Sheila, the Little Ones and I arrived back home from Cornwall yesterday mid-afternoon to find Deepest Hackney doing what it does in the heat - disporting itself, especially its young men in love with their cars, their car stereos and, to the world-weary eye, themselves. I find I'm comparing this masculine style - this urban mastery performance - with that of the Cornwall surfers, another commerce-served, sun-fuelled sub-culture personified by guys working overtime on Doing Cool. Which is the more exacting, I wonder, in terms of keeping up those kinds of male appearances? The big city swagger or the wet-suited battle with the waves? Which audience is the more demanding of the performer, that found on the street or the beach? I think it's probably the former, though not by all that great a distance (there was quite a lot of car-strut in Cornwall too). The big difference was that women and children were part of the surfer scene, whereas that little junction of Downs Road, Cricketfield Road and Lower Clapton Road acquires an edgy, frontline feeling when the sun starts beating down. It was there yesterday: a foretaste of that apprehension I often feel here in the summers. Too many guns, too many knives, too many wired-up guys preoccupied with bigging themselves up. Am I just getting older or are some things turning sadder and uglier round here?
[This post also appears on my local blog, Claptonian]
Prince Chas's return visit to my part of Deepest Hackney was - you guessed it - to my younger kids' primary school. After this, Alan Johnson, Jamie Oliver and Tony Blair, head teacher Dame Anna only the needs the Queens of England - Elizabeth II and Elton John - to show up and she'll have had a full house of top flight national dignitaries. I couldn't be there to witness the royal arrival myself - I had a bun to eat in Clerkenwell - though I'm told the kids enjoyed it, and at the end of the day I greatly savoured the unusual sight of our niqab-wearing parents and their children clutching union jacks. Come to think of it, of any of our parents doing such a strange, unnatural thing.
Anyway, I'm sure Himself would have felt well at home even without the flags. Millfields, after all, caters to families of many faiths and its organic menu is fit for - sorry - a future king. My favourite story of his visit concerns the conclusion of a conversation he had with my Fifthborn's best friend, a tomboy called Jesse.
"You are a charming young young man," the Prince informed her.
"Thank you," Jesse replied, generously sparing any royal blushes.
Well, he's a delicate flower you know.
A slightly adjusted version of this post also appears on my local blog Claptonian.
I've started a second blog. Inspired by the bit of Hackney where I live, it's called Claptonian and will be all about what goes on in my neighbourhood and its surrounding areas. This means that most of the sorts of posts I've filed here under Deepest Hackney will appear on Claptonian from on, as will links to relevant posts from fellow Hackney bloggers. Personal stuff about my family may appear on either blog. That's why you need to look here to find out what we did today.
"I was admitted to the Homerton [Hospital] with a bizarre case of constipation, something I have never had before in my life. Within the space of twenty-four delirium filled hours, my faecal fur ball which I named Eraserhead reached the size of a grapefruit and no laxative conceived by medical science was going to shift it. It was into the house of horrors for me and onto the conveyor belt for a place in the operating theatre to have it all scraped out. My lower half seemed to take on a life of its own, crumpling up in regular convulsions, much to the amusement and wonder of the medical staff who had apparently never experienced such a thing before."
So I was cruising down Stoke Newington Church Street on Friday night - with the brood en route to ten-pin bowling, since you ask - and went past the now former Vortex jazz club which is presently occupied by protesters enraged by the venue's new owner's cunning plan to, apparently, redevelop the building as a bunch of luxury flats. This reminded me to link to Stoke Newington Kris's several posts on the mini-saga, which seem to reveal a certain conflict of local opinion about which is the worse, the prospect of the developer getting his own way or the late-night racket made by those bent on stopping him - a sadly familiar irony in the recent history of struggles over Hackney properties and community concern.
As the Gazettereports this week, the nightclub at the bottom of my garden is to stay shut for good. The decision, made by a District Judge last Friday, is extremely welcome. That said, the fifteen-page ruling, which I've just got round to reading, tells a mostly gloomy tale. The nice bit is the rejection of an implied suggestion that residents had it in for the club because it had a black clientele:
"All the witnesses were positive about the multicultural nature...of this particular part of the borough, an area where the witnesses lived and worked. The real concern was about the way this particular club was being operated."
Too right. And what a depressing picture emerged. The judge found that both the proprietor and the manager of the club:
"...portrayed themselves as being professionals within the club industry - however having heard them both give evidence I concluded that both fell far below what would expect of individuals and organisations responsible for commercial activity of this sort."
The judge documented a variety of failings. The most worrying, though, was the lack of co-operation provided by the club to the police. It was initially closed following a murder almost literally on its doorstep on 2nd January last year at a time when its doors were open. The detective investigating this still unsolved case gave evidence that he'd received almost no help at all from the proprietor or his staff. The officer responsible for licensing produced a long list of incidents that had happened in the club or its vicinity during its business hours, ranging from bomb threats to brawls to stabbings and other killings. He said that those running the club had offered little help with subsequent inquiries. For his part, the judge accepted that any member of the public, club owner or otherwise, might think twice about providing information to the police where gun crime is concerned. His ultimate conclusion, though, was that the sloppy running of the club was wholly inconsistent with its owner's responsibility to help prevent crime and disorder.
That seems fair enough to me and the outcome is a tribute to the combined efforts of residents, Hackney's legal officers, Labour councillor Ian Rathbone and the police. The club had become a magnet for antisocial behaviour of every kind and, as such, had effectively institutionalised it. That can never be acceptable. But, course, no one ever claimed that the lights going out at the Palace Pavilion would mean the end of shootings in our neighbourhood. And if they had, they'd already have found out they were wrong.