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.