Monday 31 May 2010

O Porrajmos

Come closer.

Closer ... look, Mrs Angry has a crystal ball, and she can tell you the future, if you like.
Go on, cross her palm with silver ...

(Well, that's one stereotype out of the way, anyway. )

But what does she see?

Oh dear, look: she sees a mist forming, a cloud: dark clouds, rolling over the horizon towards our happy valley here in Broken Barnet ...

What can it mean?

Let me explain.

Earlier this year there were reports in the local press about the plans by Mayor Boris Johnson to 'impose' a duty on London boroughs to provide stopping places for gypsies and travellers. There was wild talk of the number that Barnet might be expected to accommodate, and panic in the streets of suburbia along the lines of 'there goes the neighbourhood'. Our favourite local politician, dear old Brian Coleman, yes, it's that man again, popped up on a tv discussion about the Mayor's plan with his predictably warm and humane observations on the subject.

In March this year, a story appeared in the local Times group newspapers that the BBC's Politics Show had presented a debate on the GLA's assessment of the accommodation needs of gypsy and travelling people in the London boroughs. This assessment had concluded that 553 new pitches were necessary, to be placed around the capital over the next five years.

For some reason, the Times' report referred to the possible allocation of 'up to 13 sites' in Barnet. This as we will see is completely wrong. But whatever the proposed figure, our Mr Coleman was not happy. He proclaimed that he would not welcome 'one single site' in our borough and said also that any site would not be for 'communities that had been in the UK for decades, but instead a group of people who "offer to Tarmac your drive" ... He also claimed that, despite thorough examination of the borough by successive Tory and Labour councils, no suitable sites had ever been found. Not one, anywhere in Barnet. Furthermore, he stated, no councillor of any mainstream political party would ever support traveller sites in their ward.

Added Coleman: 'We're not talking traditional gypsies here, we're not talking about this romantic vision of gypsies in attractive caravans, we're talking about the itinerant Irish traveller community who come over and want to resurface people's drives and repair their roofs. This is a commuter who comes over from Ireland looking for work that should frankly stay put in Ireland.'

Labour MP Andrew Slaughter, also present on this show, commented that Coleman's remarks were 'inflammatory and quite disgraceful' and pointed out that they 'would be completely unacceptable when talking about any other ethnic minority'.

Let's look at these comments in more depth.

We have never had a single site suitable in the entire borough for use as a stopping place for gypsies and travellers. If there were, Brian might tolerate some 'romantic' Romany gypsies in 'attractive' caravans, but not 'itinerant' Irish travellers who dare to come to England in order to make a living. Ok.

In the local Times report of 24th March it was stated that the Mayor's target figure of '22 sites' would be reduced to 16. On the 25th March the same reporter referred to 16 PITCHES, which, I have found, is actually what was proposed, and there seems to have been a fundamental and profound confusion between sites and pitches. No one is suggesting there should be 22 or 16 sites in the borough, the proposals, I repeat are for 16 pitches, ie to accommodate 16 individual families on ONE site. This article again confuses sites with pitches in reference to the London wide targets and quotes a Barnet council statement denying again that there were any suitable locations for a site in Barnet, and that 'the evidence does not support the need for a site in the borough'.

Currently, there is nowhere at all in our borough where gypsies and travelling people can legally stop. Barnet has always refused to provide a site. Why? I decided to ask the London Gypsy and Traveller Unit. It seems that our borough is the only outer London borough never to offer a site for this purpose, despite a statutory obligation to do so between 1968 to 1994. The other three boroughs are Inner London authorities - Westminster, Islington and the City of London, all of which have argued they cannot do so due to lack of space, an unconvincing argument which hardly applies to Barnet. In the period of 26 years when Barnet blatantly ignored its statutory duty to provide one single site for gypsies, it had a very successful policy of evictions of travelling people forced to stop on the roadside, so successful that no gypsy or traveller was ever around long enough to provide evidence for a case to go to a judicial review which would have challenged the lack of provision.

According to Barnet Council, there is no demand for a stopping place. This is absolute nonsense. Since the sixteenth century at least, in our borough we have had the annual Barnet Fair, a traditional horse trading fair, attracting gypsies from all over the country and beyond. Gypsies and travellers have always passed through this area, and no doubt some would like to settle here now. If they stop here, they would be moved on because there is no where they can legally stay.

In our borough the need to provide a stopping place for gypsies and travellers has been resisted, defiantly, for no reason other than prejudice and political cowardice. No, actually, let's not pussyfoot around, it's not prejudice, it is racism, and of the most blatant and shameful kind.

So that cloud on the horizon is looming right over our heads now. Soon, this issue will become a political football: there are already rumours that certain politicians will seek to use the placement of any site in a spiteful, deliberately provocative way. You can be assured that any site will not be proposed in a Conservative ward, but that gives the current administration plenty of scope, doesn't it? Feelings will run high, all the worst of human nature will show itself in nasty opposition to wherever the site might be allocated, local politicians will fall over themselves to resist the site being put anywhere. It may be that since the election, the GLA will renege on its promises anyway: nothing would surprise me.

We are supposed to live in a world dominated by political correctness, where everyone pays at least lipservice to the idea that racism is unacceptable and intolerable. But there is one last area where racism still openly is accepted and tolerated, and that is in our attitude to gypsies and travellers. Again, I have to ask: why?

There is barely a week goes by without some scaremongering, shameful story in the tabloids, especially the Daily Mail, in which the latest supposed outrage by gypsies is highlighted and used to demonise an entire group of human beings eking out a living on the far margins of our society. Only last week there was a story in the Mail about a gypsy who was driven out of a village by the villagers who objected to his attempts to settle in their midst. He had made the terrible mistake of buying a bungalow, with a plot of land, and parking his mobile home there, intending to settle there with his family because, he said, he wanted his children to grow up in one place in order to have an education. Typical gypsy trouble making. Drive him out of town. And they did. His new neighbours were so desperate to move him out of their village they actually clubbed together and bought the place off him. I'm not surprised he accepted their money: I wouldn't want to live in a place like that either.

Every report in the tabloid press continues the stereotypical view of travelling people: that they are all criminal, worthless trouble makers who are not entitled to respect or decent living conditions. In fact it is not an exaggeration to say they are portrayed as in some way sub human, in a way that is strongly and horribly reminiscent of the treatment of the Jewish people throughout centuries of European history, or the experience of the black population in South Africa under apartheid.

Gypsy culture has ancient roots, and a long and fascinating history: since leaving its homeland in Northern India hundreds of years ago, this group - or groups - of people have been present in Europe and Britain since the medieval period, clinging to a traditional way of life treated with often fatal suspicion by the host countries through which it has always travelled, and forcibly excluded from the mainstream societies there too. In more recent times, the traditional nomadic way of life, the old skills, have become largely unsustainable as traditional ways of making a living have become irrelevant in the modern world. Not much call for basket weaving, peg making, or mending pots and pans these days, is there?

Romani culture is, of course, very distinct from the Irish Travelling tradition. Irish travellers are not Romani, although there has been intermarriage between the two traditions; originally it is believed the travellers in Ireland were the heirs of a lost nomadic culture, a tribal people possibly strengthened by those made homeless in the displacement of the Famine period. Again, the traditional way of life, largely dependent on horse trading, has become increasingly impossible to continue, and other means of earning a living have become necessary for them too, yes - scrap dealing and laying tarmac, Brian: what else can they do?

So: romantic gypsies are ok, as long as they are look like something from an Augustus John painting, and live in a painted wagon, and dance around a camp fire to the tune of a violin. Trouble is, Augustus John's fantasy of living down amongst the raggle taggle gypsies-o was based largely round his wife Dorelia, who was really the daughter of a respectable clerk from Camberwell, and was part of a Victorian fantasy ideal of the gypsy life which never really existed. And all the vardos, the wagons, have anyway now been bought up by investment bankers in the Cotswolds, to put at the end of their gardens as playhouses for Theo and Matilda.

Romani gypsies in the twenty first century are largely settled on permanent sites or assimilated into the larger community. Those that do move about use modern mobile caravans, not the old fashioned wagons. You don't hear about the successfully run permanent sites, do you, because there is no headline grabbing news in people just getting on with their normal lives. I'll bet you didn't know, either, that there is a signifiant and growing number of English Romanis who are members of the evangelical Christian movement: again, this does not fit the Daily Mail stereotype of criminal, feckless 'pikeys' who need to be run out of town by outraged little Englanders.

Irish travellers have to make a living, you know, Brian. In case you haven't noticed, Ireland is a member of the European Union, and Irish people have always had the right anyway to live in Britain, in fact, for many centuries had no choice but to be British citizens. They have as much right to be 'over here' as you or anyone else. They are, after all, only doing what your man Tebbit suggested, getting on the move to look for work.

And what, I hear you ask, do you know about it, Mrs Angry? Do you want travellers living next door to you? Excuse me, while I laugh bitterly in the corner for a moment. If you want an answer to that question, I refer you to the previous series of blogs detailing our experiences living next door to the Smith family. Throughout this ordeal, courtesy of the caring Conservative controlled London Borough of Broken Barnet, we were often asked the following about our neighbours: are they travellers? No, not travellers. Are they ... white? Yes, they are white. Oh. Are they ... eastern European? No: white, English, all the way, sorry to disappoint. As you will know, if you are familiar with our story, this family and their chums caused us nothing but misery but their vile behaviour.

A few years ago, though, we did have Irish Traveller neighbours, who took a six month rental on a flat directly across the road from us. Everyone was horrified when they moved in, of course. In fact, they caused no trouble at all: I repeat - no trouble at all. They were quiet, and polite, kept themselves to themselves. In keeping with Traveller code on protecting younger girls, the daughters were not allowed to go out on their own, and spent their time looking after the younger children. The boys were ruled with a rod of iron by their father, who kept them all out on the road with their scrap metal van all day, working to support the family. Admittedly the children appeared not to go to school, and one of the boys I noticed in a local shop had difficulty counting money; and no doubt they didn't pay income tax on their income, but equally they were not dependent on benefit and worked hard to keep themselves fed and clothed. Unlike the Smiths, they had no subsidised lifestyle; they did not indulge in drugs and alcohol abuse, and they did not lie about all day and night upsetting their neighbours. I can tell you which family I would rather have living next door to me again.

And why do I give a monkeys anyway, you may be wondering?

Well, because my own great grandmother was from a gypsy family. Yes, me. (Along with those Durham miners, look what lurks in the Angry family closet. Don't tell Brian - he'll probably have me escorted to the borders of the borough by the police, and moved on, with a kick up the arse. )But look: I can string two words together, I am housetrained, kind of, and I haven't stolen anyone's baby or nicked the lead off anyone's roof recently. On the other hand, as has been suggested elsewhere, I am more than happy to arrange for Mr Coleman's driveway to be covered in tarmac, provided he promises to lie down on top of it first ...

Am I ashamed to be of Romani and Traveller descent? No, I am not. Quite the reverse, in fact. My forebears were hard working, skilled craftsmen who travelled hundreds of miles a year, often on foot, to earn a living to support their families, in the face of traditional mindless prejudice and exclusion, whilst others' ancestors were lolling about out in the gutter, out of their heads on gin - or maybe sitting with head bowed in the Workhouse. They didn't starve or rely on parish handouts. They only settled once industrialisation made their way of life completely redundant, and after a while, unfortunately, in their new circumstances, their background became a family secret, something to pretend had never happened. Other parts of the family, though, continued travelling, some going to the USA with a large number of other Romanichels where some of them still live as part of a travelling community.

In County Durham, where my family settled, eventually, there are now six gypsy and traveller sites, with a total of 113 pitches. Listen to what Durham County Council has to say about the proviusion of sites for these people:

"Travelling people have always been a part of our community in County Durham.

Over recent years many of the traditional stopping places have been lost and this can lead to conflict between people who live in the county and travelling people who are passing through, seeking a place to stay. Constantly moving on Gypsy and Travelling families is not the answer.

We welcome different cultures within our community.

Our aim is to meet the needs of the Gypsy and Traveller communities who permanently live in County Durham and those who pass through the county and need temporary places to stay."

These sites are well managed, and those stopping there are able to gain access to education and healthcare for their families. Healthcare is of particular importance as mortality rates amongst travelling people are significantly higher than in the mainstream population.

If you want to know more about the Traveller way of life, and are prepared to set your preconceived ideas aside, you might like to watch the recently broadcast documentary 'My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding' which presents a more balanced and humane approach to presenting how these people live. (Update February 2011: a new series with this title has been shown, to a very uneasy reaction from the travelling community, and some predicatably appalling media coverage). They are shown for what they are: families with the same needs and ambitions as anyone else, and, like any other culture, including good people, bad people, and all the rest in between. But be warned, there are some truly awful wedding dresses featured.

If you want to know more about the Romani life style, there are many, many books and films that you can find that will tell you what you want to know. June 2010 is actually Gypsy Roma Traveller Month, if you are interested. If you visit Youtube, you will find excerpts from the brilliant movie 'Latcho Drom' which is both a celebration of Romani life and a reminder of the darker side of their experience in more recent history. Search for the clip of Margita Makulova, and the song she sings about the blackbird who went into her heart, and stole it, and wait until the end of the song so that you see why she sings it - which brings me to an explanation of the title of this blog.

O Porrajmos is the name given by some Roma people to the Gypsy Holocaust.

I say some, because to others it is a foul word which they are reluctant to utter. You may not know that, proportionate to the estimated pre war population, the number of gypsies killed in the Holocaust was comparable to the loss in the murdered Jewish population of Europe: it is believed that up to one million gypsies lost their lives. If you go to the Imperial War Museum, you may be horrified, and shocked, as I was, to learn about the forgotten fate of Europe's gypsies: the numbers sent to Auschwitz, Ravensbruck, Treblinka and other death camps, the unspeakable 'experiments' carried out by Mengele and other Nazi 'scientists' on Romani people, including children, and sets of twins. Much has been written about the appalling persecution and destruction suffered by the Jewish people: because of the transient nature of gypsy life, and the fact that theirs is largely an oral rather than written culture, the prejudice and vilification which has pursued their way of life has been largely overlooked. Worse still, such hatred and persecution continues to this day, and in our society.

Councillor Coleman has always been a staunch supporter of the Jewish community, and has even spoken in tribute at Holocaust Memorial events. This is only to be admired, but it might be more admirable if he would also remember the other victims of Nazi genocide, and the struggle of modern day gypsies and travellers to find acceptance in mainstream society. A starting place might be to drop his objections, and the objections of his colleagues, to the provision of one single place in our borough where such people can stop and find the most basic requirements of life: water, electricity, maybe the chance to settle and allow their children access to education and healthcare.

Is that too much to ask?

Saturday 29 May 2010

Love Thy Neighbour

Mrs Angry's blog has had some interesting visitors recently, it seems.

Amongst the majority of anonymous and London based ISPs of most of her readers, (don't panic, haven't got a clue who you are: no name, no pack drill) some are more unusual in origin, having distinctive servers, or have arrrived at 'Broken Barnet' by really rather unpredictable routes. Greetings, therefore, to readers in California, Berlin, Malaysia, and Dublin. And Basildon. And for those at the GLA (hello, and an especially warm welcome to you!) and other government departments: hope this is more interesting than Facebook, or Twitter, and that the boss doesn't catch you skiving. Hello to new friends at certain daily and local newspapers, oh, and by the way, you too, Anna, still on your flipping iphone ...

Only thing is, now I have been worrying about the trail left by my own internet browsing, and some of the sites I idly look at (no, not those sort of sites, thank you, although I do have to out myself as a secret Daily Mail reader, now the game is up)- as well as my buying habits on Amazon, after the recent newpaper reports listing the rather disturbing reading matter of the alleged serial killer arrested in Bradford this week. After a prolonged interval of distraction and despair caused by dealing with our neighbour problem, I have now, at last, been able to resume my previous (pre)occupation, researching and writing a book about a little known, but unfortunately rather prolific, female Victorian poisoner who had a nasty habit of despatching her husbands, lovers and children with arsenic, and then coining it in with the proceeds of their life assurance and burial club money. Much of my recent Amazon purchasing history, therefore, has been on the somewhat unwholesome subject of women who kill, poisoners, the uses and abuses of arsenic etc. Intense questioning takes place on a regular basis in the Angry kitchen, in fact, as to what, exactly, is for dinner and then is it supposed to taste like that, and Mr Angry has pointed out that if anything funny happens to him the old bill will be checking out my Amazon account with great interest. They probably won't be that surprised. But I digress.

I have noticed in the last week or so that a lot of people reading this blog have come via the 'Neighbours from Hell in Britain' website. I've linked my blog to this site, for obvious reasons, and recommend it to anyone else who may be in circumstances similar to us. There are currently 27,485 members, and the site claims to be 'The world's most popular help site for anyone with neighbour problems'. Be warned, though: looking through the forum topics is a depressing experience: stories abound with titles born out of deep despair, such as 'I have had enough, can't take any more' or 'We are at the end of our tether' etcetera. If I didn't know it already, it would no doubt be genuinely shocking to see the impact that problems like ours can have on family life, or the life of an individual. The effects are profound, and long lasting: once your home has been the location of continual harassment, or other forms of disruption by antisocial neighbours, you can never really feel safe in that environment again, and the psychological damage that the situation leaves you with, as well as the stress incurred by the difficulties you will have experienced in trying to find a resolution to the problem, is not easily put aside.

It is clear from even a brief look at this site that there is an urgent need for radical action and new legislation to support the victims of longterm ASB or 'neighbours from hell', and that currently, local authorities are the main culprits in the failure to properly address the problem. A common theme expressed in the forums is that the council response is to look for ways of avoiding formal and effective action: often no doubt because of cost, and the outlook on this tendency is bleak, due to the apparent preference of the new government in giving more responsibilties to local government at the same time as expecting huge savings to be made in spending.

There are many posts on the NFH in Britain site referring to the local government Ombudsman process which we, along with many others, have had to resort to, in despair at failing to receive what we consider to be the necessary assistance from our local authority. As our investigation is still underway, I won't comment other than to say that there should be some easier and quicker way for authorities to be held to account for any failures to act against serious cases of ASB. If, as we were, you are the victims of a long term case, the drawn out process only makes your ordeal so much more traumatic. Although there are, in theory, legal processes in which victims can engage to end the disruption to their lives, the cost is prohibitive, so in practice you are without the ability to protect your most basic human rights, and this all the more galling when your neighbour from hell can so easily get free legal aid and advice for any action she may face as a consequence of her selfish and aggressive behaviour.

If you find yourself in this situation, you may well feel reluctant to make a complaint about your tormentors for fear of the consequences. If the source of your trouble is a neighbour, obviously you will have to live with the fall out from any complaint you make, and even if a complaint is in some way successful, during the many months in which you will be told to log all problems, and then wait for intervention by the appropriate authoritities, and seeing them being offered 'support' and a chance to amend their ways, or mediation, or the signing of behaviour contracts etc etc etc - after all that, you then face more months of waiting while formal action is considered - and during all this time you are not only having to continue to struggle with the behaviour of your NFH, you have to deal with the fact that they are next door, and able to make your life even worse now they know you are complaining about them. They will of course be told in detail about the allegations you have made and will deny them and more than likely will be tempted to retaliate when they think no one is looking. You have to live with the fear that they will do something to hurt you or your family in revenge for being reported to the authorities, and after all, they do know where you live, don't they? And of course, as in our case, they will even if they are moved on.

The other terrible dilemma, should this happen to you, and you wonder what action to take, is that once a complaint is made, your home, if you are the owner, instantly becomes worthless. You cannot sell your property without declaring any dispute, and this will be on file to prospective buyers. Even if you do eventually get rid of the NFH, this may still make it difficult to sell in the future, without an awful lot of explanation. Is anyone going to compensate you for this devaluation of your home?

I don't know what the answer to all this is, other than an absolute zero tolerance of antisocial behaviour and an inflexible statutory obligation for all local authorities to have in place a properly resourced ASB team, meeting nationally required standards, able to respond quickly and effectively to cases like ours. You might think that all these things are already in place, but in practice, each local authority varies wildly in the degree of committment it shows to tackling ASB and supporting the victims of such circumstances.

In the short time since our lovely neighbours departed to their new home, we have not really readjusted to normal life. In fact, I don't think we will ever be the same. I certainly won't, I can't. I still feel like a refugee from a war zone, or a soldier with shell shock expecting to be sent back to the trenches at a moment's notice. I still can't sleep at night, or walk down the street without checking to see who is hanging about outside. I still feel panic stricken at the slightest stupid thing. My doctor, apart from trying to prescribing medication I don't want to become dependent on, isn't much comfort: of course she knows all about what has happened, and just cannot believe why we were left in such an awful mess. The counsellor she sent me to was no help either: she sat listening in horror to the story for an hour, and said afterwards that for once she could think of no positive suggestion whatsoever, and hoped it didn't happen to her. I didn't bother going back.

My home doesn't feel like home anymore, not just because of what happened but because we don't even know whether we will be able to stay here. We don't know who is going to move in now: all we know is that Barnet has stated that it 'cannot' stop using the owners for their Homechoice scheme. It's hard to explain what anxiety this is causing. All I do know is that the likes of Mike Freer, and Lynne Hillan, and all the other guilty parties at Broken Barnet Council don't give a shit. Well, as they say, what goes around, comes around, and I sincerely hope something like this happens to them in the near future. With my compliments.

Or perhaps I should invite them round for dinner?

Update, Monday: well, it seems all my obsessive worrying about return visits by the Smith household wasn't entirely misplaced. Half an hour ago. my heart stopped when I saw one of Mrs Smith's yob hangers on furtively arrive next door, with his hoodie pulled over his face, and sneak up to their old front door, hang around for a bit, and then leg it. I can't imagine what the hell he was up to. I hope he wasn't trying a key.

Saturday 22 May 2010

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Great film, 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers' - one of Mrs Angry's all time favourites.

It tells the story of a community whose population is quietly being replaced by emotionless alien lookalikes; humanoid creatures who are bent on transforming the world into 'a better way of life', one which has evolved beyond the limitations of human emotions like hatred - or love. These alien invaders are heartless, cold, devoid of sympathy, ruthless in their desire to dominate their communities and to eradicate all dissent.

Which brings me to the annual meeting, held last week, of our new council.

Leading humanoid Councillor Brian Coleman was apparently showing vestiges of his former terrestrial incarnation by becoming tearful at the ceremony in which he was obliged to terminate his office as Mayor. Some put this rare display of vulnerability down to his speech of thanks to his elderly mother, Gladys, by all accounts a nice woman and a devoted mother, who has been loyally at his side throughout his reign: but others concluded it was Brian struggling with the notion of having to surrender the Mayoral bling and dressing up gear. The new mayor, Anthony Finn, was singled out for praise for his good humour and even tempered nature, so that will make a nice change, won't it, fellow citizens?

Having enjoyed being (in his own imagination, anyway) an absolute monarch, (think that's the term) with a divine right to lord it over the citizens of Barnet for the past year, Coleman has evidently been spending a lot of time pondering the careers of other great British rulers. Turning to the enviably long reign of Gloriana herself, our Brian decided to take his inspiration from her for an intended pat on the back for interim puppet queen, Lynne Hillan. Misquoting Elizabeth, he issued his royal endorsement, proclaiming:

'She may have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but she has the mind of any male politician!'

Oh dear. It seems ever more apparent that our ex Mayor holds a dim view of the female sex.

With the honourable exception of his mum, and Margaret Thatcher, (or should that be 'Mrs T'?) they can evidently only hope to reach equal status with a man if they agree with Coleman and become his political poodle.

Queen Lynne, a fully evolved humanoid, is reported to be determined to 'drive forward the Future Shape' agenda, now that the aliens are gaining the upper hand in Barnet. Her body snatching - or rather warden snatching - plot is set to be repeated, no doubt on a larger scale, easy pickings for the newly energised invaders. Quoted in the local Times group newspaper she states that she will, with the new dawn of the Future Shape vision for our borough, make the council 'responsive to what our customers need' - again, that will make a nice change, won't it? - and to 'ensure residents get better services with less money' which, in Mrs Angry's modest opinion, will undoubtedly be nothing less than a f***ing miracle.

And please notice the ominous use of the phrase 'customers'.

Some cabinet appointments have remained the same, such as Councillor Joanna Tambourides, whose responsibilities for 'Community Safety' include the glaringly inadequate 'Priority Intervention Team' and the council's pathetic approach to antisocial behaviour. Obviously she has made such a marvellous success of things, that it is totally unnecessary to give the role to someone else.

According to an article on the online version of the local Times newspaper, Barnet police have announced that they have been set rigorous new targets 'aimed at providing added reassurance to residents'. Deputy Borough Commander, Superintendent Neil Seabridge, gives details as to how the police will address these new targets, focussing on issues such as reducing overall crime and, yes, you've guessed it, reducing antisocial behaviour, ensuring more cases are taken through court' etc. 'Police recognise how antisocial behaviour ruins lives.' Tell me about it, Mr Seabridge: well, in fact, to be fair, I have told him all about it, and he did take the time to meet me and listen to what I had to say, (how's that clock, by the way?) which was in stark contrast to the response from the senior officers and political leaders at Barnet Council.

Barnet police, it is announced, will make improvements, 'in partnership with Barnet Council, housing associations and community groups.' Says Supt Seabridge: 'It is necessary to work with all our partners to increase our collective efficiency ...' And that, Mrs Angry would humbly suggest, is where there is huge scope for Mrs Tambourides to pull her finger out and ensure that Barnet council makes a drastically improved contribution to the fight against crime and antisocial behaviour in this borough. A resident who left a comment on one of the Broken Barnet blogs remarked that in his opinion, based on an experience similar to ours, Barnet's current approach to dealing with such issues was 'not fit for purpose', and I can only agree.

Returning to the subject of the 'new' cabinet', Councillor Richard Cornelius, who is responsible for housing and regeneration, has presided over the longest housing waiting list in the country, and the fabulously innovative cut price housing scheme, 'Homechoice', (remember, the agency which placed our neighbours from hell in a subsidised privately owned and rat infested property) has rightly been allowed to carry on doing more of the same for the foreseeable future, with the added responsibility of planning matters. Well done, Ms Hillan, I say.

Oh, and there is an interesting new appointment: Councillor Robert Rams has been appointed to the newly created post of 'customer access and partnerships'! The c word again, you see: as the aliens take control, and we move towards the bright and shiny new Future Shaped future that is easyCouncil Barnet, we are all painlessly metamorphosing from residents into 'customers'. Not sure about being partners, actually: sounds like working for John Lewis, but without the discount, and somehow I think that any partnership is going to be awfully onesided, don't you?

And what, you may be wondering, about our esteemed ex Mayor, who will now have a lot of spare time on his hands: what of he? Well, don't worry. Apparently naughty Queen Lynne forgot to keep one of the plum jobs for her erstwhile mentor, but to keep him out of mischief (unsuccessfully, it seems) he has been given the environment and transport portfolio. He is quoted as saying his priority will be 'roads, roads, roads and roads'. Brian is, as you may remember, very interested in roads, that is to say, in prioritising them for motorists who wish to travel at high speed around the borough, untrammelled by those selfish, spoilsport whingers who want to prevent their children from being knocked down in residential areas. Councillor Coleman has in his career been very active in objecting to traffic calming measures and pushed to have road humps removed. In 2006, Councillor Coleman lost his licence for speeding. Call me over sensitive, but I am not happy about someone with this history being put in charge of 'roads, roads, roads and roads'.

Three years ago, I had the extremely distressing experience of being woken up in the middle of the night by the terrifying sound of a violent collision outside our house. Looking outside, I saw a figure lying, like a broken puppet, in the gutter below our window. I ran outside, but it was too late, and before the ambulance came I watched helplessly as the poor man slowly died in front of me. He had been hit by a car speeding at what the police estimated was about 80 miles an hour, and the man who caused the accident had abandoned his car and left his victim to die in the road. Luckily, he was eventually found and prosecuted, but no doubt this was small comfort to the family of the victim.This is the reality of what happens when there is an absence of speeding restrictions in residential areas. Speeding kills, and we need protection from selfish drivers who refuse to obey the law.

Finally, as I mentioned in the previous blog, one of Barnet's best bloggers, 'Don't Call Me Dave', the writer of 'Not the Barnet Times', has become so disgusted at the way in which the Conservative party is evolving, and the antics of the Conservative administration here in Broken Barnet, that he has thrown in the towel and stopped writing. I hope this is just a temporary break. I think that there has long been an enormously important tradition in this country of political satire and comment, and it is a wholesome and necessary feature of any healthy society, and more than ever here in Barnet we need people like DCMD to keep a watchful and informed eye on the deeds and misdeeds of our local council.

Recently I was in Brighton and visited the Pavilion, where they have a nice collection of regency cartoons, which joyfully lampoon the self indulgence, gluttony and corruption of the court and political world of the time. It struck me then that such irreverence is a characteristic of our nation, and a vital part of our democracy. Political blogs are the latest in a long line of expressions of this typically British corrective instinct, and long may they flourish.

A feature which I hope soon withers and dies, however, is the type of vile abuse and underhand activity which has featured in the comments' list of another local blog in the last week or so.

I mentioned in the last blog 'Fear and Loathing' that an individual purporting to be 'Mrs T' - the creator of the blog of our new Tory MP Mike Freer, 'The Friends of Mike Freer' - had posted a childish and spiteful comment on a blog written by 'Barnet Eye' blogger Roger Tichborne. Roger's blog was about children with dyslexia and the bullying they endure, written from personal experience. 'Mrs T' immediately wrote a comment informing Tichborne that he was a 'thickhead'. On 'her' blog 'she/he/whoever' also suggested that bloggers and critics of Mike Freer were 'homophobic'.

Yesterday Tichborne wrote a blog about the new eruv proposal in Mill Hill. In case you don't know, an eruv is an area defined by an almost invisible wire border which allows Jewish people to carry out certain activities on the Sabbath, which they would not otherwise be able to do. This includes pushing buggies and wheelchairs, which obviously is of huge benefit to parents with babies and small children, and disabled people, who wish to attend services at a synagogue which may be a long walk from home. I cannot see any reasonable objection to this proposal, and nor can Tichborne, who has urged people to debate the matter without being abusive or motivated by racism. Imagine, then, if you can, why 'Mrs T' felt the need to immediately leave the following comment on his blog:

'I think the only debate we need to have is whether RogT is a closet anti-semite.'

Yet again, a completely unprovoked and indefensible attempt to smear the reputation of someone who, if you take the time to read his blogs, is self evidently a decent, honest and fairminded individual, with a genuine commitment to his community. To imply that he is homophobic, antisemitic - or thick - is personal abuse of the worst kind. I am sure that our new MP will instantly disassociate himself from such remarks, and if not, I think that will tell us something about him, too.

If you visit the Barnet Eye blog in question and read through the comments, you may find some surprising and very interesting clues as to the origin of these vile, and infantile, remarks. It would appear that at the time the last comment from self styled Finchley housewife 'MrsT' appeared, site stats show a visit from someone at the GLA. If the comments really do come from someone working there, this is frankly appalling. Now, tell me Boris: are GLA employees or God help us, even Assembly members, or their political associates, allowed to idle their days away reading blogs and leaving abusive messages? And who on earth could it be? I am sure that none of us could possibly imagine why anyone at the GLA might have an obsessive interest in Roger Tichborne, can you?

How interesting, by the way, that this disturbed individual subconsciously displays a Freudian clue to their preoccupation, by their choice of name: RogT ... MrsT ... unless your good lady wife has taken up blogging for a laugh, Rog, Mrs Angry would suggest that someone out there has a bit of a thing going on for you, in a slightly scary way ... Have you noticed anyone lurking in the bushes outside your house recently? Or had any funny phone calls? Oh: hold on ....

Tuesday 18 May 2010

Fear and Loathing in West Finchley

Fear first, then.

What do I have to be fearful of now that the terrible Smith family has moved out? Not much.

Only the prospect of another terrible family moving in.

For the last couple of weeks we have enjoyed the unusual luxury of being able to live normally in our home: sleeping in a bed, sitting quietly reading, watching tv, wandering around the garden, walking up to your own front door, or going out, without having to check first who is outside in the street. All very boring and unremarkable for most people: a flipping novelty for us, though. It hasn't been easy, readjusting to the idea that at any hour of the night or day the silence won't be punctuated by the terrifying sound of Tracey Smith screaming 'I DON'T FUCKING CARE IF YOU GO INTO FUCKING CARE' at her sons, or wondering if you look out whether you will be greeted by the sight the sight of some dope smoking dosser hanging around next door, or listening out for the sound of Troy Smith and his chums partying at one, two, three, and four in the morning.

I'd almost got used to the peace and quiet - almost - when one ominous day last week, members of the family who own the neighbouring property turned up, and spent a long time inside, no doubt inspecting the damage as, despite the abuse they gave us when we tried to tell them what a terrible effect their tenants were inflicting on our life, incredibly, towards the end of the tenancy, the landlords allegedly refused to repay the deposit, and decided to demand compensation from the council for the tenants' treatment of the house!

When I saw the two brothers arrive at the house, my heart stopped, and I felt a rising tide of panic: the last time I had seen Tony had been when he and his odious sister Sophia had banged on our door demanding to know why we were daring to complain about their tenants, and Sophia had started yelling insults at us again. After a visit from the police, Sophia agreed not to repeat this behaviour, and significantly she has not shown her face here since, thank God, but with this family, you just never know what they will do next. Just before we were due to go out on Saturday night I caught sight of Tony standing outside, staring in this direction with a particularly unpleasant expression and had to wait until they had gone before venturing out. This week we have been reduced to the same sort of behaviour. Just ridiculous that we should be forced to live like this, but that is how things are. Since then, the brothers and Tina have been visiting the house, arguing amongst themselves as usual. They have not bothered to change the locks of the house. despite the type of people who were living there, and have brought in some workmen who have been banging about in the house all day, which is why we are beginning to get very worried again: we had hoped that the house would be put up for sale, but are terrified at the prospect that they might be getting more tenants. As mentioned before, Barnet have, incredibly, refused to bar the owners from having further Homechoice tenants from their housing waiting list, despite all the evidence of their complete failure to act as repsonsible landlords, not to mention the state of the property. Of course, should Barnet dare to provide further tenants, they will be facing a legal challenge from us and whatever other action we may find appropriate.

But it's hard to explain how this makes me feel. More worry, more trouble. If more tenants arrive, we will be forced out of our home. We don't want to move, but what else can we do?

Now loathing.

There seems to be a lot of it about, at the moment.

I have been wondering, quite a lot recently, what sort of person actually campaigned for Mike Freer to become our parliamentary representative, and now I have some idea.

As listed in the Daily Telegraph and elsewhere, Mike has a supporters' blog named 'The Friends of Mike Freer' which I urge you to visit, should you be short of entertainment, or wish to know more about the Conservative party in Finchley and Golders Green. There appears to be only one friend of Mike Freer, sadly, the blogger herself, the self styled 'Mrs T', as well as, or perhaps the same person as, the only follower, the mysterious 'Amanda' who occasionally sallies forth on the comments listing of our local Times group newspapers. This Amanda must be the same person who commented once that she didn't see why I was so nasty about the marvellous Mr Freer, and why was I so angry, which apparently is a Bad Thing, and why did I not take my problem to Mike himself? Oh dear: luckily another commenter pointed her in the direction of this blog and she fell silent.

'Mrs T' describes herself as a housewife in Finchley (wait til Mrs Angry catches you behind the fruit and veg counter in Waitrose, darling) and fond of music, wine and sex in the City: sorry, Sex in the City. Well, I'm with you there, Mrs T, maybe hold back on the wine a bit though, in future, before you write the blog.

In her restarted blog on Monday, apart from the rather unexpected 'Mike Freer's fitness tip of the day - yes, really - yesterday it was something about doing pottery classes) Mrs T, flushed with post electoral satisfaction, brags about the legacy of her man, Mr Mike Freer. She tells us that Barnet Council, when he took over, was 'a largely ignored sleepy backwater' which Mike singlehandedly (sorry Rog, should that be one handedly?) transformed into a 'dynamic organisation'. And she asks, 'Do the people of Barnet like it? You bet!' 'Mike has shown he's got the guts to make tough decisions, the skills to implement them and the charisma to take the people with him' (Yes, Mike Freer and charisma in the same sentence). 'Mike's council legacy will be seen for generations in Barnet'. Well, that I can't disagree with, nor can 27 million pounds worth of our money now sitting in Iceland until the end of time.

In fact, this devoted friend of Mike Freer was mysteriously silent during the election campaign but has now decided to come out, or, should I say, crawl out, of the woodwork once more.

The other day, Barnet Eye blogger Roger Tichborne wrote a very sensitive and rather touching blog about dyslexia, and the emotional effect such a difficulty has on people who suffer from this problem. He describes the lasting damage caused by the frustration of this condition, and the humiliation and bullying that he experienced as a child struggling with an unsympathetic educational system.

For some reason, 'Mrs T' decided to post a comment on this particular blog in which she said:

'Hey thickhead, how did you get on in the council elections?'

Rog, in case you didn't know, recently stood as a Libdem candidate in Mill Hill.

I don't know why anyone would think it is acceptable to address someone who has a learning difficulty as 'thickhead'. I only know that as a parent with children who have related difficulties I find it impossible to believe that anyone would use such a term. Obviously 'Mrs T' seems to think that children with this condition are stupid, and worthy of being laughed at. Isn't that nice?If you have had to spend years encouraging your children to overcome the obstacles that such problems put in their way, 'Mrs T', you would know how easily their fragile sense of self esteem is destroyed by this sort of stupid, insulting comment. Such a remark is indefensible, and if you had any decency, you would instantly apologise, to Roger Tichborne and anyone else you may have offended.

In her blog, this Freer fan mocks Tichborne's attempts to stand, on a point of principle, as a candidate in his local ward and then alleges that there was a 'vicious campaign' targeteted at her pin up boy by 'malcontents and bloggers' and, outrageously she claims that 'the friends of Mike Freer' believe that much of this was, wait for it 'homophobically motivated'. In other words, she feels she is entitled to refer to someone with dyslexia as a 'thickhead', but anyone who dares criticise the political views and career of a man who happens to be gay can be therefore accused of being homophobic: a completely unsubstantiated slur. Absolutely appalling.

If there is anything more repugnant than bigotry and hate crime, whether it is homophobia or antisemitism, or racism of any sort, it is the cynical use of false accusations of such behaviour in an attempt to smear someone's reputation. Apart from the sheer nastiness of such an action it devalues the true horror of genuine mindless intolerance and its consequences. But this is a tactic used by certain other Tories whom we all know and love in this borough, when necessary, to denigrate those who dare to stand up to his bullying. And this, dear residents, is the horrible face of a certain strain of Conservative party activists in our area. Don't know about you, but I feel rather nauseated by the whole damn lot of them. I hope that Mike Freer will disassociate himeself from this blog, and this woman's comments: if not, I think that tells you all you need to know about him, and his supporters, don't you?

Whatever issues I have with Freer are strictly related to his leadership of Barnet council and the impact his policies and actions - or inactions - had on our family over this last year and more. I have not got the slightest interest in his personal life, nor should anyone else. The problem is that a certain type of Daily Mail reading Tory supporter is so used to viewing the world through a veil of preset prejudices that he or she can only imagine that everyone else does the same. They don't, Mrs T.

Someone else who is evidently sickened by the Tory pary, both nationally and locally, is the blogger Don't Call Me Dave, writer of 'Not the Barnet Times'. In fact, he is so revolted by the whole direction of Conservative politics he has resigned from the party and has said he no longer wants to continue the blog. This is a shame: the Tory party need decent, liberally minded members like DCMD: the fact that he feels so alienated from the party is a very worrying sign of something going badly wrong in the Conservative movement, if there is such a thing. It leaves the field open to the lunatic fringe and career opportunists and takes the spirit of genuine political debate out of the democratic process. It's a black day again, here in Broken Barnet.

Wednesday 12 May 2010

Right to reply: Mrs Smith's Blog

Guest blog, Tracey Smith

My Profile: Mrs Smith

I live in the Tory run London Borough of Broken Barnet.

From January 2009 to April 2010, right, my family, friends and casual visitors struggled to cope with neighbours from hell - a load of whinging middle class la di dah spoilsports who, in the absence of an adequate supply of social housing, seem to think they have to go to work, save up for a deposit, obtain a mortgage, buy a house and live in a residential street, lording it over the likes of us, and in our case, constantly complain about our happy, carefree, expressive way of life, and can you believe it this was allowed to continue for sixteen interminable months until Barnet Council saw reason and pushed us to the top of the housing waiting list, about bloody time, to give us our dream home on a council estate surrounded by all our old friends and proper access to the best dealers and criminal networks in the borough, in return for pretending to listen to a couple of social workers' advice once a fortnight which is a laugh, sit there nodding, and telling them a load of crap. Well here we are now and its only what we ever asked for and what we are entitled to you've read about similar cases in the press and now we're going to tell you our side of the story ...

We couldn't believe our luck when we was given the keys to the house alright it was crap old furniture and the garden was completely full of shit, rotting rubbish and rats but we promised the owners we would get rid of it for them so we got some junkie from the rehab clinic up north finchley to stuff it in the school bins for a score and then in next doors only he got caught, the stupid tosser, so we burnt some of it and guess who was looking out the window at us like she been sucking on a lemon, only that cow next door, then she got the police to come round well not the real ones, the ones who are polite and have their mums ringing up to tell them off when theyre at work LOL anyway he said the lady next door, lady, ha, says you had drugs being used in your garden, drugs, I said never, not my boys, no way, not in my house, he said what was that bong doing in the back garden then, I explained my Troy is very interested in middle eastern culture and enjoys contemplating the state of the world with a little puff on some sweet tobacco, that's all he said oh ok then that's alright oh but did you know you are keeping the neighbours awake all night with your noise and stop swearing.

Well, I said, well what a bloody cheek officer theyre just normal high spirited boys full of life, bless'em but she is a fucking liar anyway, I never swear and my kids theyre good boys cept when they get me really really angry cos I can't control them being a single mum and they wind me up sob I can't cope my Travis you know he got ADHD and I had to get him on that liquid cosh stuff to shut him up a bit and sometimes he gets me so fuckin angry I have to whack him its his fault he makes me do it and you know he's deaf in one ear, don't know how that happened but he don't listen anyway ...

And then, that c**t next door, she only got a man from the council round he said I was supposed to go to some meeting with him and the police, and why didnt I go why should I, anyway? So they come round here instead bothering me at home and the man from the council said we got a little problem here haven't we and what can we do about it I said I can't do nothin he said we want to give you support for your needs and the cops, the real ones this time the ones what wear hoodies like us and all that they said yes thats right Mrs Smith we are here to help and one said by the way Madam who are all these young men what come here all the time he said with a funny look on his face think he fancied me to be honest or something and I said mind your own business Darren and Tyler theyre family friends what are just stayin for a while and then they went and Darren he said I aint staying here no more with cops coming round interfering I'm off and he went and then my kids was really upset by the man from the council saying they had to behave so they went to the school next door just to let off steam and they accidentally rearranged some of the gardens and just cos they got caught on CCTV they made out they was to blame for vandalising stuff can you believe it.

One night my Troy and Darren and Tyler and some of us was outside running about the front and Troy and Jezza just jumped over next doors for a bit of a laugh then waved at them being friendly and that stuck up cow said we was harassing them which was another bloody lie can't take a joke can you missus and youre no better than you should be sitting there watching University Challenge when I'm trying to listen to East Enders and I seen all those bottles in your recycling bin.

So then the man from the council and the police said would you like to sign this contract to say you will all behave and I said no I would not I'm going on holiday to Tenerife but dont worry my Troy will look after the house with his mates oh he said I hope they wont make a noise or nothin, they'll be as good as gold I said. When I come back just cos they had a all night party and there was a small fight and someone mentioned a gun and the cops had to come out we was in trouble yet again, more harassment by them next door. The man from the council said would you like to come for a meeting and sign these contracts to say you will behave but I got a lawyer she said tell them you aren't signing nothing cos you aint done nothing wrong. They said if you do anything else you are in trouble you could go to court I said ooh Im scared. Dont know what happened then but then I had go to parenting classes which was a laugh after seven kids think I could tell them a thing or two. They said did you know its a good idea to send your kids to bed at a certain time and not to whack them and stop swearing which shows how much they know but you have to pretend to go along with it.

Then a different lot from the council said its ok we suddenly realise now that you are vulnerable and you have needs that must be addressed by not ever telling you off for nothing you ever done and anyway its too expensive to take you to court so that was good and then they said some social workers will help you so they come round and said we think your boys need some good male role models and do you know any and I said well yes I have lots of young men coming here all the time and Darren and Jezza even share their gear with them, and they said oh that was interesting and wrote some notes. Next thing is we hear we're getting a new flat when the council can get one and where would we like to live.

Course they kept us waiting for months, which was a bloody liberty, and meant we had to put up with more bother from those shits next door, moaning just cos my boys and their friends suffer from insomnia and can't get to sleep at night. When my boys and Darren and Jezza are lying in the next day, do they think oh I must be quiet because some people are trying to have a lie in? Do they fuck. How many times have they had the cops round ringing on the door waking them up before lunchtime cos theres yet another complaint bout some lie they made up.

After six months they found somewhere - six months, can you believe it and we was supposed to move but the council said oh hold on we forgot to check something can you sign here and here and here and you have to behave now by the way did you know? And I said my boys are as good as gold and look they can run about the fields like new born lambs and gambol in the sunshine and they said er yeah and so we started packing and do you know the police came by so nice and said oh are you going and do you know I think they was even going to offer to help us pack. Goodbye, then, I said, and thanks for all your help I heard a funny noise coming from her next door twitching the net curtains as usual of course. Then off they went and I could tell they was pretty choked up. So we left for our new home then: course the stuck up bitch next door looked well pleased so to wipe the smile off her face Darren and Jezza paid a visit in the middle of the night and left a present on their doorstep, oh dear LOL and missing you already Mrs Fucking Angry!

Tuesday 11 May 2010

Mrs Angry and a bucketload of crap

Well, we live in interesting times, don't we? (Fill in your own stuff about coalition governments, minority governments, PR, AV, Liblab , Condem-nation etc, I can't face anymore).

I no longer care who runs the country, and would even suggests that the fact that the world has not come to an end since last Thursday indicates that we probably don't need any government at all, and the country could probably run on its own perfectly well. And think of all the expenses we would save on.

Anyway, I am too busy obssessing about a bucket full of dirt and fag ends sitting in my back garden to worry about political events. Why is this, you may ask?

It's now nearly two weeks since Mrs Smith and all the Smith family, and her toyboy, and the weed enthusiast lodgers, who looked pretty three dimensional but apparently were a figment of our imagination, disappeared over the horizon on their way to a new life on a certain council estate, where no doubt they are endearing themselves to a new set of neighbours. You might think that Mrs Angry is now Mrs Happy, and has drawn a neat line under the whole affair. Not quite. After the initial euphoria, there are still too many unresolved issues.

I tried explaining this to a friend: that it was like someone had been banging your head against the wall for a long time and when they stop, at first you can only feel grateful that your head is no longer being bashed about, but pretty soon you begin to get extremely angry about the fact that someone has been bashing your head against a wall in the first place. In our case, we worry that soon someone else will be grabbing hold of the head, as it were: Barnet Council has refused to say it will prevent the owners of the property from having more Homechoice tenants, despite the negligent and irresponsible behaviour of the owners and the state of the property. I know this seems incredible, but that is how Barnet works. And some fools out there have just voted this caring, compassionate Conservative administration back into power. Well done.

If more tenants arrive, we will be obliged to sell our house and move. We don't want to move: we just can't risk another experience like this. Yet, if we are forced to sell, we will have to disclose the details of the 'dispute' that we have been through, not exactly something that prospective buyers will want to hear, and even if we manage to find a buyer, the value of our house is highly likely to be affected.

Since writing the blog, and publicising in various places what happened to us, I've heard from even more people in the borough who have had similar experiences with Barnet. Unless there is a radical change of housing policy, and a drastically improved committment to addressing antisocial behaviour, there will inevitably be an increasing number of cases like ours. You can't say you haven't been warned.

We are hoping that the landlords of the neighbouring property will sell the house. But who knows what they will do. There have been no signs of estate agents, and what they will do next is anybody's guess. Last week for two days running my heart stopped when I saw male members of the family who own the house turn up and inspect the place. Luckily the harpy sisters did not accompany them, but still I felt myself panicking at the very thought of one of them turning up on our doorstep and screaming abuse at us again.

The thing which really, really bugs me, though, is the petty and completely irrational obsessive thought that somewhere across the borough Tracey Smith is sitting smugly in her new apartment, believing her self to have been so rewarded for all the appalling behaviour presented by herself and her wretched household. Worst of all is the fact that - and I am ashamed of admitting that this bothers me - she has had the last laugh, contemptuously dumping that pile of crap on my doorstep in the middle of the night, and getting away scot free. You might think that was an act of harassment, or intimidation, but as far as we know, nothing will ever be done about it. Does it matter? They've gone, haven't they? Yes, it bloody well does matter to me - it symbolises how we have been completely screwed by these people, and nothing has ever really happened as a result, except a move which they were happy with anyway. Tracey Smith doesn't care that her new tenancy is supposedly subject to supervision and 'support': she enjoys the attention, and knows how to pull the wool over social workers and other authority figures, manipulating the system for her own ends.

Yesterday, for the first time in over a year, I actually pottered about in the garden, and finally swept up the last few roaches and other bits of rubbish the Smiths had kindly chucked out of their windows, or over the fence. And then I opened up the bag of stuff they left on the doorstep again and peered at it malevolently and thought: this is justice, is it, for people like us: a heap of dirt and a pile of fag ends, and an uncertain future? I have a horrible suspicion, you know, that that is exactly how it is, and always will be, for the foreseeable future, here in Broken Barnet.

Friday 7 May 2010

Anarchy in the UK

Mrs Angry is not happy. And her head hurts.

Now look what's happened.

Grown men and women shamelessly selling themselves for the prize of taking the reigns of government of a country that didn't really want any of them in charge in the first place.

Another Tory council in Barnet. What were you thinking? God help us all.

The insufferable Brian Coleman being re elected by the cowardly and frankly unspeakably stupid electors of Totteridge.

Blogger Roger Tichborne failing to get elected in Mill Hill (I blame that smooth tongued, moustachioed ladies man Councillor John Hart, who has obviously been busy canvassing the Townswomens' Guild ...)

A new Tory MP - can't bring myself to write his name, except maybe on the envelope of a poison pen letter. Note to any policemen reading this : I am joking. Probably.

Can I bear it? The thought of seeing mean mouthed Michael Gove on tv again and again over the next five years.

The thought of seeing lardy Eric Pickles on tv again and again over the next five years.

Or the thought of maybe another general election in a few months time.

On the other hand - reasons to be cheerful:

The fun we had on Thursday night in counting the number of Labour ministers suddenly desperate to tell the BBC how badly the country needed 'stable government' and an urgent review of the electoral system.

The prospect of a hung parliament, rather than a landslide victory for Dave and chums, meaning for a while at least we might be spared the blitzkrieg of of Tory spending cuts.

Looking forward to seeing poor Nick Clegg playing the role of David Cameron's bitch, and the contortions of the Daily Mail as it prepares to get loved up with someone they have portrayed as more evil than Hitler, too posh for Posh Boy and secretly - oh dear - foreign.

More good news: I'm hugely relieved to see my local Labour councillors being returned to represent West Finchley ward: well done to all of you, and thanks again for all your help.

Nick Griffin's political 'career' coming to its natural conclusion.

Lembit Opik forced to get a real job.

Jacqui Smith being given the opportunity to spend a lot more time on the sofa with her husband, catching up on a few old dvds.

Watching a boat full of aging celebrities having an election night party on a boat on the Thames, courtesy of the BBC licence payers. Bruce Forsyth's' political commentary and incisive analysis was a defining moment in the night's events, wasn't it? Were you up for Joan Collins? Ben Kingsley, Maureen Lipman; the BBC really won the election night results show stakes, I have to say. If only that fool Dimbleby had not continually interrupted the fun with his tedious facts and figures, updates and declarations.

Mrs Angry, incidentally, is alarmed to find that she that she is developing a perverse and shameful passion for the evil genius that is Lord Mandelson. The older he gets, the more fabulous he is: cool, masterful and terrifying ... The way he licks his lip dartingly, with the tip of his tongue, like a lizard. (Do you think he has ever caught a fly? )The way he keeps his head perfectly still at all times. The quiet menace of his speech. The unspoken threats. The smell of sulphur and brimstone. How sexy is he? Peter Mandelson, or Councillor John Hart? Councillor John Hart or Peter Mandelson? Hmmm.

If anything good came out of this election, however, perhaps it was that the electors of this country suddenly realised that the right to vote should never be taken for granted. Footage of hundreds of disenfranchised voters locked out of polling stations in a British election in the twenty first century surely served to remind us all of the fragility of the democratic process, and the huge obligation on all of us to exercise that right, and ensure that our governments and local authorities manage this process to the best of their abilities.

Anyway: got to go - apparently there's a man at the front door wanting to know if anyone wants to form a government ...

Wednesday 5 May 2010

Teetering on the brink

In my profile I have said that if you don't like what you read in my blog, and would rather it didn't happen to you, then you should remember this when you are standing by the ballot box. Tomorrow is the day to make your mind up.

Me, I am voting for Labour in the general election, because I think that is the right thing to do, and locally for the same reasons but also because I know that the Labour candidates in my ward, West Finchley, are decent people who work hard to represent the residents in this area. If I lived in an area where Libdems were the alternative, I think I would be voting for them, if it meant keeping a Tory councillor from winning a seat.

If you live in Mill Hill, ladies, try and resist the charms of Tory councillor John Hart, (who is boasting in his election leaflet that he is an expert linguist - always a bonus, I feel, and, call me old fashioned, especially irrestible from a man with a handlebar moustache ... ) No: look the other way: Mrs Angry gives her official endorsement to fellow blogger Roger Tichborne, who really does care passionately about the community in which he lives and I am sure will make a real and positive contribution to local politics should he be elected.

If you live in Totteridge, then I beg and beseech you to come to your senses and stop voting for that deeply unpleasant little ****, and embarrassment to the Tory party, if not the human race, described in this week's Private Eye as a 'charmless oaf', our crass, eternally confrontational and infinitely vulgar mayor, Brian Coleman. Enough is enough: if you are too scared not to vote Conservative (come on, deep breath, you can do it) then simply vote for the other two Tory candidates and ignore the third. Life will carry on: the world will not come to an end, nor will massed mobs of dirty, starving poor people run riot up and down Totteridge Lane demanding the overthrow of the social order, I promise you ...

Anyone who has followed my blog from the beginning will understand why I feel so strongly that we need to rid ourselves of the present Tory council in this borough, that we need urgent and radical change in the political idealogy and leadership of this council if we are to avoid the course to catastrophe on which we seem to be set. Additionally, in my view, based on his record in office as leader of Barnet Council, I feel that Mike Freer is, how shall I put it politely, totally unsuited to the job of representing us in parliament. Please don't give him the opportunity.

The cold hearted, dysfunctional character of the present administration here in Barnet is, I think, deeply disturbing and there is no doubt that, if re-elected, this bunch of fools will be attempting to implement the Futureshape/easyCouncil package, with devastating consequences for all of us. The warden snatching fiasco of last year is just a hint of what is to come.

After I had written this today, I read something which really made me feel appalled, and seriously concerned for the future of local government and democracy in this borough. Another blogger, Don't Call Me Dave, who writes the daddy of all Barnet blogs, Not the Barnet Times, has for some time been trying, via Freedom of Information requests, to access information regarding the expenses of our councillors. If you visit his blog you will see that the provision of this information is being withheld beyond the statutory time limit to - guess when, voters? The day after the election. Is there something our Tory councillors do not wish us to know before then? Why did our Mayor, Brian Coleman (yes it's him again, the one with the penchant for enormous taxi bills paid for by guess who, and the one who had to be forced by Boris Johnson to reveal his GLA expenses,) intervene in this issue?

I have had a similar experience in having potentially 'sensitive' information necessary to a FOI response about the dubious Homechoice housing scheme withheld, for no good reason, in this past year, and was obliged to complain to the Information Commissioner, who confirmed that Barnet had breached the Freedom of Information Act. I have reason to believe that there may be other examples. Is this acceptable, do you think? If information is withheld beyond the time limit it is due either to incompetence or something more sinister. Are we living in some sort of Orwellian state where information has to be controlled for political reasons, or do we live in a democracy with a right to such information? You decide, and vote accordingly tomorrow.

Tuesday 4 May 2010

Mrs Angry's Schooldays

Mrs Angry was a convent schoolgirl. Yes, thank you, I have heard all the jokes.
Sadly, the character building experience bestowed on me in my tender youth is one that future generations of Catholic girls are unlikely to undergo, due to the dwindling numbers of bad tempered nuns willing to endure an eternity worse than purgatory itself in the Catholic educational system. It's a shame.

On the subject of Catholic education, incidentally, how curious that both Barnet Eye blogger Roger Tichborne and Mrs Angry were traumatised in their childhood by the same wooden ruler wielding spanking enthusiast Miss O'Donovan, notorious teacher and tormentor of innocent six year olds at St Vincent's school in Mill Hill. This fine example of Christian love and motherly guidance died some years ago and is apparently buried in Ireland: if any reader knows where exactly, please let me know so that I can fulfil a long cherished fantasy, make a trip across the water and dance on her grave. Thank you. And yes, I can quite see how certain readers may feel that Mr Tichborne and I were not spanked hard enough. On the other hand, perhaps this abusive treatment sparked a life long hatred of injustice and a desire to do something about it ... And if there are any Bishops out there feeling guilty, a small apology and may be a papal dispensation for a few days less time in hell (let's face it: I am heading in that direction) might be a suitable gesture of remorse.

After escaping St Vincent's, I went to what was then a convent grammar school: St Michael's, in North Finchley; still there, still teaching Catholic girls, still a grammar school, but no longer a convent as it ran out of nuns some years ago, caused largely by a number of them, including the head teacher and head of the order losing their vocations, possibly in despair at having to teach me, and then running away to get married. Yes, really. Perhaps you will not be surprised to hear that Mrs Angry came very close to being expelled from this school, aged 12, for being accused of organising a demonstration and sit down protest against the teachers, actually, may I point out, quite unfairly, although I did take part, and ironically in one of my later careers did become a trade union convenor and organised a couple of strikes: who would have thought it.

Why am I mentioning all this? Because last week, a letter appeared in the Daily Telegraph, signed amongst others by Miss Ursula Morrissey, my old sixth form tutor, and the present headmistress of St Michael's, in support of Tory education plans. This support is apparently given on the basis that a Tory government will help to provide 'real freedom' in education and enable schools to be, and I quote, 'free from local authority intervention'. Ursula: Mrs Angry is very disappointed in you. Take a detention, and stand by the gym cupboard until half term.

Hold on: I'm having a flashback.

Now the Conservative definition of 'freedom' in education is a very interesting thing. Freedom in this sense is from the same list of Tory obsessions as 'choice'. What this means, unfortunately, in practice, is actually choice for the middle classes, and freedom from any obligation to the children of disdvantaged families.

Which brings us back home to Broken Barnet, because one of the unacknowledged truths about our borough is the stark contrast in living conditions and opportunities for those with means and those without.

Some while ago I was invited, with other members of Barnet's Citizens' Panel, to attend a presentation and consultation evening by the local healthcare trust. What is the Barnet Citizens' Panel, you may be asking? Well, it was started some years ago in the days when our council thought it might be a good idea to ask residents in detail what they thought of their performance. There were a lot of surveys and questionnaires along the lines of how fantastic do you think Barnet Council is? I was asked to join the panel one day when I was wandering past Tescos, and can only assume it was because I looked fairly sane and wasn't holding a can of cider. For some reason, like so many Barnet enterprises and services, this Citizens' Panel has been quietly dropped. Could that be, by any chance, because the answers received were not what the council administration wanted to hear?

At the health trust presentation meeting we were given some really shocking statistical information about the borough's residents, and their access to healthcare. We were told, for example, that here is a significant difference between the life expectancy of residents in disadvantaged parts of the borough, and those living in the more affluent areas. The disadvantaged areas tend to be to the west and south of the borough, where there is a more marked distance from the nearest hospitals, yet presenting a higher incidence of conditions requiring screening and support such as TB, and sickle cell disease. Does it matter if poorer people, often without their own transport, have to travel to get to clinics and hospitals miles away? They can get on a bus, can't they? The elderly, the sick, pregnant mothers with small children? Of course the buses which are promised when hospitals close have a tendency to disappear when no one is looking, as in the case of Edgware Hospital - or not exist in the first place, as in the case of the Royal Free and Chase Farm.

The same sytem of apartheid exists in our borough when it comes to education.

Yes, there are some very high acheiving schools in Barnet, the ones our council boasts about: St Michaels', QE Boys, Henrietta Barnett etcetera. But these are selective schools. To stand any chance of passing these exams a child must be tutored for at least two years beforehand, at great expense, and if all else fails the parents of those children can usually pay to have educated privately. What about the rest? In the good old days, entrance to selective schools was on the basis of the eleven plus, a snapshot assessment of innate natural ability and intelligence, unenhanced by tutoring. These days a bright child from a deprived background stands little chance of being assessed on the same level as a child from a more affluent background. So they have to make do with the schools which are not selective. And for the disadvantaged families of this borough, unless they happen to live in the catchment area of a good state school, they are stuffed. There are some very bad schools in this borough, which are completely boycotted by middle class parents who are able to play the system, and even move if necessary. This is hardly an option if you are a tenant on an estate somewhere, or living in temporary accommodation on a restricted income, now is it?

If you are lucky, like my son, you are entitled to attend a faith school, in his case the excellent Finchley Catholic High, a boy's Catholic comprehensive school. For Catholic girls, however, there is a major problem, as there is no comprehensive: there is a mixed establishment, whose name and reputation strikes fear in the heart of any practising Catholic, and consequently is full of non Catholic, inner London pupils. St Michael's prides itself on its national high ranking and success: frankly, as it creams off the highest acheiving applicants from any where in the London area, to do any less well would be impossible. How much more of a challenge,and service to the local community, it would be to copy FCH, and provide a comprehensive education for girls from all backgrounds and of all abilities. In the meanwhile, local Catholic girls must travel out of the borough to attend a decent girls' school (if they are accepted rather than local girls) and St Michael's happily welcomes girls from Croydon, Wimbledon, Leytonstone: ridiculous. This example of what happens within the Catholic community is typical of what happens in the borough as a whole. Vast areas of the borough are not in a catchment area for a good state school: parents who can, push their children into selective schools or pay: those who can't have to put up with the awful ones who consistently score at the bottom of the league tables, and no one cares as they are of course in Labour voting areas.

Will Conservative plans to give more 'freedom' to schools, more control to headteachers, and more 'choice' to some parents benefit the less advantaged children in our borough? No, it won't. It will lead to more selective schools, with their own idiosyncratic admissions policy which will be exploited by the middle classes: the children in the less advantaged areas will continue to have the worst schools, the worst healthcare, the worst housing and live in areas where crime and antisocial behaviour are part of everyday life.

Welcome to Broken Barnet.

Sunday 2 May 2010

All Quiet on the West Finchley Front


An eerie silence has fallen over the neighbourhood, broken only by the sound of Tory party canvassers tiptoing past our house, in an attempt to dodge the bullets. Well, in truth, as the saying goes, I have no gun: but I can spit.

For five nights now, I have actually been able to sleep in my own bed, without fear of being woken up by the noise of a gang of louts next door at one, two, three in the morning. What bliss. Of course I do miss the Ikea camp bed in the kitchen, and the strangely hypnotic sound of the fridge and the boiler, and worrying about the thing that bangs on the living room door, and wondering whether it wanders about downstairs at night, and the nightmares and sleepless nights worrying about what on earth we are going to do - oh and the occasional sound of the Smiths and their yob friends vomiting out of their kitchen window.

The Angry cat is very happy to be allowed back to sleep once more in his rightful place on top of the pile of ironing in the kitchen and is also enjoying nipping over to the Smith's 'garden' to leave his own fragrant token of appreciation, with my blessing. As for the 'parting gift' thoughtfully left for us by the Sniths in the middle of the night, this is being retained for forensic inspection by the local CID (Crap on the neighbours' doorstep Investigation Department).It will then be forwarded to a more appropriate recipient, with our good wishes.

Mr Angry has at last today donned protective clothing, safety goggles, and a pair of oven gloves and sat down to read this blog in the privacy of the dining room. From the strange noises which could be heard from behind the closed door it was impossible to distinguish whether or not he was laughing or crying.

The Angry son and daughter don't quite believe it is all over: actually, nor do their parents, and of course it may not be, if Barnet decides, as it has repeatedly stated, that it will not rule out placing another family with the outrageously behaved owners of the neighbouring property. So far the owners have not shown up at the house. I would like to think that they are too ashamed, but I doubt it.

I think it will take weeks, if not months, before we actually stop twitching and jumping at every sound in the street, thinking the Smiths have rolled up again in their car, slamming the car doors, the front door, constantly in and out, running about the house yelling abuse at each other, fighting, swearing, Mrs Smith threatening her kids with a whack, screaming at them, the boys screaming abuse back at her. Wonder what her new neighbours make of them all? Of course, bearing in mind the nature of the place they have gone to, it may well be that Tracey Smith is ringing up to complain about the people next door. Wouldn't that be amusing?

I don't think we will ever be the same family we were before all this started. It just went on too long, and had too profound an impact. I bitterly regret the effect this has had on all of us but particularly on my children's lives and I can't forgive those responsible for creating and prolonging the situation. The fact that some of them are standing for election as Conservative party candidates this coming week is just too much, and if this blog has persuaded just one person not to vote for these fools it will have been worth it.

Someone has asked if Mrs Angry will now become more temperate. Funny. Maybe. But not yet, Mr S. There are a few things that need seeing to first.

I want compensation from Barnet Council for all the distress the last sixteen months has caused us, and the lasting damage not just to us, but to the value of our home.

I want Barnet to be forced to acknowledge the need for a proper boroughwide antisocial behaviour policy, put into practice by a fully resourced and specifically designated team of officers, and effective procedures for identifying and reporting ASB.

I suggest that there needs to be a review of the way in which the council works, or fails to work, with the police in combating ASB, and improved working practices which will help support the victims of such behaviour rather than the perpetrators. The emergency police response can be improved by as, suggested in a recent report, an improved system of identifying and prioritising calls from the victims of long running ASB cases, and some way of redistributing calls to SNTeams off duty is necessary too.

Barnet Council has already admitted messing up the complaint we made to them in regard to our situation, and the way it was being handled: this 'mess up' unnecessarily and severely prolonged the distress we endured and it seems evident that a review of the way in which they deal with complaints is urgently needed. Also evident is that our experience of the mishandling of Freedom of Information Requests is not in any way unique and appears to be symptomatic of a disturbingly inefficient management of data and information, to put it politely, and don't you agree, DCMD? Let's hope that a new administration, or perhaps the Information Commissioner, will order a full review of this issue too.

It's hard to explain how it feels right now to be liberated at last from the tyranny of the Smiths and their hangers on. I think we are still in a state of shock: or maybe post traumatic stress disorder.

A couple of years ago we were in Normandy, and visited the D Day landing beaches. and other WW2 sites, including a guilty trip to Caen, flattened by the efforts of Mr Angry senior and a Lancaster bomber, in order to aid the allied invasion. I was struck by the posters still displayed, so many years later, everywhere in the villages in the area, expressing gratitude to those who had freed them: 'Merci a nos liberateurs'. Well, I'm not comparing our experience to five years of Nazi occupation but boy can I sympathise with their long lasting sense of relief now.

Alors: merci encore a nos liberateurs, et 'va te faire foutre' aux autres ...

Et vive la resistance.