Manuel Swaden is a truly local firm of solicitors. Nearly thirty years ago, the firm’s first office was at 120 Fortune Green Road, just opposite the Green. At that time, there were just the two partners, Jeremy Manuel and Michael Swaden, and two secretaries, but four years later the firm’s success meant expansion and the need for larger premises. However, unlike other firms in that situation, Manuel Swaden didn’t move into town: it stayed in the area, moving just a little way from the Green to 340 West End Lane, and is now one of the only firms in its field to remain local. Currently it comprises three partners, two consultants and three assistants/legal executives, supporting a large property practice and a growing private client department.
All change on the Green
Having worked in the area for so many years (and Jeremy lived here too for some years), Jeremy and Michael have seen considerable changes in the Green. “In the years I’ve known it, the Green has changed from a slightly sad recreation ground to a revitalised green space,” says Jeremy. “When we had the office on Fortune Green Road we were obviously aware of it, but there was nothing about it that drew us to it.” “We wouldn’t walk through it or sit and have our lunch there,” added Michael. “It just wasn’t inviting.” Much more enticing was The Art of Food sandwich bar – where the Wet Fish Café is now – “the best sandwich bar in the area, with queues out of the door and down the street every day,” Michael remembers. The flowerbeds and the current children’s playground have made all the difference to the Green. Quite a shift then that last year the firm had a summer picnic there: the weather was fine, the flowerbeds were looking good, and everyone had a great time; employees, their partners and children, and dogs (outside the dog-free area of course).
Reconverting the property conversions
West Hampstead has changed radically over the years too, West End Lane morphing from a high street of independent shops to its current mix of chains and services. Manuel Swaden’s real estate client base has changed too. “In the late 80s, people were coming to West Hampstead to buy what were then brand new conversions, and young people were buying properties jointly with friends. Now of course, we’re seeing the reversal of that to some degree, with converted properties around the Green being redeveloped as single houses, to be bought by sole purchasers.”
Keeping it local
In the last 10 years, the firm’s private client department has developed very strongly, particularly in the areas of wills, administration of estates and Enduring (now Lasting) Power of Attorney. “We have a large client base locally,” says Michael. “Lots of people want to support a local firm rather than taking their business into town.” “It’s the nature of our environment in West Hampstead and Hampstead,” adds Jeremy. “People want to support all things local.”
Manuel Swaden is keen to support all things local too. Over the past few years, the firm has supported local initiatives that benefit the environment and local people. As well as Love Our Green Sundays (LOGS), it has also supported Henderson Court, a centre for elderly people in Hampstead, sponsored a tournament for young players at Hampstead Cricket Club, as well as the West Hampstead Christmas Market and the Marie Curie Christmas Fair.
Jeremy and Michael are obviously very pleased to be able to play a part in the local community projects, and their support of LOGS has been invaluable and will continue to be so in the face of potential cuts to parks services. The redevelopment of the flowerbeds and maintenance of the Green is “a very worthwhile project – really highly commendable –“ says Jeremy. “It massively enhances the environment that we live in, and we at Manuel Swaden are very pleased to play a part – albeit a small part – in that. It’s very impressive that the same group of volunteers continue to work so hard to keep the Green maintained. West Hampstead doesn’t have that much green space, so it’s really important to make the most of what there is.”
Manuel Swaden’s offer to FoFG members
As part of its community involvement going forward, Manuel Swaden will be offering a discount to FoFG members for setting up Lasting (previously Enduring) Powers of Attorney. This offer will be available for a 3-month period starting on 1st February 2017. For further information, please contact Michael Swaden at Manuel Swaden solicitors, 340 West End Lane, NS6 1LN, telephone 0207 431 4999.
- Catherine Allison
August 26th, the anniversary of the Battle of Crecy (1346) and my birthday. I’m lucky in having an August birthday: the weather is often good and an outdoor celebration is possible.
Earlier in the day I had been talking to friends who live in a second-floor flat in Twickenham. They have no garden but the house backs on to Bushy Park with its pond, river and café so this is their garden.
We settled on a bench the dog free area where a party had been organised for children about to start at Emmanuel School in September. The children ran up and down, a football was kicked around, parents sat on blankets and talked. In the north-west quadrant, dogs chased thrown balls while their owners sat in the shade.
Flick Rea, crossing the Green, joined us for a glass, entertained us with the tale of her early days as a drama student and promised to join me in a poetry reading in the library.
We mused in the sunshine, wondering why people don’t get married on park benches with their friends around them and a picnic spread out on the grass. We remembered a Sunday morning in Marrakesh: setting out to visit the gardens south of the Royal Palace, we walked through empty pink-walled streets, through a gate in the city wall and found ourselves on a track through a rubbish-strewn forest. There was nowhere to rest and nothing to see but we were soon aware of children and family groups arriving on foot, by car, scooter and bicycle ready to enjoy a family picnic complete with drums and music. Blankets, food and drink were carried in black plastic bags.
Our picnic had no drums and no music but we did have a wasp invasion – no picnic would be complete without one. As the children played and young men exercised and the sunbathers sunbathed, we were happy, alone in company.
- Ted Booth
On holiday both this year and last, Janet and I were puzzled by two architectural features.
Opposite the fountain in the main square and overlooking the coffee drinkers at their table is an imposing traditional Greek house with mullioned doors, high shuttered windows and red tiles. The upper story has wrought iron balconies. It is empty, boarded up and neglected. A banner poster advertising an art exhibition hangs from one of the rusting balconies and recycling bins occupy the pavement outside.
Further along the main street above the mulberry trees and the roof tops is a towering brick-built round chimney, sixty foot high and topped with an overhanging lip. It too is unused and abandoned.
The owner of an up market tourist boutique solved both of these mysteries for us.
Without clear, agreed and attainable objectives and the ability to work for and obtain funding, volunteer projects stagnate.
Bear with me, one more thing. Last night Janet and I, along with two hundred other people, were eating and drinking in a tree shaded restaurant garden. The crowd were there as part of the Kardamili Norwegian Jazz Festival which was in its third year. The Sandra Point Traditional Jazz Band played rousing covers of King Oliver, Louis Armstrong and George Lewis numbers. At the break the leader gave a little speech, that the musicians, all who had come from southern Norway, were unpaid and as admission was free he would be bringing round the hat. The band played happily on into the darkening night. We put our euros into the hat. “Every little helps “ he said. Here endeth the second lesson.
Am I merely stating the obvious when I say that these three issues; objectives, or shall I call it “the wish list”, funding and the willingness of local people to put their hands in their pockets are all germane to the maintenance of our local project, our Green.
Kardamili Main Square
19th May 2016
This month, I met up with Mark Stonebanks, the energetic and enthusiastic Chair of the FoFG committee and he shared his views about the Green, council budget cuts and community engagement. We also chatted about his recent travels to the US and Europe, where he was inspired by many different models of local voluntary projects.
One of the questions Mark wrestles with on an ongoing basis where the boundary lies between what Camden Council does and the work of FoFG’s volunteers and local residents. Over the past 7 years, he and the FoFG committee have worked with Camden and a variety of parks’ contractors, initially to replant, and subsequently to maintain, the Green. Budgets have been cut, contractors and council staff has changed many times, so it’s an ongoing task building relationships and negotiating funding. Mark believes that it’s fine that there should be partnership between FoFG and the council (as indeed does Camden), but it’s the shifting boundaries and personnel that can be challenging.
‘We don’t expect Camden to shower Fortune Green with money and works: it’s a good thing that a council should be an enabler of local projects, not simply a provider. For one thing, we (the committee and local residents) know what we want for the Green better than the council does - planting, maintenance, events - and what’s more we have the skills to do most of it. And it’s rewarding to get stuck in and make those things happen. What’s almost more challenging is making sure that things don’t fall through the cracks between what’s Camden’s responsibility and what is ours. Budgets are cut and we find that elements that the council used to be responsible for now fall to us to finance and implement. But that’s the way it will be, given the current funding situation – even when money wasn’t so tight this was still an issue - because Parks are only a non-statutory obligation for the council.’
‘When I was in the US, I saw how different things are over there. The system is based on ‘small government’ plus a high degree of local involvement, which is both expected and achieved.’ And people do give massively, their time and their money.
‘I talked to two of the guys behind the High Line in New York. There had been plans to renovate the old system of freight train lines in the city twice before, but it was when they were finally up for demolition that the idea of turning them into a public park really got off the ground (if you’ll pardon the pun). It has been a massive project, geographically and financially, so it’s a long way from the Fortune Green improvements of course, but it demonstrates the power of philanthropy and voluntary engagement in the US. The top three donors contributed a combined total of $50M to get the High Line project up and running. It is now maintained by teams of designers, professional horticulturalists and volunteers from all over the city. It wasn’t all private enterprise though: there was a big involvement from the city, both in the funding and the maintenance, and that on-going maintenance is a challenge.’
As well as seeing first hand how donorship can work in the US, Mark was also inspired by the energy and drive of individuals who set up projects that tap into the wants of the wider community. This core enthusiasm is key to the success of all these projects, and that’s certainly the case for Fortune Green too.
‘In Boston, two college rowers started running training sessions, initially so that they were motivated to continue training through the cold winter months, but subsequently opened them up to other people who just wanted to keep fit. This was the November Project, and on its third anniversary, it attracted 300+ people for the 6.30am class – I was one of them – there were even 150 for 5.30am class! The November Project has now been duplicated in lots of other cities across the US. That’s inspirational.’
‘In the London area, one of the projects that I really admire (which is closer to Fortune Green in scale) is King Henry’s Walk Garden in Islington. It’s a small open community space, with 50 or so small allotment-type plots, where people grow their own crops and share expertise. They pay a small fee for their plot and are encouraged to do some communal work on the land in addition to working their own patch. And it works really well. There are also educational workshops and talks on things like food preserving – the WI meets Hackney!’
So how’s the project that is Fortune Green going, and what are the plans for the future?
‘Fortune Green is doing ok. We’re in the lucky position that the major planting and renovating has now been completed, so now the focus is on maintaining. The volunteers who come to the LOGS are doing a great job, and we have plans for some ‘mini LOGS’ in the next few months, to focus on specific jobs, which will keep things ticking over. But more volunteers are always welcome! In financial terms, the Green isn’t a heritage area, which would receive more Lottery funding, or an opportunity area (somewhat deprived), which would also attract funding. We’re in between. But we manage. We are very lucky to have private sponsorship, from Manuel Swaden for the LOGS, Benham & Reeves, Abacus and Bombay Nights for the films, plus Alexanders and David’s Deli for Love Parks Week. We’re setting up business memberships in the locality, and we’ll fundraise and apply for charitable funding where we can.’
With the enthusiasm and dedication of Mark, the committee members and volunteers, it looks as if we have a good basis on which to build a rosy present and future for Fortune Green.
- Catherine Allison
There were two starting points to this blog (incidentally isn’t blog an awful word). The first was a weekend Janet and I spent in Matlock in Derbyshire. The second was a question asked on the Radio 4 programme, Broadcasting House.The presenter asked the group of panellists, they had been talking about the demise of the Independent, “What do you want to see in a newspaper?”
To take Matlock first. In looking for a pub that we could have supper in we walked the length of Matlock Park. It is bounded on one side by a river and on the other by a busy road. The park’s amenities include a bridge over the river, a café, tennis courts, a putting green, a bowling green, a bandstand, a duck pond, a boating lake, and a miniature railway.
Wandering through this park made me realise that in Fortune Green we are between a rock and a hard place. The Green is tiny and Golders Hill Park and the Heath are managed landscapes rather than recreational. Which brings me back to a version of the Radio 4 question. “What do you want to see happening on the Green?”
Before I go on I must make two acknowledgements. One that as a FoFG member I feel that the maintenance of the Green must be the overwhelming priority. Two that there are already a good range of organised and casual activities and perhaps I should add that as in any public space there are competing and sometimes incompatible interests at work.
O.K. we are not Matlock Park nor Hampstead Heath., but there are a few activities that would be free, incur no or very little cost and be easy to organise.
So how about –
These are my ideas, how about yours?
- Ted Booth
M.O. – two of the most famous letters in cultural history. Shortly before W.W.2. a group of university educated southern intellectuals got a team together to study (observe) the lives of ordinary people at work and leisure. What they called an “anthropology of ourselves”. Ordinary people’s lives had hitherto been unrecorded in theatre, film, literature and academic study.
The team included poets and writers, film makers, an anthropologist and an ornothologist. Tom Harrison and Charles Madge “headed up” the group, which also included the Spender brothers and Humphrey Jennings. In Bolton they recruited ninety observers who looked in detail at what people did at work, in the pub, in dance halls and in the streets.
This work led on to the G.P.O. Film Unit and the British Documentary Movement which produced classic films such as Drifter, Night Mail, Spare Time and London Can Take It. Tom Harrison became editor of Picture Post the weekly photographically illustrated magazine that recorded Britain at war.
This all began in the 1930’s. What would it be like in the 21st century to turn a Mass Observation eye on Fortune Green?
1. 8.10. 15th February 2015
A weak smudge of pink over the cemetery. The Christmas trees languish in their cage. Holding my newspaper I sit on a bench. The first dog walkers, two women arrive and make for the cemetery.
2. 8.00. 23rd February 2015
In the dense fog the lights of the nursery light up the arrivals, a father a boy and three girls. The daffodils make tank tracks on the grass.
3. 11.46. 23rd March 2015
A young man hooded and a young woman sit on separate benches. The sun is cold. They are both absorbed in their phones. Two boys and their father fly a remote control plane. a runner from the gym circles the green, then she too sits on a bench.
4. 9.10. 30th August 2015
I say hello to an infant that waves from a backpack. The father greets me, he is the Australian son in law of a neighbour.
5. 19.12. 4th September 2015
On the first bench up from the fountain two young men sit. One is drinking a can of lager the other turning the pages of a colour supplement without reading, the remains of a six pack is on the ground.
6. 11.25. 7th October 2015
An infant is trying to pick up his football but as he bends he is kicking it further away. Near the owl and the fox a man appears to be urinating in the bushes, as I get nearer I see he is holding up a small boy so that he can perform the function.
7. 8.32. 20th January 2016
A grey haired man, blue overcoat and brown shoes walks past the daffodils, turns and from right to left reads the notice board, puts his hands in his pockets and returns around the west side of the Green.
8. 12.00. 29th January 2016
Everything green and raining and cool. I am the only person on the Green, only myself to record then? looking for people I turn and turn again at the crossroads like a dalek. “Exterminate them”, but no one is there.
- Ted Booth
In 1948, ten years after the heyday of M.O. I was at school with Micky Hardy the son of Bert Hardy, Picture Post’s head photographer. Forty years after that I found myself teaching M.O. on a Cultural Studies degree at Middlesex University; though what this has to do with Fortune Green I’m damned if I know.
Though John has lived on Gondar Gardens for more than 30 years, he only started his litter picking activities in 2012 when he became ‘itchy’. Itchy? He elaborates: ‘I retired and did various voluntary things, but when they came to an end, I was looking for something else to do. And I loathe litter.’ One day, he noticed that the path between the cemetery and the Green was strewn with litter so he got a black rubbish sack and filled it in a matter of minutes. ‘I was pleasantly surprised to find that the litter didn’t all come back immediately,’ he admits. ‘Litter attracts litter, and clearing it appeared to deter the litterers. Litter-picking is good exercise for me in any case.’ He then expanded his operation to the Green itself: he has a plastic bag permanently in his pocket or finds one that’s been abandoned that he can use. He doesn’t worry about wearing gloves, so he can do the job as and when he wants to. ‘If my hands get dirty, I can come home and wash them,’ he says in a matter-of-fact way. ‘Other people might worry about that, but I don’t.’ For the last 3 years, John has been out there most days, less this last summer for family reasons, but he expects to carry on indefinitely.
The fire exit of the Saga building is also a heavily littered spot – I think a group congregates there at night. This is not intentional on their part I’m sure but it’s amazing how people manage to chuck their litter in places that it’s really difficult to reach with a litter picker!’
John feels that if litter bothers you, you should just pick it up. ‘The council can’t be responsible for every scrap, and in any case, it’s not right to wait for someone else to sort it out for you.’ People will come up and thank him for litter-picking – one man even offered to buy him a drink once. But other people respond in ways he finds surprising. ‘They seem to think that I might be taking someone’s job by doing what I do, that I’m doing someone out of a wage. Or that perhaps it’s not appropriate that I should be doing it – it jars with them somehow.’ But if local people care, and are seen to care, there’s a ripple effect. ‘The atmosphere on the Green is totally different now to the way it was years ago. Now it’s attractive and obviously used by lots of different groups of people, particularly in the summer. Back then [when he first knew it] there were problems with drugs and aggressive youths, to the point where my wife was nervous about walking across it after dark.’
So if he sees someone littering, what does he do? ‘I don’t really want to accost people because they would probably punch me on the nose. There’s a certain authority that comes from being official – wearing a Friends of Fortune Green jacket, for instance – that might protect one from being attacked, and also I think a woman might get a better response than a man – there’s still more of a taboo about punching a woman. As it is, I expect people would just see me as an old codger and punch me.’
John isn’t part of FoFG. He’s just an individual doing his thing, and happy to be that way. Perhaps he’s an example for how the volunteering on Fortune Green should develop: in addition to the organised group activities, perhaps the Committee should encourage individuals to do a little bit extra, like litter picking or weeding, in ways and at times that suit them? There might be lots of people who just feel like doing this spontaneously. Equipment isn’t necessary, though unlike John, I’m guessing that most people would want to wear gloves, just in case. And for those who want to be more official, there’s a ready supply of litter pickers, and possibly even some hi-vis FoFG jackets, available to borrow from FoFG. Anyone interested?
This is the final blog of 2015, so have a very merry Christmas and a happy, healthy new year.
- Catherine Allison
We agreed to meet on the Green. Taro Misawa, still in black but now dressed in a capacious hooded Japanese-style waterproof, approached down the linden avenue, striding through the downpour. In view of the weather we agreed to decamp to Brioche café.
Taro has lived in the area since 1980, and Taiji Quan (Tai Chi Chuan) (and the wider discipline of Taiji philosophy) has been central to his life for the past five years. He teaches at Mei Quan Academy of Taiji (www.taichinews.com), which has 40 branches in London including one that meets at St Mary's Church Hall on Abbey Road. If you see him on the Green, he'll be practising Taiji form and Qi Gong, a system of movement that focuses on meditation and breathing. It works on the organs and the meridians which, Taro says, 'tunes up the body. A day without practise, indoors or outdoors, definitely makes me less chirpy.'
So is there a particular spot that Taro prefers for his practice? 'The grass is fine, but I choose the place depending on the types of movements I'm doing. Some movements risk damaging the grass, which I want to avoid. The concrete area outside the children's playground is best when the movements are complex and I need even ground to avoid injury. From here I have a great view as well: the tree [Crataegus prunifolia, or broad-leaved cockspur thorn] in front of me, the owl
Taro has seen the Green develop over the years. His use of it has also changed considerably. 'When I was 11 or 12, I used to come and play football or cycle here, or walk across to get to the shops on Fortune Green Road. But since I've been practising Taiji, I come more often, whenever I can, day or night. The Green is much more populated, more central to the community, and it's cared for now so people care in their turn. In the past, it wasn't cared for, and tumbleweeds lead to tumbleweeds [i.e. less caring people] coming to the place.'
So if you could change Fortune Green in any way, what would you do?
'I'd love to see it used by even more people all year round, in the same way that open spaces are used in China and Japan. When on holiday with the Academy 3 years ago, I remember walking through Beijing and seeing people doing Taiji, table tennis, samba lessons, sitting reading, even practising martial arts with chain whips, wow, a all sorts of activities happening together in the same open spaces. People looked chilled out and happy. That's what I'd like to see on Fortune Green... and also big groups of people doing Taiji together. Individual practice is great, but group practice, when everyone is in sync, makes it even more beautiful. A covered area, even a temporary one, would be great for this, given the weather.’ Drizzle is ok but cats and dogs isn’t.
I mentioned to Taro that I often wanted to ask him questions about what he was doing but I worried about interrupting him. 'People regularly approach me when I'm practising. Mostly they're cordial,' he smiles. 'They understand that Taiji is a process that takes time, and they wait for a break before they ask questions. Other times, I'll simply exchange a smile with people, which is fine. But I like to explain what I'm doing to people who don't know.'
- Catherine Allison
This entry is inspired by local author Simon Inglis’s book “Played in London”, a beautifully illustrated, comprehensive survey of London’s sporting stadiums, grounds and venues. If you have started thinking about buying Christmas presents, this should go on your list.
From my casual criss-crossing of the Green I have observed a multiplicity of sports and games and have probably missed out on many others; here they are in alphabetical order.
Young Australians holding the ball in one hand, kicking it to improbable heights and catching it. Australians never seem to drop a catch even when holding a cigarette in one hand.
OK, not much and not often, but for honing skills on a bumpy pitch the Green is right up there.
All you need is a ball; it is played by all ages, male and female, organised, unorganised and disorganised. The replica shirts come from all over the world.
A plastic disc and hours of simple pleasure
Yes, really. I saw a group of young men brandishing putters round a course made up of plastic shopping bags for the holes. See Football for problems with the surface.
Goes on all over the Green, in the play space, and along the newly installed exercise trail. In the dog-free area you can see free-form and floor exercises from a variety of disciplines.
See above. Many personal trainers take their clients on to the grass for extensive workouts.
Nameless games the children play
Even if there are only two of them, the leader sets the objectives, the rules and the scoring system. These are flexible and incomprehensible to outsiders and usually to the participants as well.
Much to be encouraged. A stick to be waved and a pet dog adds to the fun.
Since the nearby gym opened, this has been greatly on the increase. For the less fit, the benches come in handy.
Again the dog-free area comes into use at Love Parks Week sports day and when local schools have their big day out. I watched a yellow-bibbed two lap race. “Come on Melvin, you’re not tired” said a teacher. Melvin was tired.
With the addition of the cemetery beyond, this is an urban delight for recreational, constitutional or socialising walks.
A terrific attraction at the Jester Festival using an artificial rock face and automatic safety ropes.
Untaught children climb beautifully.
Every now and then the trees, benches and railings mysteriously appear wound about and decorated with beautifully knitted yarns. A Japanese version has even been seen. Who does it? Who are they? Who knows?
All you need is loose clothing, yourself and a certain degree of unselfconsciousness.
OK, so what have I left out? Even as I write I think of kite flying. Answers on a postcard please.
- Ted Booth (Guest Blogger)
I have never been given to psychogeography and find Will Self and Ian Sinclair unreadable and mystifying respectively, but here I am about to enter their territory.
Two of the most irritating (and rude) questions that we Londoners have to put up with are 'How can you live in London?' and 'Have you thought of moving to the country?' The pleasures of living round the Green may provide a partial answer to these impertinent questions.
Earlier this year, some government think-tank came up with the idea of a tax on houses that were near to public parks. Those who lived in them should pay for the privilege of being able to enjoy the amenities of a nearby green space. “Living near to" was defined variously as 100 or 200 metres from a park. I anxiously paced out the distance from the Fortune Green water fountain to our house, but was then reassured when Gerald pointed out that UK taxes are not hypothecated. The government cannot impose a tax that is specifically designated to pay for Trident, the NHS or indeed a local park.
In terms of Fortune Green, who living round the Green would have been hypothetically liable for this tax? And what would have been the benefits for which they (we) might have been taxed? And to raise another issue, would those who contribute to the Green (and yes, I am thinking of FoFG) be liable for a rebate?
Very few people actually have a view of the Green, just the few houses on Ajax Road, the flat-dwellers above the shops and restaurants on Fortune Green Road and those on the west side of Alfred Court. But a review of FoFG membership shows that people living much further away than that care about the Green. But care what about the Green, precisely? I should come to the point. Perhaps three encounters I have had recently could at least initiate a discussion.
I was walking on the path that leads through the flowerbeds to the drunken telephone boxes when an elderly Scotsman stopped and wished me good morning. He exclaimed on the beauty of “the garden” and I explained how it had got there. 'I just like to sit and look at it,' he said. So I silently thanked the many LOGS volunteers, and Manuel Swaden solicitors for supporting them.
Encounter two was in the Bombay Nights on Fortune Green Road, which along with Abacus sponsors one of the “Screen on our Green” film nights. Janet and I were looking forward to our meal when a young waiter said to Janet that he had seen her watering the trees. 'I look at the Green as I get off the bus,' he said, 'and I love to see the sky and the Green from the restaurant windows.'
Poets and writers often place their memories of childhood literally and metaphorically in specific sites. Take Dylan Thomas’ Fern Hill:
“Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs.
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green.”
And a German friend of Patrick Leigh Fermor, who he met on his travels and who wrote to him after the war in which they had both fought:
“I hope we may meet soon and wander once more along the silver streets of our youth.”
Transfer this piece of German romanticism and Thomas’ Fern Hill to London and our youthful times spent in its open spaces. What sort of narrative might we create? Turn the pages of the London A to Z and before you get to West Hampstead on page 43 you will have passed parks, and their big brothers country parks, commons, greens, playing fields, heaths, recreation grounds, open spaces, sports grounds, golf courses, forests and woods.
What time have we spent in these places long ago? Let me offer you my story.
After the Second World War, my family were relocated to Kidbrooke, south east London, to a flat in the sports pavilion of the firm my father worked for. Blackheath and Greenwich Park were just up the road but my brother and I had three sports grounds as our backyard. In addition to the firm’s pavilion, across the Kidbrooke, then an open stream with newts and tiddlers and reached by a wooden bridge, was Eltham Cricket Club where W.G. Grace played his last innings, and next to that was the palatial Bank of India Sports Ground.
So off we would set any morning of the summer holidays, with a bat, a ball, a stump and a friend. A roller was the wicket-keeper, there were no boundaries other than the poplar trees at the edges of the field. We would play all day, only stopping when our mother called us in or it got too dark to see. We returned home, legs aching, sun-browned and midge-bitten.
On days when it rained, we played marathon games of Canasta on the kitchen table. So my boyhood passed.
Different games, a different age and different mothers, but Fortune Green in time will be a “silver street” for the memories of today’s children.
Dear reader, what green urban idyll do you recollect from your childhood?
What for we city-dwellers takes the place of mountains –
“Later victims of time and loss
we will return and gaze there
and marvel at such heights
conquered, such blazing air”
– and the sea?
“The sea I sailed on those
days was youth – Long ago”
Eiléan Ni Chuilleanáin
- Ted Booth (Guest Blogger)
This month, Ted Booth recalls happy hours spent on the Main Square at Kardamyli in the Southern Peloponnese, and happy hours spent on Fortune Green.
This is in fact the only square in Kardamyli and it isn’t a square at all; it is the shape and size of two football pitches laid end to end. You could walk through it in the space of a couple of thoughts. The square is a much-loved, much-used open space flanked on one side by a road, a bus stop, shops and cafes. The square is to Kardamyli as our Green is to us.
On our way here from our hotel we passed gardens with tortoises rooting amongst tomato plants and blue-bellied lizards flickering on sunlit walls. At the entrance to the Square an ice- cream kiosk is flanked by a blaze of pink daphne. Lampposts are ornately curved and were part of the original square unlike the table football machine, which is a later addition. The one bus a day has been and gone. Feral cats of a delicate patchwork beauty prowl the tables. Across the road, house martins nesting under the eaves are feeding their young.
Like our Green, the Square is a civic amenity for young and old, birdlife and animals, with its shady trees and the plants and flowers beneath them.
This is Greece in a time of austerity, we are Camden in a time of austerity, such places as this Square and our Green will need protection, our protection, or the bastards will be selling off our back gardens next.
- Ted Booth (Guest Blogger)
Southern Peloponnese, May 2015
I was recently reminded of the old English proverb ‘March winds and April showers bring forth May flowers’. I was walking home from work and, as is often the case in West Hampstead, kept bumping into friends and acquaintances who all commented on the rain and the dip in temperature. After several such encounters, I had to smile. Dr. Samuel Johnson’s observation that ‘when two Englishmen meet, their first talk is of the weather’ is as accurate today as when he wrote it over 250 years ago! It made me reflect on the incredible changeability of the UK weather. We’ve all left our homes in the morning dressed in several layers, equipped with an umbrella (just in case) and experienced extreme weather changes all within a few hours. When rain is predicted, we all cling to the hope that the Met Office is once again wrong (as it so often is!) and when sunshine is forecast we all hold fast to the promise of a pleasant day. Rain… it seems to be a constant bane, spoiling our weekends, picnics and holidays. When caught unexpectedly in a sudden downpour, how easy it is for us to forget the benefits of all that rain.
Although I was born in London, my family lived for many years in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Santa Fe is 7,199 feet (2134 m) above sea level (Trivia: It’s the highest state capital in the USA) and experiences what is called a semi-arid climate with chilly winters and very warm summers. Due to the relative aridity and elevation, daily temperatures vary is between 25 °F (14 °C) and 30 °F (17 °C) throughout the year. In summer, the days are exceedingly hot, but you will need a cardigan or light jacket in the evening when the temperature drops. Lying at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, Santa Fe has snow and excellent skiing in winter and although it is cold, it’s easy to get sunburned while outdoors when the sky is clear. The ‘rainy season’ is in July and August with the arrival of the North American Monsoon. It will simply pour, often accompanied by thunder and lightning, for about an hour every afternoon, regular as clock-work. The dry ground is unable to absorb this amount of rain all at once, causing temporary flooding on the roads and a torrent of water in the arroyos (dry stream beds).
The landscape in northern New Mexico around Santa Fe is unique and enchanting; the pink-red earth and rocks which change colour as if by magic in the sunlight, the mountains rising out of the semi-desert (both famously depicted in Georgia O’Keefe’s paintings), and the absolutely spectacular sunsets created as the light catches the dust particles in the air. However, because of the lack of water, there is only limited vegetation; prairie grass, low piñon pines, juniper shrubs, cacti, and as the elevation rises, the ponderosa pines. Every once in a while, you’ll come across a thin stretch of green grass with small trees running either side of a rare river bed. Scattered around this charming, but somewhat barren, scene are beautiful gems of coloured flowers that brighten the landscape, all the more special because of the unexpectedness of their appearance; Sand Penstemon, Apache Plume, Chocolate Flower and Groundsel to name a few and of course Yucca, the State Flower.
One is struck by the almost total absence of the lush green grass we find all around us here in southeast England. Even in a city like London, we have so many areas of green, not only the great expanses of Hampstead Heath, Richmond Park and Wimbledon Common, but also the many smaller public gardens and greens such as Fortune Green and West End Green.
I remember flying from New Mexico to England to visit my grandparents in Wimbledon and looking down once the plane had cleared the clouds to see the green quilt-work of the English countryside. From up above, you can really see what a difference rain makes to the terrain. And the quality of the air is so different in the UK; you can feel the moisture in the atmosphere. It smells fresh and clean and alive! When my parents visited me they always commented on this. They loved everything about Santa Fe, including the desert landscape, but every now and then longed for a grassy garden. “I really miss all this green" my mother always said when she arrived. And most of us will agree that nothing can beat walking barefoot through the grass and the smell of a wet or just-mown lawn!
The next time you get stuck in an unexpected downpour or find yourself seeking shelter from the rain and before you start complaining, think about exactly what the rain means to a space like Fortune Green. Think of how much you enjoy lying in the sun or picnicking on the grass whilst watching one of the FoFG ‘Films on our Green’. Think of how much fun your dog has running after balls or rolling in the grass. Think of how much enjoyment your children have playing ball and how soft the grass is when they fall in it. Think of all the lovely daffodils, crocuses and tulips we had in early spring and of all the amazing summer flowers which are now beginning to bloom. Without the rain, Fortune Green would be a very, very different place. So just remember…
April (and May!) showers really do bring the flowers (as well as lots of lovely lush grass!)
- Nicolette Molnár (Guest Blogger)
In our garden the blue tits crisscross the feeder, the robins are feeding an ivy-hidden nest, a blackbird has been singing since early morning. Leaving this domestic scene, I head down
the road for the higher, open ground of Fortune Green. I pass Maisie going to school and Sue
setting off for work. Where Achilles Road meets Fortune Green, I stop at the water fountain,
look across and remember the old bakehouse that once was, and the Saturday morning wine
shop that succeeded it.
I turn along the hedge checking the bins for the depredation of the late night foxes and the early morning squirrels. Later, paper in hand, I go into the Green by the old telephone boxes and admire the work of Sunday’s volunteer gardeners on the long curved beds.
The seats at this end, which give a terrific view of the Victorian terraces of the Greek Streets, are rightly popular at this time of the morning; a first look at the papers, a smoke, a substitute breakfast, a cup of coffee... and why not. The rest of the world goes by to the bus stops. Children welded to scooters make their way to local schools.
If nobody has fed the wretched pigeons, there is the occasional thrush or crow. I have a twinge of envy for my fellow country diarists in Strathcairn, Wenlock Edge and the New Forest and their exhaustive ticklists of birds. But then they don’t have Lords just down the road and Hampstead Heath a short walk away. And let’s give credit to Londoners, give them grass to lie on, benches to sit on, a playspace to play in and a dog-free area to kick a football around and they will go for it.
And as for dogs, any early morning lounger on the benches can be their own judge at their own private Crufts. Breed identification may not be easy but that’s part of the passing parade.
By now the sun has broken through the clouds above the Fire Station, it’s time to go home, open my paper and see if today’s Country Diary has anything interesting to say.
- Ted Booth (Guest Blogger)
Now that Spring is truly springing, there will be a LOGS (Love Our Green Sunday) every month until October (see Future FoFG Events for more details). But this year, FoFG is very pleased to announce that Manuel Swaden Solicitors will be sponsoring these monthly sessions. The firm has had a long-standing connection with West Hampstead for more than 25 years: it used to have an office on Fortune Green Road close to the Green and is now only a little further away at 340 West End Lane, NW6 1LN. A spokeswoman says “Manuel Swaden Solicitors is delighted to support Friends of Fortune Green’s Love Our Greens programme… and proud to be a part of the continued contribution of this dedicated group of residents to beautify this much-loved open space.”
So how will LOGS be different this year?
The talks won’t be heavy or scientific. Some might be a slightly more technical, such as how and why we prune. But others will focus on the practical, the fun, or simply encourage us to look at things differently. For instance, weeds. “We might call something ‘weedy’” says Mark, “but actually in the plant world, weeds are often the strongest, most resilient, not weedy at all. They’re really quite admirable.” Or a talk might simply remind us about the seasonal changes that we may be oblivious to if we work indoors most of the time – for instance, that the first magnolias are coming out now. “We hope that the talks will add to LOGGERS’ enjoyment of the outdoors in a whole range of ways,” says Mark.
The first new-look LOGS is taking place on Sunday 29th March at 2pm.
- Catherine Allison
This is the first in a series of interviews with local Green lovers.
This month: Anne Harmston, FoFG Committee Member and resident of Ajax Road.
What changes have you seen during the time you’ve lived beside the Green?
We moved to Ajax Road in October 1969. The Green was really rather tatty in those days, it’s vastly improved now. There was a play area and tennis court, both in bad repair; a public toilet close to where the play centre is now, and the path east to west (from the Ajax Road side towards Fortune Green Road) had hedges along both sides. There was also an old shelter where the two main paths met, from where shrieks could often be heard. Murder it wasn’t, just high spirits, but the shrieks were startling nonetheless. There was no dog free area, and fouling could be a serious problem: people had to go around picking it up before events on the green. There also used to be two elm trees, one really large one, but sadly Dutch Elm disease meant that they had to come down. I remember people putting ropes between them and swinging.
Talking of dogs, at one time, they were allowed to roam on the green unsupervised. At one point there was quite a pack of them, and my husband had to bat them away from him with a rolled-up newspaper. Children also played on the green unsupervised, which you don’t see nowadays. There were football games but not organised ones and there was less damage to the turf.
I think that most of the changes are for the best. I know I may be in a minority but I like the Sager Building: it replaces the rundown, graffiti-covered brick buildings that preceded it and it’s kept neat and tidy now.
Do you remember particular events or happenings on the Green?
In the early 70s, a event happened called the New Games. It was a summer, one-off day of games and informal fun, run by Stuart Able, who was the original Jester Festival jester. I remember activities such as people falling backwards into each other, allowing themselves to be passed hand to hand, trust exercises, that sort of thing. Hippy 70s style. There wasn’t a huge attendance but it was a fun day.
Do you have a favourite season or favourite time of day?
My favourite time of day to look out on the Green is when the sun goes down. The shadows from the West are stunning. It’s even better than sunrise, though I admit that I seldom see that nowadays!
My favourite season is summer because I have lots of opportunities to people-watch, which I love. My son Joe lives in the country and has a beautiful view, but he’s envious of the views from my windows because there’s always so much to see here. The slight downside of living where I do is noise at night, though it doesn’t bother me too much. Hearing the foxes barking used to annoy my husband, but I’m a little deaf now and deafness has its advantages!
How do you most like to use the Green?
Nowadays, I only really go out there when I have young visitors. When I want to sit out, I sit in my garden. When the family were younger, I used to play games with them on the Green, but now they’re a bit older, I can happily watch them from a safe distance.
Is there anything you would change about the Green?
I think the Green should be an open space for people to use as they will, without lots of objects on it, just a free space. I wouldn’t have the tennis court back –that would turn it into a park, and that’s not what it is.
Interviewed by: Catherine Allison
The moth itself is nothing special. Dusty brown in colour with a wingspan of about 1 inch. It’s heavily camouflaged against tree bark. It’s the crocodiling caterpillars, and the nests where they reside, that are the hazard. Once they hatch, they quickly strip oaks of their leaves, weakening the trees and making them susceptible to pests and diseases. Not only that, the caterpillars’ bodies are covered in thousands of tiny hairs, and touching them or the nests where the hairs collect, can induce skin rashes, sore throats, breathing difficulties and eye problems in humans. And they’re not good for dogs either. So the oak processionary moth (or OPM, as they are known on the Forestry Commission website) wouldn't be a welcome addition to a public space like the Green.
The moths are natives of central and southern Europe, but their range is expanding, to northern France, the Netherlands, even southern Sweden, possibly because of climate change. It is believed that eggs first arrived in the UK on oak imported from mainland Europe, and the dastardly larvae were first detected in Ealing and Richmond in 2006. Since then, there have been infestations in south London, west London and Berkshire. Two years ago, the Forestry Commission announced that helicopters would be deployed to "blanket spray woodland" where the caterpillars posed a health threat (Daily Telegraph, May 2013). The Forestry Commission must have assessed that Fortune Green was a potential infestation zone because it laid traps in the cemetery last summer. Four adult males were caught then, and where there are adults in the summer, there may be nests laid on oaks in the area the following spring. Hence the inspectors’ call.
Luckily, there’s no infestation here this year. We can walk our dogs and sit under our trees safe in the knowledge that we have received an official all clear from the insect inspectors.
- Catherine Allison
Forget Paris, Milan and New York.
West Hampstead could be on the way to becoming a fashion capital… for dogs.
As I’ve been walking the Green and environs over the last month, I’ve seen many dressed-up dogs, sporting anything from a simple colour-contrasting harness to a stylish, fully head-to-toe outfit. The very first one I spotted was a Jack Russell, nonchalantly nosing around wearing a knitted jacket with red flashing lights on his back. So cute. I didn’t have my camera on me, so I now wonder if he wasn’t a figment of my imagination. After that siting, I was hooked. Taking photos of dogs in coats has become my new obsession.
The dog-loving residents of WH are following a national trend: apparently dogwear is flying off the shelves all over the country. Pets at Home, the UK’s biggest pet store chain, says that so far this winter it has sold 17% more pet clothing this winter than in 2013 (The Observer 21.12.14). Liz, the owner of Nutts4Mutts, the Fortune Green grooming lounge and pet supplies store, agreed that doggie coats are selling very well at the moment, both the functional and the festive varieties. Her top seller is a stylish functional jacket, with stormguard waterproof outer and a fleecy inner, very expensive but perfect for winter exercising. And with brands like Barbour and American Apparel readily available as well as M&S, John Lewis and Asda, there’s a whole spectrum of designs and prices for owners to choose from.
The recent cold snap has given top dogs the perfect opportunity to show off on the fashion runways of Fortune Green and West Hampstead. So here’s a gallery of local lovelies for you to enjoy. Happy New Year!
For the sporting dog
My survey was in no way exhaustive of course, there are lots more stylish hounds out there to be spotted, and I’ll certainly keep my camera at the ready. Please send in your own snaps and I’ll try to include them in the January blog. For now, at least, West Hampstead dog owners don’t appear to favour novelty outfits for their pets. However, Liz at Nutts4Mutts did send me this photo of one potential wearer. Am I imagining it, or is this French Bulldog not all that sure about the look?
- Catherine Allison
Autumn is a time for reflection – or at least I find it so. With Daylight Saving behind us, and the start of longer, darker days, we’re beginning to hunker down, and perhaps to think back wistfully to summer holidays now long gone. We may start to spend more time looking out on the world than we spend in it. Nature is putting on its final decadent display of colour before shut-down. High winds, and even the odd ex-hurricane, may catch and snap off some still leaf-heavy branches and convince us that it’s safer and more clement indoors.
Recently, the destructive winds of ex-Hurricane Gonzalo and all the swaying trees reminded me of a talk about the proposed Garden Bridge in London [www.gardenbridgetrust.org] that my partner and I attended back in balmy August. Speakers included a designer from the Heatherwick Studio (famous for the London 2012 Olympic cauldron), the chief construction engineer and a representative from the Garden Bridge Trust, which is raising the necessary funds to make the project happen.
As with all Heatherwick designs, the bridge is ‘bio-inspired’, an undulating, sinuous span rather in the manner of Gaudi, a pedestrian crossing point planted as a garden with trees, shrubs and flowers in 1000 cubic metres of soil – the bridge’s two concrete piers will provide the greatest depths of soil and sites for the tallest trees. The Garden Bridge plan is so daring and awe-inspiring, so Utopian, it completely takes one’s breath away: to integrate nature with the city, and to create ‘the slowest (ie most pleasant for dawdling) way to cross the river’. The planting will work with the London skylines, trees framing much-loved landmarks, with balconies providing opportunities for people to linger and look out. Local volunteers will help to maintain it, local schools visit it, commuters benefit from it, and tourists wonder at it. It will grow and change season by season, year by year, and be there for generations to come. As Gonzalo raged, I wondered again how the full-grown trees on the bridge would cope. Then I remembered the precision and wholeheartedness of the planners, developers and construction professionals who spoke back in August, and I felt reassured. There’s no doubt in my mind that Heatherwick and co. have considered all the possible variables, including hurricanes.
We built part of our own small but glorious future on the Green at the end of October, when Love Our Green Sunday (LOGS) focused on spring bulb planting.
The weather was mild, the turn-out was superb, and Janet and Mark, our horticulture expert, led the volunteers in the planting of 1200 bulbs. Doubters suggested that it couldn’t be done in two hours, but it was! So, come the Spring, we’ll see a swathe of red tulips at the top of the Green, and throughout the other beds there’ll be new clusters of crocus and aliums. Keeping the Green may be on a smaller scale than building and maintaining the Garden Bridge, but it gives residents and passersby alike community and hope of a beautiful future to comfort them through the dark days of winter.
- Catherine Allison
About once a year I fly from Boston, Massachusetts to visit my daughter who lives here in West Hampstead. Every day I like to take a walk for exercise and one of my favorites when here is walking on Fortune Green.
Earlier this month I took a stroll through the Green. It was mid-afternoon and along with others I was enjoying the warmth of the autumn sun on my face and back. Leaves were just beginning to display their bright colors and some were already fluttering to the ground. Tiny tots were laughing and shouting in the playground area while their older siblings were playing catch or football on the Green close by. What was new for me were the wooden sculptures of the owls and fox. Children were having great fun sitting on the fox and looking at the baby owl.
Thanks to the benches provided, there’s a place for those of every age to stop and appreciate this beautiful spot. (I am 82 years old and need to be able to sit down occasionally for a rest.) What a lovely oasis this is in the middle of a busy neighborhood.
On leaving the Green, I read with interest the new noticeboard which recounted the history of the Green and how it had been saved in Victorian days by the Friends of Fortune Green. West Hampstead very well can be proud of and thankful for those people and for those who continue to carry on the work of protecting and caring for this pleasant place. You are indeed fortunate!
- Annette J. Molnár (Guest Blogger)
- Reuben Miller, Branch Manager of Alexanders West Hampstead: Sponsors of the Jester Festival and Love Parks Week, and generous supporters of Friends of Fortune Green
Years and years ago …
I grew up in West Hampstead in the 70s and 80s, and now I’m back working on West End Lane. Here are a few snapshots from my childhood, teenage and adult years on the Green.
From 7 years old, I remember cycling with abandon through, along and around the Green on my Grifter bike with my brother, sister, step-brothers and step-sister and Gordon-setter dog, Bennett. And I still cycle to this day: in fact I recently cycled from John O’Groats to Land’s End over 15 days which was delightful and very challenging as it rained most days.
I would always look forward to going to JA Loader’s newsagent on Fortune Green Road and spend my pocket money and fill up a small white paper bag with old classic penny sweets – cola bottles, fruit salads, black jacks, milk bottles …Then go to Fortune Green and run around on a sugar rush with siblings and neighbours!
I played football occasionally and fairly badly with family and friends. We played on what was a muddy area but isn’t anymore. Thanks to the hard work of Friends of Fortune Green removing the buried air raid shelter, the long-standing drainage problem has been solved. I’d love to see more sports on the Green for kids and adults.
I used to ‘commute’ to secondary school in High Barnet. My journey started in the early morning, looking out for the bus on the corner of Achilles Rd and Fortune Green Road. When I saw it, I would run through the Green to the bus stop.
At around 12 years old, as an up-and-coming slightly boundary less adolescent, I remember the excitement smoking cigarettes in the late afternoon near to the swings with some school friends! I got told off when my parents found out. I smoked off and on up to my early 20s when my daughter was born.
More innocently, when I was about 13, I remember going to the Jester Festival and being delighted to win a bar of chocolate for apple bobbing – I put my face in the bucket of cold water and successfully captured the apple with my teeth!
A couple of years later, we moved a mile down the road to what was then the other side of West Hampstead, now known as South Hampstead. Sadly, Fortune Green was’t my local park anymore.
I moved away (even further this time) to live and work in South West London. Clapham and Tooting Common were now my local parks
Twelve years ago, when I was 30, I came back to the area to work on West End Lane at Alexanders estate agents. We believe in improving and being part of the life of the local community. We’re convinced that it’s only right to support the area, local businesses and the residents that have helped our business thrive over the years, and that’s why we sponsor the Jester Festival and Love Parks Week, along with our friends at David’s Deli. (And thanks to the dynamic, selfless Jody Graham and the team for all their hard work to make Jester gig happen.) We also assist the West Hampstead Business Association committee (WHBA) and help to run the Christmas Community Market. Mark your diaries: Alexanders will be serving free homemade juicy mulled wine with a kick outside our office on 6th December at the Christmas Market. Until it’s all finished!
I’m very glad to be back in the area, and I am lucky that I am able to bring my dog to the office with me. I enjoy taking her for a walk on the Green, and sometimes I run with her before work. Ella is a loveable, lean ginger Golden Retriever, now 7 years old. She has a very calm nature. She relishes running at full sprint around the park with her nose 1 millimetre from the grass, on a mission to tidy the park of any scraps of food: she chases off any flocks of pigeons because she knows that when they flock together it’s probably a sign that they have found some food! She also loves playing with some of the other local dogs. After a run on the Green, we walk through to the cemetery for a lap and then go back to work.
I love growing fruit and vegetables at home in my garden – it is therapeutic and provides delicious food too. This year the garden at home has given a range of food to feed my family; my wife Kathy who is a family therapist and 19-year-old daughter Jemima who is training to be a water sports instructor. We’ve had a healthy trolley full of raspberries, blueberries strawberries, pears, apples, peaches, golden courgettes, tomatoes, runner beans, leaks and butternut squash. The season has ended for most of the fruit, but we’re waiting for the end of the tomatoes to hopefully change from green to red and the butternut squash to ripen for picking in October. One day, I’d love to see some fruit trees and bushes grown on Fortune Green, and possibly some raised vegetable beds or large pots for the community to enjoy. A wildflower meadow to attract butterflies and bees would be a great fit too. Growing food in urban spaces at home or in public is an ancient tradition. Successful, empowering neighbourhood groups like Transition Town, Incredible Edibles and Capital Growth bring local people together and are rich for children too and the community would enjoy the food growing process and especially, of course, the harvesting. So what do you say, FoFG Committee?
- Reuben Miller (Guest Blogger)
At 8.30 Shelley and Yeats walked over to me, introduced by their friend Ivor. Then Spike Milligan read ‘String’ and I read ‘Adelstrop’ to a Polish actor. Later Catherine read ‘Adlestrop’ to me. I got ‘Tiddly Pom’ from a personal trainer and Judith recounted how Longfellow had led to a winning bet in the Grand National. Carol and the kids knew a few lines from ‘It’s a long way to Tipperary’. Jeannie uplifted me and herself with Shakespeare’s sonnet No 5. In the afternoon, Flick was to recite from memory another moving Shakespeare sonnet. An elderly Jewish man who was off to pick plums in the cemetery said “Poets are the indicators of language” by which I took him to mean the guardians of culture.
In my midday session I met a nanny with a buggy, Janet chose our friend Tobias Hill, and Mark chose Sylvia Plath on Parliament Hill Fields.
The evening began with Flick, who started talking fifty yards away and left after twenty minutes – it was pure pleasure. Julian from Hampstead said he found the occasion beautiful. Ann Marie from memory brought forth ‘The Lorelei’ and Ann did likewise with Burns and his mouse. Nicolette went radical with Miklós Radnóti, and Gerald was himself with his favourites Peter Porter and Belloc and Betjeman. Finally Brenda and Catherine and Eugene arrived together so there was a crowd for Tobias Hill again and the summer of Adelstrop.
I went home very happy. Behind me, a man didn’t want a poem but he did want to know why a tree had been chopped down.
My final memory was of the mother and daughter who paused in their walk round the Green for a talk and a poem. They had been doing the same walk for forty years.
So that was the end of my year as Poet in Residence. Fortune Green isn’t Oxford University but then no one opposed my election and no one sent letters to the press about my sex life.
Paul McCartney once said “If you ask me to make an album then I don’t know where to start, but if you say make an album of train songs then I’m away”. So I had my Silvine exercise book (99p), my subject and an audience I felt I knew. The exercise book and I sat on the Green at different times and different seasons, the ideas came easily. In all, I turned out seven poems, held two poetry evenings, wrote the Jester Tester Quiz and did my day on the park bench for Love Parks Week.
To neighbours, friends and complete strangers and the Friends of Fortune Green, thank you. And thank you to Gerald for choosing the bottle of claret, which was my payment for the year. Drinking it with a cream omelette really was the final poetic act.
- Ted Booth, Poet in Residence 2013 - 2014 (Guest Blogger)
The start of July saw another hugely successful Jester Festival on the Green, which, as usual, featured lots of West Hampstead residents meeting and mingling and local businesses and organisations setting out their stalls. The Lib Dem cakes and jams sold fast as ever; WHAT’s popular ice creams ditto; the Friends of Fortune Green stall was busy attracting new members; and West Hampstead Community Centre handed out green shopping bags – useful for
carrying home all the goodies you’d purchased or won during the day. Our new Labour councillors were getting out and about amongst their constituents as were those nice folk
from West Hampstead Life.
I must admit I didn’t get much time to experience all that the Jester had to offer as my own group’s stall, the West Hampstead Women’s Institute, was busy raffling prizes from generous local donors. Our highlight prize was a fabulous over-filled hamper of goodies, which somehow made it onto the ITV.com website. The magic of Twitter, I suspect. The weather gods smiled on us, and it was all great fun, although not completely without complications as far as the WI were concerned. Our stall was too big for our designated site so I had to negotiate carefully with the organisers from the Jester Festival Committee for extra space. Everyone is very protective of their patch but after some toing and froing, we were finally able to settle in for the day. The WI has only been going in West Hampstead for just under three years and we obviously still have a lot to learn about the niceties of Jester stall etiquette.
Over the years, I have helped out on other stalls too and one year was in charge of the storytelling tent, run by West End Lane Books. While I was reading to groups of children, some younger members of staff were dressed up as favourite storybook characters. The youngsters loved meeting Maisie and trying to spot Wally as he wandered around the Green. The fairground folk were less enamoured though and told Wally to “clear off” as he was distracting their customers and taking away their business. Not quite the spirit of the event, we thought. By the end of a day of reading and competing with music from the stage, I was completely hoarse. The WI stall is easier than that by a long chalk, despite the constant “Calendar Girls” jokes!
The festival has changed quite a lot over the years: entertainment used to include a tug of war, not pop bands and roundabouts. There used to be floats from local schools with a Festival Queen. The Jester (aka Stuart Abel, a local resident and architect) himself made an appearance in full costume. There was a whole week’s programme of events, including 5-a-side football matches and WHAT’S public meeting. One year, there was a drinks tent, which got rather out of hand and led to drunken brawls, so that idea was quickly dropped! Do you have memories of Jesters past that you would like to share? And are there different stalls or attractions that you’d like to see part of the festival? If so, you can comment on this blog on the website, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
-Jane May (Guest Blogger)
One of the surprising features I notice most days is WIND. Rarely is there a still day. The wind carries sound that swirls up against the walls and reverberates against the windows. Of course, the sound of traffic carried on the wind is ever-present too.
Most of the time the sounds are happy. All of the voices one would expect fill the space in front of our balcony: children’s voices; those dedicated footie coaches – bright and early on a Saturday morning - who bellow training instructions and encouragement; the Jester Festival (full blast), etc.
But this vantage provides a vignette into the evening social scene of local youths too. They gather and inhabit, for hours, the benches close to the play centre and the Sager Building, shielded by the landscaping. There are consistently between 5 and 12 young people. This group tonight seems to be different from previous ones: less aggressive, perhaps younger. When the one light at the end of the pavement was broken, they were gathered almost nightly. They have a good time socialising together and disperse around midnight-1am or later. Some weekend nights the volume goes up, and the Sager Building (Green-side) residents are offered sound bites of their lives. If the wind blows from the prevailing side (from the cemetery), the coverage is loud and clear. Sometimes the action gets belligerent: yelling, swearing, and abusive verbal attacks. Worse yet is when the gatherings degenerate into physical violence or the destruction of property.
It is sad to think that there are no alternatives for them to being out there, in all weather, in a public space, an obscured, safe haven. That they are surrounded by properties with residents who wish to have a quiet night obviously doesn’t factor into their social plan.
We would like our sleep undisturbed and to be free of the bad language, raucous laughter and inconsiderate behaviour. And … counting down the minutes until the police attend (or not) an anti-social behaviour complaint to protect someone down there in trouble, or to disperse them to another location, does not make for a peaceful night either. Daytime is the better time to be “Green-side residents”…
On the other hand, it is hard to beat the night cityscape. If only the cool breezes that waft through our doors could bear hushed, respectful tones.
-Judy Emms (Guest Blogger)
We were happily exercising in the cemetery when your regular blogger asked me if I would like to do a guest piece, and without thinking twice, I agreed. I am one of the regular Thursday morning “Ladies who Lunge” circuit training group. As a long-term resident of West Hampstead (40 years next Easter), I have spent many happy hours on and around Fortune Green in that time but not with quite so much frequency. And part of the pleasure of doing the circuit has been the opportunity of seeing the Green changing over the seasons.
I am a latecomer to the training group, having only joining it in September of last year after seeing them training as I walked past with a friend. I loved the idea of outdoor activity rather than the steamy macho environment of a gym and I have enjoyed every moment of it. I was worried that the weather might put me off, but somehow we have led a charmed existence and every Thursday morning has been fine and reasonably clement. Until the last couple of weeks, when for the first time we have had to train in rain. Not a bad record overall. And even the rain hasn’t put me off.
It’s not all exercise. We do also manage to fit in a fair amount of chat, which has been a good source of local gossip. As we jog round, we see friends and acquaintances too, which adds to the sense of community that West Hampstead offers. The dog walkers all seem to know each other and some wave cheerily to us as we pass. There are groups of parents (even as early as 8.30 am) in the little playground, pushing toddlers on the swings. I have spent many hours myself doing just that when my children were young and more recently with visiting children.
Nowadays the playground is well equipped, although only really suitable for the under-6s. Back in the 80s, it was a less attractive space but there was more for older children. It’s probably a lot safer now: back then, the older kids could rather dominate, and you lived in terror that a toddler would run in front of the swings and be knocked for six. It would be nice if there was space for both age groups though: I have spent a lot of time with a bored 9-year-old watching his younger sister having lots of fun while he thought it all much too tame. In the 90s, the adventure playground was open to everyone and even the grown-ups enjoyed going there with their children, but today it is only available to the play-scheme children.
The Green itself has always been a godsend for West Hampstead parents – providing the only open space in the area where children can run around. Gardens tend to be small and most children have too much energy. The Green’s dog-free area allows for more boisterous activities as well as picnics – when the footballers aren’t around. When I was a flat-dweller in my 20s, it was also the only place to go to sunbathe, with the added benefit of the pub nearby for refreshments. The Sager building and Tesco’s doesn’t quite offer the same experience and inevitably lead to people littering the Green with their empty cans and bottles. One morning recently, I found an unopened bottle of lager next to one of the benches. Shame I’m not a beer drinker.
This week, as we fast walked past the flowerbeds, I noticed that the geraniums are already in flower. Pretty pink flowers appearing everywhere, unlike in my own garden where they haven’t yet bloomed. This spring has been quite spectacular for blossom on all the trees and bushes: even though we have all hated the wet winter weather, plants have loved it and have put on their finest displays. It is wonderful to see all the new planting beginning to fill out the beds and I love the variety and combinations that have been chosen. They are beginning to blend together beautifully.
Fortune Green is very much at the heart of our community at every stage of our lives and I am grateful to the Friends group whose efforts have made it so much more enjoyable to visit. It has never looked better than it does today and this is thanks to their hard work and commitment. Long may it continue.
-Jane May (Guest Blogger)
Scene on the