Patrick Hamilton's marvellous, miserable, boozed-up novel Hangover Square (1941) is sub-titled: 'a story of darkest Earl's Court'. That's a glancing reference to the 'darkest London' writing about a subterranean, sweated East End. Hamilton seems to be suggesting that there's as much despair behind the veneer of the much more imposing streets of west London.
Hamilton knew the area, and in this novel has nothing good to say of it. He writes of 'the hard, frozen plains of Earl's Court'. His central character, George Bone, comes to regard the locality as 'the bleak scenery of his disgrace and disorder' - a 'hateful neighbourhood'
It's hateful above all because of Netta Longdon, the hard-hearted, grasping, amoral woman about whom Bone is fixated. She lives in furnished rooms just north of Cromwell Road. Bone is forever walking up and down Earl's Court Road to call on her, to spy on her, to drink with her.
The Earl's Court Tavern
There are still five pubs within a short stroll of Earl's Court Station. All, I'd guess, were there in Bone's time. And for much of the novel, Bone is drinking in one or other.
He first comes across Netta and her crowd in the big bar at the Rockingham, just across from the station. That's the Courtfield, a bland, anonymous pub with little to commend it beyond its location. The gang drink more frequently at the Black Hart, never precisely located in the novel, but not far from the station, and by implication closer to Cromwell Road. The Earl's Court Tavern best fits the bill.
The King's Head
Bone has a drink with old buddy Johnnie Littlejohn 'down a narrow road ... which led indirectly towards the Cromwell Road'. That feels like the King's Head on Hogarth Place - from what I saw, the most comfortable and tradition minded of Earl's Court's bars.
Hangover Square, though, is even more about a moment than a place - the uneasy months leading up to the Second World War. Netta and her crowd, including her Mosleyite lover, cheer on Chamberlain with his umbrella, as he travels round Europe trying to appease Hitler.
As for the square of the novel's title - that's not a place, it's a condition. '"What's the matter - our old friend Hangover Square?"'
Laura Forman has also blogged about the Earl's Court of Hangover Square - here's the link.
This wonderful photo dates from 1948 - a Unity Theatre outing to Box Hill outside London. The Unity Theatre was a left-wing theatre group based in St Pancras which numbered among its members several future stars of stage and screen: Warren Mitchell, Alfie Bass, Michael Gambon, Lionel Bart, and others. Such literary giants as Peter Ustinov, Ted Willis and (my particular interest) the novelist Alexander Baron were also key figures in Unity - a creative power house in the years after the Second World War. The Unity Theatre Trust seeks to continue its work.
This photo was provided to me by Muriel Walker, herself a Unity veteran. She worked with Alexander Baron, and very kindly shared her memories of Unity and of him. But who are all those featured in this very warm and evocative group photo? With Muriel's help, and numbering those featured as below, I've started to put names to faces - if you can help, please do get in touch by adding a comment or emailing me at email@example.com
LATER: We're not doing very well in identifying those in the photo - do please spread the word if you know people who may be able to help.
For more about Unity's Red Beryl - do visit these pages: http://www.historyworkshop.org.uk/the-purging-of-red-beryl/
And there's another Unity photo on this site here: http://www.andrewwhitehead.net/1/post/2012/11/unity-revisited.html
1: Beryl Bass, wife of Alfie Bass
3: Muriel Dobkin
5: Betty Oxenbould
6: Alec Bernstein (Alexander Baron)
10: Ray Bernard
12: Joyce Kirby
24: Fred Bishop
28: Tom Kernot
29: Gerry Sharpe, general manager of Unity
31: Anita Davis
I may be coming late to the party, but I have only just found out that the great Peggy Seeger once wrote a song about a big rent strike and bust-up here in Kentish Town in north London.
I owe this 32-carat nugget to the broadcaster and oral historian Alan Dein, who has spoken to veterans of the rent strike. And of course, there's a good story behind the song.
Back in the summer of 1960, a long standing grievance among tenants of the borough of St Pancras brewed up into an almighty row. It reached a climax in September when two tenants - yes, 'Cook and Rowe', Don Cook and Arthur Rowe - sought to challenge eviction orders by barricading themselves in their flats. They used bedsteads, barbed wire and a remarkable number of old pianos to keep police and bailiffs at bay.
The key battle ground was at Kennistoun House on Leighton Road, where there is to this day a plaque 'in memory of Don Cook and the rent battles of 1959-1964'.
One evening in late September, hundreds of police descended on Kennistoun House. Yes, literally - breaking into one of the flats through the roof. A large crowd quickly assembled in support of the rent strikers.
The photo below - which Alan Dein sent me - shows Peter Richards (like Cook, a former soldier and a CP'er) addressing a meeting in support of the rent strike.
You can get a marvellous sense of the drama, and the level of political engagement, in a wonderful Pathe news reel of the rent strike available to view on line, Eviction Battle On! It features both Don Cook and Arthur Rowe.
The forced evictions and protests they triggered were big news - and clearly attracted the attention of Peggy Seeger, who wrote 'Hey Ho, Cook and Rowe' and recorded it with Ewan MacColl. If you click below, you can here the full recording - posted here with Peggy Seeger's blessing - distinctly dated, but wonderfully so. And below there's a taste of the lyrics - you can find them in full, with much other background, here:
HEY HO! COOK AND ROWE!
(or: The Landlord's Nine Questions)
Words and Music by Peggy Seeger
As true a story I'll relate
(With a) HEY HO! COOK AND ROWE!
How the landlord told Don Cook one night,
(With a) HEY HO! COOK AND ROWE!
You must answer questions nine
(With a) HEY HO! COOK AND ROWE!
To see if your flat is yours or mine
(With a) HEY HO! COOK AND ROWE!
Hey, ho, tell them no
With a barb-wire fence and a piano,
Took a thousand cops to make them go,
Three cheers for Cook and Rowe!
What is higher than a tree? (With a, etc.)
And what is lower than a flea?
My rent is higher than a tree,
And the landlord's lower than a flea.
There's another photo of the rent strike, and some links to sites with more information, at the bottom of this web page.
I'm on a Holloway roll at the moment. After uncovering the Holloway origins of Battersea Dogs' Home (see below), this morning I stumbled into the Kentish Town Oxfam bookshop and came away with this.
It's the title that grabbed me. Holloway Road must be about the dullest urban road in the city. (OK, tell me I'm wrong). And for it to be the setting, and provide the title, for a novel which presents itself as a transatlantic version of Kerouac's On the Road is, well, counter intuitive.
And then there was the price: 99p. Actually, 99p for two - but I couldn't find anything else in the price bracket that I fancied. And it is a good cause. And Christmas.
Anyone read the book? I'll give it a go and report back.
Not my normal stamping ground of political memorabilia, but I couldn't resist this 1860s handbill which I picked up at the Monday Covent Garden flea market. And there's quite a story behind it.
I live not far from Holloway, and the one time location of the 'Temporary Home for Lost and Starving Dogs'. The site is now a park - part of it named after Mary Tealby, the woman who founded this dogs home in 1860, turning a disused stables into a shelter. Charles Dickens was among those who brought the home to wider attention. In 1871 it moved to Battersea - and over time became the best known dogs home in the world.
'The Committee are anxious to impress upon the public the fact that this institution is not intended to be a permanent home for old and worn out favourites, nor an hospital for the cure of gentlemen's sick dogs, but simply what it professes to be, a place to which humane persons may send really homeless and famishing dogs found in the streets.'
It's a wonderful piece of public spirited philanthropy - and of stern counsel for those who might out of 'mere caprice' seek to unload a no longer wanted pet.
Normally, this site gets about 200 hits a day. I call that pretty respectable. Today, so far (and it's still afternoon), there have been 1,736 hits - and counting. All thanks to Giles Coren who, as @gilescoren, has 82,478 followers for his tweets. (As @john_pether I have precisely 128).
He took a liking to a piece on the blog - scroll down and take a glance at 'A Kentish Town resurrection' - and even more so to the kebab shop it's about. And the world, or a fair cross-section, followed his gaze.
A short six hours ago he tweeted:
gilescoren Giles Coren what's that very new, posh-ish, Victorian-looking kebab shop on Kentish Town Road called? Any idea of its address and phone number?
And then a few minutes later:
gilescoren Giles Coren right, it's called E.Mono and THIS is why it's brilliant: andrewwhitehead.net/1/post/2011/11… it will be my Xmas eve review and is going to be HUGE.
The review will be, as I understand it, in The Times. And as much about the sign board as the kebabs - though apparently they are pretty good too.
Andrew Whitehead's blog
Welcome - read - comment - throw stones - pick up threads - and tell me how to do this better!