Rule bending beauty

 

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Coin street social housing and the Oxo Tower

Last Week I found myself heading for a meeting. It was important. The Youth Club I work for has joined a consortium that aims to provide targeted help to young people in our borough who use alcohol and drugs, mainly cannabis, to a significant extent. It is a new approach, bringing together several organisations who previously tended to work in their little silos. We have hopes. We are optimistic. We shall see. This is just a pilot and it will need evaluation.

The address I had been given took me to Stamford Street, a fairly bland road parallel to the river near Waterloo station. What I hadn’t realised was the building was also the Coin Street Community centre.

Coin Street. If you were born after 1970 it won’t mean a lot but for me it triggers many memories.

county hall

Ken Livingston with his provocative banner facing Parliament spelling out London’s growing unemployed

You see back in the 1970s and early 1980s this area was the centre of a large protest between those who wanted to redevelop the area for speculative offices and commercial uses and those who wanted it to be a community housing project.  There were ugly scenes at the various inquiries but none especially unusual. It did however provide an early focus to the clash of ideologies between the then newly installed Conservative government of Margret Thatcher and the Labour administration of Ken Livingstone at the Greater London Council, the local authority for London.

And those differences exemplified the disagreements I was having with my father about that time. The Coin Street protesters comprised a whole range of people and groups. But the focus of my dad, whose source of information was  that organ of moderation and liberal thinking, the Daily Telegraph, was on what he referred to as The Great Unwashed, the sitters-in, the squatters, the crypto communists and loony lefties (I paraphrase the old man).

I grew up in a right-wing household. It was all I knew, all I heard, save for one teacher at school. Slowly though I began to understand a whole series of different views. When I went to University, that awakening grew and I dipped my toes, just a little, in some local protests. But I didn’t tell dad.

By the time I hit my twenties and moved to London I could see no one side had the monopoly on good sense.fares fair Dad however felt everything the Thatcher government did in those early years was right, and, if not always right, was necessary. He wouldn’t allow that there were other views that merited the time of day. The Fares Fair policy, for instance, of Ken Livingstone, subsidizing and simplifying the fares for public transport actually improved the usage and the lot of the everyday Londoner. But it was Ken’s idea so it had to be bad.

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The river by Coin Street today; the Oxo tower remains with its art deco warehouse but some commercial development has crept in.

And so it was with Coin Street. Dad wanted the developers to win, not so much on the merits but because of who supported the anti camp while I wanted the locals to win. And on my side I had a trump card:

The Oxo Tower.

If you travel along the south bank towards the National Theatre you cannot miss the red brick, art deco style former meat factory with its eponymous tower. Oxo, for those who don’t know, is a stock cube, still sold today. The tower is a delight, especially at night, and was built in the 1930s. It only exists because of rule breakers.

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The Coin street open space

At that time there were fears that the whole of the river frontage would be covered by advertising hoadings. That fear led to the first planning controls in England. Control on buildings only appeared post WW2, in 1947.

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So the owners commissioned a tower whose windows at the top happened to spell out the main product of the company O. X. O. It was like a brick-built middle finger raised to the powers that be.

In 1970, the developers, happily on the side of rapacious capitalism, saw it as an anachronism; derelict with no use beyond out of date ornamentation. The locals saw it as a symbol.

Eventually the locals won, the site was sold to the local construction group and Coin Street is the low-rise housing they contemplated. The little park is a pleasure and the Oxo tower, newly refurbished with its warehouse turned to arts and cultural uses continues. The finger remains raised but this time against thoughtless transient development.

Fifteen years later we dined at the Oxo – there is a splendid if expensive restaurant at the top of the warehouse. Dad loved it; he had taste and I was paying. He knew, about the Oxo, he was wrong. But so was I, many times, in our many debates. We had both taken positions that were unsustainable just to reinforce some views that would wind up the other person as much as because they had intrinsic merit. That’s just part of growing up and letting go, I suppose.

You become your parents’ parents eventually. A truism no one tells their children because it is too horrid to contemplate when younger. And while Dad formed my opinions for me as I grew through to my teenaged years and settled to the person I was to become, in the latter years he listened to me and he adapted too. Not as much as I hoped but he did move.

He was a staunch supporter of the death penalty; I was equally adamant that it was State murder. And then the Birmingham Six were found to be innocent, victims of awful miscarriages of justice. Had Dad had his way they would be dead long since. He changed his mind and never believed a life was worth taking again.

As I sat and listened to the explanation of the new programme, to some young people who had been involved in the consultation that led to the new concept we are to pursue, as I listened to them speak, I imagined dad with me. They had passion and commitment.  They would have been part of the local protest groups back in the 70s and 80s for sure. I doubt they respect authority very much, at least not just for the sake of it. And Dad would have applauded them. He was lucky in that he had a decent education and the chance to keep learning. Me too. He had the strength of character and imagination to change his mind and the way he saw life, much as he provided me with the tools of debate and the opportunities to form my own mind and change my life.

Hopefully our little programme will help others who have, within them, that strength and imagination. With a nudge they too can change their futures. That’s what we will work towards.

 

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published three books - Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, My Father and Other Liars and Salisbury Square. In addition I published an anthology of short stories, Life, in a Grain of Sand this summer. A fourth book will be out soon. This started life as a novel in a week on this blog and will follow later this year. I blog about all sorts at geofflepard.com and welcome all comments. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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23 Responses to Rule bending beauty

  1. Charli Mills says:

    The skepticism in me flags the recycling of taking sides down through history with cheers for the chance to leave a middle finger erect. In the US, division seems appalling and the norm. Yet the hope in me recognizes what can be the hope for us all: “He had the strength of character and imagination to change his mind and the way he saw life, much as he provided me with the tools of debate and the opportunities to form my own mind and change my life.” Through debate and debacles, we can grow and change. Though imperfect, our older role models guide us in that potential to change and make a difference. Like you, I’m doing marketing work pro bono for an organization that it connecting the silos and directing youth, elderly and veterans to the right ones. It’s village work. Something we can all do in our back yards around the globe.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. willowdot21 says:

    Fingers crossed!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jools says:

    A lovely, reflective piece. Being old enough to remember the way both Margaret Thatcher and ‘Red Ken’ polarised the voters, this made a nostalgic read.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Our last house was only a 15 minute walk to the OXO Tower. We ate there quite often (in the restaurant without the tablecloths, rather than the part that had them), and the area was a favourite of mine, especially the walk down towards Waterloo Bridge. It was also the setting for one of the first Gay Pride celebrations back in the 1980’s which attracted under 1,000 people. Mr Livingstone was a speaker at the event. How things have changed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      I bet there was an edge too, given 80s attitudes. Difficult times what with cl 28, Thatcherite recidivism and aids. I can remember seeing a demo in Trafalgar Sq and it was bloody awful. Reminded me of stuff I’d seen in South America.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes indeed, lots of unrest and in those days a lot more homophobia around, including from the Police. It’s amazing how it survived and that Gay people can now get married in the UK without so much as most of the population really caring.

        Liked by 1 person

      • TanGental says:

        the best thing, indifference; shows acceptance as a norm. I don’t know if you watch Gogglebox – guilty pleasure in this household – but it does make me feel good to see, on main line telly, so many groups represented as just normal. We may gradually be getting something right.

        Liked by 1 person

      • No, I’ve not watched it but I have heard about it and seen clips.

        The world is always changing and as somebody who dislikes change, I think it’s a good thing it is. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • TanGental says:

        Gradually we drag ourselves forward. I’m on the side of the Better Angels in all of this.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Annecdotist says:

    Born well before 1970, but in the North, and Coin Street didn’t mean anything to me so enjoyed being educated by your post.
    He was if your dad, so you had to argue, but generally I don’t think there’s much to be gained from debate between people with very polarised views, unless you’re able to keep extremely calm and objective about it, which I’m not! Generally I think there’s more to be learnt when there’s common ground about the fundamentals – perhaps there was more than you thought with your dad!

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      he prided himself on is journey from schoolboy communism in the 1940s to adult conservatism in the 1970s. I didn’t believe t but at heart he loved people and gradually got to remember that generalisations are invariably bad! It as a pleasure, him and me together railing against the Iraq invasion and telling the other we were amazed at how mature their politics had become!

      Like

  6. Rachel M says:

    I enjoyed this post. It sounds like your club is doing great stuff for young people in need. I always enjoy reading about programmes like these. And what an interesting building! I know about OXO stock cubes of course but never knew they had a tower in London.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Autism Mom says:

    How you describe your relationship with your father is very familiar! Except mine rarely admits he is wrong, he just grunts and that is the end of it, lol. I have learned to quietly call the grunts a win. 😉

    Good luck with the collaborative work. I have seen lots of success stories from groups that learned how to leave their silos and collaborate for common purpose. Keep us posted!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Dani says:

    It sounds like wonderful work to be in involved with, Geoff. And this:

    “You become your parents’ parents eventually. A truism no one tells their children because it is too horrid to contemplate when younger.”

    Say it ain’t so, friend.

    With blessings,
    Dani

    Liked by 1 person

  9. trifflepudling says:

    Interesting, and very satisfying the way it led into the personal angle. You are lucky your dad would debate with you, obviously without any Father/Son angle. I had never heard of Coin Street, even though I lived in London at the time. My only recollection of Stamford Street is a week’s stint I did temping at the J Sainsbury Head Office. Nobody spoke to me for the whole week, not even when I knocked something onto the floor from my desk, bent down from my chair to pick it up and pressed ‘carriage return’ on my electric typewriter by accident, nearly braining myself! Sandwiches were good there, though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      Fantastic image, the concussed by typewriter – can I steal that for a book I’m writing? And yes I realise I was lucky Dad was eventually more open minded than I’d given him credit for

      Like

      • trifflepudling says:

        I know you know.

        Yes, of course you can – I should be honoured! I can still imagine the sensation in my temple 37 years on …

        Liked by 1 person

      • trifflepudling says:

        I’m sure you know re. your Dad.

        Yes, of course you can – I should be honoured! I can still imagine the sensation in my temple, 37 years later …

        Liked by 1 person

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