As I hobble along the dripping avenue nursing my autumn-related injury (a twisted ankle, wrought by a pile of leaves disguising a maw of kerb), I find myself indulging in one of my favourite pastimes – imagining I am FBI Agent Dale Cooper:
. . . Diane, 11:30 a.m., October 29th. Entering the town of Muswell Hill, five miles north of the Charing Cross border, six miles north-west of the City of London. I’ve never seen so many trees in my life. As W.C. Fields would say, I’d rather be here than Philadelphia. Damn good food. Diane, if you ever get up this way the almond croissant in Maison Blanc is worth a stop . . .
Sadly, I did not come to Muswell Hill to investigate the murder of a homecoming queen, or to eat pastries – but it has put a spell on me. I was born within the sound of the Hammersmith Flyover, and am well accustomed to the clag of suburbia with its white slip of seed; but whereas my home town fits sinners snug betwixt bevel-edged privets, Muswell Hill pinnacles them, the whole place a dark, twisting, Dracula’s pad of scandal, teetering under a gibbous moon.
Or so I imagine. I moved here to fledge. I don’t know why – perhaps I thought being so high up would make it a good launching point. Still, it’s serving a purpose, albeit expensively. The houses here are huge, like old-fashioned steamboats; all girth and white verandas. I often fantasize about sailing off in one, down the grey-green A504, to East Finchley, and beyond…
Down by the bottom of my avenue, I switch to playing “spot the prostitute”. This is the Red Light District, according to legend; and, as if on cue, I see a girl walking into a hotel, wearing a short denim skirt and a small, puffy jacket with a halo of fur around the hood. No: it’s more likely to be me, in my black wool pea coat, that’s selling her crumpet.
Spotting johns is easier. I see one in Ryman’s, buying pens. He’s fifty-odd, tall and bladder-bellied, with a sundae-swirl of fifties hair and a hot-pink polo shirt. Pink crocs too, the unsavoury bastard. I walk out.
Ramparts of onion-domed brick under pale skies. Here on the Broadway the locals roam gormless – but I’ve long given up trying to fathom them. There seems to be just one of every type here, no groups, as if the place were a great big ark. Have we been brought up here to weather the End of Days? There’s a church on every corner too: ecclesiastical stakes hammered into the earth to stop the place just flapping away. It does get very windy, on the hill…
I walk on until I reach the turntable that spins out traffic towards the cardinals. It’s difficult to cross, even on the pelicans, but there’s no other way. Buses are resting here after huffing up the hill. Soon, they will begin their downward slalom to Crouch End, past the palace that floats up in a viridian cloud above saw-tooth roofs. Then they’ll chug on to Finsbury Park, to spit out passengers into a grim and fluorescent Underground.
Sometimes I take one. Not now. Instead, I snake north, on foot. I notice that the streetlamps have grown too tall, are buried within the foliage. They cast no light on my homeward shuffle; the grand sweep of crescent suddenly a nefarious alley, full of lurkers.
Wheelie bins spill secrets from loose and dirty mouths.
Harlequin cats meow and prowl.
But this is my manor now; and I’m its queen.
. . . Oh Diane, I almost forgot. Got to find out what kind of trees these are. They’re really something . . .