A Special Place

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Ancient Woodlands and Altior Court, the block of flats we live in

I want to tell a story to help people sign a petition. I imagine doing it. I would speak to someone like the Crouch End Neighbourhood Forum (CENF) or Haringey Council. I’d get time at the CENF but two minutes in the Planning Department where our objections are lodged would suffice. I’d start like this:

In listening to me you’ll detect an accent and think he’s not local, he’s a brummie. Well, Don’t. I’m black country. Proud of it.

When I was an active baggie boy, not an armchair one, I’d drive to London, Leave at the end of the M1, pick up the North Circ, turn onto the A1 and hang a left past Highgate Station. I’d drive a little way before turning round and parking as close to the station as I could. In doing so I’d think, ‘what a lovely road. I’m happy parking here. I feel safe’. Safe in London. Imagine.

Years passed. Leaving West Brom I came to London via Colchester. 61 years old. These are the three home towns I’ve known. I feel deep connections to each. London life started in Tottenham. I’ve only lived in Haringey. A friend told me about three lovely ladies making smashing cups of tea in the church up the road. I visited them and came, in time, to work with them. I always got a good cup of tea. I never thought one of those lovely ladies would become my lovely wife. One did.

I moved in with her. She lived in Shepheds Hill, Highgate. A lovely road. We have shared our  lives for 30 years. Awhile after moving in I walked up the hill. I’d done this many times. This time  I realised, I lived in the same road I parked my car in as a visiting baggie. It felt extraordinary. A magical connection. I looked around and smiled. I felt grateful to the trees, the energy around me. I thought, I’ve arrived, I’m home. It felt fantastical that when I used to park on the top of the hill my future wife was living at the bottom of it. Do you believe in magic?

Here’s something I believe. I believe your environment moulds you. Its one of those things that adds up to who you are. The place you live, the way you feel about it. I love it. I love my local environ. I’m more Crouch End than Highgate. Highgate’s my postal address. I’m part of a community here. I go to my local to watch the football. I particularly like to go when the Albion are on. People know I’m a baggie. My community has grown over the years. I know my fellow residents. We meet, eat, drink together. We get on well. Through our time in this place we have built links, embraced changes. Stayed together. I have become more aware of the history surrounding me. It pleases me that I live in a lovely road in a conservation area that was designed to protect Victorian Villas from demolition.

This is at risk. Demolishing the Villas next door, replacing them with an imposing block of flats, defined as detrimental to the area, just as the block I live in is defined as detrimental, just as every other block in the road is defined as detrimental,  causes great sadness. The conservation area will be scarred. The trees that best define the environment we live in will be savaged as four are uprooted and cleared to make space for this new build. I am saddened that the whole frontage of this building will impinge upon the hill in ways no other building ever as. I am sad that my wife who is not tolerant to noise will feel she will have to move and face re-housing as the Villas come tumbling down. I stand to lose the magic I have felt here. I stand to lose my historical connection with place. I stand to lose my sense of community. My shape is changing.

This is why I talk about this. This is why I campaign and ask people to sign this petition. This is why I am opposed to demolition. The why is because my environment will no longer sustain me. Make conservation matter in Crouch End. Let’s build a Sustainable Haringey.

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Research Visit

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The way it was, the way it is.

Took a trip down Memory Lane yesterday.

Bruce Grove Museum used to be around the corner and up the hill from where I once lived in sunny Tottenham. I never went there back then. I do remember, my peer, Roger Braithewaite, doing an article on it for our Community Magazine, Haringey Ghost Town, scripted and produced by unemployed writers. Or at least I think I do. Memories are illusive. Some are made up. Others ill remembered; inaccurate. I used to have a great memory. It was good at sequencing, getting things right.

Nowadays I’m more dependent on others. Yesterday my dependency hinged on the cooperation of the Borough’s Archivist. We were never introduced by name. Though she knew mine for to get into the inner sanctum of the museum an appointment is strictly necessary.

My business such as it was involved researching histories. Not mine. Someone elses. Well, maybe. Certainly somewhere elses. To be specific I was researching next door, 70-72 Shepherds Hill, on the recommendation of the Victorian Society, who suggested that to campaign against its demolition we needed useful facts and figures. Something that said this building was of historical significance.

The time I spent there was interesting bordering on fascinating. I started by flicking through plastic sheathes holding post cards and photographs dating back more than 130 years. Then considering maps from 1894 and later, where I could see the buildings clearly but could not ascertain their house numbers. Its amazing to think that there have been so many changes on this road even down to the house numbers. We were a rural community then. Fields stretched out before us. A shepherds cottage existed on our corner with Coolhurst Road. A priory was at the top of the hill. The area behind the block of flats I live in was called something like North View. All gone now of course. All gone bar these Victorian Villas – a small reminder of our past, the people we used to be. Highgate Street Directories gave the names of the people who lived on the hill. A Lt Colonel became a local dignitary. But I could not link a name to the numbers.

Maybe the Villas have no historical interest. Some are saying they have no architectural merit.  but they have been here through different ages, they have seen, their walls have heard, and in spite of their many years they are still standing, their good condition in question.

I also know from other maps that behind them, behind us, we have ancient woodland. We look out on to some greenery still. Fields, allotments, Queens Wood, Highgate Wood. They are in our view and our street is tree-lined, a distinctive feature that I personally value more than the buildings. And of cause this verdant wonder is of itself at risk for with the demolition comes the destruction of up to four amazing trees. .

I am more linked to this campaign today because of the yesterdays I visited in Bruce Grove Museum and I am grateful of the time spent there and accordingly I recommend to all that you take the time to visit your borough’s archivists to take the time to reconnect with your pasts.
But for now in this present moment, can I ask you to sign this petition and share it on your social networks knowing that the technological advances we use at home or hold in our hands can save the past for the present whilst we continue to look to our futures.

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New Neural Pathways – Sign the Petition

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The post below, ‘Never Knowingly Nimby-ed Here‘ is about the struggle to decide whether or not to get involved in taking action, the dilemmas I faced in making such a decision. I think taking action calls for thoughtfulness, decision making based on that and then an ongoing commitment in spite of outstanding commitments.

Today I was speaking to a stroke survivor. Our meeting was about Peer Support. He was telling me in some ways his life is much better, he knows more, he recalls more, his memory is sharper. He said when is life changed he started making new neural pathways and this is how he survived.

This gave me the opportunity to celebrate doing something new today and therefore firing new neural pathways. Imagine. All the petitions i’ve ever signed. All the causes I’ve ever backed and I’ve never ever done my own petition. Well I have now.

We need support comrades. If you read this please sign the petition.

 

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Never Knowingly NIMBY-ed here

Crouch End is rapidly becoming the home of personal and political insurrection.

The clock has just turned Post Brexit. 450 worried remainers and the odd leaver throng the town hall to hear Catherine West MP suggest what may and what may not be done next week. The police are in attendance to assure there is no Jo Cox here but also to pronounce on what can be done on race hate crime. Incidents have been reported here and in Muswell Hill. Name calling. The new classic; “We voted leave – what you still doing here?” We decide to go to the Unity protest in Parliament Square. 50,000 people saying Woe. Bean models a leaflet

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Tick tock. Weeks pass. A Don’t Sell Our Green protest has been called outside the Town Hall. Froth and Ferment. I’m not so sure about this one. My punk sensibilities deride the hippies who come sit on the grass when the sun shines; my animal sensitivity is enhanced when I see snotty kids chasing pigeons that I normally wouldn’t have any time for and besides you know you’re average native Crouch Ender; well, they do raise the smell of NIMBYism and I’ve never knowlingly NIMBY-ed here.

That said it is grass, there are trees, we all know about the water table and what happens when paving over gets paved over. And why build a Piazza? Don’t we have enough coffee opportunities already. So, I’m undecided. Good thing, bad thing, couldn’t care less thing. But hats off to the organisers, a hurrah for the campaigners. Always speak up, always speak out. Here’s some campaigners. Here’s some style. Sometimes a photo can look risible.
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And now to Bean’s campaign. Next door is to be demolished and to be replaced by a block of flats. Should I fuss myself with this one. In days gone by when next door on the other side of our block was proposed as a homeless hostel. I stood against the campaigners who were saying no. It was class nimbyism at its worse. Nasty stereotypes of homeless people dived and dagged in the ether. I guess this demonstrates my approach to NIMBYism. If its for a community, a marginalised group. I won’t NIMBY. I won’t side with the outraged gobshite of Tunbridge Wells fame. They’ve got what they want and they’re not so special.

Whereas the block development. Well, its still hard for me not to have some sympathy for people who want to develop their homes, sell up and move on; loaded. But look at the map. This is a conservation area. Its a green thing we live in. Conservation has to mean something. Ecological preservation man. I’ve been flying flags on facebook lately. CND, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth next. These associations used to mean something to me. I’ve sat in the streets for this. I’ve saluted Swampy. It really doesn’t bother me that another block of flats is going up. It bothers me that the trees are coming down. It bothers me that the reasons for the siting of the conservation area, ie, the protection of Victorian buildings from demolition, is to be unlocked, dismantled and broken down. So, I salute Beanie. I salute her energy. I salute her leaflets (partly write them), her passion for petition and I was so glad to accidentally introduce her to the Chair of Planning. The revolution may not be televised, but I can hear the voices of the active and I say Go Buddy Go Buddy Go Go Go.

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Bi Polar Cult of Crouch End Hide-Aways

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B looked in, came in, joined the look out

Back in the day when I felt far away from myself and everyone around me
I’d sit looking out from Crouch End Hideaways
Consumed by sardonic commentaries, cynical world views,
On couples holding hands, papoose bound children, infamous Crouch End Mothers
Who never heard the news nor felt the bile beneath my well defined hatred.

I’d known relief in hideaways before in childhood
A low slung branch of the hawthorn tree on the perimeter of the playground
A hollow in the sand stone on the very edge of the common
Beneath a fence, this side of arable land
Places to watch and mark and name and fumigate, snarkly at the enemy

But today is close to the outbreak of summer and there are new vistas
It doesn’t hurt so much to sit and stare and spot the names I’ve learned today
A friendly face, a rotund body, a tress of hair, a gait, a walk
You and they and anyone can sit with me here in my Crouch End hideaway
I won’t be stopping long. I have a life to lead.

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I Wish For Just One Day You Could Stand Inside My Shoes

Bob-Dylan
It’s 5 days after Bob Dylan’s 75th Birthday by my calculations.

We have been invited by long term friend, Ged Keilty, to attend a celebratory event at The King and the Queen, Foley St, London.

Its an immediate yes to the invite but it arrives with a smidgen of trepidation. We are not sure what to expect. We arrive with Tom and Rita. We being; Bean and me. We have eaten at Ethos previously reviewed on this blog and we have already had some disappointment. Mine is based on a mistake. Too much dry food. Not enough sauce. We all need sauce.

The King and The Queen is filling up. A football crowd look forward to a second Champions League Final between Athletico and Real. But there is no sign of Ged. We look outside for a second entrance. There is one way in and one way out. I stand a round and ask a bar keep where the folk might be. We are directed upstairs.

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Steve as started with Song to Woody if I am not mistaken. We pop our heads into the room. We are warmly welcomed. Ged explains the score. There will be a number of solo spots. Only songs pre-dating May 65 are allowed. Martin, Dave (? so many names to learn and remember) and Ged are to follow in line. John will lead a quiz. The evening will end with a jam. The players will stand where Dylan stood way back in 62/63. His first performance was on the Beeb in this place. Ged celebrated with a song recital of the lesser known Gliding Swan. Reverence is overtaken by laughter. A mood swings in as songs are sung. Respect lives here. But its light.

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The mood is set for the greatest quiz on Dylan ever. Here we are, one and all, with some unbroken attachment to the man named Bob. Some of us know the bard too well for our sanity not to be in question. Others have shared a dalliance with the gold dust repertoire. Others sit in between knowing and not knowing so it is another strain of trepidation comes into being. Will we reveal ourselves as no hope, no nothings, (Rita does) or will we become competitive (I know I do) only to fail. The point remains at all times however, that it doesn’t matter. The game is inclusive and guess work works well for some. Bean is glad for instant to have guessed grey at one point or was it gray? Any sum you achieve at the end is yours and there to be also celebrated. It is no surprise and no great thing tha ged got one more point than Steve. There is no prize. Only kudos from Newcastle which John would have us believe starts with a ‘C’.

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And then the jam. Its not tart and it doesn’t make for a country pie. It remains sweet and provides room for guest vocals. We all sing together. We are a birthday choir. We have lit the candles. Time passes slowly up here in the mountains. Not long before we encore with Knocking on Heavens Door.

My blog or at least this blog has turned into a celebration of survival, it is an ode to life. So good tonight to witness the life of another poet.

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Blue Belle, Bodie and the Bums

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There is something about a wood at this time of year. One of the bums says its about the time of year, the season and the fake smell of lavender. Blue Belle is absent. Blue Belle has gone to stay with friends. Me. I’m a bum and I’m out walking with another bum and his dog Bodie. The other Bum is more grounded than myself. He’s walked this way before. He knows the route. All my maps and memories are fake. They don’t belong here. They belong somewhere else. My mind says Patsull, Patsell, Patshell. It’s interesting I can’t spell it anymore. Patshull has gone the same way as the patronage I found there. Lost on the track with the tree from whence hung 100’s of weasels though they could be stoats. A terrifying game played by the keeper barking keep out all who enter here.
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Deers Leap is closer to the wood I knew. I’m surmising there are millions of Deers Leaps. High fences on the edge of the wood where the deer leaps out. Last year on a Devon Road a companion said do you know why these hedges are so high. Its to stop Henry riding with his hounds in pursuit of stag and fox. No need for the Devon Deer to leap. Another friend said minimalism cannot be understood until all types of something are understood. He was talking hedges. Or was it bushes. It may have been bushes. You cannot know a bush he said until you know all bushes. I thought his minimalism was maximalism until the day after his saying it. Then I went out along the road blearly eyed looking at Volkswagens. A yellow Volkswagen stood out different to the rest. There can be no other like this. It is unique. It stands alone. It is of its own minimal essence and so it is I understood and by extension so it is that everyone else tends to get it completely wrong except for those that know. Minimalism is not anti materialism. The materialism within minimalism is within the uniqueness of the material and within the sanctity of what the materials mean to you. Slowly I reach an understanding of the world.
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I am thinking these things within the Heartwood. The Deers Leap is bounded by a track. The track leads to the bluebells and the wood of my childhood. The bells were blue and the foxes red. It was a small wood. Most blue bell woods are. It existed within wider furrowed fields were I met with my first electric fence and where I hobbled long distances with blisters on the hard summer stone past barns, past Devil Coachman’s Lane where I longed to meet with the even touch of  tarmac and then a road. We would cross the road and go straight on – making our way past the old school into the new school, relieved that our Sunday nightmare was over. But I want to hang a right. I want to see a sign. A sign that can no longer be there. I remember it as being green but it could have been blue. It held the word delicate but did not hold it delicately so. It stood there below the other words bold enough to be mock. Delicate.

I was delicate. My friends were delicate too. The sign it told me so. I want to stand in front of it today the big strong bum I have become  but it mocks me still by being no where laughing. Save for in my mind. Just past the sign is a left turn. Take it or else you reach a v Junction. This being the first and possibly only v junction I ever knew. Though there have been others, this one remains in my mind. You can find it on my lost map. I take the turn. Fox gloves, Speedwells, Forget-me-nots. Back home mom grew a hollyhock. I think i see a Sunflower too. Tall plants. We are a tall family. The Foxglove outgrew me then. I looked up to it. Just like I looked up to the hollyhock. Looking up to the hollyhock, looking back on looking up to the hollyhock I kind of remember some sort of magic festering in my mind. The foxglove gave off a rank smell. Putrid. There is a witchcraft here.

The lane led past the headmasters. He lived there, friendly, bucolic and kilted sometimes, but he also lived with the evil Mrs Mac. the cruel, sardonic, Mrs Mac. Some look back on her like I look back on looking up to that hollyhock. Clearly the lead witch.  I hurry past the entrance to their yard. There is no way they can possibly still be living. But just in case I hurry past. A barn lies to the north. An owl flew through the open door, a mouse in its beak, to feed its young. I do not think of following it. Someone said some time once upon a long, long time ago that they had heard of men losing their eyes to owls. I think about having my eyes pecked out; of being blinded. It enchants me. there is much I would prefer not to see in this primeval landscape and whilst I welcome the loss of sight in fantasy the thought also sickens me. So I will stay my distance from the owl and I will hurry even quicker past the rookery for what one lone barn owl might render to you this black throng of cawing blackness can likewise many times deliver.

I have one more left to turn to complete the cycle of the walk though there are other fields all round that I could also travel through but not this time. This is the last stretch. To the right, the sports field bordered by rabbit holes where the beastly Beastone set his traps of twig and wire and brick, a far from foolproof system aiming to maim those currently beset by myxomatosis. Beastone the Bastard loves blood. To watch us bleed he finds so beguiling. A fist to the nose, to the eye, to the chin. Bruises are good too but blood wins. I sense him watching from an upstairs window and I dive further to the left.

I am amongst blackberry brambles on my way to a hawthorn. The thorn is large. This tree sapped of blossom by huge thorns. I think of using them against Beastone but I have been foolish. the brambles, the nettles, the thorns they have all stung me and i bleed and as I bleed I suck to taste the life draining away from me. Exhausted by the walk I wish to sleep. I find myself nodding off in the branches, cupped by the bough, suspended. I will lie awhile and i will dream of fairies. There has to be some good somewhere in this pale remembered geography. I will find the good. I will find the good.

I will find the good or else go to scout camp and learn to tie a noose. I will find the good.  Or I will struggle with a black dog that I will carry forever onwards in my lap. I will find the good.

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