Crystal Palace vs. Highbury and Islington: a thoroughly unscientific and totally biased comparison

February 4, 2012 § 2 Comments

Having recently converted from my north London ways, I thought a faceoff between my old and new haunts was in order…

Cost of living

Highbury: I could just about afford a draughty room in a really manky flatshare with two guys who bore a striking resemblance to the protagonists of Fever Pitch… without the saving grace of either of them resembling Colin Firth. (Okay, I wouldn’t have wanted the Fever Pitch version of Colin Firth as a flatmate. Laddish behaviour aside, his hair was so bad it actually ruined the film for me.)

Crystal Palace: I can just about afford a smart new flat. With a beautiful kitchen with a dishwasher. And a roof terrace. And no flatmates!

Winner: Crystal Palace

(Admittedly, this isn’t really fair, as I was a student when I lived in Highbury and am now a working woman – but I still wouldn’t be able to afford my own flat there.)

Original inhabitants

Highbury: Roman soldiers

Crystal Palace: Gypsies (e.g. Gipsy Hill)

Winner: Crystal Palace, because a. I hated Latin and b. I’m an incurable romantic.

Current famous residents

Highbury: Nick Hornby, Jeremy Deller, Rowan Atkinson

Crystal Palace: Richard Ayoade*

Winner: Highbury in terms of numbers, but Submarine was pure genius. Draw.

Past artistic residents

Highbury: Walter Sickert

Crystal Palace: Camille Pissarro

Winner: Draw. How could I ever choose between them?

Length of daily commute (by bus)

Highbury: 35 minutes (assuming no traffic jams or, worse yet, Arsenal matches)

Crystal Palace: Almost 90 minutes

Winner: Highbury (sigh)

Number of palaces along bus route into work

Highbury: Nil

Crystal Palace: Four (the Crystal Palace, of which a bit of metalwork remains; Lambeth Palace; Whitehall Palace [Banqueting House]; Palace of Westminster)

Winner: Crystal Palace

Local park

Highbury: Highbury Fields. Not especially big but it’s carpeted in crocuses in the spring, surrounded by fine old terraces and wandering its paths helped keep me sane while I wrote up my PhD. However, loses a point because I once had the misfortune to pass Boris Johnson on his way home from playing tennis there, and he was wearing shorts that revealed him to have the pastiest pair of legs in existence. The horror! The horror!

Crystal Palace: Crystal Palace Park. Big and hilly, tremendous views over London, a sports centre with a 50-metre pool, and islands populated by Victorian dinosaur sculptures.

Winner: Crystal Palace, on the basis of the dinosaurs alone.

Local museum

Highbury: The Estorick Collection. A brilliant collection of Italian Futurism, with a café that serves some of the best espresso in London.

Crystal Palace: The Dulwich Picture Gallery. I’m probably going to be jumped on for saying this, but I don’t love the permanent collection. However, the building is beautiful and the special exhibitions are always impressive.

Winner: Draw.

Restaurants/cafés

Highbury: There was only one restaurant of note in Highbury when I lived there, a tiny Turkish place called Iznik. I loved it. I avoided eating out in Islington as the restaurants in and around Upper Street tended to fall into three categories: expensive places where one goes to be seen, chains, or places that weren’t very good (there seemed to be considerable overlap). I did once get treated to an excellent gastropub lunch just off Upper Street as advance payment for looking after a neighbour’s cat, but the cat turned out to be psycho. Is a nice lunch really worth getting bitten and scratched within an inch of one’s life? I think not.

Crystal Palace: Thai, Nepali, Sardinian, Portuguese, Venezuelan, Italian, Chinese, Indian, Caribbean, Brazilian, British… need I go on? I will, just to mention the inviting little café up the street from my flat that makes the best vegetarian pie and mash I’ve ever eaten.

Winner: Crystal Palace, hands down (although at the risk of sounding ungrateful I do miss Iznik).

Shops: all things edible

Highbury: La Fromagerie (the best cheese shop in London, although beyond a student budget so I seldom went) and a decent but not extraordinary Italian deli.

Crystal Palace: a cheese shop (smaller than La Fromagerie but rather more affordable), a Polish deli, a really good Italian deli, and a bakery that does virtuous (wholemeal sourdough) and wicked (pain au chocolat) with equal aplomb.

Winner: Crystal Palace.

Shops: other

Crystal Palace: an independent bookshop with a good local history section (including postcards of those dinosaurs), two antique markets, several vintage furniture shops. Not so good for clothes, although the lack of chains is refreshing.

Highbury/Islington: No independent bookshop, just a rather sad Waterstones. Lots of shops selling expensive trinkets that nobody could possibly need but that Islingtonians are apparently prepared to pay good money for. However, it also has one of only two branches of Noa Noa in London.*

Winner: Should be Crystal Palace but is, in fact, a draw. Damn you, Noa Noa.

Winner (overall): Crystal Palace. What, were you really expecting otherwise?

* 2013 update: apparently Richard Ayoade has moved on to Peckham… but on the other hand, Islington no longer has a Noa Noa. So the balance remains the same, I think…

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