The Null Device
A Melburnian view of North London geography
Your Humble Narrator has recently arrived in North London, and has made the following observations:
- Holloway Road's closest Melbourne equivalent would be Sydney Rd., Brunswick. Grungy, downmarket, and running north-south through various working-class areas. (I think it's the street the record shop in High Fidelity is meant to be on, which basically is a way of saying that it'd be a small, obscure and struggling sort of place). There are no fashionable shops (except perhaps one near the Highbury end, which sells Ben Sherman gear rather cheaply), lots of bargain shops, discount phone-card vendors, internet cafés (the going rate seems to be £1/hour), halal fried chicken shops (the confluence of Islamic food-preparation doctrines and American-style fried chicken, often named after randomly-selected US states, is one of those puzzling artefacts of contemporary Britain, but I digress), and the odd McDonalds (though no Prets; that would be too posh). And most, but not all, of the shops have shutters (probably suggesting that the area used to be a no-go zone blacklisted by insurance companies, though has improved somewhat recently), usually covered with aerosol art. There are plenty of beggars, gnarled-looking trolls, working the streets; every cash machine seems to have an "attendant" sitting down beside it, ready to claim his perceived share of the privileged users' largesse.
- I've heard it claimed that Upper Street, Islington, is roughly equivalent to Chapel Street. Or possibly Brunswick Street, though probably not: Brunswick Street would probably be Camden High Street without the market; William Gibson called it the "Children's Crusade".
- North London seems like a rougher environment than inner Melbourne. There's a faint vibe of aggression in the streets, evident in groups of hard-looking youths. And then there are the local community newspapers: where the inner-Melbourne papers go on about insufficient community health-care funding and insensitive high-rise apartment developments, the papers here talk about gay-bashing youth gangs and muggings in broad daylight, and you know you're in a grittier, more hard-edged reality. Keep moving, don't make eye contact, and try not to look like a soft target.
- Highbury (which is east of Holloway Road) is a pleasant, village-like place; small shops and restaurants, leafy streets and a quiet atmosphere. The area around Highbury Grove/Blackstock Road (or A1201; given how often British roads' names change, most major ones are known by a number instead) and near Arsenal football stadium in particular seems rather pleasant.
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