Sitting in my living room, one morning, I noticed that there was a woman standing outside my house, clearly in some sort of distress, bent over the front garden wall.
A middle aged woman - or so I thought, nondescript - the sort of person you walk past, in the street, without noticing. I opened the window and asked if she was alright. She did not speak, but shook her head. I went outside, then, and asked her what was wrong: but she could barely utter the words to explain, clutching herself in excruciating pain, tears running down her face. In an eastern european accent, she whispered that her leg hurt, and her stomach. I asked if I should call an ambulance. No, no, she pleaded: not that. She was adamant that she could not go to a hospital.
Eventually, I managed to persuade her to come inside, and sit down, and gave her some water, and tried to help - and eventually a kind friend who is a doctor came down the road to look at her. The friend smelled her breath, and asked a few direct questions. She's a chronic alcoholic, she told me, but I think she is very ill. She needs to go to hospital.
Lilija (not her real name) refused. She was frightened. Don't be frightened, I said: no one is going to judge you ... (I was wrong, of course). After much coaxing, and persuasion, she let the friend drop us off at a local hospital, where we spent the next few hours, she holding my hand, the hand of a total stranger, in a tight grip, as if she were drowning, crying silently, and sipping furtively all the while from a water bottle, that had no water in it, but some sort of spirits.
In those long hours, she told me a little about her life. She was only in her thirties, which was hard to believe, from her appearance, or accept, that someone so young could be so unhappy that they must drink to the point of oblivion, in the middle of the day.
But she was - very unhappy: having lived in this country for fifteen years or more, somehow surviving as a cleaner, or caring for children, living in a lonely bedsit. She couldn't go home: her elderly mother depended on the money she sent from England, and the family background was dysfunctional, and abusive, and she would not have been welcome. So she was killing herself slowly, with alcohol.
I had told her the doctors would not judge her, but they did. The young, cool eyed Australian duty doctor, in front of her, as she wept, announced abruptly that she was seriously ill, but it was all due to alcohol. Yes, I said, I know, but ... can't you show her a little compassion? The doctor complained then about the trouble that this woman was causing, and the burden on the NHS, with the implication that this was particularly objectionable as Lilija was from eastern Europe, and although a long term tax payer, now with mental health issues, was somehow not entitled to care - or compassion.
Fortunately, when the ambulance came to take Lilija to another hospital, and the emergency care she needed, the paramedic crew extended to her the dignity and kindness that she deserved, and took great care of her, without question or moral judgement: the familiar, kindly face of the NHS, upon whom we all depend. She hugged me, before she got into the ambulance, and I walked away, now in tears myself. What would become of her? I don't know. The address she gave the doctors was false. It doesn't exist. I've haven't seen her since.
Here is another story - from the past, several generations ago. You may think it has nothing to do with Broken Barnet, or Broken Britain, or anything much. You may think history has nothing to tell us, now, today - even though we are on the brink of an election being fought, on one side, on the basis of our past, or at least their version of our past, a mythical Britain which has never existed, but to which they fondly hope we can return, none the less.
Still: come with me, now, back to nineteenth century England, that cradle of high Tory virtue, where the poor were always with us, but in their rightful place: the undeserving poor, punished for their fecklessness, managed with the full force of a merciless set of laws intent on stigmatising those who could not support themselves, carefully created so as to deter all but the most desperate from asking for help, for charity, when in need.
Fear of the workhouse, for example, was a deliberately crafted tool of social engineering, lovingly polished in the workshop of political ideology, and religious zeal. The workhouse regime was made as unbearable as possible, in order to prevent all but the most desperate from applying for admission. The inspiration, of course, for much of the present Conservative government's welfare policies.
When the first members of my Irish family came here, during the Famine, to the north east of England, some of them - including three small children - ended up in Newcastle Workhouse, their mother having died, shortly after arrival, of fever contracted in Sandgate, one of the festering slums that were home to newly arrived refugees from the West of Ireland.
Where are you from, they were asked? Shaking with fear, no doubt, not fluent in English, they whispered - 'Sligo': the beadle mistaking their words for 'Glasgow', as it is still recorded, written down in the ledgers, with indifferent inaccuracy.
And yes: they were refugees, fleeing starvation, and religious persecution, although their new English Protestant neighbours, especially if they had the benefit of twenty first century scepticism, would have seen them, no doubt, at best as economic migrants - and more generally, without doubt, at that point, as some sort of vermin.
The surname, incidentally, of these children, was Durkin - the same as the self professed libertarian polemicist who has made 'Brexit, the movie'. The motif of which would appear to be, in the name of our freedom, to obstruct the free movement of everyone else.
Almost every inch of the Sligo Mayo border was home to a Durkin family, at one time. Almost all those that did not die in the Famine left the area in the wake of the Irish diaspora, their descendants, like me, and Martin Durkin, scattered across Britain, the USA, and Canada, settling at will, in a new world of possibility, with open borders, and freedom from institutionalised religious bigotry. How lucky we are, that they survived - and prospered.
But let us move on, and visit another workhouse now, in London, a little later in the next century, in 1908, to be precise. Here is a small moment of history no one has remarked upon, until now.
It is the Westminster Union Workhouse, where according to the register for that year, on April 19th, a woman of sixty eight years of age was admitted - a needlewoman, referred to the Workhouse by order of the police in St James' ward.
Her name, according to the register, is Nina Schrod, but it is a mishearing of the name Bina Schrod.
She is described as 'injured', and would appear to have been previously in a 'sick asylum'. She will be discharged to a son, a GPO letter sorter, who lives with his own family, while his widowed mother has spent the last few decades eking out a living by sewing, living alone in a series of lodgings.
Now, however, she is dependent on the goodwill and charity of the parish overseers, along with many other destitute and ill Londoners living in the heart of the city - all of them a burden the Board of Guardians are keen to dispose of.
Bina came to England in the 1860s, from Germany, with her husband Nickolaus, a cabinet maker, and they settled in a part of London that was home to many other German immigrants in the nineteenth century, around the Tottenham Court road area: so many of them in this area it would probably have been more usual to hear German spoken, than English. That must have felt some Londoners feel ... uncomfortable, or even - awkward ...
Bina Schrod was from Friedberg, near Frankfurt: her first name suggests she - and maybe her husband - might have been of Jewish origin, although perhaps one of many who chose to convert rather than suffer the many restrictions forced on German Jewish citizens, even before the later persecution and genocidal regime of the twentieth century. Fortunate, if so, that the Schrod family escaped now, before the rise of Nazism, which saw the remaining Jewish population removed to Buchenwald, and total annihilation.
Most Germans who settled in London at this time, in the nineteenth century, were undoubtedly doing so for largely economic reasons, moving to a more liberal country that put up no barrier to immigration, and offered great opportunities for those arriving from all parts of Europe.
Bina, who died in 1915, never became a naturalised British citizen: but her son Carl, born in London, was careful to change his name to Charles, and the family perhaps escaped the anti German prejudice that arose during the First World War.
Charles married an English girl, and their children, including Gladys, born in 1900, grew up in suburban south London. Oh, yes - and Gladys, in 1927, married a man called Harry Farage: the grandfather of Nigel, of course.
Nigel Farage dismisses his German ancestry as irrelevant to his views on migration, and Europe. He has dismissed the recent revelation that the myth of his genteel sounding 'Huguenot' surname, lost, he hoped, in the mists of time, is actually the legacy of a Belgian immigrant, who settled in Berkshire in the 18th century, and whose Ferridge descendants latterly assumed a rather more romantic spelling of their name.
But the reinvention of Nigel Farage is key to his political viewpoint, just as the schoolboy extremism revealed in his former school records is central to a clear understanding of the man he is now.
The idea of Britishness to which he ascribes has never existed, is just as outdated and bogus as the tobacco stained, beer swilling bar room bore persona that he has adopted.
And nor do most of the leading members of the Brexit campaign really believe in the idea of Britain to which they proclaim loyalty. They simply want to protect their own interests and privileges, and assert a sense of authority and power.
The truth is that most of us - all of us - living here, in Britain, in 2016, are the descendants of migrants. We have all of us, at one point, arrived here, and been dependent on the kindness of strangers. It is the mark of the humanity, and decency, of the society we have created, as part of the evolution of social progress, that we have enjoyed such care, and flourished, as a result.
We have to see beyond the rhetoric, and the spin, and see the human stories behind the soundbite politics: or we lose our own humanity in the process. Migrants, refugees, immigrants - you, and me, and our children. Where is the difference?
London is the most ethnically diverse city on earth, and even here in Broken Barnet, we rejoice in a population of the broadest possible cultural and religious backgrounds.
The fear of something other, and alien, only applies if you abandon that sense of humanity, and empathy. As Jo Cox put it - we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.
And that one of the leaders of the Brexit campaign, the descendant of immigrants, who has grown up in the protection and care of a British society founded on tolerance, decency, and compassion, could stand in front of a poster of refugees, and seek to make political profit from such hatred, is contemptible.
We are citizens of the world, Europeans, and British: no contradiction there, only something to be proud of.
Tomorrow we have the chance to affirm those values, and defend them, preserve them, for generations to come.
I only hope that hope itself wins over hate, and intolerance, because I do not want to live in a country living in the dark, selfish, reactionary isolationism that Farage, Gove, IDS, Johnson, and all the rest want to become our future, but in a Britain, a Europe, and a world, that respects and supports diversity and difference, and acts in unity and comradeship for the greater benefit of all.
Mrs Angry, eternal optimist, teetering on the brink, June 23rd, 2016.