Book preview: Taken back to a time long past by old pictures

Viewers imbued with a sense of responsibility to safeguard Highgate’s Victorian heritage.

Picture your neighbourhood as it was 150 years ago. Many of the buildings might remain unchanged, but transposed onto your regular hangouts would be scenes of Victorian London. Residents of Highgate can now enjoy seeing their well-loved streets playing out an alternative reality in Michael Hammerson’s book Highgate: From Old Photographs.

One photograph shows a flock of sheep being herded down the otherwise familiar North Road. “It was one of the main droving roads to bring cattle from the north down to the London meat markets,” says Hammerson. There are some rather curious discrepancies.

“That letterbox is still there, but it’s on the other side of the road,” he remarks of a photo of North Hill.

Hamerson, former chairman of the Highgate Society, has lived there for 40 years and, for him, the book helps the case for the preservation of Highgate, which until relatively recently was an isolated village, as is shown in the book by photographs of surrounding countryside at the turn of the last century.

“It really emphasises the enormous pressure it’s under at the moment from what, in many cases, is very bad development and planning laws to protect it being weakened by ill-considered new legislation almost every week.”

Lost gems include what is supposed to be Andrew Marvell’s home, seen in an extremely rare colour photograph dates 1867. Only one other image of it exists, in the Highgate Literary and Scientific Institution.

A photograph of the famous Swearing on the Horns ritual is included, “the main privilege being,” says Hammerson, “that once you’re sworn in as a Freeman of Highgate and you see a pig resting in a ditch, you have the right to move it and sit down in its place. Though if you are three, you can only move the middle one and sleep between the other two.”

“Unfortunately,” he quips “there are few  opportunities to exercise these rights in Highgate today.”

Curious rituals aside, Hammerson hopes the book will imbue the viewer with a sense of responsibility: “It gives people a very powerful link with the past and a better understanding of how it all worked, and how the past is serving the present and the present is looking after the past.”

Alexandra Palace Theatre

Alexandra Palace theatre is also noted as worthy of preservation in Hornsey Historical Society’s publication Alexandra Palace Theatre by Marlene McAndrew, which reveals the theatre’s fascinating story up until today.

Included is its remarkable founding philosophy: “to afford the means of intellectual improvement and physical recreation to the masses”, information about the elaborate timber machinery’s trap doors and some amusing details of what it was like to be there: “Heating was provided by radiators through a central coal-fired boiler. Although this was probably not adequate, people were used to being cold in the 19th century.”

Rookfield Estate

A development of the Garden City Movement is covered in The Rookfield Estate by David Frith, which offers the chance to see how this Muswell Hill Garden Suburb came to be through a detailing of its early history, beginning with its enclosure from Muswell Hill Common, its acquisition by W J Collins in 1899, and the history of his family, who were so instructive of the estate’s development.

There is also an exploration of Rookfield’s architectural influences, illustrated with old maps, old views and photographs of the many houses.

Hampstead Garden Suburb

Founded relatively recently, in 1907 by Henrietta Barnett, Hampstead Garden Suburb has nevertheless been home to a huge number of colourful and highly influential residents, now listed in Dr Eva Jacobs’ Notable Residents And Where They Lived. Included are such names as Anthony Gormley, Dame Elizabeth Taylor, Jerry Springer and Will Self

Originally published by The Ham & High.

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Kentish Town choir for Parkinson’s disease sufferers celebrates 10th anniversary

A choir made up of sufferers of a crippling disease is celebrating a decade of helping to boost the health and happiness of its members.

Kentish Town choir Sing for Joy was founded by Parkinson’s disease sufferer Nina Temple, former secretary of the Communist Party of Great Britain before it disbanded in 1991.

The Tufnell Park resident, 57, started the group because she was determined to do something positive after being diagnosed in her early 40s. “I was quite overcome with feelings of sadness and frustration that I wouldn’t be able to do all the things I’d always wanted to do.

“One summer I went to a holiday retreat and did some singing. That made me think it was something creative you could do even if your hands are shaking and you can’t walk very well.”

While Ms Temple was mulling over the need for a choir that would be sympathetic to disability, Parkinson’s UK received a grant from the Millennium Commission.

She was able to secure some of this money, which was earmarked for the creation of community projects, and so Sing for Joy was born.

“It’s very uplifting,” she said. “If you’re ill it can be quite a lonely business, but over the years a whole little community has grown, people have got to know each other, look out for each other. And a lot of people really look forward to it as the best night of the week.”

The choir, which rehearses at the Kentish Town Health Centre, in Bartholomew Road, now has some 25 members who are all sufferers of the degenerative disorder or other chronic conditions.

It counts top jazz singer Carol Grimes as its musical director, while renowned Dartmouth Park pianist Dorian Ford provides the backing.

Ms Grimes said: “The most important thing is that the person leading it knows about the health of the voice, because the last thing you want is people damaging their voice on top of having these illnesses.”

The singer has trained specially with a speech therapist so as to be in the best position to harness the therapeutic effects of singing for the group.

Ms Temple paid tribute to the jazz star’s ability to generate amazing enthusiasm.

“Members end up singing away together with their carers and you can see it alters the chemistry of their relationship,” she said.

The group marked its 10th anniversary with a big show at Stoke Newington Town Hall. Speaking about the benefits of performing, Ms Temple said: “Suddenly on the night, with the rush of adrenaline as the floodlights go up and everybody’s on the stage, we really pull it together and it feels quite powerful and surprising that we can sing so well.”

To find out more visit http://www.carolgrimes.com/singforjoy and go to http://www.justgiving.com/singforjoy to donate.

Originally published by The Ham & High.

No fear – this year’s show by the Crouch End Players is set to be a real treat

Flashmob performance by Crouch End Players, who can be seen in A History of Falling Things later this month. Picture by Nigel Sutton
Flashmob performance by Crouch End Players, who can be seen in A History of Falling Things later this month. Picture by Nigel Sutton

But this is no advert for the latest innovation against alien mind control, or some low-budget army helmets, or even the latest funky fashion craze.

In fact, the pretext behind this flash mob’s colander craze is A History of Falling Things, The Crouch End Player’s latest production, which tells of the love between two keraunothnetophobics – that is, people who suffer from the phobia of falling things.

Following last year’s sell-out production of A Christmas Carol, professional theatre director Kate Stafford will be returning with this strange tale, written by award-winning playwright James Graham.

Ms Stafford said: “I feel like I’m going to jinx it by saying this, but I think it will probably be the best thing we’ve ever done. In rehearsals it’s been going so brilliantly.”

A History of Falling Things will be performed at 7.30pm from November 20 to Saturday, November 23, at The Moravian Church Hall on Priory Road.

Tickets – which cost between £6 and £8 – are on sale now at http://www.wegottickets.com/crouchendplayers.

Originally published by The Ham & High.

Comic putting special into special needs

“I’m a musical comic, but don’t put that first because it puts people off.” Ria Lina is not easily pigeonholed: her father is German and her mother is Filipina, she is a trained actor, singer and dancer, has a PhD in viral bioinformatics, was a digital forensic investigator at the Serious Fraud Office, and has written and presented her own documentary for Channel 4 which seeks to dispel the myths surrounding oriental women.

Despite all this, Ria Lina has been criticised in the past for relying upon simplistic stereotypes for her humour, with such classics as It’s Not Easy Being Yellow or The Mail Order Bride Song, in which she purports to describe her own parents’ relationship.

In fact, it is in these common stereotypes that Lina believes good comedy can be found. “You have to find a balance bewteen the truth of your life and what everybody else has enough understanding of or cultural reference points to be able to find funny.”

Most people wouldn’t make such jokes about their parents, or for that matter, their son (have a listen to The Internet Porn Song), but Lina jokes that with her kids there is “an understanding that mummy entertains grownups. But not in that way.”

She suggests that much of her humour, which teeters on the brink of acceptability, might find its origin in her own mother’s lack of social artifice.

In her new set, titled Thpethial, Lina reveals that she was recently diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome – a high functioning form of autism. She decided to air this in response to a complaint from an individual who thought that she picks on people with special needs.

“Before I found out, I had no special needs. Now suddenly, by society’s definition, I have special needs.” Her show will be exploring what these labels mean, and whether one should be upset by them.

“It’s a brain topology, it’s a way of being, it’s a way of thinking, it’s a way of looking at the world and it’s a reason for me and my comedy and what I do. It’s the right fit.”

Ria Lina appears at The Good Ship on Kilburn High Road this Monday. Doors open at 6pm. For more information and tickets, visit http://www.thegoodship.co.uk

Originally published by The Kilburn Times

Review: Chimerica

‘Chimerica’: the implication is a monstrous concoction created out of two vastly different, grotesquely mismatched species, inextricably linked by virtue of being the world’s foremost economic powers. Yes, it is around these two polestars – China and America – that the various oppositional ideologies explored in the play are arranged; but no, Lucy Kirkwood cannot be faulted for being overly simplistic, as she never allows us to rest our minds in clear cut distinctions or stereotypes. Though out of the context of the play some of the characters’ perspectives and driving ideologies might seem caricatured, they are always sufficiently subverted by a host of other characters with oppositional opinions so that we, the audience, cover in our own minds all the ground between these extremes. The lofty idealism of the main protagonist, Joe Schofield, is set against a background of brutal humour, which repeatedly uses a banal, physical reality, undercutting notions of the individual’s importance or heroism: on finding out that his colleague has been paralysed from the waist down, Mel quips, “Man, that sucks. I have to find a new racquetball partner.” The script is choc-a-bloc with sound bites, easily digested like consumer culture: “I sleep in a tupperware box and eat nothing but steamed kale.” “This is a country which has gone from famine to slim-fast in one generation.” These ideas are amplified by the revolving set which transforms into various slickly purpose-built pod-like living spaces.

The plot takes its focus from a well-known historic image of one anonymous Chinese man with what we assume to be superhuman bravery, standing in the path of a tank during the Tiananmen Square massacre. The image is shocking. This man is made miniscule in comparison to the ruthless-looking tank which he stares up at, and must know full well that this army has made no bones about killing his fellow countrymen so far that day. We read into his body language, his slightly askew posture: in this overwhelming situation, perhaps he is in a nirvana-like state, kept standing by the overwhelming power of the needs and desires of his people. A hero maybe? Kirkwood reminds us that this is not reality, but rather “a photograph of one country by another country”, specifically by America, for whom the culture of heroes is almost superstitious, entwined with the constitutional notion of individualism – “All men are created equal” and anyone can achieve great things. This image of the tank man, the visual and intellectual heart of the production, is a jumping off point for exploration of Susan Sontag’s On Photography, in which the basic premise is that “photographs furnish evidence” and “appropriate the thing photographed”. Throughout the production this image is misread and used to serve the agendas of different characters, as well as the audience. A schism has occurred: we imagine photographs to be accurate depictions of the real world, but images are unavoidably ambiguous, nuanced with what we wish to see. They are dissociated from reality. Looking at the image, recognising our own visceral reaction, we, the audience, congratulate ourselves on our compassion and understanding, but our response is misdirected and in fact we have excused ourselves from truly engaging with the situation.

Tessa Kendrick, leading female protagonist, points out that the culturally imperialist American ego has projected its own perspective onto China in an unexpected way. Tessa breaks down in her business presentation, because the task she has been set is based on a false premise: that China’s rapid evolution from third-world to first-world country is necessarily tied up with an aspiration to become America. Repeatedly, we see Chinese characters play up to this assumption, wryly donning the role of naïve barbarian. Zhang Lin says to Joe Schofield of their dinner plans that he is taking them ‘Somewhere very special, I’ve been saving up, it’s called Pizza Hut’, before watching Joe’s face for a look that will be both patronising and patronised. We meet a Chinese stripper before she goes onstage for her United Nations gig. She is wearing a sequinned stars-and-stripes bikini. The implicit offstage scene is of a group of zombified delegates, swallowing a strange alternative version of their situation, egos flattered by cocaine and her feigned appreciation of their cocks and their country.

Originally published by The Kaleidoscope Project.

An artist whose work is on show at a much-loved historic home in Highgate said she was inspired to create her art when her husband “died” twice in one day.

Gill Jones said the memory of her husband’s heart stopping on two occasions has helped her create artwork based “around the tenuous grasp that we have on life”.

Her vulnerable portraits of her husband are on show at Lauderdale House in Waterlow Park, Highgate Hill, until November 10.

Mrs Jones, from Barnstaple in Devon, whose husband survived the frightening incident, said: “He died twice. He dropped dead at my feet and then he died again in the ambulance.

“I discovered that if you start painting a man who is less than heroic or robust, then people are very disturbed by it.”

Mrs Jones is exhibiting at Lauderdale House alongside fellow West Country artist Susan Wallis.

For more information, visit http://www.lauderdalehouse.co.uk.

Originally published by The Ham & High.

Take part in a ‘Scratch Messiah’ in Muswell Hill this weekend

Singing enthusiasts of all ages and abilities will be able to perform in Handel’s Messiah this weekend - without having done a minute's rehearsal.

The “Scratch Messiah” will take place in the grand Victorian setting of St James Church, Muswell Hill Broadway at 7pm, all in aid of the North London Hospice.

Members of the audience will be able to join in singing the chorus – although those who wish simply to listen are also welcome. Participants are expected to include those who are complete beginners, those who have previously sung Messiah at school or in choral societies.

They will be accompanied by an orchestra and soloists who have been booked free of charge.

Some copies of Messiah will be available to borrow or buy, but singers should bring along their own vocal scores if they can.

Organiser Stephen Brearley, Muswell Hill surgeon and musician, first conducted Scratch Messiahs and scratch performances of other great works when living in Birmingham.

He said “We have a fantastic team of soloists and a wonderful orchestra for this event. Their enthusiasm and keenness to support the North London Hospice is overwhelming.

“We have space for over 200 choral singers and I hope that a large number will turn up, both to support the Hospice and to revel in singing Handel’s magnificent music.”

Proceeds from all tickets – which cost £20 – will go to the hospice. They are available from: North London Hospice on 020 8446 2288; or Peter Kraushar 020 8883 4736 or peterkrau@aol.com; or at the door on the night.

Originally published in The Ham & High.

Councillor donates coat to West Hampstead winter appeal

A politician has backed an estate agent’s efforts to help homeless and other vulnerable people get through the chilly winter months by giving away one of her coats.

Cllr Tulip Siddiq, Camden’s cabinet member for culture and Labour’s candidate for the Hampstead and Kilburn parliamentary seat, visited the West Hampstead estate agent Paramount Properties, in West End Lane, last Friday to hand in one of her old jackets.

The firm is once again acting as a drop-off point for the Wrap up London campaign, which seeks donations of unwanted coats for the benefit of those in need.

The campaign is hoping to collect 10,000 garments to give to more than 100 charities, including homeless shelters, women’s refuges, youth centres and care homes.

Cllr Siddiq said: “I’m supporting the Wrap Up London campaign because it’s a simple and important initiative to keep vulnerable people warm this winter.”