As soon as you hop off the Tube, or train, or bus, or any of the other of Tottenham’s sole selling point (its range of escape routes) you get the same feeling everyone gets on arriving: you are not welcome here.
It’s hard to pinpoint it exactly. The pavement looks like it was bought to function as a death trap, slab fragments pointing accusatively from the ground at mad angles. Probably pointing at the people who have hawked all the saliva in their bodies onto them. Or the ones who used them as open-plan bins for their copious chicken bones and betting slips. Or maybe they’re showing where all those sinister and half-finished trails of crimson drips around the place actually lead. Or maybe, just like everyone else there, they just look like they’re in a bad mood because they are in a bad mood.
There are plenty of reasons why you might be in a bad mood in Tottenham. Even including the bleak and dystopian retail park, there’s so little money to be made here. So little work. And there are just as few places where you want to spend money. Or even your time. No cinema. No high street shops. The first and last time I went to watch the football in a pub, all I ended up watching was the racism of the white regulars and landlord.
So it’s no wonder the place seethes with such barely-restrained violence. I saw two kids innocently kicking a ball past – not even into – an abandoned car showroom get stopped by a police van packed with six officers and grilled before being ushered the way they were going anyway. I saw one driver just drop another in the road with a single punch after one nudged into the other’s car. I even saw some drunken arse gracelessly scale the gates of the middle-class fortress that is the gated housing complex one night, right in sight of the biggest police station in north London, and no one saw fit to do anything about it (and thank God they didn’t, I’d had far too much punch to explain I’d left my gate fob somewhere in Finchley). At least the Mayor of London is doing something about all the ill will felt towards the heavy-handed and ever-nervous police here: he’s cutting the station’s hours from 24/7 to 40 a week.
People will inevitably, and lazily, blame Tottenham’s crapness on its sheer range of disparate groups, gangs, communities and congregations. But all those people do have one thing in common: a total lack of hope that Tottenham will ever change. While we’re still there, the rest of the city having written off the place as a confusing mess of differences beyond reform-by-gentrification, we shuffle mean-faced dodging the spit and bones on the pavement, under the starkest sky in London, making for one of those myriad escape routes, at least for the day.