Kids Writing

“It’s the half term holiday!”

I had a dream last night that I was in the west of Ireland and had left a pub to go in search of a mandolin so I could join the session. (This is dream bravado, of course – I’ve had three lessons and can play two and a half tunes at walking pace). I wandered through the night, getting completely lost, until I came to a little boreen and turned down it. At the end of this lane was a large, modern detached house, surrounded by grass. I knocked on the door and the writer Arthur Mathews answered it. Yes, he said, there used to be a mandolin here. He invited me in. He would have a look, he said.

The house was huge inside, with many corridors and dark rooms with big modern furniture. I could hear Arthur talking from somewhere but his voice was growing faint. I then glimpsed some light and walked down another dark corridor until I came to a small white room which had had a whole wall removed. It was a bit like Darth Sidious’s anti-chamber on the Death Star in Star Wars. In the middle of this white room, on a big white chair, sat Graham Linehan (Arthur’s former writing partner), reading a tabloid. I introduced myself and tried not to to be too fawning. He sort of grunted and carried on reading. Then Arthur reappeared with lots of other people and we all went in to a big living room. One of them was Graham’s Brazilian model girlfriend/wife who said she had a really bad headache. Most of them were drinking some kind of green potion to get rid of hangovers. Then Arthur made milky coffee for everyone. I sat on a big sofa next to Graham and Mary McAleese (President of Ireland) stood up and started to explain who they all were. Graham turned to me and said something but it was in a faint, high-pitched shouty voice. It sounded like “It’s the half-term holiday!” Then the voice got louder. “What? What are you trying to tell me Graham?”

Then I was lying awake in bed and my kids were upstairs shouting and jumping up and down on their beds.

“It’s the half term holiday!”

Kids Travel

I’ve got wheels and a full tank of gas

I’ve got wheels and a full tank of gas. To be more specific, it’s a full tank of high performance  unleaded petrol. I drove out of the garage on Hornsey Road thinking to myself “I could go anywhere, do anything. Just drive and see where the road takes me.”

But rather than head up Scotland to camp out in the hills I drove straight home and then spent 40 minutes looking at the Star Wars Lego website with the kids.


Replica Kit Heartbreak

Leedsno  It's non-uniform 'wear your football kit' day at my kids' school tomorrow and my oldest boy (7) has decided that he no longer wants to wear Dublin or Clare GAA colours but an English football team shirt. He has always said he supports Leeds so I said I'd be happy to sort him out."No, Dad, I want an Arsenal shirt."
"But. But what about Leeds?"
(My voice getting high pitched and whiny) "You said you supported Leeds."
"They're alright. But I want an Arsenal shirt."
"Eddie Gray… er, Arthur Graham… Ken Bates?" 
He doesn't understand.
"Look I'm happy for you to *like* your local village team – which just happens to be Arsenal – but you need a big Northern team too."
He shakes his head. "All my friends support Arsenal. "

So this morning I trudged down the road to the Arsenal shop. Now that two of my children have become Gooners I only have one kid left – my 3 year old – to indoctrinate with my irrational, heartbreaking and futile love of Leeds United. 

I might have to resort to bribes with this one.

Match reports Pub reviews

The Westbury, Turnpike Lane

Westbury I hadn't been drinking in Turnpike Lane for over 20 years and the odd time I went there at the end of the 80s I'd have had so much beer that any attempt at memory retrieval would have been pointless. But an old friend of mine is about to leave town and although we normally meet in The Sailsbury, now and then we like to sup beer in far flung places. Like Turnpike Lane.

We'd arranged to meet up somewhere to catch the 2nd half of the Europa Cup final between Fulham and Atletico Madrid. Things didn't look good when I arrived to find various outsized flags of St George on the outside of the building. Usually this a clear sign of a dodgy boozer. But the Westbury had a strangely mild atmosphere, more like the kind of place you'd find in a provincial market town. A mild disappointment was the lack of cask ales but the Guinness turned out to be rather good. Another let down was the last minute goal scored in extra time by Madrid. Now the Westbury was officially an unlucky pub.

By now my full-naval-issue Stoke Newington Dad beard was starting to annoy me – more of the Guinness was ending up caught in the bristles around my mouth and I vowed to shave soon. My mate then told me about the lovely suburban house he and his family would soon be moving to and I silently mourned the upcoming loss of yet another drinking partner. We supped up sadly and jumped on a southbound 141.

Irish country diary Mystic stuff Nature Walking

Cheese sandwiches in the fairy fields

Coast1  A walk down to the
fairy fields at the end of the Cahermacrusheen boreen where we have a grand
picnic of cheese sandwiches and Tayto crisps and a flask of tea. The sea is
still and the Aran Isles look very close. Most of the land around North Doolin is
parched and the grass dry and brownish as if this was August rather than early
April. But here, on the way to the rocks at the edge of the Burren, the turf is
thick and wet like black gold and little patches of intense green burst out
from beneath the stones.

The kids do a cow
attracting dance that achieves its objective, expect these are bullocks not
cows. On the way back we see a thorn tree decorated with ribbons, materials,
toys, holy water and candles. Next to this is the dry stone wall part of which is
made up of massive horizontal stones, which I have a feeling had once been the lost
Cahermacrusheen dolmen.

Irish country diary

Forgotten Small Towns of the Midlands

Driving across Ireland from Dublin to Co. Clare at high speed yesterday I thought, as we flashed by yet another turn-off to a small town, how the Irish driving experience has changed for the worse. No longer is it a slowish procession through interesting main streets with bars, hardware shops and town halls. No longer does one get stuck behind a tractor and start looking at the landscape and buildings and hedgerow flowers.  Where once a driver would talk about the changing scenery and the stories of his journey, now people boast how quickly they did the drive. In some ways it’s a manifestation of our need for instant gratification, wanting to get to a destination as quickly as possible. The midlands then become just an annoying interlude from Tourist Zone A to Tourist Zone B.

Eventually we turned off at Loughrea and sat and ate cheese and ham sandwiches in an old churchyard while the kids played and suddenly I knew where I was once more. Then we continued on to Croughwell on the old road and time stopped speeding past so quickly. I lost the temptation to be permanently overtaking and we became part of a lovely slow convoy behind a lorry, pootling along at a more authentic 50 miles an hour.

1 Mile from Home Blackstock Road History In search of lost timepieces (And other stories) Lost stuff

The View Down To Highbury Vale/St John’s Church

My late neighbour, Edna Crome, seemed to know more about Highbury then anyone I know. She was always telling me stories about some aspect of local history, often relating to architecture, football and schools. One afternoon, as we chatted over the garden fence, she started to tell me about St John's Church. I didn't know anything about this and she explained that it was demolished int he early 80s and a block of flats was put up, on the western side of Highbury Park. (Like many old talkative people Edna had never had her stories put down on tape future generations. All I have the memories of the countless conversations, usually conducted over the garden fence or out in the street when we bumped into one another.)

Oldtree  This spot is is one of my favourite parts of Highbury. When my daughter stared school at the top of the hill I'd sit on the bench at the junction of Highbury Park and Northolme Road and look down into the vale and beyond, marveling at the semi-rural template that lay beneath the concreted scene.

I haven't managed to find any photos or illustrations of the old church. In some ways it doesn't matter so much that the church is no longer there. If I concentrate I can see it just as plainly as it was there in front of me. It's the same with other parts of the village. I sit on the viewing bench and imagine the scene without the buildings, imagine looking down over pastures and meadows with the new river winding its way through the landscape from Hornsey over towards Stoke Newington. And there, to the left of the scene, snaking down from the Crouch Hill heights to the west, is the Hackney Brook.

There is still a C of E primary School named after St John's. Going back further there had been at college of St John's around Aubert Park (it was demolished in the mid 40s and a block of flats put in its place) in this area (there still exist some old illustrations of this Arsenal FC bought part of the college grounds to build their original stadium before the First World War. Going back to the mediaeval era Highbury had been given to the Priory of St John of Jerusalem, also known as the Knights Hospitallers in England. by the landowner Alica de Barrow in 1271.  They controlled the area until disbanded by Henry VIII in the 16th century. The thread still survives in the name of the school.

I have a more recent example of this feeling for "ghost buildings" for it is not that long ago that the old tin box factory on Blackstock Road was demolished to make way for a new block of flats. On the other side of the road, where now Il Baccio restaurant and further new flats exist, was an old-fashioned garage.

Unlike some London churches, such as old St Mary's in Stoke Newington, , the Church of St John in Highbury Park was relatively new. It was only consecrated in 1881 so according to the information available didn't even last 100 years as a working church. Perhaps the people of Highbury built simply too many churches in that late 19th-century is their rush to development of the area. As wel as St John's there was also Christchurch a few hundred yards up the road, Saint Augustine's in the smart backstreets of Highbury New Park and St Thomases in St Thomas's Road  down in the Vale. Highbury_park1  

Almost 20 years ago,  when my wife lived above a launderette at the other end of Blackstock Road, I'd sometimes walk southwards until I got to Highbury Vale. And for some reason I never walked up the hill towards Highbury village proper, the Barn and Highbury Fields, as if I wanted to keep some kind of mystery for a later date. So we moved in here together in the late 90s it was with great excitement that I began to map out the territory to the south Blackstock Road and was pleasantly surprised to find old-fashioned little shops and a tree-lined boulevard.

There's a smart new bench now at the junction of Northholme Road and Highbury Park. It's more comfortable than the old one but for some reason I'm less inclined to sit on it for very long. I tell myself that I should spend half a day sitting down at this spot watching life unfold around me and see the changing light over Stroud Green and FInsbury Park as the afternoon unfurls. These days I tell myself I'm too busy to do this. Perhaps one day, soon.



beer Clissold Park Pub reviews Stoke Newington Dad

The Auld Shillelagh

Stoke Newington Church Street, N16

This used to be my favourite pub in North London but I haven't been in for a while. I must be getting old because the ruralesque walk around Clissold Park at night doesn't seem as appealing as it once did.

I was there with old friends from the Real Psychic Genius Football Prediction Society. The Shillelagh is really our spiritual home but we now tend to wander a bit down the road to the Rose & Crown, where the music isn't loud and there's lots of space for assorted fortysomethings to shuffle around slowly. Leeds v Spurs was on the telly. I picked a famously unlucky seat – where I had watched England lose to Brazil in the 2002 World Cup and from where countless times I'd seen Ireland throw away the lead in the last minute in qualifiers. It didn't disappoint. Leeds lost. But the Guinness was as good as ever and there's still a good mix of old and young drinking away. One big change is last orders which is now an orthodox 11-ish rather than four in the morning. But I suppose that's progress. As my wife said when I rolled in, last orders was invented for people like me who need authority figures such as barmaids to tell them what to do.

Detached retina Local news Stoke Newington Dad

Reading Glasses

Went to the optician the other day, after losing yet another pair of glasses in a messing-about-with-the-kids incident. 
"Your eyesight is maturing" said the optician?" 
"What, you mean I appreciate art and ballet a bit more now and fancy Fay Weldon?" 
"Er, no, you need reading glasses."
"Hmm. So I'm not short sighted any more?"
"You're still short sighted. You'll still need distance lenses as well".

In other words, there is only a depth of field of about three inches in which my vision is clear. 

I am shagged.


1 Mile from Home Clissold Park Weather Writing

Clissold Park/Narnia Crossover

Clissoldsnow1   Last week, as I tramped happily around in the snow, it occurred to me that in The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe, CS Lewis created Narnia as a methaphor for Clissold Park in Stoke Newington. The gap in the fence on Church Street is the magical entrance to this world, certainly after pub closing time at any rate. Aslan the Lion represents the old bowling green.  It's got old lamp posts, deer, an old house.  Did CS Lewis spend a lot of time in Stoke Newington and are any of his other books about the area? A Horse and His Boy could be about the Lea Valley Riding School. Prince Caspian surely refers to that gastropub on Kynaston Road. The Last Battle might be a sly comment about the anti-bendy bus movement on Church Street.

Maybe this theory needs a bit more work.