Rose Rouse rocks around Harlesden with Kensal Rise novelist Maggie Gee OBE
Every month, Rose walks and talks with friends, neighbours around busy NW10 and meets people you may have heard of living on your doorstep
Writer Rose Rouse is on an adventure – not in Cuba, Bali or the Outer Hebrides but in Harlesden where she lives. Every month, she walks and talks with friends, neighbours around busy NW10 and meets people you may have heard of living on your doorstep. Recently as part of her Not On Safari In Harlesden project, she walked with local writer, Maggie Gee.
Writer, Maggie Gee – she’s on to her twelfth novel and received her OBE in the New Year’s Honour’s list – loves Roundwood Park.
She’s a regular and her Orange Prize-listed 2003 novel, The White Family, is based on a park keeper who used to work here.
“I feel passionately about public space,” she says, “the Victorians understood that it is this shared space that matters when you have rich and poor people living together in a society. A hundred years ago, the rich invested in public space like this park and the library because they didn’t want to be murdered in their beds at night.
“These days when the gap between the rich and the poor is growing all the time, we seem to be losing this understanding of what matters. The White Family was about that too.”
Not surprisingly, Maggie is outraged that there is no longer a permanent park keeper at Roundwood.
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“There’s never been a serious crime here,” she says, “and much of that is down to having had a park keeper. It’s these little things that are being eaten away, bit by bit. And they make all the difference. We neglect these public spaces at our peril. Park keepers make people feel safe.”
Maggie and her family – her husband, Nick, and 25 year old daughter, Rosie – are wont to play a version of rounders up here. They sprint around a circle of plane trees. It’s unorthodox but they are both very keen on it.
I remember that I’ve read how The White Family was also based on the Stephen Lawrence case.
“That made me so angry. I wanted to work out how that kind of crime could happen so the park keeper’s son in the book doesn’t do very well at school, feels a failure and turns this inner violence outwards.
“He murders someone. I wanted to write about how a race murder could really happen, as a way of educating society and preventing it.”
As we reach the public toilets – which are miraculously open – Maggie becomes more animated. “This is where the park keeper had his hut,” she exclaims, “I spent several hours interviewing him. He was very generous with his time and information. This became the foundation of the father figure in The White Family.”
Personally, I’ve always found the flower beds in Roundwood Park slightly gaudy. But Maggie remonstrates with me and says they’ve evolved over the last few years. However, today, we are shocked because there are hardly any flowers in the beds: just a few hardy perennials and a selection of weed-filled, desolate beds.
Neither of us can remember this happening before. Is this a result of the cuts?
At this moment, enter former residents, Peter Wicks and his wife, Sylvia, who come from Bedfordshire every year to admire the flowers here. They are aghast. “It’s disgusting,” declares Peter, “we come all this way, and the beds are empty. Brent Council should hang their heads in shame.”
Where, where have all the marigolds and begonias gone, we wonder...
Read a longer version at Not On Safari In Harlesden at rose.rousewordpress.com