Monday, 1 July 2013

A rural idyll: tea, teasels, toads, and Tory councillors - Long Lane Pasture

Finchley Labour councillors Arjun Mittra, Jim Tierney and Alison Moore

What would be your ideal summer Sunday afternoon? Pottering about in the garden? Watching cricket on the village green? In the crowd at Glastonbury? Or stuck in a field in Finchley with Brian Coleman, trying to resist the temptation to push him and his strawberry tea into a large pond?

Yes, a surreal afternoon yesterday for Mrs Angry, who had been invited by a friend to the unveiling of a new panoramic guide at Long Lane Pasture, a local open space and wildlife sanctuary only round the corner from home, yet somewhere she had never been, one of the secret places of Finchley, known only to a handful of doughty volunteers - and a large number of local politicians always ready to take the credit for a successful local voluntary project, of course.

It is all the more extraordinary not to have visited the place before, because Mrs Angry used to have one of the allotments on the land adjoining the site: originally both areas were part of land bought in 1912 by Finchley Urban District Council for 'public enjoyment and recreation', part of which was converted to allotments during the war. 

(If you are interested in knowing more about the local geography of this area, and indeed elsewhere in North London, you might be interested in the rather idiosyncratic website of Nick Papadimetriou, here - a local writer who has a unique knowledge of the underlying geography and history of the borough). 

The remaining section of this site is now a meadow managed by the Long Lane Pasture trust - see their website and it is home to a wide selection of wildflowers, everything from cow parsley to woody nightshade, and a full range of wildlife is regularly to be seen there - woodpeckers, voles, slow worms, toads - and Tory councillors, in abundance yesterday, observed in an unfamiliar habitat, where no one was shouting at them, or serving them with notice of a Judicial Review ...

The Pasture land was well used by local people until the 80s, when plans to widen the North Circular led to access being stopped, and when that came to nothing, a threat came in the shape of a proposal to build a housing development there. 

Coleman tweeted yesterday:

off to visit that rural idyll Long Lane Pastures saved from Fairview Homes by me, and others and run by excellent volunteers

Hmm. Saved by Brian Coleman: Mrs Angry thinks it is fair to say the site was in fact saved by the marvellous volunteers and acitivists in the community who worked to defeat the developers, organising a petition and campaign supported by local people, and that if the same site was available today, it would, along with our former museum, assorted libraries and anything else that isn't nailed down, be up for sale to the first bidder by our profiteering council.

Mrs Angry had gritted her teeth in anticipation of seeing local MP Mike Freer, but was surprised, and yet not surprised, to see on arrival the familiar figure of his disgraced former Tory colleague standing in the marquee scoffing cream scones and holding court. Mrs Angry smiled to herself, inclined to be indulgent for once, reflecting on the possibility that this pastoral interlude may not be altogether representative of the week ahead, for our ubiquitous friend. 

Clearly Freer is still on good terms with Coleman, despite his recent criminal conviction for assault and expulsion from the Conservative party: incredible, is it not, that neither Freer, nor any other Barnet Tory MP or councillor has had the decency to condemn what was a totally unacceptable act of violence against a woman? In fact, not incredible, entirely predictable, and exactly what one might expect from the institutionalised misogyny that is the mark of Conservatism in this borough. None of them seem to understand or care about the implications for other women who are the victims of male violence, in whatever context.

Also present was Tory councillor and Finchley Forum Chair Graham Old, who may well have wanted to push Mrs Angry in the pond after last week's meeting, but was perfectly charming and this, Brian, is how you are meant to behave with people who dare to hold different views to your own, did you know? 

Councillor Old

Local Labour councillors Arjun Mittra, Jim Tierney, and leader Alison Moore attended too: but of course the most important people there were the volunteers and supporters of Long Lane Pasture like Ann Brown, Donald Lyyven, and unsung hero Dennis Pepper, who does so much to safeguard the future of our open spaces in Finchley. Why has he not had a civic award? Doesn't hang out with enough Tory councillors, probably.

Dennis Pepper and wife Anne

Mike Freer turned up and grudgingly shook hands with Mrs Angry, who promptly and rather naughtily pointed out to the assembled guests that he was the only person, apart from Miss Angry, to block her on twitter, presumably for very different reasons. He replied, oh well, you should try saying something nice about me. Like f*ck, thought Mrs Angry, smiling politely: oh ... she replied, you mean, I say what you don't want to hear ...

Time for the unveiling: off we went, like characters in a dream, familiar faces in an absurd context, political enemies escaped from the Town Hall and trailing through waist-high grassland, in the soft focus sunlight of a summer afternoon, along the teasel-edged paths up towards the high viewpoint. Mrs Angry kept a discreet distance from Himself and his mother, beside herself with amusement, as a kestrel hovered hopefully over the field, looking for prey. 

 MP Mike Freer

 The new plaque describing the rather lovely view across the fields and allotments (disregarding the blot on the landscape that is the Pentland Centre) was duly unveiled by our local MP, who then shot off. Mrs Angry stood looking over towards her home, spotting the bat infested bell tower of Manorside School next door, (whose occupants are a form of wildlife that in her view is very welcome to move into the Pasture, and stay there).

As our Tory councillors laboured up the hill, they may not have spotted the sign which marks a commemoration of someone few people these days know about, and yet has been such a significant figure in the story of our social history, and the struggle to raise people out of poverty. 

The Victorian philanthropist Octavia Hill lived in this part of Finchley as a girl, and in later life recalled running about the fields and woods here. In a life dedicated to improving the conditions of the less advantaged members of society, she was a pioneer of the radical new idea of social housing, and founded a society that was the first to use home visiting social work in the cause of supporting those in need. 

She was also prominent in protecting open spaces from encroaching urban and suburban development, such as Hampstead Heath, as well as being one of three founders of the National Trust. Stick her on a banknote, says Mrs Angry. 

But how ironic that on Octavia Hill hill, our Tory councillors and MP stood preening themselves on their perceived reclamation of the view across Finchley. 

Just this week, the borough which now prioritises social housing to the deserving poor boasted it was building three new council houses. Three. At the same time, the need for realistically affordable housing is ignored, while developments like the one proposed for Gateway House, visible from the Pasture, will make fabulous returns for the speculators, from the sale of hugely expensive residences. 

And social care? In  Broken Barnet, the philanthropic ideal of public service, and helping our most vulnerable residents to live in comfort and dignity, has been replaced by the rule of market forces, and exploitation, and the pursuit of profit from care, in the shape of Your Choice Barnet.

We have a duty to take hold of our last remaining green places, and protect them for the future, and it is also right to remember the past, and honour the selfless pioneers of reform, who worked for the common good, and made the world a better place for those less fortunate than themselves. A sharp contrast, you might feel, to those in public office here and now, in Broken Barnet.

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