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sunday in “the spiritual home of britain’s left-wing intelligentsia”

with 18 comments

I’m not sure exactly why I’m driven to record my familal jaunts, my Sundays, in bland photoessays on here. The one I wrote two weeks ago worked out pretty well, so whatever, I’ll keep doing it and see what happens.

We had no plans when we woke up this morning. Today is my sleep-late day and I actually made it to 9 AM, which is rare. I’m headed into old man territory, very suddenly, with my sleep patterns. For my entire adult life, I’ve gone to bed only begrudgingly before 2 AM, and while work often mandated an early rise, if permitted I’d sleep fairly late. All of a sudden, in the last few months, I’m down before midnight and up before the alarm rings, generally no later than 7 AM.

We had no plans. It suddenly strikes me that Sunday afternoons, and what you do with them, might be read in the same way that one reads a dream. Left to one’s own devices, without the pressures of work (even if the mandate to mind children remains) one’s leisure choices form patterns that sometimes are only discernable after the fact, and sometime not really discernable at all.

I don’t really know why I woke with a strong desire to go to Islington, to Upper Street to be exact. We’d passed through on the bus a few months ago, and it’s not all that far from our house. And we’ve been around Angel for various reasons (me for Kinofist what seems like a long, long time ago and both of us together to buy couches when we moved into our place). But never to Upper Street. It’d take changing buses at Finsbury Park to get there, but buses are easier than the Underground, as we are always a large and heavily encumbered party-of-four at this point.

At the busstop near my house, we couldn’t take the first bus that came by, as there were already two strollers onboard. Another nine minutes. So I walked away to have a cigarette. When I returned my wife was having “the smoking talk” with my oldest. Ah me. Bet you my remaining days of nicotene-tint are few and getting fewer all the time. It’s just what happens, isn’t it… I suppose it’s for the best.

Ah there we are. Upper Street. There’s a farmers market on Sundays behind Islington Town Hall, but we didn’t want to keep the produce all day in the heat, so we bought nothing but pastries. The place was loaded with Americans – another woman with her own set of two kids was dropping her purchases into a Trader Joe’s bag, which made us chuckle – fucking Californians! Our own bag comes from a co-op in the rust-belt city where we lived before all this – and almost certainly marks us as academics in the Expat staring contests that occur constantly in neighborhood like this one.

A few minutes later my wife and the kids ducked into a children’s store and I had a cigarette out on the street, and took the photo that appears above. A second later, I turned to the right, and saw….. this:

Mexican food! In London! I’ve had it exactly once in the more than 1.5 years I’ve been here. It simply doesn’t exist as a food category here – there’s like a total of eight places in the entire city, and generally if you look one up and head there you find that it’s closed for one reason or another. I bounded back to the wife, who was coming out of the shop, wildly pointing toward, yes, that! And yelling, yes, yes I will, yes we will eat there! Yes! But she reminded me, though, that it was only 10:45 AM, so a little early for burritos. And plus, “tex-mex” is an ill-omen, and doubleplus (or doubleminus), good Mexican restaurants don’t ever serve tapas too. (Look closely at the sign). WTF? Yeah, Mexico is not in Spain, hmmm… I conceded she had a point, at least about the tapas part, and so we moved on.

But here’s the kicker. This Desperados, object of my gleeful pleading, is located on the site of the former Granita Restaurant, where the “Granita Pact” between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown was supposedly sealed in 1994. According to wikipedia:

According to several authors, Gordon Brown agreed not to stand in the Labour Party leadership election, effectively giving Blair a clear run, and letting him lead the Labour Party in the 1997 general election. In return, Brown would be allowed wide powers over domestic policy. This was apparently confirmed by a copy of a note published in The Guardian in June 2003. The note mentions Blair’s commitment to a “fairness agenda” consisting of “social justice, employment opportunities and skills” under a Labour government.

Further, according to the Guardian, if we had gone in, we might have gotten to sit at the very table, preserved as it was, where this deal that in the long-run seems to have wrecked the Labour Party, perhaps permanently, was hashed out. I hope, when (if!) my wife reads this post, she realizes that my world-historical radar is very much in operation, even if it is oddly connected with my melted cheese radar system, and that she should always listen and willingly concede to my choices in lunchtime restaurantage!

(Hmmm… now I’m wondering if any world-historical events took place at the site of the Fuddruckers on Rt.1 right by the turnoff for the NJ Turnpike… I used to make my wife take me there for birthday dinners during grad school, because of the melted cheese machine. They should dig for Jimmy Hoffa in the parking lot!)

There is a Waterstones bookshop in Islington. I have to admit, I like going to a decent Waterstones better than the crappy little store in my neighborhood. On the front table, we saw this:

My wife made the same mistake that I did when I first saw this one. We had a long and lovely talk last night about aggregate fiction, and she lifted it from the table thinking…. But nope, no. If it were Twenty People, Two Years we’d be in business. But as it is, no not aggregate – just sentimental romantic trope. Pooh. I bought the first volume of Ballard’s Complete Short Stories and Ian Sinclair’s London Orbital.

I won’t have time to read either anytime soon, but I buy books when I am happy. And I was happy today. We ate lunch at Pizza Express. Soon, I will have eaten at all 400 or so PE outlets. During lunch, I goofed with my older daughter and discussed with my wife the strange fact that in London, people eat at chain restaurants all the time, while in NYC it would be considered quite gauche to eat at chain places. That is to say, there exists here a whole category of middle to upper-middle level restaurants that basically dominate the sub-really-fancy spectrum of eating, while in America it’s hard not to think TGIFridays when you see the same place in more than a single neighborhood. My pet theory about this divergence is that hip American cities have been populated with refugees from the suburbs (comme moi) who grew up eating and lower-middle to upper-middle tier chains on the side of highways. (For the record, Fuddruckers is distinctly sub-lower-middle, just in case you’re tempted to try….) and thus run away from them en-masse when they acquire the West Elm accoutred urban pad of their dreams. I imagine that labour issues are significant too – these fucking chains are rather merciless over here, and there’s not the endless supply of undocumented Latin Americans to shuffle the plates and make the salads.

Weird. There’s a mall in Islington. I like its name: The N1 Mall. Maybe everything should be named after its postcode – far more generic, rational, clean. (Big huge post coming soon, in the hopper, on city names, station names, predicated by an act of barbarity back in Brooklyn.) My youngest decided to poop voluminously, voluminously enough to make it through the clothes. Back with the first one, wouldn’t we have panicked… But we’re veteran parents now and so we just pulled over and took care of business right there in the stroller. Much, much nicer the second time around, I have to say. But malls never look right in the UK – or really anywhere but America. Why is this? Ah, because it’s nicer over here and they simply don’t belong.

How much nicer? This much nicer….

From what I can tell, it’s a co-op-ized former estate built on the site of a V-1 bomb attack during WWII. Islington took quite a lot of bomb damage during the war, and this is the reason why Caledonian Road, for instance, is basically a several mile long block of public or ex-public housing estates. This one (I think it’s now known as the Half Moon Crescent Co-op, though I’m not exactly sure…) is bucolic and lovely, and I sort of wish that I lived there…. But BoBos like us settle where the schools are good, where the Ofsted ratings top 90… And so we are where we are. Which is good, which is fine…

You can see the very top of my wife’s head in the picture, by the way….

We had two sleeping children by the time we boarded the bus on Caledonian Road for the trip back home. We stopped somewhere and looked at a copy of the Times whle they slept, especially the cover article about Michael Jackson’s nanny:

She confided: “When Paris had her birthday this April, I wanted to buy balloons, things, to make a happy birthday. There was no money in the house. I had to put everything on my personal credit card. I brought people to clean the house. The room of the kids needed to be cleaned. But they weren’t paid.”

Revealed within her account of their love-hate relationship was Jackson’s everyday life as a father and drug addict. Grace told me of pumping out his stomach after he took too many drugs and of how dirty and unkempt he became towards the end. Her stories of his attitude to the children shocked me.

Hard to know what to say to all that, and so we went home. It’s taken me over three hours to write this post, as my wife’s been upstairs working on a book proposal and I’ve been downstairs with the kids. One watched Cinderella for a bit, the other would sleep for 15 minute bursts only after 20 minutes of carrying her about.

I’m starting to think that I’d like to write a book someday, perhaps even someday soon, about Sundays. I certainly seem to have a lot to say about them. (Interesting to note that back at the founding of LS I was very against Long Sunday as a title – I favoured Por Ahora – maybe I’m slowing out of radicalism or something as I age, or slowing into another sort of radicalism, who knows…)

In his Politics of Time, Peter Osborne at one point quotes Benjamin’s One-Way Street:

In Nadja, Breton and Nadja are the lovers who convert everything that we have experienced on mournful railway journeys… on Godforsaken Sunday afternoons in the proletarian quarters of the great cities, in the first glance through the rain-blurred windows of a new apartment, into revolutionary experience, if not action. They bring the immense force of ‘atmosphere’ concealed in these things to the point of explosion.

I think it might just be my favorite snippet of critical prose that I’ve ever come across, even if I can’t decide for the life of me whether I agree with Benjamin here, with even the basic principles behind what he is saying. I go back and forth, and in a sense this oscillation, is an index of the rhythm of my entire intellectual life in all of its dimensions. And not just my intellectual life, but the whole burrito really.

Written by adswithoutproducts

June 28, 2009 at 7:21 pm

Posted in everyday, london, sunday

18 Responses

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  1. For mexican food in London, you have to go to La Taqueria on Westbourne Grove. It’s amazing, and despite the bourgeois address, pretty cheap. Among the best carnitas I’ve had, and I’ve lived up/down California.

    TJ

    June 28, 2009 at 10:30 pm

  2. I will eat lunch there this week, as I have to be (relatively) in the neighborhood Tuesday and Thursday. Thanks for the recommendation. Thus far I have been dealing with the problem by gorging myself on the stuff during trips back to the US, which resulted in one 48 hour stretch of air-exposed salsa food poisoning, but was worth it all the same.

    For the (UK) uninitiated, salsa-borne food poisoning is generally the sort that leaves you not only doing the normal FP toilet-related stuff, but also hallucinating and not in a nice way… So be warned.

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    June 28, 2009 at 11:16 pm

  3. i sympathize. the only place masquerading as mexican food in brighton is el taco. they put peas in their burritos. i have vowed to never eat there.

    But you are in some luck. There is good mexican food just down the street in angel. tortilla does a mission style burrito that, while not as good as the mission, does rival mexican food on the east coast and parts of the west coast.(they even have chilua hot sauce) I also hear the place up the street from it, chilango, is meant to be good.

    im defiantely checking out tj’s suggestion.

    co

    June 28, 2009 at 11:58 pm

  4. I had dinner at Granita’s on election day 1997 to celebrate finally saying goodbye to the Tories. In those days it *was* gauche to eat at chain restaurants.

    Gabe

    June 29, 2009 at 4:56 am

  5. Eating at chain restaurants should always be gauche. However I sometimes eat at ASKs, only because it’s my initials, I then try to imagine I own the chain, recoil in horror at the prospect, then wonder why I’d do such a thing. Realise that it stems back to my mother buying me a tobacco pouch with my initials embossed, so I forever had to put up with people joking that they had to ‘ask’ before borrowing. I don’t eat at Pizza Express as I am a shop fitters son at my father built a large number of them and was unceremoniously dragged round them in my youth, (working on them wasn’t so bad), as I was also forced to wear Next clothing etc etc – don’t even mention Tescos- you build them, you buy them, some weird alienated fetishism. So I can’t stomach the memories, they give me gut rot. I am not sick – I am very, very ill

    Schizo Stroller

    June 29, 2009 at 6:27 am

  6. Starting to sound a little bit like we should have some sort of American-expat n’ friends mexican food meetup, ism’t it! The brits I eat with most often just don’t seem to want to eat this stuff… Maybe they’re just used to very very poor “tex-mex” with “tapas”!

    To be fair, when I lived in the rustbelt and before a 5 out of 10 national chain opened, the only place to get mexican there used (ugh dammit awful) kraft singles in lieu of shredded cheese. Just dropped the soggy square on top. WTF???? As bad or worse than peas in burritos – though it’s the same category of error.

    I’ll definitely try tortilla in angel – think I’ve seen that once. Chilango was closed for a “maintenance issue.”

    they even have chilua hot sauce

    Yeah, there’s another thing! Just try to find decent hot sauce for sale even in the poshest of international food stores! I stock up in the US – at much risk to the rest of the stuff in my suitcase – and currently have a bottle of cholula and one of tapatio here.

    Gabe,

    So what happened to make them ungauche? This is what I’m trying to understand…

    Schizo Stroller,

    Yeah, maybe I’ll try to stop. Only have two-hundred or so pizza expresses till I finish the set, and then no more! But the other thing is that when my wife and I are out with the kids, the chains are much more tolerant of kids… simply because the staff doesn’t really give a shit, is ordered to be tolerant, they’re already full of kids, etc….

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    June 29, 2009 at 7:36 am

    • Yes, an ex-pat burrito feast is an excellent idea! also with you on the hot sauce. I brought back four bottles of tapatio from the states. I intended to give half of them to a friend. In the end, I used them. My inklings of shame and moral debasement nicely dispelled by the taste. oh, and i totally stole a bottle of the chilua off the table the first time i ate at tortilla.

      schizo stroller, i can suddenly afford to eat out in brighton, where do you recommend?

      co

      June 29, 2009 at 10:15 pm

  7. Yes, that is why I have started re-visiting chains too. It’s so much easier to be aloof when childless, which is why we tend to do the Italian/ Greek family run thing (on average swerving the cultural stereotyping). Although being a Brighton resident I still refuse to do Donachellos. Purely out of cutting nose off despite face principle and the foods shit. Talking of Tapas, the Spanish not the bizarre Tex/ Mex hybrid, tend to not be so family friendly, but at least the foods better and I don’t know the guy who built it.
    Furthering my post, I realised after typing the first one that buying from the stores you built is probably classic alienated fetishism, as is offering in-store discounts to employees, although the ultimate would be offering 10% off to the factory producers, if they could afford the air fare on a dollar a day that is.

    Schizo Stroller

    June 29, 2009 at 8:28 am

  8. Yeah, truth be told I go to a family-run pizzeria in my neighborhood way more than anywhere else.

    I should put up a long deferred Brighton photoessay… A missing Sunday in my set….

    adswithoutproducts

    June 29, 2009 at 10:45 am

  9. What made them ungauche must be a combination of rents (they can outbid sole-trader restos in a rising market), and the progressive habituation of 20somethings as each generation moves further out. So, they’re probably still a bit gauche for the 1997 crowd. Of course, anyone with kids has an exemption.

    Similarly, I’m amazed how many Americanisms are common in UK English compared to only 10 years ago. Everybody is fired, no-one “gets the sack” anymore. Also “dating” didn’t exist in the UK until about then. But it’s too gradual for the people who live there.

    Gabe

    June 29, 2009 at 4:19 pm

  10. Since the majority of my diet consists of various burritos and guacamole, I feel for you. The wife & I tried guac in Paris once, having been traveling the EU for the better part of 5 weeks and craving some semblance of home, and the idea of anything Mex west of the Atlantic seems absolutely ridiculous now, specifically because of that moment.

    You can always make yr own…

    Tokyo

    June 29, 2009 at 7:09 pm

  11. Gabe,

    I think that’s about right.

    Tokyo,

    We do make our own. Not guac, as it’s not the most important thing to us, but all of the other stuff, yes. It’s pretty much the only thing we make with a bit of joy…

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    June 29, 2009 at 9:35 pm

  12. Yes,

    1) Let’s do a meetup for mexican
    2) Let’s not all go silent when I propose this in a week or two and leave me looking like a desperate lonely ex-pat dork

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    June 29, 2009 at 10:41 pm

  13. Re Gabe: Everybody is fired, no-one “gets the sack” anymore.

    I think this is largely results from the fact that when the BBC bought The Apprentice they had to keep the catchphrase. So Alan Sugar has been bellowing “You’re fired!” for the past few years, even though he is entirely and exactly the kind of person you would expect to say “You’re sacked!” (or even “you’re out on your ear mate”)

    RobDP

    June 29, 2009 at 11:02 pm

  14. I’m now terrified that The Apprentice of all things might be dictating our vocabulary. Although (unrelated), hearing Britain’s Got Talent habitually referred to as BGT is my current bugbear, since it makes it sound like a pesticide. Not that watching it is actually much better than drinking pesticide, but still…

    Also I vaguely remember something quite good about US vs UK vs “European” notions of “dating” in n+1 once upon a time (think it was 2005-6?).

    RobDP

    June 29, 2009 at 11:05 pm

  15. Oh one last thing, and sorry for posting another comment (I’ll sleep now, promise). I feel some of the biggest recent American imports to UK English have been grammatical. Every week I hear my compatriots using adjectives as adverbs à l’américaine more and more. I probably do it too. E.g. “he eats quick,” “it’s going great” and about a million better examples which suddenly escape me.

    And of course “so he was like… and I was like…”

    RobDP

    June 29, 2009 at 11:14 pm

  16. RobDP,

    I am so sorry, on behalf of my countrymen and my country’s media penetration, about the like thing. It truly is our bad.

    I taught a lingustics class (waaaaay out of my field) last term on American English, which I thought basically bombed (not a linguist, I) and they’re bringing it back by popular demand. Basically all I do is the police(-action state) in different voices. But apparently, this pleases the punters….

    Ads

    June 29, 2009 at 11:19 pm

  17. re American linguistic imports, the one I’ve noticed in the last few years is ‘Can I get a _______’ as in ‘Can I get a double macchiato’ or ‘Can I get a panini and a …’

    I suspect this has been hastened by the return here since the late 90s of the coffee shop, in a version imported from Seattle (though itself an import from Italy of course).

    If ‘gotten’ enters common usage (as in ‘I’d gotten really drunk the night before’) I think I would despair, and I say that as an ex-inhabitant of the US who often defends it to insecure kneejerk anti-American Brits

    ZSTC

    June 30, 2009 at 8:45 am


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