Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sunset and Camden Town

When Dewi Harries reminds us of Ray Davies's magnificent song, Waterloo Sunset, it shouldn't be hidden in a footnoted comment. In another of those daft "polls", Q Magazine in 2005 rated this the second best British song of all time (behind A Day in the Life).

Malcolm notes that Dewi chose one of the later, mature, versions: Davies and unplugged 12-string at Glastonbury. None of the YouTube clips seem to have the full-on impact of the original 1967 release (see the Last fm link or look in the attic for your -- or your Dad's -- Something Else album). As the song (like all of us) mellows into the autumn of its years, it has become less driving, more reflective, more elegiac.

A view from the Bridge

Certainly it's one of the great London songs, though Time Out also gave it second billing, behind that Tube-busker standard, Ralph McTell's Streets of London (which definitely works better without the celestial choir):

Davies celebrates one of those sights that few Londoners, though most tourists who come fresh to the Smoke, see and treasure. There are nearly 2,000 piccies on Flickr which are tagged "Waterloo Sunset": many are actually relevant. "Waterloo Sunset" was the title for Eurostar's switch to St Pancras in November 2007 (Lily Allen got the song, and, reportedly and wisely, stuck tenaciously to the Davies delivery).

One of the early employments of Number One Daughter involved incarceration in the "Juke Box", that preposterous office-block erection atop Charing Cross Station. That lent enchantment to the the view.

Later, the leisures of retirement meant that Malcolm had the liberty (and the Freedom Pass) to go tripping. He has to admit it is only in recent months that he has discovered the Overground routes to and from Kentish Town, and so crossing Blackfriars Bridge. In the evening, with the sun setting behind the gothic spikiness of Westminster, it's quite a sight. Equally, twice in the last couple of years, he revisited the forgotten experience, last done on a paddle steamer around 1948: a river-boat down the Thames. Ray Davies's Terry and Julie wouldn't be seeing, nor smelling, the "Dirty Old River" so much these days, as they wisely return to the northern shore and civilisation:
Where they feel safe and sound.
Ah, Ray Davies knows which side of the River he belongs.

Nostalgia (they don't make songs the way they used to)

There is a huge emotional boost for Malcolm in these songs. They were current at a time when his life revolved around a wee Bannside babe who was then living in Hampstead, NW3.

To Malcolm's continuing bestaggerment, she stayed around to be the progenetrix, well-spring, guide, philosopher and friend of Daughter Number One, the Earth Mother and the Pert Young Piece. And to continue directing the affairs of Redfellow Hovel.

Which raises the Great Norf Lunnun Problem [GNLP].

This is best summed up by the Alan Klein/Geoff Stephens lyric for the New Vaudeville Band, back in 1966 (and, astoundingly not one of the Time Out Top Fifty London songs):
Finchley Central is two and sixpence
From Golders Green on the Northern Line.
Now, the Northern Line has improved, but that's a matter of degree. In those days the rolling stock was pre-war, signalling was Edwardian, and punctuality and reliability were ... not taken seriously. The lifts at Hampstead tube station were venerable antiques: since Hampstead is the deepest tube station on the network, that involved too-frequent resource to the 320+ stairs up to street level.

Even today getting anywhere on the two forks of the Northern Line involves the dubious joys of a change at Camden Town, where you are truly at one with your neighbour (who is invariably an odiferous alky nutter). And time. For example, Redfellow Hovel to the Flask (the remaining Young's pub in Hampstead, just behind the tube station, convenient for Waterstone's genteel book emporium) involves a 134 bus to Archway Tower, four stops to Camden Town, change platform, three stops back up the other fork to Hampstead. Not less than 45 minutes.

Yes, there is a direct bus route: the infamous 603, Twice in the morning, before 8 a.m.. Twice back in the afternoon. Weekdays only. Yeah: another of the loud-trumpeted achievements of Lynne Featherstone. It's the school run, for heaven's sake. Useless otherwise for man or beast.

Logically, the 102 to the rose red city half as Golders Green, double back on the tube might work. Except the 210 and Golders Green tube are variable feasts at weekends. Or the 134/43 to Archway, then the 210 to Jack Straw's Castle (another pub lost and gone) and a long hike down Heath Street. Or, and this seems to be the best, the 134 to Kentish Town and the 46 back up to the Village. As for all of that: sane it ain't.

The pity of it ...

... is the distance it puts between Malcolm and a decent pint.

Hampstead has lost many decent watering-holes. Jack Straw's (well, never a favourite, to be honest) is now over-priced yuppie apartments. The Nag's Head (once upon a time The Cruel Sea, the final evening resting place of many a resting thespian, then the first CAMRA-owned pub) declined into a curry house, and so goes lost and unlamented into memory. The Horse and Groom (a.k.a. the "Remorse and Gloom", where Malcolm was once sandwiched at the bar by Kingsley Amis and Victoria Wood, both silent, remorseful and begloomed) was once a good Young's house, now some species of ethnic diner.

That still leaves the Flask for Young's Special (and seasonal Winter Warmer), still Malcolm's resort of choice, though recently given an unnecessary (except for the jakes) make over. Then there's the Holly Bush (an Ind Coope house that still sports a Benskins sign) for a range of guest ales, well worth the Alpine climb, which hasn't been made-over for two centuries. Or the worthy Old White Bear in Well Road for a decent choice and a reasonably civilised environment, though not as "Old" as it affects. And, to be avoided unless desperate, the barn of the Freemasons, and the William IV (unless, dear boy, you're that way inclined). Sphere: Related Content

1 comment:

Dewi Harries said...

Nice Malcolm - and now get back to your pantheon!! Perhaps inappropriate but I'd include Collins in a "What might have been if he hadn't got shot" type of Robert Harris style thingy. Childers another "C" of course.....
Dirty Old River...

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