Friday, 22 July 2011

Burnt Oak - alright, as shit-holes go

I can't quite believe this, but in a pub the other night I noticed on the wall a small advert for a play that's starting tonight at the Leicester Square Theatre called "Burnt Oak: Life and Death in London Town" (written by Laurence Lynch, directed by Nathan Osgood). I hope I get to see it. If I do I'll review it, you can be sure!

When people ask me where I live and I say "Burnt Oak" and they look blank, I say "top of the Northern Line, Edgware branch" and describe a tuning fork in the air, attempting to emphasize the westernmost prong. "Oh," they say. Then, if they can be arsed, "What's it like?"

I pause before answering truthfully, "It's a shit-hole." I soften the blow by saying, "But not a demoralised shit-hole." By which time they've usually wandered off. Are you still with me?

Well, I think Burnt Oak, the material fabric, the place, is a shit-hole. It would be hard to conceive of a more ugly built environment, a cankerous main street (Watling Avenue) nestling within a cheerless grid of major arterial roads leading north out of London. As I walk about my neighbourhood, I marvel to myself, "there is nothing beautiful here."

One day I'll tell you why the f**k it is I live here, but not today.

So why isn't it more demoralised? Leaving aside the spate of violent assaults and murders in the neighbourhood recently, I am quite impressed that people here aren't nastier to each other than they are. I hope I'm not being naive. I admit I don't live on Watling Avenue itself, but even there violent events are rare. It has a new bustling lease of life as a centre for grocery shopping.

Some local youth hassled some of the shopkeepers for a while, but I haven't seen any trouble of that type recently. The customers became too thick on the ground, and the callow youth of Burnt Oak finally twigged that they would never scare off blokes who learned their trade in places such as Kabul.

I live between Burnt Oak and the more prosperous Colindale. When I come back late at night, I come to Burnt Oak tube station precisely because it feels safer.

Going to Colindale, I'm worried I'll meet the Colindale Crotch-grabber on quiet Booth Road (that's my name for a man who sexually assaulted women in the area on several occasions - I suspect he was the guy who harassed me a couple of times, though luckily I came to no harm).

Yes, as shit-holes go, Burnt Oak is alright.


Anonymous said...

Any good places to eat there? That often happens with newly-arrived foreigners.

Citizen Barnet said...

It's not renowned for its fine dining, Burnt Oak. There are a few old established cafes, which are perfectly alright.

There is a nice Algerian run coffee and pastry shop up on the Broadway (heading up to the hospital, on the other side of the road - it's called Lalgerois).

A couple of Chinese eateries have opened on the Broadway as well, (perhaps they were in Oriental City before it was closed for development, then left a rotting shell).

There is a Turkish restaurant which looks good from the outside, but I haven't been in.

There are a couple of Indian curry places on Watling Avenue, one in the old Green Oak cafe, the other, much the posher of the two, in the old Burnt Oak cafe. I have eaten in both and enjoyed the food.

Then then are innumerable chicken places which I don't go to much; although I do order pizza from Bambino's and I like the guys who run it.

Places open all the time, some stay the course, some not.

I doubt Burnt Oak will ever be the sort of place you would take someone on a first date... Perhaps I'm just a snob!

Citizen Barnet said...

Laurence Lynch is interviewed by Robert Elms (another Burnt Oak boy) on his BBC London show:

Anonymous said...

The Barnet Times is reporting:

"Burnt Oak brothel murder tenth in Barnet in just over a year"

A decent council would put money into initiatives to improve down-at-heel areas. Barnet Council is just cutting everything.

David Duff said...

Never mind all that, does it have a library?

Citizen Barnet said...

Hello, DD. It has a library, but it used to have a bigger and better library.

The library was redeveloped to share services including housing benefit and Inland Revenue. Now it is a soulless, new, echoing building with no atmosphere. The library is a shadow of its former self inhabiting the upper balcony. So, yes, it has a library, but it's not a very good library.

We demand a BETTER library for Burnt Oak!

pete scully said...

Definitely a shit-hole, I think there is some beauty in Burnt Oak (though not much) - the skyline of watling avenue, for example, is I think beautiful in its own unchanging way, sloping downwards with old chimneys like the old coronation street titles. It's the only constant, for me. I drew a picure of it once:

Citizen Barnet said...

Thank you for visiting, Pete. I am certainly enjoying discovering your pictures!

I spotted Burnt Oak library a mile off!

Anonymous said...

You've just described verbatim the conversation I always go through when talking about my home town with special focus on "top of the Northern Line" as well as hand gestures, and "shit-hole".

Despite all the crime that takes place in the area I've never personally witnessed anything until very recently, and even then the public were considerate and helpful. Burnt Oak's not an affluent area, nor pretty and it is a bit of a shit-hole, but it's my shit-hole - for now at least.