Shirley Jones sets off on foot on an expedition through our streets and parks to see how life differs on the high road and the low road…
I encounter Mrs P, as she pulls her ever-present shopping trolley. In her eighties, slightly bent and stooped, she still walks at quite a pace. She nods in the direction of her window, which is smashed. She tells me she has had a brick through her bedroom window in the night, and she is waiting for the council to board it up; she thinks it might have been acquaintances of her neighbour. She says her neighbour was arrested after a small fire broke out in her flat. It seems the neighbour had just attended the funeral in London of her only remaining parent, and I get the impression the fire might have been set deliberately.
I urge Mrs P to phone the police; if nothing else, she might need a crime number for insurance purposes. She says that she will, but there is no way of telling; I later hear her tell her neighbour that she doesn’t want to get her into trouble.
Within the space of about a month, amongst about a dozen flats, there has been Mrs P’s troubles, a full-scale burglary; an inside job, (according to Mr M; the victim’s cousin did it) Mr M himself shut his front door on the hand of a man who had tried to push his way inside when it was opened, and two doors away it seemed the young man had made another suicide threat judging by the frantic knocking on his door. As the building works contractor had said ‘you see a side of life here you didn’t even know existed’.
I see a Goldfinch perched on a window ledge, the red head and gold wings looking especially illuminated on such a small bird. It freezes like a statue when it seems to become aware of being watched, before flying off. It must weigh less than an ounce. Yet, carrying some distance, its song is sharp and clear.
Crossing the road into town, although it is cloudy, an enormous roar overhead signals aircraft flying very low in V formation. As they get more or less directly overhead, they let out streams of red, white and blue. I can only assume it’s the Red Arrows, who have been on ceremonial duty in London. I crane my neck to see, until they are out of sight. There are about six other people in the street and they take no notice at all.
On a late summers evening, four police cars pull over, having driven slowly and quietly into a road. I hear one declare that they are armed police, then they are asking the occupant of a car to get out and make sure he has turned off the engine and put the hand-brake on. I look, as I was intending to go that way eventually, and can see an officer holding what looks like a semi-automatic. A puny-looking teenage boy walks to one of the cars and seems to get into the police car. They are there for a long time, the police seeming to be searching for something and they address teenage girls present. Of course, I am not fully in the picture, but it does seem odd that such a heavily armed presence is necessary if the police do not have an arrest warrant, nor sufficient information, which would enable them to remove the alleged criminals straight away.
People do, of course, often conform to stereotypes (which is presumably why we have them). One stereotype of the deprived area is that of the mob – for example groups forming to make accusations of paedophilia. And I can assure you, it does happen. I’m not sure what it is they actually say to each other, but they form groups of varying sizes and go and sit outside a hapless person’s house – somebody who had the gall to report anti-social behaviour, say; screaming and shouting and pointing ‘we’ve got a paedophile here!’ Children often accompany parents in such groups. The same sort of mentality, it would seem, which results in the stoning of fire engines and ambulances.
Who can tell what the lives of such adults are like? What does conversation in the home consists of? I hear from a reliable source (another contractor visiting on behalf of the council) that some houses have dog muck up the walls causing the contractor to gag, and to which the residents paid no attention. This is surely mental illness, but I don’t know what the route would be to getting people on the path to receiving help.
A very poignant sight, seen a couple of times now, is that of a man who has a physical disability walking along; a man behind has his hand on the first man’s shoulder at arm’s length, obviously blind, and they walk along, the first man acting as a guide for the blind man. This may be a temporary arrangement for whatever reason; it may be what both men prefer; or it may be born out of not being able to access the necessary services, not having the up-keep for a guide dog.
A group of twenty or so, possibly more Somalians dominating the streets -spread out in the road, under windows, weaving in and out on bikes, gradually spreading out, shouting, screaming, squealing; coming together, again, into a large cluster.
It is always at sunset, as if the heat of the Somalia sun was a factor. There is usually a concrete and practical reality behind many customs and rites but there is no beating African sun to have to take shelter from during the day. The girls are dressed in hijabs and thick cotton leggings; and, it would seem in the case of one girl, if they don’t have cotton leggings, woollen tights. The boys are free to saunter in shorts and sandals. I have seen a child just learning to walk, out with a parent, with a covering over her head.
Impossible to have one’s own window open I gather, or even hear one’s own radio or T.V. Then they seem to move, or a new group appears into the communal garden, this time with about ten adults making in total about 35 people.
A man who is, I think, Iranian, tells me his wife had said it had been going on all day. Another man, a Somalian, says he also has occasions with ‘about fifteen kids’ under his window.
Next day, the scene is forlorn: small cycles blocking the footpath, litter, mainly plastic.
In the past, when British children had been the perpetrators, although perhaps not in such large groups, at one point a curfew was put into place for six months. But I think in the latter case more anti-social behaviour was involved.
No fly tipping in view at present, which is not often the case. The culture of poverty; originating, I would suppose from financial poverty – no money to pay the fees to visit the tip, nor any means to get there.
A very small pocket park in the area has three or four lovely trees but the hedges have been cut so low that it feels more of a place to be on display, rather than a place to relax and possibly escape for a short time. There is, though, an interesting metal sculpture of a tree with birds and nests in the branches.
Pictures by Shirley Jones
In a different place entirely – a pocket park in a place which could be described as mid-High Life is over the road from the church in what had been the church burial ground – known now as the church pocket park. It still contains the old headstones.
Walking in, it doesn’t look too promising to me – plastic grating placed over mulch. But going in further, is a lovely surprise.
Along a winding path, dense with bushes and trees are benches to sit. There is a hollow in the ground, covered by an arch so thick with ivy and flora that it is impossible to tell whether this little hollow is natural or not. It has the effect of being in a small grotto. An exciting little hiding place for children. Further along the winding path are blackberry bushes, just beginning to yield fruit. Just before reaching the original entrance, there is another; following this one steps into a wide expanse of grass –but not the official village green, which is just over the road. Along Church Passage is a very low stone wall, the other side of which is pasture for sheep and a horse, chickens too. The sheep are kept as pets by a woman who at one point had fourteen of them. There are about half-a -dozen now. Preparing for the winter, a resident walks from his car carrying fire logs.
Green End straddles two roads, originally, I am told from the time when the family would walk from the Grange to the Church along one path, the servants going by the other path.
Here in High Life – a wooden gate at the side of the road leads into a pocket park – It seems as if at one time the gate would have been the entrance to the grounds of a house, a kitchen garden perhaps? It feels slightly eerie going in and akin to entering the Victorian era of ‘Tom’s Midnight Garden’. The grounds you step into and the full door sized gate are long-established. You are led towards a wooden bridge, over a barely trickling stream. It is difficult to traverse through the tangled mass of nettles and weeds. Disappointingly, the bridge leads to a largish bank of grass. But the bank does overlook a largish stream, with a warning sign of deep water. Over the road from here, is the stream is for fishing in, with a daily fee paid by anglers.
Along the quiet main road is a house with a window box at doorstep level. The plaque says it is in memory of Princess Diana; it contains only shallow earth and small pebbles or stones. It brings back memories, in the year of the twentieth anniversary of her death.
Even the bus stop is comfortable. Built of stone, it is as cool and shaded as could be hoped for on a scorching summers’ day. A wooden bench has a plaque in memory of the Great War Dead.
Looking out from here is another quaint English feature – a house has a sundial on the side wall. Past the Alms cottages, the old Post House, the Oak house, to a bench on the small triangular village green, dedicated to Dr Heggie ‘who loved this village.’
The view from here is out to the gentle rolling slopes of farmland, as far as the eye can see, interspersed with clumps of woodland.
Along Jack’s Lane two white butterflies, with a large wing -span, looking at first glance like two slips of paper, fluttering. Seeming to gracefully fly around each other, fluttering upwards, too.
A very small stallion – possibly a Shetland pony, brown-coated with a black mane and tail, stands in the cool shadow of a tree. A larger horse seems happy to expend energy eating energetically in the full glare of the sun. But then one notices the fencing cutting off the large horse from the shade of the trees. Looking out again over the farmland, the fields look purple and golden.
Along Back Lane, the sound of lawn mowers and hedge strimmers, one person could be seen tending to his garden. Then, the High Life version of anti-social behaviour? From a deserted drive-way, a hosepipe with water, not exactly gushing, but more than trickling, out, into the pavement then the street drain outside.
Idyllic sunshine, and quiet. Comforting and safe but if carried on for too long, perhaps, a little soporific.