The battle of the backlands

I have been woefully neglectful of this blog and of other aspects of life this week, having spent the majority of my time in an overheated council chamber in Wood Green, listening to a planning inquiry. This was a lot more interesting than I imagine it sounds – in fact it was great fun. For the last ten years my neighbours and I have been fighting to prevent houses from being built on a small strip of land behind our back gardens, and this was the latest battle in an epic war which has seen more twists, setbacks, victories and defeats than your average international conflict. It’s been the David of our little residents’ group against the Goliath of this particular developer, and so far we’ve won. Although who knows what the Government Inspector at this inquiry will conclude.

I’ll spare you the details, but one tiny aspect of the case has caught my attention. During the course of the inquiry the developers consistently mispronounced the name of one of the roads involved in the case. The road is ‘Cecile Park’; everyone calls it Cecil, as in Cecil Beaton, SES-ul. The opposition have been saying the more feminine se-SEAL, which to be fair is more true to the spelling, but is unbearably pretentious when said out loud. Plus it’s simply wrong.  They have bent reality in a lot of ways, wrongly drawing the site to fit their own purposes, fudging details and making outrageous unsubstantiated claims, but nothing rankles as much with me than this mispronunciation.

This may seem like a tiny point, but after hearing the two pronunciations clash across the council chamber for three days it seems to have become, to me, the heart of the matter. One of the battles won in the past has been over whether the site itself is called ‘Cecile Mews’, as the developers kept saying. The site has no name; it is not a mews, it’s a row of garages behind our homes. Calling it seSEAL Mews was the developer’s way of claiming that the tiny site is a proper road, suitable for housing.

Once we won that battle – no one calls it a mews anymore – the wrangling over names seems to have become a more subconscious part of the overall war. The main clash in this inquiry was over two realities – the developer’s version versus the council and the residents’ versions, SESul versus seSEAL.  We have each staked claim on the land by naming it, but the difference is that ours is the true name whereas the opposition’s is a skewed, pretentious mistake.

Ours is one of the few undeveloped sites left in the area. We may yet have seSEAL Mews imposed upon us. It would be a loss of more than a precious open space; it would be the triumph of a mispronunciation, an alien reality. And that would be a great shame.

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