Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Circus toys and nightmares from Charbens

On my first day as an undergraduate I was handed an ancient greek sippy cup. It shouldn't have been shocking (Ancient Greeks all started off as babies and babies spill things) but I still remember the horror of holding it. Childhood things that outlast childhoods feel like a violation of natural laws; it's why dolls are so damnably creepy.

So that the Hornsey Road used to be a coven of toy makers fits with its spooky, liminal status. Where else but on somewhere that used to be called Devil's Lane could this have been made?

Pre War Charbens Lead Circus Laughing Clown with Hands In Pockets.
Ebay it here.

Tell me that the picture above won't give you nightmares. Pretend that as you drift off tonight you won't hear the swish of oilskin and a swaggering step come towards your bed, or see a ghostly face with a monstrous gash of mouth.

Really? You're okay with it? So okay, in fact, that you would sleep perfectly happily in a room with that image repeated like hellish wallpaper?

Fine. In that case, you won't have any problems with this:

Unknown solid cast circus clown on unicycle like Charbens. 

 Ebay it here

Eyes gouged out and bleeding, gaping bloodstained maw, and a unicycle. It's a psychotherapist's dream. 

Charbens were one of the great Hornsey Road toy-makers, and specialised in circus toys. In other words, there are many more like these. 

I need to recover and will be taking a break until Monday. Have a pleasantly clown-free weekend. 

North London Models

If you go to Conwy in North Wales you'll see signs for the 'the smallest house in Great Britain'. If you go in you'll discover that it is indeed very small and that there's not much to do but turn round and go out.

North London Models on the Hornsey Road is about the same size.

See? The shop's smaller than the pub's doorway. It's a lot less predictable inside than the house though. There's a vintage arcade machine:

There are military model thingies linking back to the long and glorious history of model-making on and around the Hornsey Road.

I'll write about that later. In the meantime, go look here and here.

There are paints. As a child I could spend hours gazing at the Dulux colour chart and trying to decide whether I liked 'apple white' (slightly green) or 'ice white' (a bit grey) more. 

Oh, and books. It's an erratic selection, but I did find Titus Groan there. Plus curious odds and ends of all sorts 'a general mix of models, plastic kits, railways, scenery, and dolls house accessories' to quote their website.

I told the owner about this blog and he said 'so you're writing about all the funny little shops that are staying open somehow on the Hornsey Road'. That's about right. 

It's an interesting street and I like the people on it.

Where: 474 Hornsey Road
When: afternoons until 5:30 except for Saturday 10:30-5:30. 
Tel 020 7281 7877

Monday, 27 February 2012

So Yale Terrace will have a Tesco after all.

There have been rumours flying about for months as to what would open in the retail space under the Yale Terrace development. This, stuck to the hoardings, looks like the answer: 

Licensing application from the soon to be Hornsey Road Tesco

There's no sign of a Stokes Croft style rebellion to this Tesco.

Stokes Croft anti-Tesco protest. Not on Hornsey Road.
Thanks to Mark Simmons Photography. 

There are no protest marches planned, no furious letters to the Guardian, no creative types occupying the space to make it into a theatre or writing poetry about the crack troops of gentrification. There's been nothing but a few sarky comments on stroudgreen.org, and even those are undercut by people saying they'd like a free cash machine.

Of course, Stokes Croft's reaction made the news because that sort of thing doesn't normally happen, but this will be round the corner from a newsagent that sells the Morning Star and in a constituency where Jeremy Corbyn has a 12401 majority. I'm a little surprised that it's all so quiet. 

I'm neither trying to start a protest nor arguing in favour of Tesco here, but there are two lines from a Sophie Hannah poem 'the end of love should be a big affair/ it should involve the hiring of a hall' that keep going round my head.

The Hornsey Road (for good and for bad) didn't have any chains. It may have been the last British high street of which that was true. There should be a ceremony to mark the end of that. Something like this

If someone tells you Brussels is boring, they're wrong.

If they tell you Brussels is strange, trust their judgement on all things.

Friday, 24 February 2012

The Arsenal skyscraper that wasn't.

Skyscrapers make people emotional. One side hate hate hate them all and won't see the beauty of the Chrysler building.

The other side will defend the Burj Khalifa for being tall and pointy although it looks like an alien's lair. The kind of alien who, if they weren't an alien,  would read Tom Clancy.

Londoners, in general, fit in the first category. If they like tall buildings at all they usually like them abroad where they can admire them, go up them and walk away from them. 

What does all this have to do with the Hornsey Road? 

In 2011 Arsenal wanted to build a 25 story tower with scalloped edges and a wavy top at the south end near the Emirates. It would have held 450 student bedrooms and looked like this: 

Islington Council turned them down, arguing that 'the proposed tall building is not appropriate in this location by reason of its excessive height, bulk, scale as well as its appearance which is detrimental to the setting and character of the surrounding local context.

I think that's council speak for 'no way in hell are we going to let this through'.

The Islington Gazette quoted a local architect as saying: 'the height was just completely out of character with the local area. It would have dwarfed the stadium which is just ridiculous' and a Green Party spokesperson saying this was 'a victory for common sense'.

But some of the people over at SkyScraper City did defend the tower: 

'Even though I don't like it, it could become quite iconic. It's certainly interesting and is one of those love it or hate it designs, especially the cladding.'

'it's one of the more interesting student towers... but does look like an experiment. The windows look silly but the bronze 'skin' looks quite interesting stretched around the rest of the building. It might turn out okay; might turn out awful.'

'I quite like it.

'I love it, it looks fantastic.'


Even on Skyscraper city not everyone liked it.
'Looks shite'

'This is revolting !!'

'The shape isn't too bad but the windows are awful.'

Arsenal came back with this. 9 fewer stories, but only 57 fewer student bedrooms, and the soft edges have gone. 

I'm not sure it's an improvement. 

You've got until the 16th of March to comment. Call  0207 527 2847 or email planning@islington.gov.uk 

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Even Better than Petter.

North London has pharmacies like Vegas has casinos.

There are pharmacies facing pharmacies, pharmacies next to pharmacies, small pharmacies, big pharmacies, huge pharmacies like Petter in Crouch End, severe pharmacies with warnings about diabetes, cuddly pharmacies that peddle useless homeopathic remedies and argumentative pharmacies that follow Ben Goldacre on twitter.

Chemitex pharmacy in the sun.

The Hornsey Road has an unassuming little Chemitex pharmacy. 

It's a revelation. 

The pharmacists look hurt when you ask for an expensive branded product and steer you towards the cheaper generic, explaining that it does the same thing, but for less money. 

They don't hurry or patronize people, or make them feel awkward.

It's a proper community resource - equally kind to the worried well and the very ill, the very poor and the very not.

Where: 322 Hornsey Road
Mon:Open: 09:00 Close: 18:30
Tue:Open: 09:00 Close: 18:30
Wed:Open: 09:00 Close: 18:30
Thu:Open: 09:00 Close: 12:30
Fri:Open: 09:00 Close: 18:30
Sat:Open: 09:30 Close: 14:00
Tel: 020 72724869

Ed Miliband goes to Platform

From the 17 February edition of the Islington Tribune:

'LABOUR leader Ed Miliband spent Wednesday morning talking to young people from the Platform Centre in Holloway as new figures showed a sharp rise in the number of youths out of work in the borough.

Long-term unemployment among 18 to 24-year-olds in Islington North constituency has doubled in the last year from 140 to 280 while in the south it has increased by 70 per cent to 280.'
Ed Milliband at the Labour Party conference, in front of Oxfam's UK Poverty banner.
Photograph by
Christian Guthie

Monday, 20 February 2012

singing and dancing

Music to start the week:

Jesse Pie trio recorded at the Shaftesbury.

Jessie Pie vox, guitar
Emily Hannah cello, backing vocals
Danny Bryan percussion, backing vocals

Danno Sheehan production
Paul Soper lighting

This show was recorded on the 17th April, 2011, at The Shaftesbury Tavern, 534 Hornsey Road, London N19 3QN.

All songs written by Jessica Houghton (Jessie Pie) apart from "Yellow Moon", by The Neville Brothers, 1989. All cello arrangements by Emily Hannah.

Friday, 17 February 2012

With Love again.

More flowers from the excellent new florist at number 348:

Sidney in the foreground looking regal, Emily in the background deciding whether to eat the roses.

Have a good weekend. 

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Detective work near Kinloch Gardens

Exhibit A: decorative moulding to the north of Kinloch Gardens. Note the dilapidated air and general grubbiness:

Exhibit B: decorative moulding the other side of Kinloch Gardens. Note the fashionable dark grey paint and the carefully exposed London yellow stock bricks:

Note also that it's the same bloody moulding, suggesting strongly that the same builder put the two up at the same time and that it wouldn't be too difficult to make A as smart as B. 

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Name the snowman.

I think it might be Robespierre, or George Washington. 

Or James Adam as painted by Allan Ramsay.  Whoever he is, he seems amused to find himself by the Hornsey Road. 


Thanks to @monadic for photographing this pensive Roubillac snowbust.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Got an idea for Platform this autumn?

This is from the good people at Creative Islington:

'Platform are seeking proposals for their autumn programme. The deadline is 20 June (although interested parties are welcome to submit proposals at any time, to be part of future programming).

The Platform Programme at Hornsey Road Baths is focused on engaging 13-19 year olds, primarily from Islington, in arts activities. The two major elements are participatory projects and a programme of performances.

Most importantly, the Platform Programme will be developed and chosen by young people. There is a current group of Young Advisors working to influence the opening of the building through May, June, July and August 2011. A group of Young Programmers will be created to make the programme for the Autumn term 2011, supported by Trestle Theatre Company, who are running the venue in partnership with Changemakers and Isledon Partnership.

Platform will offer a range of art forms, a mix of in school, out of school and holiday projects, and a range of project timings from one day to ten weeks or more. It will target a mix of age groups, led by a range of arts organisations and practitioners in and around Islington.

For full information and how to submit a proposal please contact: Olly Jones platform@trestle.org.uk


Oh, and check out the cafe at Platform.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Green shoots at With Love

I wrote here about hoping that something good would open in the empty shop at number 348 - opposite Ajani's and next to Atlas

And now it's happened. 348 has become a florist, something people have been lamenting the lack of for a while

The new owners are two friendly and helpful women who have painted the shop white, put some pretty stencils up and filled it with fresh flowers.  

There's a line I read years ago, had half-forgotten, and that I've managed to find again (didn't help that I thought it was AS Byatt and it turns out to be Iris Murdoch): 'People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us.

So, buy flowers or you'll disappoint aliens.

I bought white roses and red tulips - they're lasting beautifully and Emily the cat approves.

At least, I think she does:

If you're trying to make a cat happy don't buy lilies - they're poisonous for cats. If you're trying to make a person happy then Miss Annie has some sound advice here

Where: 348 Hornsey Road
When: Mon-Fri 9:30 to 5, Saturday 10 to 5.

(Wish they were open late one evening) 

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Meet a pirate and buy catfood at Atlas World of Birds

This is Captain Jack. He likes having his picture taken:

He also seems to like being stroked (though I've never dared try). 

Captain Jack holds court at Atlas World of Birds,  where his human staff come highly recommended. 

The sign does say Atlas, even though you can't see it

They sell almost anything you could need for dogs/cats/rabbits/hamsters/fish as well as for birds, if they don't have something they'll stock it if you ask, and they chase after you to give you the change back when you accidentally overpay.

Where: 342 Hornsey Road
When: Mon-Sat 11-6, Sun 11-1:30

Friday, 10 February 2012

This is what pavement widening looks like.

People have landed on this blog from Athens, Zadar, Morristown, Metzingen, Laapenranta, New Delhi and Chandigarh. 


Why are you here? Isn't there anything more interesting to do in Laapenranta? Doesn't New Delhi hold more charms? Hell, isn't there a decent bar in Morristown? 

As you've nothing better to do let's talk pavement widening. 

I wrote about money going to improve the Hornsey Road here and here and now it's starting. 

They're doubling the width of the pavement on the whole stretch near Deja Vu.

It'll look better and make life easier for anyone in a wheelchair or pushing a pram.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

We're goin' to the Emirates and we're gonna get married.

If Arsenal take up most of your waking thoughts and half your dreams and you're about to get married Arsene Wenger might send you a letter congratulating you on your 'perfect match'.*

If your intended feels the same or is very very kind you can get married at the Emirates on the Hornsey Road and tell everyone to call it the Ashburton Grove of love

* Write to The Charity Department, Arsenal Football Club plc, Highbury House, 75 Drayton Park, Highbury, London, N5 1BU two months prior to the event, include the full names of the bride & groom, the date of the wedding and the address to which it should be sent.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Valentine's Day plans, how to make them better.

Estelle Kokot is playing Ajani's on Valentine's day. 

I looked around to see what she sounded like, and  found way more than I expected. 

Here she is live: 

Here is what proper reviewers think of her: 

'Kokot makes it clear that she wants the rhythmic drive of the music to be a dominant force, though the occasional price is an obscuring of lyrics that deserve more foregrounding than they always get. But her strong and soulful voice cut through both the funky rumble of the rhythm section and the noise of some hysterically supportive fans at the back on her opening feature.' Guardian

'South African pianist/singer/composer Kokot is an exceptional talent, with a repertoire that stretches from ethereal, English-accented pop to modern jazz, with Latin and worldbeat touches. Back for her annual seasonal appearance, she performs a wide ranging set of musical styles with help from bassist Mick Hutton and drummer Gene Calderazzo.' Time Out

'Has gained a deserved reputation as a purveyor of intellegent, thought provoking lyrics set to subtle yet memorable melodies - highly auspicious debut recording'  The Times

Go see and tell me what you think. 

Monday, 6 February 2012

Meta-blogging part II (Mizhenka again)

More Mizhenka photographs. The first is the upper Hornsey Road, the others are Elthorne Park, which is probably out of bounds for this blog but who cares.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Andover, Armour Close, and hope.

There's a lot I like about the Andover Estate, but not streets like this where the ground level is nothing but garages: 

The 1970s orthodoxy was that cars were the future and should be parked indoors, and the architects did what seemed right at the time. 

But then fewer people round here took to car ownership than expected and manufacturers learnt how to make cars that could be left outside without rusting. 

So most of the garages are empty. It's wasteful and with no windows and no lights on the streets feel and are less safe. Even snow can't make them appealing. 

But there's a thing that gives me hope. This garden flat is, as far as I can tell, built out of the same space as the garages:

This one even has the same balcony overhang as the garages.

It must be possible to turn those empty garages into decent places to live.

This sort of thing is happening elsewhere in the borough. Islington Council's architects turned a disused garage near Pentonville Prison into this:

Armour Close, Housing Design Awards image

It's called Armour Close, it won a Housing Design Award, and you should take a look next time Open House comes round.


Thursday, 2 February 2012


I've started a Tumblr.

It's here.

Foxes being foxes

Thanks to Daniel Douglas, here are foxes sauntering down the Hornsey Road:

I wonder if they know this isn't where they are meant to be, or if I'm anthropomorphising and teleologicalising* like crazy. 

*No, I'm not sure it's a word either.