Naoko Kondo

April 8, 2007 | 3 Comments

Did you know Naoko Kondo? She had black hair, was about 5,5 feet tall, with a slim figure. Her bicycle was an old mountain bike and silver (or metallic gray) in colour. She cycled to Docklands everyday on Clapham Road.
Naoko Kondo

I never met her but the information above I gleaned from a flyer posted up at the end of my road the day after she was run down and killed by a lorry.

We see in London — with tragically increasing frequency it seems — these mini-bouqets at the roadside wherever someone has lost a loved one in a traffic accident. But anyone who takes a journey with even reasonable regularity will also notice how the flowers fade and wither as the weeks progress until eventually, after about a month or so, all that’s left clinging to the deformed railing or crushed bollard, is some cellophane wrapping and a few dried stalks. Sometimes, once even this detritus is gone, you can still make out the string the relatives used to tie their gesture fast.

Naoko was killed on December 15th 2005 when the southbound lorry driver turning right into my road didn’t see her coming north on her bike. Despite the collision taking place directly in front of Lambeth police headquarters there were no witnesses and Naoko seemed destined to pass into my distant memory like all the other anonymous victims brought into our consciences for the briefest of moments by these piercing floral tributes.

Not so Naoko.

It’s been 16 months since Naoko was killed and I can tell you this girl was loved. She had a husband — no children — and was an artist. Her body was swiftly returned to Japan for a burial according to her religion (Shinto I think) and her family have set out to claim damages in a civil action against the driver of the vehicle that hit her. She also had a lot of friends here in London (one of them furnished me with the additional details of Naoko’s short life) and it is they Dear Reader, who have kept the bouquet of flowers at the eastern end of Fentiman road in the freshest, most colourful and vibrant state I think I’ve ever seen for the past 70 weeks.

The sad flyers asking for help — ‘Did you see anytyhing? Please call this number . . .’ — have long since vanished but every week, or perhaps more often, someone — and I’ve yet to spot them in the act — comes along and painstakingly ties the cut-off bottom half of a plastic bottle to the lampost where Naoko died, then, I assume, they fasten flowers above the receptacle with a fresh piece of string so that the stalks rest in the water below. That is nothing if not Japanese efficiency.

I went through a phase of hoping I’d bump into them, going about their deferential business laying their latest set of flowers, but I’ve changed my mind now. Somehow I like the mystery and couldn’t face rescinding this blog post if it turned out that its was some sort of new-fangled macabre commercial service. Who was it who said ‘every time I see a fairy a little piece of me dies’?

These phantom flower-powered memory stokers are, I think, what we’d all secretly like to have, but in this modern world of trans-Atlantic commuting and global families, how many of us, no matter how deserving, could truthfully say we’d receive such attention? No, best just to leave these diligent, attentive souls to get on with their task and hope that, should we be as unfortunate as Naoko, our memories will live on in some other equally tender, but probably less labour intensive, form.

How long do they plan to keep this up? What does this person do when he goes on holiday — pass the responsibility onto someone else for a week in the same way some folks do with their pets? I’m not really sure, but on this hot day in south London, as the sun fades on my claustrophobic garden, I raise a glass not just to the plucky little lass who died but also to her pals, wherever they may be.


3 Comments so far

  1. ClickRich on May 1, 2007 1:20 pm

    As a recent mover to Fentiman Road, I was touched to see the flowers this morning were bright and fresh. And now with your blog I’m also testimony to the love of those who knew Naoko Kondo.

  2. Nathan Williams on November 6, 2009 11:00 pm

    I saw the scene after the accident that cold morning. It was a quiet day. This is all I remember.
    Just like you, I have hoped to spot the flower person, each time I walk past fentiman road I instinctively glance at the bottom of the post to see if they are still being replaced. I am never disappointed.
    Right now I write this from Lisbon as I have just found that google maps have an image of the flowers. ( See link below).

    Perhaps what this reflects is not only the magnitude of friends she has but the even bigger magnitude of the inpact she had and has made on them.

    Since Naoka (Dec 15 2005) there have been several deaths on Clapham road and the Oval.
    The flowers have come and gone. So it is with this perspective that I look at mini shrine at Fentiman road.
    At the very least we are all just a little more careful on fentiman road because of these fresh reminders.,-9.095375&sspn=0.001257,0.002588&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Londres+SW9,+Reino+Unido&ll=51.47954,-0.11489&spn=0.000962,0.002588&t=h&z=19&layer=c&cbll=51.479604,-0.114819&panoid=9wHj41awi1y5hFrptqgwHQ&cbp=12,307.45,,0,20.15

  3. Michael Keane on September 10, 2013 2:21 pm

    I just came across your article and wanted to say though some years have now passed and the flowers are no longer replaced, Naoko is not forgotten. Every time I pass that corner I remember her and slow down as a sign of respect.

    Although the driver appears to have been at fault, the junction between Fentiman and Clapham Road remains a dangerous one. There have been accidents since and near misses are common place. As far as I know, TfL have done nothing to mitigate the risk. Fatalities may be rare but sooner or later there will be another serious accident either there or at teh junction with Claylands Road. I was planning to ask TfL for some changes along the Oval Parade and the junction with Fentiman Road but we shall see.

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