Tuesday 30 June 2020

Guest Blog - The Musings of Richard Wilkinson part 1 Mill Hill as it was

Old and new collide on High St, Mill Hill
When you have spent your whole life in the same part of London, you see a lot of changes. When I was growing up in Mill Hill in the 1940's and 50's, it was a very different place. The trains were pulled by steam engines. If you wanted to be warm in winter, you bought coal. When you went to school you walked, and met your friends on the way. Once you were six your mum would no longer walk you to school, you would make your own way, walking with friends.  When you joined the school, you started in the baby class. In the morning, you got a carton of milk to drink. This was compulsory. In warm summer months it tasted of cheese.  Maybe it is the sands of time, but no one was lactose intolerant or vegan in our class. What we now call breaks were thencalled playtime. For us boys, this was invariably a game of football on a rough tarmac playground, that would take the top of your knee and give you a hole in your trousers. We wore caps, we wore shorts. School meals were called school dinners. Mum would give you your dinner money and woe betide you if you lost it.

We all had our favourites in the school dinner reportoire. Fish and chips and beef pie was always my favourite along with apple pie and custard. At the other end of the scale was boiled fish and cabbage, with tapioca pudding. Whatever happened to Tapioca? You were expected to eat all of your dinner, even when it was completely unpalatable. The end of rationing meant that for the first time,sweets and fruit were readily available. Parents had become used to being frugal, and viewed such things with suspicion.At home there were no ready meals. The times when Dad was doing well would see Lamb or beef on Sunday. Mum would make Yorkshire puddings and roast potatoes. When cash was tighter, it might be an omelette with chips.

The detritus of war was everywhere. There were pill boxes by the railway line from Mill Hill East to Edgware, gardens still had Anderson shelters and there were bomb sites, some fenced off, some not. However these weren't the biggest danger for us kids. We were scared of getting locked in fridges, we were scared of polio, we were scared of strangers with sweeties. Whereas these days we have deadly viruses, then we had something far worse, we had germs! At school, we'd be inspected by burly nurses for nits and then have the dreaded request to cough.

These days we worry about air quality. Then we had smogs. Dad would get lost returning from the pub. Talking of the pub, ladies would never be seen in the pub back in the 1950's, apart from the snug, where they would drink sherry and be charged a few pennies more for the privilege, children were never allowed in. Occasionally in the summer, Dad would relent and buy us a lemonade in the garden of the Mill or the Railway at lunchtime. This was a rare treat.

Mill Hill had a cinema. As no one had TV's this was the centre of the community. You would buy tickets and it didn't matter if the film had started, you'd watch it until the end, then stay for the next showing to see the bit you missed. For boys, action films were the order of the day. The childrens films were not like the fantasy we have today. They were gritty and seemed to push theme of resilience.  The Davy Crockett films, 20,000 Leagues under the sea and Robin Hood were all films that made a strong impression. We'd watch these, then fight each other in the playground the next day for the right to be Robin Hood or Davy Crockett in the playtime games. Mum's would give the kids a 'few bob' and we'd troop en masse down to the Broadway. It was truly blissful drinking a carton of lukewarm orange squash whilst watching a dodgy film in Black and White.

The other thing we loved was street games. Wherever you went in Mill Hill, there were groups of boys playing football in the street, on the greens, in the park. Then there were the go-karts. These would be made using wooden boxes and disused pram wheels. Races would take place and often these would end with a visit to Edgware General and a plaster cast on your arm or leg.

We would be fascinated by road works. The smell of hot tar was something we all loved. The red and white canvass tents that GPO workers would put over the inspection points were mysterious. I recall seeing a couple of engineers drinking tea in one during a thunderstorm on the way home from school. I thought that was the perfect job, being paid to sit in a tent and drink tea.

Being brought up as a Roman Catholic with a church going mum (Dad always had an excuse not to go), Church was a strange place. Masses were conducted by Irishmen in Latin. The smell of incense added a touch of drama. None of us really had a clue what was going on, we'd be itching to get out and play. Sea cadets and cadets provided some outlet and gave me a love of the outdoors that I retain to this day. Our Scout leader would organise camps in the woods. We even went to Scotland on a train! As we had no mobile phones, we'd walk out of the door with our bags, and that would be the last our parents saw or heard from us until we came back. On return mum would say "Did you have a nice time", I'd reply "It was great" full of excitement. She'd say "That's nice, you must want your supper" and that was that.
Sex education was non existent. Every so often, you'd hear that someones elder sister was 'in the club'. For most families, this was a matter of shame. For some, the sister would simply disappear for a few months then return. Dodgy excuses were made, but gossip would start. It was quite brutal. The fear was that these girls were somehow sullied and would not be able to find themselves a husband. Some of the more snobby families would not even let their children play with the offspring of such families, as if it would be contagious.
Mill Hill East was a white working class area at this time. The most exotic family was the offspring of a German Luftwaffe man, who settled in Mill Hill. As he had rather lovely daughters and was a nice chap, the family were generally well liked. Everyone knew everyone and everyone knew everyones business. Curtains would twitch. Old Ladies would gossip. The milkman would deliver the milk in bottles, often his cart would be the only vehicle on the road. Before the mini hit the streets, cars seemed to be lavish, with walnut interiors. When well off relatives visited, boys would gather round for a peek inside. Often they would beg to be taken for a little drive. Cars would have impressive metal badges, depicting whether the owner belonged to the RAC or AA. Cars at the time really were a luxury item, beyond the budgets of most. Boys dreamed of driving trains and owning cars.

It was rare for families to move away from the area. Council housing was cheap and good quality. The estates had gardens and the areas had a real sense of community. Burglaries and muggings were almost unheard of. There were jobs a plenty locally. Mill Hill had all manner of industries, many small, some big such as Laings and The UK Optical Company. There were a few local villains, that everyone knew were wrong 'uns, but they kept their activities well away from their own doorsteps. They would sometimes appear flush with money, buying all and sundry drinks, then disappear for a while. Some were well liked as they were colourful characters, full of stories. Some were people you'd seek to avoid.
It is easy to remember these times through rose tinted spectacles. There were many aspects that I don't miss. Homes would often be freezing in the morning. Medicine was far more primitive. People would die of TB (usually called consumption), polio and all manner of half forgotten diseases such as scarlet fever. On Sundays, there was nothing to do, everywhere seemed to be shut. Park keepers would tend the parks, but not let you on the grass. I had no expectation that I'd ever go on an airplane. I though the trip to Scotland would be the extent of my foreign travels, unless there was a war or I got a posting during National Service (which thankfully was abolished before I was at an age to do it). The food was bland and stodgy, although in truth we didn't mind because this was what we were used to. Things like being bought a comic were a rare treat. In the winter, we'd often have a trip to the library. I used to enjoy the children s section at Mill Hill Library, but disliked having to be still and quiet. I only realised after that mum would take us when it was cold and she was short of cash, so didn't want to waste coal.

These days, few of the friends I grew up with still live in Mill Hill. There seemed to be  waves when they disappeared. The first in the 1960's when some moved to Australia on the assisted passage scheme. When they came back, many years later, for nostalgic holidays, they would not have a good word to say about the area. Then there were a few who got jobs after school in other parts of London or other parts of the country. They would turn up from time to time to see family and would always have a little nostalgia for the old times. The really big change happened when Margaret Thatcher brought in the right to buy. The old estates gave the working class a chance to cash in and move out. Many bought their homes at a discount and then cashed in, moving to places such as Borehamwood and Essex. This changed the whole complexion of the the area. It only seemed to be the older generation who stayed, and when they passed away, the last links were severed. Many of the landmark businesses, such as Featherstone Garage on Bunns Lane were sold and turned into flats. The gasworks went, the Barracks went, more recently, the medical research went. St Josephs college was turned into luxury flats. The Mill Pub was redeveloped. Recently we lost our greengrocer on Holders Hill Roundabout, who sadly passed away. Many locals mourn the loss of the bike shop, but things change and at least you can get your hair and nails done (as my lady wife keeps telling me when I get too morose). Whereas the cafe's would make their cash on bacon butties and builders tea, served to men in overalls checking their watches, now it is cappuccinos and humus wraps for fragrant yummie mummies with time on their hands. I do wonder what the mummies did when we were little. I guess they talked over the garden fence as they hung out the washing?
An old friend visited recently, he asked if I still saw anyone I knew in Mill Hill. I joked "Dozens of people, especially when I visit the cemetery!". But that isn't really true. There are still plenty of the old faces around. The Mill Hill Services club carries on, a bastion of old Mill Hill. The brother of Roger, who writes the Barnet Eye, Laurie still has his welding business in Bunns Lane if you want to experience a real old school workshop. I often visit him to mend my old petrol lawn mower. Mill Hill School is unchanged by the passage of time and we have the Donkey Fields (which you may know as Arrendene), for a walk in the summer. Mill Hill is still a lovely place to live.
I met Roger on my daily walk on Saturday and he asked me to write a piece about how I've been coping with lockdown and what I am looking forward to. As you've probably guessed, I've been doing a lot of thinking about times gone by, people who've moved away, people who passed away. I hope you forgive me the nostalgia. As to what I am looking forward to, I am looking forward to a walk along the Ridgeway on Saturday for a pint in the Hammers and the Adam and Eve. I just wish that I could finish with a pint at The Royal Engineer (or the Railway Engineer as the younger generation may recall it). Nothing stays the same for ever, but I just hope that Mill Hill manages to retain its character as we pass through this period of change. People have said that this lockdown period is unlike any other. I'm not entirely sure that this is true for us old timers. There was more going on in the Broadway at the height of lockdown than there was on a Sunday night in Mill Hill for the whole of the 1940's, 50's and 60's. But then again, all of us old timers who remember that are a dying breed!

Richard Wilkinson is a long time Mill Hill resident. Guest blogs are always welcome.

Monday 29 June 2020

London’s Industrial Past by Mark Amies - A review

Over the last 12 years of the Barnet Eye Blog, I've got to know some rather remarkable people. Often they have seen a blog or a tweet and got in touch with a snippet of relevant information and things have developed from there. The vast majority I never actually get to meet, but some have become friends. One such person is Mark Amies, who has just written "London's Industrial Past", a book chronicling the history of London's factories. I got to know Mark through his campaigning to save the pubs of North West London from the clutches of bad owners and greedy developers. We have made several videos together, detailing the campaign to save The Railway Hotel in Edgware and more recently a historical piece on the history of Airco in Colindale, which was the largest aircraft factory in the world in 1918 (Airco and London's aircraft industry is one of the topics covered in the book).

Since I first got to know Mark, he has taken on the role of industrial historian for the Robert Elms show on BBC Radio London. Last year when we were filming a piece on The Railway Hotel, he informed me that he was working on a book concerning London's Industrial Past. I was pleased to learn he had found a publisher and that Robert Elms had agreed to write a forward. I told Mark that when it was finished and ready for publication, I would write a review. Last week Mark dropped me off a signed copy and I spent the weekend reading, and thoroughly enjoying it.

To  be honest I wasn't really sure what to expect before it arrived. I've heard Marks slots on the Robert Elms show and I knew that the book would be full of interesting photographs and snippets about the various subjects. What I didn't know was whether a book about a relatively 'dry' subject could be interesting enough to a reader with a casual interest in the subject. I was worried that it would be long lists of widget production in Mile End and discussions regarding the relative merits of square or triangular workshop space with regards to production efficiency. Not being a scholarly type, I would have found such a tome hard to get my head around.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the book was both accessible and interesting. I guess that like many people, I found the pictures and places that I was familiar with to be the most interesting subjects. The section on the former Whitbread Brewery on Chiswell Street was a good example. I worked on Chiswell Street for a couple of years and had walked past the site every day. To learn some of the back story and see some of the old pictures was for me fascinating, as were the sections on Airco in Colindale and Bentleys, Staples and Handley Page in Cricklewood. The book is a perfect companion to Marks slots on the Robert Elms show, if you have enjoyed these, I am sure you'll enjoy the book. Over the course of my lifetime, many of the factory sites have disappeared, some controversially, most notably the Firestone building. It is good to see that Mark has compiled this book, so that we at least have some reference to what we still have and what we've lost. Without such books and authors prepared to prepare such labours of love, this would all disappear and future generations would never really know about the heritage of their neighbourhoods.

I learned all manner of fascinating snippets of information. For instance I didn't know that Lesney took its name from the amalgamation of the names of the owners Leslie and Rodney Smith (no relation). The book does not go into great detail as it covers such a wide range of industries and factories. Many of the factories would warrant a book of their own, so I think Mark did a decent job of keeping consistency and focus. I think the book would make a very decent birthday or Christmas present for anyone with a passing interest in the history of our city. As Mark comments, he primarily hopes to spark people to find out more. I rather hope that the book does well enough to justify a second volume.

I believe the book is being published on the 14th July by Amberley. It will be available from all good book shops

Here is the short film we made about Airco in Colindale at the end of last year.

Sunday 28 June 2020

The Tweets of the week in the London Borough of Barnet - 28/6/2020

Another week closer to the end of lockdown, another week in the London Borough of Barnet. What has been tickling the fancy of our wonderful local tweeters?  Just think, next weeks issue may well be the first you read after a night out in the pub since March. I wonder if we'll see a reaction on Twitter?

1. We start with these brilliant and rather artful photographs of Mill Hill Broadway Bus station. It is polluted, smelly and unkempt, but as a long standing Mill Hillian, I love it. Mill Hill has many interesting bridges, but this is the first amongst them

2. And we also rather like this shot of Mill Hill East station. Did you know Mill Hill East was originally simply called Mill Hill Station?

3. This story caught my eye, as these buildings used to be Orange Hill School, where I finished my education. It is on Orange Hill Road in Edgware. Even when I was there between 1978 and 1981, the school was a bit run down, but the education was first class. I do hope that the school can overcome its problems. Whilst it is an old and ugly building, I have very fond memories of my time there.

4. For all our cyclist friends. There was an interesting debate about safe cycling on the A5. This post was interesting and informative

5. This is a very nice tweet from Hendon!

6.There were many nice tweets about the newly painted rail bridge in Cricklewood. This was my favourite! I have the utmost admiration for how the Cricklewood community have worked to transform their neighbourhood for the better

7. I rather enjoyed this tweet. Do you know what they are?

8. He's one of our own. Born in East Finchley. He even shares a birthday with my missus. Sadly missed (especially by the Missus who loved him). His Dad ran a very good steak house in Edgware to boot and he did voluntary work at a homeless daycentre where I volunteer, so I know first hand he was a worker as well as a superstar.

9. As regular readers will know, Mr Mark Amies is our local pub champion. We support his work. This is a sad couplet of tweets

10. Mill Hill has many links with some of the UK's greatest artists. But did you know Inmelda May used to sing in the choir at The Sacred Heart Church?

That's all folks!

Saturday 27 June 2020

The Saturday list #268 - ten reasons why you shouldn't tell children 'white lies'

If you are a parent, you must have been there. Your small child asks you something and the answer is a bit embarrassing, so you make up a little story. At some point in the future, sometimes many years after, the white lie comes back to bite you on the backside.

Last night, we had some friends around, and I recounted how one such white lie caused a friend of mine much embarrassment at Primary School. It got me thinking, was there enough material for a full list? I think there is.

Biog pics
My First Communion
 1. Inclusive Sex Education.
 Lets start with the memory that kicked the list off. Picture a class of nine year old children in 1972, in St Vincents RC school in Mill Hill. In those days, sex education for such children at RC establishments was non existent and sex was never spoken of at home. The first lesson about sex came in a most embarrassing way for a friend.

Sister Gabriel, the headmistress came into the class and announced that the Bishop was coming to the school. There was to be a special mass. Such events usually meant no lessons and possibly even a cup of warm orange squash. She announced that she was forming a small choir for the event and stated that she needed boys and girls who could sing in tune and at high pitch. One of my classmates, who's name I will not mention put his hand up. Sister Gabriel said "Yes, what is it". He proudly announced "I'm a homosexual!". Sister Gabriel immediately took him to her office. We were a naive bunch, no one knew what a homosexual was. We were all a bit bemused. He emerged later, without having been slippered. At playtime, a couple of us asked what it was all about. The previous night, his family had been watching Top of The Pops. David Bowie appeared singing Starman. My friends Dad, who was virulently homophobic had shouted "Why is there a homosexual on television". My friend asked his father what a homosexual was. His Dad, not wanting to explain said "It's a man who sings in a high pitched voice. I hate men who sing in high pitched voices". He'd explained this to Sister Gabriel, who as a veteran teacher, realised that Peter had not been given an accurate description. She sought to correct this and explained that Homosexuals were men who didn't like girls. As most of the boys at the school, were of an age where they were not interested in girls, many concluded they too were homosexuals. I told my elder sister of what happened. She took great delight in setting the record straight, as it were.  So don't tell your kids that words have incorrect meanings, if you want to spare their blushes.

2. Safety.
When my Daughter was about three years old, she started to take an interest in the pond at the bottom of the garden. As you know, ponds and small children don't mix. So I told her that my Father was buried under it and if she went near his ghost would get her.  This did the trick, and none of the children ever went near it again. When she was in her mid teens, her friends were visiting. One noticed the pond and went to have a look. My daughter said "Don't go near that, my Grandad is buried under it". I realised that she hadn't twigged that it was a white lie. Don't tell lies that could result in a visit from PC Plod (not that this happened), for the record my Dad is buried in Hendon Cemetary). 

3. The cupboard.
My elder brother asked me to baby sit for him once. His younger son was about three years old. I wanted to watch the telly, but he kept coming down and annoying me. Eventually, I took him to his room and said "Now go to bed, because its after 8.30 and the monster that lives in the cupboard wakes up at 8.30 and if you get up he'll eat you". That was the end of the interruption. A couple of days later, my sister in law rang my mum in a state of rage. The poor lad was scared out of his wits at the monster in the cupboard and was refusing to go in his bedroom. I was not flavour of the month. Don't try and quell childrens fears with stories of monsters.

4. Young ladies.
My friends Dad who was a homophobe was also a rabid anti semite. When we were about 14 we were looking at a copy of the NME and there was an attractive female singer on the cover. As you can imagine, this caused some comment, which was overheard by his father. His father grabbed the magazine, ripped it up and then told us that he wouldn't have pictures of Jewish women in the house. I was quite puzzled. He explained that all Jewish women had loose morals and would prey on innocent young Catholic lads, doing unspeakably rude things to them to make them lose their faith.  As I am sure you can imagine, the very worst way to stop teenage boys to taking an interest in a female is to say that they will do unspeakably rude things to them. Of all the lies we were told, this was the most counter productive. I was actually quite disappointed when I learned that it was not always entirely true. Never think that telling young boys that girls have loose morals will discourage interest.

5. Fleas.
Another one of my friends fathers lies concerned the late, great Marc Bolan. At St Vincents he was something of a hero. We would run around the bus stop singing Telegram Sam. My friend informed us that we shouldn't like Marc Bolan because he had fleas, his Dad had said this after a TOTP appearance. I found this to be a rather odd thing to say. So I asked my elder sister. She was very puzzled. She said "Marc Bolan is a pop star, when he goes on Top of the Pops, he has a special hairdresser who makes him up, he probably washes his hair more than any man alive". I think that this was the first time I realised that adults could talk complete nonsense. Don't make up outrageous porkies if you want to retain the trust of people.

6. The neighbours cat.
My Dad was an Aussie and virtually never lied, he'd always tell me things straight if I asked him. He took the view that world was a tough place. But three doors up the road was a family with two young, very sweet girls. Their Dad was a Headmaster, but a lovely chap. They got a cat. One day, the Head came down, very upset. The cat had been run over. He didn't want to upset his daughters. He asked my mum if he could put the cat in our dustbin, explaining that he'd tell the girls that cat had gone to live with a kindly old lady who was lonely. My mum being a kindly soul agreed. Sadly she did not tell my Dad. After dinner, he went to put the rubbish out. On opening the lid, he was greeted with the sight of a dead moggy. My Dad was raised on a farm and not sentimental about animals. He immediately picked it up, marched up the road and banged on the door. The two girls answered. My Dad exclaimed "Tell your Dad that someone run his cat over and put it in our dustbin". My mother went nuts at him when he came back, he couldn't understand what the fuss was about. The moral of this story is that even the best intentioned porkie can go horribly wrong.

7. The talentless child.
One of the saddest things I come across in my day job at the studio is the pushy parent with the talentless child. The trouble is that the parent often convinces the talentless child that they are specially gifted. This is usually fine, until it goes spectacularly wrong. There was one such poor soul, who at a young age, his parents decided was going to be the next superstar. They spent a fortune on singing lessons, drama classes, rehearsals, putting bands together that invariably lasted three rehearsals, until they realised that the poor child was completely useless. The charade continued until the first series of X Factor. The parents were desperate for their poor offspring to appear and pulled a few strings, called in a few favours and got their dream. Sadly, what they didn't realise is that the show would take great delight in humiliating the over confident and under talented mugs. There was much hilarity as the Emperors new clothes disappeared on National TV. There was however a happy ending. About a year later, the poor soul turned up at the studio. It turned out, he was actually a nice chap and was really embarrassed about the whole thing. He had however decided that he did want to make it in music, in his own way. He started drumming and was actually very good. He was also a very good songwriter and makes his living as a touring drummer and songwriter. He tells me that he realised he loved being on stage, but as he couldn't sing, the drums were just fine and he was far happier. The moral of this is that you should never let your love of your children mask the truth of their talents, unless you want nationwide ridicule./

8. The sixpence jar.
There is a sub genre of lies that really cause damage. This is the malicious elder sibling. My eldest Brother Laurie was the master of the evil lie when we were kids. He would take great pleasure in winding me up and getting me into trouble. Nothing made him more happy when this resulted in my getting a smack bottom from my Dad, who was very old school. What used to annoy me most, was that I'd always fall for his ruses. There are too many to list, but the lie that really hurt was the sixpence jar. My Brother told me that if we both put a sixpence a week in the jar, by Xmas we'd have enough for a Scalextrix set. After six months, I got a ladder, climbed up and went to count the sixpences, so I could work out how much we had. It was empty the thieving swine had spent it all on cigarettes. I was furious, everyone else thought it was funny. I waited until he had a hangover, and took my revenge by putting a cold flannel on his feet. Much as I love him, I've never forgiven him and never had a scalextrix set. I think the one lesson my brother learned was that if you continually wind up your younger siblings, sooner or later it comes back on you.

9. The Party.
Perhaps the worst of all humiliations is being the kid at school who doesn't get invited to parties. Parents will go to extraordinary lengths to try and ensure that when their kids put out the invites, those that are left out do not find out. Sadly there is another type of parent who takes great delight in stirring and if they find out that little Johnny isn't invited, then little Johnny will find out in the most embarrassing circumstances. There was one such parent that I came across. Their child was very popular but the parent was a real stirrer. As a result, childrens parties became very expensive, as the whole class had to come. One parent, who wanted to save a few pennies, decided to take a different tack and just tell the truth. "We are having a party and you child did not make the cut" would not go down too well in some quarters. So they said "there was only space for ten so we just pulled the names out of a hat, because it was fairer". Whilst this spared the feelings and those who didn't go probably guessed but didn't feel to left out, the parent who was a bit of a stirrer was not impressed. They grilled their child (who was going) and asked them to find out if it was true. The child having the party simply said "Yes I made sure mum invited all of my friends, we just didn't want to hurt anyones feelings". This was gleefully conveyed back to all and sundry. The moral of this story is that your kids won't tell porkies to spare your blushes. 

10. The Priest.
We will finish where we started. Back at St Vincents school. Back in 1972, the Parish Priest at Mill Hill was Fr Dennis Corkery. He used to visit the school every week and hold court with the children. He'd tell us stories of the good work done by Vincentian missionaries in Africa.  He told us how before the Vincentians arrived, Africa was full of savages who went around eating each other, but by the good work of the Church they were now all civilised and good Catholics. In fact they were now better Catholics than we were, as more priests were coming from Africa than Ireland. We all accepted this version of history without question. Africa had names such as the dark continent and I genuinely believed that the Church had saved the continent. Then when I got to around 14, I became aware of South Africa and Rhodesia and the injustice of Apartheid. The more I read about the British Empire, more I came to doubt that Africa had been saved. In 1974, my cousin had been ordained a Catholic Priest and spent his life working in Africa. I always held him in high esteem, but I realised that my education regarding Africa was one of pure lies. It totally undermined my faith in the Catholic Church for a very long time. I realised that like all organisations, the Church had some very good people in and some very bad people. What really stuck in my throat though was that I'd actually believed white people had saved Africa. Sadly the journey of finding out how big a lie that really is, is still a work in progress. Sadly Fr Corkery is responsible for me having very mixed feelings about the clergy. Ultimately, if you are a priest, be honest. 

Friday 26 June 2020

Beauty is in the eye of.....

It’s Friday. For me only two more days until the weekend(as a small business owner, Monday is my day off at the moment). No pub, no football (sure there’s that stuff on the telly but that isn’t football). But we are lucky. I just went for a walk around the garden. It started to rain. It was bliss! Even with the noise from the adjacent M1 Motorway

Whatever you do, have a happy and peaceful weekend. Just remember, there is beauty in everything, but sometimes you need to open your eyes and look

Thursday 25 June 2020

The 25th of June - The celebration that isn't happening

On the 14th April, my Aunt Audrey Shaw passed away from Covid19 aged 89. I marked this with a memorial blog. Today would have been Audrey's 90th Birthday. My Facebook page is full of messages from various family members posting messages of love for Audreys birthday. Saturday would have seen a party for Audrey (that wouldn't have happened as we follow the restrictions, unlike some people in Westminster). It is a very mixed day for me. It also happens to be my wife's birthday. As I write this in our studio reception (I am at work), she is out somewhere with her sisters, presumably drinking Prosecco and enjoying a picnic).

Every day, I walk past the house Audrey lived in for 35 odd years in Goodwyn Avenue, until moving to be near her daughters a couple of years ago. I miss her, I'd often nip in for a cuppa and a chat. She was lucky because she lived independently right up to the end, only spending the last couple of weeks in hospital, even then communicating via her iPad. I last spoke to her a week before she passed and before the infection had been diagnosed. She was in good spirits.

What troubles me is that in recent days, I've seen more and more tweets from the lunatic fringe of Twitter, claiming all manner of things. They seem to believe that Covid19 doesn't exist, that a vaccine for it is a bad thing, that the lockdown is all a giant conspiracy to turn us into slaves, that Boris Johnson is Pol Pot and Adolf Hitler rolled into one. I'm not a fan of Boris, but such nonsense helps no one. People who can't add up use made up statistics to back up nonsensical arguments.

It is at times like this that I most miss my Mother. My mother was fiercely intelligent and remembered the times before the NHS, being born in 1925. She remembered the times before vaccines, not least because she nearly died of diptheria in 1937, when there was a major outbreak in the UK. She spent six months in hospital.  Back in 1998, we had a party, to which my mother attended as well as a friend who had young children. The friend made the mistake of informing my mother that she was not going to 'let the doctors vaccinate her baby'. My mother delivered the most withering dressing down I've ever heard. She said "In 1954,my eldest son Laurie had Polio. He nearly died and still has a limp, would you really want to inflict that on your child? We've wiped out Polio in the UK because we are lucky enough to have a vaccine. Why would you expose anyone to that?" She then recounted the horrific experience she had in an isolation hospital aged 12, watching children arrive, grow weaker by the day, die and depart in a coffin. I've no idea whether my friend saw the light regarding vaccination, but she certainly avoided my mother like the plague after.

We are lucky to live in an age when we have the choice. London during the bubonic plague had no choice. There was no science, the vectors of transmission were not understood. Some people want to return to an age of unreason. They think that some bloke in America with a webcam, posting videos on Youtube, is more trustworthy than the chief medical officer of the UK, who has spent decades learning the science of his job. I have no doubt that these blokes sometimes cringe at what Boris and Dominic Cummings say and do, but they are public servants, I also get that they recognise that Boris is Prime Minister because he won a democratic election, so they have to work with him. I don't think they are always 100% onside with the decisions Boris takes, but I suspect that they recognise that his job at the moment is impossible, as no one knows all the variables in play.

The bottom line for me is that I want Boris to be right, because if he's wrong, there will be more misery. I want a working vaccine to be developed, because then we will all be safer. I trust the chief medical officer to tell us the truth and deliver a safe immunisation programme, because I don't believe such people are evil and part of a mass conspiracy to kill us all. As to the idea that Bill Gates is orchestrating a huge conspiracy to kill us all. My brother in law is a senior medic in the USA. He has spent his life saving people, of all colours, creeds and classes. Unlike me, he understands the science of this. If he tells me there is evidence of a mass conspiracy, I'd listen. He hasn't. It's a free country, you can choose to believe the bloke in his bedroom with a GCSE in general science, who as seen a video on Youtube that 'sets the record straight'. Personally, I'll stick to the people who have the qualifications and drink a glass of sherry to Audreys memory tonight.

Wednesday 24 June 2020

Gasping for breath in the post covid world

I am sure I was not the only person reading this who watched the Prime Minister's final press conference of the Covid19 lockdown era. For all of us, this was a period unlike any other in our lives. I lost an aunt, a friend lost a daughter and our studio lost a much loved customer to the disease. For those conspiracy theorists out there, who claim no one has died of the disease, please note that none of these passings were expected, although as we all know, only the Good Lord knows the hour of our death. All I know is that people who were fine at the start of the year are gone and they tested positive for the virus.

Things have gradually been easing up. Last Tuesday, we reopened our music studio business for limited solo practice sessions. Since then we've had around 50 customers pass through the door. In cash terms, this accounts for around 7% of our normal turnover, it is unsustainable to operate at this level in the long term but a necessary first step to get us back on track. We anticipate that things won't be anywhere near normal levels of business until at least September, but who knows. We have a plan in place to manage this situation. At this level of trade, the income pays the wages of the cleaner, and buys me a curry from the Mill Hill Tandoori to eat when I get home. Fortunately my excellent team are on furlough, so they can pay their bills. We did not reopen for the cash, we are doing it because musicians, especially drummers, need to play their instruments, make noise and be free from the distractions you get in your bedroom. We recognised that many need the opportunity to get out of their 'bubble' and it is clearly good for mental health to play in a studio. About half of the customers we've seen are professional musicians, who have had recordings and tours cancelled, who have had little or no income for three months. Some have taken advantage of the furlough scheme, some haven't. The fact that it only paid out for the self employed in June caused many a great amount of financial pain, not everyone has sympathetic Landlords. I spoke to one drummer, who spends his life touring the world, playing with some of the best known artists. He told me that he'd had to tap his parents up for cash, just to survive. This is a virtuoso on top of his game, someone who has appeared over 100 times on TV, played with some of the best know artists on the planet and someone, who in normal times, is able to pick and choose his jobs. As with many musicians, he had a busy autumn and winter, took off January and February and was just getting ready to commence a world tour in March, when lockdown hit. His expected earnings for 2020 went from very healthy to zero in the space of two weeks. The tour has been postponed to next year, but the mortgage payment, the electricity bills, the finance payment on the vehicle, the food bills, none of these have gone away.

On the day we opened, he booked two six hour sessions. We had a long chat. He had been stuck in his flat for the duration. His girlfriend and child live elsewhere in London. He hadn't seen them, except by Zoom for the first few week. His girlfriend was isolating with her elderly and ill parents. She was, quite rightly, unable to see him. He has an electronic kit, one which he played through headphones, but as any drummer will tell you, this is just not the same. At the end of the two day session, he said that "it has been the first time I felt human for three months".

There were a few similar stories from our customers. Perhaps the most heartbreaking is one who is a professional tour manager. Again, he's had no income. To add to the woes, his van was broken into. Clearly there was an attempt to steal it which was interrupted. Sadly the criminals did over £1,000 worth of damage, a huge sum when you have no money coming in. As far as I am concerned, people who take away a persons tools of the trade are scumbags of the worst kind. Doing it during a pandemic is even worse.

Another customer replied, when asked how they were coping said 'gasping for breath'. It will be interesting to see what happens when we emerge on the 4th. Will the pubs be packed, with queues around the corner? Or will we all be too scared to venture out. I contacted the singer in my band, to ask when he'd be ready for rehearsals. His response was that he felt the restrictions had been lifted far too soon. He isn't ready. I suspect that he won't be the only one.

People have asked me how I am? The truth is that it hasn't really affected my mental health greatly. Since 2011, I've been living with the monkey of cancer on my back.My big concern was the MRI scan I had in May. That was my main worry and once that was out of the way, I was able to relax a tad.

For the first month of lockdown, I was drinking too much and not doing anything apart from walking the dogs, cooking and sunbathing. Then I realised that I'd put on weight and I needed to pull my socks up. It was nothing but laziness and sloth. I wrote a blog stating that I was going to sort it out. I went back to my 3-4 days off alcohol a week, cutting out the snack and doing the 10,000 steps. My weight is now back under sixteen stone. I want to get it under fifteen, but that is a hill to climb. Getting the studios reopened has given me focus and recording our song of support for Black Lives Matter also gave me a boost

So now the studios are opening and sooner or later we will have live music back. I am itching to play. The False Dots last performed over six months ago on the 14th December. It is too long.

Tuesday 23 June 2020

Lifting the lockdown - Where is the action to support live music and theatres?

A Statement from the Save London Music Campaign regarding the partial lifting of lockdown.

Last week, in anticipation of todays announcement, the Save London Music Campaign asked for assistance for live music, theatres and other arts venues. Specifically the campaign asked for the following measures.

We are specifically asking for the following support.
1. Emergency grants to be made available for all venues who are threatened with closure. These should be based on the ongoing expenses that venues face, such as non furloughed staff, rent, rates (where applicable), utilities costs, insurance and additional costs associated with limited reopening (ie assistance with costs of sanitisers, etc). We would like to see bounceback loans covered by grants, so the industry is not weighed down with debt.
2. A government guarantee to make good the income lost from limited reopenings (ie the government buying seats to remain empty), and other innovative ways to help the industry, such as sponsorship of performances.
3. A review of parking restrictions etc around venues at show times. Specifically in London, the congestion charge extension will be very bad for musicians, concert goers and support staff. All such staff should be able to apply for an exemption.
4. Infrastructure grants for venues to improve accessibility. Whilst many venues may not be able to reopen, it is a great opportunity to do necessary improvement works. This will mean that when the economy is fully reopened, the UK will have an even more attractive offering.
The campaign wrote to the Prime Minister asking for these to be considered. The campaign recognises that there are real physical constraints on opening venues, where people would be crammed together in close proximity. Given the huge sums spent on the furlough scheme, small business grants, etc, the sums would be trivial and would ensure that the UK emerged from the crisis with an intact live entertainment industry.

For instance, theatres in the West End do not only support the livelihoods of staff and actors immediately associated with the venue. Restaurants, pubs, shops and many other businesses take advantage of the trade brought to the area. If you lose the theatres, then the whole sector will be depressed. Surely it makes far more sense to keep the venues open, the staff in work and out of unemployment?

There are few businesses which define an area in the way live music and theatres do. Areas such as Soho and Camden have become world famous for their arts scene. On a more local level, live music keeps pubs and other venues going. We understand why there is a lockdown and why such venues will be among the last to open up, but we can't understand why the Government has not put together a plan to save this highly important sector of the economy.

The bottom line is that no one travels to Soho or Camden for the weather. They come to London and our venues because they can see world beating entertainment. Take that away and when lockdown eventually fully lifts, there will be no reason for anyone to visit just to look at empty, boarded up buildings. That is why we need action now.

Monday 22 June 2020

Open Letter to the Leader of Barnet Council regarding the failure of the Cambridge Education Outsourcing contract

Last night I learned of the failure of the outsourcing contract between Barnet Council and Cambridge Education, which leaves school children in Barnet exposed as a key provider of Educational Services has left the council in the lurch at a time of crisis. 

This is how Barnet announced the outsourcing two years ago.

We are lead to believe that at a secret session of the Policy and Resources committee on Thursday night, where the public were excluded from the session, the committee were informed of the problems. There was meant to be a public statement on Friday but this has not materialised.

As a result we are seeking urgent clarification of the situation. We sent this urgent email to the men in charge last night, we will keep the people of Barnet informed of any response.

Dear Councillors

Today I learned that Cambridge Education have unilaterally pulled out of their deal with Barnet Council to provide educational services. 

I am sure that at this time, you will agree that the number one priority for Barnet Schools must be stability and a focus on bringing schools back on line in a safe and ordered fashion. Please can you answer the following questions.

1. As an in house solution would be the most low risk approach at this time, will this be your preferred solution?

2. As the private sector has let Barnet Council down at a time when the council most needed the support of its suppliers, will you be reviewing your strategy for outsourcing?

3. Please can you confirm that the council does not intend to get distracted by a lengthy procurement process, when the focus should be on the safety of children and school staff.

4. Please can you confirm that you recognise that Barnet Council will not be in a good position to negotiate a deal from a position of strength for the replacement of the Cambridge Education contract, as this will have to be concluded quickly to be in place for September.

5. Please can you confirm that a due diligence review will be conducted of the process that awarded Cambridge Education the contract, as this has clearly exposed Barnet Council, school children in Barnet and staff to risk, as focus is now on issues other than getting schools up and running safely.

It is essential that we put ideological differences aside at this time and work for a solution that puts our children first. Outsourcing this service has clearly failed and the absolute top priority should be to keep the show on the road.

Roger Tichborne

Sunday 21 June 2020

Fathers Day 2020

I guess like many people, I've been a lot more reflective about many things this year. I've spent a lot of time sorting old papers, looking through old pictures etc. So Fathers day has been one when I've thought about my father a lot more than I normally would. I have much to be grateful to him for. Mill Hill Music Complex would not exist if my Dad hadn’t said to me, back in 1979, you can use the derelict caretakers cottage at Bunns Lane Works to rehearse with your band if you give me a fiver a week. I was lucky to have a Father who was a successful businessman and always encouraged me, despite hating the punk rock music I played.

He also taught me the value of humility and giving everyone a chance. He told me that when he was in the RAF flying bombers in WWII he realised that what you needed was the best people around you, regardless of their colour, creed or background. You wanted people who would have your back. I don't think I fully appreciated what he meant until long after he had passed away in 1987.

He also taught me to value our time on earth. He would say of money "you can't take it with you when you are gone". His view was that you paid your bills and what was left, you had fun with. This used to drive my mother mad, who had more frugal instincts. He would buy her expensive presents and get told off, my mother would say "I could have got that at half the price in Burnt Oak". He would just smile and told me the one way to lose a woman was to get her stuff for half the price in Burnt Oak.

My Dad also taught me the value of charm. He'd say always be nice, even when you want to rip someones head off. I don't always meet this aspiration, but I do try.  His view was that you had to keep things in balance. Although a devout Roman Catholic, perhaps the person with the strongest faith I've ever met, he wasn't a Holy Joe. He hated hypocrisy, I think that the scandals that have befallen the church in recent years would break his heart. He also had a strong belief in Karma and that if you let things be, people would get their just deserts in the end. I often still feel his voice guiding me in times of crisis. Often that has been what has got me through.

Here's a little video I made a few years ago taken from our picture collection

#happyfathersday Dad, wherever you are now!

The Tweets of the week in the London Borough of Barnet 21.6.2020

Reality edges ever closer as lockdown is lifted. This week we had the return (sort of) of the thrills and spills of Premiership football. But what has been tickling the fancy of our local Twits? Here is our selection of the best of them.

1. My tweet of the week from one of my favourite accounts. Note with interest that this account needs ten more followers to hit 2,000. If you aren't following it, I'd suggest you do. It's been running for just over a year and the fact it has picked up so many followers shows just what happens when you publish interesting information.

2. Who knew that Brent Cross shopping centre used to be so interesting!

3. Another of our favourite accounts is the Mill Hill Historical Society. This clip is quite nostalgic for me. I had a girlfriend who lived down the road from Mad Johns wife in Broadfields. I recall the dog.

4. Samuel Levy is another favourite. For those of us who spend our time walking the local nature reserve areas, this is a lovely bit of filming. I always enjoy seeing these

5. This is a nice tweet. Will have to nip over to East Finchley to check this out

6. We like a good photo and this is a great photo!

7. Funny to think that when this was taken, this was the height of modernity! Nice pic

8. Good to see people who care

9. Our historical tweet of the week.

10. A sentiment I think we all share

That's all folks

Saturday 20 June 2020

The Saturday List #267 - My ten favourite local pictures from my Flickr collection

One of my great pleasures in life is to walk around snapping pictures and posting them on Twitter, Instagram and Flickr. I make no claim to be David Bailey, but I enjoy this particular hobby. I've been looking through the collection during the week and I thought I'd post my top ten pictures taken in and around Mill Hill and the Borough of Barnet.

10. Mr Graham Ramsey, drummer of the False Dots at Mill Hill Music Complex. This picture gives a small clue of just how much fun we have in our rock and roll band.


9. Christmas at St Michaels Church, Mill Hill. A pretty church with a pretty Xmas tree. I was very pleased with this snap.

Mill Hill Scenes

8. Bunns Lane Welding workshop. I was raised around the car industry and workshops. This is my brothers business. He started the same year as I started Mill Hill Music Complex. Originally we were going to start it together, but he decided his brother in law was less hard work, so employed him instead!

Mill Hill Scenes

7. The crucified Christ at the Sacred Heart. I love the contrast between the serenity of the statues and the bustle of the Broadway.
Mill Hill Scenes

6. This is an old picture taken the day after the hurricane of '87. I took many pictures, but this is perhaps my favourite

Mill Hill Scenes

5. At Mill Hill Music Complex, we get many musicians with rather cool cars. This is one of my favourite!

Bunns Lane Works collection

4. This picture is of The False Dots playing at The Grahame Park Festival in 1986. A bit blurry, but I think that adds to the ambience. My sister took this. I'm the one in the white suit with the black guitar. It is always nice to see pictures of our dearly missed bassplayer, Paul Hircombe.

Grahame Park Festival 1986

3. The Orange Tree. I always like a pub with a pond, and there are few prettier than the orange tree. I was very happy with this pic.
Totteridge walk 21.05.20

2. This is a real favourite. The disused barn on the Darlands trail. I love the colourful graffiti

1. This is my favourite. My mum with my elder twin brothers at my cousins wedding in 1962 at The Sacred Heart. I didn't take this but I do love it. Love the view of H.Norman Davis and Home Linens in the background

Mill Hill Scenes

That's all folks!

Powers cut in Mill Hill

There was a power cut in Mill Hill this morning. Power seems to have been restored

More details here https://www.ukpowernetworks.co.uk/power-cut/map?incidentid=INCD-164790-

Friday 19 June 2020

The Friday Joke - Football is back! The worlds greatest Football fan joke

Football is back! But not as we know it Jim!

For me football is about the crowd, the shared experience, the joy of a tasteless burger before, a pint at half time and a beer with your mates after. Being a City fan, I enjoyed the team performance on Wednesday, but it somehow didn't feel right. I tried the options with and without the phoney crowd noise, settled on without. It is only fitting that the we mark the best bit with a tribute to the people who really matter, the fans. Here is what I think is the best ever fan joke.

Two old men were holding up the queue outside the turnstyle before the game, while one of them hunted for his ticket. He looked in his coat pockets and his waistcoat pockets and his trouser pockets, all to no avail...
“Hang on a minute...,” said the gateman, “...what's that in your mouth?”
“It's the missing ticket!”
As they moved inside his mate said...
“Crikey, Cyril! You must be getting senile in your old age. Fancy having your ticket in your mouth and forgetting about it!”
“'I'm not that stupid...,” said old Cyril, “...I was chewing last week's date off it.”

Have a great weekend!

Thursday 18 June 2020

The Mill Hill Neighbourhood Forum withdraws its application for redesignation from Barnet Council

This morning, I was notified by Barnet Council that the committee of the Mill Hill Neighbourhood forum has withdrawn its application for designation to produce a neighbourhood plan for the area. The application for designation had been scheduled to be discussed at a forthcoming meeting of the Barnet Council planning committee. The Barnet Eye, as the oldest and most read blog covering Mill Hill has taken a keen interest in the application as well as the work of the previous committee. The forum lost its designation last year, having failed to produce a neighbourhood plan during the five years of its previous tenure and having lost the support of locally elected councillors in both Hale and Mill Hill ward.

When the previous forum was originally constituted, the Barnet Eye were staunch supporters, we helped the forum organise events in the Broadway and the small square by Boots, as well as attending and giving feedback at the regular meetings. Unfortunately, there were some disagreements regarding safeguarding issues, which ultimately lead to us stepping back from both the committee and the organisation of events. As a business which hosts organisations such as Ballet schools, we have to be seen to put safeguarding at the forefront of what we do and stepped back when we found we were not entirely comfortable with the safeguarding processes the MHNF had put in place.

We do not wish to dwell on the past or rake over these old arguments. Barnet Council gave feedback that the new MHNF plan submitted was not suitable as the committee was unrepresentative of Mill Hill. The Barnet Eye agrees with this and this was a major part of our feedback.To put this in context, as a member of the Sacred Heart Church in Mill Hill, all of the main Church committees call on all parts of our community and are stronger for this. I know just how many communities we have in Mill Hill and how diverse they all are. A neighbourhood plan needs to represent the people who live in the neighbourhood, not just a small clique. For me the fact that there were several couples on the committee and it only needed two of these to agree, to theoretically make policy for the whole of Mill Hill, was a fatal structural defect.

It is perhaps ironic given the comments of the council officers that the MHNF needed to be more diverse, that the local Conservative Councillors in Mill Hill and The Hale, the two areas covered by the Forum, are amongst the most diverse set of ward councillors in Barnet. Hale boasts a Nepali Hindu, a Muslim and a Jewish Councillor. Mill Hill ward also boasts a councillor from a recognised minority. My view is that an organisation such as the MHNF should have representatives of all of the other major organisations in Mill Hill and also hold regular public meetings to discuss and update the population on the progress of the plans.

There was also some criticism that the previous MHNF tried to do too much. I personally do not subscribe to this view (although this was the view held by the Council). I actually thought that the markets and events organised by the Forum did a lot of good for Mill Hill and helped make people aware of the work of the forum. Where the MHNF went wrong was in not having a sub committee working solely on the plan and reporting back regularly to the committee and the general public (via the committee), with a separate subcomittee working on events and regeneration. The other activities should not have been a distraction, but clearly were. In hindsight, the old MHNF should have put structures and segregation into place to ensure that the preparation of plan was segregated from other activities.

There were some good people on the committee who put some sterling work into getting the plan together. I sincerely hope this work can be put to good use and is not simply disgarded.

I would suggest that if you are interested you read the council papers here -

I personally hope that Mill Hill can get its act together and get a committee constituted to pull together a local plan. If this is broadly based, takes safeguarding concerns seriously and properly constituted, it will have our support. I think it is better if the people running this are not aligned to political parties and are fiercly independent of them. That is why I will not be joining any new committee.