Thursday 18 June 2015

Sacred Ground, and a Savage Beauty: a return to West Hendon

Mrs Angry has written a lot about the West Hendon 'regeneration', over the last year or so. 

In the last week she was obliged to update an earlier post:

.... about the massive bomb that fell in this area, in February 1941, courtesy of the Luftwaffe, causing many deaths, and widespread destruction: an issue that is central to the controversial Barratt's development that is now being imposed on this area, right on the fringes of the beautiful Welsh Harp. 

This development had been originally intended as a genuine act of regeneration, for the benefit of the residents of the council estate, but under the direction of the Tory council, here in Broken Barnet, has become something utterly different, a travesty of the idea of regeneration:  a profit driven luxury development on public land given away, in secret, to the developers for the token sum of £3. And those residents duped into agreeing the regeneration on the basis of being given new homes, and a better quality of life? They are being driven out of West Hendon: in some cases out of the borough.

The issue of the wartime bombing is central to the story of the new development because at the planning stage, and even at the time of the Inquiry into the compulsory purchase of properties in the way of the next phase of the development, the council, Capita and Barratts have tried to deny the historical significance of the site. 

That significance is as a place of memorial to those who lost their lives in the incident - and those missing victims who still remain, in what lies beneath the monstrous buildings now reaching into the skies above West Hendon. 

And Barnet, Barratts, and Capita do not really want people to remember this, or acknowledge that they are building on what a relative of one of the victims reminded us in the last few days was always considered to be 'sacred ground'. 

Last week Mrs Angry received an email from Barnet Council rather belatedly objecting to the use of the only photograph of the bomb damage, and, rather impertinently, even the use of her own photos of certain documentation in the local archives, documentation curiously ignored by planning officers in their haste to write a report recommending approval of the building plans. Mrs Angry, of course, told them to feck off, and prove copyright, but has had no response, as yet.

Jasmin Parsons and West Hendon councillor Devra Kay, marking the location of the bombing. (Please do not look at the image shown of the destruction, until copyright has been established).

Time to take some more photographs perhaps, thought Mrs Angry, so yesterday she went for a lovely walk (or rather hobble, due to her bad back, don't you know) around the estate, and the Welsh Harp, in the company of the redoutable Jasmin Parsons, who has lived there for thirty five years, and campaigned so fiercely for the community she is seeing torn apart, and razed to the ground.

Mrs Angry has nothing but the greatest respect - and affection - for Jasmin: a truly admirable champion of that community: courageous, determined - and a good hearted woman, whose strength of character belies her own vulnerability, and the sometimes unimaginably challenging experiences of her own life.

Arriving at Perryfields, and the entrance to Tyrrel Way, there was a chaotic scene - the noise was incredible: lorries and cement mixers with engines running, moving and reversing in a madly unchoreographed sequence, blocking the road: noisy, dirty, and dangerous.

Unbearable for only a few minutes: what it is like to live in this night and day, for years on end, is impossible to comprehend. As Mr Reasonable pointed out this week: the terms of the contract would appear to being openly flouted. Except now residents are being told the work that is driving them to despair after hours, and at weekends is necessary because it is 'urgent'. So shut up, and put up.

And it is the final insult, for the tenants and leaseholders forced to endure this torment, knowing that in absolute denial of all promises made to them by the Tory councillors who so cleverly delivered the hugely profitable 'regeneration' of West Hendon into the hands of Barratts - they have no chance of living in the new housing. They have no right to live there. They cannot afford to live there. Their homes are being knocked down, tenants 'decanted' to other 'regeneration' sites, 'temporary people', already living the reality of a nation soon to be freed from the tyranny of human rights legislation. 

The right to respect for your home, and private life? You have no right to a home, in Broken Barnet, for sure, and if you live in a 'regeneration' area: your right to respect for that home, and your private life is not applicable, of course.

For the last few weeks residents have claimed they have had to put up with this continual noise, dirt and traffic at times when the contract clearly specifies work should not be taking place at all, ie in the evening, Saturday and Sunday. Constant complaints have been made, to no avail. It would appear that the developers are in something of a hurry, for whatever reason there might be. Urgency in the sense of time being money, no doubt.

Certainly since Mrs Angry last visited the site, some parts are almost unrecognisable. Where once the car park was, the site of the now lost memorial to the victims of the bombing: there stands a grim building, reminiscent of a state penitentiary, overlooking the squalid backyards of former shops on the Edgware Road, now closed, dying slowly over the years in ironic, treacherous denial of the very concept of regeneration. Or perhaps more of an assisted death, through the tender mercies of Barnet Council, and Barratts.

This is where the few tenants who have managed to retain secure tenancies are to be housed. The lucky ones: kept in check, safely outside the footprint of the private development, and of course not allowed any sight of the Welsh Harp, as that must be a privilege reserved for those who can afford to buy a view. How else to teach aspiration, either Tory or New Labour version, without such corrective discipline?

Looming horribly over the site, as you can see from Mrs Angry's photos, is the lift shaft of one of the two monstrous tower blocks that Barnet approved as suitable architecture right slap bang next to the oasis of beauty, and Site of Special Scientific Interest, that is the Welsh Harp. Twenty four storeys were marked out. There are two more to go. And the twin tower due to accompany this blot on the landscape is going to be even taller: thirty two floors.

*Updated: Jasmin has reminded Mrs Angry that there will eventually be no less than FOUR tower blocks - the other two supposed to be 19 and 21 storeys respectively - although some fear the heights may be extended beyond this.

And if you think this is not a blot on the landscape, look at the photo at the beginning of this post, and see how tower number one blights the skyline, thrusting defiantly at the clouds, at even such a distance from the site.

Off we went, Jasmin and Mrs Angry, keeping well clear of the lorries and mess, and skirting round the side of the estate, onto the remaining part of York Memorial Park, which is marked for further expansion of the development, and the further encroachment on the site of the bombing. 

The land here is still uneven, in an interesting and suggestive way: and the discovery of some sort of old drainage cover hidden in the grass, not far from the trees still remaining from the old boundary by the water's edge, led one to wonder just what else an archaeological survey of the area might find.

Round the fringe of the Harp, trying to follow the former pathway, now neglected and reclaimed by nature, lost under a carpet of grass and a temporary rebellion of wildflowers, visited by darting, electric blue damsel flies, and the happy droning of busy bees, barely audible as the noise of work on the buildings, the hammering of corporate profit, carried on relentlessly above us. 

Jasmin pointed out where there had once been housing accommodation for the elderly - just as there was once a nursery. All the stages of life supported on site, as she said: the foundations of a community. All taken away, shut down, all to be developed. Community has no place in West Hendon now.

We passed under the shadow of the Barratt billboards, boasting of the benefits of their annexation of West Hendon: yes, the 'regeneration', the 'enhanced' town centre: the 'preservation' of the Welsh Harp. No mention of the ruthless destruction of, yes, that word again - a community, of course.

As we walked on towards Cool Oak Bridge, the view across the Harp was intensely beautiful: dozens of swans kept their distance, guardedly, gliding slowly towards us, in the relative peace of the further side of the water.

But what have we here, on this side of the bridge, squatting on the waterside, or rather the Waterside, proudly protecting a nest of potentially rather ugly ducklings, unlikely to make the transformation into beautiful swans? Yes: a Barratt showroom.

And no, Mrs Angry and Jasmin could not resist the temptation.

In past the smiling receptionists, and round the corner straight into the aspirational heaven that is Barratt's Hendon Waterside. Oh boy. Certainly heaven for Mrs Angry, who as a child was always getting into trouble when visiting friends and family with her mother, wandering off and looking in all the cupboards. Still inclined to take a peek inside bathroom cabinets, and goodness me, how revealing that can be. (Some people seem to be unaware of sell by dates, and their effect on the efficiency of certain products ...) But we digress.

Immediately facing potential buyers is an display, in lovely silver gilt framing, of a collection of rather obscure classic Roman images. Puzzling, at first: but then it occurs that someone with a gcse in history might just have thought about being on the Edgware Road, ie Watling Street, and the Roman allusions a suitable sort of history to impress the punters, rather than the social history of the working class community of West Hendon, and the soon to be forgotten story of the Welsh Harp. Or perhaps images of colonialism and empire are more sympathetic to the eye of a corporate sales team.

But move on, into the first, tiny bedroom. Oh: this is the master bedroom, looking onto the water.

Now, see: this is what property developers think will entice buyers desperate to secure a Barratt home in West Hendon. No, not the proximity of kebab shops, and greasy spoon cafes, and tyre fitters. Leave behind the grubby reality of the Edgware Road, and come with Mrs Angry, if you please ... to this bucolic idyll, where you will live in rooms that are filled with light, cream coloured luxury, and lovely new things. 

They are selling a dream: the wet dream of some senior sales director, who thinks there will be plenty of buyers desperate for the sort of lifestyle suggested by this fantasy, as demonstrated by what Mrs Angry is reliably informed is an example of 'showhouse narrative'. Hmm. 

Shiny and new, this dream, smooth as ... silk: milky white, and translucent, an ejaculation of money, all over the carpets, the walls, the preposterously becushioned beds, behind which a fragemented mirror offers a glimpse of pleasures that might just be yours, if you can afford it. 

If you want the full picture, and an all in one mirror, of course, you would have to pay extra, and upgrade to a penthouse flat.

Or, alternatively, if you really enjoy seeing someone being well and truly f*cked, you could nip round to what remains of the council estate, and see what Barnet and their partners have done to the residents of West Hendon. Free of charge. 

Quite what has been going on, in this showhome, in the mind of the in house set dressers is something of a mystery. On one of the beds there is a discarded dress, sunglasses and a designer knock off handbag that might have come from Primark: on the bedside table a man's watch - and his wallet. The watch didn't look the sort to have anything engraved on it. We are always interested in that sort of detail, aren't we, readers? And the wallet ...  was empty. Maybe she helped herself, when he was in the ensuite bathroom.

A reasonable conclusion was that whatever had just happened in the room was a commercial transaction. Well - why not? Everything has a price, these days. 

This is not a place for love, or desire, or family life: at the Housing Inquiry we heard the Barnet/Capita planning officer tell the Inspector that 'child yield' in this development - as in all local regeneration schemes, funnily enough - would be insignificant. The school we were told was part of the deal may never be necessary, as a result. How convenient.

No doubt any sexually active couples living in Hendon Waterside will subject to a cultural revolution style discouragement from our Tory masters in regard to procreation, and become obliged to sell up, and move on, should too many unsanctioned children issue forth from their unions.

Still - look: some nice things on the dressing table. Mrs Angry helped herself to a squirt of the Jo Malone cologne, on the way out. And took her fountain pen, and notebook, to write a little note, to leave, in the absence of a visitors' book. 

Wonder if they've found it yet?

In the kitchen-living room there were more pointers for those who might be feeling aspirationally inclined to buying one of the flats. 

Ralph Lauren tableware. Earl Grey tea in the cupboards.

In the fridge, champagne, bottles of Italian mineral water, olives, hazelnut infused honey. Haagen Daz in the freezer.

And on the table, most comical of all, a familiar looking book, with a holographic cover. Mrs Angry was beside herself with laughter, by now. 

A copy of 'Savage Beauty', homage to the designer genius of Alexander McQueen, currently the subject of a stunningly good exhibition at the V&A:

Miss Angry was also beside herself with amusement, and exhibiting a certain degree of fury, when she saw the photos, being a student at Central Saint Martins, which produced Mc Queen, and where she is taught by some of his former tutors, one or two of which have published their own books about him. 

Miss A pointed out that not only was McQueen brought up in social housing, the removal of which, in the act of social cleansing which has taken place in West Hendon, has made way for this development, his subversive, brilliant mind would have despised everything represented by this unspeakably vulgar showhouse. 

Give me time and I'll give you a revolution - Alexander McQueen.

The breathless aspirational aesthetic of a Barratt showhome may disappoint the educated eye, but step back outside into the natural world, the part that has not yet been conquered by corporate ambition, and still you find a savage beauty that defies the grasping hand of profit.

Jasmin and Mrs Angry scarpered from the showhome, leaving a trail of muddy footprints on the milky white carpets, and wandered across the bridge onto the sandy paths and the rural backwaters of the Harp's open spaces and wooded areas, populated by willow, and ash, and oak. 

At the water's edge another damsel fly hovered in mid air, mating with a female. The swans came over to us, a pair proudly guarding a dozen fluffy babies. It was a blissful scene, in the sultry late afternoon sun, glinting on the shallow depths of the Harp's borders.

On closer inspection, however, it was apparent that both adult swans had fishing wire - and presumably a hook - caught in their beaks. 

A suitable metaphor on which to end the day.

Once the Victorian working man and woman came here, in droves, on a day trip, to take a walk in the country air, and enjoy the pleasures of the Welsh Harp Music Hall, maybe to listen to Annie Adams sing of 'the Jolliest Place that's Out', or Albert Chevalier offering the 'Coster's Serenade': 

Eight months ago and things is still the same,
You're known about 'ere by your maiden name,
I'm getting chivied by my pals cos why?
Nightly I warbles for your reply.

Summer 'as gone, and its a freezin' now, 
Still love's a burnin' in my 'eart I vow;
Just as it did that 'appy night in May
Down at the Welsh 'Arp, which is 'Endon Way

Summer is gone, before it has ever arrived, this year, in West Hendon. The pleasure grounds of the working man are now co-opted into the corporate fantasies of private enterprise, and the love that burned in the honest heart of the nineteenth century costermonger has been abandoned in favour of a beautifully coordinated act of meaningless copulation between the sheets of a Barratt's showhouse bed.

This is Broken Barnet. That was West Hendon. 

That is all there is to say.

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