Graphic Novelist Oscar Zarate pays Passionate Tribute to Hampstead Heath

Once upon a time, Britain was covered almost entirely in forest. The population lived in constant contact with nature, where there were wild spaces in which the imagination could run free and mythology emanated from the sheer age of the land.

Nowadays, for Londoners, most of this link has been lost, except for one huge anomaly.

Photo by Tony Hall
Photo by Tony Hall

“In a city like this, to have a space like this, it’s close to a miracle,” says graphic novelist Oscar Zarate, who is just one of a multitude of us who are in love with Hampstead Heath.

“It offers the possibility of being connected. If you lean against one of those trees, you feel something – it’s 500 years of life there. It’s a pure gut response to this place.”

This is the fervour and romanticism which colours his new graphic novel – The Park. It tells the stories of four characters whose lives intersect as a result of their common connection to what might be considered the central protagonist, the Heath.

Interplay between characters and the vibrant natural world

The seeds of the book grew out of a conversation Zarate overheard on the Heath, in which a man was being very disagreeable. “There was an incredible clash between the physical environment and what this human was saying.”

Zarate creates an interplay between his characters and that vibrant natural world, sometimes using a frame to zoom in for a bug’s eye view of the battles raging beneath the grass blades, or to soar above with the birds.


Previously he has worked with graphic novelist superstar Alan Moore on the book A Small Killing, but now in this – Zarate’s first solo project – his expert hand has both written and drawn this jubilant homage to the Heath.

Much of the pleasure of The Park comes from any true Heath-lover recognising the geographical accuracy of the routes that the characters take, including one’s favourite locations – be it Kite Hill, Bird Bridge or more secluded spots that only an expert eye will recognise by the curve of a footpath or the shape of a fallen tree trunk.

Here is a video in which the graphic novelist lets us have a sneak peek at the book and his working methods:

Originally published by The Ham & High.


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.

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 and go to 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

Originally published by The Ham & High.

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

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; 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.”

Devilish dogs and menacing mutts strut their stuff in Hampstead

Roxy westie/Maltese cross at All Dogs Matter Charity Devilish Dog Walk and fancy dress competition
Roxy westie/Maltese cross at All Dogs Matter Charity Devilish Dog Walk and fancy dress competition

More cute than creepy, these particular creatures were in fact dogs in fancy dress.

The Devilish Dog Walk, hosted at the Spaniards Inn pub in Spaniards Road, saw pooches and humans alike in outlandish outfits.

It attracted some 50 entrants and managed to raise more than £1,000 for dog re-homing charity All Dogs Matter.

Competitors were judged by a celebrity panel made up of Hampstead actor Peter Egan and BBC Radio London presenter Anna Webb.

Originally published by The Ham & High.

Top 10 things to do for Halloween and Bonfire Night in Hampstead and Highgate

With Halloween upon us and Bonfire Night looming, the Ham&High has conjured up some curious happenings so you can revamp(ire) your schedule… Here are our top 10 recommendations for spooky celebrations this week.


Spooky walk

Calling all ghosts and ghouls, witches and werewolves, skeletons and sprites! Explore the spooky historic house and gardens on a magical adventure trail at Lauderdale House in Waterlow Park, Highgate, as part of a Halloween walk. Those coming are advised to dress up, wear your masks and be ready for the unexpected! Limited numbers can be accommodated so advance booking is advised. The walk runs from 5-5.45pm. Tickets cost £6 and can be bought at

21st Century Poe: Falling for the Ushers at the Etcetera Theatre

Storyteller and playwright Mary Ross brings his five star one man show from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival to the Etcetera Theatre in Camden. This is a chance to catch the last night of the London Horror Festival, a two-and-a-half-week celebration of horror in the performing arts. The performance starts at 7.30pm and tickets are £10 at


Spooky cruise at Vestal Voyages

Enjoy an evening ride through the historic canals of London, while drinking some seriously fine concoctions from Vestal Vodka. You will set sail from the King’s Cross Granary Square and journey along the Regent’s Canal. Vestal Voyages last an hour and a half and are £25 per person, with two cocktails included. Barges leave at 6pm or 8pm. Book quickly to avoid disappointment.

Halloween Horror

Not for the faint of heart, this immersive cinema experience running for three days features roaming zombie actors and fake SWAT teams freaking you out while you watch classic horror movies or chow down on burgers. Backyard’s Apocalypse will take over the entire Camden Lock indoor market and courtyard. There will also be a bar and blankets, although the screenings will be indoors. Films include Zombieland and Evil Dead (today); The Cabin in the Woods and 28 Days Later (tomorrow); World War Z and I Spit On Your Grave (Saturday). Visit for tickets costing £12.


Shriek week at Alexandra Palace

Spooky stories, pumpkin carving, jungle inflatable soft play area, dance macabre, freaky face painting and gory games – there is plenty in store for you if you take a trip to Ally Pally this week. You can buy your ice skating tickets online in advance and avoid the queues. Tickets prices from £8.80-£9.80 can be found at or by calling 020 8365 4386. The fireworks display back at Ally Pally on Saturday after four years is now sold out.

Fright factor at London Zoo

If the lions and tigers and bears aren’t scary enough the rest of year round, London Zoo has upped the fright factor especially for Halloween. With a host of creepy creatures in the daily Animals in Actionshow, and a spooky schedule of special events, this will be an exciting time to pay a visit to the zoo. Events include bat mask making, a night zone trail with the nocturnal creatures, Terrifying Tigers Live, spooky stories for under 5s and much much more. Tickets can be at for £0-£21.50, depending on your age.


Clockwork ‘Stanley Hotel’ Halloween Special at The Lock, Camden Town

This Halloween the Lock bar is transforming into the Stanley Hotel from the Shining. Burgers and spooky shots will be served as well as plenty of bourbon on the rocks. DJs will include SPC Eco, O Children and others. The night starts at 8pm and entrance is free.


Alexandra Palace fireworks

Back with a Bang! Fireworks at Ally Pally. Back after four years without, Alexandra Palace is hosting a fireworks display with a difference. As well as the amazing views of London, Ally Pally will be providing a traditional family Fairground, complete with Carousel, Helter Skelter, Coconut Shy and more. From 2pm-11pm the Great Hall will be home to the UK’s largest German Bier Festival (over 18s only), which will involve live tribute bands (including an Oasis tribute), oompah bands, premium German Beers and German food, a Bavarian Waitress Service and a British Beer and Ale section. Tickets are also available for the ice skating rink, only to be used in conjunction with a Fireworks ticket. Fireworks are at 8pm. Tickets are now sold out, so instead enjoy the view from across north London.


Puppet Grinder Cabaret at Jacksons Lane

Attend the grand finale of Suspense 2013 London Puppetry Festival, which seeks to dispel the myth that puppetry is just for children, by creating edgy and entertaining productions. Featuring polished live acts and short animations, from the beautiful and comical to the grotesque and wonderfully weird, this cabaret will be a feast of new and intriguing performances. Visit or call 020 8341 4421 for tickets, which are £15.95 or £13.95 for concession.


Fireworks on Primrose Hill

Not a rigidly organised event per se, but the pilgrimage to Primrose Hill to watch London’s skyline light up with fireworks has become a must-do annual event nonetheless. Primrose Hill has long provided Londoners with an unrivalled vantage point to watch the capital’s displays after its own was scrapped some years ago due to safety concerns. Those making the trek up there have been warned not to bring any Chinese lanterns or their own fireworks (the police will be making their presence known at the park’s gates). The park is set to close at 9pm.

Originally published by The Ham & High.