Sunday, 13 January 2013

Past and Present at Number 51

Augustus Egg (not a Wodehouse character - you're thinking of Gussie Fink-Nottle) painted a triptych called 'Past and Present'. In the first scene a woman is caught with her lover's letter, in the second her daughters weep in a garret, in the third she sleeps under a bridge.

This is the Hornsey Road version, played out in and around number 51:

Image from here

Both stories start with a woman taking a risk, although Veronica McGannon doesn't have much else in common with Egg's floozy. This Islington Tribune article describes a grandmother of nine who saw her first Arsenal game aged three and who instead of retiring opened Vee's bistro opposite the Emirates. I like the sound of Vee's Bistro, but the Great Recession closed it before I moved to Islington.

Number 51 lay quiet for months and months and months 'walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily'.* Then homeless people turned the recessed doorways into shelters, and then the doorways were boarded over to stop them. The second scene looks like this:

Number 51, January 2013

The third scene is set about about fifty metres south of Number 51:

Under Hornsey Road bridge, January 2013

I don't know how many people are sleeping in that pile of mattresses and bags under the Hornsey Road bridge, or why they've ended up there or how long they'll stay, or even if they're the same people who were sleeping in the doorway of what used to be Vee's. I could ask them, but I doubt they want to be asked.

I'll leave you with a quote from that 2008 Islington Tribune article: 'in a letter to the council, neighbour Sheila Stewart complained about the possible noise and mess the bistro could attract. She said: “I do not wish for my life to be turned upside down for the sake of a social venue. I am already penalised by living right near the stadium, because I cannot have visitors while a match is on".

*Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House, go read it.


  1. Out of interest, when was Vee open and how long did it operate for?


    1. Hi Conny. It opened in 2008 and it was shut by time I moved here in January 2010.

  2. Actually I was thinking of Montague Egg - then I checked and realised he's a Dorothy L Sayers character, not Wodehouse...

    It's a grim sight, the mattress camp. And taken before the snows - though there's a good piece by Giles Fraser in today's Guardian which comments that everyone gets exercised about homelessness in the snow, but it isn't OK whatever the weather.

  3. I liked Montague Egg and wish she'd done more with him, but then I suppose we'd have less of Wimsey/Vane and I'm not sure I could live with that.

    The encampment's gone now. Snow does set off the Dickensy charity thoughts, doesn't it?