Friday, March 20th, 2009
So London, the calm between two storms. The first of which was a month spent touring up one side of the UK and down the other. The storm to come was a grueling month in Europe with the noble savage Jamey Bainer. (Another time.)
I had a week off in London and it was just what I needed. Rain on the cobbles. Eating Turkish pide bread or chips wrapped in pita and staring up at old buildings or out the second-story window at the buses and taxis and scooters racing by. There were walks through Highgate Woods, rare sunny hours on the back balcony, and long afternoons alone in the house drinking red wine and listening to Ben demo new F**k Buttons songs from upstairs.
I came to Couch End in the London borough of Haringey broke and unsure of myself and tired of pretty much everything you can be tired of. The tour took it out of me—the whole year did. I was homesick and I was unhealthy and generally superstitious, pessimistic, and scared to death of the new year ahead. I left feeling centered and right with myself. This is what a good place can do for you.
Crouch End sprung up in the 1300s but wasn’t a legit town until the railroads made it accessible for commuters 500 years later. According to A True History of Crouch End (out of print) “Many years ago, the Crouch was a wide sleepy river winding gently through wooded hills and peaceful valleys on its long journey south from the Watford gap to the Thames. On its way, it passed through a quiet vale bounded by meadows, where a small community of shepherds and farmers tended the land and their flocks, occasionally, but unsuccessfully, fishing in the river or hunting for deer or bear in the hills.”
The place had a quiet history until money came into the equation. Says A True History authors Brian Price and Roger Hayman, centuries later “the area became famous—or infamous—as the location of the first recorded gold rush in Britain. A grizzled peasant called Cedric was looking for a stray ram in the Muswell Hills when he discovered several small nuggets of gold in the gravel on the bank of the Crouch … [however] the gold found by Cedric was [eventually] revealed to be fillings from the teeth of an ancient monk, slaughtered by one of the many bands of marauding Vikings.”
Crouch End is my favorite part of London because it doesn’t feel like London. It’s not hectic or crowded and you don’t feel trapped in on all sides by bodies and cars and buildings and motion. The place I stayed was a nice spacious flat above a Turkish shop. It had a claw-foot tub, a big lounge, good lighting, and rooms full of people doing impressive things at all hours of the day and night. Besides myself, it was Al English, the guitarist from my tour-mates Youthmovies, his brother James who works with Al at ATP, Sim who also works for ATP and runs the label I’m on, and Ben Power who’s one half of F**k Buttons. There was always someone to sit and watch Hollyoaks (terrible) with and there was always somebody to talk me out of working to go walk around the city with them.
But I got work done nonetheless. With Al and James off doing ATP label stuff, Sim meeting with Nick Cave to plan ATP’s Australian festival, and Ben flying out to do one-off shows in Greece and Northern Europe, I had a lot of time to sit on the couch and write or take down tablature, or just stand at the big windows, zone out at the neighboring rooftops and plan my 2009. New president. New start. New life.
It’s the alone time I remember best—a good part of it I spent walking around Crouch End and falling in love with its hilly twisting streets and the general feeling of being anonymous and small and caught up in someone else’s world for a while. I rode a lot of buses and trains and I took a lot of long walks into the rich part of town where all the houses are palaces and noblesse oblige reigns high.
The city was busy around rush hour, but mostly it was slow and mellow and easy to disappear into. I had the feeling of being in old London, London before technology and congestion and a surging population made it into the beast it is now.
There were wild times too. On my final night in town a bunch of got together and proclaimed big toasts over fake champagne and drank wine like Vikings and celebrated our brotherhood by throwing bottles out the window at Pizza Hut’s shop windows across Broadway.
The final bit of joyous mindlessness came when I talked Al and James into legally changing their names over the internet. Sixty quid out of my merch bag later and James became “James Quintessentially English” and, his brother, “Alan Broken English.” A good way to end my stay.
All told, Crouch End and I got along well. We’re buddies, deep down. I love its kebab shops and I love the Henry Reader Williams memorial Clock Tower. I love its ethnic markets and the gentle slope of the hill, and the top spires of St. Mary’s in Hornsey.
When you travel a lot you tend to find second homes and I’m claiming the Couch—here and now—as mine.
Crouch End Notes:
1. From Wikipedia: “In the 1990s Dave Steward of the Eurythmics had a recording studio on Crouch Hill. According to legend, he invited Bob Dylan to drop in any time he felt like it. Bob took him up on his offer, but the taxi driver dropped him off on the adjacent Crouch End Hill. Bob knocked on the door of the supposed home of Dave Stewart and asked for Dave. By coincidence, the plumber who lived there was also called Dave. He was told that Dave was out, and would he like to wait and have some tea? Twenty minutes later the plumber returned and asked his wife whether there were any messages. ‘No’, she said, ‘but Bob Dylan’s in the living room having a cup of coffee’.”
2. Crouch End is supposedly a huge minor celebrity watching place. I asked who everybody’s seen and couldn’t place any of the names besides Simon Pegg who shot Shawn of the Dead in the neighborhood. Ho Chi Mihn supposedly spent some time in Crouch End a million years ago which would’ve been an interesting run-in. Would you recognize Ho Chi Mihn if he walked past you on the street totally out of context? Think about it.
3. David’s Supermarket on Broadway is the greatest mini-market/shop/grocery I have ever been to. A small sampling of the things I needed and found at David’s: a pocket-size sewing kit, clear packing tape, scotch tape (they gave me their own roll from behind the counter), Italian red wine, Turkish bread, challah bread, shoelaces, BiC lighters, miniature bananas, best stuffed grape leaves I’ve ever had, best stuffed cabbage leaves I’ve ever had, pomegranates, marinated canned eggplant, a small pair of scissors, industrial-size garage bags, Walker’s potato crisps, roasted cashews without peanut oil, Purdey’s (see below), and legit hummus in multiple flavors.
4. Crouch End is the one place in England I could consistently find my favorite drink, Purdey’s Rejuvenation, a spiced fruit juice full of ginseng, damiana leaf extract, and other strange revitalizing magics. I drank about fourteen a day and felt like a champ.
BIO: Adam Gnade's (guh nah dee) work is released as a series of books and records that share characters and themes; the fiction writing continuing plot-lines left open by the self-described "talking songs" in an attempt to compile a vast, detailed, interconnected, personal history of contemporary American life. Check out recent writing here and songs here. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org