Posts Tagged Barnsbury

Fancy a pint?

One of the joys of Islington is its pubs, not the high street chains but the lovely Victorian pubs on quiet side streets.

Last night, Rich and I enjoyed a pint and the Sunday papers at the Island Queen. Hidden away opposite Hanover School on Noel Road, the Island Queen has a spectacular interior, huge and high-ceilinged – like the Kings Head on Upper Street, but without the crowds. Everything was perfect, the service, the atmosphere, the drinks and we unwound happily.

The week before, I met Lib Dem friends at the Crown on Cloudesely Road, which has endured when so many other pubs in the area have closed. One friend lives in an ex-pub on Cloudesley Place. Of the pubs on Barnsbury Road, the original White Conduit House, latterly the Penny Farthing, has become a restaurant; while the Eclipse is now flats, and the King Edward VII became the Church on the Corner. Now the King of Denmark at the south end of Cloudesley Road is due to shut next month.

Sometimes closed pubs do re-open. Most recently the Canonbury tavern. Famous for its huge garden, it closed in 2006 after growing complaints from the neighbours about noise nuisance. Now it’s reopened with compromise conditions preventing late night use of the gardens.

Neighbourhood pubs are great, but you want them to be good neighbours, not neighbours from hell.

The current 24-hour licensing laws, introduced by Labour back in 2003, were supposed to create a ‘continental cafe culture’; needless to say, they have not. Instead chain pubs and bars, with no stake in their neighbourhood, can create nuisance on an industrial scale.

Truly independent pubs are much more interested in what their community wants and are free to provide it. But under the current law, most pubs are tied to the big hospitality conglomerates. The Fair Pint campaign, backed by Lib Dem MP Tim Farron, is trying to change that.

Meanwhile in Clerkenwell, the LibDem councillors are running a campaign to declare the ward a ‘saturation zone’, arguing that the 135 pubs, bars, nightclubs, off-licences, restaurants and other alcohol outlets already in the ward are more than enough. I’ve been out with them the last few weeks, collecting petition signatures. (And yes, we do tend to end up in the pub afterwards).

Imagine my joy last week when I saw that on my list of people was one Hazel Blears: her famous flippin’ flat is just a bottle’s throw from Farringdon. As she was a Home Office minister at the time the Licensing Act came in, I was quite looking forward to the encounter: but she was out. Down the pub? Or, as one friend suggested, at one of her other homes….

What would I have told her? We’re not anti-pub – far from it. But we want decent pubs that are good neighbours and part of the community around them; not soulless drinking factories. 24 hour licensing isn’t the answer. Reforming the tied pub system could be.

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Richmond, sphinxes and umbrellas

Parliament may be on holiday, but the campaigning continues. Last week we were surveying in Richmond. Without leaving Islington.

Like all local authorities, Islington divides its area into wards, and each ward into 3 polling districts. To plan our campaign organisation, we Lib Dems further divide them up into ‘walks’, one of which is ‘Richmond’, covering Richmond Avenue and the surrounding turnings.

Richmond is both a rather grand placename – meaning ‘rich world’ in French – and a very common one. Even within Islington there’s a different Richmond, Richmond Grove, which runs from the Town Hall to Canonbury Road. There are towns called Richmond everywhere from Aberdeenshire to West Sussex, not least the London Borough of Richmond (blessed with not one but two Lib Dem MPs!). According to the Times Atlas, Richmond is the most influential British place name worldwide.

Part of the Barnsbury ‘Richmond’ is Richmond Crescent, which certainly is a rich world. It became famous in 1997 as the home of Tony Blair when he set out from there for Downing Street. The Crescent is still home to other Labour luvvies including MPs Margaret Hodge and Emily Thornberry. Although I’m pleased to report that even in this unpromising territory there are Lib Dem votes to be found.

Ms Thornberry presumably does know which Richmond is which. However as Simon Calder reports, “Last Saturday the London Labour MP, Emily Thornberry, had the dismal job of defending the party’s defeat in the Norwich North by-election on Breakfast News. But the MP for Islington South and Finsbury told viewers that she had been energetically canvassing in Ipswich”. Oh dear.

Richmond Avenue is famous for the Egyptian-inspired sphinxes and miniture obelisks that flank the front doors of the houses on the southside, backing onto Barnard Park. There’s a great photo of a Richmond sphinx by Barnsbury resident Barbara Rich.

According to Harry Mount, the NILE caption is a tribute to Nelson’s 1798 victory at the Battle of the Nile, although the Richmond Avenue houses date from 1841. (I’ve blogged before about Nelson’s influence on Islington streetnames.) So not so much Nelson’s Column as Nelson’s sphinx.

The Richmond sphinxes may not be as ancient as the original, but they have survived nearly 170 years. So it was very sad to see that one had been smashed by vandals last weekend. I suppose ‘mindless vandalism’ is a tautology, but this really is stupid.

The previous time I’d canvassed Richmond Avenue was a weekend during the Euro elections, a rainy day. Many kindly voters invited me into their hallways. And by the end of that day I was without my umbrella. I was convinced I’d left it in the pub at lunchtime, but it never turned up.

Anyway, on Tuesday night I knocked on one door, to be greeted with “hello Bridget, we’ve got your umbrella!” But of course I wasn’t expected and despite a rummage in the hall cupboard, the umbrella was hiding, as umbrellas do. Still at least we know roughly where it is. And next time I canvass in Richmond, I’ll come away with more than votes.

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My lunch date with Michelle Obama

If you’d asked me what I planned to do yesterday, lunch with Michelle Obama wouldn’t have been on the menu…

I was working from home, and my only plans for lunch hour were to do a bit of tidying up. Then about noon I got a phone call from a friend, followed by a couple of frantic texts: Michelle Obama was coming to visit EGA, the outstanding girls’ secondary where I used to be a governor.

Outstanding, but not privileged. The millionaire’s row of Richmond Crescent (home to MPs Emily Thornberry and Margaret Hodge and former home of the Blairs) may only be a stone’s throw away. But they don’t send their daughters to EGA. More fool them! It’s a fantastic school, and I can’t think of a better place for Michelle Obama to come and inspire young women – and be inspired by them.

Official guests (including Council leader James Kempton) were invited for 1.30pm. Lucy Watt & I agreed to meet up in our lunch hour and join the fans outside, along with other friends working locally.

It was gloriously warm and sunny as we joined an excited group outside the school entrance near Chapel Market. Twenty girls from each year group, plus the school choir, were inside with the VIPs. The rest had the day off, but so many had stayed on to get a glimpse of MO.

There were journalists mingling with the crowds, including correspondents from the Mail and the Mirror (only a pool media team were allowed inside). They were interviewing some of the girls about Michelle as a role model. (As the Mail later reported, she wowed the girls inside too).
More and more photographers materialised, stacked up on ladders opposite the school. Rita Chakrabati arrived with a camera crew.

The police produced barriers and penned us in, but the spirit was friendly, not confrontational. I chatted to my neighbours in the crowd: a black woman lawyer, and an award-winning graphic designer: very Islington! By this stage no-one was coming in or out. The postman came along with a bag of mail and was politely rebuffed. One of the Labour councillors tried flashing a Town Hall badge to some friendly jeering from the EGA girls. It would take more than that to get inside this event….

We waited and waited. Then suddenly more police materialised, and there came the convoy along Barnsbury Road, motor bikes with blue lights, half a dozen limos, and in the middle the big black Obama-mobile: probably the first and last time you’ll get Islington progressives cheering an SUV. A glimpse of blue, a smile, a wave, and she had swept past into the school.

And minutes later I was hurrying back to work, a sandwich at my keyboard, taking a bit of Obama sunshine with me.

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London Region Lib Dem conference

I didn’t get to our regional conference yesterday as I had another busy day in Islington.

I hared off early for a breakfast time photo op at Highbury Corner about road safety: Boris wants to reduce the time we have to cross main roads, and we’re not happy about it. Lots of support from passers by! And a chance to talk to the folk already starting to queue at the Post Office.

Back to work, then out again for a lunchtime photo op about bus fumes with residents in Holloway. After work I dropped by the Town Hall to join the huge numbers of people saying farewell to Islington’s popular head of social services, Paul Curran, who is retiring. Then off for canvassing in Barnsbury – very positive response – ending up with a campaign team meeting. Phew!

Anyway, thanks to the joys of Twitter, by reading the #londonld hashtag, I can catch up on the highlights I missed.

Party President Ros Scott told members there was now nothing to choose between the Labour and Conservative parties.

Then Vince Cable spoke about how the Lib Dems were the only party to warn of the impending economic crisis, getting “something very big, very right”. He told the banks to start lending and stop abusive payments. And he argued that Labour could implode after selling their soul to the bankers. The financial crisis “merits a wartime mobilisation of resources” but the Government isn’t spending money allocated to social housing. He concluded that the Lib Dems are gaining real traction & other parties’ support is weakening.

All of which is pretty much what voters in Barnsbury were telling me!

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Repossessions at 12-year high

Depressing news for home-owners today, as repossessions hit a twelve-year high.

Twelve years ago, we’d recently moved to Barnsbury from Highbury, bit nervous about the size of the mortgage, but confident that the only way was up. It’s very different for new homeowners today. Can’t keep up the payments, and ‘Homes under the Hammer’ meets Hammer horror, as your home is repossessed and auctioned off.

Thankfully Islington seems to be escaping the worst of it – so far. The London areas worst hit at present seem to be buy-to-let hotspots, like Lewisham, Thamesmead and Surrey Quays.

I spoke to Holloway-based auctioneers Drivers & Norris on Friday. They are seeing repossessions at the rate of 4-5 a year, whereas at the height of the last recession, it was more like 4-5 a month. But they warn things could get worse in the coming year. At least one house they previously sold as a repossession has since been repossessed again.

Meanwhile Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg points out that the Government’s much-hyped Homeowner Mortage Support Scheme has not helped a single household so far.

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Police horses out and about

You don’t often hear horses’ hooves in N1, but this afternoon the sound of horses drew me to the window – and there was a pair of police horses going down the street.

Years ago there were police mews in Barnsbury, and we sometimes had horses clopping down Hemingford Road when I lived there. But I’ve never seen or rather heard them in Morton Road before.

I don’t think they were connected with this one….

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Mapping crime in London

Worried about crime in your area?

Well, you can now access crime maps for the Met Police recorded crime figures for your area online.

Simply enter your postcode and you get an instant report: I tried my current postcode in a corner of St Peter’s ward where we’ve had real problems of street disorder over the last couple of years, the local shop has been attacked, we even had a murder.

Then my previous postcode in Barnsbury, where the street was quiet but we were burgled twice. Then the postcode before that where we had a completely crime-free time on a turning in Highbury.

All three came up as ‘crime rate: average’. So this might not be the most nuanced tool. Admittedly, it is interesting to see how many crimes have been reported in your neighbourhood, and how that varies from month to month. However there’s no distinction between say, domestic violence and a stolen car. So I’m not sure what the numbers tell us.

Interesting yes; but is it really useful?

I’m generally in favour of the more information the better. But I blogged on my scepticism over crime mapping last year. And I’d still rather Boris spent my council tax on reducing crime in my patch to ‘below average’ rather than telling me what we already have….

Although I’m sure that won’t stop me checking out all my friends’ postcodes in the meantime!

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