Blue plaque unveiling for Bernie Grant.

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.

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Malcolm Wicks – MP Croydon North West (Croydon North)

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.

Out Of The Ashes by David Lammy: Review

 

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.  Lammy and Clegg in Tottenham

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.

 

I know it’s a bit late but Happy New Year everyone!

I am running late. Just got back from a trip in Ghana, and whoa, it really was a busy and enjoyable experience. From going to Cape Castle, to Aburi botanical gardens and how could I forget Kakum National Park. The firework display on New Year’s Eve, at the hotel, was spectacular. I think just as good the one witnessed in Dubai.

Now back to everyday. One or two resolutions that I hope that I don’t break and that is to do The Artist’s Way without stopping or ‘breaking’. I started this book before and just got up to week 5 and then I stopped! Can’t remember why but I never got back to it again. Now I’ve restarted (just completed Week One), I try to make myself be more conscious of what I have to do. There are some principles that the author (Julia Cameron) wants you to follow, so I have to do that. Let see how it goes.

The second resolution is to lose weight. Gosh, how many times have I promised myself this?? I’ve lost count. But I just hate how my body shape seems to have settled down and refusing to accept change, aided and abetted by myself of course! But I will try my hardest to lose this weight.

2011 was a tense ridden year for me; from problems that involve loved ones to problems with the State. But as my Pastor constantly tells me: The Almighty Father never gives us challenges that we cannot overcome. I guess there must some truth in that as I’m still here!

I hope and pray for a more positive time, to be more forgiving and understanding to others and for peace to be given more of a chance.

Happy New Year Everyone!

Stephen Kelman; Pigeon English – More like Broken English and broken spirits

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.

 

41 Days after the Tottenham Riot: the day of Mark Duggan’s funeral.

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?

3 Days after the Tottenham Riot

"I love Tottenham!'
I forget to mention yesterday what exactly happened when I went to the library.  In case you are thinking that I went to ‘spectate’, well I didn’t.  Last week I ordered some math’s books for my daughter.  The school said that it wanted the children to look over some work during the summer break, in preparation for the AS Level work at school. I received a letter telling me that the books had arrived from another library.  I went alone to the library (Marcus Garvey Library) and was surprised to see the Japanese TV crew (I know they were Japanese as one of the librarians told me so), smiling away but nervous to approach anyone to interview; the French TV crew were interviewing an elderly West Indian man, and I could hear him in full swing talking about the early sixties.  Somewhere in the car park, another TV crew was interviewing two black girls.

The crew was sitting at the back of their huge van, and extended from the top of it was a huge massive aerial.  After talking with the librarian, I collected the books and left.  I decided to walk into the High Road to see what was happening. Yes, at this point, I was curious.  There was tape along the road, directing pedestrians off the High road to the back roads which run along with the car parks.  It was interesting to see a number of people around and the police interacting with the public. My ‘walk’took me to the far end of Bruce Grove. There was absolutely no where I could access the High Road as it had been sealed off by tape. Eventually, I came out onto the road, and saw part of the 1930s (Carpet showroom) building which had been there well before I was born.  Such a shame that the building should be seen as ‘iconic’ now that it has died a death.  I read somewhere in one of the papers that how buildings are important to a community; especially if it has history, it should be revered and respected. Now that it has gone, whichever architect is hired, this  building cannot  be replaced .

I cross over the High Road to Pembury Road, and there are groups of people, just sitting, talking.  And each group I pass, there seems to be nothing else to discuss other than the riots.  There is a car, totally burnt.  People stop, remove their camera phones and take photos.  Yet another TV crew are at the end of the road, arguing between themselves about where they should go.  I wonder if I should volunteer and talk to them but I say no, as the area has a bad rep as it is.  I don’t want to say something that becomes misconstrued and distorted; something that I might have to give lengthy explanations to people.

2 Days after the Tottenham Riot

We Love Tottenham!!

I went out to do some shopping. Normally on a Tuesday I’d go to Dewhurst the butchers in Bruce Grove to buy my lamb chops and oxtail but I was reminded by my neighbour that Dewhurst was completely ‘down’. I tell myself that I’ll go instead to Tesco’s but quickly change my mind as I remember that a book I’d reserved in Wood Green Central library is ready for collection so I head there.  When I get to Wood Green, boarded windows are everywhere. Business is still as usual, the road is busy and so is the traffic.  I park, rush to the library to get my book then head back to the car.  I spot the community leader Stafford Scott along Dongola Road.  Didn’t I just read an article written by him in today’s Guardian?  I decide to drive to the top of Phillip Lane where it meets Tottenham High Road. I can see the high road is still cordoned off; the street is littered with police vehicles and yellow tape and there are smattering of ‘officials’ walking around.  In the distance, I can see objects in the road but cannot make out what they are. Turning into Monument Way I see the white building that was in the back ground when David Lammy gave his earnest speech. I drive pass Tottenham Hale and the Retail Park. The Costacoffee shop has wooden planks in its shop windows.  The road is desolate with just a few cars in front of me.  The time is 1.00pm.

When I get home, my partner and I decide to go to Croydon. Not because we want to ogle but we had decided some days ago that we would go and see a few estate agents to check on properties.  We get into the car, drive to Seven Sisters Underground and then park the car in the car park.  We go to the kiosk to buy our tickets and ask if Croydon station is open. We are told it is.  Just as we are about to go down the escalator, we see and greet the community leader – Rev. Nim Obunge who we have seen and heard on the TV.  In fact it is not just us but a number of people rush to him and shake his hand.

We get to East Croydon quite quickly.  Once we arrive, we decide not to stay in the city centre but to take the 466 to Purley.  In the five-minute journey, I am shocked and surprised at the number of smashed shop fronts and the number shops closed for the day.  I guess who can blame them.  We find a few agents and look at what they have on offer and they collect our details.  Did we want something to eat?  We say no and decide that I should cook when we get home.  On our return journey, as the train pass Clapham Junction we notice a crowd around a set of traffic lights which I take to be on the High street.

We wonder what is happening. The journey to Seven Sisters underground is swift; we get off and make our way to the car park.  Shops are boarded, traffic as busy as ever and it is a hot evening.  We walk to where we had parked our car and drive to the nearby Tesco’s to do some shopping and the ‘chatter’ that is over heard as you walk pass people is about the riots – from opinions about the speech of David Lammy to ‘not enough Police’.  If people were not talking then they were either texting or reading their messages on their mobiles.  And I have to add they were of different age groups.  As I said before in my other ‘Tottenham’ blog, I’m just about speechless to all what is happening.  This is taking us back to another 25 years!!

Just to add, later on I found out that the butchers in Tottenham High Road, Dewhurst’s, are alive and well. Thank God!

Tottenham on fire!

I am from Tottenham, born and raised there, was educated there and it funded my university education. As I meet people whether from other parts of London or other parts of the country or other parts of the world, I am expected to give an explanation
for what happened Saturday night.  But I’m afraid I cannot only but feel bad for all what has happened.

Bought carpet from this store years ago! And a listed building too!

The looting and criminal acts were horrific and to a certain extent quite frightening.  I hate that the area has been cordoned off; a listed building is now in ruins (alongside
other buildings) and that hard working people have lost their homes and businesses.  Tottenham has somehow been able to get away with not becoming gentrified and hang on to its individuality but there is no question that it is a desperate place and you walk around hoping to see something different, something new but that hardly happens.

One of the regular buses on fire!

Although it did happen with the Tottenham Retail Park (that is just about a year old!)but now the majority of the businesses are ruins.  But given all that has happened- presently and back in 1985 – I am not ashamed of coming from the area, it certainly was a safe haven for my parents when they came here in the late 50s.  Opportunists
and thugs are just taking advantage we are told
; there is nothing happening in their boring lives so they do this they also say.  Maybe there is a grain of truth in these comments, but surely the recession and ‘mad’ unemployment are some of the factors needed to be looked at as possible contributory reasons.

A place that was here well before I was born!

In general, Tottenhamites are friendly people and hate, as much as anyone, what is happening to their area and community.  A final point, the day after the riot, I went
out as usual to buy the Sunday Times but was told by three newsagents that there was no delivery of these papers and that we would have to go outside the area to buy as they refused to come to the area.  Yesterday, Monday, I went out to buy the Guardian, again, the same problem.  I just hope that we are not going to see anymore of this.