Park and Street Life ’22.

On the blasted tree in the middle of Kingsbury Mall roundabout, a grim posse of brooding pigeons stare down, playing at being vultures.

In the Park in the drizzle, a young black woman from the Charismatic Evangelical Church on Princes Avenue is singing into her phone while shimmying along the path by the High School, wearing a striking magenta dress that is a celebration of life; and would therefore be considered suspect in staider denominations. Very gospel. Hands and eyes looking up to heaven, hips swaying, open lunged and full throated. Religious high. Looks more fun than the C of E.

A new Oak sapling has been planted near the kids playground. A plaque identifies it as being part of the Jubilee Green Canopy and to have been donated by the Jewish Refugee Council in memory of the refugees allowed in from Nazi Germany. This is in the same weekend that all the commentators on The World In Westminster on Sunday night congratulated themselves on how comfortably diverse we have become, the Queen took tea with Paddington Bear (a refugee who somehow managed not to be held in a detention centre by “Border Security”) and the flights to Rwanda for refugees from other countries were postponed to the following week. So, we have become symbolically accepting of diversity, while taking ever stronger measures to stop it increasing; our border policy now as enlightened and deserving of a pat on the back as Australia’s. How Priti Patel and her ilk could look at a tree like that without a flicker of conscience is beyond me. No self awareness, some people. And no one should comfort themselves that the UK had a better record in the 1930s; with anti Jewish refugee campaigns in the Daily Mail and such just as virulent as their campaigns today. Many thousands were kept out, and died as a result. The tree, nevertheless, looks hopeful. As trees tend to do. They take root. They grow. They provide peace and shade.

We have very broad pavements in the High Street, and happily the upgrade from TFL money in the last couple of years managed to keep the cars confined to a narrow stream in the middle; though they missed the trick of paving over the entrances to side roads with distinctive surfaces so they force cars to slow down and give pedestrians priority. The saplings put in at the time are beginning to have healthy crowns, so in a few years, if we get through them, the High Street will look positively bosky. Just down from Bombay Spice a temporary open seating arrangement has been put in for the Summer – and just in time for four successive days of heavy rain. Seemingly modelled on the pop up parks that are used to take over parking spaces in low traffic neighbourhoods – clawing back more space for people from the dominance of the motor vehicle – or sometimes outside Shisha bars – it is made of narrow removable wooden flower beds arranged in a rectangle with seating around the inside. It has already been colonised by the old Gujerati guys who previously gathered in circles outside the library to put the world to rights. A few more of these and we’d have a very different vibe along the street. The opposite of the seating in malls that is deliberately made uncomfortable so shoppers get on with their shopping quicker.

The earthwork mounds the Council dug up along the Kingsbury Road side of the Park that looked so ugly last year, like an unfinished building project with no purpose, are now covered in an uplifting rush of poppies and other wild flowers that proclaim life in a wild riot of colour and shapes waving in the breeze as the buses swoosh past.

In the Early Afternoon Twilight…

Signs of seasonal change in the Park as two green tractors, heavy as tanks, make a getaway to the road after slicing down the remaining wildflower blooms in the bee meadows; leaving a dull neatness with a few surviving magenta blooms still glowing beside their tyre marks – delicate survivors.

There is a more pensive air even than last week – when the heavy rains made the footpaths run like creeks, the fresh fall of acorns crunched underfoot in the golden oak tree mulch and the last big socially distanced excercise group spread in a wide circle doing side push ups in the mud, rivulets of rain running down their cagoul hoods and soaking them through; hard to tell if they were there out of commitment or a sentence to community self improvement in adverse conditions.

Today, people walked in ones or twos, or with dogs, and kept an eye on each other as we passed; and the outdoor gym equipment was fenced off again. Two blokes with hoodies – who looked a bit like they had escaped from an Assassin’s Creed game – worked out furtively inside – having got in by limbo dancing presumably.

Among the shops, a man with his shirt off and an angry glare sits with a couple of suitcases full of junk for sale.

In one of the new trees, a large plush tiger, its stuffing whitely exposed along a terrible rent in its back, is jammed between the branches. Although its paws are crossed casually its expression is one of intense humiliation and annoyance.

One of the few survivors of Brent’s year as Borough of Cultures is this mural of local boy George Michael on a cut through to a car park between Winkworths and a Romanian Supermarket. I’m not sure it speaks to anyone and seems to be an assemblage of parts that don’t quite cohere. But, perhaps that’s the message. And perhaps life is like that.

Rather bleak, menacing and obscure mural – more foreboding than celebration.

On the way back up the street, the shirtless guy – now fully dressed – is standing in the middle of the road being honked by considerate motorists and shouting at a bloke trying to drive away from the kerb in a black SUV. With the body language of a man taking charge, he advances to the front of the vehicle, still shouting, and bangs hard on the bonnet. Although he is shouting loudly its hard to tell what he’s saying. After the third bang the bloke in the car gets out annoyed and starts squaring up. “Shirtless guy” retreats a bit then puffs himself up. No words but both of them saying “Yeah? Come on then” as the traffic flows in between. Everyone watches in puzzled bemusement. All that’s needed is a David Attenborough commentary – “the humiliated males make a ritual aggressive display with out-thrust chests and loud cries…” The driver gets back in his car and heads off, not before shirtless guy has given his windscreen another thump – on the other side this time just to be symmetrical.