... has been very much a weekend of two halves.
The good bits have been superb, but the bad pretty flaming ghastly.
So instead of my usual ten point chronology of my weekend, I'll give you an alternating rant and rave on a theme of why it's foul and fabulous to live here.
Let's start with a bit of fabulous. It's good to start on a high note, don't you think?
So, on Friday afternoon I was cleaning the car. Yup! Me! Bucket and sponge. Amazing, no? Well believe it or not, that's not the fabulous bit. A neighbour walked past and commented, as is the neighbourly way, that I could make a start on hers when I was finished. She's a lady I've seen around a bit over the eleven months that I've lived here, but never been introduced to. Whilst we exchanged pleasantries my next-door-neighbour, and a friend from book club also came by. The four of us stood, chatting about mutual friends, connections, gossip, rumour, events and news. By the time we parted company twenty minutes later, I'd offered to help organise a street party and joined the local Neighbourhood Watch group. Not, it transpires, a moment too soon.
On Friday evening, I settled in for the night with a cuppa and a DVD. By the end of the trailers, the noise from outside was unbearable.
Next-door-but-one lives a single mother and her teengaged son. She's OK. A bit rough, and fond of a can of Special Brew, but essentially OK. Her son, on the other hand, is out of control. He's 17, has left school, and does nothing but hang around with his live-in girlfriend and about ten of their mates. There are local theories about how they all make money, but these are 80% speculation, so let's not dwell. They are also thought to be at the centre of the majority of local "incidents", but whilst most people know this, oddly no-one ever witnesses anything. Generally, they are trouble. They have taken, of late, to hanging around on a Friday and Saturday evening on the front wall of mine, and my neighbour's house, drinking, smoking, and talking unintelligibly.
As the decibel level rose on Friday, I got up to close the window, and as I did so, I realised that, as well as sitting on my wall, they were sitting on my car. Five teenaged boys, all six feet tall and more, sitting on my tiny little car. Ooh, I was mad! But what to do? I was scared to confront them, but also scared not to. What to do, what to do?
We have a very good local police team. The Met have set up Safer Neighbourhood Teams, designed to deal with these small groups who operate on a local level. Our local team is second to none. But at 10pm, all I got was an answering service, so I left a message and dithered some more. Finally, after a lot of counting to ten, I decided not to let the buggers intimidate me. I opened the door and told them to get off the car and my front wall. Sulkily, then all hitched along to my neighbour's wall and car. I pointed out that this wasn't really what I meant. "Do you have nothing better to do than sit on our front walls all night?" "No." What more was there to say?
Within five minutes though, they'd thought of something else to do. They started chasing around the cars, jumping over bonnets and throwing any missile that came to hand. They fought in the street - play fighting at first, until someone threw too well timed a punch, and it escalated. One lad found a fence post and started waving it around, until it bored him and he threw it along the street. And then as quickly as it started, it stopped. They scattered; some left, some right, and some back into the house, and five minutes later the police arrived. A suspicious person would think that they knew they were on the way. There ensued a row on the street ("I know my rights!" "Show me your warrant!" "This isn't "The Bill", sir," etc etc etc) before everyone moved inside and things calmed down.
On Friday night, nine people on my street called 999, and I only left an answer phone message! Rats! At least I now know how to get results. The neighbourhood has now become "them" (the family at number 23 and associated gang members) and "us" (everyone else, plus the police), and none of us can see how life will get better without getting markedly worse first.
It's a huge frustration to me, and, it seems, the police force, that we all have to wait for a disaster to happen before anyone can really do anything. Petty crime, intimidation, a level of vandalism and antisocial behaviour will make this street a hard place to live for the foreseeable future, but until the Police can pin something good on one or two of them, there's nothing that can really be done. Meanwhile we all live in the knowledge that a stabbing, a beating, or worse, is a constant possibility, and can only sit back and wait for it to happen. Deary me. Where will it end?
Anyway. Yesterday dawned bright, sunny, and with such an air of positivity that it was hard to believe the unpleasantness of the night before was any more than a dream. As I left the house, a neighbour who I say hello to but don't really know also stepped out of her house. Bonded now by our respective observations of the night before, we chatted for a while, and as we parted ways, we both commented that every cloud has a silver lining. Civil war on the street has drawn the rest of us closer together. We're going for a drink this week.
Later in the day I helped a friend set up the opening event of the Furzedown Festival - a crafting event for children in a local community centre. I spent a happy, if exhausting three hours showing people how to make pictures and bunting out of carrier bags (it's MUCH more impressive and much less crappy than it sounds. I might give you a step by step guide to the most fun you can have with greaseproof paper, if you play your cards right) and marvelled at the fact that if you unplug children from their Playstations, and give them some buttons and glue and fabric and colouring pens, they are as happy as Larry (whoever he is).
So there you have it. In one weekend I have seen battle lines drawn in the street with such purpose that I can't see how the next few months won't be vicious and dreadful, and yet am warmed yet again by the wonderful sense of community that this place has over any other in London. I tell you ... you have to love this place, or it'd drive you mad!
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