Radical books, Lego, charitable causes and, er, prison… Rosie Millard looks at the joys of North London’s Caledonian Road

It has nothing to do with Scotland, and there IS a prison on it. But the Caledonian Road is one of the most dynamic places in N1. I actually feel sorry for those who say, ‘Oh, you live near the CALLY?’ as if they find they need to go into mourning. Don’t they know how fab it is? Where else would you find a wonderful waxing parlour called So Fantastic! Whoever could think that having hair ripped from intimate parts of your body was fantastic? But that’s the positive vibe you get from the Cally. Apart from, perhaps, the prison bit. 

Anyway, I want to interest you in the start of the road, namely the King’s Cross end, for that is where the buzz is, thanks in part to the imminent arrival of the Institute of Physics, which is taking over the boarded up parade between the Vegan store and Tesco’s. The IOP, as we will all be calling it, is a leading scientific society and the building will be designed to showcase modern physics. Yes, there will be boffins grooving around the Cally.

Yet even before the boffins arrive, it’s worth strolling around, or take the 91, 17 or 259 and just get off at Aflorum. Housman’s, London’s only radical bookshop, is still open opposite, and so is Drink, Shop & Do, a ‘concept’ shop that puts on Lego robot building contests. But on the bus stop side, a formerly grim parade of nothing much, is now a rather fabulous array. From Matchless Gifts, a rather apt description for a shop selling old 45s, ceramic garden toads and other oddities, to the Trident Pottery, a nice coffee shop, a new hairdresser offering VERY cheap cuts and the glorious Pop Up 38, run by Naomi and my friend Leigh and which is completely brilliant for funky clothes, shoes and jewellery.

About 18 months ago Leigh and Naomi realised that all their posh mates in Barnsbury might have some spare old clothes. Or, indeed, new ones. This was the case. Which is how I came to own a brand new silver brocade dress from Day Birger et Mikkelson for £40. Paul Smith jackets, Emma Hope shoes, fantastic jewellery by Philippa Kumisch (whose work sells at the BritishMuseum for a LOT more), lava lamps, plastic kitsch – Pop Up 38 is your spot for all things bright and beautiful. The store neither looks nor smells like a charity shop, but actually it is! All the money goes to Lapis Lazuli Schools, a charity devoted to teaching children in Afghanistan.

After this, get your shoes fixed at Achilles Heel next door (where the proprietor transformed my beloved cowboy boots from torture chambers to wearable items) and ask Leo Giordani, who is 80, to slowly hand-slice you some Parma ham or Parmesan, in KC Continental Stores, which he has been running for 49 years. 

Will this piecemeal, quirky, unique place change into something big and corporate? I rather fear it will. Hurry along before the physicists demand the start of the Cally disappears into a single, giant Starbucks.  

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