The Boston Arms - that gothic monstrosity of a pub opposite Tufnell Park tube station - is having a makeover. And some of the signage from its heyday, engraved on wooden board, has come to light - probably for the last time.
The pub was then known as the Boston Hotel, and the grandeur of the signage - not just engraved, but the lettering highlighted in gold paint against a lilac backdrop - p0ints to just how splendid this local landmark once was.
Some of the wood on which the signage is painted seems to be rotten - and I suspect it is being removed as part of the renovation.
The Boston is, these days, a hard drinking, Hibernian, sports-on-big-screen sort of place. It has a leading music venue, The Dome, in premises adjoining which were once the Boston's own music rooms (and much earlier, I believe, were dance rooms known as the Tufnell Park Palais).
The pub has been at the heart of Tufnell Park - iconic, in a sense - since it was built well over a century ago. This vintage postcard, showing Junction Road with only cycles and horse-drawn transport - must date from shortly after the Boston Hotel opened in 1899.
The Boston Arms is grade 2 listed - and some of the signage has a wonderfully dated feel. Why would anyone advertise 'foreign wines'? Where would punters imagine the wine came from?
For these relics of the past - "time's up, ladies and gentlemen please!"
Well, who knew! Ethiopia is, I discover, 'one of the most vegan-friendly cuisines in the world'. And Fortess Road, near my NW5 home in north London, now has a newly opened vegan Ethiopian cafe, Engocha, just a few doors down from Tufnell Park's long-running and distinctly non-vegan Lalibela.
I popped in this lunchtime with my daughter - we were both well impressed. That's me with the house special among the hot drinks: turmeric and coconut milk. They have, of course, Ethiopian coffees, including a latte with coconut milk. Not bad!
The food is tasty and excellent value - for £4.99 you can have your choice of three 'wots', that's lentil or vegetable stews, with either rice or injera, the wonderful sour and unleavened Ethiopian bread. I'm not vegan but I'll definitely be going back.
Engocha used to be a small, and not all that welcoming, Ethiopian food store - selling freshly-made injera (I was told they've been baking injera here for twenty years) and a small selection of meats and similar. Well, the meats have gone - the space has been opened up - and its friendly and welcoming, with good service as well as tasty food. And they do take away too!
And what does 'Engocha' mean? It is - I learn - a small piece of bread the size of a biscuit particularly connected with Ethiopian Jewish cuisine and baked mainly for children, who dip it in honey.
Currently at the printers, and in the shops in under a month - Curious Kentish Town, a copiously illustrated 92-page book about thirty or so places in and around NW5 and the unlikely stories attached to them. There's more details here - and the map below indicates the range of locations featured ... and you can get more of a clue from the titles of the various entries posted below the map.
There will be a launch - we hope at Owl bookshop on November 10th. Watch this space!
1: Dust-up in Islip Street
2: "Hey Ho, Cook and Rowe"
3: The Caversham Road Shul
4: A Country Cottage
5: The Poets' Meeting House
6: Rocker's Newspaper Kiosk
7: A Celtic Saint
8: The Smiling Sun of Hargrave Park
9: 'Catering for Beanfeasts'
10: Borough Control
11: The Drapers' Ghost
12: The River in a Rusting Pipe
13: Ghana's Revolutionary President
14: The Great War in College Lane
15: St Martin's - still crazy after all these years
16: At Home with Karl Marx
17: The Secret Horse Tunnels of Camden Lock
18: The Artist Colony in Primrose Hill
19: Ready Money Drinking Fountain
20: Matilda the Absurd
21: A Bridge over Nothing
22: The Antidote to Blue Plaques
23: The Strangest of Poets
24: Two South African Revolutionaries
25: The Elephant House
26: When Baths were Baths
27: Find HOPE
28: Pianos for all the World
29: Protect and Survive
30: The Crimea Commemorated
31: Boris the Cat
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.
My oh my! Tatty old Tufnell Park really is going places. An up market butchers/delicatessen opened during the week - this is its first Saturday. And it looks good. I have still to taste the traditional sausages and black pudding and the hard sheep's cheese - I'll let you know (I nearly headed out without the cheese, which is why the guy behind the counter is doing an 'O Sole Mio' act above right - happily me and my cheese have been reunited).
Even more striking, a fishmonger's is coming next to Rustique on the other side of Junction Road. That's when we will know that the NW5/N19 fault line has become a fashion line, a place of taste and repute.
Once upon a time, Lalibela, the wonderful Ethiopian restaurant, and the Rustique cafe were the only high spots around - along with Gertie's indepensible launderette. Now we have a Sainsbury's with hole-in-the-wall (yup, once we didn't even have one of them) - Fam, a great fruit and veg place - the Cardigan Club, Vietnamese street food - a Costa - a Sardinian place - Ruby Violet ice cream - Violet & Frederick (run by a woman called Pushkin, there must be a story there) selling flowers by the station - the list goes on.
All hail, Tufnell Park!
One of the crowning delights of Tufnell Park in recent months - Healthy Planet, a shop which gives away books - is to close on Tuesday.
I've picked up some real gems there, and even more enjoyed the chance to browse. On Tuesday evening from 7.30, according to the posters on the window, there will be a 'bring your own food and drink' party and BBQ.
Thanks to all those who brought a bit of sunshine to this corner of NW5.
Lawdy, lawdy! Costa comes to Tufnell Park. It opened on December 18th - and although it feels a touch antiseptic, the store seems to be doing good business.
When we came to this area (alright, it is fifteen years ago), TP was a bit of a wasteland. No mini-supermarket, no cashpoint, no decent coffee ... It did even then have some pluses: Lalibela, the Ethiopian restaurant, was already there; Rustique, the rather curious self-styled 'literary cafe' opened about that time; and the Spaghetti House has been around for ages, though it took us ages to discover it (and to try out the very good Chinese takeaway).
Now there's a small Sainsbury's, with cashpoint ... a Sardinian restaurant ... a homemade ice cream store ... a letterpress printers ... the Junction has become a rather good gastro pub ... there's a shop that gives away books (honest! - though it's generosity is constrained by its very limited opening hours) ... and as chocolate sprinkles on top of all that, there's now Costa.
So dear old TP, for so many years the backside of Kentish Town, which is in turn the backside of Camden Town, which is in turn ... TP, which doesn't even have a postcode to call its own ... TP is slowly, slowly, getting there.
Not that I've yet been in the Boston Arms which I've walked past several thousand times. But if anyone dares me, I'll do it!
What a great way of spending a sunny Sunday morning - walking around my own backyard in the company of people with a real passion for and commitment to the area.
The Kentish Town Neighbourhood Forum - who are seizing on this government's "localism" initiative to develop a neighbourhood plan for much of NW5 - organised this gentle stroll. It took in planning and conservation issues, local history, and - real treats - a quick pop in (entirely impromptu) to a local Ethiopian bakery and (with advance warning) to our star local tailor.
College Lane, parallel to Highgate Road, is the longest row of houses I've come across in London fronting a walkway rather than a road.
The houses, though small, are now sought after. They were built for railway workers. And - a detail I'd never noticed before - along the row there's a tiny memorial, now barely legible, to railway men who lost their lives in the First World War.
The area opposite the houses, which are all on the west side of College Lane, used to be a rail workers' social club. It's due for development with a price tag, we were told, of £7 million for the land alone - but getting access to the site could well devastate about the last Georgian corner of Camden, the wonderful Little Green Street, with is bow-windowed former shops. If anything in this life is worth fighting for, it's the future of spots like Little Green Street.
And another NW5 detail that was new to me - at the eastern end of Little Green Street there used to be a gate leading to a farm. One of the sturdy wooden gateposts is still there. You can see it at the bottom left of the photo below.
Through the Ingestre estate, we walked up to the double bridge across the rail lines at the back of Acland Burghley School. I knew the Fleet river ran near here, but hadn't appreciated that it too is carried over the rail tracks in a hugh, rusting pipe. So much of the lay-out of the streets around here was shaped by the river - and it still runs, rising on Hampstead Heath, constrained by pipes and sewers, until it spills into the Thames near Blackfriars bridge.
On Fortess Road, we popped into the back room at the Ethiopian-run Engocha grocery - just next to the excellent Lalibela restaurant - to see them making injera, the flat, sour, rather spongy bread. If you're tempted, it's a very modest 70p for a piece the size of a large pizza.
Then it was back down towards Kentish Town station, lamenting the demolition of the old Methodist chruch, and in to Chris Ruocco's renowned tailoring shop.
The man himself was there, to tell us stories of all the stars he has dressed. Madness and Westlife are among his recent clients; he has spangled and sequinned Diana Ross; Ed Miliband and 'pleb' Andrew Mitchell both sport his made-to-measure suits.
The back room workshop displays dozens of framed photos of stars who he counts among his customers.
In the front shop, amid all the suits awaiting fitting or collection, there's a small electric keyboard, for anyone tempted to belt out a tune.
On the way home I drop in to Ruby Violet for a cone of homemade salted caramel ice cream - recommended by a fellow walkabouter. What a lot NW5 has to offer!
The life affirming poetry corner at Tufnell Park tube station has turned to Kashmir. Here's today's offering on the white board, much better than the customary, non rhyming, non scanning: 'There is a good service on the Northern line'.
This rather intense poem, 'Kashmiri Song', is by Laurence Hope, the pseudonym of Adela Florence Nicolson. She was married to a British army officer in India - and after his death, committed suicide in 1904 aged 39.
This is perhaps her best known poem which also was - with slightly modified lyrics - a popular Edwardian drawing room song ... indeed I remember my father sometimes singing 'beside the Shalimar' (the name of Mughal gardens by Dal Lake in Srinagar).
Will Paula Milne's TV drama 'White Heat' do for Tufnell Park what the televising of White Teeth did for Cricklewood and Willesden? Not so much make it chic and fashionable, but at least give it a toehold on the rim of modern British culture.
Milne's story about a group of sixties students who share a house in Tufnell Park, their young lives interlaced with the present day as they gather to mourn one of their number, is a wonderful piece of mythmaking about the '60s - the sex, politics, music and sense of opportunity. (Has White Heat Got the 1960s Right?, the Guardian asked). It's also about the first time Tufnell Park has made its mark in popular culture since ... no, it's simply the first time.
Tufnell Park's absence from public consciousness is all the more remarkable given the number of media types who live on the streets either side of Tufnell Park Road (the main drag is more resistant to gentrification, and still largely bedsit land). The wiki article on Tufnell Park has a list of luvvies and the like which puts the area almost on a par with Primrose Hill and Maida Vale.
But the entry is also reduced to commenting that 'the shabby genteel reputation of Tufnell Park made it a standard comic reference in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries'. Thanks a lot! And its claims for Tufnell Park's cultural footprint are wildly exaggerated - there is certainly no hard evidence to place Mr "Nobody" Pooter on the TP side of north London's railway tracks.
So, where in Tufnell Park is the 'White Heat' house? And where were the exterior scenes shot? Asking this morning at the Tufnell Park farmers' market (another sign that the area is making it - there's even 'Tufnell Park honey' ice cream on sale, a bit like Tupelo honey minus van Morrison), I was told that some filming was done by the side of the Tufnell Park playing fields ... and that the location manager lives locally and had been buying baguettes and broccoli and stuff a few moments earlier.
Anyone able to supply more details?
And while we're at it, can someone explain the denouement? The phone rang just as Orla's safe was being unlocked, and when next I turned to the TV the gang were all swearing to meet again soon, and - moist eyes, firm handsakes, and feline hugs - heading off in the direction of Tufnell Park tube, or Flavours deli or wherever.
LATER: a browser comments - Exterior shots are of a house in Avenue Park Road, Tulse Hill. Yours for 1.6 million: http://www.foxtons.co.uk/property-for-sale-in-west-norwood/chpk0654891. Can it be true? Even in its fifteen seconds of fame, Tufnell Park is eclipsed by, of all places, Tulse Hill!
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