War and Gardening (28/80)

Friday 19 April  – Edgware Road (Bakerloo) (Square C3 on the Tube map), Edgware Road (Circle/District/H&C) (C4), Elephant and Castle (E5)

 ‘War is the normal occupation of man,’ Churchill told Siegfrid Sassoon towards the end of the First World War. Sassoon was surprised by this and asked Churchill whether he was really sure about this. Churchill thought and amended his statement. ‘War and gardening.’

I ponder deeply on this statement and decide that here is the Conservative world-view in three simple words. Put in grander terminology, it could also be a three word summation of the last thirty five years of ‘Western Civilisation’: Neo-liberalism and the Chelsea Flower Show.

I’m visiting one of London’s ‘war and gardening’ epicentres later today but first I’m going to the ‘dirty war’ front line known as the Edgware Road.

I’m at Forest Hill by 11.45 am. The Metro trumpets: Devastation Its sub-head is: At least 15 dead as fertiliser blast flattens town. Apparently it’s an ‘accident’ – those are my scare quotes. An ‘accident’, I wonder, ‘waiting to happen?’ Coming immediately after the atrocity of the Boston Marathon I wonder again about our differing attitudes to the sins of commission and those of omission. Of course, the bombing at the Boston Marathon exemplifies Man’s inhumanity to man. But does not the Waco blast exemplify the private sector’s slipshod attitude to safety and the laxity of our so-called regulatory authorities? If Boston pinpoints our warped capacity to become enthralled to dangerous ideas, doesn’t Waco epitomise our skewed priorities and our lack of empathy for our fellow citizens (until, alas, after the ‘accident’ when empathy flows freely)? Though even then, charity and empathy are in short supply when the said fellow citizens live some distance away. Say, in a foreign country, say Syria.

I’m at Edgware Road (Bakerloo) station (C3) for 12.25 pm.

Across the road stands the Paddington Green Police Station, a stupendously ugly 1960s building that houses the UK’s most important high-security ‘holding station’. (You have to hand it to the Security boyos, grumps The Inner Curmudgeon, the way they whip and warp the English language. But – his voice rises by twenty or thirty decibels – WE KNOW WHAT YOU’RE UP TO!)

This is where members of the IRA were held for questioning, where British nationals released from Guantanamo Bay were held for questioning, where the 2005 London bombers were held. This is one of the pointy bits in the British state’s unending war to ensure that the rich get richer … Sorry, that came out wrong … This is one of the pointy bits in the British state’s ongoing war against global terrorism. Yes, that sounds better.

Edgware Road (Bakerloo) station just past the Westway flyover.

Edgware Road (Bakerloo) station just past the Westway flyover.

Apparently some anti-terrorist officers were appalled when the high security cells got a make-over a few years back and terrorists (also known as suspects, also known as citizens who are innocent until proven guilty) held there for 28 days got a TV and a CD player.

Of course terrorism is a terrible thing. We are constantly told of the extreme dangers and threats that have been averted by the custodians of our peace, dangers and threats that must, unfortunately, remain classified and secret. The difficulty with that line though is – given the lies of politicians of all hues, media magnates and editors, leaders of industry banking and commerce, celebrities old and young major and minor – why on earth should we believe policemen? Particularly when so many were in cahoots with the aforementioned editors? Particularly when the history of our police is riddled with examples of so-called criminals being banged-up, damn the evidence or a fair trial?

Why should we believe that the Secret State is working in our interest – it didn’t and doesn’t in East Germany, the USSR, China, Russia, Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, etc. – and when the evidence is that Ordinary Jo(e) Citizen should beware her/his own state, not the forces of external states?

So, we’ve got the war against terrorism, the war against drugs, against crime, against Islamic fundamentalism and jihad, against chavs, the war in Afghanistan, we’ve got (or had) extraordinary rendition, the USA has drone strikes in a country that is –allegedly – its ally, meanwhile we’re shouting against our allies in the EU …

Wow, he’s gotten real angry, says The Inner Curmudgeon. It’s just like the old days, eh, Prof?

I was in the library during the seventies and eighties, remember, replies The Wee Professor. There’s a hint of impatience in his voice. May I ask why you’re using American syntactical constructions?

The Inner Curmudgeon couldn’t care less. Too many Coen Brothers films, he says.

More like Tarantino, I say. It’s Hollywoodification, Wee Prof.

The Wee Professor winces. The Inner Curmudgeon chortles.

Paddington Green Police Station.

Paddington Green Police Station.

All in all, I think, we’re a contentious lot.

And all in all, the view from Edgware Road station is pretty horrific. As well as Paddington Green Police Station, there’s the dirty noisy vile end of the Westway to the south with the ageing brutalism of the Hilton London Metropole to the south-west. Plus, of course, the dual carriageway snarl of the Edgware Road itself.

I do my TubeforLOLs bit and wander up Church Street market. The western half is cheap fruit and veg stalls, doubtful fish stalls, fabric handbags toys phones and geegaw stalls. Many of the stalls are run by Moslems, including Arabs – this is the Northern limit of the moneyed Arab street that is the Edgware Road south to Hyde Park. Moneyed, fancy-free (in London) and fundamentalist (in Arabia).

I scratch up three things worth noting about the Church Street market.

Wooden boxes of fruit not plastic bowls at £1 a throw: innovation at the Church Street market.

Wooden boxes of fruit not plastic bowls at £1 a throw: innovation at the Church Street market.

Church Street: Fruit-and-veg land transmogrifies into antique-lands. The Inner Curmudgeon goes ballistic.

Church Street: Fruit-and-veg land transmogrifies into antique-lands. The Inner Curmudgeon goes ballistic.

And then there’s the young Arabic woman in full chador at the perfume and beauty stall doing her snake-oil salesman routine to an old white woman. She’s holding two or three black lumps in a clear pastic pouch. ‘These are the roots,’ she is explaining. ‘They are very powerful. It is scientifically proven that …’ and she launches into her spiel about the wonders of the root. Scientifically proven my bunions, I think.

Her customer is looking doubtful but I can see that there’s a tug inside her, despite her advanced age, for self-improvement. Mind you, I think we get more, rather than less, vain with age.

I leg it back to the Edgware (Bakerloo) station, take a tube to Paddington, change on to the District and Circle line platform, wait for a good five minutes, then slowly, every so slowly, chug back east into Edgware (Circle/District/H&C) station (C4). It’s 1.20 pm and it’s taken the best part of twenty minutes to get a hundred yards.

Edgware Road (Circle/District/H&C) station taken from the same spot as previous photo of Edgware Road (Bakerloo) station.

Edgware Road (Circle/District/H&C) station taken from the same spot as previous photo of Edgware Road (Bakerloo) station.

Anyway, I’ve done my bit for the Edgware Road. I go and have lunch with my old friends, Roland and Claire Muldoon. They’re still in the flat they had forty years ago but it’s a good thirty years since I was last there.

We catch up on the past, on Roland’s epic struggles in opening and developing the Hackney Empire in the teeth of strenuous opposition from Hackney Council. (I know, I was there briefly on the other side of that table. Roland was, not to put too fine a point on it, loathed: he wasn’t arty enough, he was one of those low-down agit-prop half-brains, wasn’t he one of those SWP brigands? Worst of all, he wasn’t from Hackney. He was an incomer. It was all dressed up in the best bureaucrat-speak, of course: we had to stick to our arts strategy, money was tight and getting tighter, Mrs Thatcher was putting the screws on the Council … I’ll fill you in some more when I get to Hackney Central and Hackney Wick and when I’ve read his history of these events, Taking On The Empire (Just Press).

We chat companionably for a couple of hours then it’s time for me to leave. The Elephant and Castle calls. That’s where the original Teddy Boys starting jiving in the aisles to Rock Around The Clock, Roland says. In The Odeon. Dancing in the aisles, would you believe it, terrible, afront to public order, the Daily Mail got all steamed up.

I’m at the Elephant and Castle station (E5) Bakerloo exit at around 3.40 pm. It’s taken about twenty minutes.

Across the road is Perronet House. It’s here that Richard Reynolds documented the world-wide phenomenon: Guerrilla Gardening, in his book, On Guerilla Gardening. (It’s from that book that I got the quote from Siegfrid Sassoon.)

Perronet House: epicentre of guerilla gardening.

Perronet House: epicentre of guerilla gardening.

Guerilla gardening is another war, this time a war between gardeners usually without gardens or allotments themselves but with the desire to prettify the environment or grow food crops, and local authorities, Highway Authorities, developers, landlords who have no use for the land, but dammit it’s their land and no-one else shall touch it. These are the islands and pockets of land that are hard-scrabble wastelands, deemed too expensive or too low priority for those big important people to do anything about. But who, of course, don’t want anyone else using them to brighten local lives.

I can’t tell whether the planting outside Perronet House is Richard’s and other GG’s work or whether they’ve shamed the owners into planting.

Spotting guerilla gardening, I reckon, is rather like bird-spotting. You’ve got to get your eye in.

But I’m also here to investigate the Elephant & Castle’s very own monster roundabout, it’s very own cruel gyratory, its exemplary cyclist deathtrap.

Elephant & Castle Gyratory and Cyclist Deathtrap.

Elephant & Castle Gyratory and Cyclist Deathtrap.

I’m in that part of the monster roundabout known as the Marie Curie Field of Hope. Unfortunately the sign is cracked and the screws have rusted and it doesn’t look very hopeful at all. The traffic swirls and dodges, cuts in and out, on the four lane road around me. Cyclists have been killed and injured here – articulated trucks are the worst offenders.

Transport for London, Boris – and, before him, Ken – have known about this carnage for ages. The manufacturers of articulated trucks have known about the blind-spot that makes it difficult for drivers to see cyclists, particularly in situations like these, for ages.  But ‘progress’, if it can be called that, has been glacial. The Arctic Ice cap is melting faster. Why has it been so slow? Why hasn’t more been done?

Partly perhaps because planners and politicians are locked in a value-system which extols the need for speedy private transport – saving costs, rushing goods to market, speed is of the essence – and which believes in the primacy of the internal combustion engine. And which not only has its priorities skewed but has had a full-scale Empathy Bypass Operation when it comes to yet another cyclist dying. Which perceives other cyclists planting white ghost cycles at the scenes of these deaths as, at best, irritating busybodies.

Is that uncaring, unempathetic attitude so different to the attitude of the owners and managers of the Waco? These aren’t accidents waiting to happen, they are the sins of omission of owners, managers, planners, bureaucrats and politicians. They are the product of a value-system and vested interests that spend many billions on the War on Terror, on extraordinary rendition, on a nuclear deterrent that we’ll never use rather than prevent the deaths of cyclists. Instead they say, What are those cyclists doing out there in the first place? Don’t they know it’s dangerous?

Grand Designs in the Elephant & Castle: what was once a white elephant water-tower is now some Englishman's very own castle. (Well, someone has to do the bad puns.)

Grand Designs in the Elephant & Castle: what was once a white elephant water-tower is now some Englishman’s very own castle. (Well, someone has to do the bad puns.)

Ah well. I mosey off down the side-streets away from the monster roundabout and the shopping centre. I go looking for some old prefabs that used to be there until fairly recently. But they’re gone. They’ve been replaced by modern social housing. And, further away, on the skyline, someone’s Grand Design in a recycled water tower.

Triumph Vitesse: Mr TubeforLOLs tries to live with the contradictions of capitalism.

Triumph Vitesse: Mr TubeforLOLs tries to live with the contradictions of capitalism.

And, a little later on, like a time capsule from the late sixties, an immaculate Triumph Vitesse with all the desirable extras – Minilite alloys, Webasto sunroof, overdrive.

The Inner Curmudgeon sighs. He’s off again, Professor. He rants and raves about cars and then he goes all dewy-eyed when he sees one he fancies. He’ll be banging on about living with the contradictions of capitalism next. What was it Marx said, something about false consciousness?

The Wee Professor corrects him. It was Engels, actually. Engels and later thinkers in the Marxist tradition.

I walk back to the tube station, descend to the Bakerloo platform and walk underground to the Northern line. Two stations to London Bridge, change to the Jubilee for Canada Water, and change on to the Overground for Forest Hill and home. It’s rush hour and I have to wait for a second Jubilee train before I can squeeze on. I examine someone’s armpit for quarter of an hour on the Overground. It takes me three quarters of an hour. I’m back a little after five o’clock.

6 thoughts on “War and Gardening (28/80)

  1. Nick Hayes

    i observe my old mate the curmudgeon
    is wielding more often his bludgeon
    in matters polemical
    to scoundrels inimical
    his zen is now laced with high dudgeon

    Reply
  2. Richard Reynolds

    Great post Sandy. Richard here of GuerrillaGardening.org. I can confirm that the splendid display of gardens you witnessed outside Perronet House has absolutely no support from Southwark Council, in fact quite the opposite. In my book (2008) “On Guerrilla Gardening” I tell the tale of how they tried to destroy that guerrilla garden when it was three years old, how I persuaded them to back off, let me carry on with a loose contract – i.e. legitimise it, it’s no longer a guerrilla garden but a permitted voluntary garden. Back in 2007 they were shamed into refunding gardening charges for their 3 years of negligence. But since I wrote my book it turned nasty. While the gardening continues as ever entirely voluntarily and with not a penny of council funding – and is, in my words, a truly uplifting display to thousands every day – a foul man called Martin Green at Southwark Council (oh the irony of his name) discovered a loop hole in leasehold agreements (their words) and now charge us as if they did the gardening! Bastards. “Blame your conveyancing solicitor” he told me.

    It’s a pity you thought the gardens might be council work. But then I don’t mark them, and it helps me to let the council take a lot of undeserved credit, I sort of hope they might look favourably on our work one day, until they kick me in the teeth again with another disappointment (more about this in my TEDx talk this Saturday at Newham, which will be cathartic attack on the bastards in Tooley Street) – sorry I’ve used the word bastard twice now, I’m turning into John Major.

    There are no council gardens in Southwark streets that’s a patch on the Perronet House beds, but it takes a trained and cynical eye to spot the difference, and you are a nice charitable sounding man. Pretty much every bit of colour you see in the street from Elephant and Castle up to Lambeth North and St George’s Circus is a guerrilla garden, including the most splendid display of them all, the four raised beds just south of Lambeth North, which are my pride and joy and the labour of a lot of love, including proposal to my wife there.

    Reply
  3. sandycraig2013 Post author

    Welcome aboard the madness that is TubeforLOLs, and thank you for the update, Richard, on guerilla gardening at Elephant & Castle. So, some people think that ‘guerilla gardening’ is for softies. Huh! Oh! Better lie low – here comes the Inner Curmudgeon. If you get this before Saturday, let me know where the TEDx talk is at Newham. Best, Sandy

    Reply
  4. sandycraig2013 Post author

    Thanks for the kind offer, Richard. It looks an interesting day. But given that it’s booked out and there are people on the waiting list, I think it’s better at this stage if I view it on the webstream. Best wishes.

    Reply

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