I happened to take a friend down Church Street, Stoke Newington, recently. Its long stretch of charming and wonderfully rare independent outlets, makes for a pretty splendid stroll. Families, unlike Clapham residents, don’t have pet poodles whom possess pedicured toes; nor do they sip rose street-side and grumble at the dank October air. The residents of Church Street wear Rab jackets and hike with purpose through N16; leaving their offspring to find the beer gardens themselves and slurp Fanta off the bar. Church street is homely, not pretentious. However, there is an air of class as you dart past quaint bookshops, blooming florists and dinky bottle shops. My friend called the street ‘Wanky’ – he clearly hadn’t brunched on the Kings Road in the height of Summer – where one’s sunglasses are bigger than one’s own ego, and if your pet pooch doesn’t fit in your Mulberry – darling you won’t be staying for a second bloody Mary.
I stepped out of the chill and into ‘The Lion’ public house. If you’re one for bright lights, bring a torch. The sun had left us for the day and a red hue greeted me with warm welcome, as I elbowed hair -mopped punters out of the way in search of a decent drink. It was similar to being in an extension of my living room; a distressed leather sofa sat awkwardly in one corner and beer mats were used as a wall freeze. Couples snogged and a youthful pair took shots of Limoncello with the bearded barman – his Italian accent enticing them to shot another, and another. A wiry dog wrapped its paws around a bar stool and two men sat rooted in football chatter, fosters quenching their thirst; fag rested behind the ear, ready to be puffed.
The pub smelt of engine fuel and unkempt hair. To my left, two bikers engulfed Jack Daniels and coke, the dregs remained on one of their greying beards and the tassels off his leather jacket brushed the cheek of a lost child. I ordered my gin with extra fresh lime, and took up a table by the DJ at the bottom of the stairs. The music was on low as the evening hadn’t yet reached us, it was an unfamiliar indie track, relevant to its crowd. The toilets upstairs were unisex; the lock was barely on and the water dribbled out the tap – it was too early to laugh it off and ‘get down with the kids.’
Mind infused by gin and with no one to snog or shot Limoncello with, I plodded to Clissold Park at the tail end of Church Street. A dazzling Georgian mansion hogged the central park lawn, guarding the sycamores. The park is complete with petting zoo, tennis courts, ponds and bark paths for keen runners. Its 1 mile loop makes for the perfect couch to 5K distance, I watch mothers in velour tracksuits scuff the bark and duck past thorn bushes. Gym buff men run with their buggy and dog and even a backpack. I can’t help think they are in the wrong place for this training, Clissold Park is ever so chilled and their tightened faces in search of endorphins look pinned and stressed.
I do four laps of the park and forget that I’m even in the smoke. As I turn back and head in search of another ale house, I can’t help thinking the residents of Stoke Newington and their hipster dogs have got something right. I pass a couple of men as I leave the iron gates at the entrance to the park – they’re grinning profusely and I applaude their smugness.