Saturday, October 28, 2006

"Puzzling and Depressing"

Like Orwell's George Bowling rerurning to Binfield, grammar school boy made good Jim Crace returns to Enfield.

There are no longer any pollution-friendly trolley buses, regrettably. The three enticingly named cinemas – the Florida, Rialto and Savoy - shut down long ago. Most of the traditional single, family shops have become outposts of the multinationals, in an unbroken line from McDonalds to HMV. What was Scroggies, an amiably cluttered shoe shop owned and managed by our neighbour in Adelaide Close, is now a Starbucks.

The cable factory and the Rolling Mills have closed. So have the gas, the soap and the glue works, and big employers such as Pickfords, Ripaults, Ruberoids, Edisons and Bellings, all evocative names from my childhood and from industrial history, have either shut entirely or down-sized. These were where our neighbours cycled to each morning, in their working suits with their white-bread lunches balanced on their handlebars. These were where you used to have a job for life, from apprenticeship to gold watch.

No longer. Jobs in manufacturing in Enfield have fallen more than 70% since the end of the 1960s, and they are still falling. There were about 30,000 production workers there in 1991. By the time of the 2001 census that had dropped to less than 19,000 (while white-collar occupations increased by 80% and students over the age of eighteen by 98% in the same period. So much for industry.) Now instead there are monotonous landscapes full of portentously named retail parks (de Mandeville Gate!) and aspirational housing estates styled in every architectural vernacular except the local.

What was the Royal Ordnance factory at Enfield Lock on the River Lea, famous for its small arms and motorcycles, is now Island Village with little more than its new-minted street names such as Gunners Drive to remind inhabitants that this had been since 1916 an important place of work for thousands of skilled “lockies”. Very little that is gritty has remained. That has its benefits, of course: cleaner jobs and cleaner air, an improved skyline, smarter homes with “amenities”. Even the toughest streets, once mean, dirty and too dangerous for an undersized boy like me, have been spruced up and are in good heart. But as with everything worth having, something old worth preserving has been sacrificed, most notably the certainty there used to be on these productive streets that despite its dullness Enfield was contributing to “the universe of things”. What could be more essential or more dignified than Manufacturing ?

So far, so Orwell - although I doubt he foresaw the industrial disaster. Any other changes ?

And the faces seem less exclusively white, (in the 2001 census more than 18% of Enfield’s 275,000 population, classed themselves as black or Asian) though compared to my chosen home, the Commonwealth city of Birmingham, my birth town, certainly the western side of it, seems hardly multicultural, despite an increase in British Cypriots and the recent influx of young Poles, serving in the plethora of new bistros and hotels. That makes all the unsolicited anti-immigrant comments offered to me by complete strangers, mistaking my white face for a badge of shared prejudice, all the more puzzling and depressing.

Why, it's hardly multicultural at all ! Compared to ?

The centre of Birmingham, where I have lived now for 32 years, has been in a constant flux of adaptation and experiment ever since my student days there in the mid-Sixties, replacing ancient blemishes with exciting new ones almost by the month. For Enfield to have remained so unchanged – so unspoiled, in fact - suggests complacency.

What is wrong with these people ?

I only encounter one other walker, with his dogs: predictably he tells me that Enfield is going to pot – “too many foreigners” - and that he is fleeing to Devon.

Mr Crace is a renowned author with a hatful of literary prizes under his belt. Yet he just can't understand his fellow Britons. He is, to give him his due, a guy who walks it like he talks it, having raised his children in Brum's Left Bank, Moseley. I imagine (his site is sparse on family biography) they grew up quite some time ago. I wonder if he'd raise children there now ?

In totally unconnected news :

Rush-hour chaos after stabbings

Sep 28 2006

By Neil Elkes And Lisa Smith

TWO men were fighting for their lives today after a running knife battle between rival gangs in Birmingham city centre at the peak of the rush-hour.

Dozens of stunned shoppers and commuters looked on in horror as the bloody battle unfolded yesterday afternoon.

Witnesses said the fight erupted between a group of Asian youths and a black, possibly Somalian, gang.

The incident began when a man was stabbed in the neck on Priory Square Queensway, outside the Argos store at about 4.30pm.

Seconds later a nine-strong gang marauded along the road past shoppers before another man was stabbed in the stomach, back and legs in Moor Street Queensway.

West Midlands Ambulance Service said a 24-year-old was taken to Heartlands Hospital and a 20-year-old to City Hospital for emergency treatment.

Both were seriously wounded. One remained in a critical but stable condition today and the other was stable.

Police road closures after the stabbings and an unrelated car crash quickly brought the city centre to a standstill. Two teenagers were arrested a short time after the incident.

A youth of 16 was held on suspicion of violent disorder and the 18-year-old on suspicion of wounding and both remained in custody today helping police with their inquiries. Witnesses to the first attack told how the gangs scuffled outside Argos. A teenage girl, who did not want to be named,

told how she saw a knife plunged into the man's neck. She said: "A black guy ran past, there was a group of about eight or nine following and someone just stabbed him.

"There was blood and people were screaming. We just ran away," she said.

Another said: "I suddenly saw a man fall back holding his neck. I knew straight away he had been stabbed."

Security guard Derek DJ Harze, aged 39, said: "There were two gangs involved, one of Asian youths and one of Somalians. It seemed an age before the police came, but the man was whisked off to hospital in an ambulance. "He was in a bad way," he added. The gangs chased each other into Moor Street where the second stabbing happened.

Mr Harze added: "It came over our alarm system that an Asian youth had been stabbed at a bus stop in Moor Street. He had been stabbed quite a few times."

Police used the city centre CCTV system to track the gangs' progress and arrested the 18-year-old.

They cordoned off and closed both roads for forensic examination. A tent was put up in Priory Square. Moor Street was reopened later yesterday evening.


Anonymous said...

Moor Street, some sort of irony lurking in there.

Dave said...

TotLad has some awkward stories linked as well.

"racist GP rammed her 4x4 car into a mother-to-be", "all you white people are the same you all vote for Tony Blair"

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Gee Laban, stabbing someone in the neck and having a running street battle is just youthful high jinks, no different from the scrumping for apples we used to do when I was a lad.

Or its some sort of cultural thing for them (gestures vaguely)...I think I saw it on a TV programme once...marvellous what TV brings us now...when we used to have to send a TV crew out to film these savages in the wild, now they do it on our very own doorstep, much more efficient.

Anonymous said...


Funny how the BBC article is very coy about the racism bit of the incident - normally they would blaze the word racist all over the article without scare quotes. I can't think why they haven't done it here, surely it can't be because the perpetrator is from an ethnic minority.

Funny also that they refuse to report the most important part of the attacker's quote, the one which suggests very loudly indeed that the attack was racially motivated:

"all you white people are the same you all vote for Tony Blair"

Again, strange that the BBC would miss that out. Instead the BBC merely reported that she yelled "you are Tony Blair's bitch" which makes it sound like some sort of harlmess cat fight.

The BBC - deciding what you do and don't need to know and being blatantly discriminatory in their reporting of racist attacks, sorry "racist" attacks.

Anonymous said...

I miss my Lee Enfield........they had some really nice rifles including a short Jungle Enfield.......

Laban said...

No posts by the way until Blogger gets fixed - I can save posts but not publish

Anonymous said...

Jim Crace has an odd aesthetic sense. Demographic transformation: good. Architectural experimentation: bad.

Every architectural vernacular except the local, indeed.

Praguetory said...

Let's be honest. It's the ex-warzone Somalians who are the problem. A friend who works in Birmingham inner city primary schools predicts full-scale riots between Somalians and Asians in 5 years.

Also, a police report into organised crimes has been suppressed because of the uncomfortable finding that it is dominated by Somalians. I was in Birmingham centre by day for the first time in a while. Overnight it seems young gangs of Somalians are everywhere, throwing full cans of pop of railings at pedestrians and generally enjoying themselves. These young bucks' educational achievement makes all other groups look stellar. I expect trouble.

By the way you can bring kids up in Moseley, well. Many of the primary schools that discriminate have 100% success in exams.