Sunday, 6 April 2014

West meets East: from Eltham, England, to Punjab, India

So finally we are taking the children to visit India, the place from which my family hail, and from whence my parents emigrated to the UK in the early 1960s. It was in London that my brother and I were then born and where we have made our own lives.

My husband, however, is not from an Indian background, his family being born and bred south Londoners for generations. All these factors hare inevitably meant that our children's bi-culturality is a bit lop-sided. Despite the best implorings of my mother, my talking in Punjabi regularly to my children in an otherwise English setting just didn't happen. And so, after all these years of only hearing about India and being touched by Indian culture in a peripheral way, our children will finally get to see the place and meet some extended family. My husband has done this once before, 14 years ago, the year we were married when, with the eagerness of a newly-wed he foolishly agreed to meet more of the the in-laws.

I have been to India many times before I was married, though less so in the last couple of decades. Incongruously, my brother and I were even sent back for a few months of boarding school there, near Simla, in our primary school years, while my mother was in the UK. A madness that my mother soon changed her mind about, hence the short time there.

It was really at my mother's encouragement that we have set up this current trip. She still visits India frequently, having siblings and nephews/nieces there, and around 2002 she finally bought her own little house in the Punjabi new town of Chandigarh. Not getting any younger, she was very keen to show our kids 'her manor' and to show them off to family there. She and my brother will be traveling to India a week earlier and will meet us there.

The visit is most significant for me because of our children. It's that strange diasporic phenomena of having perhaps emotionally separated from your heritage country, and even having ambivalent feelings about it, yet despite this so wanting your children to have an attachment to it. An Irish acquaintance tells me that this is exactly his experience when taking his children back to Ireland for the first time. It's a strange crossroads of a time when all sorts of repressed emotions come to the fore, questions of identity and belonging, which perhaps you had not really appreciated before. But also looking back on my younger years and musing that, what may be generational differences within some families, in a diasporic family these also become interwoven with cultural differences between the different generations.

But back to the trip - we'll be visiting the northerly state of Punjab, which borders Pakistan of course, flying in to New Delhi and then basing ourselves in Chandigarh, at my mother's house. More of that later, but let me set the geographical scene...

So here's a map (click on images to enlarge) of the upper half of India, with its capital, New Delhi, in the north. Our time there will only touch the NW area of the vast land that is India, and within the state of Punjab.

This is the territory that our 12 day trip will cover, with the main places of staying/visiting marked out.

We've got this tentative itinerary planned, but this will very much depend on the pace, and the heat, that we and children can cope with once there:

Day 1
Sun: Overnight flight To New Delhi from Heathrow
(we've pushed the boat out and will be flying in Virgin's 'Premium Economy' class - here's the oh-so-important additional 'luxuries' you get, that mean you can look down on Economy, though still look 'up' to Upper Class - a bit like the 1960s sketch with Cleese and the Ronnies...I think a good linen tablecloth is always an essential... We decided that the kids could best cope with the 8-9 hrs flight if they slept overnight, especially as we still have the 5-6 hour drive to Chandigarh ahead once we land. Let's see how that works out...)

Day 2
Mon: Arrive at New Delhi
(to be met by the car which mum will have sent ahead - that should be interesting trying to find the driver in the busy airport...)
Drive, 5-6 hours to Chandigarh
This will be along the (in)famous Grand Trunk Road, one of Asia's oldest roads apparently, and much eulogized in various Punjabi songs - a bit like America''s 'Route 66'. We'll be stopping for lunch at one of the 'dhabas' (or roadside cafes) which Punjab is well-known for. 

Day 3 and 4
Tue and Wed: ​​Chandigarh
And so finally we will get to spend some time at my mother's place in Chandigarh. Known as the 'City Beautiful', Punjabis are very proud of having India's first 'planned city', as famously designed by Swiss-born French architect Le Corbusier. He was commissioned by Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister, to build a city that would replace Lahore, the previous capital of the Punjab lost to newly created Pakistan after partition in 1947.

Day 5
Thurs : the village tour
Leave very early to travel to west Punjab by car (3.5hrs) to my mother's ancestral village home, and the villages of some nearby relatives (area around no. 3, Moga, on the map). My mother has very efficiently pre-informed various relatives about when we will be arriving at each of them and how long we will stay at each. This is to avoid, very wisely, the protracted insistence at each place on extended hospitality involving long elaborate meals. Stay overnight at cousin's house.

Day 6
Friday: travel to Amritsar
Leave after lunch for Amritsar (2.5hrs by car), the most northerly place we'll be visiting and only about 35 mins from the Pakistan border. This is the site, of course, of the so-called 'Golden Temple' or to give it its proper name, 'Sri Harmandir Sahib'. It is the holiest of places for Sikhs to visit, akin to a Sikh Vatican. It was in the UK news this February when archived papers revealed the hitherto unknown involved of the British government in the events of 1984 at the Temple - this was when the Indira Gandhi's government unleashed a violent attack on the Temple, killing many people (575 officially, more unofficially). Amritsar is also the site of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, also known as the Amritsar massacre, in April 1919. That atrocity was depicted at length in Attenborough's Gandhi film.

We hope to visit both these places - one very beautiful, the other very poignant.

Amritsar is an iconic Punjabi city - steppeed in history, narrow cobbled lanes and famous for its food and 'chic/vintage traditional' fashion shopping,  We plan to stay overnight in a nice hotel, hopefully with swimming pool to give the kids some fun. We might also, if time, visit the Waggah border ceremony at dusk - famous for its nightly ritualistic and exaggerated 'closing of the gates' ceremony between the Indian and Pakistan border, as depicted on an episode of Michael Palin: "a masterly display of just how angry you can get without hitting anything!"

Day 7
​​Early breakfast at Amritsar hotel, swim, pack, travel back to Chandigarh (4.5hrs)

Day 8, 9, 10
Sun, Mon, Tues: in ​​Chandigarh. On Sunday - celebrating Vaisaiki, the birth of the Sikh religion.

Day 11
Wed: Travel To Delhi
​​Check in to hotel, ​​explore Delhi​​ and celebrate daughter’s birthday, maybe at Connaught Place’s TGIF, to give her something familiar.

Day 12
Thurs: Delhi sightseeing
​​Breakfast in Delhi Hotel, b​rowse Chandi Chawk​​ ('moonlight place') an ancient shopping site, visit the 16th century Mogul Red Fort, ​cool off by the pool in the afternoon and ​explore the markets in the evening (hmm..bit ambitious this day)

Day 13
Fri: ​​hotel then fly home
Leave for Delhi airport and flight back home to UK.

And that, my friends, is the plan! Let's see how it works out. We're quite relaxed about changing things where we want to, and go with the flow, but you've got to have an aim, haven't you?

Our trip will have the added interest of a little election going on in India - the election of the 16th Prime Minister of independent India, by over 814 million citizens over six weeks of voting beginning 7 April. The front runner could unfortunately see India having its first non-secular leader, against the spirit of the constitution established by the first PM Nehru. 

Lots more I could write, but another adios, ciao and namaste. We out.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Eltham-based Greenwich Soul Choir at RFH and on BBC R3

Happy to let you know about this I received from Abi Gilchrist, Director, The London Soul Choirs:

Just a few exciting performances for the London Soul Choirs in the next couple of weeks to let you know about:

SUNDAY 30th March - Greenwich Soul Choir LIVE on BBC Radio 3 at 4 - 4.30pm and 5.15 - 5.30pm
Please listen in or if youre about come and watch us at the live Radio 3 studio in the foyer of the Royal Festival Hall. FREE

SATURDAY 5th April -  London Soul Choirs - Choral Platform at Royal Festival Hall by the bar in the central foyer.
4pm - Open to anyone to come and watch us FREE

8pm - Greenwich Choir in The Events in the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Tickets still available - quote COMPANY for half price

SUNDAY 6th April - Spring term concert at Eltham Green Community Church, SE9 6DH
4pm -  £5 or £2.50 conc on door (proceeds to our nominated charity)

Hope you can make it along to one or two of these performances - if not definitely do listen to us on sunday at 4pm on Radio 3! Also we are very excited to tell you our new WEBSITE is now LIVE! So please check it out and if you havent already please join the facebook page and follow LSC on twitter too!

Thanks so much for your support


Abi Gilchrist, Director
The London Soul Choirs - Hither Green and Greenwich

WATCH the Greenwich Soul Choir in action at the top of The Shard!
Sing it from the Rooftops! Greenwich Soul Choir

A previous blog post about the Greench Soul Choir at the Tudor Barn:

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Eltham Arts

Are you interested in the arts in Eltham?

Well, I've been very remiss in not writing much earlier about about an exciting new organisation in Eltham. Eltham Arts is a new initiative started over a year ago, by the enterprising and enthusiastic Gaynor Wingham, encouraged by the Eltham Town Centre Partnership and now supported by others, including Amy Duffin, SEnine reporter and @NewElthamWoman on Twitter. 

Eltham Arts aims to celebrate and encourage Eltham's creativity and talent, for people of all ages and backgrounds. Its activities got off to a strong start with a poetry competition last year, 'Eltham in Verse' with a splendid book published as a result. I bought my copy when I bumped into Gaynor at the library in Eltham....

And now Eltham Arts are running a short story competition, 'Tales of Eltham', with entries to be in by 21 February 2014.

There'll be a celebratory event on 23 April 2014 when the winners of the short story competition will be announced at the World book Night celebrations, to be held at the Eltham Centre. There are plans for a book too containing some of the short stories. So why not have a go? See here for more details.

Eltham Arts have a rich vein of arts to mine, and to develop further - in Eltham we already have the Bob Hope Theatre, the Priory Players, the Eltham Choral Society, the Greenwich Soul Choir and Edith Nesbitt's writing heritage and much more. 

In fact, there's so much going on that Gaynor Wingham from Eltham Arts is now writing a column in Greenwich Visitor, a monthly local newspaper - see its website

There's lots more planned, including a series of talks,' Eltham Entertains' at the Eltham Leisure Centre (2 Archery Rd, Eltham SE9 1HA), with the first of these taking place on 12 February, 7-9pm.

So, a belated and warm welcome to Eltham Arts!

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Proposed cinema for Eltham

Site of proposed cinema in Eltham High Street
Last week, Royal Greenwich confirmed that:
"Proposals for a new cinema and restaurant development at the heart of Eltham town centre have taken a step forward. The Royal Borough of Greenwich's cabinet voted in favour of proceeding with a planning application to turn a key council-owned building into a cinema complex.

Leading cinema operators have already expressed an interest in the former Co-op department store, which was purchased by the Royal Borough last year. The building is situated in the middle of the High Street and is the focus of proposals to stimulate the local high-street economy and in particular to encourage more residents and visitors to the town during the evening.

The borough held discussions with community representatives about the best possible uses for the building before putting the cinema complex proposal forward."

It went on to say that:
"The cinema proposal is part of a masterplan for Eltham town centre that aims to promote economic growth by developing key sites and making improvements to the area" and that
"The next step is for the council to submit a planning application for this proposal."

The "Eltham Town Centre Masterplan Supplementary Planning Document", which was adopted in April 2012, is available to view or download here.

The only reference I can find in that Masterplan is in Section 10. on St Mary's Place:

"The buildings to the west of Sainsbury’s should be reconfigured for leisure and entertainment uses, such as a cinema, to enable the opening up of the supermarket frontage." (on p23)

So we'll have to wait for the Council's planning application to see any more details about this proposal.

Link to the News Shopper article (22.11.13) on the approval. 

Previous to these latest plans, there had been hopes that a cinema would return to the old Coronet site where an Odeon cinema operated, from 1936 to 1981, and then as an independent until 1999. However a cinema was ruled out and a gym, Kinesis, approved earlier this year which opened there earlier this month. 

I'm curious to see how the cinema will be made a successful venture when so many smaller suburban cinemas have closed. There was one in Sidcup high street until that closed in recent years (we saw American Beauty there...). Will it go for blockbusters or art films, and would there be enough of a market for either? I guess the type of cinema operator will be key here. I do hope it's a success - it would be great to have a library, swimming pool and cinema all within walking distance.

UPDATE: The plans are now available to view online. A decision will be made by a council planning board at a date yet to be set.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Eltham Lights Up 2013 - photos

View down Eltham High Street of an illuminated pirate ship approaching (from ?Treasure Island), with primary school children parading behind in the lantern procession.

A beautiful Fairy Godmother on stilts, from a nearby pantomime perhaps...

Two Georgian men wandering around Eltham High Street

A primary school group enthusiastically drums its way along the parade

and to finish, the spectacular fireworks, as ever, from the roof of M&S

Very well done to the organisers. It's a great event for children, families and the community generally to get together for some fun.

Eltham Lights Up 2013

My photo from the 2009 parade
It's Eltham Lights Up tonight, from 4-7pm, in Eltham High Street. 

There'll be the lantern parade, switching on of the Christmas lights, entertainment on a stage near the St Mary's Centre, fireworks and late night shopping,  This year's event celebrates the works of local author Edith Nesbitt, of Railway Children fame.

Eltham High Street will be closed during this time.

My son took part with his primary school last year, but this year we'll be spectating, watching my younger nephew.

More details here on the Royal Greenwich website.

My write-up, with photos of the previous years' events:

Eltham Lights Up 2011
Eltham Lights Up 2010
Eltham Lights up 2009

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Sticker scam in Eltham

Photo taken by Eltham resident
Word has been out last few days about stickers which are being stuck on front doors of houses in Eltham. The stickers, which advertise a fake locksmith, are apparently stuck on houses to identify them as potential target houses to burgle.

The local police team, @MPSElthamNthSgt, tweeted yesterday: "It seems that the stickers are popping up all round Eltham, mostly Progress Est. We've warned Trading standards & the council"

Keen tweeters have been reporting sightings of these stickers and brought them to the attention of local police. One was praised: "...That was due to all you spreading the word after I posted about it yesterday! We didn't realise how many houses were effected."

Wandsworth Council have also spotted this worrying practice in their area and posted about it last Thursday on their website at

Tweeters have speculated on the seemingly large number of houses which seems to have been stickered and that we must have a very busy group of burglars.Others have speculated on quite how it all works.

But, reassuringly, local police this morning tweeted "These stickers being placed on doors are v. suspicious but don't be too worried, we've only had 3 residential burglaries this month!" 

The Eltham Safer Neighbourhood Team have distributed this notice, as posted by the Greenwich University SU:

Various residents in Eltham and the nearby area have found a small silver sticker above their front doorbells which states ‘24/7 Locksmith 0203 582 8175’.

This appears to be happening across the London and the South East. The stickers are also being put above letterboxes. The number on the stickers is a fake number and should not be called, it is believed the stickers indicate the houses to be possibly targeted for burglaries.

If you have any concerns, have seen a sticker or have any information please feel free to contact the Eltham Safer Neighborhood Team on 0208 721 2636.
More updates - links:
 Press reports now in:
-  Evening Standard about the scam in Wandsworth (18.11.13)
-  The Telegraph ditto (18.11.13)
-  itv News (19.11.13)
(though these read as if in response to the same press release)

- News Shopper: “Burglary scare inspires Bexley Good Samaritan to remove fake locksmith stickers” (19.11.13)
 - Metropolitan Police: Greenwich News: "Locksmiths stickers and burglary in your area" (19.11.13)

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Friday, 20 September 2013

Open House in Eltham

The annual free celebration of London's architecture takes place this weekend, 21-22 September. I picked up this booklet a few weeks ago at the Eltham Leisure Centre where one of the librarians gingerly admitted he had just 'had a delivery' that morning and upon my enquiry handed one over.

There are so many goodies London-wide to visit that in fact it is a shame it all takes place over just one weekend because it would be impossible to do more than scratch the surface. Devotees have, of course, been pouring over the programme for weeks and will have made their bookings ages ago of the most popular and rare places. In fact some are so popular the visitors are even picked by ballot - this year there are four buildings which were run on a ballot system: 10 Downing Street, The View from The Shard, EDF Energy London Eye and Gray's Inn.

The listings in the booklet are organised by borough. There's loads for Greenwich and our neighbouring boroughs, Lewisham and Bexley. You can search through the listings online here. For now, I'll just run through the Eltham entries - click on the headings for more Open House information about timings etc:

Severndroog Castle

Severndroog CastleCastle Wood, Shooters Hill, SE18 3RT, London, England
Grade II* listed triangular brick Georgian tower with Gothic windows. Standing 63ft tall in woodlands it offers spectacular views across the capital. …



Tudor Barn and Gardens

Tudor Barn and GardensWell Hall Pleasaunce, Well Hall Road, SE9 6SZ, London, England
16C restored barn set in grounds with Medieval moat, only surviving building from 'Well Hall', home to Margaret Roper, daughter of Sir Thomas …

Eltham LodgeRoyal Blackheath Golf Club, Court Road, SE9 5AF, London, England
Grade I listed Caroline mansion built for Sir John Shaw. Refurbished 18C with fine plaster, ceilings and staircase. Club house of Royal Blackheath …

 p.s. An eagle-eyed reader has pointed out that Crown Woods College is also open tomorrow through the Open House scheme. The official Open London booklet has it listed under Bexley. So, here are the details:

Crown Woods College
145 Bexley Road, Eltham, SE9 2PT, London, England

Crown Woods College
9-form entry secondary school, opened in 2011, organised in three colleges or 'schools within a school'. The architects were inspired by Thomas Jefferson's plan for the University of Virginia which has an open colonnade connecting college buildings around a large central landscaped area. Civic Trust Awards Commended and RIBA Award Winner 2012.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Eltham Women's Institute

Following a link recently, I landed on the smart website of the Catford Women's Institute. It meets monthly at the St Laurence Centre in Bromley Road, Catford. It seems very active with talks, events and trips - including one in April on 'Glass Fusion Art'. So a far cry from jam and cakes (though nothing wrong with that of course...).

There's no denying that WIs had a bit of a fusty image but the organisation has undergone a bit of a rejuvenation in recent years. Of course there was that calendar in 1999, later a film, and the slow hand clapping of Tony Blair. The WI is getting involved in many campaigns too e.g against library closures and legal aid reforms. Branches are popping up everywhere and they are being claimed by modern, young women in an urban setting too - for example, there's even a branch at nearby 'radical' Goldsmiths, University of London (Goldsmith’s WI on Facebook).

With over 6,500 branches nationwide, it made me wonder whether Eltham had a Women's Institute?

According to the WI site there's an 'Eltham Palace' branch listed which meets at
St Mary's Community Hall in Eltham and also a 'Royal Eltham' branch meeting at the United Reformed Church Hall, Court Road, Eltham. Though I haven't been able to find websites for either.

There was an interesting article in SENine magazine in 2010 about a rejuvenation of the Women's Institute in Eltham (though the venue info given there conflicts with the current WI site info - I presume the latter would be the most up to date). Happy to list up-to-date contact details if anyone wants to get in touch.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Trying to find a free copy of the local NewShopper?

I know we're all online now but if you prefer something to flick through and if you don't get a delivery of your local NewShopper, I've just seen that you can apparently pick up a free copy of the Lewisham edition at the following places around Eltham:

Robinson & Jackson, 2/4 Court Yard, Eltham, SE9 5PZ
Bernard Skinner, 22 Well Hall Road, Eltham, SE9 6SF
David Evans, 20 Well Hall Road, Eltham, SE9 6SF
Key Locations, 18 Well Hall Road, Eltham, SE9 6SF
Your Move, 8 Well Hall Road, Eltham, SE9 6SF
Harrison Ingram, 156 Well Hall Road, Eltham, SE9 6SN

More information on other pick up sites and editions on their website here.