Thursday, February 27, 2014

1 Finchley

 Everyone has to start somewhere

Convention dictates that the place where you're born should hold some meaning to you.  To disregard, let alone dispute, this rule could mean you end up featured and analysed in an Albert Camus novel. Therefore, people think that Finchley is an important place for me simply because I was born in it.

Whether Finchley really is important to me or whether Finchley is just an echoing void spiraling in the spiritual wastes of my universe is an irrelevance. I will talk of Finchley because that is what society dictates. Because Finchley is my place of birth if ever I become 'memorable' I will always be in danger of ending up dead and 'biographised' on a Wikipedia page - forever hyperlinked to Margaret Thatcher. Because Finchley was Maggie's electoral constituency.

I hope that worries you too. On an upsetting blue evening in 1979 Margaret stood on the front balcony of Finchley Town Hall and blasphemed a few lines from Francis of Assisi. And in that moment she seared her Finchleyness into Hansard, as my mother had seared my Finchleyness, fifteen years earlier, into the Victoria Maternity Hospital's daily ledger a few miles up the Wood Street road.

I entered Finchley in June 1964. That date is exactly nine months after my sister's third birthday. I need not comment on what my folks were getting up to after they had cleared away the left over party cake and scraped the jelly off the walls. If not downright rude it will be me asking for a clip around the ear should we ever be reunited in an after life. Anyway, one full term later and my mum was paying the price.

Fully dilated and out as quick as a rat leaping from a drainpipe in a tropical rainstorm, so the family story says, I'd taken a good look at what was to come long before the midwife had got me and Tozz in from the corridor. Maybe I couldn't wait for a leg stretch and a healthy breath of fresh air. After nine months curled in the foetal position with me thumb shoved in my gob I was no doubt rather bored. Through the cervix,  "cabin doors to manual" and nothing to pick up at baggage carousel.

Thrown into the world I was on that June 1964 day. Heaved out into the summer in a Sartrean tumble. Into Finchley. Condemned to a North London freedom. Bundled up into a stranger's arms and whipped away to the ward. Truly absurd.

Within minutes they realized my first claim to fame.

I was born straight after Richard Baker's - the BBC news reader - son. Same delivery suite. Yep. Me and him were snoozing when the dad's were allowed in; both of us in adjacent cots. How good is that? My Mum may have even have had her feet in the same stirrups that Mrs. Richard Baker had stuck hers. Oh yes. This image made watching television news roundups over the next 18 years rather more personal and a tad more relevant for me than it was for the normal Joe Blow. Whenever Richard Baker was on... I was there, back in Finchley.

Next day, June 9th, it was farewell to my gurgling mate Richard Baker Jnr. After some cine films out the front I was "off home". My Uncle Doug drove us in his Morris Minor. Off to the police flats at Clandon Gardens, Finchley, Barnet, U.K. Europe, World, Solar System, Galaxy, Universe. N3 3BD.

Now. The official United Kingdom kiddie counters had decided that 'Finchley' wasn't sufficiently grand for birth certificates and the census records. and seeing that the gray suited beaurocrats didn't allow the complete Europe, World, Solar System, Galaxy, Universe thing on their forms, they just upped Finchley a level, to 'Barnet'.

Barnet's what is printed as my birth place in my passport and Barnet's what I've penned onto hundreds of forms ever since. Barnet, UK. June 1964. It's my only geography they want to know.

Truth be told, I can't remember much about Barnet and 1964. Dribbling on and drooling over Barnet was about as much as I could manage. Therefore when I write about my Barnet I have to refer to the memories and tales handed down by others. And I believe them. I believe by using the same reasoned, historical and geographical trust that I use when watching re-runs of the 1969 lunar landings. I know, as does any other sane human being, that Neil's small giant steps were not plodded onto a fake surface in a studio round the back of Cape Canaveral. I know Rome was not built in a day. And I am sure that my post Darwin world was not created in seven by some bloke with a beard.

Finchley, Barnet, U.K, me. It happened. It is written. On my passport.

But. However. And another similar word from the thesaurus. If 'Barnet UK' had instead been somewhere weird and tribal, far and distant, like for example, 'Barnet Australia', then my inherited memories of and personal attachment to Finchley could now be all so different.

If I had been born in 'Barnet, Somewhere Outback and Parched' I could lark about and tell you some ethnic non sense and toss out some touchy feely Lonely Planet type tales. I could tap into the deep, rich, mysterious, Finchley 'dreamspaces' of days gone by. At the very least I could pretend to. I would have a decent reason for getting a tattoo on my bum and an alligator bone shoved through my nose.

While sitting inked on and boned up under a twisted Australian outback tree I would 'see' (with my ethnic Finchley eye) that the space bordering the flank of the mighty North Circular Road wasn't built up with police flats. Finchley borns, and only us Finchley borns, would see an icecap where others would think there was the housing estate. Because a million years ago there once was. And only us bonded-through-birth-with-the-dust-of-North-London would know that in the back gardens of those sold off philanthropic homes lived Glug the mysterious Glacier God.

If I was a Finchelyian where Finchley was in Deepest Mongolia I could join with other Finchleyians and sing of my group legends; those related to the delivery grounds of Wallolloollooobedoo; the epidural places where our ancestral foremothers rode and screamed on the Crystal Swan Birthing Chair.

If my records said "Finchley, Somewhere Far Eastern" I might be allowed to witter, with subtitles, on a National Geographic "TV Special" about emerging as a poppy seed. How I, like my brothers, was gobbed out from the gaping mouth of the Golden Gemini Dragon, the pink one on the left of the pair, the one who defends the Divine Emperor's gateway to the hell that is Yong, up in the barren expanses of the snowy north west.

I could go on, after the irritating advertising break, about how my seed was dropped into the moist soils of the Pingowan Forest. I could give you the skinny on how my seed was widdled on by a passing brown bear and how I flourished and grew into a wise opium tree. Then, because I had a low hanging branch pruned with a silver axe forged in the furnaces of Zwog, by the lad next door, I morphed into the Great Green Monkey Demon of Ping.

But no. Sorry. There's not a chance of any of that. Not with being born straight after Richard Baker Jnr. in Finchley / Barnet UK in 1964 there isn't.

Instead... for me, what usually happens after the probing conversation starter at smarmy dinner parties is this,

"Well hello Ian and how very nice to meet you. Ian, tell me (eye contact eye contact smiley face)where are you from?"

Emerging in Finchley, Barnet, UK means that all you get is

"Well, Barbara, I'm from Finchley. Finchley in Barnet."

...and then there's that embarrassing pause. I've suffered this pause for over thirty years of eating with potential friends. I've got mates from Ascot, Sydney, Paris, Oxford. There's never an issue with them. Me... Finchley. Fortunately it's not long before someone else chips in to help out,

"Finchley, Babs. It's near IKEA. You know. They do a lovely Swedish meatball."

In summary, my Finchley, in my Barnet, in my UK Barnet is an IKEAn epicenter, a Conservative Party ash heap from where a Thatcherite phoenix arose. Finchley is the populated space on the map without a mythical fairytale.... because Finchley, My Finchley, doesn't have any mythical gods or spatial fluff going for it.

Finchley to me it is just is what it was. Writing on a passport and family album photos without the memories.

Right. Okay. That's the "who we are, where and when froms" out of the way.  Now for life's bigger and more stimulating questions,

"Where are we going?"

"How much time off work have we got?"

"Who's got the spending money ?"
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