For many years now when travelling to London, I have chosen to park the car in Chiswick and take the tube into London from either Turnham Green, or Stamford Brook tube station. When we catch the tube at Stamford Brook we park the car in Welstead Way car park, just a few minutes walk from the station.
When we first began making this journey I-don’t-know-how-many-years-ago, up until Christmas of 2014, there was been a person who was ever-present at the car park, each and every time we arrived. Her name was Anne Naysmith and she was a homeless person. Of course like all homeless people Annie has a story, but it was our visit to London in the Christmas of 2013 that prompted me to finally find out a little more about this lady who we have come to look for during every visit. In this post I want to tell you a little of Annie’s story, because it deserves to be told.
Anne Naysmith was born Anne Smith (she added the Nay a few years ago) in Southend in 1937 to her Eastern European mother, Marie. When Annie was eight years old they moved to Hounslow in West London, by which time she was already showing great promise as a pianist. Her talent was soon recognized and she won a place at the Royal Academy of Music. At eighteen, the young musician rented a room in Chiswick and found employment as a music teacher at the Marist convent school in Sunning Hill, Berkshire.
In 1960, she took on extra work at Trinity College of Music, London and her life appeared to be on the up. She was good with her money and saved enough to move to better accommodation at 22 Prebend Gardens. It was there that she bought the car for which she would acquire a certain amount of notoriety – her precious Ford Consul.
At 25, Annie performed Beethoven, Bach and Debussy at Holland Park‘s Leighton House and went on to play symphonies under the famous conductor, Adrian Boult. Annie’s mother did her best to promote her daughter’s fledgling performing career and hired the Wigmore hall to host her daughter’s talents, but the reviews were mixed and it seemed that Annie would never quite make it to the very top. For reason’s I could not discover she gave up teaching in the 1970’s and soon ran into financial difficulties.
She had begun a passionate affair with a handsome 6′ 5″ choral singer but around the same time she gave up teaching her relationship broke down, and her money troubles deepened. Annie was forced to leave her beloved home at no. 22 Prebend Gardens and this proved to be a loss from which she would never recover. She couldn’t accept the eviction, believing that she had suffered a terrible injustice.
In protest, she began sleeping in her Ford Consul near to no. 22, and was very vocal toward anyone who would listen that she should be allowed to return to her old home. It was a campaign that she would never win and Annie spent the next thirty years living in her Ford Consul.
She filled her days with routine; washing at the local surgery and cooking her meals on an open fire at a patch of ground in a local car park where she cultivated a garden.
She regularly attended the Barbican music library where she would often converse knowledgeably with scholars and other library users on the subject of classical music.
Annie’s clothes deteriorated over time and she made repairs to them as best she could. She collected pigeon feathers and newspaper and wrapped them around her feet with carrier bags to keep them warm and dry.
After many years of living in the Ford Consul, things were about to change. A new resident had moved into the street and made it his mission to bring an end to Annie’s lifestyle.
For over twenty years social workers and housing officials had offered Annie alternative accommodation, but she had refused all offers, saying that she would only move if she could go back to no. 22 Prebend Gardens. Yet, where the council had failed, a determined individual finally succeeded, and Annie’s car was towed away on health grounds, after complaints by a local resident. Annie had survived her car being fire bombed by hooligans in the past, but this was a battle she could not win.
Forced out of her Ford Consul, Annie took to living in the thick bushes and shrubs that grew on the patch of garden that she tended in the council car park, and it was there that we would usually see her, with her shopping trolley full of recycling as she cleaned and tended her garden. For almost five years she lived in those bushes.
I tried to approach her once, to offer her food and money but she became furious, screaming at me that she didn’t need anything from me. I never tried again, but we always talked about her on our way to London, always wondered how she was.
Transport for London had torn it down as it was a ‘security hazard’.
I can’t imagine what kind of devastation this must have caused in this poor lady’s life; yet Annie Naysmith is nothing, if not resilient. The unspeakably monstrous act of tearing up this woman’s home took place in August, yet it was our first trip to London since it happened, and there she was, back tending her garden.
There was much speculation about where Anne spent her nights after that, but there was a large dumpster full of cardboard right next to her garden and I suspect she may have been sleeping there.
She has been evicted from her last three homes, the last eviction possibly the cruellest and most unnecessary of them all. It is difficult to imagine what harm Transport for London believe she was capable of as there was no move to ‘section’ her, so she cannot have been seen as a danger to the public.
When I think about Annie and her story I see a woman who society and faceless corporation have conspired together to airbrush out of an upmarket suburban town. She could be you or me, tipped over the edge by a convergence of damaging events that just landed too many blows at the same time to soak up and still remain standing.
When I see beggars on the streets near my home I am not always so charitable. Sometimes when they ask for change I imagine to myself that they are just ‘trying it on’. That they have homes they could go back to, that they make good money out of begging, and therefore they don’t really need my help. Perhaps I think that they are young and healthy, and should be working and productive members of society. I might wish them somewhere else, perhaps, so I won’t have to feel guilty when I walk briskly past them, my collar turned up against the cold, my jaw set firm against them. I am aware of my hypocrisy, ashamed by my double standards, but my heart goes out to Annie.
The Daily Post asked the question: How would you spend a billion dollar lottery win? Well, I know how I would start. I would buy no. 22 Prebend Gardens and I would give it to Annie Naysmith. http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/12/28/prompt-winner/ If you enjoyed this post please take the trouble to click the Facebook ‘Like’ button below.