I was in North Finchley last Friday, visiting cafe owner and parking campaigner Helen Michael, following the alleged incident involving Councillor Brian Coleman, in the course of which she claims to have suffered a broken wrist, and subsequently led to his arrest on suspicion of common assault.
Just before crossing over the road to Cafe Buzz, I noticed a figure who used to be a very familiar sight in this part of Finchley. It was 'Horace', whose real name was Stanley, and for decades had hung about the street opposite where Buzz is now, usually with a suitcase. Sometimes he would sit leaning up against a shop window, take out a piece of paper, and draw and colour in with a handful of crayons: at other times he might just amble along outside the shops. He would always greet people with the same expression:
'The best of luck to you!'
Horace - pic Esther Hodges/Times group
Horace's childlike manner and vulnerability made him an easy target for abuse by the sort of mindless fools who think it is amusing to make fun of someone with a mental health disability, and sometimes this would make him confused, and angry, not surprisingly, although not violent. And he was almost always cheerful, and quite charming.
This morning the news broke that Horace died suddenly, yesterday, after collapsing outside the Whittington Hospital, and there has now been an outpouring of affectionate tributes to him on twitter, facebook, and in the local press from many people who knew him, and flowers have been left at one of his favourite spots in the High Road.
How odd it is, that after so long an absence, Horace should come back to Finchley the day after the incident right across the road.
The curious focus of energy in this part of the borough, noted in the previous post, does seem to throw up the most interesting sequence of events, curious coincidences and ironic gestures of fate.
Horace was the sort of resident that the Tory councillors of Broken Barnet prefer to overlook, in their haste to assume the mantle of the 'successful London suburb' to which they aspire, in their One Barnet corporate mission statement.
The Barnet our Tory masters see is the one that is comprised of Hampstead Garden Suburb, Totteridge, High Barnet, the affluent areas, the middle class areas, the schools like QE Boys, Henrietta Barnett ... St Michael's. They do not care to spend much time worrying about the other Barnet, the broken Barnet, made up of all the less advantaged regions to the west and south of the borough.
These areas are the traditionally Labour voting wards where the worst housing exists, and the poorest acheiving schools are left to fail those unable to exercise the Tory promise of 'choice' for their children, and these are the areas which are the furthest away from healthcare centres, and indeed have the highest rates of mortality and ill health.
In Tory Barnet, there are those with means, and those with needs. Those with means have a very nice life, but those with needs face an increasingly hard struggle to maintain even the lower level of standard of living they already had.
And residents with physical or mental disabilities face the hardest struggle of all. Changes in benefit allocation, a shrinking supply of social housing, and most of all the damage done to the provision of social care by a devastating reduction in funding: all of this is creating a heavy burden for those least able to bear it.
Every form of care and every support system is under review, of course. Apart from the added difficulties that the new parking scheme has caused for all residents, there is now a proposal to charge for the right to use disabled parking places, disguised as an administrative cost for blue badges, as well as a plan to abolish the travel voucher scheme for reduced taxi transport.
Taxis, of course, in Broken Barnet, must be subsidised only for Tory councillors going to and from banquets at the Guildhall, or lunch at the Ivy.
Ah, yes: speaking of which, taxi loving Councillor Brian Coleman famously expressed his view, not so long ago, at a council meeting attended by Mrs Angry, that the council should not have to bear the burden of cost for transport for 'these people', that is to say, residents with physical or learning difficulties whose mobility is dependent on such support.
Councillor Coleman also stated his opinion at a council meeting last week that council tax should be frozen again this year, but that he felt councillors' allowances should be 'reviewed upwards'.
And there we have it, the tale of two Barnets, once again: on one side of the declining High Road in Finchley, the Tory councillor formerly paid £130,000 per annum from public funded posts, who lives in a fixed rent charity owned flat, whose extortionate parking policy is widely believed to be responsible for the greater part of the decline, arrives for an appointment with destiny in the shape of an alleged incident involving a local trader who has dared to oppose his scheme.
Across the road sits Horace, who lives his life on the street, and in material terms has nothing. Yet he has everything he needs, and so much more than some might think. He is happy, and he is a part of his community, and when he died, everyone who heard the news and knew him felt what was perhaps an unexpected sense of loss, and remembered him with affection.
Recently, in his new blog, our Councillor Coleman wrote with admiration about the late Tory minister, Rhodes Boyson, observing coyly that it caused us
"to reflect on the contribution to our National Life of those who whilst never achieving the top rank of Political Office will probably be remembered for far longer than many who did" ...
By this no doubt he meant to refer to himself.
One must agree, surely: Coleman will be remembered for a long time.
I think it is fair to say that he won't be remembered with much affection, however, here in Broken Barnet.
The best of luck to you, Horace, wherever you are now.