What I heard.

When the Islamic Centre (not a mosque) was burnt to the ground on Wednesday 5th June 2013 in Muswell Hill, North London, it was stated on the news report that the area is “Middle-class and polite” inferring that terrorist attacks are not possible in non-deprived areas. Then there was an arson attack on a Muslim Girls’ School in some place off the tube line? The report showed young men stating, with reference to terrorist attacks, that no-one expected such stuff in a salubrious neighbourhood .

Yesterday I refused to allow my mouth to engage in a falsely-smiling polite argument when someone next to me said, “People from a council estate wouldn’t get this art”.2013-06-11 11.13.55

Okay, the Islamic Centre as was in Muswell Hill was on the border with Friern Barnet on a road which separates privately owned houses from a once notorious Muswell Hill council estate. Coldfall  Estate is hardly middle-class being  peopled invisibly by elderly white residents whose families of thirteen and better moved away in the seventies. Some of those aged seniors are the parents of gangsters. Some are the parents of university graduates. As people die and the law refuses that their children can become tenants automatically then other families are housed and some are affiliated to Islamic Centres.

The council houses sell for a quarter of a million because they have a Muswell Hill post-code and are in the Fortismere School’s catchment area. I have never met anything but politeness from the residents on the estate who remember when the house-owners of the private houses in the opposite Friern Barnet roads tried to stop the estate people walking down their hallowed roads (to get to the main bus routes to work!)

Rather than say people from a council estate wouldn’t understand or appreciate the art in Whitechapel Art Gallery, go outside and ask why the Bangladeshis milling in their old London roads aren’t cramming into the doors of the once library building.2013-06-11 10.59.44Whitechapel Art Gallery’s  neighbour.

The point is not that council tenants wouldn’t get it but what are you, bicycled, trouser-clipped woman gonna do about it?

Whitechapel Gallery and The William Morris Gallery in E17  secure community engagement funding to haul in the masses. They enlist volunteers, give unpaid positions as interns to local youth, overload on publicity and wait.

The Birkbeck University dishes out art appreciation foundation courses to the poor and unlearned and arranges bursaries for them. Benevolent? Seemingly so. It keeps the institution going.  You might think that free workshops at galleries and through universities would attract all kinds of people. People unused to going into galleries and museums have to go through firstly the door.

‘ “At the entrance to the exhibition is a door on which [the artists] have collaborated. Framing the exhibition and marking the transition from the exterior to interior space, this door invites viewers to walk through to the other side,”

Or as we mere mortals call it… A Door. ‘ (credit to IanVisits for quote.)

If the staff are miserable-looking and if the clientele think like Ms Prejudiced- against -council- tenants, then engagement just ain’t  gonna happen. By experience I can predict the make-up of any group I join to any art gallery.

Art appreciation language is a genre of its own. Most people I know can’t be asked to know that language so switch off. In that group are long-term immigrants to the UK who are  house-owners through manual working all their lives, are pensioners ready to discover venues across town, are retirees from council estates who will defend fiercely their living habits, are Muslim widows ready to enjoy post-husband freedom.2013-06-11 12.16.43Looking into Whitechapel from the top of The Whitechapel Gallery, Tower Hamlets, east London

Up Your Street reaches out to one and all and introduces seniors to venues they thought they’d never enter let alone get a look in e.g   Theatre  Royal Stratford east, Birkbeck University, Hackney Empire, Hackney Museum, Geffrye Museum and etc.

“Always remember whose party it is”, I heard.

Coldfall Wood

Known by my family as Coldfall Woods or ‘our woods’, Coldfall Woods is the back garden of the once notorious council estate Coldfall Estate which teeters on the border of Friern Barnet and  (yeah!)  Muswell Hill,  North leafy ‘knobs”ill’ Muswell Hill London. Territory well and truly marked now for this my dissertation.

 My sister and I planned to go there for a picnic today. She booked a day off work and I went along to  my local  shop “Koza Extra” for crusty rolls, yoghurt and all picnic delights. I’d often put in my diary to join BCTV volunteers on cold mornings to clear brambles and prune holly. Hmm. There’s a bird habitats’ walk there on  Saturday, 30th April …8am yep 8a.m.  You must book  with Friends of Coldfall Wood.

                        We started our jaunt in Barrenger Road and I found the alleyway leading into the coolest pleasantest green canopied, leaf-moulded secret garden but of course not secret as it’s inhabited by friendly dog-walkers. The place is the same as in the fifties according to my memory. Yes,  the BCTV  volunteers have cleared and chopped but the essence is there; the wooden bridges over tiny brown brooks, tree after tree, nettles, holly, blue bells and ‘Lovers Lawn’. Lovers Lawn is having plenty of TLC as the grass is parched in places. Lovers Lawn ,eh?

   We picnic-ed. We dined on shrimp and plenty of cheese wrapped up in a plastic foil!

 Trotting on we found the unmarked way into the vast playing fields backing Barrenger Road. Oh my! Massive lush green grounds. Only a couple of boys were kicking balls. It is Easter holiday so I expected all the estate kids out but is the estate full of youngsters? I don’t know.It is a quiet quiet place cut off from shops and main roads. Soon the terraces will be called cottages as the outward appearances of the houses are only diferent from the stock 1950s look  by double-glazed windows, and modern white doors in some cases.

 Well much of that playing field was a council dump in the fifties and marsh flowers grew in abundance with huge scary teasels, hollyhocks, and blackberries amongst burning coke slag and rubber stench. In the background we’s see the crematorium chimney chuck out its smoke as the fields back onto the huge St Pancras and Islington Cemetery. Further away across the dump in days of yore, there were remnants of apple orchards and ruins of pigsties.  Ah those days! It was a dump as in “Stig of the Dump”. It was the urban  scenery for “Kes” .

      We checked that our memories of places were correct, by noting  the grave markers through the fences, saw the bricks and rubbish brazen on the cracked dry ground where grass struggled to disguise it, saw the big dip where dad used to chop firewood from huge tree trunks from where? I used to go with him on Saturday mornings in my Gipsy flared skirt and my wellies. Another sister used to be a great runner. She’s say to me “Stay there. I’m just gonna run round the field.” Well in those days bigger siblings ruled. I’d hug her cardigan, watch her run far away, be very afraid in case the open expanse of sky fell down on me and be terrified of the giant teasels. I never let on or she’d call me a scaredy cat in public. Shame. There was another time when we ventured too near the cemetery end and a boy joined us from nowhere. He was exposed but I thought it was a pink hammer. (!) My older sister was in charge of me and directed whispered stage-asides, “Walk faster”.  When he finally left us and I was quite shaking with an unknown fear and from walking and breathing quickly, my stern sister told me the hammer was his willy and don’t say a word to mum or we’ll never be allowed to the dump again. Imagine, home from school, Popeye on telly, peanut butter sandwiches and “Mum, can we go and play over the dump?”  “Keep together and don’t stay long”. That must have been when she made more babies!

   Today my sister and I checked her old route to school, then called William Grimshaw, now the Fortismere School. There were slight changes to the path as various buildings had encroached into the Woods. We decided to check the 4 houses we lived in on the estate. Oh my! No. 107 was where we had the chimney fire: Errgh bad memory. No 35 was where Marguerite daisies flourished. No 100 was the house of nightmares with weird neighbours. The door was open. We bravely went up to the mother of the house which stank like Theatre Royal Stratford  east. Four kiddies hung around her and  the stairs just as we hung around our fat mum whenever she answered the door. We were not invited in. That would have been a bonus.   There was more to say but Corrie’s on.

O Heavenly day!