Sunday, August 23, 2015

Islington to the Tate Modern (Part 1)

In the easrly morning Essex road runs down from the north of the city with all the noise and suddeness of the Colarado river. It is a sea of voices and action - the bus hurtling towards the kerb, the sirens screaming and falling, earphoned pedestrians shouting or stepping into the road without warning.

I allow myself to be dragged along as far as the Sainsburys local and then turn off to follow a quieter tributory that flows alongside the main road. There is a small canal-way here that has been fenced in or 'museumed' by the local council.

If I remember correctly, it was once part of larger network of canals that once brought fresh water into the city. Now, no longer in use, it has become a pond; a tiny bucolic corner where ducks bob through green water, overhanging trees throw pools of shade, and tramps sink quietly into long afternoons of drunkenness.

This morning I have chosen to weave my way through the small side streets down to Angel, ticking off the private landmarks of my neighbourhood, or what I perceive to be my neighbourhood, as I go. There is the old 16th century Manor House with its garden full of pink roses, the square; exploding with palm trees as suddenly as a desert oasis, the building where George Orwell once lived, the Italian art gallery, the huge church with a queue of homeless men trailing from its back door, the plaque noting the spot where a German bomb had landed destroying a terrace of houses, the small flower shop hidden beneath large overhanging trees, and then, at the end of the high street, the buildings that were once the old Angel Inn and stood like a gateway to the city; marking the end of one world and the beginning of another.

From here, Goswell road is a confusion of design stores, old warehouses, and brutalist apartment buildings. It is scruffy and dog eared and seems to have been largely spared, or overlooked, by modern developers. On one building a sign boasts of video to video editing services, others carry faded adverts for cleaning products and things that are no longer available. But despite this there are still signs of early gentrification. A coffee shop with brightly coloured neon lights and kitchy decor sits at one corner overlooked by empty office buildings.

A moment later, set back from the main road, is a leafy-green square shadowed by buildings that seem to have closed in on it while it's back was turned. Like so many corners of the city, it looks like a tiny pocket of forgotten village life. At the centre of the square is an ancient wooden band stand.

Back on the main road is the office and showroom of architect Zaha Hadid. This isn't so unexpected; from here the road runs quickly down to the Barbican whose towers can be seen looming high on the horizon, giving the neighbourhood an air of design-world authority. There is no obvious way in to the Barbican. Steps appear an unexpected moments, leading up to walkways, empty squares, and dead ends. Balconies are given street names and open out to reveal that they are not balconies at all, but forgotten streets criss-crossing above the traffic below. Sometimes a path will weave around a building before plunging suddenly into a darkened tunnel, only to appear moments later at an open square; full of benches and fountains, but empty. Some tunnels reveal secrets. One, for example, hides the work of ceramic artist Dorothy Annan. A full wall is dedicated to a tiled mural that once covered the front of a building on Fleet street. (to be Continued..)