Jane Haynes

My Lon­don

The London Magazine - - CONTENTS -

Jane Haynes orig­i­nally trained as a Jun­gian psy­cho­an­a­lyst but then ‘de­fected’ and now refers to her­self as a re­la­tional psy­chother­a­pist. Her book Who is it that can tell me who I am? (Lit­tle, Brown) was short­listed for the 2008 PEN Ack­er­ley Prize for lit­er­ary au­to­bi­og­ra­phy. She lives, and prac­tises, in Lon­don. This is the twenty-ninth ar­ti­cle in our reg­u­lar “My Lon­don” se­ries.

I have lived off the Abbey Road and in the same house for forty-three years. Abbey Road has its own his­tory and pe­cu­liar­i­ties, and I have mine so we are good neigh­bours. Abbey Road was cre­ated in 1829 from an ex­ist­ing farm track called Abbey Lane as part of the de­vel­op­ment of the priv­i­leged gen­tri­fied vil­las that still rep­re­sent St John’s Wood and beckon to­wards its fa­mous lux­ury high street. When we first moved into ‘the Pri­or­ies’ (which con­sists of an oa­sis of two one-way roads of al­most in­tact stucco ar­chi­tec­ture in an area that was dev­as­tated by the Blitz, and then the build­ing of ‘high rise’ tow­ers), the mews be­hind our house were still un­con­verted sta­bles that smelt of horse ma­nure.

The name Abbey Road de­rives from the nearby but in­vis­i­ble pres­ence of the long ex­tinct Kil­burn Pri­ory whose his­tory ex­tends to the un­der­ground rivers and sub­sid­ing clay our streets are built upon. The first records of this pri­ory were listed: Primo foun­da­tion mo­ni­al­ium de Kyl­borne per ab­batem West­monas­terii. Au­gus­tian 1130. The pri­ory was es­tab­lished with the con­sent of Gil­bert Univer­salis, Bishop of Lon­don. Orig­i­nally sub­or­di­nate to West­min­ster Abbey by 1377 it was de­scribed as an or­der of Au­gus­tinian canonesses!

I like the idea of the Abbey Road be­ing dom­i­nated not by monks but by ‘high pri­estesses of the Abbey Or­a­cle.’ Five cen­turies later the road was still dom­i­nated by fe­male en­ergy when the Hos­pi­tal of St. John and El­iz­a­beth was founded in 1856 and was placed un­der the care of the Sis­ters of Mercy, an or­der of nuns who worked with Flo­rence Nightin­gale in the

Crimean War. Only as I write, have I made a con­nec­tion be­tween the ab­sence of scur­ry­ing black-habited nuns that I re­call, not without dread, from child­hood and the fre­quency, as you progress west to­wards Church Street mar­ket, of scut­tling veiled hi­jabs. It is sad that hu­man­ity in­hab­its so many rigid masks and yet our skele­tons are – in essence – iden­ti­cal.

In the 1840s, de­vel­op­ers, who were the lo­cal es­tate own­ers, em­ployed ar­chi­tects to de­sign vil­las in the streets off the Abbey Road for both gen­try and the lesser re­garded pro­fes­sional classes in a va­ri­ety of Gothic-in­flu­enced styles, many of which sur­vive to­day. Our house was built in 1875 and has un­der­gone many lay­ers of wall­pa­per since its first oc­cu­pants. To be­gin with we could only af­ford to live in half of the house and the only rea­son we were able to af­ford that com­pro­mise was be­cause the house had a sit­ting ten­ant stranded on the mid­dle floor who had been in res­i­dence since the war and who, for sixty years, had crossed the Abbey Road to catch the 159 bus, which has since be­come the 139.

Per­mit me to make a de­vi­a­tion to re­call the first time that we crossed the thresh­old of our home. It was 1972. An es­tate agent let us into the derelict build­ing that was di­vided into lodg­ing rooms. From the top of the stair­case a flat­tened voice ap­pealed: ‘Who’s there?’ Its owner, the sur­viv­ing con­trolled ten­ant, a mis­shapen bun­dle of hu­man­ity, was an el­derly and life-stained woman. Her name was Leah Levine and she rose up from the kip­per-stained fumes, unas­sail­able, to vo­cal­ize the only rights she had ever known, the rights of a con­trolled ten­ancy to one mildewed room without a bath­room. ‘I’ll only go if you pay, it’s my right to be here!’ With clenched nos­trils we crossed the thresh­old that had sig­naled home to Miss Levine for the last forty

My small daugh­ter was fright­ened by the gen­eral disor­der and be­gan to sob, ‘I don’t want to live with a witch.’ She was re­fer­ring to the fact that Leah Levine had a beard. Yes, she was a bearded lady. The med­i­cal ter­mi­nol­ogy would be to say that she suf­fered from hirseutism. She had nei­ther a fuzzy smear of dark­ness, nor a smat­ter­ing of whiskers but a half face full of stub­ble beard that de­spite a daily shave ac­quired a five o’clock shadow. Our daugh­ter was un­der­stand­ably afraid. Silently, I re­as­sured my­self that

Miss Levine’s pres­ence was of no con­se­quence; af­ter all the es­tate agent had said there would be no prob­lem get­ting rid of her, if the price was right. Miss Levine re­fused to sur­ren­der her ten­ancy. Af­ter a life­time of be­ing so­cially marginal­ized she pre­ferred to live and to die, even if only on the out­skirts of a fam­ily; with our fam­ily. In the four­teen re­main­ing years of her life Leah proudly oc­cu­pied her newly self-con­tained, dec­o­rated and cen­trally heated ac­com­mo­da­tion. She never re­cov­ered from the ex­cite­ment and pride when we pro­vided her with own kitchen and bath­room. Af­ter her death her flat tran­si­tioned into my first con­sult­ing room. Her door­bell never rang once, ex­cept on Satur­days when the milk­man still called.

I di­gress and must leave our Vic­to­rian stucco ter­race to re­turn to the pe­cu­liar­i­ties and tricks of the great road, which is fa­mous for both Lord’s cricket ground and the Abbey Road Stu­dios and its iconic cross­ing. I want to de­scribe the in­ter­sec­tion of Abbey Road cross­roads that I in­habit be­cause whether oc­cur­ring in myth – clas­si­cal or ur­ban – cross­roads are sig­ni­fiers of ‘be­tween worlds’ and as such be­come an al­ter­na­tive her­itage site where su­per­nat­u­ral spir­its can be con­tacted and para­nor­mal events take place. The ma­jor cross­road which in­ter­sects be­tween Abbey and Bel­size Roads is sit­u­ated a few hun­dred yards north from where it turns into West End Lane and if you ven­ture around an­other bend you en­ter the ex­otic and feral Kil­burn High Road. Go­ing west the cross­roads are sit­u­ated less than one hun­dred yards from where the no­bil­ity of West­min­ster Coun­cil with its lamp­posts fes­tooned with sea­sonal flow­ers and daily refuse col­lec­tions turns into the bank­ruptcy of Cam­den, where you will find nei­ther flow­ers nor weekly refuse col­lec­tions. In his Diaries for the Lon­don Re­view of Books, Alan Ben­nett quipped that you now re­quire an en­vi­ron­men­tal PhD to in­ter­pret Cam­den’s newly im­ple­mented re­cy­cling laws; we all live in ter­ror of for­get­ting which week is for green wheel­ies and which fort­night is for black, or of be­ing run down by a gi­ant-sized wheelie re­cy­cling bin on the loose.

These cross­roads al­most suc­ceed, with the ex­cep­tion of the ‘the Pri­or­ies’, in sep­a­rat­ing the low­est pay­ing ‘high rise’ Cam­den Coun­cil tax pay­ers from the high­est pay­ing West­min­ster in­hab­i­tants. It is at the ap­pro­pri­ately named Bound­ary Road (fa­mous for the now ex­tinct Saatchi gallery) that the

post­code changes from NW8 to NW6. Wartime bomb dam­age ac­cel­er­ated the de­cline of South Hamp­stead when the lo­cal and county coun­cils cleared a large area of blitz and built the in­fa­mous high-rise Abbey Road es­tate in the 1960s. For­tu­nately, their cladding must be made of sterner stuff than Gren­fell Tower’s as I have wit­nessed sev­eral of the flats to be dec­i­mated by kitchen flame.

One day, about twenty-five-years ago, I was re­clin­ing on my bed and look­ing out of the win­dow with the high rise Snow­man Tower across the Abbey Road al­most di­a­met­ri­cally in view. Sud­denly, I saw a fe­male body pro­pelled through the sky and if I had not then been un­cer­tain as to whether I was hal­lu­ci­nat­ing I might have thought of WH Au­den’s un­for­get­table lines:

About suf­fer­ing they were never wrong, The old Mas­ters: how well they un­der­stood Its hu­man po­si­tion: how it takes place While some­one else is eat­ing or open­ing a win­dow or just walk­ing dully along;

There was noth­ing to be done, noth­ing at all but this is not the end of the tragedy, and my hus­band re­fuses to be­lieve that it hap­pened, but I knew it did. This was con­firmed when I was at work in my Maryle­bone con­sult­ing room. One day, less than a year ago, a man was shar­ing his acute sui­ci­dal feel­ings. I en­quired if any­one had ever bro­ken the sui­cide ta­boo in his fam­ily: ‘Yes about twenty-five-years ago my sis­ter jumped from her kitchen win­dow on the high rise block of flats on the Abbey Road, I think it is called Snow­man House.’

De­spite tragedy, and there have also been floods, fires, con­stant traf­fic col­li­sions and other fa­tal­i­ties, I still love the fact that ‘home’ is sit­u­ated on these cross­roads of a tran­si­tion­ing so­ci­ety be­cause psy­cho­log­i­cally I in­habit a tran­si­tion­ing state of mind. I find the Kil­burn High Road’s ex­otic multi-eth­nic­ity as al­lur­ing as the se­duc­tive and rat­tling glit­ter of St. John’s Wood High Street where both Jew and Arab fight not for their lives but for cof­fee ta­bles at the Ivy Cafe and Harry Mor­gan’s Jew­ish deli. In re­search

for this ac­count I read, not without irony, a lo­cal record of Abbey Road statis­tics which claims: ‘45 per cent of the res­i­dents are Chris­tian and 16.4 per cent are Jew­ish’. Pre­sum­ably that means that the ‘in­vis­i­ble’ re­main­ing 39 per cent must now be multi-cul­tural.

The Abbey Road is dom­i­nated by in­ter­na­tional sign­posts which in­clude the iconic Abbey Road ze­bra cross­ing im­mor­tal­ized by the Bea­tles’ last al­bum and which has be­come a pil­grim­age for Bea­tle tourism and touts. Ex­cept the stu­dios, and those of us who are in the know, have the last laugh…

Many years ago West­min­ster Coun­cil moved the cross­ing sev­eral yards down the road for bet­ter traf­fic man­age­ment. It makes me both sad and ir­ri­ta­ble to see tourists with noth­ing bet­ter to do than as­sem­ble at fake cross­roads. Then, I re­mind my­self that we all try to make mean­ing and sense if not sen­si­bil­ity out of our lives in a ran­dom world. Celebrity has re­placed re­li­gious or I would pre­fer to say spir­i­tual rit­ual, which is why, de­spite any ab­sence of doc­tri­nal faith, I am fond of the idea that the foun­da­tions of our house are built upon the pa­le­on­tol­ogy of a ru­ined con­vent.

There is an­other cul­tural tem­ple fur­ther up the Abbey Road which is called Lord’s and whose hal­lowed gates I have never en­tered but where the club dress code seems to be as ar­chaic and strict as that of any syn­a­gogue or mosque. As it hap­pens there are three syn­a­gogues within the vicin­ity of the Abbey Road while the Cen­tral Lon­don Mosque is only a few min­utes away down Park Road. There are so many vast chest­nuts and beeches over­hang­ing the road in sum­mer that it makes the 139 bus route seem like a tree­top ad­ven­ture or hazard. There is also the treat of St Mary’s Vic­to­rian church spire on the cor­ner of Pri­ory and Abbey Roads. While I am no tem­ple goer I am a great ad­mirer of steeples and weath­er­cocks. What a word ‘weath­er­cock’ is. We need a lo­cal pub quiz at the Lily Langtry to find out if any­one knows its ori­gins. The ninth-cen­tury, Pope Ni­cholas made the rooster of­fi­cial when he de­creed that all churches must dis­play the rooster on their steeples or domes as a sym­bol of Peter’s be­trayal of Je­sus.

St. Mary’s spire and its rooster beckon me across time to home.

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