Pseudo-aleatoric traverse of North London by bus.

When done properly the idea is to get on the first bus going anywhere, get off where it goes, get on a bus going somewhere else, , see where you end up, then work your way back home – preferably by bus.

It helps not to have a goal. Last week, I did have a sort of goal, if not a very big one, because someone had more or less challenged me to go to the Grahame Park council estate in Hendon.

There was an argument about dangerous bits of London. Someone was saying there were “no go” districts of London where it isn’t safe to walk the streets if you were a white Christian. I think that’s nonsense. I’d claim, that there aren’t any, or at least nowhere much less safe than anywhere else – in particular I think there is no neighbourhood in London where you are very likely to be in danger because of your apparent ethnicity or religion. And if there was such a place – which there isn’t – the people in danger would be more likely to be Asian-looking Muslims rather than whiote Christians. So I asked for an example and they suggested Grahame Park in Hendon.

A long bus journey across London is a great way to get a feel for the local diversity
There are very few neighbourhoods where most people are of the same ethnicity (and nearly all of them are white and English) and probably nowhere where almost everybody is (not even the Bengalis east of Brick Lane) . But the nature of the minorities changes, often on a very fine basis

Exactly where I live there is no majority but white British people are the largest minority. The second largest is probably West Africans, with large (and growing) numbers of Tamils, and also a lot of Eastern and Central Europeans, But you only have to cross the main road to find more West Indians, or walk a short way in the other direction to see more Chinese, Turks, and Somalis.

On Sunday morning after church I get on a 21 bus in Lewisham most of the other passengers are black women, and I guess most of them African. Which os pretty par for the course. If I can believe the census (& I suppose I can) only about a fifth of the population round here are black but I’d guess that more like half of the people you see in the streets are and most of the bus passengers. Maybe the white people are more likely to stay in doors, or maybe they mostly have cars.

Late spring flowers everywhere – it’s lilac time in Brockley and there are other shrubs and hedges in bloom everywhere.

At New Cross quite a lot of young white people get on. Goldsmiths students maybe? Getting the bus because its cheaper, or because of the engineering work on the railway? As we move up Old Kent Road more spanish-speakers get on, and a few Asians and a man who looks Turkish (not that you can tell who is Turkish or not by looking at people)

Almost all those putative Goldsmith’s students and all but two or three of the black and Hispanic people get off at London Bridge and are replaced by a small number of older people, an Asian family and some Dutch tourists. They do little more than cross the river – by Bank there are maybe twelve left on the whole bus.

Delay at Moorgate as the road is reduced to single track by a tower crane lifting airconditioning units up a building. If I had had my camera out of my bag at the time I could have taken a photo of one going up maybe a metre from the upstairs window I was sitting at. I suppose it was safe…

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The big metal arches over Old Street Station loom at the top of Moorgate like the famous tusks in Mombasa (which I’ve seen) or Saddam’s crossed swords at Baghdad (which I haven’t buy we all know them from telly). Except that, this being London, they aren’t some bombastic nationalist statement – we gave up building those in the 1920s – but the support for a giant advertising hoarding.

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Back into residential areas north of Old Street, and things take a turn for the poorer (thoug not a s poor as Lewisham and New Cross – not that the houses are any different, similar Edwardian “villas” and slightly older terraces of three or even four story houses – but the people and the cars seem more prosperous). And they still have joggers in this part of the world. White middle class ones who look sane. Down south half the joggers look like they are in training for boxing and half the rest shout religious slogans at you. Or is that just Loampit Vale?

Of the bus at Newington Green and walk around for a little. Lots of apparently 30-something women with flowery dresses, some of them wearing flowery dresses. Turkish bakeries and pastry shops and four or five cafes or bars with green or organic style, some with blues music coming out. Some Turkish people hanging around (this time I know they are Turkish Cypriot because I hear them talking in a mixture of Turkish and English) , a few of them drinking cans of lager. One of them a scruffy overweight middle-aged woman with a shaved head wearing a Judge Dredd T-shirt, shouting and drinking Holsten Pils. If this is the mythical Londonistan, these guys are going native pretty fast. Two teenage girls, also Turkish I think, long black wavy hair. wearing pretty dresses and figure-revealing tight black T-shirts and huge hoop ear-rings.

Another bus, and north towards Wood Green. We’re moving very slowly in a traffic jam. Horse chestnut in flower at Clissold Park. For me this is a trip back in time. I tend to associate different parts of London with different times. Brownswood Road and the are the late 1980s but the water tower and the New River are the early 80s or even late 70s. Views of the Stoke Newington reservoirs on the other side of a council estate – glimpses of dinghy sails at the ends of short streets. If I remember correct there used to be huge houses that were run-down cheap hotels, and the HQs of small charities and political organisations. And it seems I do – some o them are still here though a lot have been redeveloped into posh flats. And the ethnic mix changes again – Greeks alongside Turks, more Africans, and the Asians seem to be Muslims rather than Hindu.

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I get off and walk around somewhere between Palmer’s Green and Bound’s Green for a bit, then get on a 232 bus to see where it goes and write up some notes on what I just saw. One bad thing about looking at London from the top of a moving bus is that the notes I took on the bus from Wood Green onwards are illegible… apparently there is something interesting about the Wood Green Spiritualist Church and a little Anglican parish hall nearby – but I can’t remember or decipher what it was 🙁 There is a huge “Assembly Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses”. Why not “Kingdom Hall”? Most of their buildings seem to be Kingdom Halls. Is is some sort of regional centre, a Watchtower Cathedral? Or a social rather than a religious institution? Or just a different name?

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And round the North Circular – which isn’t one of the scenic parts of London and is one of the noisier and smellier – and off the bis again at Henly’s Corner on Finchley road where the trouble is getting over the road. as the cars come fast and at irregular intervals and there are vast complex but obscure systems of pedestrian routings to the traffic lights on the Great North Way, but in the end I find them and launch myself into the north-eastern reaches of Hendon. Which get very boring very quickly, so I sneak off down a side street and find myself walking amongst suburban houses that look as if they were built for Pooter’s grandchildren – bank clerks and taxi drivers. But I think the area has gone upmarket since then. You can tell the people by the cars. A lot of them seem strangely similar. If not identical. Some driveways have two identical cars – same model, same year, same upholstery, same colour. Unisex taken to extreme? Or company cars. They are all very clean as well. Clean enough that they look as if someone gets paid to clean them. Some of the gardens look as if people get paid to tidy them as well. One or two have signs with the phone number of the company that does it.

There are houses with odd extensions, and strangely massive gateways and fences, and obvious alarm systems, A lot of the place seems to have been upmarketed [can I say that? “upgraded” sounds wrong] beyond the expectations of the original builders. Its as if the people who live there are living a packaged corporate lifestyle that really wants more space. But this near to London that kind of space comes REALLY expensive.The streets are narrower than the cars in them want to be in. Mercedes, BMWs, Range Rovers. One Maserati. How many people keep Maseratis in the street?

The cultural mix? I hardly see anyone. Apart from a couple of dodgy dog walkers, and one bloke who looks like a bodyguard, there aren’t many people in these streets. Some family parties getting into and out of cars. Most white, some Asian, hardly any black. I think I hear Eastern European accents. If forced to guess I’d guess mostly Jewish.

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Another turn back towards the main road – the A1 approaching M1 Junction 2 – and the whole feel changes again. The houses are still mostly 1920s or 1930s mock-tudorbethan, or 1960s and 1970s imitations of those imitations, with a sprinkling of places that look like they were designed by genuine architects, and a few 1990s brick boxes, but the few visible people are suddenly almost all Asian. There is a man who smiles at me from a car as he waits at a pedestrian crossing, an old lady in a sari waiting on a doorstep, two young Indian-looking women stepping out of a car driven by a man with a turban and a huge beard. And a very large house with a sign saying “Mirpuri Lodge”.

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Dodge round a corner and into a very nice park called Sunny Hill Park. It is sunny and there are hills. People walking dogs, kids playing football, twenty-somethings playing tennis, families with babies, the usual suspects.

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Its getting hot and I haven’t eaten since a cup of tea and a couple of biscuits at church seven hours ago. There ought to be a cafe. There is a cafe, the Sunnyhill Cafe. The food is kosher – it says so on the menu – there are fizzy drinks with Hebrew writing on the cans, and the waiters are mostly very friendly-looking blonde women with Eastern European accents. I have a huge sloppy felafel salad and pitta. I can hear the noise of the cars on the M1.

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It takes quite a while and about half a mile of walking to negotiate the subway under Watford Way and find a walking route through shedlands around the motoway junction and a pedestrian bridge over the motorway and the mainline railway out of Euston. At that finally brings me to Grahame Park.

There’s not actually that much to say about Grahame Park. Its big. Its divided into a few districts each with a different style of building. Mostly low-rise high-density brick-build sub-brutalist flats with a few large medium-rise slabs or spines and quite a lot or more ordinary newer houses round the outskirts. Its penetrable navigable on foot. Its not exactly pretty but its a damn sight better-looking than a lot of other such places. Most of the streets and blocks are named after things to do with aircraft. Is this the site of the old Hendon Airport? I can’t say I felt at all scared. And to the person who said it was a no-go area because of all the evil Somalis around, all I can say is they must have been somewhere else that day.

I didn’t manage to take many photos because there were people around for a change. Kids playing in the street. And I tend not to take photos of kids playing in the street on the foolish principle that some people don’t like strange middle-aged men hanging round taking pictures of their children. And most of the few photos I took seem to have just got messed up by me trying to upload them to Flickr on the day my subscription ran out… maybe more later.

By 7pm I’m on Edgware Road and looking for a pub. There are lots of pubs. It takes a while to find one that sells real ale and doesn’t have lots of crap music coming of of it.

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I am the only customer. The two barmaids are very pleasant Australians. I realise that when in a strange bit of London I avoid exactly the sort of pubs I frequent in my own bit of London.

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And a bus down to Kilburn Park Station and being reminded just what a nightmare of tunnels and staircases it is to get out of the Bakerloo Line at Elephant and Castle station by the Walworth Road exit.

6 thoughts on “Pseudo-aleatoric traverse of North London by bus.

  1. I had to Google “aleatoric” — great word.

    And what Jack wrote. You not only have an eye for detail, but your writing transported me there — as if I was seeing it with my own eyes. Thank you.

  2. If I did I’d have to get out of the habit of writing at 4am! As well s the ordinary typos that post has a whole paragraph missing and a couple of sentences in the wrong order. I think an edit is soon called for!

  3. Hey, you came to Newington Green and didn’t come and see me. That’s not on. I’d’ve made you a nice cuppa.

  4. I came across this while googling something else entirely. A South Londoner, I loved it – true art Ken. Seriously.

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