Camden Town review
I'm too old for Camden. You have to be under thirty and come here for the pubs and clubs and loud banging and clanging music, and cheapo markets.
There are three kinds of student in the world. The first type are the quiet ones, who sit at pine tables tapping out essays and letters into their laptop computers, next to a takeaway tub of nuts and salad. The second type walk around with bright blue hair and a steel bar through their nose, impatiently waiting for any kind of trouble to break out, with which they can show some solidarity (it doesn't matter what it is -- as long as they can shout at someone). And the third type are the wasters, the drinkers -- the happiest ones -- who spend their days doing nothing worth remembering, so have nothing to forget. You can see all three types in Camden. They live here for a few years before swapping out their university clothes for a smart city suit and shiny pair of shoes. As soon as they don the uniform of an adult they have to move out of town — that is the rule. And they are only allowed back in as day-trippers and tourists.
I'm sitting here watching some older ones desperately trying to delay their age by sporting a ponytail and a pork pie hat. They are the kind of people who splash aftershave over their designer stubble, and spend five minutes struggling to make a roll-up when they'd rather have a cigarette.
I will say this, though... Camden has got some of the craziest shop fronts in London. Have a walk down Camden High Street and you'll see huge shoes the size of rowing boats nailed to the roof, and playing cards that are bigger then a bedspread hanging off the wall. I can see scorpions and dragons and fifty foot snakes, big yellow elephant heads, and even a naked lady wrapped around in black leather. One of the shops has got an airplane out the front (not a picture of a plane -- a twenty foot long model of one). Camden reminds me of the seaside — one of those beachfront promenades selling buckets and spades and tacky tat to the tourists. It's all cheap T-shirts and Union Jack ashtrays, 99p umbrellas and mirrored sunglasses. Every shop seems to be selling beanie hats and clip-on cases for your mobile phone. If you want to buy a cigarette lighter with a !@$% leaf on it, then this is the place. If you want to buy one of those colourful bongs which look like a broken set of bagpipes, then come to Camden. Camden High Street is full of shops that have rails of hats and tat hanging from the top. Get your Bob Marley t-shirts! Get your 'I Love London' shorts and shirts! Get some postcards and a picture of the Pope smoking dope!
It gets better when you reach the lock, because there are plenty of pavement cafes and posh pubs to have a sit-down. It's very nice around there when it's sunny, but if you make the mistake of coming at 8 AM on a cold January morning (like I did today) then bring a pair of gloves with you for chrissakes, because it's almost too cold to write anything down. My jaw has started to ache from my chattering teeth. The ducks are dipping their toes in the water before they get in, to check its temperature. The frozen leaves are hanging off the trees like crystal droplets on a chandelier.
The lock gates look nice from fifty feet away, but if you take a closer look then you'll see a rubbish dump of litter floating up behind. I can see tin cans and beer bottles, paper plates and polystyrene kebab cartons, two deflated old footballs, plus a chopped up forest of sticks and twigs and unwanted builder's planks. Don't let that put you off, though, because it's probably just too early in the morning for them to have emptied it (it's 8 AM). As soon as they open it up for a boat it will flush away like a toilet.
There's one part of Camden that I definitely recommend you visit -- the market. Every guidebook ever written recommends Camden Market, but they rarely tell you that there's more than one. So lots of tourists step straight off the tube and end up in the tacky one down Camden High Street, and wonder what all the fuss is about. So here is my advice: ignore that one and find Camden Lock Market instead (by the lock), and especially Stables Market down Chalk Farm Road. Stables Market is the real beauty, and is nestled amongst the railway arches. It's decorated with bronzed-models of horses, wooden stalls and fairy lights. I think it's worth a visit even if you're not buying anything.
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