On the way up to Northwick Park hospital on Friday, we passed through Kenton. As the rest of Brent North has become tougher and more workaday. Kenton has retained a tidy “my pink half of the drainpipe” quality where people are well off enough to keep keeping up appearances, keep their houses fixed and front drives clear for shiny cars that all conspire to keep the property prices up. Passing so many handsome detached houses, its still possible to image them populated by the sort of Tory granddames immortalised in Betjeman’s Metroland film (1973); all hatchet faces and horrible hats. Kenton is the one ward that has consistently retained three Conservative Councillors when the Party has been all but wiped out in the rest of the borough since 2010.
One sign of change is that the old Kenton Conservative Club, Churchill Hall, a hideous prefab mausoleum painted 8th Army orange – the venue for generations of young Conservatives to bond over games of ping ping, tea dances and pints of bitter (and twisted) – has been demolished; even as a wave of communalism among better off members of the local Gujerati community gives them an revival of a kind, incorporating “favoured” ethnic minorities in the way the Empire always did, and Anthropology Departments set up to theorise, but now as an aspect of domestic politics creating a kind of equal opportunities xenophobia. Suella Braverman, after all, grew up in Harrow and Wembley.
Going in to A&E in Northwick Park is always a bit daunting. Hearing a radio report recently about how many hospitals were now beginning to slip below the 4 hour limit for dealing with new arrivals, it struck me that 4 hours would have been a fast turnaround for our most recent visits. The staff are always lovely when they get to you, incredibly overworked and kind, the pressure they are under almost unbearable. In a last flicker of COVID precautions, masks now being worn by a minority, I am not allowed in with my daughter.
Walking up the corridor, I am passed by two medics of visibly different grades animatedly discussing ballots; giving a sense that the NHS staff are engaging in a mass collective struggle to save it and make ends meet.
An elderly woman being pushed, backwards, in a wheelchair, clutches a bottle of Lucozade – the convalescent strategies of the 1950s still alive and well it seems.
A bloke walking and talking on a mobile mutters “You don’t understand. You can’t eat an orange in one go”.
In another legacy of Covid precautions the Costa uses paper cups, but the harassed Barista trying desperately to work her way through a queue that keeps growing is too preoccupied to engage in a discussion about it.
The woman selling hand made jewellery along the back of the Costa tells me that the bright, glittery crystal hearts are very popular. Not surprising. They are shaped like love and look like hope. Not medicine, but what you’d want from it.
Waiting over in A&E, my daughter reports that the “Mission Impossible” theme has just been played, raising a few smiles around her. Reminds me of a physio appointment I once had during which the music in the background suddenly launched into the Volga boatman’s song – “Yo-Oh – HEAVE Ho”. I asked the Physiotherapist if it was a departmental theme tune.
Outside the main entrance to the hospital, someone has chained up this extraordinary small motorbike. A retro version of the electric bikes that are becoming more common, and alongside one of them. What the future looks like for petrol heads?
On Saturday, with S properly medicated and beginning to recover, I am sent in search of a wood yard with cutting facilities, which takes me deep into the Harrow part of Kenton to a dour and no nonsense establishment full of shiny drill bits lined up in order of girth, saw blades ordered by type and size, nuts, bolts, DIY power tools, some covered in dust to show that life is too short for cosmetic cleansing and a long counter, staffed shoulder to shoulder with serious looking men trying to keep warm in black fleece hoodies. While I am waiting for the 2 cuts on S’s plank of MDF that the colossal B&Q in Cricklewood couldn’t handle – “the cutting’s not available” – a bloke buying a lot of timber tries to get a bit of edging thrown in for free as a sweetener. He hits a brick wall. “Yes, but you’ll have to pay for that”. He tries to haggle a bit, but knows its a lost cause. The spirit of Mr Flint is alive and well in HA3. This is also apparent when I get my two cuts at £1 a cut. The bloke in charge of keeping tabs on orders hand writes a receipt for £2, writes PAID on it and circles it, handing it to me with an understated but definite flourish.
Walking back towards Honeypot Lane, one of the more hopeful sounding local thoroughfares, I realise that I have been to this area before. In the run up to the December 2019 General Election there was a mass canvas of these streets. A big detachment of the huge urban militia that Labour was able to field at the time spread out across the stony ground of these neat little bungalows seeking to squeeze a bit of red blood out of Tory stones by trying to drive more hope than an aging local electorate could cope with. This bit of suburbia clings on to Major’s conception of it.
I walk past the bungalow with the stone lions on every buttress where the elderly gentleman I spoke to barked at me “Do I LOOK like a Labour voter?” I said that we came in all, shapes and sizes, but it was downhill all the way from there. Actually, he looked a bit like me. Old, white, bald. But he didn’t feel like a Labour voter; and I expect still wouldn’t, however many Union Jacks the leadership stands behind them.