Some reflections on one of major characters in Knitting Time – Crow

Crow_Drawing-smallIn 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

About Knitting Time: art and poetry on the theme of psychosis

'Knitting Time: a journey through loss' is a poetry and visual arts project reflecting on the theme of art and psychosis. A book and exhibition of the work is due to be launched at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester, West Sussex on 10 October 2013 to celebrate World Mental Health Day. During this research and development phase I want to gather responses, thoughts, recollections and comments, so please fill in my surveymonkey at and add your let me know what you think? Or feel free to email me via knitting-time [at]
This entry was posted in mythology, Poetry, psychosis. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Some reflections on one of major characters in Knitting Time – Crow

  1. cellulit says:

    We’re a group of volunteers and starting a brand new scheme in our community. Your website provided us with helpful information to work on. You have performed an impressive job and our whole neighborhood will probably be thankful to you.

  2. Simon says:

    Funnily enough I’ve always liked Crows. I’ve taken them to be an auspicious sign for me but I can see why they might be considered portents of doom too. Your excellent writing evokes vividly how they are for you and the world at that time. I look forward to the show….

  3. Thanks Rich. The Crow is definitely black, although there is a poem I haven’t written about yet, called Blue Black Feather which is about his cousin Jay. The story involves being ordered by an off-duty policewoman to go back to Friern Barnet – the mental hospital. I happened to show her a blue-black Jay’s feather on the tube near Seven Sisters and she wasn’t impressed. I could hardly blame her. I was wearing pyjamas at the time! I promised, faithfully that I’d go back to hospital and she let me go.

    Yes Crow was a projection of my feelings about state control at the time. Their presence acted as a reminder that I was under threat of assault at any time, day or night. I’ll never forget those assaults; being fondled in inappropriate places by crow-like police officers.

  4. detrich says:

    So glad to see you testifying to the intellect of crow. Poor bugger. Society has had it in for him for so long. An outsider of the bird world. Despised and martyred by cast stone – an easy target. Funny how the natural world divides and succours. I too love trees. Probably photographed them as often as people and as often as fences. Saw a photographic exhibit last night where the photographer spoke of his love of corners. They separate and lead to new vistas. The old, the left behind, the new, the about to be walked on. Fences….. i said that. its the separation, the partitioning, the divide between public and private, love and hate.
    Its also so funny that we were so close geographically at the same time. I lived in Bruce Grove. Was stopped constantly under suss as i developed my myth through the reservoir of tales awarded by the boys in blue. Heard so often about the big oak but never went to pay it my respects. Broadwater Farm in flames was a hot night. I was knocking down a wall in muswell hill when the radio announcer announced it. I was torn between knocking more wall down and going home to close my window to protect my guitar from the looters. I was persuaded to stay in muswell hill and worried about my six string constantly. Going back the next day to survey the damage was a strange event. I worried about the butcher, the baker and the chip fried maker. Had to go and see if i could still buy mars bars.
    Is the crow black or blue? Does he bang a riot shield? On that night of slaughter, in spite of murder, i remember, a feeling going around in the community that the dark, malevolent, evil feathers got what they asked for. Feels so hard to recall that now with all this distance.
    Love to read your work Col. It constantly evokes memories in me.

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