A joy of leafleting is the view that takes you by surprise no matter how many times you’ve seen it. When you turn round to gaze to the far horizons from the winding steps to the top flat on Rochester Court – one of Ernest Trowbridge’s medieval tribute buildings, just up from his more famous Castle flats next door (1) and almost cresting one of the tallest hills in North West London, you get a real king of the castle moment – with the last suburbs with their pink roofs and tree lined avenues dreaming boskily out all the way to Stanmore and Harrow on the Hill – with its church spire slenderly slicing skywards in the pale sunshine. The anticipation does not lessen the breathtaking shock of all that air and all that light and all that space.
There are other moments of uplift. Solar panels on a roof. Electric charge points beginning to appear. New infill council housing on older estates – good, solid, affordable buildings. Proper homes.
Moments of doubt. Approaching a house with a builders van outside advertising loft conversions and noticing the missing letterbox and peeling plaster and wondering about their workmanship. Putting through a leaflet with a “tough on crime – tough on the causes of crime” message to a house with a stack of worse for wear mopeds outside and wondering if the people who ride them might vote Tory to keep the cuts in place.
A newly built estate has all its letterboxes in rows by the doors. This is a joy at first. The letterboxes are wide enough to get an A4 leaflet in sideways and they go in smoothly and easily. No narrow, over sprung flaps or draught excluding brushes that are like an embodiment of bloody mindedness. It also saves a lot of wear on knees going up and down stairs. It speeds things up. But all you see is the letterboxes. Inside flats there are individual clutters that give clues to human life. A child’s bike or clutter of toys. A sticker on a front door with a reflective Arabic script or a “Jesus is Lord” or a Hindu Swatika by the threshold. An occasional potted plant. Walking helps thought. Standing in front of a wall of letterboxes posting in leaflets is like working on a factory production line. Adam Smith’s division of labour coming home to roost in one simple action repeated endlessly. Efficient but tedious. No ambient stimulus. The new estate is eerily quiet. Even the people slipping in and out of doors seem to be doing it surreptitiously. The lovely new paving stones are cracked and mashed on one corner, where someone has driven over them in a heavy van to save a second or two in driving time. The slabs seem to have been made of two parts cement to three parts meringue.
(1) Graced as they were by John Betjemen holding forth from the roof in his 1973 documentary Metroland (://www.dailymotion.com/video/x5i3sp7 ) and a fleeting appearance in the middle of Madness’s “Our House” video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rXuvdeEC5y8)