Kensal skies


This is the hashtag I give to all the photos i’ve taken of Kensal Rise, an area I lived in for almost two years, up until two days ago. Surrounded by Harlesden, Willesden and Kilburn with Ladbrove Grove to the south, Kensal Rise is a little oasis of gentrified terraces mixed in with non-gentrified terraces, all posh prams and Ocado vans by day, street shouting and booming car stereos at night.
The roads are low-slung, long and tightly-packed with Victorian houses boxed in side by side and back to back, and the whole place is criss-crossed with railway lines and a hotchpotch of different zebra crossings and corner shops and bus stops everywhere and the occasional open patch of dog-park or canal-side running route. And whatever the weather, the skies are wide and expansive.
Our little flat was halfway down a long road, a top-floor two-bedder with great snooping views up and down the street. We were treated to sunrise over the back gardens every morning, yellow circles pinging off all the windows, then rolling sunsets over the front rooftops every evening: surround sound. Until last Friday.
We now live three miles away on a different street with a different viewpoint: exquisitely pretty and what we have dreamed of and happy doesn’t even come close… but basement-led, looking at London from the bottom up, so we’ll no longer have those big bay views, and not much cause to pass by Kensal unless we’re gatecrashing a sausage barbie with the neighbour or making a special trip to get a Nooki fix (that shop needs branches everywhere).
My sister lived in KR before us and she always talked about the huge vistas that you got just walking down the road, or waiting for the train at the busy little station just four minutes’ walk from our door (three if you had to run).
The hardest posts I have to write are the ones about leaving, which is silly really. I should be good at it seeing as we’ve done a full house move five times in the last seven years (six if you count the in-law move too). As much as I couldn’t wait to return to our old/new flat, fully renovated, floored, ceilinged, shuttered, polished and twinkling, I’ll miss those beloved Rise skies just as much as my sister has done since she left, but that’s not all. I’ll also miss:

• The cat downstairs, and its owners
• The singing ticket office lady at Kensal Rise
• Ranting man shouting into his imaginary headphones marching up the road (probably to Tesco) and then fifteen minutes later striding back down again, still ranting
• My lovely pilates haven, a few doors down
• That long stretch of back gardens, full of parakeets and cats
• The yodelling opera woman shuffling at a snail’s pace and singing in her deep contralto, randomly, once in a lovely while
• Bell man, walking along ringing a bell, just cos
• Dusty tennis racket shop up a side street
• All the cats
• Cheap nails
• Cheap dry cleaning (even if they did sometimes forget where they’d put my stuff)
• Cheap Prosecco from Borough Wines
• Expensive but delicious and very friendly Minkies
• Mezzes from Le Comptoir
• Pizza from Sacro Cuore
• The canal
• Summer nights, with yelling and music floating over the black lawns and up through our open bedroom window
• Footie in The Whippet’s back garden
• The big Sainsbury’s down the road
• Popping in to Rise on the way to the big Sainsbury’s
• Gorgeous, satin-soft, bejewelled, leather-bound Nooki
• The hard-working little station just a last-minute trot away
• Huge steam trains every now and then choo-chooing down the back gardens
• Building and banging and hooting and shouting down our road all day and all night
• The drama of the corner Tesco
• The tiny school-kids from Freds tottering past trailing bags, scooters, biscuit wrappers, buggies
• The many different ways to get to Golders Green and beyond
• The Bakerloo Line: slowest line in the world but taking us everywhere
• Having actual Wembley Stadium just up the road (yet only ever using it once or twice in all the time we were there)
• Having actual Kew Gardens and Westfield Shepherds Bush mere stops away (still on the same train line, just that bit further)
• Reading all the local posts of solidarity whenever something rubbish happened nearby
• Knowing all the neighbours sandwiched around the house
• The funny library and its weird open days
• Ida’s: only went once but got the best table in the house, practically on the pavement
• Knowing I could send the boy to the shop and he’d be back in two minutes
• Naughty night-time foxes tipping bins over and singing badly
• That tiny, ergonomically fantastic kitchen with its parakeet-garden views
• The carpet. Wood floors are lush but aaaahhhhhh, carpets…
• The wobbly sash windows that rattled when vans went past, and in high winds
• The hall skylight, especially with a big full moon staring in through the glass
• Stained glass on the inside
• My geraniums, even though they’d begun to look as ragged as on old man’s ears
• My never-ending, grey, square-shaped running route
• Queen’s Park and the table tennis and the cafe and the funny little festivals that we never went to but probably will now we’ve only gone and left
• #kensalskies