Friday will be my last day in the Hendon Central office. When people ask me where I work, I wrinkle up my nose and reply “don’t ask”. Hendon has Opticians with faded brown leather upholstery and a brown veneer straight out of 1977. It has straggly students. A website I found recently described the place as “a dormitory suburb with not much to do” and as having “too much nuisance crime: graffiti, fly tipping, dumped cars, people using other people's gardens/fences as toilets (even at 10:30 in the morning), smashed shop windows and bus shelters, arson attacks everywhere (this is getting really bad) - plus more serious stuff when trying to get a taxi late at night.” I have seen a lifetime share of bad wigs – some like haphazard bundles of wool pom poms we used to make as kids. At three o’clock the local schools let out and Hendon is bombarded with the scariest children imaginable – shrieking and throwing chips at the pigeons – or fighting; sometimes the Police arrive and wrestle the loudest into paddy wagons, other times shop owners spray hoses at the monster kids to keep them away from their store fronts. And because there are so many fast roads; accidents every few days – most walls are a patchwork of bricks.
Tomorrow I’m moving house in the afternoon but in the morning I’m doing another job for my “modelling” agency. Myself and a matching girl spokesmodel are, well, we’re not exactly sure – hang on, I’ll read the brief… Kelly and I are “Delegate welcoming, registration management & assisting with general management of the programme.” Standing round feeling awkward & smiling lots then. The brief also says I need to wear black shoes, and since I’m signing the lease tonight and can’t buy shoes after work, I begrudgingly decided to look for some here in Hendon.
I discovered the only shoe shop when I bought new laces for my current (and sole) pair of shoes a few days ago - a tiny cupboard of a shop with a table outside full of neon jelly shoes for a 5 year old and pointy heels with bows for women but which you’d expect to find in the same 5 year old’s dress up box. The owner was your archetypal Jew shopkeeper, instantly friendly but with a dry wit (“Why you wear brown shoes? No one wears brown shoes anymore!”) I left the shop with my 50 pence shoelaces and felt a twinge of sadness for him in his tiny little shop in Hendon with the pointy shoes with bows.
So it gave me a kind certain kind of satisfaction to go back to him today for a black pair of shoes. He was as jovial as before, not recognizing me to begin with but touching my arm like an old friend when I reminded him. I chose a very sensible polished black pair and he fetched my size from the mountain of boxes that engulfed the tiny room. As I tried them on he told me about his background, asked me about mine and before long we were chatting about New Zealand and Israel, terrorists (which he pronounced “tourists” and had me momentarily baffled to why he was so against them. I mean - sure - they clog up central London but I don't particularly want to see them all arrested), America and his many past shops across London. Each time he mentioned Israel he would prefix the comment with “Now, I don’t want you to take sides, but…”
Outside the sun was continuing its guest slot as “weather.” I tried on the size eleven again. The sewing shop man poked his head round the door to chat, coincidentally, about Israel, terrorists and America. As my shoe shop man packed up the selected pair, I had a sudden pang of something - but it was only afterwards on the walk back to the dark, stuffy little office that I realised I’d never looked for any reason to like Hendon. I’ve always thought I was too good for it. And, perhaps, if I hadn’t been so arrogant I would have had a few more of these spontaneous conversations in sunny Hendon Central.