Some say London is paved in gold. That is not quite true. There are ways one can experience it and they are, in truth, golden. They are the walks, in a safe city, at all times of the day or night, revealing architectural marvels, historical corners, oral histories retold, under the bridge communities, housing estates, street art and corporate communes wrapped around a few blocks from each other. They may not always live in harmony with each other, but they certainly demand each others existence to enrich their own. This is not gentrification, or poetics of urban spaces but a slow crawl of inverted commas on concepts undefined, yet golden for their moment in time.
New year new start. Can’t help but look back a little, and yet remain grateful for today. Today I’ve gone back to Bethnal Green where I lived at for thirteen years. Bethnal Green is a strange yet warming place. If you were to look it up online, it looks quite grim. 2 up 2 down level terraced rows of workhouse housing, surrounded by loads of high rise social housing estates built in 1800s to the 80s dotted on every corner, with a through road high street. I must admit, I had some of the funniest and most learning times growing up here in my 20s and that’s purely down to a local and transient mix of people and pre war and post war architecture. Imagine in one day hanging out in a 1900s pub, a high rise tower block built in the 1970s, trekking on cobbled streets and through grafitti glad Victorian alleys. It’s pointless going into any detail on this as this is my story. But perhaps sharing these pics from today, will give the platform from which to imagine a constant of stories intertwined. From the housing flats, to the terraced houses, the odd patches of greenery, the mix of bengali, cockney, underground arty, and now poshy touristy and transient peeps, this is the Bethnal Green in 2022. Many will pass through and many more still remain. Yet, new year’s memories to come may remain similar to past.
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.
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.
We are aware London is the haven for money laundering and a gateway to tax free heavens, but is it becoming more like Dubai than we are aware of?
I walked out at 6am to unchain my bike to find a maclaren left on the curve of my street.
I live in a nice part of the east end near the wharf non excluding drug dealing and rowdiness vibes depending the time and night of the week.
Last night, there was a party of very affluent Chinese kids on one end of the street, and a joint smoking around the cars dub party at the other.
Seeing the Maclaren in the morning came as no surprise, either of the groups can afford to scrape enough to hire or buy one.
Yes alone the car was impounded, just as I returned at 9.30am, slowly gathering a small crowd of early risers and security guards.
The parking attendant was as surprised. In his whole career, he’d never seen anything like it.
That brought me to an article I had read about Dubai’s airport doubling up as a super expensive car cemetery. Hundreds of cars left in a rush, for one way flights out of the country, often for very dodgy reasons.
My question in all of this is simple. Why dodgy men have a thing about super expensive and fast cars, beyond the bling factor.
Is there a club of angry men that buys and dumps super expensive cars, like a society, encouraging others to do so? And if so, how do I shut this thing down?
I’m conscious that they are a bad example, for both groups that were partying last night on my road.
The Tower Hamlets cemetery is one of the seven ‘magnificent’ Victorian resting places remaining in London. They were created to settle the dangerously overcrowded parish cemeteries. Dracula was filmed at Highgate Cemetery.
My local, the The Tower Hamlets cemetery, is located in the back streets of the heart of the Eastend between Mile End and Bow Station. It has certainly gone to sleep and woken up to the sound of the Bow Bells for many years. Not surprisingly for an Eastend lock-in, it is open 24 hours a day.
In the past I have attended art events and film festivals, including the Shuffle festival curated by Danny Boyle. My visit recently was made in search of a contemplating walking space away from the hectic pace of a Monday mid morning and in search of clean air and quietness.
What I like about this cemetery is it’s capacity to disorient you and draw you off track between the thick growing foliage, and fallen gravestones.
I love how the place smells fresh in contrast to the rest of the wonderfully diverse smells in the Eastend. I love how it is equally shared by hooded youth, trendy dog walkers, old cockneys and the odd walker, like myself, just taking the green goth-icky scenery in.
The cemetery is now a nature reserve looked after by a friendly society, looking out for the wildlife residing in the woods. They hold bat watching events in true Gothic style.
This reminds me of references of the tours at Highgate cemetery, that coincidentally I discovered that on occasions were run by well acclaimed author Audrey Niffernegger who’s one familiar book is Her Fearful Symmetry, a ghost story, is also based in the cemetery surrounding area. Ghostly enough, only two weeks after learning that she gives site seeing trips around the cemetery, one if her books found its way in front of me on a very rare visit to an Eastend charity shop. Good enough reason to write this, right?
There is an uncanny beauty in the ‘Magnificent Seven’. I have not heard of other cities’ stories of overflowing burials, to the extend of contaminating water and grounds.
Victorian Eastend couldn’t have been a happy place, non-the-less for the very unpleasant presence of many evil and opportunist men, without forgetting Jack the Ripper, who roamed the streets freely only a mile or so down the road.
Being able to walk through a place that hosted so much pain once, to soothe the pain of city living in the 21st century is a gift that I rest assured was not planned originally.