I am not a vegetarian, and I can take or leave Indian food – much of it in London seems indifferent, even a bit samey – but once in a while I like to pass by Drummond Street, just off the Hampstead Road, for a bag of mixed pakoras from the Ambala Sweet Centre, or for an inexpensive, meat free meal. There are a few places to choose from, but Kim and I tend to use the Diwana Bhel Poori House, beneath a fancy brown awning at the eastern end of the street.
I think if were to live more centrally I’d like to be on or just off Drummond Street. Like the eye of a storm there is calmness to the place, and unlike the West End where the air is muggy with the scent of overused fat, the air in Drummond Street is lightly spiced. And because few buildings are higher than three storeys, the sky is big, and at night, speckled with the lights of nearby office blocks.
Drummond Street is a world within a world. Another London, turning at its own speed on a different calendar. It’s been this way for as long as I can remember. All of which will change, and maybe not for the better, if proposals for the High Speed 2 (HS2) go ahead.
If you don’t already know the £33 million HS2 project, that will, boast its proponents, snip 30 minutes off the journey time by train between Euston and Birmingham, will cut a swathe of destruction through Camden Town. It looks certain to cause the demolition of over 250 homes in the Regents Park Estate, mostly on the western side of the Hampstead Road, and to accommodate an expanded Euston Station the London terminus of HS2 will devour all, or most, of Cardington Street, and crucially about 20 per cent of Drummond Street.
The scale of the project was described by the local Member of Parliament, Frank Dobson, as of another St.Pancras International.
Many, who have lived along the proposed route, and will have to be rehoused, are traumatised. Especially those who bought their council flats and who are faced with having to leave the area altogether owing to the value of their property, if compulsorily purchased, not being enough to pay for alternative accommodation in Camden Town. The council is fighting the proposals, and there is a long way to go.
Being mindful of the plans gave my trip there a different perspective. Some of the street will go forever, and the Diwana Bhel Poorie House will find itself cheek-by-jowl with a new mainline railway station.
You wouldn’t know of any of this to judge from the smiling faces within the restaurant. Boasting on its Facebook page that it is open 364 days of the year it is always packed with an assortment of office workers, hippie families with noisy children, student types, and the sort of old school fourth age leftie who would probably knit their own footwear given half a chance. Kim, Rob, Debs and I shared two plates of Bhel Poori, the spicy, crunchy starter made with puffed rice and chutney. For their main courses they each ordered those vast dosa pancakes, rolled into tubes that hang off the edges of plates, and stuffed with spicy potatoes. I went for a thali, which is a selection of rice, vegetable curry, dhal and chapattis.
What did the man with the heavy bottom lip and the wavy white hair at the till think of the HS2 plans? “If it happens, it happens,” he said with a resigned shrug.
Was he worried? Are people in the street worried? “Yes, they are,” he said looking me in the eye, perhaps forlorn with all the talk. “We’ll have to see.”