Lesnes Abbey and woods

This gem of a scenery is tucked away a few kms east of Woolwich, in Erith.

Lesnes Abbey is a site of ruins from 12th century, in the Borough of Bexley. At one point a few centuries later on the building was used as a monastery.

The site offers a lot for a day packed with a variety of fun activities. It’s free to visit. Walking amongst the ruins of the rooms from where the abbey once stood, there is plenty of  hide and seek games to be had and reimagining the spaces from past times.

Uphill from the abbey, the path swings to an outlook with the most extraordinary views over the City of London. Bear in mind, this is a very long cycle even from the Eastend, and over 1 hour drive or trip on public transport from central London, yet the proximity apparent in the views tell a different story.

Lesnes Abbey and woods are on the Green Chain Walk route from Oxleas Wood to Thamesmead Riverside. We took a different route on the Woolwich Ferry and cycling east on the Thames Path, through Crossness Nature Reserve.

Lesnes Woods up on the hill are a true sanctuary of old tall trees, ferns and squirrels playfully enjoying the abundance of the nature reserve. There’s a fossil park, a cool tree trunk sculpture of a Green Man, and a plethora of secluded walks through the dense woodland rich in flora and fauna.

At the top of the woods a heath is a welcome flat walk through fern surrounded paths. On the way back, try a different way down. If you get to the clearing with the abbey for a view, you’re onto another special lookout over the ruins.

Athena. I’m sorry I have just been obsessed with…

Tim Hakki is a Londoner of Turkish Cypriot and Guyanese descent. He lives two floors below me, and studies at Oxford University. Amongst the many conversations we have, the Greco-Turkish conflict in Cyprus is a central interest to him, and as I am of Greek and Anatolian descent, we have been analysing the situation, in view of new governments, regional investment initiatives and international cooperation. The following article is Tim’s thesis on the issue, followed by my response.

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Athena. I’m sorry I have just been obsessed with Greco-Turkish history since I told you I began to study it. I have formed my conclusions based on a fuckton of new knowledge.

I love the Greek people and the Greek culture but that church is a real dirty piece of work. I just wanted to get them to stop dehumanising Muslims through their propaganda. It’s obvious that they don’t see them as humans but as infidels.

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The same can be seen in many Islamic fringe groups today, but the difference is that the majority of Islamic religious authorities denounce the use of violence. I have never seen any effort on the part of the church to do the same with their leaders.

The man who divided the Cypriots was archbishop Makarios. A man with three jobs. He was the leader of the Christians in Cyprus, he was the president of every Cypriot, and he was the commander of a large private army of ultra-nationalist Greeks. At one point, instead of my writing my novel, I told myself I wanted to understand, truly understand, what happened in Cyprus, rather than relying on the account of my family or the various Cypriots spewing lies at each other on various forums in a never-ending ethnic battle.

I watched documentaries made by Greek Cypriots, Turkish Cypriots and British filmmakers and tried to get the most comprehensive view I could. It’s a very sad story what happened to the Cypriot people. The political context of these events was British rule. My grandmother grew up in a British dictatorship. It was a very efficient dictatorship. In the end, they made the island the fastest growing economy in the region.

The troubles started when the mainland church suddenly got expansionist ideas. Through Makarios, they convinced the Christians of the island that they belonged to Greece. Britain tried cracking down on dissent by hanging Cypriot youths who were encouraging Enosis. The murderous rage of the nationalists just grew and grew. Soon Cyprus was crawling in random acts of brutality towards its British citizens. The Muslim Cypriots at this point were not in the equation. They were viewed as a silent minority. Until Britain assembled an anti-terror force comprised exclusively of Turkish Cypriots. When the Christians saw their community leaders being arrested by Muslims they decided that they now had two enemies. Cue the massacres, rapes and ethnic cleansing of the island by Makarios’s private army EOKA. This, in turn, provoked Turkey to invade cuing massacres and rapes of their own by the occupation forces.

The biggest tragedy of Cyprus is how little control the Cypriots had over their own destiny. If Cyprus became a part of Greece then Britain would potentially lose their military bases there. This was a land grab by Greece which became an excuse for a land grab by Turkey. The Greeks were in the pockets of the Russians and the Turks were being backed by the British because of Cyprus became a part of Greece they would lose their military bases on the island. The Americans were backing both horses. At the end of the day, Cyprus happened because five nations that had nothing to do with the lives of the Cypriots saw the island as a giant fucking aircraft carrier. This has been to be of the most profound courses of study I’ve ever embarked on, and it’s really shown me the sickness of nationalism and its myths.

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Their point about the lives of Jesus and Muhammad took me a very long time to come back to. Though we can’t pretend to know the details, it’s generally accepted that Jesus was a pacifist and Muhammad was a war leader. 

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The big thing now is reunification. Both sides of Cyprus want it. But they have no idea what it would look like. I believe the best answer is a federal government, with two zones, north and south. Both Greece and Turkey have occupation forces there.

If I’m dead next morning it was the Eastern Orthodox Church that did it.

Tim

 

My response:

The diplomatic dynamics in the region will not volunteer discussions on reunification.

In Turkey, Erdogan is strengthening his political power with human rights abuses, effectively distancing his government from the prospect of European cooperation.

In Greece, you have a far-right state pushing orthodox Christianity as a fundamental representation of Greek identity and anything Muslim (including the hundreds of thousands of vulnerable Syrian refugees) as a threat. The days of Nobel Prizes won by greek islands for their humanitarian work in the refugee crisis are long gone. The current government is shrinking the state like any populist conservative government does, reducing the role of education, institutions, health and welfare in development, whilst pointing the finger of blame to those outside the power held by political elites, or power to influence or inflict any damage in corrupt undertakings.

The last positive diplomatic action in the region, between North Macedonia and Greece, under the centrist-left governments, saw Tsipras loose the elections (albeit by a close margin) because Greeks were sold the lie the Prespa agreement signed-off their land over to Macedonians, and at risk of losing their national identity too.

The Road and Belt investments in Eurasia are being too China and Russia-centric for Europe and the Brits to feel comfortable with. The loaning conditions to fragile European and African economies are a point of  contest, and reinforcing China’s soft power diplomacy.

I don’t think the British, or Europe, will allow Greece (even if Greece was in a position to ie. under a politically different government) to sign-off a reunification deal. Turkey wouldn’t want it too. As recent as 2018, tensions quickly grew on the identification of sources of gas near the island. Turkey was not shy attempting to claim it. 

If you really think about it, the island itself has little value to economies, so its population is worthless to politicians too. Not big enough to produce anything at scale (apart from Haloumi cheese the Chinese love and have been ordering by the ton).  Yet it has a geopolitical position of importance, and in combination with the potential of natural resource explorations and the  further tensions arising from common pool resource governance debates, it is very unlikely either side of the diplomats would bring up the idea of reunification.

Because at the end of the day, even under miraculous conditions, a local leader/President/PM will still need to identify with either of the two main religions to even stand a chance of being listened to by either camp. Likewise, any extractive generated wealth will need split between one, or another camp, to serve the interests of the political donors.

And more so, how likely is that, for a post-colonial little island surrounded by strategically positioned near dictatorship run neoliberal governments aspiring to Thatcherism structured on theological approaches to socio-economic development inspired by Adam Smith’s mythological ‘Invisible hand of the economy’ economics?

Unless of course, they ban religious representations.

But really, how likely is that in a place that has been defined by religious conflict ever since it went into conflict with itself?

Chances are slim.

Love,

Athina

 

April 2020, the month of coronavirus lockdown. My breathing exercises in spring views of East London, UK

I would like to start this blogpost acknowledging this has been one changeable mood kind of a month.

It begun in semi frustration and acceptance: this is what we need to do and we commit to it. Blindfolded into commitment, no questions asked. Then days, then weeks passed. The exhaustion of changing habits in and out of home. The disappointment of realising you can’t walk into this pub, or straight into the shop, they are either shut, or there is a queue. You can’t hug your friend or pat the back of your neighbour. And that cycle route you always thought as the best, is out of bounds, too many runners using the tow path and daddies training their little ones to cycle. So forced into rediscovering your vicinity in new conditions, you get to become the tourist again, and that is cool.

Then the important stuff happening unnoticed until you think there’s value in the time you have saved from travelling and all the social stuff you can no longer do. So talking to friends and neighbours you end up rocking up to a community space in a church build on the ruins of one that was built in the 1600s, thinking you’re not the religious type but there are enough Muslim kids and white working class families about to take the edge off.

Next thing you’re committed and talking to new people. That guy is familiar, of course he is in and out of my block, and we chat, I hear the news and off we go.

Those who are organising everything, early on in the outbreak, with little knowledge of the impact yet without hesitation, they set up shop quickly. They asked and got donations, listened unjudgmentally to the community’s input, and attracted people of all ethnicities and faiths to help. They reassigned resources quickly. The initial food was delivered to 40 odd people three times a week and now it has grown to double of that.

Today, the last day of April feels like a halfway point on a long holiday. It’s been thrilling, confusing, too long, too short, too busy, and now seems to be going too fast and to be true, I don’t want it to end yet, but I do want to be able to make plans for the future.

Somehow the reality is: I can’t, and none of us can.

As we will gradually re-enter a version of normality in the coming months, there will be plenty of vulnerable people who will still not be able to leave their home. This help will not stop with our needs being met, and not until they have their fully met. It has been challenging at times running up and down unfamiliar estates, motivating oneself to get out, cover up, do your deed, run home, take everything off, clean everything, shower. Yet it’s been worth it. The smiles, the chats, the waves, the odd requests, or the kind wishes and offers. It all makes it so special.

This month has also been one where I covered nearly 200km cycling. It’s not a lot, however in addition to my training, and the bursting energy of spring colours and smells, there was plenty of visual richness to record.

The blog and the photos are dedicated to the community leaders, and those who need their swift action. They are being both my inspiration and motivation throughout the past six weeks and the very out of the ordinary month of April 2020.

Canary Wharf

Even more so, this month I hope does not go by forgotten. Everyone has been affected by it and I purposely included the empty canary wharf development. No one is immune to this and I hope this chance for a level playing field is finally grasped like the breath of fresh air we so much need.

Lifebuoy

During the Covid-19 pandemic, mindfulness, video calls, checking-in on friends and neighbours, social distancing and exercising, have become the norm of daily life prescriptions.

Recommendations on finding meaning in small things and appreciating the moment of what we have, to adjust from our fast paced life, have been a challenge for many. Yet, there is beauty around that for those operating in high levels of anxiety or to-do projects and achievement-oriented mentality, has been marginalised in view of personal gratifications and quick wins.

The Covid-19 situation has highlighted the reality of our unsustainable living, exemplified in shopping habits, sociopathic needs, drama karma, and neediness for external gratification.

Yet, the ample emergence of existing situations that have been in existence parallel to modern human material and immaterial condition, are increasingly claiming a place to the forefront of service and significance.

In the current re-adjustments of living and requirements new pressure points can afford us to look and really see.

Getting together

Ray phoned up three days ago. We realised last time we saw each other was in November last year. A year ago, when I was frantically settling into postgraduate writing, him chatting away as I was writing one of my assignments. Then a brief discussion early in the year about our concerns for a friend.

Two weeks ago, I got an invitation to someone’s retirement drinks. Didn’t know what to expect, some old souls, maybe not. I was going to go anyway. Then Ray’s call meant he also joined in (he also associated with the retiree the same years I did), and to my surprise he went on to the next level dropping emails to some peeps from our then years.

I picked him up from his studio and we headed to the working men’s club in Bethnal Green, not knowing what to expect.

There were lots of familiar faces in there. More than we expected and lots of peeps we were really close to ten years ago or so.

Most of us were more or less the same but some material changes and a comfort you find in your own skin as you grow older.

My good pal complained about someone missing. I dismissed him saying that person would never turn up.

Then catching up with my old girlfriend and rusty soul, I turned around and the double take clicked me into frame. Our pal had turned up and I was so freaking happy to see him, give him a big hug and chat in all his awesomeness and full on honesty about how things around have been making us feel.

Walking back with my girl to the bus stop we reflected on how the night went. Our fears, uncertainty of what to expect after all these years and yet how grounded and sorted things felt.

We did pick a bone with someone, which was funny, and was extended with ‘well we’re all here now’ and a big hug.

That’s my take away from the get together. No words, promises, expectations or plans. We got together, each to our own, and found each other.

Judy & Punch film preview – spoiler alert

I went to the UK launch of the Judy & Punch movie at the Picturehouse Central near Picadilly Circus.

The event had a live puppet show and actors portraying the audience husslers you’d get in the 17th century pre show crowds.

Drinks flowing, the pre movie event was comic, dark and intense with high pitched call outs and bashing noises, floating between comedy, with hints of tragedy, to fairy tale like medieval perkiness.

Now onto the movie.

Set in the mountain village of Seaside, the scenes are made in 17th century English/western European surroundings with a forest, unwavering views over the mountains and further away and filled with all the weird and wonderful characters you’d find in the dark streets of London mid century.

The story of the name Seaside goes like that. The villagers believed the sea would rise to near the top of the mountain, making their village a seaside settlement. They went on as far as building boats, which coincidentally and comically the housekeeper of Judy & Punch wonders what happened to them.

The script takes you through the success of a puppeteer couple who have returned to Seaside after the money and drink thirsty husband burned through their earnings from the big shows in the Big Smoke.

They start very successful shows at the village, waiting on the day talent spotters will come through and open up a new chance for a show in the city.

Whilst all of this rolls out, the husband keeps on failing. Whilst the wife (Judy and female puppeteer) goes out for the day, he gets drunk, nearly forgets a crawling baby to the fireplace, chases a dog for stealing his breakfast sausages and trips over throwing the baby out of the window into the dense thick forest down the mountain.

The wife returns (Judy) and the fight kicks off where he leaves her for dead in the forest. Nearby travellers/White witches find her, bring her back to health and before they move on their next journey, go back to the village to tell some truths about Mr Punch, who is about to hang the elderly housekeepers to clear his name of his wife’s and baby’s disappearance.

I won’t spoil the finale. From second to second I couldn’t predict what would happen. All I can reveal is that’s the first movie that I watched mesmerised without noticing how the time went past.

Go check it out for yourself and tell me what you think.

Seaside shenanigans at the Judy and Punch preview at Picturehouse Central, London

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.