Monday, 11 March 2013

The West Way

I arrived in White City today on what appears to have been the most ferociously cold day this winter. Specks of snow, looking like tiny pieces of polystyrene, were almost constantly drifting aimlessly in the breeze. Perhaps I was underdressed, but every time the wind funnelled its way through the concrete walkways of the estate it felt like we were being pelted with thousands of shards of glass.

I arrived at the community centre to overhear a woman complaining bitterly about her life. It sounded like she'd had to deal with almost constant bad luck; bad health, the death of her partner."I get up in the morning and pray like mad," she said, "if it wasn't for my faith, I'd have given up." This is the sort of blind faith I find very difficult to comprehend. Surely, when God's dealt you the worst hand, it's time to acknowledge that the prayers aren't working? It's my view that religion preys on the weak and unfortunate. Don't pray. Act.

Today was a most extraordinary day. I sat underneath a railway arch listening to a group of former drug addicts and homeless people playing beautiful soul music, drank tea with lesbians, and met an 89 year-old woman with a laugh like Barbara Windsor who looked about 30 years younger than her actual age.

The highlight of the day was undoubtedly visiting the traveller community underneath the West
Way. I had no idea that so much life could be crammed into the concrete struts underneath a motorway flyover. About 200 travellers, all of whom speak with broad Irish accents, live in caravans and pre-fabricated dwellings accompanied by the constant sound of traffic. They even have their own community space, where lads play ping-pong, and children's paintings of old-style gypsy caravans line the walls. Lots of little dogs run freely around the makeshift town and inquisitive kids with the faces of middle-aged men ask if they can help, and go out of their way to do so. It was my first experience of the travelling community and I was impressed. Those I spoke to seemed much more open and welcoming than I'd expected and I hope very much one of them will trust me enough to take part in our project.

Beyond the travelling community, the sub-Westway curios continued to reveal themselves. First, a tiny snow-covered playground nestling underneath a giant advertising hoarding, and then, most surreal of all, a riding school. Cross-eyed horses stood on sand in enclosures delineated by impossibly tall metal fences. This hidden world, in the centre of London, was almost impossible to comprehend and I felt greatly privileged - if not freezing cold - to be exploring it!

I went out this evening to meet the glorious Fleet Singers and was horrified to discover that the temperatures had plummeted to -3 degrees in Highgate. I tried to clean the car window and the water immediately froze!

The Fleets were singing a fiendishly difficult piece of music which made me feel a lot better for having laid down the complicated gauntlet of Songs About the Weather last year. It'll be like an old friend when they come to perform it again in the summer!


  1. The lights on the Westway go out...Fairground Attraction!

  2. nice to meet a ture listener and down to earth person