Rowing in the East End with its histories and all

Two years ago I came accross the documentary called Men of the Thames. The film is a journey of watermen and lightermen working in businesses on the Liquid Highway of London.

The story is narrated through the family histories of people with long associations to the London docks, the changes that have shaped their local industry since and their closeness to rowing.

Rowing for them is a family affair, taken up to continue the tradition of family participation in competitions, or as a means of rehabilitation from severe injury in pursue of ‘bringing those who stray back into a much supportive community’. It also highlights how tragedy is reflected upon and the power of responsibility owned by those working on the river.

The second documentary zooms in on the Doggetts Coat and Badge race.

Introduced and funded by Thomas Doggetts, the film takes us into the community within one of the oldest livery companies in London, housed at the Watermen’s Hall.

This is a single sculling race for apprentices in the lightermen and watermen sectors of London, traditionally originating East from the Tower of London.

Rowing in these parts of London was a far cry from the associations of today to university crews and the boat race.

Oared vessels were used to transport people by the river, and the importance of understanding the tides, steering in the streams and the elements in these wider parts of Thames were key to safe and time efficient passage.

Many of the references point to rowing facilities in the east of London. The London Youth Rowing, next to the City Airport is a more recent addition utilised by many regional clubs. Poplar and Blackwall District Rowing Club hosts exhibits from generations of Doggetts winners, many of whom trained from the club. Further athletes went on to row competitively in high performance national, international and Olympic events.

The Eastend is a place of transience and evolving histories, still unfolding to date.

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Poverty, extremism and art. Where do we go from here?

Many days in the past two years I have woken up with the feeling we are living in parallel universes. Politicians continue to offend sensibility on a daily basis, polirising public opinion, whilst we stand aside watching on, the theatre of the insane. Our reality has become not too different from the Hunger Games, or many apocalypse-in-process themed movies.

Since Brexit, Trump being voted in, Putin and Erdogan, the troubles in Venezuela, Congo and Honduras to name a few, it is apparent that politicians aim to hold onto power, often to further their personal financial interests, on a wage funded by tax payer’s money.

Having gained power with dubious populist campaign sentiments, these politicians have also grabbed power with well versed catch-phrase marketing, tricking electorates with empty promises, whilst reducing their rights, and further pushing them into poverty.

However we have also seen the popularity and rise of progressive movements through the mist of this adversity. These have sown the seeds of change, pushing back on the dark principles of those autocrats. #metoo, #timesup, #FBPE and reports from non governmental organisations such us Doctors of the World, Human Rights Watch and Global Witness among other, have exposed witnesses in the political system, corruption, and promote accountability.

In London, knife crime amongst the young has escalated to uncontrollable levels, with police cuts, closure of youth services and social care, leading many with the inability to escape and furthermore to extremes and desperation.

Would any of the people affected be likely to join these movements or is their anger at a point where they are more likely to be pushed to extremes?

And how many times does this need to repeat to feel real in order of recognizing violence is not a resolution tactic, sometimes even when it is in defense.

Is activism and progressive thinking a middle-class will?

Artists and creatives around the world will surely emerge with an engaging and metaphorical message. That is the traffic light defining we live in intolerable political times.

Tracey Emin made her stand with the neon writing at St Pancras station. And that is all good willed and valuable. Many others follow.

However I can’t help but wonder how the most marginalised will gain a voice again. And who will care enough to listen, and for what reason.

Italian Elections

So it’s election day here and I am disappointed to see how Conservative and right wing the party options are. The five stars is yet the most dangerous with an apparent popular new wave of rebels, not different to UKIP voters. Uncoincidentally UKIP and Five Star leaders are best buddies. Dangerous times indeed. The Pope has become the only remaining sound of reason in this troubled society.

Christmas in Germany

Christmas markets in Germany date back to 15th century.

Every town hosts their own. Cologne has the biggest with seven markets merging into one. In Dortmund’s market (see my earlier blog about Christmas around the globe https://cowboysandeffigies.com/2017/12/16/christmas-through-my-friends-eyes/) you can find the biggest Christmas tree in the whole of Germany.

Castrop-rauxel decorations

The tradition has proven that even though many hire the markets for a festive season abroad, the Glühwein tastes million times better in its place of origin. It may be the humidity and fog, I am not expert in this, however I can attest to it as after years of tasting it in Britain: there is nothing that compares to the taste in the source of origin.

Wetten street market

In Rothenburg you will find the prettiest ever, jumping in a fairy tale adventure.

Spending time in North Germany this Christmas, you will see some of the ideas and festive cheer, sugar, sausages, cane, mushrooms, hot dogs, crafts, beads, logs, mineral rocks and a load of trees.

The bestest was in the Fredenbaum woods: log fires, masonry and fairy lights galore at Phantastischer mittelalterlicher lichter weihnachts markt (Fantastic Medieval Lights Christmas market). A full immersive experience of drifters dressed in handcrafted furs, leathers, wearing traditionally crafted bows, arrows, knifes in a wooden fairground made for adults.

Fredenbaum

Traditional craft maker stalls in Fredenbaum

In a nutshell,  Germans get top marks all the way.

Merry Christmas folks, have a good one.