Friday, February 28, 2014

2 Kenton

 Childhood Home

If I was writing a coffee table travel book on "Kenton" the introductory paragraph might read:

"Kenton is edgy. Kenton is placed neatly on the petite dinner table that is England's Home Counties. If England is your holiday dinner table covered with a starched white tablecloth as crisp as cardboard, dressed with our finest silver and crystal then the ornate candlestick is mighty Nelson's Column, the flower arrangement is Hyde Park. King's Cross and Euston, the matching cruet set. Kenton, oh peripheral, peripheral Kenton. What art thou? A mere 29 minutes from Marble Arch. Right where the side plate should be. Traveller! Kenton is the prime locale on which to plonk your garlic bread."

And the book would have a picture of the Glynn’s Bakery near Gooseacre Park, with a scratch and sniff panel beside it honouring the fresh crusty granary loaf and rolls counter, that usually had a long queue in front of it every Saturday morning.
Fortunately, I have not written a coffee table book about Kenton. Nor am I about to.
Topographical Writing.

Most of the amateur travel writing I’ve come across seems to have been written by those who think they have to whack out some history about a place. They feel a need to tell us how it was worse back then and how the rich folk were repsonsible for improving everything and that it was the royalty who made things of lasting importance. They use phrases like "located on" when the word "on” would have done fine. Them’s their rules.

I can't be doing with that. I can't be doing with knee jerk tory histories and tory geographies - unless they are modern and relevant. And not tory. Therefore, and politely, I shall ask you to lob in your own dates if you need them, and I will encourage you to factor in inflation and fluctuating currency rates wherever you want a "King X did Y at a cost of Z" reference. Otherwise you'll make it seem like their peasants' work was done on the cheap.

Here we go then. Kenton; a Google Maps' no mans land somewhere between Kingsbury and Harrow.
Saxons travelled through Kenton. Saxon times is way back; before shaving, before shampoo, before toothpaste, Doc Marten shoes, denim 501s, Oxford shirts and boxers. Yonks ago. Saxons came to England from the continent. Many paused for a while around the London area before they set up more farmsteads and cleared more glades among the oak trees further north and west.
Mr Coaena, he was a Saxon. He did the emigration thing. Him, his family and their matching set of kitchen axes. Mr Coeana helped the area known as "Iss Close to London Beside ze Vembley Jah That Way" to get a name. Mr Coeana morphed into a modern day Mr Ken. The Saxon noun 'Tun'  (for 'farm') transformed into 'ton' and therefore the progression... Mr Coeana's Farm. Coeana's Farm. Coeana's Tun. Coeana's Ton. Ken’s Ton. Kenton. Bingo. Even if you struggle to concentrate through a complete BBC history programme hosted by an academically re-launched and re-wardrobed TV history professor with curly hair and a bald patch, a Simon Schama type, the linguistic leap from Coeana's Farm to Kenton is not hugely challenging. 

Some of the write-about-the-old-years fanatics would give us reason to believe that Herr Coena and his Frauleins raced their ox carts along Kenton's highways. This conclusion is based on some ropey evidence; seven half rotten wooden axles that they dug up in the summer of 1927 on Honeypot Lane. These days it's mainly 140 buses that run along Honeypot Lane. Thus in years it's possible the specie spinsters in the library will be basing their historical analyses on stainless steel hub caps and a Haynes Owner's Workshop Manuals left over from last week's car boot sale.

Not long after I left Kenton (for a adventurous life in Nottingham), the 140 bus was serving the peasant classes that could afford to wend their weary way to Heathrow Airport on the first leg on their cheap trips to Lanzarote. Many of the 140s going the other way were whisking lads and lasses off to practice their doggy paddle in Northolt Swimming Pool. Northolt was where I learnt to swim on a Sunday morning, and drink Bovril from the vending machine around Sunday lunchtime.

Kenton's 140 may not be as earthy as a rotten ox cart or as exotic as an oriental Hong Kong tram but when you you live there or a temporary Kentonian tourist tootling along Honeypot Lane I’m afraid that’s all you’re going to get.

The road featured in the photograph on the top of this page runs off Honeypot Lane. You can walk down it after you've hopped off the bus with your rolled up soggy towel with your wet trunks and goggles tucked in safely in the middle. This street is a typical Coena-tun residential "avenue" - though it is an avenue without trees. The Council's street namers lied to us. They only got round to planting trees on St Pauls Avenue after I’d upped sticks and left. Today's trees may not quite give it Champs Elysee status, but they do complement the telegraph poles. (I'm not sure if they have got round to putting the apostrophe on the street sign.)

In the far distance you can pick out the Kenton Road. The 183 bus runs along that. The 183 trips you away to Golders Green, a fabled land where Bob Monkhouse lived. My father went round to Bob's after he had been burgled. Together they had a cup of tea and then got on with fixing Bob's patio door.
There are dozens of streets like these in Kenton. I doubt you'll find any other kind. It's the only style the developers did. Standard template for the sub urban sup topian lot.

The upside to this street is that if you turn left at the end - when you get to Kenton Road - you arrive at Barn Hill.

Before venturing to further distances school pals and I used to cycle up 'Barnill' and fish its pathetic pond on her drizzle capped peak. In the chilling boredom we'd gaze for second upon second over the distant splendour of London and the suburban splat of Kenton splodged below. Try hard enough and you could even see down into Wembley Stadium through the drizzle, and occasionally on a Saturday afternoon we could hear the faint distant rumble of an evening international crowd.

Alas, my father never escorted me up Barn Hill to declaim "One day, Son, this will all be yours" as fathers are supposed. Hindsight has me believe he would have preferred I inherited the North Sea Oilfields. But you can’t see Aberdeen and the North Sea from Barn Hill. So he stopped at home and said nowt.

Aye, as I dab away the tears from my eyes, I remember that this strip of bland Kentonian tarmac, the street that lead to a majestic peak, a rue lined only by telegraph poles and paved with wonky slabs, a street perpetually shrouded in "overcast with the possibility of intermittent showers" I realise that this strip of bland was my first road travelled.

My way.
Frank Sinatra did a song about it.
Sewage Farms

In the late Georgian years rural entrepreneurs from the Midlands had their horses to haul hay barges down the Grand Union Canal from Birmingham into London. The Grand Union Canal runs fairly close to Kenton. After the barge managers supervised their oppressed wage labour peasantry offload the hay bales into London's elitist stables they made the downtrodden, and by now somewhat stinky, proletariat re-load their barges with horse dung. This was used to make even more cash for the masters on the return barge trip. They boated the previous week's hay that was now shit back up and out to London’s northern dairy farming suburbs. The more recent day Coena's living and farming there flung it over the fields in and around Kenton.
I reckon it must have stunk big time. And to think we complain about nuclear dumping off picturesque atolls in the Pacific and get concerned about radioactive Japanese tuna.

Let's fast forward (...A fast forward is where a team can skip all remaining challenges and advance to the next pit stop. There are two fast forwards in the whole of the race...) to the 1840s and the Victorians.

The Victorians had seen Kenton expand from a farming area using cattle fertilizer to being a farming area spread with farmyard shit coupled with a handy spot for London's urban explosion to discard the contents of their cleaned out septic tanks. The Victorians thus decided Kenton needed to sort out its personal freshness and waste management issues. With Protestant work ethic zeal they had built three sewage works in Kenton. That may seem a tad excessive, but who am I to question? Leave these more informed decisions to the elected experts, is what I say. Three small sizes rather than one big one. There would be reasons.

Anyway, later on, to Kenton’s deodorantal brand image rescue in came the Edwardians. It dawned on the Edwardians that three sewage plants could be a bit much, and that getting Kenton labelled as the town with three sewage plants may make it difficult to attract in wealthy businesses to pay the council's rates and poll taxes. So even though the Eds had a big job on at the time, expanding the Empire and filming the Series 3 and 4 of Downton Abbey they transformed two of Kenton's sewage processing works into recreation grounds.

Recreation and outdoor life for the young was all the thing in the Edwardian era. Kids or at least the lads, like me, were encouraged to use parks and sports grounds so we would grow healthy, team sporty and strong. Edwardian Kentonians had to grow up without bandy legs or squiffy backs and the right mental attitude. With strong, manly bodies we would be able to fight tough and rough when recruited for any upcoming barny.

After a right royal massive kick off between 1914 and 1918 some of the toffs decided the returning soldiers deserved "Homes for Heroes". But these were "council houses" and to be public rented accommodation. These were not seen as appropriate for the lower middle classes who worked in offices rather than clearing oak glades, shoveling hay and shit or shooting the oppo from a trench. The lower middle classes needed homes of their own. To own.

Throughout the post war 1920s and 1930s, the Metropolitan Railway’s housing developers leapt on the Victorians attention to fragrance and the Edwardian's dedication to recreation and physical development and went berserk building the Dun Roamin style houses you see in the photo. These speculative private housing estates sprouted all over the fields and woods between Honeypot Lane and Kenton Road. It made them developers pots of money as it did the railway who were selling season tickets for the daily commuters. Over 55,000 people moved in during the first wave. Back then Edwards sold an end of terraced bay window "semi" for 785 pounds - with a 50 pound deposit. These days the same house would sell for 400,000 pounds plus.
In 1965 my family rolled in. My folks were enticed in back then because they knew Kenton didn't smell quite so bad as other places but form y folks it was because St Paul's Avenue was close to the Hendon Police Cadet College yet not too close to the patch my dad would patrol. Issues of which I did not give one toss. What mattered to me was that my recreation ground of choice, Queensbury Park aka Queensbury Rec, was five minutes walk away if you used to shortcut over the "sewer" (stream) behind the houses on the other side of the road.

Queensbury Rec had football pitches, ponds, neat flower beds, a pavilion for the vandals to graffiti and a cosy chalet for the park keepers to brew their tea in and for us to smoke long brown cigarettes behind (Mores?) and scan Graham Jackson's dad's dirty mags that Graham had nicked out his dad's wardrobe. Queensbury Rec had been the first of the Kentonian Sewage Farm Triptych and it sits proudly off the right edge of that picture up top (the Rec is behind you if you can pretend you are holding the camera).

I played my first game of "we've got a referee what knows all the rules" football on the Recs muddy pitch. In my new boots, gold shorts, gold socks (don't forget the shin pads), blue shirt and an old pair of underpants I performed as a solid hard working centre back for the 4th Kenton cubs team. A few years earlier Stuart Pearce had lashed a ball about on the same pitch, and bitten opposing forwards' legs in the process. For those in the know, Stuart played 78 times for England. He was "well hard" and from an even well harder part of Kenton we tended to avoid. But I reckon Douglas Bader may have caused Pearce's tackling style a problem or two.

You can still belt a ball about at Queensbury Rec today, if that is your wont ...and if no one else is on the pitch.

You can also be posh and play tennis on one of the two tarmac courts that run along the park fence - next to the playground with the Witches Hat (before the Witches Hat was banned for being too dangerous). All the girlies and the blokes trying to chat up the girlies played tennis for the three weeks after Wimbledon. Then no one bothered playing tennis and snogging and got back to playing football with their real mates.

I was told the tennis court nets sometimes sagged too much, no doubt do they still do today. Hang in and go with it. Use the little winder thing on the side of the post to tighten them up. Or wedge a stick up the middle of the net. I am sure you'll have a grand time pretending you're Ile Nastase or Yvonne Goolagong.

And now I must wrap up my introduction to Kenton.

Kenton was a fine home in my early years. She was a splendid side dish to the distant maincourse of London. Oh Sweet Odorous Kenton. Grade A fertilizer for my young mind and body. 

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