I find myself at Harringay Green Lanes on a wet Wednesday morning. In such a situation the best option is to slide along the Harringay Ladder down Harringay Passage. With my finger I trace the outline of the date stamped onto the base of the metal bollards – it reads 1884. The slabs are slippery. There is something about the brick confines of the passage that frees the mind. Although I keep returning to thoughts of second breakfast and memories of living up here in 1991-2.
Every 100 yards or so the passage is interrupted by one of the streets that forms the struts of the ladder – Duckett Road, Mattison, Pemberton, Seymour, Fairfax, Falkland, Hampden – a mixed bag of references to local land-owners, military and naval figures, dignitaries of the Hornsey district. It has even been suggested that the names were chosen by the local Masonic lodge
Loud shriek of seagulls whirling round the gasometers on Mary Neuner Road.
Wildfowl line up along the New River by the Hornsey Water Treatment Works. A peculiar Brave New World housing development in the shadow of the Northern Heights. New River Village is built on former Thames Water land and boasts that it’s “a prime example of a brownfield site which called for an innovative and creative design solution to release its full potential and deliver a quality environment with tangible community benefits.” I wander along its deserted central … well I’ll flatter it with the word ‘boulevard’. It’s eerily quiet considering there are 622 residential units, just a solitary Eastern European window cleaner who doesn’t know much about it other than that it’s a ‘new village’.
Stand at the foot of the hill and Alexandra Palace looms above – Temple of the Radio Age. Something about it makes me think of George Orwell, perhaps it’s those images of him sitting at a BBC microphone. It’s also his descriptions in Coming Up For Air of the birth of a new world in the 1920s and 30s – the modern age of artificial food, plastic, and totalitarianism. This merges and is augmented by the sequences from Adam Kossoff’s film, The Anarchist Rabbi, showing how it was used as an internment camp during the First World War. A place built for pleasure, ‘The People’s Palace’, became a place of detention and imprisonment – there is something unnerving about that.
The BBC radio towers have narratives to reveal and I want to hear what they have to say but I’m 60-odd years too late. Something in the weatherworn brickwork, the arches supported by columns facing the city speaks of an internment camp and you can imagine it used for the same purpose under a British Fascist dictatorship that Orwell feared. This would have been Big Brother’s palace. The knowledge that apparently this is a lively dogging spot lightens the vibe a touch.
You can see where the renovation brutally ends near the rear of the building. A lady stops to talk and tells me that there is still some damage from the great fire of 1980. She was here when there was another fire, at the wedding show in the 1990s and all the bridalwear models were so panicked they ran out into the January cold near naked in just their pants. Imagining a crowd of topless models charging across the highest point in Haringey is a suitable counterbalance to the gloomy resonances of grizzly German detainees.
Today is the Knitting and Needlework show. Kossoff used shots of the Palm Court when telling the story of Rudolf Rocker’s imprisonment here. The gentle clamour of the elderly ladies here for the a celebration of home crafts buts up against misery that the men must’ve felt locked up away from their families.
I continue on to Muswell Hill and mooch around the shops, shelter from the rain in the beautiful 1931 library then schlepp down Cranley Gardens forever famous for the gruesome crimes of Denis Nilsen. Regretting not queuing for an overpriced coffee and Danish at Ally Pally for second breakfast, I stop at the Royal Palace Cafe on Park Road for what many people would call an early lunch of sausage baguette and cappuccino. The rain finally stops.