Sunday 19 July 2015

Living Life Elevated, or: Hasta La Vista - the reinvention of West Hendon

Mrs Angry never can resist an invitation to an opening: especially one that offers opportunities for mischief - and free champagne, in line with her own brand of socialism, of course.

Well then, Saturday morning, and off to West Hendon, to take a look at the new showroom apartment in the Barratt London development, nestling - no: dropped into the marshy terrain, the waterfront that is the willow fringed borders of the Welsh Harp, squatting on the ground where once stood rows of terraced houses, flattened in the war by enemy bombing, in one terrible night in 1941, which took the lives of so many civilian victims, and made more than 1,500 people homeless.

Next to the site, the 1960s council estate which gave new homes to local families is being demolished, piece by piece: an entire community mercilessly destroyed, and who knows how many people being made homeless, not by enemy action, but by their own elected representatives - so as to allow the creation of a private development, one from which they have been effectively excluded, despite the entire project being sanctioned under the guise of 'regeneration', and subsidised by the public purse.

As it happens, Mrs Angry has had occasion, recently, to have to research the price of properties in the London Borough of Broken Barnet, and how amusing it was to her to find that the very first suggestion of all property searches results in an invitation to go and live in Hendon Waterside, this beautiful, if entirely fictional concept being marketed by Barratt London. 

She decided she ought, therefore, to go and take a look. Perhaps fate was, after all, leading her to spend her twilight years on a balcony in West Hendon, gazing upon the ... what is it, let us check the brochure ... the 'tranquil environment' and the 'picturesque views'.

Well, depending which way you look, of course.

Arriving in West Hendon, and looking for the road that leads to the lovely new development - trying to cross the Edgware Road, which is a hair raising experience of its own, it must be said that Mrs Angry was somewhat puzzled.

Where was Waitrose? What: no Carluccios? No White Company?

Qu'ils mangent de la brioche, but: an absence of hipster patisseries to supply them ...

Trianon House. Ah yes: memories of Marie Antoinette, and her downsized chateau retreat, in the grounds of Versailles. Hmm. And a useful car accessory shop, selling hubcaps. 

Are these signs of regeneration, or degeneration, following years of blight caused by the promised 'regeneration' that will never now take place?

On reading the literature being distributed by Barratt's sales team, one could only be more mystified. Still: nice to see that an 'uplift' in terms of more aspirational residents was clearly already underway. Look: a feeder nursery to the academy establishment attended by so many members of our Tory government:

Eton Nursery, for any unexpected child yield in West Hendon: for aspirational toddlers

Down the road, then.

Not to worry, this is only the view for the poor people, not Marie Antoinette, or the Russian oligarchs in the new development: the sans culottes, who have been 'decanted' into the new Bastille, safely outside the footprint of the private scheme, facing the backyards of the Edgware Road.

For those who live on the wrong side of the fence, in Hendon Waterside: no view of the water, of course. Pay for view clients only, here.

Mrs Angry wandered down into the estate. She thought she was in Tyrrell Way, but - oh: no. Now, Mrs Angry, you are in ... Moorhen Way. 

Local historical names must be obliterated, now, in Hendon Waterside. Year Zero has begun. 

Tyrrel? It was the name of a local vicar. No one except Mrs Angry knows that anymore, probably, unless they've spent hours sitting in the British Library looking at a now forgotten history of the parish. There you go: at least it will be remembered here, in a virtual chronicle. 

Moorhens: they are half bird, half duck. Neither fish nor fowl. No, neither waterfowl, nor ... Oh, I don't know. Yes, they have them on the Welsh Harp. At the moment, before the SSSI status is lost, as a result of the impact of the development on the wildlife that once lived here.

The gates to the new development were open, but hovering outside was another endangered species: a group of residents, ready to greet prospective buyers intent on attending the Barratt opening day.

Resident Mitzi, who must endure the construction site, & all the noise and constant dirt from the site right next to her home

An air of unease surrounded the entrance. Security guards watched the residents suspiciously, as if they were migrants gathering at Calais, waiting to steal their way into the promised land behind the border, the black fence that defends Fortress Barratt from intruders. 

Reclaiming the banner

Also outside were the two film makers who are making a documentary for the BBC on the West Hendon story, to be broadcast later this year. While we were all talking, someone spotted the security guards had pulled the residents' banner out of the flower bed by the entrance: they rushed in and demanded it back, shouting - thieves! Thieves! 

After a stand off, the banner was taken back and returned to the entrance. The residents had won one small battle, at least. Each side retreated behind their lines.

Jasmin, in her Lennon specs, and some lyrics to serenade visitors ...

A few prospective buyers were trickling in and out of the newly opened showroom reception area. As they passed by, the residents spoke to them, perfectly calmly, but honestly, asking them if they knew the background to the development, or that they would effectively be buying a property on a building site, that this was the first Saturday for a very long time that had not been dominated by the sound and mess of the contractors working on the site? 

Most visitors were interested, and listened to what residents said. But inevitably a police car arrived, on whose behest it was fairly obvious. They found no problem, however, and left shortly afterwards, respecting the residents' lawful right to conduct a peaceful protest.

Some residents held up pictures representing the history of the site, and told the visitors, who listened attentively, it must be said, exactly what does lie beneath the new development: the memorial park, the sacred ground that Barnet and Barratt do not want to acknowledge.

Time to cross the border between West Hendon, and Waterside. Mrs Angry slipped through customs, without being stopped (some of the residents had been refused entrance) and passed the smiling young women at the door, to be greeted by a lovely lobby full of more smiling young people, and an array of hospitality. 

A suitably uxorious waiter offered Mrs Angry a glass of champagne, absurdly balanced on its own square wooden tray, and she sipped at it whilst admiring the model developments in their perspex display cases, her Barratt goody bag swinging delicately on her other arm, full of lovely pictures to look at on the way home.

Later she read the brochure, one headed with an invitation to 'live life elevated' with great excitement, as a prospective buyer, of the many attractions of the West Hendon area, which Barratt London, in a feat of engineering surpassing even the 32 story tower of babylon that is The Vista * (yep: that's what they call it), have moved West Hendon into Hampstead, and even as far as Primrose Hill, Camden Town, and ... Selfridges. Marvellous. Doesn't mention the Edgware Road, of course, or the kebab shops, or Trianon House, or the Motor Shop, or the lack of Waitrose, Carluccios etc. 

*Vista: a pleasing view.

synonyms: view, prospect, panorama, aspect, perspective, spectacle, sight; 

a long, narrow view as between rows of trees or buildings, especially one closed by a building or other structure.

a mental view of a succession of remembered or anticipated events.

"vistas of freedom seemed to open ahead of him"

These models were truly a work of art: Mrs Angry particularly admired the one that lit up slowly, then off again,  provoking uneasy catholic childhood memories of pay as you go illumination of shrines in French and Italian churches. Where do you put the coins, to turn the lights on? No: sign here, bottom of the mortgage agreement. Easy. 

And then there was the interesting display of the wider project, with the later buildings which will, as you can see, be made of sponge, presumably, thought Mrs Angry - remembering the wishful rumour that is now floating about West Hendon, that the new tower block is slowly sinking, like Venice, with the weight of too much aspirational folie de grandeur, into the marshes on which it is built - made of sponge in order to soak up any excess water from the land which was reclaimed from the once much larger reservoir, many years ago?

Hasta la Vista, baby? 

Who mentioned babies? Not allowed, not here. Read on.

In the cool of the air conditioned building, in the lobby and upstairs in the apartment there wafted a familiar scent: 'Orange Blossom', by Jo Malone, clearly a favoured brand by Barratt's set dressers. 

The hard faced, urban invasion of a idyllic landscape, sanctified by calming aromatherapy, a benediction, with fragrance rather than incense, to induce a sense of well being, and represent prayers for a better life rising up to heaven, or at least to the penthouse flats on the 32nd storey - and to encourage an inexplicable urge to buy into a luxury development of socially cleansed, sweet smelling properties, courtesy of Barratt London. 

Off to the lifts to see the flat, accompanied by a handful of other prospective buyers, eyeing our escort salesman  with suspicion, as he checked with a colleague where exactly he was supposed to go. He had never been there before, it seemed. He took us to the bin store, first time round, said one of the visitors, laughing behind his hand. 

Up to the first floor and here was a sight familiar from Mrs Angry's previous visit to the other showroom. 

Here, however, in the new location, the narrative that informed the decor was slightly less edgy, rather safer, and more like something out of a Next catalogue, circa 1991: with not Alexander McQueen on the coffee table, but a book on Impressionism - meh - and three peculiar 'artworks' on the wall that looked as if they might be pieces of distressed concrete removed from the backyards of distressed, evicted social tenants on the council estate: a sort of trophy, wondered Mrs Angry? 

In the bedroom, this time, now we have left behind the distant fantasies of the former showroom, and moved into the new now, where only those privileged few who can afford the sort of mortgage that will deliver them into this new development may even dream about living here ...there is no empty wallet on the bedside table, no watch, no discarded dress lying enticingly on the bed, beneath the teasing reflection of an artfully shattered mirror: 

This apartment is aimed at young professional couples, and so here we find the same sparkly dress, but hidden away, and neatly hung in the wardrobe; some new handbags, a pair of tea canisters, (normally keep mine in the kitchen, don't you?) and a nice pair of tan shoes, not really f*ck me shoes, more the sort of thing you might wear to your goddaughter's christening. 

Oh, and a trio of black and white photos of the sort of people we are invited to believe might live here, that told their own narrative, an unusual one, thought Mrs Angry, peering with immense curiosity at the pitctures: and with a moral tale - a blonde woman, and her (rather younger) lover, apparently meeting at a Morning Star editorial team building summer camp, falling in love, renouncing political activism, and ending in an aspirational sort of kiss, happily followed up by the purchase of a Barratt home, and a petit bourgeois, revisionist renouncement of class war, right there on the waterfront, in West Hendon. 

Could happen. There is hope for you yet, Mrs Angry.

And the wider message was clear: whereas the other showroom appeared to cater for some sort of casual fantasy, this is the sort of dormitory accommodation for young professional worker drones to live together and ... well yes, have sex, now and again, but of course not babies, which would upset Barratt's projected child yield, and create a need for schools, and GPs and parks, and ... all the things which go to make a community. Neither Barratts nor Tory Barnet want to encourage that sort of thing, of course, as it could only represent a threat to the profit margin of the entire development, and indeed the housing strategy now gripping the nation.

And what a view!

Oh well, not that one. This one: look ...

You can see the water, in winter, said the salesman, who had never been there before, craning his neck, and standing on his little tippy toes. 

Can you, asked Mrs Angry, regarding the screen of lovely willow, blocking any sight of the Welsh Harp? Oh yes, he said. In winter. And erm ... there will be a gym. And Sainsburys and Costa will be here. 

Really? You sure? When? Where? 

Oh, on the commercial part. 


Well, he wasn't sure. (About 15 years time, according to the residents). 

Because, frankly, said Mrs Angry, playing the part of a sniffy buyer: the approach to the development, all those shut up shops on the Edgware Road, the general air of decline, and fall ... it's not quite, you know ... what one might expect, is it, if you are paying for a place like this? And buyers would have to put up with years and years of living on a construction site, as well ...? 

Well, if it were anywhere else, she was told, the price would be sky high. In line with the height of the four tower blocks, then. An admission here, however, that West Hendon is not really the sort of gentrified area buyers would expect? Mrs Angry asked about the penthouse flats: how much would they be? He shrugged. He didn't know. He worked for Foxtons, it emerged, not Barratts.

Mrs Angry made her excuses and left. This was a mistake as, left to her own devices in a strange place, as usual she got lost, and ended up in some subterranean level, with  no obvious way out. She began to panic: no one knew she was here ... was she going to end up spending the weekend locked in a Barratt building, in some awful karmic punishment?  The very thought drove her back into the lift, to press any number of buttons, and thankfully, eventually, up and out of the building.

Passing once more across the border to Tyrrel Way, the crew from the BBC film nabbed Mrs Angry to do her bit to camera, which, fuelled by a glass of Barratt champagne on an empty stomach rather too early in the day, and fresh from the scented rooms of Hendon Waterside flowed easily, and was all encompassing in scope, as you might imagine. 

As she talked, she was aware of a rather menacing figure, a man dressed in expensive but frankly rather ghastly Austin Reed weekend wear - including trousers in an eyewateringly, in your face, shade of yellow, standing in alpha male pose, furiously across the road, glaring at us, watching the filming and the protestors talking to buyers, one of whom had by now been converted by their arguments and happily posed for photographs with them. 

Who was the man? From Barratt, or Barnet, or Crapita, or Foxtons, or some other interested party, presumably, outraged that the people who actually live on the West Hendon estate, whose homes and families and history belong here, might dare to object to the destruction of their community, and their eviction from this land, publicly owned land worth £12 million, given away to developers for £3?

He better get used to it, our friend in the yellow trousers, get used to the sight of strangers at the gate, and a long siege.

The residents in West Hendon, who have been condemned to another fifteen years or more of living on the edge of a construction site, their homes and family lives, their community and history betrayed, and broken up, are going nowhere, and will be there, everytime there is a sales event, to speak out, and tell the truth, the inconvenient truth that demonstrates the real cost of Hendon Waterside. 

And the truth about Hendon Waterside is a story that is being acted out in every part of this country now, anywhere there is an easy profit in turning freely available land, subsidised by taxpayers, into private profit. The only thing to do, the duty that we all share, is to keep telling the truth, and refuse to be silenced. One day, perhaps, someone might listen.

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