Down the Cally

Down Caledonian Road, Pleasure Garden 24hr Sauna and Spa, London Taxi Social Club, Istanbul Social Club, Tattooing parlour. Rundown paint-peeling Caledonian Arms on the corner of Blundell St. The pub has stopped trading but Pentonville prison opposite is doing a roaring trade with double the number of inmates it was built to house in 1842 as a new-model prison specialising in solitary confinement. One of the first LCC estates to be built borders the prison, on the site of the old Caledonian Asylum which gave this traffic choked road its name (they used to call it Chalk Road). This street was once packed with breweries, the air pungent with the smell of hops and malt replaced by bareknuckle Irish boozers with Gaelish signage and brawling on the pavement outside.

Turning into Market Road there’s the Hayward Adventure Playground, Indoor Tennis Centre and Astroturf football pitch on the site of the old animal lairs for the Metropolitan Cattle Market moved up here from Smithfield in 1855. They could keep 6000 beasts here in commodious accommodation. The only remnants I can find are the rusting metal posts of the cattle shed and a crumbling brick wall in an overgrown ditch that runs up the back of the tennis courts and the football pitch. The only thing agricultural round here now are some of the tackles in the Islington Midweek League.

In Market Road Gardens there’s a rusting sundial topped with small metal cows. I hear a voice behind me. “Are you OK?” It’s a working girl from Market Road. I’d been warned in the bulletin put out by the Friends of Caledonian Park: “Sex Workers use the park and accost people on Market Road.” The whores have been pushed north by the development of Kings Cross. This is a red light district now. Pimps, prostitutes, kerb crawlers, undercover police surveillance twitching in the bushes, men reading their papers get approached for business. It’s a different kind of meat market now. The girls have the faces of ghosts, the spirit has departed the body for protection. The Gazette carries the gruesome story of a prostitute picked up in Market Road then pushed out of the seven and a half tonne lorry after rowing about the cost of oral sex and crushed to death under the back wheels.


Tuesday night Dérive

Dérive through the night city

In Gough Square EC4 there’s a homemade sign which reads “BEWARE DIVE-BOMBING SEAGULL IN SQUARE”, with a photo of the bird. There’s the noisy chatter of afterwork drinks in the legal chambers of Gunpowder Square. In Shoe Lane I look through the windows at suits in corporate drinking dens built into the ground-floor levels of glass and steel office blocks – cathedrals of capital with alcohol on-site. It’s 9.25pm and still light.
Turn right, still Shoe Lane, and now it’s dirty gothic and the back of a Wren-like church where I can see a bricked-in door that at this subterranean level must have been an entrance to the crypt. Cab driver sleeps in the back of his Taxi with the engine running under the viaduct.
I take the steps down into Saffron Hill from Charterhouse Street. The rule for my dérive is simple, go where it looks interesting, head for uncharted territory.
Greville Street runs east to west and looks ripe with pubs and eats. I drift on north up Saffron Hill. “THAI CAFÉ AT THE ONE TUN”, Bombardier bunting and Budweiser neon in the windows. It’s too early to hit the beer, I haven’t found familiar territory yet, the dérive is still on and this place doesn’t look so appealing. There’s a painted sign on the wall telling its history: The One Tun was patronised by Charles Dickens and is mentioned in Oliver Twist as “The Three Cripples”, a One Tun is 252 gallons or 4 hogsheads and Saffron Hill takes its name from the Saffron crops that grew here in the eighteenth century. A large white Cadillac is parked opposite advertising the Venus Table Dancing Club. There’s a stone plaque above a metal door with two crossing shields one bearing a swan with L&Co. underneath and the other a ship and the date 1726. It looks like an old warehouse (for saffron?) – there’s a sign advertising flats for rent. As I get near Clerkenwell Road loft apartments take over, familiar territory is in sight.
I hit Hatton Wall and the dérive is effectively over. I could go in the Deux Beers Café Bar but I’m no fan of the Belgian beer crowd so I duck down Eyre Street Hill to The Gunmakers where Maxim conceived the machine gun over a pint. I’ve cruised this place two or three times and been put off by its apparent clubiness but tonight it’s quiet enough to draw me in. I sit under framed photos of a young Albert Finney circa Saturday Night Sunday Morning and above is Samuel Beckett naturally enough. The sixties music is not loud enough to blot out the design-speak from a nearby table. One fella uses the word “über” a lot as in “she has this über über über cool job,” and someone says that “it’s vital we have ownership of the paradigm.” This is Clerkenwell. You could throw a crisp at the Ben Sherman offices from my comfy seat in this roughed-up Social chic pub which works in a kind of way that would make old Albert feel at home. I finish my pint of IPA.
On Amwell Street at 11pm I pass Boris Johnson Tory MP and editor of The Spectator pushing his bike yelling into his mobile phone “So much for the intellectual powerhouse of the Labour backbenches.” The sweaty crowd spilling out of Filthy McNasty’s (yes it is filthy and it is nasty)give him worried looks like he’s some kind of nutter. On Penton Street a northern TV Comedienne is debating with the guys from the Chinese take-away about who’s responsible for the bag of rubbish split open on the path. There’s more than a touch of midsummer madness around.
I pop into Borat’s for a chat and come away with can of Holstein Pils. Get home and email The Guardian Diary page with my Boris story.


Culture Clash down the Chapel

The farmers market has come to Chapel Market on Wednesdays. We headed down there for the first one keen to be able to buy our organic veg somewhere other than at the supermarket which somehow undermines the whole ethos. They’ve stuck the farmers down our end of the market, the grotty end. Even the guys selling dodgy plastic shoes don’t venture up this far.
Sure enough it’s deserted. The farmers look a bit disconsolate. They’re used to the well-heeled Sunday crowd who flock to their Sunday job on Islington Green – barristers and style-conscious twenty-somethings purchasing produce for Jamie Oliver recipes to impress friends with. The Chapel, or just plain ‘Chapel’ as some on our estate call it, is one of the last great bastions of working-class Islington. Duracell batteries lifted from Woolworths and Sainsburys and flogged for a quid. Designer T-shirts for a fiver. Pot-boiler romances third-hand by the box. Pot smoking paraphernalia (I regret not buying the Bin-Laden spliff-holder). The Arsenal merch stall currently bedecked with England flags and kits. And of course fruit and veg and fresh fish.
The fruit and veg sellers are the back-bone of any street market. The one outside the Alma is my favourite, they just have a few things of quality and the old fat guy (the granddad?) sat on a chair behind picking out all the grotty stuff and chucking it in a box and he usually has a pint under his chair. The fella opposite works his son like a dog so I was pleased to see him looking at the gleaming stalls of the farmers market scratching his worried brow. “Well, well…” And there it was perfectly illustrated. The rosey-cheeked country folk with their wholesome organic produce cultivated by their own hand and the traditional fruit and veg seller, son on the stall instead of at school, knackered from the dawn run to New Covent Garden to get the last cheap scraps to flog at the Chapel.
The guy selling trout also supplies The Savoy. The non-organic fella down the traditional end with his grubby fingers barely supplies the roughest estates. Y’know though at the end of the day the queues of old dears with their granny-wagons and estate Mums with prams were at the stalls they’d always gone to. You need barrister’s wives to pay £1.50 a kilo for organic broad beans (50p down the other end) and they don’t venture further up the Chapel than Marks and Spencer’s down the end.