I moved to Hampstead from a place they used to call the murder mile in Camden in the year 2000. I thought all my chickens had come home to roost. No more listening to the fights, the domestics, the sirens and the general mayhem of day to day working class life. Where to hang out your dirty laundry off the balcony for all and sundry was common place. Where the kids would have their pockets emptied regularly and playing out really wasn’t possible. A place you survived rather than lived. So circumstance changed and I got rehoused to Hampstead. When I moved I was as chuffed to bits and I remember actually laying in bed at night listening to the silence and thinking how special it was. The Heath at the end of my road and a cute little school at the other. But it wasn’t long before I realised the community was missing. The local school turned out to be like a pre prep school. You needed to arrange play dates because so many extra curricula lessons were being taken by the kids to ensure their success and none of them actually lived in the area. Most of the houses were walled and the residents went to work and returned with out any need of interaction with anybody else. Acado vans delivered the shopping, maids walked the dogs and au pairs took the kids to school.
Over the years and with a war that saw all the old liberals meeting at the tube station to go on the anti war demos, I realised in the background there was a community I just hadn’t discovered it yet. There it was hiding behind the nouveau riche facades and had been around since time when Hampstead had been full of artisans, actors, artists, writers and good old school lefties. So the community was never going to be as tight and in your face as was in Camden but it was there. We nodded, we acknowledged each other but it lacks the gritty, hard but very real and honest working class community that I was used to.
But then they decided to refurbish the lifts at Hampstead Station. There used to be four and they closed 2 of them taking over a year to do the work And so it changed, every morning when we all went on our separate journeys to work we were all now thrown into a squashed lift together. Morning and night we rammed ourselves into that tight box and there was no avoiding each other. So all of a sudden we were in each others faces, first the polite talk of the weather, the stoppages on the Northern line and yes another Estate agent on our High Street, to discussing the fact that one of our local pubs was under threat and developers had sought planning permission to turn it into flats. Not that it made any difference to me. You needed to take out a loan to buy a round. Another attempt at exclusivity that failed. But it was still a local and we all had the romantic idea that we could get our old pub back. Any way I digress, my point about the lifts was that suddenly there was no avoidance of each other and local issues impossible to ignore. Updates and emails were shared and the talk went from polite chit chat about plans for Christmas to community matters and it was good, Not everybody chatted on this level but at least there was a feeling we all knew each others faces and the more than occasional name. Over the year our passings were routine and frequent and we had a gained a comfort.
But then the other day it happened the lift refurbishment had finished and all four lifts were open. Wicked, no more being squashed and embarrassing spaces I thought. A couple of weeks passed, when I realised I hadn’t seen anyone for days. No talk, not even small talk, no idle chatter about the storms or the high street nothing ……it had all gone quiet the community created by this forced contact had dispersed back to it’s old ways and this is why I am sad they fixed the lifts.