Europe | United Kingdom (UK), Great Britain | England | London | Stoke Newington – The Doomsday Church
(Travel in jeopardy, a warning against too much drinking, and a visit to a London village)
There’s blood on my baseball hat. It’s the one from the dive centre in Key West. (Ok, ok, we haven’t set off on the Big Adventure yet. But this is a story about London and everyone wants to go to London, right? I’ve found Worldsurface so resourceful, the way people mixed factual information with personal journeys).
Stoke Newington is a medieval village only engulfed by London in the last century or so. Even now, as we walk across Clissold Park, it always feels like we are entering a village rather than a part of a city. Two church steeples point skywards behind leafy green. One of those churches is mentioned in the Doomsday Book; parts of it are nearly 1000 years old. Abney Park Cemetery rivals Highgate and is a free to get in, if in slightly worse condition. English cemeteries are more like forests full of graves – wild, unkempt, with toppling tombstones and overgrown monuments.
Sexton and I have been spending lazy afternoons in Clissold Park, reading guidebooks, or going up to the Vortex Jazz bar in Church Street for coffee. The Vortex is always being threatened with closure due to rising rents and yuppification of the area. But even with the steady upgrade over the last ten years the winding church street is full of character.
Church Street ends abruptly in the urban squalor of the High Street. For some real local colour, try the Rochester Castle – part of the Wetherspoon’s pub chain, the beer’s the cheapest you’ll find anywhere in London, and you can get a bottle of wine for ?5 – little more than you pay for a glass anywhere in central London. Even the basic pub food is cheap and edible. Be warned – you may see a few geriatric men get carried out by their armpits if you go there during the day. By evening they’ve all passed out, and the crowd is more mixed in age. Don’t expect anything remotely trendy, and there’s no music, which we greatly appreciate. Despite being musicians ourselves (or maybe because of it?) my husband and I prefer to talk rather than shout when we go out for a drink with friends.
Early Friday evening as we entered Clissold park on our way to a party I was telling a friend about Dervla Murphy’s mishaps in Transylvania. We argued over whether the more miserable and disaster ridden a trip is, the better story it makes. Little did I know
Many hours and even more beers later, our friends suggested a walk home through Clissold park. It’s sensibly locked at night but there is a hole in the fence behind the Doomsday church.
We admired the old manor house, silent like a ghost house. It was a café for awhile but now is unfortunately closed. Many of the parks fine features are threatened with closure due to lack of funds from the local government. The deer, goats and exotic birds have been in the park since my friend John’s grandparents lived in the area over a century ago.
We passed the fat white goose, called ‘Mr Goosie’ by the local pensioners, poking his head above the bank of the tiny pond. ‘It was light last time we walked through here ’ our friends mused, recalling a post-dawn walk they’d taken after another party a few weeks before. Now it was 1 am and overcast; if there was a moon up there we couldn’t see it .
The park fountain was hidden in darkness, a place very busy on a hot day. Old men wash dentures and children of all races come for a drink, Hassidic Jews alongside Muslim toddlers, parents holding them up to drink the water.
We found a gap in the fence at the far end of the park. My husband tried to squeeze through first. His fat belly got in the way. Our friends giggled while I scolded them.
Not wanting him to get stuck, we went to look for another option.
We must have been walking at quite a pace, like caged animals looking for escape, not wanting to trek all the way back to the Doomsday church. Before we knew what was happening, we heard a cry and turned around to see Sexton face down on the pavement. It was dark under the trees and he had not seen a hole in the path. His ankle had gone in and he’d gone splat. Blood was flowing from his nose.
Falling over drunk is something my husband does with relative regularity. His natural buoyancy usually saves him and he never complains of aches or pains. Not so this time.
Our friends went ahead, searching in vain for another hole in the fence. I took Sexton’s satchel bag and my baseball hat, which he was clutching in his blood covered hands. It was ages before our friends re-appeared. I was a bit too drunk to think straight myself, but calling an ambulance when you’re illegally in a park at night is not the done thing really.
We miraculously made it over the fence where a garbage can made a handy step. Between three of us we pushed the large, injured Sexton up and over. I have no idea how we managed to walk home because in the morning Sexton looked like a war victim, blood everywhere, and he could not walk at all.
All I could think was, first, thank god this didn’t happen when we were travelling. And then – what if he’s not better by the time we have to go?
So, kids, go to Stoke Newington. Take the 73 bus from Angel tube station. Just dont walk through the park at night.