Who Brought Them Furry Animals In?

Near Dalston, between Southgate Road and Kingsland Road, was De Beauvoir Road. And still is, except that it's now called, by some people, something different.
It used to be called De Beauvoir Road, pronounced d'bo-vwar. But then in the 1970's and early 80's these middle-class gentrified people started moving in, because some of the houses are quite spacious and sound, and suddenly, from nowhere, we had  De Beaver Town.
In vain I searched for little furry animals that were gnawing at the woodwork and building dams in the gutter when it rained, but sadly I never found any.
Though I'm still looking.
And funnily enough, when we referred to d'bo-vwar road, these gentrified folks laughed at us, as if we were saying something outrageously amusing.
In d'bo-vwar Road, and running along Downham Road, is a great big housing estate, the De Beauvoir Estate, which according to Wikipedia was completed in 1971, though people were moving in there well before that. It is high-density housing, in flats, all looks a bit municipal.
Wikipedia also has this fascinating snippet: 'De Beauvoir Town was home to William Lyttle (1931–2010), a retired electrical engineer known as the Mole Man of Hackney, who dug a series of tunnels under his 20-room property on the corner of Mortimer Road and Stamford Road. In 2001, his tunnelling caused an 8 ft (2.4 m) hole to appear in the pavement on Stamford Road. Reports that the tunnelling had started again in 2006 were confirmed when Hackney Council found a network of tunnels and caverns, some 8 m (26 ft) deep, spreading up to 20m in every direction from his house.'
Could it be that he was the origin of this idea of the area being full of beavers? Sounds plausible.


The Trams

Until April 1952, when I was still six-years-old, trams came along Mildmay Road then round the east side of Newington Green into Green Lanes and on up to Manor House, that was the end of the line, by the Manor House pub; they could go no further as the tramlines beyond that were taken up many years before. The driver then walked from the front to the rear of the tram, which now became the front, and then drove his number 33 tram back to West Norwood.
There's a photo of the number 33 at Manor House that you can see on Flickr.
The driver stood to drive the tram. It was a standing-up job. It must have got cold in winter, as there was no door between him and the outside. Presumably the tram drivers muffled up well, perhaps they stamped their feet as they rode along, though I have no memory of travelling on the tram in winter, only summer, when occasionally my mother would take us to Manor House, for a short walk in Finsbury Park to see the ducks on the pond.
Seats on the tram were of slatted wood in an iron frame, and the back of the seat was on a pivot at the centre-base, so you could bring the seat back forward and over, to make the seats face forwards again for the return journey home. Great fun for a five-year-old, pulling the clattery seat-backs forward, though you had to be quick as the conductor mainly did this at the terminus, with a great banging clunking of a single movement down the tram.
The trams up to Manor House took their power from a conduit under the road, where a mechanism called a plough went from under the tram through a slot in the road, into the conduit where it touched the power source. I can remember no warnings to never poke bits of wire down the slot, and maybe that would have been difficult anyway, it sounds a bit hazardous now but maybe that is just a change of health and safety awareness.
Between the rails was not tarmac, it was tarry-blocks. These were blocks of wood that had been soaked in tar, these would presumably have allowed for easier maintenance than tarmac at the time. Occasionally a block would work loose, where it was much prized to be spirited away home, as it burned on the fire long and magnificently. There were usually a number of gaps to be seen in the tarry-blocks.
The tram stops were on the pavement, but the trams did not pull into the kerb, the rails ran straight along the centre of the road, so that in order to board the tram you walked out into the road, hoping and trusting, I suppose, that no boy racer in his motorbike and sidecar was going to try zipping along the inside. This system of walking out in front of the traffic to board a tram still exists in parts of eastern Europe.
There were accidents with trams. My uncle John was killed in an accident before I was born, though I think this was something to do with him trying to jump on a moving one and missing his footing. Hard to find out the details now.
But the main treat with a number 33 tram was when my dad took me for a ride to the Embankment, for then the tram went through the Kingsway Tunnel, where it just fitted between the white-tiled walls that passed within inches of the sides, and in the tunnel the tram stopped at white-tiled stations. It was all a bit scary. At the Embankment it popped out of the tunnel underneath Waterloo Bridge and made a sharp screeching turn right, on towards Westminster Bridge.
In April 1952  the number 33 trams finished and the rails were taken up. The number 33 tram route was replaced by bus route 171, which rather than turning round at Manor House carried on up Green Lanes, then turned right at the Salisbury pub into St Anne’s Road and Philip Lane to Tottenham High Road ending its route at Bruce Grove. At the southern end of the route, initially, it continued to run to West Norwood following exactly the same route as the tram except that never went through the Kingsway Tunnel, instead it went down Kingsway to Aldwych, then across Fleet Street into a little road bringing it down by the Temple to the Embankment. The number 171 route has changed frequently over the years.

The trams were noisy and cranky and screechy and getting old and of a time gone by even in the 1950s, but instead of modernising the trams, the authorities replaced them with buses. In retrospect now this seems shortsighted, adding to traffic congestion rather than defeating it, but I suppose it all seemed to simple at the time, buses could overtake each other and their routes could be modified. It left London lagging behind a bit, in public transport though, dispensing with trams altogether. 


A number 35 tram comes out from the Kingsway Tunnel in 1933. The number 35 followed the same route as the 33 to the Angel and then went up Holloway Road to Archway. Nice lettering on the number of that 177 bus. Photo courtesy Leonard Bentley on Flickr.

In the old eastern Europe people still often walk into the road to get on a tram. This was Rostock in east Germany in July 2010.

The Weed

In the front garden of our basement flat at 26 Petherton Road there grew a weed. Every summer it came up, thick and tall and it blocked the light to the front room window.
My parents said it was a nuisance, made the room always dark, and cutting it back did little good, it quickly grew back again. My dad tried digging it out, but that did no good either, it still grew back.
It was a thick-stemmed plant with broad leaves, green stems flecked with red and there were knotty sections along each hollow stem. When you broke a stem it exuded a milky substance. Occasionally some of the plants produced a white flower. There was quite a lot of it in some gardens round and about, always were it grew it was to the exclusion of anything else.
My dad did not know what it was. He called it convolvulus though he was not entirely convinced about that. Uncle Denis said you’ll never get rid of that stuff, the only thing you can do is cover the garden with creosote, that’ll kill it, but it will poison the ground so nothing else will grow for a few years either.
Dad was not keen on that idea, but eventually when all else had failed that was what he and Denis did, and it did kill the weed, and nothing else did grow for some years, until a few tufts of scratty grass began to poke their way through.
The weed, that they called convolvulus, was Japanese Knotweed. Very pervasive, very difficult to kill, and with a white flower that looks a bit like that of convolvulus which will be why the confusion. No one knew about Japanese Knotweed in them parts in them days.
These days I assume it has all gone from the area, though I keep my eyes open. I think now if any comes up you are probably required to get it professionally dealt with.

A weed is nothing but a flower in the wrong place. Not sure where the right place is for Japanese Knotweed. Japan? Horrible stuff.

Gestapo-Free Zone

I wrote this in March 2014 after a visit to a friend’s birthday party in Newcastle. It could never happen in Newington Green, could it? I hope not. It could never have happened in Newington Green back there in the 50s and 60s, could it? No I don’t believe that it could. This is an illustration of Newington Green through what made it, and makes it, civilised in the nation, via a mechanism of comparison.
Bet It Wouldn’t Happen Where the Journalists Live – Newcastle, 22 March 2014

We went to Patricia’s birthday party. When we arrived at the Indian restaurant in smart West Jesmond in Newcastle shortly after 7 p.m. we found that in addition to our party of fifty-odd people the restaurant was full at its remaining tables on two floors and there was a constant milling around the bar-area of people ordering and collecting takeaways. It was busy.
And coming and going through and among this multitude, eight or ten po-faced men and women in blue onesies and bovver boots with a label on their jacket saying ‘Immigration and Border Control’, repeatedly walking up and down the stairs and asking things at the bar, giving the evening a kind of Gestapo flavour. It turned out that this was not a wheeze organised by Patricia, this was the authorities seeking out illegal immigrants.
Patricia found a moment to ask the owner of the restaurant, Ahmed, whom she knows quite well, about it. The heavies had been there since five o’clock, he said, opening every cupboard and fridge door, wanting to see into everything. It was difficult when the restaurant is so busy and he was having to apologise to everyone for slow service and what is more if they find anyone who is working there illegally he could be fined £10,000.
‘I do my best, but how can I know whether what someone tells me is true? How do I know if papers they show me are genuine or not?’ He seemed to be taking the stance that if you get caught then it’ll be a business expense of the type that is out of your control, a bit like something getting broken; and er. . . would he be able to claim tax relief on the expense? Looking this up it seems that he probably could if it came to it, though he may have to argue the case. And of course Ahmed the restaurant boss is right, if someone gives him a dodgy NI number he would not find out it was a made up one or one belonging to someone else for quite some time.
Anyway the Gestapo all marched out around 9 p.m., having found no Bangladeshis hiding in the fridge, and Ahmed shrugged his shoulders, it seems these days to be one of the things that, if you are of Bangladeshi origin in a town like Newcastle and running a restaurant, you have to put up with periodically.
I felt outraged. There is a French restaurant next door and an Italian one next door to that. Do they get raided? Admittedly French and Italian people can work here without needing anything more than an ID card, but the staff waiting on and in the kitchen – they could just as easily be Australian. Could it be the black faces that are the ones that get hassled?
It may be that the immigration officers raid Indian restaurants because there is a greater chance of finding illegal immigrants than there would be in an Italian restaurant, but then Ahmed is well known in the area, people know that he is running a successful restaurant and wants to stay on the side of the law and get on with running his business.
Patricia disagreed to some extent with my rantings, arguing that immigration needs to be controlled and by raiding a restaurant when it is busy they are more likely to find someone as all hands will be on deck. Which may well be so, but British policing has a tradition of of using low-key intelligence and focusing on identification of where the problems are, before charging in with metaphorical (or even real) truncheons flying. It all seems a bit too foreign for my liking.
And there is the cost-effectiveness. Eight people for four hours on a Saturday night – to arrest at most a cook and a waiter. And in reality no one at all. Taxpayers’ money. There may be a problem of illegal immigration but this sort of behaviour by the authorities gives the distinct impression that whatever problem it is they think they are tackling, it isn’t that one. Or perhaps I am wrong in my basic premise, perhaps the reality is a sideline, perhaps the intention is to give the impression through visible presence that the problem is being dealt with, a sop to what the authorities believe the people want to see, a political gesture. But if it is that then these authorities have bollocksed it up again as usual, as follows:
In Nazi Germany, when this sort of thing was more widespread, nastier and more extreme, one reads that the ordinary people mostly said: but what could we do? We did not see this most of the time! And tellingly this event was an example of that. Apart from Patricia and the staff of the restaurant, I did not find anyone who had seen any immigration officers. They just didn’t notice them! One man, a retired vet, when I pointed out who they were, said he had half registered them and guessed they might be VAT inspectors.
Extraordinarily, though raids such as this must be going on all over the place they seldom if ever seem to get reported. Is there a conspiracy going on among the press? Or is it just that journalists these days all live in chattering Islington and cannot in their wildest imaginings ever contemplate travelling north of Brent Cross?

Crap Education

Every morning a few hundred teenage boys each put on a black blazer with a purple, white and black badge on its pocket, grey trousers, white(ish) shirt and a purple and black striped tie, and made their way on foot, on a bicycle, or by bus, to Highbury County Grammar School. I was one of them.
In the first two years there, boys were also expected to wear a cap. This was a round cap segmented into purple and black quarters, with a black peak. No one did. They kept their cap in their pocket until nearing the school, so as to be seen wearing it only while walking in the gates.
My parents were proud of me in my school uniform, and insisted I wear my cap when going by bus to visit Auntie Hilda and Uncle Bill on Sunday afternoons. I was cross about this, and shrunk so no one saw me.
The other aspect of the uniform for the first two years there was short trousers. That was expected, and expected by parents too, when boys first wore long trousers they were ribbed by grandparents and uncles for presuming to enter the realms of adulthood.
A Martian came by doing a study of the human race, all he said was, ‘Dese peepol, dere crazy’, got in his spaceship and went home again. I begged him to take me with him but he said, ‘Nah’.
On the way to school groups of black-blazered boys would collect to walk to the school together, chatting about this and that.
This was a selection of the country’s top 25 per cent at the 11-plus exam, who had found themselves in that quartile as a result of getting good grades at the age of eleven.
It was only a selection of the 25 per cent, because others locally who passed the 11-plus chose to go instead to the newly-opened comprehensive school, Woodberry Down. The reason a particular 11-plus-passer chose one school over the other will have varied from case to case. My mother preferred me to go to Highbury because it was nearer, she did not believe in people having to travel far to school when that was not necessary.
In my year-group at the grammar school, not one boy, not a single one, went on to university (or none that I am aware of). That’s disgraceful isn’t it? Not one of the country’s top achiever’s in that year at their 11-plus exam found their way to a university. Yes it is disgraceful. It was not true of those who went to Woodberry Down, but was Highbury County Grammar.
The reason for this outrage was partly because of the way the school saw itself, as a kind of pastiche English public school, with a focus on sport, Latin and English history as the main things you needed in order to succeed in life – that and a colour-segmented cap. Each year was also streamed into three streams, with the bottom stream regarding themselves as not in the top 25 per cent at all.
In a true English public school it probably didn’t matter much if all you did was play cricket and wear a cap, as you had the parental influence, accent, and cultural sneer to sort you out, but we had none of those things.
And neither were most of the boys the slightest bit interested in cricket, or Latin, or English history for that matter, though I have developed a keen interest in British and European history since, but not of the sort we learned about at school.
The one sporting benefit that the school did impart, though, was that almost all the boys learned how to swim. This was because the school had a swimming pool, and there were swimming lessons twice a week. The pool was filled with cold water first thing Monday, then emptied on Wednesday evening and refilled with cold water again. Monday-morning and Thursday-morning lessons were in clear but icy-cold water – good for the public-school spirit – and those with a lesson on Wednesday afternoon found themselves splashing about in a warm murky silver-green gloop. But at least it was warm, by then.
Nearly all the boys learned to swim – one or two never did – though some, such as Micky, were only barely confident at it, see Cricked Neck.
As regards the academic education, although none went on to university, a few went to teacher’s training college and three were accepted at art college, though Les’s dad refused to allow him to go. Engineering, said Les’s dad, that’s the only sensible occupation, none of this arty-farty learning stuff, and Les’s dad was quite a forceful character. Les ended up spending his working life as a middle-manager in the offices of a pharmaceuticals company (Roche).
Of the other two accepted for art college one was me, and I only lasted there a year, and the other Barry, who became a lecturer at Salisbury College of Art (and so another bloody teacher) and a leading light in the Bournemouth theosophists.
While none for our year went on to university that was not true of every year. Peter Gilks, who was in the year behind me, went on to Manchester University to do maths; and for his working life he became . . . another bloody teacher.
Of the boys in the school, most were from families where the parents – usually just the father – had a working-class job. Some were from those who owned a small business, usually a shop, and then there were the Jews, making up round about a quarter or a third of the total. The Jews were of two types, some were the sons of parents who had escaped the Nazis, and others from longer-standing Jewish families whose grandparents or great-grandparents had as likely as not escaped from the Russians. Some of the Jews’ parents were in working-class jobs but most were in business of one sort or another, especially the German-accented ones. There were a handful of other immigrant children, a few Greek Cypriots and one or two Indians.
All in all, I think I came out of it better than I might have, my strongest subjects by far at school were art and maths, I sometimes wish I had gone on to do more of the maths, though for what? To become a teacher? Instead I have used maths – albeit not wildly complex maths – quite a lot in my work as a computer programmer, and I still do.
Yes, all-in-all pretty well, though I am convinced that was more in spite of the schooling than because of it.
And when Tory (or UKIP) MPs say they believe that the grammar school system should be re-introduced, I wonder why they so want to destroy the life chances of others such as me. They must be nasty, nasty, people.

Cricked Neck

This piece is related to Crap Education, it is about Micky as a less-than strong swimmer and how that led to me getting a cricked neck.
Micky came to Lowestoft, he brought with him his oldest two children, Rupert and Kelly. They came to visit me in my house in Pakefield.
Geoff was there. Geoff had been living there for some time, after I had suggested that he might begin a road to good fortune from my house in Pakefield, following his road to destitution from my flat in London.
On the first evening that Micky and the children were there I went to bed early; tomorrow was going to be another day. Geoff meanwhile had other ideas. Geoff is an insomniac and he foresaw a beautiful evening, listening to music, smoking and drinking with his old friend Micky, everything would be so cool, so beautiful.
Geoff put on his best orange Japanese kimono and wooden sandals on his feet, sandals that consisted of a flat plane to place your foot on, and two high wooden blocks between that and the floor. They were so beautiful, so comfortable, so spiritual! He had bought them in Japan.
On the CD player he put some weird Japanese whistling and creaking music, and then settled down for a night of it, so far as Geoff was concerned that would be a real night, finishing at dawn or not finishing at all.
Micky was worried. He had his children to take care of. But he felt it would sound too weak, too pathetic, to do what I had just done and say: I’m off to bed. He did not have my advantage – if that’s what it can be called – of spending some months sharing a dwelling with Geoff.
Micky stuck with it until about 3 a.m. and then could keep up his cool-guy pretence no longer. He went to bed. Geoff stayed drinking and playing Japanese wailing sounds too loud all night through. I periodically woke up and heard them.
The following day Micky was more tired than he would have liked. He took his children to the beach while I tidied the house.
Shortly after they had gone to the beach Micky rushed in to the house, in the lumbering sort of way he did, and said in an urgent tone, ‘You’re a strong swimmer, can you come down to the beach, the children are drifting out to sea in the rubber dinghy and I am not confident enough at to go out and rescue them.’
I jumped out of my trousers and put on some swimming shorts and sandals and a T-shirt so as not to get too cold in the sea while Micky explained, ‘I’ve asked some people on the beach to keep and eye while I fetch help and they’ve said they’ll raise the alarm if anything happens, I’m just not confident enough as a swimmer to go in and bring them back, I could end up in more trouble’.
We ran down to the beach. I waded into the water and swam out to the dinghy where the children were happily paddling about with a small oar each.
‘We’re all right, you don’t need to rescue us, you can swim back to the beach’, they insisted cheerily and breezily.
But they were not all right because had that cheap plastic dinghy deflated, they would have been way, way out of their depth in a cool grey swirling sea.
Swimming with my legs and pushing gently with the palms of my hands, I nudged the boat back to the shore.
As we got to within child-wading depth, a wave tumbled in and threw the boat and the children onto the shore in a bundle, to their shrieks of laughter. It turned me head over heels in the melee and I twisted my neck as my head hit the shingle, with what seemed to me like a wrenching sound.
The neck was going to be alright, it was just a bit noticeable whenever I moved too jerkily and I needed to hold it to one side for much of the time.
In the conservatory of the Jolly Sailors that evening the atmosphere was not relaxed, Micky was exhausted and kept apologising to me for the neck, which I assured him was nothing, Geoff had been drinking too much and was becoming angrily overbearing as he tended to after a few drinks, and I was trying to hold it all together with my head on one side.
‘You’re too stressed’, Geoff announced with a serious and staring look, ‘Too intense, you need to cool it more.’
‘Yeah, Geoff, too stressed, you’re right. Too bloody right!’

A Shot of ’64

We’d been to a pub for the evening, in Seven Sisters Road, a big pub, we sat as a group in the back room and chatted. That’s the sort of thing we did.
We walked back towards home. At the corner of Green Lanes and Church Street Andrew and Geoff were to go along Church Street and Micky, Brian and I straight on towards Petherton Road. Partings took a while in those days, there was still such a lot to say. What was there to say? Rubbish. But lots of it.
Chatting on the corner, a car came round quite wide and fast, there was a bang from an open rear window. Micky sat down on the wall, looking white, saying, ‘I’ve been shot in the leg’.
The bang was a shotgun, we all got sprayed a bit, I had a few small holes in my jeans, but the side of Micky’s leg through his jeans was a bloody mess.
Geoff and Brian ran over to the Robinson Crusoe pub, banged on the door. A voice from inside: ‘We’re closed!’
‘No, no, we need to call an ambulance, someone’s been shot.’
‘I said we’re closed. Can’t you hear? Piss off!’
But someone must have called one, for in a short time an ambulance arrived.
I went with Micky in the ambulance to the hospital. Micky’s parents arrived. I think Brian must have gone round and informed them, he’d already checked with the ambulance crew which hospital they were going to. Good old Brian – always steady.
Remember we love you, said his mum, We’ll do all we can to look after you. I choked up. I can’t cope with kindness. Micky’s mum always was a little bit more middle-class.
At the hospital the police arrived and the press saying they were police. We couldn’t work out who was which. We definitely had our suspicions about some of them.
The following morning the shooting was on the front page of the national press. My mum came into my bedroom. ‘What’s this?’ She looked frightened and horrified.
Two policemen came round while I was brushing my teeth. I could tell them nothing. As regards motives or possible motives I knew nothing. The police seemed doubtful about that, my mother even more doubtful, the policemen went away.
I honestly think that it was just a group of youths having what they probably called fun. Once they found the results of the actions on the front page of the Daily Mirror, they’ll have kept their heads well down.
In the pubs, we heard people say they’d heard, they knew someone who knew someone who did it. But it was all brag.
These days a shooting on a street corner at night wouldn’t make the front page of the Daily Mirror, but it did then, in 1964.
The story continues with Patched Up and Celebrity Voyeurs.