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.
I realize this is the wrong time to mention The Artist’s Way as I’m currently on Week 5. Never mind so what am I experiencing? Anything profound? Difficult to say only except that no matter what I feel that I have to keep going. I bought this book over a year ago and just watched it collect dust while it was on my book shelf. Then one day, I said to myself that ‘tomorrow’ will be the day that I will start this thing! And so I did. I did my Morning Pages, sometimes the Artist’s Date, occasionally the tasks and had to keep reminding myself to do the Check-ins, and then I stopped, without giving myself any reason. This year, I promised that I would restart it and complete it. When I completed Week 2 I understood why I stopped last year. I was afraid. Afraid that this book could impose some changes that I was not ready to handle. The strange thing was that after Week 3, I went for a walk to the nearby park and three Rottweiler’s charged towards me! As I stood facing the gate of house, hanging on and screaming my head off for dear life (as I really thought I was going to meet my maker!), two of the dogs ran past but the other one bit my calf.
Shaken, I went to a house and took refuge in the property until the dogs were harnessed put away. An exchange took place between me and the owner of the dogs. She apologized for what happened but was very defensive about her dogs. She insisted on taking me to the hospital and paying for any medication. I was given a cocktail of tetanus, anti-rabies and antibiotic injections plus a number of tablets. I found out several days later the owner lied about her dogs being up to date with their shots. But anyway, I am fine. But it got me thinking. Synchronicity? Even before coming across this word in the Artist’s Way I was never a believer in ‘coincidence’. So the question I put to myself was did I bring this negative experience into my life, and if so, why? I still don’t know the answer (unless any of you guys can tell me). But I pray that as I continue with this journey which I want so much to work that the ‘excavation’ does not unearth anything else profound.
Week 4, I found myself writing more than just three pages. Writing a letter to myself when I’m 85 and writing a letter from myself at eight years old I found totally cathartic. The experience stayed with me for the entire day, and just kept me thinking about my past. My past was not all that great but I guess I have learnt to bury all the debris deep within, believing that I would not have face it but in Week 4 I did. I’ll keep you posted.
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.