Wednesday 30 September 2009

The Sun endorses Tories

And just before I clock off, this awful news has broken:

Sky News has reported that the Sun newspaper has endorsed the Conservative Party. Adam Boulton describes it as "another nail in Gordon Brown's coffin."
(credit: Red Rag)

That is going to give the Tories a real lift at their conference. The power of Murdoch at work again.

Update: the BBC now has this on the role of The Sun in election victories (just to rub it in...)

Tuesday 29 September 2009

Black History Month: Good or bad thing?

October heralds the onset on Black History Month in the UK. This month (or so)-long collection of events, talks, and performances started in the UK in 1987 but has its roots in the American beginnings of this event launched in 1926 as Negro History Week.

Some knee-jerks leap in each year with the reaction 'what about white history month'? This gang are usually synonymous with those who think that all immigrants are getting houses, jobs, benefits etc... Are they kidding? We live in White History Life. Turn to the History Channel, look at the overwhelming majority of any school syllabus, look at government funding of the majority of cultural and artistic organisations look at politics, look at...need I go on? And maybe that's to be expected, that's life, life is eurocentric - or at any rate, those with power are. But when some small-minded people object to one measly month of wonderful activities, mostly for families and many for free, then I've got to defend BHM.

BHM also has its detractors from the 'liberal centre/left' who argue about the further 'ghettoisation' of black people, and that such demarcations continue to mark black people out as different and maybe detracts from where the real fight is - for example, see Deborah Orr's scathing piece a while ago in the The Independent ('Why we should bin Black History Month: It's wrong for all the reasons that multiculturalism more generally is wrong').

Here I'd argue that BHM was started because of a lack of knowledge and understanding about the culture and history of a people. The question is, has that been achieved? Perhaps as soon as black people’s contributions to history and culture have been fully incorporated into text books, and into our national awareness there may no longer be a need for a Black History Month. That time has not yet come and so the need still exists.

And then you've also got the 'what about 'insert ethnicity' month' gang. Sure, one might ask what about 'Asian/Chinese/etc. History Month' - but then, frankly, go ahead and organise something! In London at least we have loads of events including the art, culture and history of different ethnicities and many people enjoy them. Personally, I think that'd be overload. The point about BHM is that it has long and particular roots. Many BHM events, of course, have a wider definition of 'black' that others and do incorporate other cultures, e.g. British-Asian. I know the definition of 'black' is not straightforward. But life if messy - let's enjoy that messiness.

Frankly, if there were a 'white history month' (though I'm not quite sure how that would be conceived, what's the narrative?) that was welcoming to everyone and not jingoistic, then bring it on, I'll be there. After all I'm a member of English Heritage (btw, a part govt-funded organisation...) because I want to enjoy many aspects of history and culture. But I also want to enjoy BHM. There's room for everyone. At the risk of sounding corny, that is multi-culturalism at its best.

So here's the Lewisham and Greenwich programmes for BHM - enjoy.

Tuesday 22 September 2009

Kwame Kwei-Armah: a Southall boy

Did you know that Kwame Kwei-Armah, playwright and actor, was brought up in Southall (west London, UK)? Perhaps the rest of the world did, but that little nugget has passed me by. I've never seen his name on any list of the 'great and good' of Southall. I spent an interesting half-hour in the car (yes, a borrowed car, many thanks dad-in-law) listening to him speaking about growing up in Dane Road following his family's arrival in 1962 from Grenada. He talks about the changing faces of Southall (from West Indian to Asian), 'white flight', and the 1979-80 troubles, some of which he witnessed from the front room of his house. He also tells some warm and affectionate stories about British West Indian (as it was then) life (with his mother's 'fire and brimstone' going on in the front room, and his dad's 'rum and coke' posse going on in the back) He's an articulate and frank speaker with much to say to anyone interested in society, identity and migration.

The broadcast is repeated again tonight at 21:30 on BBC Radio 4 or you can 'listen again' here.

Monday 21 September 2009

The price of ten minutes

Thanks a bunch to the b******* who trashed our car this weekend. Having smashed almost every single window, with nothing valuable to nick inside, I can only assume you do this for kicks. It's hard to keep up the bleeding-heart liberal stance, I can tell you...

A little tip for more local readers - don't EVER leave your car in the South Eltham Park car park (on Glenesk Road, SE9). I was forced to do so only once, this Friday night. I missed the car park barrier being locked by 10 minutes (they've never been that strict before, and the parkeeper normally gives a heads up to the parents in the playground). I know legally I should have paid heed to the new tattered signs roped to the trees, but as the charming and sympathetic PC Madden (from Plumstead Police Station) said, it wasn't my fault that the car was vandalised. That was nice of him. And so I had to leave the car there overnight, Friday night, only for my husband and five-year old to find it on Saturday morning - not a very nice sight for him. The price of that ten minutes has been hundreds of pounds, loss of our 'no claims bonus', and having to schlep the school runs and work without a car.

It's a very lovely park otherwise, with promises of a cafe to come. Just don't leave your car there!


test - does this still look like it's got a transparent film covering it? If yes, yikes! Does anyone know how to fix this?

Saturday 19 September 2009

Women's Library: Voices of South Asian workers

I was sent The Women's Library listing of upcoming events. The Library, now part of the London Met University, has a great programme but one event struck a chord - a display and discussion about the Asian women involved in the 1976 Grunwick and the 2005 Gate Gourmet strikes.

These events may hardly now register in the national memory but to the Asian community, to unionists and west Londoners they were big news. Each of the strikes, of course, had its own historical place and theme. Grunwick was an early example of action by minorities and making the trades unions pay attention whilst Gate Gourmet, an example of more modern themes of displacement by the next tier of immigrant labour, and a multi-national company playing legal footsie. But each resulted in a rarely seen phenomenon in the media - groups of Asian women standing up for their rights.

A personal connection is that my mother had worked for Gate Gourmet, though she had retired some 4 years before the strike. She was one of the many Asian women who had worked for British Airways for decades and was then transferred across when BA outsourced its catering to GG (and the catering's never been as good since!). It should be an interesting day on 28 November.

See here for booking details.

Thursday 17 September 2009

Sikh heritage on the Isle of Wight?

Another experience about which I've been meaning to write is our seemingly-now annual trip to the good 'ol Isle of Wight. We've visited during the last two May-half term weeks. For those who don't know it is a little, very little, island off the south coast of England, kind of opposite Portsmouth, Hampshire. It is known for being a little England stuck in the past, somewhere in the 1950s mostly. All deck chairs, ice-creams and ladies in hats. But many mainland families are attracted there because of its beaches, its holiday feel and its places to visit. So I set off for my next 'cross-cultural' experience of holidaying like the English. You also get to travel there on a 40-minute ferry ride, which always adds to the excitement.

We've stayed mostly towards the north-west of the island - near Yarmouth and then near Cowes. The children have loved it - excited visits to Colwell Bay, Carisbrooke Castle (where my son became a knight, right), Dinosaur Isle (in Sandown), Robin Hill (a ‘countryside adventure park' near Arreton) and Ryde Pier will, we hope, be memories they will keep.

However, a bit like that character in 'Goodness Gracious Me', my husband is amused by the way I manage to find a desi link everywhere (desi = from the home country). But this one is a biggie so stay with me...

On a trip to the island's imposing Osborne House, the home of Queen Victoria and where she died, I spied in a roped-off corridor a very special painting with which my psyche was immediately very familiar. But it took me a few moments to realise that this was the original painting of a very iconic image for Sikhs, and for British diaspora Sikhs especially. Here hung the 1854 painting by Franz Xaver Winterhalter of Maharaja Dalip (or Duleep) Singh. Who was he? Wikipedia (yes, I know, but I'm in a hurry...) tells us:
Maharaja Dalip Singh.. was the last Maharaja of Sikh Raj. He was the youngest son of the legendary "Lion of the Punjab" (Maharaja Ranjit Singh) and the "Messalina of the Punjab" (Maharani Jind Kaur), and came to power after a series of intrigues, in which several other claimants to the throne and to the Koh-i-Noor diamond killed each other. After his exile to Britain, he was befriended by Queen Victoria, to whom he gave the prized diamond which is now part of the Crown Jewels, set in the Crown of Queen Elizabeth, and on display in the Jewel House in the Tower of London.
Today he is considered as Britain's first Sikh settler, having been exiled to its shores in 1854, after being dethroned and his country annexed by the British Raj in 1849.
(No doubt some parts of this description are highly-contested - I mean, he GAVE the Koh-i-Noor to Queen Vic??)

It's a remarkable story of the end of a particular Sikh era, though quite sad in many ways. It was a very striking life-sized painting and the staff stationed there were not at all surprised to find this brown person intently peering at it - many had come before me - I'm sure it's on the Anglo-Sikh Heritage Trail. Actually, glamorous though the painting is, I've always preferred this surviving photograph - it has, all at once, a romantic, haunting and tragic air.

So there endeth my desi story about the Isle of Wight. Though not without noting the poignancy of Duleep Singh dressed in his 17thC Sikh regalia, and some 150 years later, my son (of part-Sikh heritage) dressed near the same spot, as an English knight...

Click here to watch a BBC2 documentary on Maharajah Duleep Singh, the 'last Ruler of the Punjab', presented by Hardeep Singh Kohli and screened in 2005. Or here to watch a BBC1 documentary, Inside Out, screened in 2004, showing Gurinder Chadha researching the history of Maharajah Duleep Singh and his daughter Princess Sophiya for a feature film. It includes some fascinating information about Princess Sophiya, one of Duleep Singh's daughters, who became a well-known 'militant' suffragette and later, for her work during WWII with evacuees.

Update: If you have £30k-odd spare, I co-incidentally came across this article about the forthcoming sale of Duleep Singh's mother's (Rani Jindan's) necklace at well-known London auctioneers Bonhams, on October 8, 2009. [UPDATE: it went for £55,200]

Keith Sweat at the Indigo O2, London

Anyone going to see the man on 25 September? From my last quick look, there only seems to be standing room ('from' £27), and you know what, at my stage and pace of life I really can't do that anymore! Let alone go through baby-sitting palaver. Still, it's been nice reminiscing with Mr Husband about our favourite Sweaty tracks. He is one cool dude (I am speaking, of course, of Mr Husband...).

Monday 14 September 2009

Hanif Kureishi: 'Rebel With a Medal' on the Couch

You might have seen this article about Hanif Kureishi in TIME magazine a couple of weeks ago. It struck a cord because not only do I happen to be reading his latest novel, Something To Tell You, but because I have always been fascinated by him. The article refers, of course, to the recent staging at the National Theatre of his 1993 novel, The Black Album. The novel was engaging and timely but, having seen the reviews of play, I demured from making the effort to go see it. As one would with a long-admired artist, I had willed his play to be a great success, not least because it was a Tara Arts co-production.

The reason why Kureishi was a bit of a hero of mine is touched on in the TIME piece:
While other children of immigrants tried to create an identity through cast-iron faith, Kureishi forged his through rebellious fiction. His works were a mosh pit of high and low Western culture, with knowing references to Wittgenstein and Genet, ecstasy raves and gay sex. Suddenly, Asian Britain wasn't just about corner shops, victimhood and longing for Bombay, but anarchy in the U.K.
What a revelation his work was in the 1980s for young British-Asians. Later, I was transfixed by his Buddha of Suburbia - he really managed to nail down a time and a place that was London, the 70s and 80s, the suburbs, culture and aspects of race and class. I know that it inspired a few of my fellow sixth-formers and, later students. This included a young and talented Harwant Bains who went on to have his plays produced at London's Royal Court, amongst other places, and later a film Wild West, which happened to star the Buddha actor himself, Naveen Andrews, long before he got 'Lost' on an island.

If you want to read more about Kureishi, I'd recommend this longer and typically more considered piece by Johann Hari in The Independent based on a lengthy interview with Kureishi and dwelling on his relationship with psychoanalysis, a preoccupation of the latest novel, Something To Tell You.

Tuesday 8 September 2009

A socialist’s guide to camping?

While we're in holiday mode, and harking back to my camping post in June, a quick mention of the New Statesman this week which has a quirky, though quite reasonable, piece by G A Cohen likening communal behaviour during a camping trip to a form of socialism - he muses on why society cannot be like this:
You and I and a whole bunch of other people go on a camping trip. There is no hierarchy among us; our common aim is that each of us should have a good time, doing, so far as possible, the things that he or she likes best (some of those things we do together, others we do separately). We have facilities with which to carry out our enterprise: we have, for example, pots and pans, oil, coffee, fishing rods, canoes, a soccer ball, decks of cards, and so forth. And, as is usual on camping trips, we avail ourselves of those facilities collectively....

You could base a camping trip on the principles of market exchange and strictly private ownership of the required facilities.

Now, most people would hate that. Most people would be more drawn to the first kind of camping trip than to the second, primarily on grounds of fellowship, but also on grounds of efficiency. (I have in mind the inordinate transaction costs that would attend a market-style camping trip. Too much time would be spent bargaining, and looking over one's shoulder for more lucrative possibilities.) And this means that most people are drawn to the socialist ideal, at least in certain restricted settings.

Slightly off-beat analogy maybe, (though not when you think about co-operative living) but you know it makes sense...

Thursday 3 September 2009

Back from South of France

And so we are back. Back in the swing of the new academic year, commuting to work for grown-ups and, for the children, their new school year (starting Years 1 & 3, how diddy they look in their new uniforms).

But for a moment, let the magic of the holiday last (and let me make the obligatory holiday post).

As you will have gathered from my previous post, this year, in our third dalliance with the south of France, we stayed just outside the small town of Lorgues, about an hour west of Nice. Lorgues is a typically Provencal town with its maze of old streets, ancient fountains, olive trees and vineyards.

The church here is a landmark of Lorgues - the 17thC Collegiale St-Martin, with its 40m tall bell tower (a poor photo, I know, taken from our car).

We loved the gorgeous stone farmhouse (or mas) we had rented for the week - it seemed that the old house and its to-die-for pool rose up out of nowhere in the middle of a forest. The pool was a very welcome as the temperatures hit the mid-30s upwards all week. Being so hot all week and in such a lovely house, we had decided to take it easy this time and not dash around. We had no neighbours that we could see but had been warned about some visitors that may occasionally drop by - the local wild boar!

Lorgues was a good location for experiencing the best of both worlds - inland Provencal life and the lovely south Mediterranean coast. Some may like the location for its access to the glitzy coastal towns of St Tropez and Cannes but, to be honest, they held little attraction for us.

We chose to visit the coastal town of Frejus which is the oldest Roman city in Gaul, founded by Julius Caesar in 49BC. It was at that time apparently a flourishing naval town and had a greater population then than today. There are still a number of Roman remains in the town including an amphitheatre seating around 10,000 which is still used today, a Roman theatre and some arches of the original 40km aqueduct.

To the east of Frejus, where it merges with its neighbouring town of St-Rapheal, lies Notre Dame de la Victoire de Lepante, a huge, florid late-19C church (in this photo) which can also be seen while bobbing in the sea off Frejus-plage (as we did). What struck me immediately was the following question: what fool saw fit to grant planning permission for the horrid 1950s-60s buildings surrounding this beautiful building? Perhaps the former Mayor of Nice, Jacques M├ędecin, who fled France in 1990 before being charged with corruption, only to emerge in South America...

It was lovely pottering about in Frejus - swimming in the sea, watching the children shriek with laughter every time a mini-wave hit them (why do kids find that so funny?), dawdling around the harbour, and making footprints in the sand.

If you do visit Frejus, try to stay on until after dark when the sea front changes changes character and comes alive with street entertainers and a lovely craft market by-fairy-light.

We rounded off the week with my son's 5th birthday (being an August baby he is destined to spend his birthdays abroad...) - a trip to an AquaParc and little family pool-party, complete with a French birthday cake.

We're quite charmed by the southern half of France and having been to Caux-et-Sauzens (near Carcassonne) last year and to Eygalieres (near Avignon) the year before that, we're wondering which part we should visit next. Any ideas welcomed.