Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A gruesome North Finchley tale (this one owes a lot to Cusp)

Many years, almost two decades ago, there was a street person in North Finchley called Horace. He was a black guy, friendly, rotund, in his thirties, maybe, it's so hard to tell, as I've said before. I call Horace a street person, although I don't know whether he had a home he slept in or whether he spent his nights, too, somewhere in the nooks and alleyways and shop fronts of the high street. He certainly spent all his days there, usually parked in front of the shops - what were they, I find myself wondering now, trying to remember - Sainsbury's, probably, Woolie's, certainly, maybe a Boots - it is a long time ago. Horace spent his days outside the high street shops, greeting the people walking past, the people of the neighbourhood. He seemed to know just about all of them by name. Yes, said my boyfriend-of-sorts at the time - we'll call him Mr B------n, it may or may not be his real name - you tell Horace your name once and he'll remember it forever. He remembers everyone's name. Let me show you. Alright Horace, he called out - except because it was Nawf London, he said "awrigh". Awrigh Mr B------n, Horace replied. Horace was beaming but I didn't tell him my name.

Sometimes, you'd hear a great big shouty racket from the high street, really loud, it carried right the way inside the shops, down the street, I swear if the window was open you could hear it at our shared house down one of the side streets, although it was a good few houses down (and here I note I cannot remember the name of that street, it is gone, and this fills me with a nostalgia for the unhappy young adulthood year I had there. It was the room where I hand-reared the kittens named after the Beatles, and where we had the burgundy walls and, on one of the walls, a camouflage netting with weird things stuck to it - an inflatable duck, other similar items of interest, and the orange light bulb and the chest of drawers I painted alternating the drawer and knob colour between lime green and pale purple (I know, I know), only to discover as some of the white paint the thing was painted in chipped off that it had, at some point, been exactly the same hue of purple, before me, and the huge garden down the back, which just went on and on and where we had that Hallowe'en party where Dave Allen got so out of it he spent the evening walking around looking for an ashtray because he didn't want to stub out his fag on our carpet). Sometimes, you'd just suddenly hear this shouty racket, loud, upset, but not really threatening (and I am easily frightened by violence and detest confrontation). Ah, people would say, including the boyfriend-of-sorts whom I was about to swap for the man who was to father my children, ah, it's only Horace, someone's wound him up again. How? I asked. Oh, if you say "heads" to him, he really goes mad. Shall I show you? No, no, you're alright, don't wind him up, please, but why "heads"? Because

one night, some guys got the idea to wind Horace up a bit, they pushed him around, punched him a couple of times, frightened him, they stood in a circle around him and said, Right Horace, we're going to toss a coin. If it's tails, we'll let you go, but if it's heads, we'll kill you, and they tossed it and caught it and stood around him, in a circle, and chanted heads! heads! heads! heads! heads!...

and twenty years on, I hurt for Horace, and send this post out there to apologise to him for what was done to him, although it wasn't me, although I couldn't have stopped it, and thank Cusp for saying something in a comment thread that triggered his memory in my mind.

45 comments:

Amanda said...

Oh how terrible. That sort of thing always makes me feel incredibly guilty just reading about it, even though I wasn't involved. I'll never understand how people can be so cruel.

My apologies to Horace too. I hope he found peace.

Reading the Signs said...

Lovely writing, my dear - as a consequence of which I now hurt for him too. By writing these things down, something (but I can't quite say how) is restored.

trousers said...

I think you really have a knack for drawing a reader in when you write pieces like this, whether you realise it or not. As much for what you suggest or hint at, as for what you describe in detail.

This piece is both sad and uplifting at the same time.

cusp said...

nWell, firstly, thank you for the 'credit' my dear.

I also find that sometimes comments on other people's blogs jog a memory. Funnily enough, this happened last month and set me off on a post of a similar theme to your one here.
(http://lombredemonombre.blogspot.com/2007/09/just-to-get-bit-of-perspective-on-my.html)

What really gets me and hurts about your tale is the sliver of bullying and mocking and baiting of the vulnerable whichunderlies the whole story. I just can't stand it and that, I suppose, is why I too have a kind of strange affinity with street people (there but for the grace of God etc. etc.) There's a kind of nobility and courage in their way of life.

Only yesterday, the chap who usually wanders about town looking for dog ends was seen sniuggled up in the one tiny wooden bus shelter in our viilage. He must have walked all the way here (about 3 miles out of town) and settled down for a bit of shelter and quiet time. He's young, probably good looking under the considerable grime and seems unloved and uncared for.

Maybe that's how he feels.
Maybe that's how he is.
Who knows ?

Lovely writing.

I think I've just found another blogging chum

x

Merkin said...

Fine stuff, SteamboatGirl.

zola a social thing said...

Wow this is the kind of thing to sell stories.
Beat Hemingway now. Next Orwell? As Sillenpaa waits in the wings.

BTW lkbcr

Anna MR said...

Amanda, hei, yes, it is pretty sucky, is it not? And what is that guilt thing? I would say some of us have an inherent preference (not to say need) to suffer rather than be the one of the lucky ones who don't, if it wasn't such a wanky poncy thing to say (and as it is, I would be implying this wanky thing not only about myself, but about you, too, now that you confess to feeling crap about Horace). So I can't offer any solution. The world is grim. We have to close our eyes or we'd just buckle.

On this high note, Amanda, I will leave you for now, but not before I've thanked you for your visit and comment, my dear. Lovely, as ever, to see you here. x

Anna MR said...

Signs, Signs, Signs. Oh, my dear, what have you gone and done. Because if you glance above at my reply to Amanda, you'll note what a damningly wanky lot I've made of her and me for the guilt thing...and now you've gone and doomed yourself, too. No, but wait - mayhap we can still save you, because you confess to only hurting, rather than feeling guilty. Good, cunning Signs, that's the way to go.

Thank you for the praise, by the way. I am trying to disguise my embarrassment at your positive evaluation of the writing under a barrage of bollocks, as ever. But yes, I know what you mean - at least for the coward who saw the pain and did nothing, twenty years ago, writing it down now acts almost as a confessional.

I am full of shite today, Signs, forgive me. Mwah, lady, too good to see you.

Anna MR said...

Oh Christ, housut - that's a pretty serious piece of (my) ego-tickling you've written there. I don't rightly know what to say, except thank you, and I'm very happy you liked it. Truly. x

Anna MR said...

Hei Cusp, no, thank you, in person, as it were, for jogging my memory. The lives of others, the unfairnesses people have to endure, are, for some reason, something that stabs at me, too, and always has. (Before you think I'm the Second Coming, though, I'll tell you that those who know me are aware of an infinitely self-obsessed, self-centred streak in me. Some would even say rather a wide brush-stroke. Not to say, a whole panel of colour.) Anyway, glad you liked the thing. It's very lovely to have met you, and you're most welcome here at my house. x

SteamboatGirl said...

Thank you, Merkin.

Anna MR said...

Noh, noh, Zola, rauhoitutaanpas vähän. You have many famous writers positively rolling around their graves with that comment (although yes, what a good idea, I'll do a "Down and Out in Helsinki and Hawai'i" thing next, maybe?). Trouble with you, Zola-a-Teasing-Thing, is that I know you're winding me up, I just don't know how much. However, given it's my bloggy, I will decide to interpret your comment as you liking the post a little bit, anyway, and shall therefore thank you for your kind words.

(Nice to see you about again, by the way - I read an alarm message about your awol at Anticant's, a while back. All is well, now, I trust?)

zola a social thing said...

Why is Sillanpaa ignored and ignored and even forgotten?
Perhaps this is in the interest of the nation?
Down and out in Tampere?
Sounds good to me.

twmgsswq

Merkin said...

SOS from The Swagman :

'I'm unable to comment in either 'future of my past' or 'altering labyrinth'. I've tried three different browsers, and in none of them can I see the captcha text or hear the audio. I'm disappointed.'

Has Finland declared war on Poland?

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading your post about Horace. It is sad, but I too knew Horace (as you know, since you kindly commented on my blog-post about him); he almost always seemed happy, and he certainly made me happy (with his cheerful greeting of "the best of luck!). He made Camden Town, well, Camden Town.

Doc (The Flexible Generalist)

Anna MR said...

Right then - Zola, Merkin - hello and apologies for lateness of reply. Down and out in Tampere will have to be written by someone else, Zola, as my experience of the city is limited to frequenting the railway station in my childhood (my grandparents lived in Pirkkala). Memorably enough, the ice cream stand at the station said, in proper Tampereen murre, "Nyt tarttee jädee". I have never been able to rid my brain of the phrase, but it is hardly the stuff great literature is made of. (Shhhhh...never tell anyone, but I haven't read a single Sillanpää myself. Is he any good?)

And Merkin - don't be putting ideas in my head. Invading Poland has tempted others before me. And Szxcszwagier, if you can read this - I'm sorry you can't comment here, but I have no idea what this freak occurrence is caused by. I am next stage up from computer illiterate - I can point it in the right direction and make it go, but as for the inner workings, I haven't the faintest. I hope you get it fixed and sorted, though, because you'd be most welcome to leave your words of wisdom here.

Wishing you all a lovely lazy Sunday afternoon. Hope you remembered to turn your clocks back (my bloggy clock hasn't yet been changed, so all time information here will be false).

Anna MR said...

Oh! No, correction, it has done it automatically. What a clever, clever blog.

Anna MR said...

Hello Anonymous Doc, nice to see you here. I was somehow shocked to know Horace was still going and being laughed at - as I said to someone, I know I shouldn't really be horrified, as the alternative would be that he'd be dead. But it seems to me our era is just getting crasser, what with the youtube things etc. At least in the eighties, people couldn't publicise and broadcast his reaction to being taunted all around the world. There's something not right in all this.

Anyway, you're right, Horace himself was usually happy. What upsets me is the way other people won't allow a happy simpleton (sorry, but no political correctness is to be expected over here) just to be happy.

Wishing you a lovely lazy Sunday afternoon, too, Doc, when you get there. And you're most welcome to visit again, too.

Merkin said...

'What upsets me is the way other people won't allow a happy simpleton (sorry, but no political correctness is to be expected over here) just to be happy.'

And sometimes, how wise the fool.

http://tinyurl.com/2ykysl

Anonymous said...

I AM A RESIDENT OF 24 YRS IN NORTH FINCH..AND I WILL TELL YOU THAT THE PLACE HAS NOT CHANGED THAT MUCH..THE WOOLIES IS STILL THERE..THE BOOTS IS STILL THERE AND HORRACE IS STILL THERE..AND HE HASNT AGED OR CHANGED ONE BIT..STILL THE SAME. STILL GOIN STRONG....

Anna MR said...

Hello Merkin, thanks for the link. I suppose all of us who have managed to keep both a roof over our heads and some semblance of, um, sanity (for want of a better word - and I mean what I say about the lack of pc on this my site) are from time to time stopped in our tracks by those who haven't and what they've said or shown to us. I don't, however, believe that living a hard life on the streets etc means one is a noble fool, though, either - I think that is romanticising the poor, and something in that just feels false. Not saying you're doing it, of course, just following a thought process of my own.

Anna MR said...

Hello Anonymous, thanks for visiting and the North Finchley/Horace update. If you have lived in North Finchley continuously for 24 years, as you say, it will mean we lived there at the same time. It's very, very strange to think that. Wonder if we met, in passing, at Woolies or whatever. Do you remember the old guy who looked like Mr Natural, the Robert Crumb cartoon character, or the guy who used to unicycle around? This is all in the late eighties, of course. The place might by now be teeming with unicyclists, and Mr Natural must surely have gone to a better place (not slagging N.Finchley off, but you catch my drift).

Anyway, as I said, thanks for visiting. Feel free to come again, although recognising you as the same person will be made easier if you give yourself a name.

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sillycow said...

i have been to sainsburys north finchley today and met up with horace he looks well so whoever started the rumour they should be ashamed of themselves

sillycow said...

i have been to sainsburys north finchley today and met up with horace he looks well so whoever started the rumour they should be ashamed of themselves

sillycow said...

i have been to sainsburys north finchley today and met up with horace he looks well so whoever started the rumour they should be ashamed of themselves

sillycow said...

i have been to sainsburys north finchley today and met up with horace he looks well so whoever started the rumour they should be ashamed of themselves

Anna MR said...

Sillycow - hello. A very big hello, in fact, and thank you for your words. I hope very dearly you're no spammer, and as you bear no spammer hallmark, I'm willing to believe you're a real person who actually means what they say. And, do you know, I'm really very happy to receive your message(s - for it came quadruply, for some reason, and we'll not worry about that at all), and think you're a very decent sort.

For do you know what - there's been something like five hundred visits onto this page, since Sunday (today being Friday, or the night between Friday and Saturday, at any rate), of people looking for information on the murder and death of Horace. You are *the first one* who's said anything, Sillycow. I think that's a bit sad - although I think you're most likely v. lovely indeed. The news you come bearing - that the murder rumour is only a rumour, which has gathered global-village momentum, what with facebook and everything - are obviously good. But I'm equally pleased that you took the time to talk.

All good things to you, Sillycow. If you start up a blog, do please let me know.

x

Anonymous said...

i see him every day so hes not dead

Anonymous said...

I live in Finchley Central and Horace is regularly stood near my house with his shopping trolley of old newspapers and magazine shouting. I have spoken to him a few times and he's a friendly chap but people do wind him up and it is incredibly cruel.

(Oddly enough I stumbled upon this while searching for Knitting shops in North Finchley!)

Anonymous said...

Horace is so lovely. In summer he sits in North Finchley colouring. If you ever see him, give him some food or pencils, paper -almost anything and he'll be so happy and grateful. Aww. This story is so sad, i never knew people could be so evil...

Anna MR said...

Dear Anonymi of January, February, and March - hello, and thank you, truly, for taking the time to say something and to give a Horace update.

It is the strangest, strangest thing, isn't it, to think of all these random people all of us have met at points in our lives, whether we've lived a quiltwork life of patches here and there (like I have), or have had a more reasonable, stable, linear approach to life. Horace just happens to be a reasonably good example of this - a noticable nobody, if you'll pardon this judgmental-sounding term for him. It blows my mind that he is still there, that his life has gone on in the shopfronts and alleyways of Tally-Ho Corner, all this time, and now it is over twenty years ago since I started observing him, and to think of the turns my life has taken, the changes in it, the things I've received, the losses, everything, and meanwhile, watch it in a double-screen view, Horace has been sitting in shop fronts, laughing, shouting, colouring and drawing (yes, I'd forgotten that, Anonymous of March, but you're right, I remember now, he used to draw with kiddie crayons, all the time, with his suitcase next to him, or using it as a table), being taunted or not, alive, living his life, his life which intersected mine in a mutually unimportant but, for me, somehow, unforgettable way.

Oh, life if bigger than me, I can't get a grip on it.

Thank you for visiting, as I said, and sorry my reply is delayed. Please feel most welcome here at any time.

With kind regards and friendship across the vastness of, well, everything,

Anna MR

x

Anonymous said...

hey,
just a quick note to tell you that i live in north finchley, and horace is alive and well even to this day! saw him yesterday sittin goutside mcdonalds and where the old woolies used to be.
Check out his facebook page "the horace of North Finchley appreciation society"
xx

Emilie said...

Horace is alive. When I lived in North Finchley he always used to ask me for a kiss. He lives with his mother who literally chucks him out in the morning and has him back when she returns from work. He'll only be in his 40's now so much have been in his 20's when you knew him. I'll be writing about him on my blog tonight. http://publicemilie.tumblr.com

Anonymous said...

Horace is alive, 'heads'?, hes been known to get mad if people call him 'stanley' cause apparently something happened with a stanley knife theres a lot of rumors, and horace isnt homeless he lives on the grange estate in east finchley

Anna MR said...

Dear Anonymous of May 2010 (for shame, how long I have left you unanswered!), Emilie of January 2011 (likewise), and Anonymous of March 2012 (count yourself lucky, what-what) - hei, and thank you for your comments and Horace updates.

I can only refer to my previous reply as to the strangeness of all this - you coming here onto my blog, having sought Horace online. What made you search for him? Please, I am genuinely interested, this thing fascinates me. How many other peculiar street-strangers are there people (perhaps unknowingly, like me) write about, only to find that others look for them online? It's something beautiful and strange to be sure. Well, at least strange.

Nowt as queer as life, that's what I say, and with that wisdom, I must leave you, for I have no better wisdom. But thank you for visiting and may many good things befall you all.

x

pauline said...

if horrace is still there, what happened to the horrace of finchley group? I really hope he is alive and kicking and still outside our price in the high street. where has the group gone to and why isn't it still going

Anonymous said...

Hi, just to let you know, to this day Horace has still been in the area and will always be loved. Unfortunately his death has been confirmed. The love that has been shown by the locals of Finchley for Horace is amazing; he was well loved and will be missed by all.

Anna MR said...

First up: hei, Pauline, sorry to have left you ungreeted for months. Sadly, this is something that does happen here – I mean nothing evil with it, truly, or even to be rude; it's just the way life pans out at the moment. Also sadly, I cannot help you with your group question. I think you mean the facebook appreciation society? I have been aware of it, but am one of the last people in the Western world (according to recent head counts) not to do facebook. So I really cannot help you there at all. I do know, however, that some visits have come to me in the past twenty-four hours via this said appreciation society… so perhaps they are there, after all.

And Anonymousof 25 September, hei. You come bearing sad news and sound like you know what you're talking about. You don't mention how Horace died (is said to have died). I hope it wasn't violently.

Life is a peculiar place, don't you find?

x

Sam said...

I remember in my teens about 2000-2002 when I used to see him and he was always screaming "The Best Of Luck" to everyone in Finchley and sometimes Camden. RIP Legend!

He was always happy until people would purposely wound him up for their entertainment.

Anna MR said...

Hei Sam, thank you for your visit and comment. You seem to be in the know, too. If you return – or indeed, anyone else who might visit this comment thread – please let me know what happened to Horace. I don't want to go googling – I don't know why. It just doesn't seem right, for some reason.

x

Sam said...

Hi,

Most the info can be found on here. He died in Whittington Hospital, Archway. I still live in Archway so heard the news travelling.

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Horace-of-Finchley/119738181451777

Sam said...

Info from paper he collapsed outside the hospital

http://www.thisislocallondon.co.uk/news/londonnews/9947730.Legendary_street_figure__Horace__has_died/?ref=rss

Anna MR said...

Hei again Sam: and thank you. For your return, your reply, and obviously, for the link with the information – but quite likely more than anything, thank you for taking the time to return and reply: There's something good and (pardon the soppiness of this expression) heart-warming about that.

It is sad about Horace, of course; and it makes me nostalgic for my unhappy young adulthood; yet still, I am infinitely glad that he died of illness rather than of violence. Maybe you recall – some time ago, a few years perhaps, a rumour circulated that he'd been stabbed. I found out because hundreds of people suddenly came here to this post. I wrote about that too, and the weirdness of the global village and … stuff.

Yes. Anyway. Thank you Sam, I've a feeling you're a good sort.

x