Met the excellent and unique Nick Papadimitriou for coffee the other night. We hooked up in Hampstead in the only place where you could meet in NW3 without feeling nauseatingly bourgeois (for the record I love Hampstead, I’m just bitter that I can’t afford to live there). The Coffee Cup in the High Street claims to be the oldest Coffee House in London, a spurious claim considering that The Jerusalem Tavern in Clerkenwell served coffee to Samuel Johnson and is still in business albeit as a pub (I’m sure you can still get a coffee), but it’s tatty, dusty and unpretentious. Nick seems to know everybody who walks through the door.
We inevitably end up talking about what Nick refers to as “our specialisation”. Well he’s certainly a specialist, the one and only true Deep Topographer, I didn’t want to confess to him that I’m not sure what if anything my specialisation is. I mention that I now walk along Fleet Road on my way home from work. Nick says, “I hate the Fleet. It’s like Whitechapel.” There’s no answer to that. It’s what makes Nick unique and brilliant, statements like that. (Browse the archives of this blog and you’ll find plenty of references to the area around the banks of The Fleet - l have a deep bond to that territory that I used to walk in the dusk on my way back from the South Bank).
We’re both a bit weary but we have to have a walk no matter how short. “Do you fancy a walk to Golders Green?”, knowing that this will not just be a schlep along the A502 to the tube station I can’t say no.
Nick takes me into Sandy Wood first off. There’s a chance we’ll encounter some cottaging as Nick did the other day on Mill Hill Golf Course when he emerged from a concrete water channel to find an overweight man in a beige thong eying him up, who took one look and scampered off. We discuss how cottagers manage to feel a moral superiority over psychogeographers, nobody who rummages around in woods and public loos should feel any kind of moral superiority over anyone, we don’t, dog walkers can be a bit sniffy too.
Sandy Wood is beautiful, a revelation for me. Self-proclaimed ‘professional pedestrian’ John Hillaby used to walk here with Sir Christopher Andrewes, “the distinguished virologist and a much travelled man”, and exchanged notes on the flora and fauna of London.
Nick takes me over the road to show me the Heath extension and the Seven Sisters, he tells me this is his favourite part of the Heath. We pass two middle aged men in blazers, “Evening”, I say. No reply. “John couldn’t you tell? They look like members of The Jewish Ramblers, the alert will be sent out. Tregaskis will be after us.”
We enter the Garden Suburb. I’ve never been here before. Will Self grew up here. It’s a strange old place. It reminds me of a very nice inter-war council estate.
Soon we’re at Golders Green. I see The Refectory Arms, and remark that it looks a bit rough. “Hendrix played there. So did Crème.” There is no such thing as an ordinary walk with Nick.