Drawing the Boundary - Elaine Arkell's account of Camden Boundary Walk 2


Drawing the Boundary by Elaine Arkell (31st December 2008)

Itís a dank, overcast freezing morning and I wonder why Iíve decided to go out for a long urban walk, instead of trying to gatecrash New Yearís Eve parties.

I arrive at Holborn, bang on time, take my usual exit and decide whether the group of people before me are the advance troops, they are not speaking English, so I decide to look for Calum round the corner. There he is with Daniel, a sign and nobody else, the Bothy Man isnít there. Greetings over, we wait for others, Claire a Librarian arrives. More greetings and Calum decides we are the group for this stage, we are meeting Deej on Tottenham Court Road.

For the first time I see the new Keeley House, it looks grim, not a patch on the old one, with wonderful worn spiral staircase to the secret garden outside the home of Uncle Frankís Tuesday Soiree studio. I took a red geranium cutting from the garden on the sly when I knew the building was going to be demolished, about 8 years ago now. I took more cuttings from that cutting, gave one to the man on Richford Street when he built his plant contraption out of street wood and two more up to MoDA in 2007, one is planted out in our front garden.

The three of us wait for Calum as he returns to Urban Outfitters to look for his dropped notebook, three smokers eye us up outside the cafť, we talk the Dewey system, outraged that the 646ís precede the 001ís, we muse on M, what if it was moved to the place before A?

Calum leads us past the Ivy, I still donít know if I met Robert Elms at the bus stop opposite Holborn tube, both of us horribly late, on route to elsewhere, me to Borough him to the Ivy. He really should have got off at the same bus stop as me and cut through Seven Dials, one day weíll meet again on the 391 or 295 and he can tell me. He said he liked my spirit.

At the Tottenham pub, I think itís the pub my aunt used to run in the war, with the Spivey Uncle Harry, of course I got that wrong it was the Coach and Horses on Charing Cross Road and the other pubs were the Kings Arms on Great Titchfield Street, the Welsh Harp in Finchley Rd and the White Harp in West Ham, where my mum had a crush on the drummer and Russell Thorndike split up with my grandma because of the Knight family.

On Cleveland Street. Ghosts come to mind, Chris, somewhere round the corner, fellow 9.9er, and pyramid believer and part instigator of the High Times and inaugurator of Glastonbury.

Marco meets us as we read out-of-date papers, still fresh in plastic wrappers, Daniel briefs us on our horoscopes, three virgos, one pisces and an aquarian accounted for.

Skirting around Regentís Park, we attempt to join the Zoological Library and use the very nice toilets there, closed, advised to come back Monday.

Daniel declares he thinks all giraffes look female, as we steal a glimpse into the zoo.

We enter the land of gerrymandering, Dame Shirley Porterís contribution to the history of Westminster council housing, in my minds eye I recall Peteís rowing boat protest photo. Down to Abbey Road and a choice of eating establishments, distribute the found Islamic literature, life, death, profanity, in three easy to read instalments. It's the Al Hambra that captures the imagination as we head north, past mosques and public libraries, buy-on- get-one free at the £1 shop, up north itís the everything 50p sale.

I used to work at F&M, we didnít have sales, sales were considered vulgar, we had reductions, Primark has reductions.

A group of men stare out at us from the stripped remains of Woolworths.

This is Shoot Up Hill.

The route takes us off the main drag, around a cul-deĖsac type place, re-trace steps, discover a free library balanced atop a recycling bin conveniently located on the brow of a hill, an unfranked stamp, Japanese diary, its gifts all round. A tennis ball for Memphis.

Follow a public footpath, posh playing fields and pavilions, Calum tells me his family history, I think of the Goldsmith in Broadstairs, one time merchant seaman, expert horologist seeking a new wife. I know I wouldnít walk along here after dark alone, past the bench with the totally uninspiring vista, why there?

On through the cemetery, the Star of David on the archway, on north, Westminster left behind, this is Brent. Emerge to Finchley Road and the Kings College Halls of Residence, the light is still out in the second house along, it had been on everytime I passed it on the 450, part of me hankering to get inside the huge house. Cake time as the light starts to fail and the cold bites the edges, Daniel is limping, where next, check out the iced planning notice on a lamp post to confirm whereabouts.

Not far now, up another gennel, round the corner to houses that are reminiscent of Harrow-on-the Hill, home to Plymouth Brethren, why there we muse.

Calum and Marco evaporated, we return, they pop out where we were, a romantic encounter as Marco dashes across the zebra crossing to hug Rose. Surely she isnít wearing enough, the frost looked like a magic kingdom in Golders Hill Park, the island of breath on Marcoís scarf testament to the cold.

Ramble through the woods as the light fades into night, no torch, precipices, bogs, fallen trees, flashes of light somewhere off in the woods, out to roadside, puppet show at Spaniardís End, disappointed its just a flower stall.

Blind bend to negotiate and we arrive, mission accomplished.


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