The quest for a peaceful life is being undermined by loud-mouthed community leaders, says Julie Fawcett
A real racket
A group of youngsters sit in the centre, channel surfing and sheltering from the incessant rain. ‘That’s that Hugh Fearny Witheringstall bloke…swear to God… if I saw him I’d have to punch his face in,’ one states. An undercurrent of agreement reverberates around the room and the rain continues to pour.
All is peaceful. Eventually, the rain stops and people head outdoors and into another Pleasant Valley Saturday. And then a neighbour appears asking if I know anything about the noise in the car park.
I don’t, but as I prick up my ears I hear a blast from the past. It appears to be a sound system from the 1980s struggling to blast out reggae music. We walk round and a man in a bright orange, sleeveless ‘I’m in charge’ vest approaches us. Without any obvious irony, the message on the vest states ‘I’m here 4 peace’. The residents, on the other hand, need some convincing that this din has anything to do with peace at all.
Now, don’t get me wrong, peace is a great thing and we are all actively working towards it in our own lives, our communities, our cities, our country and the world generally, aren’t we?
It seems a bit odd then, that our peace has just been shattered by a load of orange-vested aliens who shout as loudly as they can at us, using amplification.
We are all in our gardens, going shopping, mopping up the leaks into our flats, the usual stuff. But on a special weekend like this one - it could be the Grand Prix or Wimbledon - a breach of the peace on a Saturday morning is the last thing people are up for.
Up on the balconies a few tenants are straining to see the source of the jarring sound - the speakers aren’t great so the noise is nasty and tinny.
In Brixton you might think that this would be everyday stuff, but it hasn’t been for years. Music is much more likely to be for the ears of the owner, only plugged into ‘nu tech’ equipment. Long term, it’s just as anti-social possibly, but a very different kind of anti-social - the quiet, more insidious kind, and probably more damaging to the old-fashioned ideas of community.
There is something in this loud ‘invasion’ that hits a raw nerve. For many years this community has spent time trying to create an atmosphere of trust among residents, dealing with the influx of the cultures from across the world. Not all cultures have found the British one an easy fit but compromises, a genuine wish for a peaceful existence and quiet enjoyment of our homes had brought about a revolution.
A group of tenants stand looking down at those causing the racket. None are known to any of us. ‘Men, Men, Men. Peace, Peace, Peace. Unity, Unity, Unity’ is the mantra on offer from the people attending this gathering - and, to be fair, they have a point. It had been peaceful and most of the men who are now appearing on the balconies are united in their wish that the ‘music’ should stop and the perpetrators of the breach of our peace should basically bugger off. Another guy in an orange jacket tells us that they have permission to assault our ears and violate our senses. The police and the council had told them they could.
People patiently point out that that is all well and good, but they hadn’t asked the permission of the people who lived there and paid for the communal space. It might have been OK if they had all been warned. Then it would have been a choice - join in or go to Brixton and see what’s new in the pound shop. We ask for more information and the orange jacket tells us they are here to solve our gang problems.
Many point out that they were barking up the wrong tree 10 years too late. The ‘youts’ are creasing up at the ‘grandad music’ - it might have been the Henry Hall Orchestra for all the relevance it has. We are in a time warp. The only nod to the new millennium in the ramshackle outfit before us is a video camera.
Since 1981 the usual suspects have held the moral high ground in our world. Self-proclaimed or media-invented ‘community leaders’ climbed slippery political ladders, avoiding democracy.
Truth is that, while we search for a quiet life, we have been played for years by the big gobs who understood nothing but their own taste for ‘power’, the intimidation of others and a desire for the status quo of a community at war with itself. Unelected, they have held communities like ours in the palm of their hands, urging revolution and general disobedience. The deafening silence in response to the calls for ‘peace’ said it all. We have all moved on now.
After a unifying giggle on the balconies, the community, young, old and in-between, retreat peacefully into Brixton and the pound shop makes a killing.
Julie Fawcett is a housing association tenant and a director of Stockwell Park Community Trust