The Stream

Coppetts Road had only recently been covered in tnacadam but further down, beyond the Isolation Hospital, it was still gravel. A country lane between rather bleak fields, leading down at the far end to the smell of the Sewage Farm. At the bottom the road curved round beside a stream called, of all things the Strawberry Brook, before joining Colney Hatch Lane and the old road to the north. One of the many tributaries of the Strawberry Brook rose in the woods behind our house. Hidden in the woods,were two springs, one on each side of Creighton Avenue which joined to form the Stream. Beside the thick forest fence and the hazel copse was an open field, expanding across a gentle valley to the edges of Finchley, and through them ran the stream.

To the south, the woods behind the house continued solid and unbroken to Fortis Green, the terminal morraine at the top of the hill. Essentially it was still the old Middlesex Forest, cut round the edges generations before to make a fringe of fields and houses. The field soil was deep black earth, product of long ploughing and cattle grazing, very different from the shallow forest floor. Today the stream is still there, but as a travesty of its rural self. At that time it was a country brook running through a shallow valley, washing the roots of great willow trees. When in full spate, after a period of heavy rain, it was still only a foot or so wide and half that deep, but it had some power. Our dams were always brushed aside by the time we returned next day. Sometimes we planned to make a great assault on the stream; to get more stones and timber to make a real dam; to build a mill pond which would drive machinery, harnessing all that wasted power but, when we returned with what stones could be found in the clay soil, our first attempt had gone. We used to talk of living in a countryside where the building stones were to hand, where we could build great structures of natural blocks, moved into place with levers and backed with clay, but here the attempts to make dams failed each time.

We held boat races with lengths of stick, started off formally with the waving of a handkerchief, with 'boats' jostling each other for the lead in the moving water. They would be snagged in turn on some tree root and the race abandoned, but there was always the dream of a clear run, the full length of the field and away to join the Strawberry Brook as it flowed along the valley bottom from Finchley to Bounds Green.

For a few weeks after we arrived there were cows in the field beyond the stream, but they soon disappeared. Either the land had already been sold, or the farmer was not prepared any longer to risk his cattle near hordes of town children and their dogs. Not that the dogs were fierce. There were no large dogs. No alsatians or rottweilers. Who could have afforded to feed dogs of that size when people had trouble finding enough to feed themselves? There was no money to keep large dogs and there was little to protect anyway. The houses were bare of valuables. Who ever heard of stealing a cat's-whisker wireless set, yet these were the height of our technology at that period. There were none of the electronic gadgets so easily stolen and sold off in pubs today. People had the bare necessities of living and a few trinkets of sentimental value, hardly worth stealing. Lastly, the area was open to view. Every inch of ground was covered by a dozen windows. Thus there was no need for large dogs. We had one of the largest dogs. A cross between a chow and a collie, golden haired, with the cocky, curled tail of a chow and the gentle, loveable nature of a collie. We had commandeered him by accident. My father had offered to act as a messenger, taking the dog from one friend to another. He collected the dog one day and brought it home. The next day he would take it to the new owner, but for that one night, the dog would be at our home.

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