A lady breathes in Highbury Fields, 2010, Ravish London


An Ode to Highbury
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February 2004 meandering around the back streets of Highbury's terraces and beholding the wonder of Highbury stadium, memories of which seem so much more fantastical since the stadium's death. A wonderful historic brick stadium in the heart of terraced suburbs. That cold Sunday, the day of Arsenal's 1 all draw with Manchester United, in a League season that the team would go unbeaten, began my love affair with Highbury. We walked in-between the supporters as they socialized and ate hot dogs on the roads outside the ground. We spotted Simon Le Bon and Matt Lucas. The evening before we'd spotted Arsene Wenger and Pat Rice, in Arsenal shell suits, walking through the discrete environs of Canary Wharf. We were part of history, though peripheral, in some ways being on the periphery is the most magical place to be, it fills you with a sense of wonder that reality rarely lives up to.


Nine months later I'd taken up the opportunity to move to London, and once again, one Sunday afternoon, feeling lonely, I decided to explore, setting off from my new home in Wood Green. I found myself biking over Crouch Hill, beyond the crest upon which was sat the Arber Hotel, at which I had stayed many times, during my work in London, and beyond the threshold of the housing estate of Crouch Hill Station, which had scared me off before. I continued down Stroud Green Road and Blackstock Road and perhaps taking a left down Seven Sister Road at some point, managed to get a perspective on a huge building site, what I immediately realized was the site of Arsenal's new stadium. Again with a sense of wonder I biked as close as I could get to survey this new development, and wondered what on earth the future would hold for this football club, which had just reached the zenith of footballing achievement.


Soon after I find myself, once a week, whizzing through the back streets connecting Blackstock Road and Highbury New Park, attending a French class, at the home of a teacher. As I cut through the streets I feel an enduring frisson of excitement, that am now part of the fabric of the life in this place, whose existence I'd been reminded of for years, with each Panini sticker album I tried to fill. I marvel at what I've become, what the young boy would have made of who I am, where I am, so alone, as always, and so determined to reach out and explore and become.


As the months and years rolled by I developed a network of friends and associates, all of whom lived and many of whom eventually moved to the area just south of Finsbury Park, which for me, because of its proximity, and the preponderance of convenience stores, kebab shops and pubs with a devotion to Arsenal, is a sister to the brother that is Highbury. Over the years I have developed a huge sense of warmth for the Victorian terraces, inside several of which, I have many memories of friends come and gone, and those still residing.


At some point, at a point when I was cast out of my abode, by a landlord with plans, and into an existentialist crisis, I revisited Highbury, eyeing it up as a potential panacea of peace, a place to set down roots. As I walked around its streets I melted in its peace, and yet felt myself resonating to the idea of being at the heart and energy of north London. I discovered Highbury Fields, and the beautiful Georgian and Victorian terraces of Highbury Terrace. I dreamed of lying down on a couch in one of those elegant front rooms with enormous ceiling, bathed in the light, which floods through the enormous windows. Highbury would be a place where I could come and convalesce, away from the hubbub and distress of shared houses, a place where I would rest alone and then perhaps die of loneliness. But alas it was all a pipe dream, for I had not the wealth, but that longing never left my heart.


In years gone by since those days I have spent less and less time in this part of London, but still visit to see a friend here or there, and the feeling, the roughness and energy of Finsbury Park and the rustic charms of Highbury all come flooding back into my soul, and I feel like a puppy dog who sees his master after being by himself all day.