Nag's Head, Holloway Road
It wasn't intended as a New Year wander. If the No. 4 had been running a regular service, I wouldn't have walked anything like as far. But today - part flaneur, part keep fit resolution - I hiked the whole distance from Dartmouth Park in north London to Dalston Junction. Do come with me!
The light was wonderful - a bright winter sun. I'd never seen the Nag's Head looking quite so bright. It hasn't been a pub for the past seven years, and hasn't been the 'Nag's Head' for a great deal longer - but it still appears on bus routes, and gives its name to the neighbourhood.
A little further down Holloway Road I passed a solitary, sad reminder of the wonderful Jones Brothers department store - Waitrose now stands on most of the site. Jones Brothers was much loved across north London. John Lewis stubbornly refused to listen to a lively local campaign demanding that the store be saved.
It closed in 1990. Holloway Road has never been the same since it went.
This is Arsenal territory, and in case anyone should forget, there on Holloway Road is a pub named after the club's greatest manager, at least until Arsene Wenger came along. 'The Herbert Chapman'.
Earlier Chapman had managed Huddersfield Town (my boyhood team) during their golden spell in the 1920s. He is regarded as one of the greatest team managers, and a great moderniser of the game of football.
The notice in the pub window saying 'Home Fans Only' seems a touch unnecessary. But I suppose any Spurs or Chelsea fans intruding into this Gunners' pub can't say they hadn't been warned.
A few yards further down, a left turn, and there it is - the Emirates stadium. The home of a club which knows, and values, its history - as you can tell from the museum, the statues, the billboards.
From there, cutting across Highbury, along Clissold Park, to Stoke Newington. And as perhaps befits the old stamping ground of the Angry Brigade, one of the first things I spot is the skull and crossbones flying high. Can anyone explain why?
On the far side of the park, the crenellated old pumping station, now a climbing centre, stands out. I seem to remember that the IRA once hid a cache of weapons in the filter beds which fed the water pumps. The site was long ago cleared and is now a housing estate.
Clissold House, in Clissold Park
The park has many delights, the greatest being the colonnaded Clissold House - built in the 1790s for a Quaker merchant and anti-slavery campaigner (this is Hackney after all). A little further along Stoke Newington Church Street is the old church, in part mid-16th century and hugely more elegant than the other St Mary's across the road.
I had planned to treat myself to lunch at one of the trendy Church Street cafes, but hundreds of others had the same idea. So I ploughed on to the Victorian valhalla at the eastern end of the street - Abney Park cemetery. It's best known for the grave of William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army. But another tomb demands at least as much attention.
The two photos on the left show the last resting place of the Chartist leader and thinker, James Bronterre O'Brien. His remarkable followers, the O'Brienites, were key figures in London radicalism for a full quarter century after their leader's death in 1864. The inscription, spruced up in the 1980s but faithful to the original, reads rather sombrely: 'His life was grand, his death was sad and drear'.
On to Stoke Newington High Street - heading south, past the excellent bookshop, and now amid an array of Turkish kebab shops. Above one is the most enticing shadow sign I've seen in a long while. Enough to prompt me to pop into the cafe, and have a chicken with honey and mustard ('no kebabs', I was told, 'haven't had a chance to marinate the meat because of the holidays'!)
Stoke Newington Road
By the time I had eaten, the light was beginning to fade. I hurried on south, past Alexander Baron's Foulden Road, stopping to admire the strange juxtaposition of places of worship just across the road. A small, homely old Baptist church, probably with a largely Caribbean congregation - overshadowed by the mosque and halal grocery next door, a converted cinema decked out with eye catching blue tiles.
As Stoke Newington shades into Dalston, and Stoke Newington Road becomes Kingsland High Street, African shops, stalls and bookstores become more evident. Ridley Road market, once one of Oswald Mosley's rallying points, is part African, part Caribbean, part Pakistani. I had never seen Punjabi run fish stalls before (traditional Punjabi cuisine is not in the least piscatorial) - but Ridley Road has quite a few.
Just a little further south to Dalston Junction, on to Balls Pond Road - and my walk's over. I hop on to a 38 to the Angel, and then take the Northern line back home. Close to three hours of wandering, I reckon. Thanks for your company.
The Terriers are in Town
When I was a youngster - and I am talking about two or three seasons some time around 1970 - I had a season ticket at Huddersfield Town. Every fortnight, my father, brother and myself went to Leeds Road to cheer on Jimmy Nicholson's "Terriers". And there was a lot to cheer about - Second Division (what's now the Championship) champions, and two seasons in the First (Premiership).
So I couldn't even think of missing today's match at the Emirates, - my son's team against the team I supported when I was his age.
And a fantastic game it was. As we walked in, there was a wall of blue and white. 5,000 Huddersfield fans had made the journey down. They outsang the home fans. And in the later part of the game, their team outplayed their rivals too.
It took Huddersfeiled about half-an-hour to settle and to lose their awe of Arsenal and the Emirates stadium. By then, they were a goal down. The Terriers' equaliser in the second half was golden. I was sitting next to my red-and-white bedecked son amid the home fans - repeatedly warned by him not to cheer the visitors. When Town scored, I beamed quietly with delight amid ranks of silent, stunned Arsenal supporters. It didn't last - Arsenal won with a Fabergas penalty in the closing minutes. But that's football.
Nice of Arsenal to put Herbert Chapman, a legendary inter-war football manager with Huddersfield and then Arsenal, on the programme cover, and on the big screen before kick-off. The Gunners know their pedigree. I seem to remember that Chapman attracted controversy by watering the pitch at half time, ostensibly to make the ground safer but more because the soft going helped his side. And at half time today, you've got it, the sprinklers were on at the Emirates. Some things don't change.
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