Northside - Andrew Martin demands new North Circular signs

I found the turn-off for John Lewis on the North Circular Road - once

On the current UK passport application form there's a section saying that the documents you must enclose if you want a first passport are your birth certificate and photographs of yourself. Later on, it says that if you're applying to replace an expired passport you don't need to send any documents, but this time around the definition of "documents" has changed, for while you don't need to send a birth certificate, you do need to send photographs, as becomes clear by implication from other parts of the form.

Well, I think the person who created the passport form must also have designed the signage on the North Circular Road, or might at least have been involved as a consultant. The road and its various arteries are full of signs offering such elemental choices as "the West" and "the North", but what if you want to go east? Who, after all, knows where Cricklewood stands in relation to Hendon in terms of the compass? And come on, quickly now: is Hampstead west or east of Golders Green? You have two seconds to decide, because that's how long you've got when driving on the North Circular.

The road is built, and signposted, on the assumption that everyone who uses it is familiar with the geography of north London to a degree commensurate only with having spent at least an entire lifetime there. Yet many people using the road were, like me, born and brought up elsewhere. I used to think you could only call yourself a true north Londoner if you could find the correct turning off the North Circular for John Lewis without killing anyone. It's counter-intuitive, because while John Lewis is on one side of the North Circular, the turn-off you must take to get to it is on the other. I got it right once, but then for years afterwards couldn't find it again.

The great unspoken fact of living in north London is that you are really living on the North Circular Road. It's where most of the reasonably priced shops are, for one thing. And you can't escape north London without using the North Circular, so that, as Highgate residents, our own holidays are bookended by bouts of sitting in our car and screaming at each other and our fellow motorists as we try to find the right lanes leading from the M40 or the A1.

Luckily, my time as the father of toddlers predated the introduction into the Brent Cross Shopping Centre - accessible only by the North Circular - of gargantuan shopping trolleys with built-in pedal cars, but I wouldn't rule out ending up like a late-middle-aged man I saw at the Brent Cross Marks & Spencer. He was trying on a pair of beige slippers for £22.99. "What do you think?" he crabbily asked his wife. "I don't know," she crossly answered. "They're your feet, aren't they?"

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