A Abu Kalbin: newspaper seller

Estimated reading time:4 minutes, 51 seconds

Everyone on Islington Faces Blog has a story. Mostly it’ s just  A Abu Kalbin’s head and shoulders that customers see behind the huge newspaper and magazine kiosk at Angel. But that doesn’t stop people asking him questions as if he’s a talking A-Z. And after three years in this job, plus a short spell living near Paradise Park, N7 he’s a good source of local information. Interview by Nicola Baird

Abu Kalbin at the newspaper and magazine kiosk on the corner of Islington High Street and Liverpool Road.

Abu Kalbin at the newspaper and magazine kiosk on the corner of Islington High Street and Liverpool Road.

“I like to help people! I can look at the map or I’ll check their area postcode. EC1 is this side,” says Abu (his friends call him Alex) with a grin, pointing first left and then the other way towards Upper Street as he adds, “and N1 that side.”

Rayden Newsagents, to give the kiosk its correct name, is an Islington institution. It stocks every known newspaper and magazine and is open from 7am seven days a week. Abu isn’t the only person working there, but he’s the one who does a good job helping people find their way around while serving a stream of customers. “We mostly sell the Guardian, Times and Indy, and a few foreign magazines too, mostly Spanish or French. People know we’ve got a really good collection of magazines that they don’t see in WH Smith, Waitrose or Sainsbury’s.”

Read all about it
As the photo above shows Abu is surrounded by a sea of magazines including some fabulous titles such as Garage, The Gentlewoman, Hope Street as well as the more conventional exotic titles like Wallpaper* and i-D.  No wonder there’s a steady stream of fashion and design folk queuing up. As a joke – because I’m wearing a luminous yellow bike jacket – I ask whether I look like the sort of person who might buy a fashion mag. Abu laughs and has a quick retort. “You’re not going to pay £6 or £10 are you? Normal people, who are not too much into fashion, they get the weekly magazines like Grazia and Hello. Most of the fashion people are models or putting the seasonal clothes together. It’s their work.”

What we ask the guy on the newspaper stall
Q: Is this the way to King’s Cross?
Take the 2nd right

Q: Where’s Highbury and Islington station?
That way

Q: Is there an internet café nearby?
There’s one up Chapel Market on the left.

Q: Do you have Time Out?
No, it’s free and comes out on Tuesday, but you can see what’s on in the Evening Standard at Angel tube or tomorrow (Saturday) in the Guardian. (To help the pensioner couple clearly out in town on a Friday date who’d clearly been banking on Time Out to help them decide what to do.)

Football fan
Abu, 40, is from Jordan, and speaks Arabic and Hebrew fluently. But he’s good at English and fashion too – the magazine that most tempts him is GQ – so when he can he chats to the customers. “You know England,” he says laughing again, “if people are old it’s the weather, if they are young it’s football.”  Luckily he loves football and used to follow the fortunes of Bayern Munich (European Champions’ League winners and winners of the Bundesliga) and Liverpool. Now he “just likes to watch football at friends’ houses, and every two weeks we go to a pub to watch.”

In summer time it’s a really nice job. There are more people outside, they are happy and like to talk. But in winter it can get really cold [even with his small heater] and people don’t talk, they just like to go to work.”

Not surprisingly the kiosk has attracted a fair share of celebrities and crazies.

“I’ve met the Mayor, Boris Johnson. He’s a nice guy and he does normal talk – said ‘good morning, how are you, how is business’. What surprised me was he bought Private Eye! He’s a funny guy and relaxed, not like the MPs that take themselves so seriously,” says Abu.

“You meet a lot of people working here. I remember one woman, who was about 35, just picking up boxes of magazines and throwing them into the street. She didn’t speak but I could see something was wrong with her. I tried to calm her down and get the magazines out of the road.”

There’s always a few troublemakers to contend with too: “People do try to take the piss and make me angry but I just try to keep cool, and show I don’t care too much, so that they just walk away. If people try to nick magazines I just try to speak to them – if I can sort things out I’ll do it. If I can’t, or there’s fighting, then I call the police.”

Thanks to Abu’s way with people it rarely comes to that.

Rayden Newsagents,  Kiosk 2, Islington High Street, London N1 9LH

Over to you

If you’d like to feature on this blog, or make a suggestion about anyone who grew up, lives or works in Islington please let me know, via nicolabaird.green@gmail.com. Thank you. 

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This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

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