Highbury Fields, ten in the morning, the soft breaths of early summer rising from glossy blades of grass. Today, N5 is showing off in the sunshine, wiggling her shoulders, hoisting up her skirts, auditioning her exquisiteness for a Richard Curtis rom-com.
My scruffy, ancient trainers clash against the silver pavement. My messy reflection smears the windows of the terraces. My hair snarls and knots in the elegant breeze. I am the square, splintered peg in this smooth, perfect bolt-hole.
And then I see it. I have walked down this street for days, months, years, always losing myself in its untouchable loveliness. The carved, amber-coloured door has drawn my eye before, its deep concentric circles like a mini solar system. But to the left, for the first time, I see a gold sign, a little grubby, tarnished by time.
Independent Order Of Oddfellows, North London District Basement, it says.
The Oddfellows have been in Britain since the eighteenth century – small groups of people who got together to help each other in times of need. They were also ordinary people, who did different things, hence them being odd. But today, in the shiny modern world, they have become properly peculiar. I wonder if they still have rituals like the Masons, as they used to – drawing swords, wearing blindfolds and taking part in strange ceremonies, yards away from the parents pushing Bugaboos, the twenty-somethings doing t’ai chi. And I know I should be thinking about their sinister sides, but all I can think of is how they have survived.
As I stand here looking at the stairs going down to the subterranean room, all I can do is think about how London at its most bright and beautiful still has dust under its feet, dirt under its fingernails, shadowy signs that hold darkening secrets. I think about how this has never stopped happening, how it will never stop happening. I think about everything we have done in the last eight years, the pints that we sank, the money we saved, the magazine we cobbled together from pennies and dreams, the battles we fought on the shop counters, the buyers that trusted us, the people we took with us, the hearts we set free.
I think about all of this as my unkempt silhouette rises on the white, perfect paint, and I smile goofily as the sun beams upon me. It is caressing this corner of our exceptional world; and it is also caressing me, your rheumy-eyed representative. I have been your foot soldier of the strange for the last eight years, and still I know there is a reason to fight for the cause.
I have been honoured to serve you. Now follow us. Let’s advance.