Camden Town

Some of the things you can find in my neighborhood, Camden Town, within a five-minute walk from my flat:

  • a defunct canal system, perfect for long walks underneath the auto traffic.
  • just around the corner, a fish ‘n’ chips shack that also offers “kebabs” (which Americans know better as gyros). Its name: The Royal Fish Bar.
  • next door to the fish ‘n’ chippie, a building with a sign advertising “Massage and Sauna.” Its windows are opaque, and I’ve never seen anybody enter or leave.
  • a building with a plaque announcing that Verlaine and Rimbaud lived there for three months in 1873.
  • the Sainsbury’s supermarket, which is a Shangri-La after the cramped aisles of my Brooklyn Key Food.
  • a bass guitar shop.
  • two different betting parlors.
  • a recording studio that was used by the Pet Shop Boys for their earliest singles.
  • across the street from the emporiums of kebabs and massages, College Barbers, where I went today for a much-needed haircut.

College Barbers, it turns out, is run by two agreeable Turkish gentlemen, who discussed Saddam Hussein in bemused tones, and suggested that Clinton should just give them a call to get everything straightened out. Two little budgie-birds, named Bluey and Sweetie, chirped in overhead corners and sporadically flew laps around the room. The other customer discussed how his wife’s birthday was February 14th, which fact saved him one fancy dinner out every year. “Unlucky for her,” laughed his barber. My barber shaved the hair on my neck with a straightedge razor rather than an electric clipper, which felt very Sweeney Todd. They took a phone call as I was getting my bangs trimmed and talked aggressively in Turkish as they discussed a list of numbers; it wouldn’t surprise me if they were the local guys running the numbers. As I left, I told them I was looking for a place to get my shirts pressed; they recommended a laundry and said that if I paid in advance, I could just have my shirts dropped off and pick them up at the barbers.

On the wall, there was a signed, Xeroxed photo of Supergrass, who apparently are former patrons of College Barbers. I didn’t know it when I moved in here, but Camden Town has a rich rock ‘n’ roll heritage, being the home at various points to the Clash, Madness, Dave Stewart, the Pogues, Pulp, the Belle Stars, and Lemmy. The newsstand at the local Tube station is renowned as a place where you can gawp at stars buying their copies of Melody Maker and New Musical Express every Tuesday lunchtime. I’ve learned about this by stumbling across a book, Those Tourists Are Money: The Rock ‘n’ Roll Guide to Camden, which gives the history of local pubs and record stores with more detail than you really want, unless you’re hellbent on making a pilgrimage to the establishment where Quentin Tarantino bought his first Urge Overkill record. But it does have one great moment so far, remembered by the owner of the local Compendium bookstore: the time Lou Reed walked in and asked, “Do you have any books on Lou Reed?”