In the early 1980s I developed a fear of crows. I could hear them listening to my inner thoughts. Their ugly call resounded like words of doom, pouring scorn and judgement on everything. Out walking across Finsbury Park and Alexandra Park in Haringey, I’d frequently come across the birds. Just the sight of a crow would induce a tightness with a physical sensation of foreboding in my stomach. I’d walk on quickly, doing my best to remain unseen. Their dark intelligence played on deep-seated fears.
Symbolic of deception, bad omen, death and decay, the Crow represented the perfect allegory for what was happening around me. In my mind, the seemingly massive increase in the numbers of crows in North London had a direct correlation with the significant decrease in the population of sparrows and other smaller, garden birds. The change in demographic mirrored the sense that an age of innocence was being replaced by much harsher, more demanding strictures.
There is no such thing as society, was Margaret Thatcher’s war cry. Somehow Crow seemed to be around and about the streets policing the malevolent forces that were at work. Strangers no longer spoke at bus stops, for being heard by Crow. I read the voice of Crow in stories about corrupt landlords cashing in illegally on the PMs great council-house sell-off, which made thousands of young people homeless, myself amongst them.
In the drawing attached to the poem the crows are surrounded by bricks. The red brick once again became a fashionable building material in the 1980s. We were in a regressive cycle, politically, in which the brick seemed to evoke the call for more severe structures, generally.
My one place of refuge was under the arbours of a 400 year old oak tree in Bruce Castle park. There was a bond between myself and the tree. It offered an air of protection, transporting me to a place where time didn’t exist and no matter about all the mad things happening around me. The tree gave peace in a time when no-one and nothing made sense.
The short-life coop house I lived in was alive with trickster spirits that literally brought it crashing down around us. I remember an incident in which a friend flushed the loo and the ceiling came down just about leaving the cistern in tact. For ever after there was no privacy in the privy. On another occasion a total stranger arrived at the house proclaiming me to be the messiah. She chased me down the street to my total bemusement.
I discovered a skull covered in green mildew in the cupboard under the stairs. An overwhelming malevolent presence literally shook the house after I promptly buried the bone in the garden – along with a library of books about Hitler and the nazis. I shared the house with another equally paranoid resident called June who would lock herself in her room for days; with her friend a six foot six skinhead with a heart of gold who’d come to the house bearing a huge metal chest full of dungeons and dragons figures.
The early eighties were difficult times. I couldn’t walk out of my front door without being stopped and searched by the police under the suss laws Thatcher brought in. Riots were in the air. And indeed this wasn’t long before the killing of PC Blakelock and the looting of shops and burning of cars in Mount Pleasant Road where I lived.
Madness seemed to be the only option, tense and fraught with the cries of Crow, yet also offering succour in the language of trees. My Oak talked about impermanence. It reminded me that everything is subject to change and that all things will pass.
Below is a draft – my attempt at writing a rhyming poem with a strict rhythm. It’s not quite there yet!
In a fledglings quest to leave the nest
I heard the meaty, black call of Crow;
a caw, caw, rising above the chill breeze of adrenalin.
Immersed in a pit, lost in foul spit
his ghostly wings gathering the chill
a caw, caw, embracing a denial of humanity.
Policing the streets, crying deceipt
a refrain bending the stars to grey
a caw, caw, demanding subservience to the tricksters will.
And as my fear grew, so down I flew
to refuge in the arms of an Oak.
a caw, caw, refusing the smell of its gone-by centuries.
The years etched in bark, urged a remark
that all is one to love’s leafy touch
a caw, caw, laughing down the grainy texture of knotty wood.
Crow settled on clouds of an undone shroud;
sent Sparrow packing, wings clipped in shame
a caw, caw, impervious to any vision but his own.
Yet still in safety, I slipped gently
inside the flat earth smell of tannin
a caw, caw, turning with a twist even Crow could not murder