Sunday, 1 January 2012

This is my street and I'm never gonna leave it

Took a couple of short tours round Ray and Dave’s old haunts this year, en route to other destinations (plays, gigs etc.); map here

1 September 2011
In town for a gig in the evening, decide to head in early to investigate Highgate, as a Davies-connected area and because we’ve never been there (at least not in daylight). Perhaps we’ll catch sight of Ray. Our preliminary research has been less than rigorous, mainly consisting of watching the ‘I Know Where Ray Davies Lives’ video on YouTube, which is great fun.

Owing to the opposite of forward planning (backward planning otherwise known as retrospect), we end up in Highgate just as Highgate Teas is closing. We’re the sort of people who come to a party and after a couple of hours, put the kettle on so we crave a cup but never mind. Ray has said ‘I always gravitate to where I grew up. I think it is because of the light. In Hampstead, Highgate and Muswell Hill the light is different because of the hills.’ Can't say I notice this today but there certainly are hills and it’s very green for a suburb.

And I miss you most of all
When I see Flowers in the Rain

The violets whisper from the shade
Which their own leaves have made:
Men scent our fragrance on the air,
Yet take no heed
Of humble lessons we would read.

Don’t let anyone tell you that Ray still lives in Muswell Hill. Highgate, though nearby, is a different story. Genteel, expensive, exclusive. A bit like Manhattan versus Brooklyn; more Downton than downtown. Even a tramp (apologies if he’s not) on a bench looks quite well-heeled. Residents have included the rich and famous (Jude Law, George Michael, Rod Stewart) so it’s not your average town. Buried at Highgate Cemetery are Karl Marx, Christina Rossetti (quoted above), Malcolm McLaren.

Decide to cross the road to Waterlow Park, supposedly where the promo for ‘Starstruck’ was filmed, in which the whole band look like they’re having a ball. If only they could have stayed that happy. It’s peaceful (I’ll resist the cliché of an oasis of calm, partly because the whole of Highgate seems to be pretty tranquil), except for a small group of teenagers gathered round a bench, smoking and hanging out, trying and failing to impress each other. It’s not your ordinary municipal park, with some disused and neglected tennis courts, some rough grass, a couple of paths and a playground. It has its own website, which tells us that it ‘“was bequeathed to the public by Sir Sidney Waterlow in 1889 as a ‘garden for the gardenless”’. It boasts events, a café, a historic house, exhibitions and ‘supports a number of important ecological habitats and a rich variety of wildlife’ (well I would put has plenty of ponds and plants but still). These are not simply delusions of grandeur. It’s actually grand.

Then we duck into the Duke’s Head and are greeted by the sort of looks the tourists attract when they go into a pub in An American Werewolf in London. Suspicion turns to disbelief when we ask if they do tea. Beat a hasty retreat. Imagine they’re saying in a generic country accent ‘ They bain’t be from roun’ these parts’. So that’s why they call it a village.

That’s all we had time for, before heading back to Camden Town via Archway tube. One day we’ll get to the Archway Tavern although apparently it’s changed a lot since they shot the 'Muswell Hillbillies' cover there.

Strangers on this road we are on
We are not two we are one.

19 December 2011
I’ve made a resolution to look on the bright side of life – nothing to do with Monty Python.

So, it’s December, it’s raining, it’s not exactly warm, it gets dark by three pm and we decide it’s a good day to do some of the Kinks London tour as we’re off to the theatre in the evening.

If you would like to look at some of the places on the tour, including many that we didn’t get to, there’s footage of them on this version of ‘Fortis Green’ by the Spivs, and it has Ray and Dave’s (and Pete's) old school, from which Dave was expelled, formerly the William Grimshaw School, now called Fortismere. Rather a romantic name.

I know that Ray doesn’t like coming South of the river and we Sarf Londoners don’t venture North without misgivings either. They’re different, North Londoners – we think of them as posh, pretentious, rich, trendy, etc. We're more to down to earth, like Mick Avory. I'm sure Mick Avory would agree. They probably think we’re all yobs. Went to a barbecue at a friend’s (North) and learnt that you couldn’t have a barbecue without haloumi. They actually refused to start the barbecue without it. Our friend (being from South London) hadn’t realised this. Someone was despatched to get some. Needless to say, it wasn’t that hard to find. I didn’t even know what haloumi was.

So it’s a train to London Bridge then the Northern Line to Turnpike Lane. Our luck starts here. Part of the ceiling has collapsed in the underground. The luck bit? We weren’t underneath it.

Then, on the train, a man offers me a seat – I must look pregnant or old, unsteady (but this is before the mulled wine) or plain bolshy. No, bright side, remember – he’s just a gentleman.

‘GILLESPIE ROAD’ was the orginal name of Arsenal station when it opened in 1906, later changed to Arsenal (Highbury Hill) before it was renamed after the football ground. Of course both brothers are Gunners fans.

So I saved all my money
And packed up my clothes,
And I said good-bye to my friends
And my folks back home

Well I know the tube’s expensive but it’s only seven stops or so – perhaps, Ray, the saving, packing and goodbyes were a little on the melodramatic side. Got to love Ray’s imagination. Also when you’re a child, these places do seem to be almost mythical or simply destinations on the Monopoly board, out of reach, no matter how close in reality.

There's gotta be a place for us to meet
I'll call you when I've found it

Then a bus to Tottenham Lane where we’re handily dropped off by the police station and the Lane Café, mooted to be the one on the cover of ‘Working Man’s Café’. This should be the end of the tour (going by the internet) but, like a lot of things in our lives, we decided to do it backwards. Why start at the beginning when you can start at the end? Plus we haven’t had lunch yet. Didn’t expect the place to be so small but anywhere with an all-day, all-in breakfast is fine by me.

I'm the kid with the greasy spoon
Firmly held in my hand

Or anywhere that does vegetable moussaka with chips It takes a while to arrive but we can

Have a cuppa tea

while we wait. Even this tiny caff has haloumi although I think because it’s a Greek place rather than any nod to pretentious North London taste.

Long ago there was a working man
Don't you know we were all working men
And we'd sit and pass the time of day
At the working man's café

There definitely are working men in the café, if they can be identified by donkey jackets and/or fluorescent waistcoats – but not very hard-working men as they’re there all the time we are and we wait a while for our food. They don’t so much pass the time of day as pass the whole day.

Next stop Konk:

And I've got imitation moonlight
Standing underneath the neon sign

which is a beautiful blue one. We wait outside while we try to bully one another into being brave enough to push the buzzer. Lyn gives first but they have ‘clients in’ (am I the only one who thinks this sounds dodgy?) so can't welcome the hoi polloi but the implication is that they might let us in when they don’t – hmm. Maybe worth a try on another day then?

Midhurst Avenue. We come across like we’re casing the area for a burglary later on as we go up one side of the street and then back down the other, apprising the valuables (stopping to look at someone’s ginormous telly – ours is half the size, old and analogue, a little prehistoric by these standards) and checking for alarm systems. So, Lyn goes, ‘Look, there’s a piano’. In character, I reply ‘It’ll be a bugger to shift, though’.

They'll move me up to Muswell Hill tomorrow

Discover that no one in Muswell Hill knows where anything else is in Muswell Hill. I ask two girls what road we’re on (later discover it’s Fortis Green Rd – in fact I’m at the junction where Dave says that Ray and Rasa once had a flat) and they think it might be Muswell Hill Rd but they’re not sure; a guy with a dog asserts that the other road is Muswell Hill High Street. It isn’t. It’s Muswell Hill Broadway. Altogether seems quite affluent – lots of shops, lots of people. Something about the buildings, perhaps the scale of them, bespeaks an old-world elegance, a little gone to seed.

Almost as many charity shops as Sidcup but with North London prices and more designer-type and specialised merchandise (I’m guessing as I wouldn’t know designer gear if it moved in with me) plus a huge range of little shops. Our High Street has little else but charity shops, nail bars and hairdressers for some reason, its demise signalled by the preponderance of huge supermarkets on the outskirts of town.

God save the little shops …

The Clissold Arms is more upmarket than I expected. Hard to imagine the staff tolerating much actual drunkenness these days.

Mum would shout and scream when Dad would come home drunk
When she asked him where he'd been, he'd say ‘Up the Clissold Arms’

It’s actually rather beautiful inside with Christmas lights arranged artistically and old church chairs in the restaurant – more restaurant than pub now (moving with the times), with a garden and a heated terrace. There are huge vases of extravagant flowers on the bar. As we come in, in our soggy Parkas, a Sloane-ish-looking couple, the only people in the Kinks room, talking very loudly, look askance at us. How do they know we’re from South London? Is it that obvious? Must be the Parkas. They make me feel embarrassed when I stop to look at old 45s on pillars, or flyers and articles inlaid in a tabletop.

Of course, it’s right opposite Denmark Terrace. The Davies family could probably have stayed at home and still heard the boys play. No. 6 is a cute little cottage, a much more modest affair than anything in Midhurst Avenue. Resist the temptation to peer into the famous Front Room.

I love the couch with a picture of the band on it. Pete, Dave and Mick are along the back and Ray is on the seat. It seems a little forward (not to mention rude) to sit on Ray’s face (before even being introduced) and churlish to sit with our backs to Dave. I dare Lyn to snog Dave ‘on the couch’ before we leave but two large glasses of mulled wine won't swing it though I am a little unsteady now.

Who thought I would fall, a slave to demon alcohol

On to:

Fortis Green, memories, of days when I was young

Too dark to see much now and very wet. Looks like another rung up the property ladder. Interesting to see how reluctant the boys were to leave their territory to begin with – all their first homes are pretty close to where they grew up. Family ties were strong.

This is my street and I'm never gonna leave it,
And I'm always gonna stay here

Running out of time now so head back

To those bright city lights

One of these days,
I wanna go home,
Visit my friends,
And see all the places that I used to know

It’s not that far, babe and at least you’re on the tube.

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