Saturday, June 13, 2009

The joys of suburbhood

This one has been cooking for a few days.

Number One daughter (i.e. neither the Earth Mother nor the Pert Little Piece) communicates from self-imposed exile in the Tri-State Region.

She has noticed a piece by Amanda Kolson Hurley, and also on-line, in Architect Magazine:
Crit: The Bard of Muswell Hill
The Kinks' Ray Davies brought a love of traditional English places to '60s rock and roll.
The significance of this is that Number One Daughter and the Earth Mother are Muswell Hillbillies by early adoption, while the Pert Little Piece has known no other status. Which, perhaps, makes them at least equal claimants to Côtes de Muswell appellation d'origine contrôlée as Ray Davies (who arrived via the East End and -- heaven help him -- East Finchley; and never came closer than Fortis Green -- which is N2 and not the full-bore N10).

Redfellow Hovel sits immediately across the road from the heave of the terminal moraine of the last Great Ice Age. This is just as well, because the houses that side of the street have subsidence problems (the natural complication of shallow Edwardian footings, a desirable elevated position and London clay).

Which means the Hovel is just round the corner from the alleged residence of one of the original members of the Davies musical experience. The local secondary is Fortismere, direct successor to Davies's William Grimshaw School. Since Fortismere is about the only secondary in the Borough of Haringey to which the local bourgeouisie feel they can entrust their spawn, the fester of estate agencies regard this "catchment area" as a feature. Hence, the concluding sentences of Hurley's article are:
Muswell Hill is now one of the more desirable neighborhoods in London (it can hardly be considered a suburb, given London's outward growth over the past 40 years). Houses like the one Davies bought for a mere 9,000 pounds (about $14,000) can command more than a million today. Maybe one type of conformity—that of granite countertops and closets stuffed with designer suits, some in gray, no doubt—has simply replaced another.
Well, Ms Hurley (no relation, one hopes), Malcolm assures you:
  • Muswell Hill is most definitely a suburb, nay -- one of the prime urban villages that make up the interesting and habitable bits of London.
  • Most of the growth of "London" (depending on which definition one accepts) took place long before forty years ago. In fact the borders of "Greater London" and the Metropolitan area were firmly fixed in 1965.
  • House prices, once the staple of dinner-table conversation, are no longer a burning issue (unless one is trying to sell). Even so, the glossy advertising supplement, once a weekly occurrence, may be less frequent, but still continue.
  • Anyway, N10 is more "unstructured" or M&S than "designer suit" country.
Even in our urban paradise, however, one element remains missing. We have our M&S, our organic supermarket. We have a terrific bookshop, specialist foodstores including the unchanging W.Martyn (a national treasure). What we still want, what we really really want, is our own Waitrose. That, among the aspirant classes, is the ultimate symbol of arrival.

Ms Hurley may want further to muse on songs about strawberry jam and Tudor houses. Little of Muswell Hill fits the mock-Tudor image. It is rich red-brick, slate-roofed turn-of-the-Victorian era through to solid 1920s Arts & Crafts, with only occasional left-over in-fills (and the odd post-war, post Luftwaffe rebuild). Malcolm could suggest to Ms Hurley a better case in point. To be precise, a rather fine Arts and Crafts mansion, and music at least as quintessentially English as the People's Ray. Admittedly from nearer the other end of the N10/N2 social spectrum: Fairport Convention.

But, hey! In his trips across the great US of A, Malcolm repeatedly encounters souls who are intimately acquainted with Muswell Hill. The more bizarre of those encounters were:
  • Sheltering from a thunder storm in Estes Park, in a t-shirt shop, discussing the origins and influences of Davies and the Kinks;
  • Chatting with a commuter in New Jersey, who had spent the previous fortnight living about two hundred yards from Redfellow Hovel.
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1 comment:

Dewi Harries said...

Wonderful stuff

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