Blog Archives

Jonah on a Bike

angel dogCycling home, shadow
Looms, as road whale swallows me
Up – from behind – whole









This is not a whale, or a cyclist, but current street art in Hackney, E9 (and that child looks ready for plankton).


Before I post the results of Space to Create, which was a lovely day despite some of my evident conceptual and manual dexterity difficulties, I just thought I would credit yesterday’s street art piece and post another someone kindly emailed me the other week.

Stik is a street artist closely associated with the place where my heart lies, Hackney. You can see more of his work here. It seems that although all stick people are created equal, some are more artistically endowed than others.

Scriven St E8

Scriven St E8

Painting the pram sheds

As the world moves on apace in East London in preparation for the Olympics: they tear down old post-war housing, grotty little shopping centres are turned into consumerist Meccas and those pale ghost bikes spring up with their sad garlands of flowers, some things stay the same.

Stamford Hill is a Hasidic Jewish stronghold and some of the council housing there has the luxury of a pram shed to go with the tenancy of a flat. Of course, from time to time, someone has to come along and give these outbuildings a lick of paint.

My mind travels back to the days when mothers pushed proper shiny prams (uncollapsible in every way) and lived above ground level, without lifts. Straightaway you see why you’d need, not a garage, but a pram shed.

I am reminded of pushing my own sister round the block in one, a second-hand cream contraption, with instructions to keep going round and around until she stopped screaming, sometimes with Toby the dog for company. She was a colicky baby, perhaps. Just as well we didn’t have pram sheds in Lincolnshire, if we had it would have certainly crossed my mind to park them both in it. And close the door quietly before tiptoeing down the dyke to watch a fenland sunset…

There’s an excellent insight to life on a Hackney estate from an aesthete’s point of view at this blog.

The New Moral Army (and Colonel Clegg)

I have nicked the title for today’s outburst from Daftbugger’s comment yesterday.

He makes the point that it is all Labour’s fault and it’s true that in just a year in charge not even David Cameron and George Osborne can be blamed for everything that’s gone on: Hackgate, England riots and the state of the weather. The world we live in has been changed by the government, but so far it is more in the order of a vicious pruning of the shrubbery than a total re-landscaping of the back garden. And of course it is true to say that people that smash shop windows and nick tvs are probably not overly-concerned with the finer detail of what the government cuts mean.

That’s not to say the wind has not blown cold and hard through society though since Cameron moved in. I think things have changed and even without a grasp of the finer detail of the political backdrop you can sense the change in mood on the street. Morals are tough taskmasters; I wonder what happened Cameron’s pre-election plea to ‘hug a hoodie’…

Yesterday Cameron continued with the rhetoric wherein we were assured that he knew what he was about: fighting back against those people, the immoral, protecting us ordinary people from the sick people in society. ‘Sick’ was an interesting phrase. For a start young people use it to mean good, better than good. Secondly, there is the mental health connotation. Thirdly, don’t sick people need treatment?

In trying to impress meaning and his own values on what appears to be a largely meaningless, inner-city existence, Cameron has shown that he cannot start a dialogue with those that should demand it but don’t know how, and has nothing useful to add beyond the reactionary: more police, swift justice, 24 hour court sessions, send them to jail. It’s a short trip from Hug a Hoodie to Off with their Heads.

Everything David Cameron says gets on my nerves. Of course his role is one of authority, so how can he not sound authoritarian when he is talking about the need to deal with sections of the community who are clearly damaging property and lives and, in some horrific cases, killing people. But the broad brush approach of lumping everybody in to the ‘sick’ category shows a real lack of understanding of what it is to exist as, say, a young person on an estate like the Pembury in Hackney.

I lived in Hackney for 15 years. I lived in 7 flats, 3 of them were council estates and one of those was a squat on the 15th floor. I had removed to the squat with the then boyfriend because there was an ongoing situation with the neighbour that defied logic, reason or resolution, despite there being injunctions issued against the neighbours to protect life, limb and property. This didn’t stop my car having its front and rear windscreens stoved in, myself being confronted and attacked in the stairwell (the lift never worked), and the front door being defaced and kicked on a weekly basis.

My boyfriend was on the transfer list because of the neighbour. He was offered a flat in the Pembury Estate, Hackney Downs. We visited it, it was in a 1930s block, freshly decorated and clean and on the ground floor. He turned it down.

‘It’s on the Pembury innit’.

The Pembury - abandon hope... etc?

No-one, not even someone driven away from their own flat by violence and assault on property wanted to live on the Pembury. That was nearly 20 years ago. But some people do live on the Pembury, they have no choice. And there are worse places to live in London. These flats, that the councils now say they may evict troublemakers from, are not fit for human dwelling sometimes. Many of them are badly designed with flat roofs and pernicious mould (not just a bit of damp) is endemic. The contractors who work in these flats, nominally as decorators, are in fact now reduced to mould operatives who have to return time and time again to re-treat areas of mould.

One mother’s flat was visited to treat mould about two years ago, her flat was full of mould. There was an empty cot: her baby had just died from asthma-related complications. The operative returned this year: new baby, same cot, new mould.

This is not an excuse for bad behaviour, one hardly imagine that mother was out on the streets of Hackney looting on Monday night, but you can get a picture of the general hopelessness of some people’s existences on some of these estates. Imagine growing up there?

I’ve nearly forgotten to mention Nick Clegg. He was on the Radio 4 Today programme this morning. His conversation with the presenter, in sharp contrast to Cameron’s haughty rhetoric, was more measured. His words offered hope for a dialogue, albeit a future one, about the why of it all.

I have my own ideas about what’s needed, and it’s not a political position borne out of a rant about cuts. That being so, it will have to keep until another day.

Capitalist Consumerism meets Existentialism: what happens this evening?

We are all hoping London will be quiet tonight, but shops in Hackney, Mare Street have been closing early and battening down the hatches just in case. I am sure there will be many more elsewhere.

My particular interest is that my daughters are staying in Hackney with relatives, last night elsewhere near Leyton. My maternal alarm bells have been ringing for 24 hours now, but common sense says if they stay in the house they will be fine. Perhaps it will be no more noisy than a usual summer’s evening in Hackney…

I was noting how many times the word ‘unacceptable’ is being used by the authorities in relation to the London riots; I have now lost count. Their whole tone is too obvious, insulting to the rest of us who can work out the criminality and chaos on our own. We don’t want words, we want to see some action. Balls to the rewarding the criminals line you’ve been peddling Mr Mayor’s Office – your job is to be seen on the streets you are in charge of, with something more creative to say than lofty rhetoric.

There is a line in a book I have been reading by John Macquarrie – it is discussing the human need to have a basic minimum of things for an existence and then from that foundation a human might begin to realise the uniquely human challenge of self-determination, or indeed simply the self. Without the bare minimum humans are put in a constant state of need. Inversely with too much a human being no longer just has things, rather the things have them.

Too much, too little, they both can amount to the same stunting of humanity, most particularly when one is juxtaposed closely with the other. This is not an excuse for what has gone on on the streets of London, but it is a potent ingredient to throw into the bubbling pot of disenfranchised youth who hitherto no-one much cared about as long as they stuck to maiming and killing each other.

Tradescant House, Hackney - I used to live on the 8th floor, far left

Update @ 18.30

Watching the unrest in Hackney on the television now it strikes me that the groups at the north and south end of Mare Street are in different gang territories: the Pembury and the London Fields. A young man I know told me this morning that his old ‘crew’ from Enfield had been touch yesterday telling to come to the hood and do some shopping. The other areas in London that have been affected will have similar gang problems. No-one is mentioning the gang word yet – too loaded and scary for a nice Tory government to address in the middle of the summer holidays. They need to wake up and admit to what is going on: the heart of London communities are being torn out by gangs and gangs step in to fill voids in society. I started the day with my head in hands, I’m going to end it that way.

Last night in Enfield, Edmonton, Brixton and Walthamstow (via The West Londoner)

I had a particular interest in these live updates last night and it was a lot more coherent than reading Twitter.

Additionally, it is worth noting the mass media were not reporting the disturbances in real-time, if at all. The Met released a press release in the middle of the night saying there wasn’t a media blackout, but you really have to wonder what’s going on between the press and the police and social networks.

The West Londoner has done a fantastic job sifting through the wild rumours and facts and keeping people up-to-date. The Guardian live news blog also earns a special mention.

This morning? *head in hands*

BREAKING: New riots in Enfield, Edmonton, Brixton and Walthamstow 0435: And there we are, the bottom of the hour. I'm glad I was able to keep so many people informed – what started as a proof of concept test on a news site that hasn't even launched yet ended up outdoing the mainstream media! My heartfelt thanks to all those who tweeted updates and pictures – special mention to @seanjcameron and @rickycompton for sorting through Twitter feeds and for the graphics respectively. I'll be back tomorrow afternoon cov … Read More

via The West Londoner

The Hackney – Essex Axis

I listened to a talk last night by Ken Worpole, specifically about his latest book 350 Miles: An Essex Journey. Ken lives in Hackney, but is from Essex and I was interested to hear his perspective on both areas.

Apparently part of the commonalities these two distinct areas share are that they have been or are variously despised by the rest of the country, both perhaps having been dubbed ‘the dustbin of London’. To live in either is to be, in some sense, lost; to have lived in both…

At least they share a nice line in Georgian porticos.

Soundbyte of the Night: Humans are the only animals who have not learned to live successfully in their habitat…

Oh Happy Day (Elvis version):Friday 13th

The date has no negative connotations round here because it is my eldest daughter’s birthday today and she has survived at least one of those auspicious Friday birthdays already, in what is now her 9th year on earth.

A rare sight: Arsene skinning teeth

If I wondered yesterday how the time had flown by since Westmead Hawk won his last Greyhound Derby, then it is wonder cubed at the notion that Elodie Alexandra has notched up 9 years. It seems only yesterday Arsenal had won The Double and lamp post climbing was well underway on the parade on Sunday 12th May 2002 in Islington, when I went into labour. Pub in the afternoon, then caught out watching some period drama (on ITV – Aunt Finkywink!).

If I had known how long it would be before Arsene’s lot managed a single, let alone a double of anything again, I might have spent the evening up a lamp post myself.

And on the Friday, two days before that major Sunday, I had walked my last professional dog walk for some time. I say walked, Benji and I had shuffled along a hot pavement to London Fields and then very slowly perambulated across to Broadway Market and then back again. Benji was a great dog; he and I were empatico. A geriatric mongrel rescue from Battersea Dogs Home, it turned out he was on his last legs with me on that walk, and he dropped dead not longer after Elodie arrived. I walked loads of dogs in East London during that pregnancy and to this day I can point out front doors I used to go in to fetch dogs out for a walk. Sometimes I couldn’t tell you what the dog was called or even what it looked like…

Some dogs just don’t have that much presence, but Benji was right up there in that department, albeit in an understated life is hard knocks though innit? kind of way. I liked walking him and Elodie’s birthday always reminds me of him: a dead dog from Battersea Dogs Home. No wonder my Older Than She’s Ever Been daughter (aren’t we all) describes me as a Random, picked from a packet of Randoms.

Anyway, Happy Birthday Elodie xxxxxxxxx Oh, and also to Stevie Wonder (and Richard Madeley…)

Rebel E9

Balcorne Street

This is Rebel, the Guv’nor’s old dog, with his old Beetle. I love the way Rebel is looking, waiting to be told when he can drop the pose. I love German Shepherds, they are very family-minded, but they form a strong bond with their masters or mistresses. Maybe one day we’ll get another one, but it would have a hard time living up to Rebel and his sainted reputation of good manners, total biddability and devoted loyalty.

The block of flats was their old home, the ground floor where the Guv’nor’s mum grew strawberries that were rampant in the garden. Truly a recommendation for the Jamaican “throw and grow” method of gardening. This was on the old Kingshold estate, demolished for being a rat run of balconies where people could make good their escapes in their badnesses. There is a new Kingshold estate now, built by a housing association, of mainly houses and a few low rises. It’s nice, Nana still lives there.

Round the corner from the picture was a pub “The Clarendon”. That’s flats now too. I met the Guv’nor there, long after he had got rid of the Beetle. A black man in a white VW was a pretty distinctive sight round E9. He got stopped by the police, a lot. Once his sister got followed home by them when she was driving the car with Rebel in it. She gave out to them big style when they had followed her to the very front door.

I hope she parked it like this too.

Hackney: not just my preoccupation

It’s funny how related things all come into your life (apparently unbidden) in a short space of time. I bought a book, I mentioned it here – Iain Sinclair’s Hackney, that rose-red empire. I started reading it. Then on a different quest I looked at the blog of an artist living in France. She mentioned Stephen Gill, a photographer who I linked to last week re his Series of Disappointments. Subsequently, I turned the page of the book and there is Iain Sinclair writing about Stephen Gill…

In the meantime, a kind friend, booked tickets for last night’s Metal Salon hosted by Rachel Lichtenstein (Rodinsky’s Room). A fascinating evening, it introduced us to the work of oral historian, Alan Dein. And when I got home I looked at Alan’s Speechification site which pulled together all the loose ends and linked to this the Hackney Podcasts featuring all the above-named under one amazing roof.

Recommended: Stephen Gill’s description of how he put together the Series of Disappointments collection in Edition 15. This is not just any old podcast, this is a Sony award winning Internet radio site!

by Stephen Gill