4 JANUARY 1992, Page 34

New life

Harlesden here we come

Zenga Longmore

over Christmas, I was congratulated, for the millionth time, on the marvellous way I cope with living in a tower block. The latest congratulator was Uncle Bisi's sophisticated cousin, Ngozi. Five of us were seated in my front room at the time the congratulation took place. Uncle Bisi, sit- ting bolt upright with a glass of gin wedged cleverlS, between his knees, snored peace- fully. Omalara and I knelt on the floor, playing with a Christmas present, a plastic Noah's Ark. Ngozi and Olumba stared wordlessly at a Mozart opera.

`Is it true,' Ngozi asked, wincing visibly at the shrill notes, 'that Mozart wrote this when he was six?'

`Uh uh,' responded a bewildered Olum- ba. 'Well, I call it a scandal! If I had a son that did naughty things like that, I'd smack him soundly and send him to bed. His poor neighbours!' So saying, she stretched out a manicured finger and pressed the off but- ton. As she did so, a strong gust of wind blew against the window with an eerie, whining sound. The entire tower block swayed slightly, causing a verdant pallor to spread slowly across Uncle Bisi's slumber- ing countenance. Ngozi beamed.

`My dear! How wonderful you are. I couldn't live in a place like this. No way!

What! Ten festering floors up with win- dows that break at the smallest tap of wind; lifts which hardly ever work and, when they do, smell fouler than a Lagos city dump.

The entrance is perpetually choked up with refuse and filth, and the devil knows when your central heating last worked. You seem to take it all in your stride, but I'm afraid I couldn't bear it.'

My mouth opened, but I said nothing. I can never think of anything to say at the right time, but now it can be said. I cannot stand tower-block life either. In fact, I can stand it to so small an extent that next Thursday I am moving into modest fur- nished rooms in Harlesden, north-west London.

'Orrible 'Arlesden, as it is locally known, is fairly familiar to me already, it being the home of my elder sister Boko. It is an aus- tere, puritanical part of town compared to Brixton, for it is far less cosmopolitan. Brix- ton is a living tapestry: 'Peoples Of All Nations'. Harlesden, on the other hand, specialises. Until Olumba, Omalara and I come along to liven up the place, it will remain a two-nation state, as Serbo-Croatia used to be. Only Harlesden is Jamaico- Irish, late Victorian, poor but prim. I sup- pose there must be some aboriginal English around, but they keep themselves to themselves.

Trendies from all over England pour into the Mean Fiddler wine-bar, where the likes of Paul McCartney, Carl Perkins and Buck- wheat Zydeco croon into the night. The Mean Fiddler is situated in Harlesden's dismal shopping street, near the Jubilee clock, the local Big Ben. Our new flat stands nearby, nestling deep in Harlesden's heart. Harlesden's blues parties are reput- edly well-wicked, and her Pentecostal churches are among Britain's most sancti- fied and blessed.

All the same, it can never be like Brix- ton. Brixton, with its Harlem renaissance charm, its teeming market-place where street entertainers and bush tea salesmen vie with one another for your hard-earned wages; its theatres, cinemas, anarchist punk squatters, obi-mothers, artists, poets and inspired lunatics.

It is a world, I confess, I shall sorely miss, despite Harlesden's promise of central heating that actually works. So, farewell hippies next door, adieu, Mrs Wright. 'Allo 'Arlesden — 'orrible or 'eavenly, as the case may be.