Today I attended the unveiling of the plaque of Bernie Grant. A number of us stood outside what was formally the town hall and listened to key people talk about the work the man did for the community. The clocks had been put back the previous night by one hour and strangely enough the weather had dropped a few notches in temperature quite dramatically. I scolded myself for not bringing my gloves. When the speeches were over, we all took our time strolling towards the Bernie Grant Centre, waited for sometime before we were allowed into the auditorium to take our seats. I was happy to be standing near the door as I was one of the first who had entered and chose a seat, only to watch the seats fill quickly.
It was not only good seeing familiar faces from my past but once the MC finished with their introductions, seeing ‘old’ faces such as Geoff Schumann, Judith Jacobs, Carol Thompson etc – it was good to know that these guys are still around!
The choir from Gladesmore School was magical and Bernie’s old friend from George Town, Guyana, gave a sparkling anecdote that had the audience virtually falling over themselves in laughter. The poet Zita Holbourne, recited some poems; all were lyrical and very powerful, that I would have loved to have heard some more.
Bernie’s sisters got up on the stage and talked briefly about their life with their brother and that as theirs was a large family; family was considered to be always important. There would be regular family gatherings. At this point, Bernie’s sons went out onto the stage. One of them talked briefly of running his pub with his wife in Hampstead, and reiterated the importance of family and discipline. One of the sisters said that she did not want to comment on her brother’s politics but how she was impressed by his commitment to the Tottenham community and Haringey as a whole.
All in all it was a great evening and I’m sure I can speak for all those who attended: we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. The only thing I would say is that I found out about this event by accident so I think it should have been promoted more widely and not to be seen as a ‘black’ event. Bernie Grant was elected as MP for everyone who lived in Tottenham and not elected just for a certain group of people. As the current MP, David Lammy, Lord Boateng and other prominent personalities were all present, it would have been good if they had stuck around with the crowd after giving their speeches but they were nowhere to be seen! Oh well, such is life.
Browsing through today’s British Observer I read that Malcolm Wicks, the MP for Croydon has sadly passed away. He died of cancer on 20th September.
There was a time I used to live in Croydon and had a problem with the headmistress of a school in the area. My son who attended the school was wrongly accused of stealing and the head was not particularly helpful or supportive. After ringing social services, legal people etc I eventually contacted Mr. Wicks. When I wrote the letter to Mr. Wicks, the cynical part of me was feeling it was a waste of time. Would he actually respond? About three days later I received a phone call from his secretary inviting me to meet with Mr. Wicks. I was surprised. I went to his office and what immediately came to mind when I met him was his genuine caring attitude. He listened to what I had to say and then apologized for what had happened and said he would write a letter to the education department to follow-up my complaint. I was really surprised. Was this an actual MP? He completely went against the grain of what one would expect of an MP! A week following that meeting I received a letter from the educational department who said that after investigating the matter it was found that my son was wrongfully accused and apologized for the error. I wrote to Mr. Wicks thanking him for his time and effort and how we all appreciated what he had done.
My time with Mr. Wicks was short but from what I saw, he was sincere, compassionate and considerate, and he will not be forgotten. My condolences go out to his family.
I’m almost coming to the end of Out of the Ashes, the book written by the MP for Tottenham, David Lammy. Firstly I have to say that I am surprised, really surprised. But why should I be you may ask? Is he not Harvard educated? Or have I been totally bowled over by the rumours that the man is a ‘sell out?’ The truth of the matter is that David can write and the man is passionate about his area. On concluding this book he has made me to realize that, like most things, it’s so easy, sometimes too easy to be dismissive as Lammy is not just some mere simpleton. His style is lucid, sensitive and accessible, and when needs be, he is still able to serve up hard statistical facts which does not interfere with the style of his writing. You believe that he cares about his constituency and his constituents and that no matter what is said of him or has been said about him, he is for Tottenham. Like myself, who was born in Tottenham, grew up in Tottenham and luckily educated by the borough, I’m aware that there are lots of cynics who say: Well! After all he is a politician, what do you expect him to say? That maybe, but one can also argue that the ‘riots’ gave Lammy the opportunity to dispel the rumours that he’s just a ‘careerist’ and the opportunity to get his hands dirty, for once.
I managed to get hold of the second edition that came out July of this year where in the book he answers all those questions that were ringing in my head: he wrote the book so quick after the riots (that’s because he was already writing the book and then the riots took place); he did it so that he could make some money (any profit from the book will be donated to charities connected to Tottenham). So the book talks about the riots, immigration, and reform. It explains how the underclass in Britain came about and what should be done about it. Lammy places his argument within a context; he goes at length to explain his case cogently but he does not lecture or preach. He looks at the root causes but knows what should be done regarding the symptoms. And although I was overjoyed that he has all these incredible ideas, I couldn’t help but feel his hands are strongly tied by the forces that tower over him. This is shown in a tiny instance when Lammy was Minister of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills and Gordon Brown became Prime Minister. Brown requested meetings with the ministers. Lammy complained to Brown about the increase of knife crime in Tottenham and how it was a regular complaint from the mother’s who attended Lammy’s surgeries. They wanted something done about it! Brown listened then said the solution to the problem was ‘tax credits’ and then asked Lammy if there was anything else he wished to discuss!
Lammy also manages to weave in some touching biographical details i.e., his fear that he could end up in prison and how some family members also lived in Broadwater Farm; how his father abandoned the family and left for the US and Lammy’s success in winning a chorister scholarship at a cathedral school. It just goes to show that not all is bad in Tottenham.
Although I enjoyed reading this book, I hope it goes some way in putting away the rumours that Lammy is not really interested in the area. If there are truths in the rumours, then I hope he uses this opportunity to show that he is for Tottenham and I don’t mean just being vocal on the betting shops invading Tottenham High Road but making sure he constantly touches base with his constituents and that it’s done with concern and sincerity.
Well I have read Stephen Kelman’s book – Pigeon English and noticed that it has been shortlisted for the Man Booker prize. Maybe I’m just a jealous frustrated writer or maybe I need to get real and see some of the themes he writes about of my community instead of me trying to write the decent things that do exist in places like Tottenham. But instead, this is a book that even before you get to the end you know damn well there is not going to be good ending.
Pigeon English is about a young boy who arrives from Ghana settles in an estate that could be Broadwater Farm; a story which features black Brit-on-black African crime, a story that makes you think about the murder of Damilola Taylor, a story which makes you think what it is to be young and black in modern day London. A story about parents/adults who are not engaged with the kids.
I guess my usual moan is what would a white middle aged man know about black youth? Okay, so the author grew up in a council estate but does that mean he has understanding of what it is like to be black/Ghanaian? It almost seems as if there is an idiot’s guide to black people that is available somewhere that writers of a different race and colour can imagine and write what they think it must be like to be black! I wonder if I could get away with as much.
But my really biggest moan is the ending. How dare Kelman conclude the story in such a way which suggests that for the black/ethnic youth there is no hope? The actions of the looters in the recent riots in England, already tell us that a lot of the youth are not engaged in their environments so I don’t think it helps to have literature that affirms that. Instead, the book could show how overcoming ‘adversity builds character,and character in turn builds hope’. I just wonder if a young person from a certain background were supposed to read this book, if they wouldn’t find it despondent, because I certainly did.
I made my way to the post office this morning so that I could use the cash machine. It must have about 10.00am. The weather was quite cloudy and yet it was warm. There was an eerie quietness: the usually packed launderette was empty, the post office was empty and corner shop that sold burgers and kebab was still closed.
This was written 21 days after the riot. Note the building in the background
As I joined the queue and waited to withdraw the cash, I overheard an elderly woman standing across the road at the junction where Mount Pleasant Road meets The Avenue waiting for the W4 bus. She said she had waited for more than thirty minutes for a bus, and now she was sure it wasn’t coming because of the funeral…
Was today the funeral I asked myself. As soon as I withdrew the cash, I asked a passerby if the funeral was taking place today. He said yes, then checked his watch and added that around 11.00am the cortege would pass through The Avenue then onto the High road. Instead of turning to go back to the house, I walked toward the burger and kebab shop and noticed people waiting outside the corner shop on the opposite side; I turned left into the avenue and my attention was focused on the young dread who shouted out at a group of photographers, asking to show ‘respec’. As I got closer to them, they were chatting and smiling, totally disconnected to the surroundings but they stopped, placed their equipment into their vehicles and left. I continued walking to Broadwater Farm. It was ominously quiet except for some people dressed in black heading perhaps to Duggan’s family home. More cars were moving up and down the street, the drivers stopping for half a second chat with each other and then were on their way.
After a while I left. I had to finish packing my suitcase for my journey to Nigeria. Whilst I was in London, a bomb went off in the UN building in Abuja killing 23 people and injuring many other. The Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram claimed responsibility. Prior to leaving Nigeria in July, the police headquarters also in Abuja was hit by a bomb. Both buildings are not too far away from my office. As one Nigerian woman joked which will it be, Boko Haram or the riots in England. Is there anywhere, in the world, that is safe?