Tag Archives: Crime

THE DETECTIVE SUPERINTENDENT WITH AN EAR FOR FAITHLESS

ROSE+SIMON

I’m unfamiliar with policing terminology but I’m learning. Today, I’m sitting

with Brent’s Detective Superintendent, Simon Rose. I’ve only just discovered that the top man in the borough, in policing lingo, is the Borough Commander and then I’m offered his deputy. I’d fancied being allowed out on a raid of some sort. Embedded with Brent TSG sort of thing. But when I spoke to Simon beforehand and suggested a walk, he declined. “Walking isn’t part of my job,” he said in a direct but friendly manner.

Lo and behold, I find myself at Wembley Police station – the last time I was here, I was trying to identify the teenage burglar who was brazenly lunchtime robbing my road – being introduced to Simon Rose. It’s the sort of situation I love – being inside an establishment that I’d normally never have access to.

No sooner have we tunnelled through the building. Not really. More corridored. Than we go outside  again to do some photos. This is one of my first impressions of Simon who resembles a smiling Rugby blue. The lift is closing its doors, so Simon runs and thrusts his foot into the gap, in the way I’ve seen TV police do on raids. Hmmm, is he showing off I wonder?

Was he vocational about joining the police? “No, I really drifted into it,” he confesses rather winsomely, “I did a chemistry degree at Essex University, then ended up working in an olive oil factory in Crete, on a kibbutz and travelling round India.” So there go my first preconceptions – here is a senior policeman who has travelled in the way I approve of. “Then I came back and thought being in the police would be interesting. I imagined being a traffic officer at the time.”

Soon afterwards, more preconceptions are ramraided. His phone goes – now we’re in his far-from-tidy office – and plays a nifty dance track. One that is totally unexpected for a Detective Superintendent. He laughs – I think, in appreciation of his own non-conformity. “That’s Insomnia by Faithless. I’m often on call at night and it’s very good at waking me up.” This has parallels with Cameron liking The Smiths. What is happening to the establishment?

“Yeah, Morissey hated Cameron liking his music, didn’t he?” he smiles and I imagine he’s reflecting on what Maxi Jazz would think.

Maxxy

Simon started off as a PC in Islington which was challenging but “not top of the table”. This Detective Superintendent is fond of football analogies. “Brent is in the top four, in terms of challenging policing,” he says, “there’s a high level of deprivation so lots of unemployment and hardship. Although at the moment, our crime figures are down here. It’s counter-intuitive because there’s a recession but we’re bucking the trend.”

Simon Rose has only been in Brent for two years. But he’s aware of its history. In 2001, Harlesden had the highest murder rate in the UK. There was a murder in May 1999 that led to 7 people being killed in the next six months. “We’ve moved away from those days,” he says, “but there was a shooting last week that was to do with the Thugs of Stonebridge and St Raphs and there were six murders in Brent last year.”

Has the change of architecture had an effect on crime, I wondered? I mean the pulling down of the tower blocks at Stonebridge, and their replacement with low-rise housing. And the same on the Church End estate. “It has changed,” he says cautiously, “the design has helped with policing like the public spaces were created with the idea of marginalising opportunities for youths to gather in secret. “

This prompts Simon to digress into strategy-talk. He’s a planner with a proclivity to philosophy. He starts talking about the Bejing Olympics and how the cyclists made a difference to their performance by increasing their break time and therefore their recovery time. Obviously, he’s comparing their methodology with how to improve crime statistics. “Aristotle said: ‘The whole is greater than the sum of the parts’, and a marginal gains’ strategy can make a significant difference. For instance, there was a low wall outside a small shop where young people used to gather, smoke and drink. We changed the design of the wall and they didn’t do that any more.” Who is responsible for this kind of strategy?  “Crime Prevention Design Advisers.” I might have known.

Police Boots

At this point, I notice a pair of black, what I take to be, operational boots under a chair. Ah ha, so Simon does take part in action. “Once in a blue moon,” he says quietly smiling, “the last time they were used was  on a cannabis farm raid. There’s a lot of crashing and bashing in that kind of job so it’s best to wear boots. It was a two bedroom maisonette and there were 80 plants. The   owners were Vietnamese.” Simon likes interesting details and now launches off into a description of the precise art of hydroponics as practised by these ‘farmers’. “It’s very sophisticated market gardening,” he says, “basically they are growing plants without soil. They take 6 to 8 weeks and it costs £1,000 to buy the kit.”

Isn’t it rather ridiculous to criminalise cannabis growers, even on this commercial level? Ever reflective, he says: “Well, society and criminality does change. Look at the 30 years ago, when gay men were prosecuted for having sex, now we police the areas that they frequent to make sure they don’t get robbed. We echo the changes in society.”

What does he think of members of the Church Road Soldiers turning up in Dorset? Last year, a 21 year old was shot in Bournemouth. Are they going down to Dorset because the policing is getting more effective in London? Or ‘going country’ as my son explains, to do their selling.   “Certainly, we’re noticing changes,” he says, “it could be new financial opportunities or better policing. Or both. I think we’ve put in some good Anti-Social Behaviour orders with exclusion zones and only being able to own one registered phone.”

Are the police  trying to create different relationships with these troubled young men? “We’re not social workers,”he says pointedly, “we focus on enforcement. Although there are ‘teachable moments’ that occur, for instance when someone has been stabbed or shot and they might re-evaluate their life choices. We work with the St Giles Trust that provides mentoring in such cases. And the community radio station Bang FM has a good new project where they are identifying up to seventy eight 14 year olds who could use support in making good choices. For instance, they might have an older sibling who is in a gang but be in a position where they can be helped before they go down that path.”

What are Brent doing about institutionalised racism? Are they getting more non-white officers into top positions? “That takes too long,” he says, “it takes 25 years to progress through the different positions so we’re trying direct-entry opportunities at detective level. This can accelerate this kind of cultural change.”

Simon leaves the room to have his photo taken with a colleague who is leaving. I gaze at his office in fascination. It’s full of random articles. A ladder lies on the floor. There are white boards with lists under unintelligible words like Smartwater, Facewatch and the more familiar, Gangs. And a beautiful deep blue Moroccan bowl.

What would his dream policing in Brent be? “A lot of projects like the Bang FM one and activities like the ones the St Giles Trust provide,” he says, “support structures that help the community so that we wouldn’t have so much crime.”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

And what’s his favourite poem? “Kubla Khan by Samuel Coleridge,” he says, “I think he did that in a hallucinatory dream after taking lots of opium.” There’s an obvious irony here. Detective Superintendent Rose’s favourite poem was written after smoking copious amounts of opium, whilst he is going out on cannabis farm raids. It’s not lost on either of us.

The Smartwater is to do with the high rate of burglary and a device that squirts a substance that marks the burglar and makes them identifiable. The police have set up a Smartwater flat and are waiting for burglars to take the bait, and they’ve already caught a couple of burglars via a trap car that was set up in this way. “It sends out the message that we are catching burglars,”he says.

Oh yes, and then there are the methadone prescription bags – give out by local chemists to heroin users – that declare Thieves and Handlers beware and heralds the benefits of Smartwater. Simon is definitely proud of these. He’s jumping around with a kind of policing glee.

But what about that Moroccan bowl? “I took my mother to Marrakesh and bought it there,” he says as he shows me out. “Marrakesh is a bit touristy these days though, isn’t it?” Here we go again…

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TALKING STONEBRIDGE, EX-NOTORIOUS ESTATE

I haven’t been up to Stonebridge Estate – formerly known as ‘a festering sore’, ‘third world’, and notorious for problems with crack, guns, gangs and fear, now the scene of a £225 million New Labour, award-winning regeneration scheme – for a couple of months. And finally, the last of the ghost-like 1970s tower blocks is down. I’m here to meet anti-gun and knife crime activist, Michael Saunders at the Hub, part community and part medical centre.

Have you heard about the shooting of that 27 year old man at Harlesden station this week? “I was at the station soon afterwards,” he says as we walk past the strange-in-the-landscape, Victorian (remember my visit with Louis Theroux) Bridge Park Hotel, towards the modernist, Will Alsop-designed, Fawood Children’s Centre, “and forensics were there. I suppose it was a black on black crime and Trident will be investigating.” Since then, two 16 year olds have been charged with attempted murder, three others, including a 16 year old girl (all from Brent according to the Harrow Observer) have been released on bail, whilst the 27 year old survived and has been released from hospital.

Michael – known locally as ‘uncle’ – founded the British Londoners’ Business Community (which is a curious name but I assume they didn’t want to focus on black or white, and did want to sound business-like, although confusingly it has nothing to do with business) in 2009 in order to tackle gangs, gun and knife crime with ‘community unity’ meetings. The idea is to get the mothers, fathers and grandparents involved with each other, as well as with their young people. And if for instance, the mother of someone who is in prison for a stabbing, sits next to the mother of a young man who has been injured or even killed – then the community can actually witness what is happening in a personal way with each other, and work together. That’s the theory. And Michael reports that comings together of this sort have happened.

In fact, two years ago, Michael (far right in photo) found himself being challenged to do something by a friend’s then 12 year old son, TJ, whose mother was stopping him going out to the park because she was frightened that he would get stabbed. “He’d already watched his elder brother get depressed when one of his friends was shot dead,” says Michael. “So TJ wanted to know when we, the older people, who were moaning about it all the time, were going to do something. So four of us, my old friend, Lasana Fulu, TJ and his 13 year old sister, Sheneisha founded BLBC. I was aware that the mothers had already been active with marches like ‘Not Another Drop’* and we, the men, needed to get up off the sofas and be more proactive.”

Michael – who was born in Kilburn, is back there now, but lived in New York for 30 years and says he learnt what not to do around these problems from the US, as well as what to do – blames MTV and the influence of rap culture on the behaviour of young people here. “Whether they are black or white, they all want to be like Jay-Z or 50 Cents,” he says, “and that is giving them distorted ideas.”

Surely, it’s not that simple. Obviously a middle-aged, white (or Caucasian, as Michael would say) woman who was brought up in a Yorkshire village may not have all the answers but a lack of firm parenting, the failure of schools, the poverty of aspirations as a society would seem to me to be part of the problem. We agree eventually that education, discipline through sports, and community action can help change the situation.

Has the new Stonebridge – old towers down, low rise and family terraces in place – helped? “Yes,  yes, yes, now it is like a community here. It’s not institutionalised any more. Look, he says pointing to a woman planting out primroses,” now people see each other in the garden, it’s not anonymous-living any more. It’s made a hugely positive difference.”

And they’re no longer a no-go zone for the police? “I lived in this estate in ’77,” he explains, “and they were big flats with great views, but the buildings were all interlinked which meant young people could evade the police very easily. That doesn’t happen now.”

Two teenage boys go into a house nearby. Michael shouts ‘hey’ to them in that ‘we hang out together sometimes, but you know I’m on your case’ kind of way. BLBC has a slogan which is FUBU – ‘For You, By You’ – which is about individuals in the community becoming aware of the power they have in their own hands. “The estate has changed over the last ten years,” he says, “but there is still a problem with young people. Right now, there’s trouble between Stonebridge and the estate over the A406 called St Raphaels. It’s so bad because there are families who have relations in both areas. Potentially, that means there is the chance that one family member might unknowingly injure another family member by mistake, just because they live at the other place. These children are running in packs. The BBC won’t run stories on them, so we use the community radio stations to calm things down.”

That’s madness, I opine, meaning the possibility of families actually attacking each other because they live on estates at war with one another. “That’s the reality,” he says in his forthright way, as we walk towards a football pitch. “Young people are influenced by their peer group. But we hope that getting the parents and young people in one room together will have an effect. Parents and relatives can pass on positive moral messages to their children. Mothers often know their son’s friends, and they can influence them if they’re altogether in the same sitting room having a conversation. They respect people they know well. Not outsiders. Family is the first port of call.”

In front of us, there is a lot of football action going on. Training at the Pavilion with small kids up to teenagers. Meanwhile, Michael admits that there is a lot of resentment amongst young people, towards the Somalis who have arrived over the last decade. “Young people who were born here, don’t like that Somalis are getting given flats,” he says. “There is a perception that the Caribbean community came here because they were needed to do jobs and so they paid their taxes, and their children and grandchildren, should be looked after. Whereas the Somalis are refugees. It’s all very well, the UK being liberal but you have to watch your backs.”

I’d heard from my son, that there was trouble with Somalis, but I didn’t understand what was going on. Now, I’m shocked, but not shocked. This is why you can see black faces in the English Defence League. As well as the myriad of white ones. And this is the vicious circle of ‘not enough for us’ that comes out of Britain, every time we have rising unemployment, rising cuts.

“We teach them what respect really is,” he says as we reach the sports club entrance. A hundred or so, young children are playing football with older mentors. “Super is the man here,” he says introducing me to an avuncular, kind-faced gentleman who’s hiding a bundle of locks under his hat, “he can tell you on another occasion about what else is going on with the young people here. It’s important that we get to the young kids, so then they form a network where potentially others will step in if they start falling off the tracks.”

Michael says BLBC identify the alpha males and females in the community and work with them. “They are often older and have the influence, they’re the leaders and they persuade the others. So it’s important to have their ears. They influence the peer group. And peer groups are so significant to teenagers.”

And parents? “Parents only have so much influence,” he says, “they might be on your ass from time to time but they don’t see everything.” Hmm… I disagree, I think parents can play a bigger role and should. I know I have with my own son.

I wonder how he formed his ideas on youth and crime? “When I was in New York, there was this young boy with an AK45 on the street,” he explains, “I asked him what he was doing and why. He said it was my fault. I was in my late 30s. He said that my generation hadn’t put the structures in place to look after that age group. I remembered that. I’m trying to help but I know it’s not going to change completely in my life time. We’re just sewing the seeds.”

By this time, we are walking up Hillside and then right down Knatchbull Road. Michael says he’s walking me out of Stonebridge, but we seem to be walking back in again. I sneak a look at lack of tower behind St Michael’s nursery. Last time, I was here it was still wrapped up and be-scaffolded. Now, there is bare terrain. It feels exciting, even though these changes have been going on for a decade. And I’m not in favour of pulling down all the brutalist 70s housing estates, some can be refurbished. But these had to go.

I’m not quite sure how we managed to get on to the subject of Obama, it was probably the lack of positive male black role models in the UK. But I couldn’t help myself. “Shouldn’t he be called mixed race rather than black?” I comment, a little cheekily, it has to be said.

Michael makes a sort of whooping noise like a wild dog caught in a trap. “No,” he cries, “Obama is black, if he went anywhere in the world, they’d say he was black. The US constitution says that anyone with an eighth black genes is black.”

But, he is mixed race, I insist. “That’s just being politically correct,” he counters. “And it’s different in the UK. Here I grew up with white kids in Kilburn listening to Manfred Mann, over in the US all my neighbours were black.”

Manfred Mann!!! So you mean it took moving to New York for you to feel black? He laughs. I like to think he’s admitting I’m right.

Apparently, we’re looking for a teenager, he calls ‘Ginger’ who is a cousin of the very up and coming Stonebridge rapper, Koke. K. Koke. K’s music videos get up to a million hits. He raps in a very personal way about the trials and emotional terrors of existence, and there is a reassuringly black and white thing going on. Although a cliched gang thing too. We can’t find Ginger – Michael wants him to do some recording for him – so we turn back.

As we walk down into Craven Park Rd, Michael’s mind turns to his supper. Red snapper, it seems. And mine turns to his hairwear. A blue cloth that reaches down his neck. “It’s a do rag,” he says in that US do-dew way,(thanks Fifi Dennison on Facebook) “I wear it because I don’t want to comb my hair, and if I take it off, my hair will be fine. It’s a black hair thing.”

*’Not Another Drop’ was set up in 2001 as a joint community, police and council response to a spate of fatal shootings in NW10.

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PRISON, PARAPLEGIA AND THE ROUNDWOOD PARK CAFE

La verite, c’est plus etrange que la fiction. Six months ago, I bumped into an old friend of mine, Sandra Kane, artist and art director, at a dinner she was organising – only for her to tell me that she had just taken over the lease to the wonderful Roundwood Lodge Cafe.

To say I was surprised is an understatement. As far as I knew, Marianne – a buxom blonde with a charismatic personality and a slightly stretched face, who had heroically transformed this battered, little space into a thriving enterprise for local families, having survived numerous vandal attacks along the way – otherwise known as ‘Countess Romanov’ and a well-respected, local primary school governor, was still in charge.

“Haven’t you heard about Marianne?” asked Sandra incredulous that I hadn’t. “She’s in prison.” Again I was stunned. It  was one of those ricocheting moments. The last time, I saw Marianne was during the ‘Save The Cafe’ campaign two years ago (her story was that the council were about to evict her, although this apparently was not true) where I’d been videoed saying how brilliant I thought the cafe was. Monsieur Theroux had also joined in the campaign and been photographed with the Countess herself in the local press. One of her fortes was rallying the troops.

Having seen Sandra, I scoured the internet for all the news I had missed. It turned out that not only is Marianne in prison for fraud, she ia a transexual – (ok, I know this is non-pc to say this, but it does add another kick to the story) born as Robert Duxbury – who had most incredibly been pretending that she was a paraplegic confined to her bed and apparently claimed £197,000 since 1996 in benefits.

Incredible is too restrained a word for it. Phew. This is obviously vying for storyline status in the increasingly tabloid East Enders.

I’m going to have to repeat myself. Marianne (only one of a whole raft of names) was a very public figure running a prominent local cafe, whilst at the same time, maintaining this insane pretence. For twelve years.  Brazen or just in la la land or both? Anyway, she managed it – obfuscation was one of her many talents – for a very long time. Finally in 2008, a Brent Social Services Officer recognised her walking her dogs. Every time, the Social Services visited her at home in Wembley, she apparently had the curtains closed, was wearing a head wrap plus sunglasses as well as being obscured by bedclothes. She also claimed forcefully – she has a fecund and almighty imagination – that she had a twin sister who was out there running the cafe.

After much more fantastical ado in the court, she was sent to prison for four and a half years in March 2010. Hence the opening for Sandra who had already been managing the cafe.

Originally termed a refreshment chalet – wait for it – with a verandah which was built in 1900, it was rebuilt – think scout hut – in 1958. Now there have been various additions like a kiosk, and play areas outside. Even a massage table in the summer. (Now, of course, I’m writing about it in snow-bedecked December.)

In the early 19th century, this area was known as Hunger Hill Common Field. Its distinguishing feature was the (still remaining) hillock where there used to be a rifle range. No more, of course. By the mid-1800s, Roundwood House had been built – apparently a magnificent, Elizabethan-style mansion – which later was owned by ‘legendary'(ie rich and powerful), local figure, George Furness, a civil engineering contractor whose international contracts later became our road names. Ancona, Paloma, Furness – all tributes to his work. And of course, seriously flawed.

However, Willesden Council (because then it wasn’t Brent) took out a compulsory purchase order on Roundwood House, and it was demolished in 1937. “An act of civil vandalism,” declares local historian, Cliff Wadsworth in his booklet on the park. I have to agree.

The park was opened in the early 1890s. Although Sandra didn’t arrive until the late 1990s, when Marianne was in charge. “She was always very determined and full of energy,”says Sandra. “In those days, she was in a wheelchair. The official story was that she’d fallen down an elevator shaft. I’m not sure what the reality was. But she did do a lot for the community. And in many ways was very generous. I have been to see her in prison but only in a formal way for the signing over of the lease. It is a new era for the cafe now. I’ve got new ideas like the massages in summer and holding art exhibitions here but it will always be a community cafe.”

Sandra, it has to be said, loves the people that come to Roundwood Park. The different ages and the different nationalities, the families, the teenagers. Everyone. “I also really feel so lucky to work in this environment, “ she declares, “ I see the dew on the plane tree burnished leaves on autumn mornings, and hear the first thrushes in spring. I see all the seasons in. And all the different people, the older ones with their dogs, the toddlers, the teenagers letting off steam. Parks are so needed for school children to hang out and be independent. I’m a strong supporter of parks for teenagers.”

And then, there are the old men who frequent the Bowling Green and their little wooden hut. Like a vestige from the 1920s – it was built by the unemployed – in their whites and their whiteness. Louis (Theroux, we’re on first name terms now post-walk) was keen for me to interview these players as an example, I assume, of particularly old-fashioned Harlesden dwellers. Perhaps, I will. Although I’m getting the distinct impression that it might entail entering a viper’s nest of right-wing opinions.

Sandra and I take a walk down to the main entrance. I have to confess that I always feel amused by the flowerbeds here. Yes, in a snotty way. As a sort of perverse bohemian superiority. To me, these flowerbeds are a little garish. Oh, the jolt and the jab of it. Red, oranges, purples, yellows – all  tipped together like the former Paul Grady Show. They remind me of the seaside town flowerbed aesthetic. Bournemouth, in fact.

As Sandra and I gaze at these beds bursting with yellow and orange marigolds, red begonias and purple verbena. I feel mean. To Sandra, who is so obviously a seaside flowerbed fan. I confess to my ugly thoughts. She is politely aghast.

“Look at those beautiful, orange cana lilies,” she says defending her park, “and we have a quite famous tulip tree. The flowerbeds here have always been an award-winning feature right from the beginning. Now we get couples coming to have their wedding photos taken here.”

Aptly chastised, I follow her to the stunning wrought iron gates which were created in 1895 at Vulcan Works in the Harrow Road. Are they still there, I wonder?  And then, there’s the surprisingly grand, faux Elizabethan lodge where apparently Brent park workers now reside. “It’s a great house,” says Sandra, “look at those chimneys and the sun and the plough on the other side, they were Willesden Council’s emblems at the time.”

There is the most hideous water fountain just nearby. Sorry, Sandra. Gothic, over-follied, ridiculously unattractive, unused (no water spurts sally forth, probably because of Health and Safety regulations). Created (I employ the term ill-advisedly) to mark the opening of the park, it really should go immediately to that imaginary, but much-needed museum devoted to the most grotesque of Victorian inventions.

And then, there’s the aviary. Here I go again. It is small and unadventurous. Anachronistic, even. Full of canaries and zebra finches, it lacks space and cleanliness. It doesn’t even have a whiff of the worst of London Zoo. Maybe the children love seeing these little birds, but I’m not sure it’s worth it.

I can feel Sandra’s disapproval from here. I am not, of course, speaking for her.

Another enigma on the right, is the distinctly 1960s, brutalist Open Theatre. Except I’ve never seen it open. It seems like a great idea to have a theatre in this park. Shakespeare has visited especially in summer, I hear. But, it remains firmly closed at the moment and unsupported. Come on, Brent Council, this theatre is an opportunity for youth theatre to happen in the summer months. It needs your support.

Oh goodness, I’ve just read – post-walk – that after World War 1, a German Bomber plane was almost fixed to the bandstand in the park as a decoration. Now that would have almost outdone Damien. There used to be a bandstand on the defining hillock. No more. Now there’s just a  flat area which could also easily be for performance. And it overlooks Wembley Stadium with its football halo. “When the park was built, this looked out on woods and trees,” says Sandra. “Look, you can see the church steeple in Harrow.”

As we’re walking back down towards the cafe, I notice a plaque on one of the oak trees that I’ve never seen before. It says simply that Lance Hamilton died here in 1998. Who was he? What happened? Even Sandra doesn’t know. The internet doesn’t mention him. It’s an enigma.

“Actually, at times of trouble, I have come to sit between these oaks and wept,” says Sandra, “and I have found the solace of nature here in Roundwood park. It really has meant so much to me over the years.”

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A SEA OF HAIR IN HARLESDEN

Today, I’m walking with 21 year old, June Mckenzie.  Having recently graduated from Westminster University with a degree in journalism – she’s the first one in her family to go on to further education – I met June before Xmas at my ward meeting run by the local police. I was there because of the burglaries in my road; she was there because she wanted to help stop the gun crime.  “I can’t see it stopping,” she said sounding frustrated, “black on black crime is complex. I did my dissertation on how it is portrayed in the media. I want to be involved. I know a lot of young men who are in that world. I don’t know what to do, but I want to do something.”

A few months later, I met up with June outside the famous John Line’s butcher’s shop in the Harrow Rd, which without fail has queues snaking round the corner. “We’ve always bought our meat here,” she explained, “it’s cheap and good. It’s a family tradition with us.” She lives with her grandfather round the corner. “If it wasn’t for my grandparents, my life would be very different. I might have been a single mum or in prison. In many ways, they brought me up. Sadly, my granny died nearly two years ago. I still miss her, her death has affected me physically and mentally.”

Just before we said goodbye, June asked if I’d heard of Shawn Callum? “My friend is the mother of his baby,” she explained showing me a photo of the good-looking 26 year old with shaved eyebrows, “ he was shot and killed last year leaving a private party at Stonebridge Primary School.” Why? Was he involved in drugs and gangs? “No, he wasn’t but that is how the newspapers portrayed him. He was innocent. The papers never portray black youth as innocent bystanders,” she said passionately.” The trial is very soon. My friend is nervous about whether the person who has been charged, will be prosecuted or not.”

By the time I see her this time, the 21 year old who was accused of the killing, has been found not guilty. Not enough evidence, it seems. June is upset. Her friend is beside herself. They feel that the killer has been set free and that the legal system has failed Shawn. And them.

But I don’t want to just focus on June and who she knows in that way. So I’ve had the idea of getting her to take me on a hairdressing tour. She spends a lot of time on her hair and Harlesden is big on hairdressers and barbers. Plus I really am ignorant about his secret hairworld.

We meet at the telephone box at the junction of Wrottesley Rd and the Harrow Rd. It’s 6 30pm. Bless her, June’s taking this hair tour very seriously. She’s even changed her hair for me. Last time, it was long and straight. This time, it’s back in a kind of ponytail. “I’m wearing a lace,” she explains as though I’ll understand. Oh dear, I’m already baffled.

Does she mean a wig? “No, we call it a lace, it’s stuck on to the front of my head,” she says, “it’s glossy and long. Women like Beyonce wear them. But I also wear weaves when I’m not wearing a lace.” And how much are they? “I get two packets of weaves for £60 and they last about five weeks. But laces cost between £150 and £200 for real hair and might last a month before they start getting itchy.”  Oh, the fine art of laces. I’m astonished. She spends this much money on her hair!

We cross the bridge at Willesden Junction station and pass the nightclub Jet Set on the left. A strange little club – which bizarrely has the words Dine and Dance up there too, but I’m pretty sure that there’s no dining going on – the only time I see it come to life is at the weekend at about 2am. “There was a shooting there too,” she says.  “A DJ was shot outside, he has to have round the clock care now. He was trying to be a peacemaker for another guy. I know Craig Robertson who did it. He was only 17 at the time. I grew up with him, my granny would always cook for him, he loved her mutton and rice. I was totally shocked at what happened.”


Our first stop is the renowned barber’s Faisal. Its eponymous owner featured in the  2001 BBC 2 docu-soap (mentioned in walk 4) The Heart of Harlesden. I remember  Faisal because he was a photographer as well as a barber. He had a studio downstairs and the shop upstairs. I wonder if he is still a photographer? Today, the shop is packed with assistants and customers – from toddlers to 30somethings.

I talk to Ben who is having a razor cut. How often does he come? “Every three weeks,” he says, “and I’ve been coming for 10 years. Since it started, in fact. I pay £12 for a fade.” Then, there’s a nudge from the barber. “Oh, it’s a skin fade not a fade,” he re-informs me. Faisal is not here today, he only comes in on Saturdays. back.

We wander past a Brazilian hairdresser’s, which only has one customer. It’s nearly 7pm. “I’m not being rude,” says June, “but you never see that shop full.” Then a bar and restaurant called West Coast. Does she go there? “Well, I went a few weeks ago for the after-party of a funeral, but I wouldn’t normally go. They’re not my sort of people. They’re too arrogant for me.”

As we pass the Job Centre Plus – in other words, the former site of the Edwardian Willesden Hippodrome – which is on a hill, June makes an admission. “You’re going to think I’m mad,” she says, “but I’m not. Last week, I spent an hour and a half leaning against that tree and in that time I counted 165 young women and prams going to the Job Centre Plus. They looked angry and disillusioned. But I felt enraged. So many of them are getting benefits and flats. That’s why some of them get pregnant. I felt disgusted. I don’t want to be part of a culture that is like that. Young girls can do some much with their future!! Why waste it! Babies are a blessing but I don’t believe in bringing poverty into poverty.”

Sometimes, it feels as if June is carrying this burden – that how she sees it, the boys without fathers, the girls who are obeying a certain unwritten babymother law – all herself. It’s the opposite of what she wants for herself or them. I can feel her passion and fear rising simultaneously. “In my culture, to be poor is to be bad,” she says despairingly, “that’s why ‘easy’ drugs money is so attractive.”

As if on cue, we pass the Christian bookshop fittingly called The Rock. We pop in for solace. Books like Everyday Jesus Healing Wounds with a plaster on the cover, pink prayer books for girls, a bible especially for brides, a special sort of soft mints with stripes (“You get those in Jamaica,” says June), flowery Jesus bags. It’s an old-fashioned shop, which I could imagine finding in a suburb of Kingston. Yes, Kingston, Jamaica.

Next door is what I think is a skincare and shampoo shop. But we turn a corner and there it is. A sea of hair. Hair in packets hanging everywhere. Wavy, fiercely curly, straight, startlingly blonde, brown, black. All manner of hair. Real, not real. I’ve never seen so much hair in one place. They’re called things like Remi and  Milky Way.  I knew about the hairdresser’s and barber’s in Harlesden, but I had managed to totally miss out on the hair shops. This is hair for sale en masse. Of course, real hair is more expensive. And June wants real hair.

The slight, 30something man selling the hair, is Afghan. Another customer called Edith – she’s wearing a pretty brown and blonde lace, I’m an expert now – has come from Harrow on a hair mission. “There are twelve hair shops in Harlesden,” she explains. “I might keep a lace in for three months but then it will get uncomfortable. That’s what’s happening now. I’m getting ready for the weekend with my boyfriend and I want to give my head a rest so I’m looking for a wig, a long wig.”

I can’t believe how many hair shops there are in such a small area. Again I’m stunned at the effort and money that goes into these women’s hair. I say so. Loudly. “Yeah, we put hair first and health second,” giggles Edith who works in the City, “it’s our life, and we are willing to go the extra distance. My boyfriend is English and he’s still getting used to it.”

Why? Oh Why? “It means they can have a different hairstyle every day,” explains the doe-eyed Afghan assistant who says his family have been in the UK for 15 years, and now have a lovely big house near Finsbury Park. He might work in Harlesden but he doesn’t live here. The hair business is evidently good business.

In the meantime, the ‘girls’ are admiring each other’s laces. Edith is sporting the eye-catching blonde and brown one, whilst June has a rather more demure black one. “That one is too over-the-top for me, it’s too much,” says June, “ I couldn’t wear that at work.”  It’s fascinating that she is so disapproving. Hmm, do I hear the murmurings of a hair war?

Back out on the street, the shutters are going down on the nail shop, Hollywood. However, the former The Green Man, – a pub just down from the Royal Oak, which also opened in 1839, but now a Portuguese restaurant – is thronging with people. “My granddad will be back from Jamaica in April, he goes there in the winter,” says June, ”then you’ll find him in the Misty Moon up the road at this time in the evening.”

Did she ever go to Dreams nightclub? “Yeah, I went when I was young, like 14,” she says, “but I wouldn’t go now. There’s a club there called NW10. Did you see what those girls were wearing to Dreams in The Heart Of Harlesden?” “Yep,” I reply, “almost nothing, and the camera was constantly focusing on their behinds, often barely covered behinds.” “Oh, I couldn’t believe it,” she says. “The girls would arrive late at like at 4 in the morning just to make an entrance. They liked to think they were stars. It was all a status thing.”

It’s 8pm as we walk past the rest of the hair shops, hairdresser’s and barber’s. Most are closing. June just pops into one to check how much it would cost to have a ponytail. No, not that kind of ponytail. “It’s a way of grooming the hair to the side,” she says.

Evidently, I’ve still got a lot to learn…

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