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Comment on Queens Road: A night-time domestic to unite a community
The couple living above the shop opposite wrapped themselves in a duvet and leant out for a better view. Two windows along, a middle-aged man sat in his pants with his nose pressed up to the glass. In the flat below a young Asian couple giggled to each other as they peered down to the frosty street below. Someone was filming it on their phone. Another called a friend and made them try and guess what they were missing. I doubt they could.
The commotion down below had us all captivated. It had pulled us from the late-night television, from computer screens, from our warm beds. Tonight, Queens Road had become an urban amphitheatre of human drama, and we had the best seats in the house.
In this part of town, just a few hundred yards from the bright lights of the Harlequin, but feeling a world apart, when a woman cries out in the street, sadly, people don’t pay too much attention.
Angry exchanges and missives yelled at the moon have increasingly become part of the background noise, no more noticeable than the far-off rhythm of a passing train.
But this call to the night came with the sound of smashed glass. A fierce exchange soon followed, a woman had been scorned. She was steaming with anger, fizzing with fury.
I’m unable to tell you the details due to continuing police work into the matter, rest assured no one was hurt physically, but damage was done and emotions ran raw.
Before long blue lights appeared, attracting still more people to their windows, sacrificing the warmth of their dwellings as they craned their necks out into the winter air for a better angle. There beneath us a scene straight from some gritty romantic tragedy was being played out in full, viewable in glorious, three-dimensional, technicoloured reality.
Waves and nods were passed across the street between the spectators, some laughed, some even danced, one person went to their stereo and selected an epic soundtrack for the drama down below.
And as quickly as it had started it was over. As the police cars pulled away en route to the next incident, the lights went off in our private stalls and the curtains were drawn on another eventful night.
In the morning, the previous night’s drama was dissected and re-enacted over breakfast and in the newsagents. “Did you see it?”, “She was not happy!”, “What had he done?”, “How many arrests?”. As they bought their milk and the morning papers, neighbours who had until then never exchanged so much as a hello talked excitedly about what they’d witnessed.
Folk who had lived for months just a thin wall apart from each other made their introductions for the first time as they guessed at the unwitting actors’ motives and mindset.
Some had found the whole episode hilarious, a comical melodrama played out right on their doorstep. Others feared incidents like these were dragging the street down further and scaring off customers. Opinions were heard and exchanged. New alliances were formed. This affront to the community was bringing it closer together.
You’ll probably have noticed the purple signs that have popped up all over town, one in pride of place outside the town hall. They are congratulatory symbols of an award the town has received for its nightlife, being ‘appealing after dark’ and welcoming to visitors. It’s called the Purple Flag award.
The folk of Queens Road often feel like reaching for the white one.
As one dispirited resident sighed: “It’s not a nice feeling living here at the moment.”
The street has experienced something of a spike in visible crime in recent weeks. Those living there have woken to early morning brawls, forced to step through blood on their way out to work. Public urination and defecation is making many shop-owners’ lives a misery.
For its residents and traders there are far more questions than answers. Could alcohol be to blame? There have been concerns new businesses selling booze could make matters worse, but recent events didn’t seem connected to drunkenness. Komnata, a popular restaurant and bar on the road had closed down more than a week ago.
Was it a lack of police presence? While the nightclub district of the town often finds itself saturated with officers, it’s rare to see a bobby on the beat round here after dark. And they can’t be everywhere at once.
Was it part of a wider problem? Latest crime statistics have revealed Watford to be the worst performing area in Hertfordshire, but why this sharp localised escalation? And why now? Why here? One trader wondered if “something bigger was at play”.
There is hope. The road boasts award-winning businesses, fine eateries, boutique shops and galleries. There is an active artistic community here. It is a street of many cultures where languages from across the world can be heard within a few hundred yards.
In the evening after this column went to press, residents and traders were due to meet local councillors and police representatives to find some kind of solution. New alliances are being formed. This affront to the community is bringing it closer together.