At City Matters we are always looking to find new ways to serve as the voice for the residents of the City of London. The Golden Lane Gazette is a monthly column written by Billy Mann, who has lived in Basterfield House for more than 20 years. Published in the second edition each month, Billy’s column will keep you informed on the big stories affecting the one of the City’s largest residential pockets.
Walk the walk
Every so often residents are invited to an ‘estate walkabout’ with a member of the management team.
The idea is to point at paving cracks that haven’t been repaired for a very long time.
The chronic subsidence of the pavement on Golden Lane alongside Stanley Cohen House is always a good opportunity to point out the chronic failings of the City’s repairs department.
It was on one of these outings recently that my neighbour and Cripplegate Common Councillor Sue Pearson drew our attention to a spooky defect on the steps outside Crescent House.
Two perfectly smooth scoops had been etched from the concrete. They looked like a weird sculptural hex. The marks were, she told me, the work of the enthusiastic skateboarders who arrive on the estate from time to time.
Their wheels have left us a permanent reminder of their visit. Shortly after our visit, repairs began on the skateboarders’ scoops; the Stanley Cohen paving still awaits its first casualty.
Slipping the Mickey
If William Wordsworth had ever lived on Golden Lane, his famous poem might have started:
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er Great Arthur House
When all at once I heard a sound
The hungry scratching of a mouse
At first sight, our estate looks neat and well ordered, with clean lines and a simple geometry that leaves nowhere to hide. But inside the individual flats are nooks, crannies and cavities galore – in short, a paradise for mice.
The M-word is not one residents use openly, but once the conversation starts it quickly moves to preferred methods of extermination. Glue pads are frowned upon by those dedicated to a more humane way of killing. It’s an ethical minefield.
The mouse problem surfaces whenever any kind of building work is in progress, such as the current refurbishments of the children’s playground and community centre.
The mice scatter and find a comfy corner somewhere in your flat. Then, late at night, you hear the sound of those micro-molars at work…
Each morning I open the curtains to see another rainwater stalactite added to the growing collection that festoons the underside of our building’s flat roof.
Flat roofs are prone to many problems if not diligently maintained and inspected regularly by professionals. The solidified cave-like drips that appear this time each year are a seasonal nuisance.
When I tell a Crescent House neighbour about this, he grins knowingly. He lives on the top floor, and has a clear view of Basterfield House roof.
He is so fascinated by what he sees that he has in effect become a ‘roof mapper’. He sits watching the clogging of silt in the drainage channels and monitors the ebb and flow of rainwater and its failure to find a clear runoff route to ground level.
He describes all these defects as if they were acts of nature, like an over-enthusiastic landscape geographer studying an ancient river bed. He talks like an environmentalist arguing for a better approach to the conservation and preservation of the natural world.
He’s right about almost everything, but the bad news is I’m probably the only one listening.
The Golden Lane Estate lies on the northern edge of the City and sticks up like a throbbing thumb. It is surrounded on three sides by Islington.
Some of our best friends are from Hackney and Camden. We live on the edge, and our interests cross boundaries and push at the frontiers of the neighbourhood.
Recently I pushed myself as far as Shoreditch Town Hall to see an exciting intergenerational theatre project. Old St/New St is the brainchild of two young professional actors, Rachael Spence and Lisa Hammond, who have been busy interviewing senior residents of the City/Hackney/south Islington area around Old Street.
They have turned their spoken words into a piece of ‘verbatim theatre’ performed by a group of local teenagers.
This is acting by imitation, and the comic potential of teenagers pretending to be pensioners is huge, especially when the pensioners are your neighbours. The eerie familiarity of the voices got stronger as the young actors settled ‘into character’, relishing every moment.
The irritating Brexit Bore soon became a figure gripped by a sense of loss. The angry woman who doesn’t like the smell of garlic from the food stalls on Whitecross Street started to look slightly pathetic.
As a way to teach acting, Spence and Hammond have hit on a special approach, and the performances had an authenticity that put real voices centre stage.More, please.
Billy Mann has lived in Basterfield House on the Golden Lane Estate for more than 20 years. He is membership secretary of the Golden Baggers allotment group, and earlier this year was made a Housing Hero by the City of London Corporation.
He writes a blog about neighbourhood events at basterfieldbilly.blogspot.com
Cover image by Stephen Richards (Creative Commons).