Thursday, 30 September 2021

View from the Hill, a 70s London childhood. The Broadway.

On my last post I wandered off following some memory that had suddenly prodded me. I had wanted to describe the actual hill of Muswell Hill and its aforementioned (70s) view, so will now.

If one stood at the edge of the hill near the bus and taxi rank, London in all its myriad of greys would stretch out dizzyingly, the vague forms of distant hills just visible, and of course the magical form of the Post Office Tower, where Andrea's dad was said to have dined out in the revolving restaurant. My God! Such exotic behaviour! But these were the times when going to Spain for a holiday was not unlike Mr Branson's space jaunt - impossible to imagine for anyone I or Mum knew, although I think Andrea's family did go to Benidorm, and they had a colour television. The view from the hill now looks very different with the clutch of steel and glass, gherkin, walkie-talkie and fat penguin edifices rising in the city's middle.

I was conscious of the view from other points too such as the top room of my friend's house just down from the milk depot and from the kitchen of a flat which was the top floor of Midland bank. Like so many early childhood memories, I now have no idea who the people were that inhabited the place, other than I was dropped off there sometimes when I was about five or six while Mum did . . . something. Worked? socialised? I know there was a large wooden canoe hung on the hallway wall and that two of the boys hated me.  I did once ask Mum about who the family were but she couldn't recall either so it remains a small mystery, but enough to make me wonder whenever I see a Midland bank - or not as they are now HSBC. 

My aforementioned friend's abode was possibly a hoarders house; typically, as a child I just accepted it as how it was but looking back now, the unwashed pans from multiple lunches of tinned macaroni cheese, drifts of books, newspapers, clothes and heaps of unspecified items was possibly unusual. Her mother appeared to possess two records - A night on a bare mountain by Mussorgsky, and King of The Road by Roger Miller. I only have to hear 'Trailers for sale or rent...' and I'm back in that fusty room with its distant view of 60s tower blocks.

One of my strongest memories of the hill was sitting in a cavernous (or it seemed to my seven or so year old self) café which used to occupy a space to the top left of the hill as you came up from Holloway. The place was always thronged with people and waitresses; possibly one of the last Lyons tearooms? Mum would afford us a rare tea and cake and I would sit looking up at the electric bar fires that were suspended in the roofing; an orange glow as warming as Heinz tomato soup on a chilly day. One time when we were sharing a table, the other occupier seeing me drawing something in my book (probably a cat or a dinosaur) offered to teach me about perspective. I wish I had kept the napkin on which he had drawn a railway line, train cables, trees and fences, streaking away and as complex as a Uccello painting.    

We also used to very occasionally frequent the Lantern Café for tea and that sort of butter-soaked white toast that only certain cafés can fabricate, and something that Mum would never allow at home, brown bread being the only healthy option. The Lantern was the sort of eatery that is now a rarity; a place of dark wood, red checked tablecloths, cottagy pictures - warmth, safeness, things shunned from our current restaurant styling of over-lit, sterile grey and white. I suspect as world events compound in complexity the checked table cloths and candles in bottles elements will return...

Cafés apart, another establishment of many memories still stands on the Broadway, Martyns the dry goods grocer. Thankfully untouched by modernisation, its handsome black and cream facade and large windows display a wonderment of dried fruits, cakes, biscuites, speciality teas and so much more. Back in the 70s, Mum, as mentioned in the last post, didn't have much of a food budget (Marmite was a real luxury) but she allowed herself coffee beans and sultanas from Martyns. I would stand in the shop like Charlie Bucket and breathe in the smell from the roasting machine as the beans shoosed and rattled around in their pierced metal drum. I've visited the shop on numerous occasions during my adult life London-wanderings and have marvelled as I've bought a bag of dried pears or peaches at how nothing, really nothing seems to have changed in the shop since I was a kid; a strange unaltered miniature world amongst the continually altering city.

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