Tuesday 30 November 2010

My snow story

Oxleas Woods, Eltham, on a snowy walk in 2008
Well, we've all got one about battling in to work, school etc., haven't we?

8.40am - left home to walk the kids to their primary school in Eltham (there ain't no way I'm driving in this...)

9.00am - get to school (any parent knows kids are not capable of just walking in the snow, too busy making snowballs). Miraculously, all is functioning completely normally at the school - they've even got it together to update their website this morning. Cool (as they say).

9.15am - all Southeastern trains showing 'delayed' at Eltham station; concourse is packed with people. Oh dear. No buses in the forecourt, some bus drivers waiting since 8.30am to pick up their buses. Ticket woman at till, the one with spiky hair, helpfully says there is no point buying a ticket yet.

9.30am - decide to trudge the 15 mins to Eltham High Street to catch the 321 bus to New Cross. The snow is getting denser and more horizontal. Wait outside the Boots bus stop. Word is there's been no 321 for 50 mins. A woman in just a jogging top (!) is cuddling a shivering little doggy and is trying to make a Lewisham Hospital appointment. She is going to miss it. Another woman in a cheerful yellow kagool is a teaching assistant at a school in Lee - she's not going to make it. Then a rather crazy woman starts talking to me in a loud voice (for 'crazy' of course, read: 'very friendly').

10am - only a 286 and a Kidbrooke bus have visited our bus stop, sweeping away a few happy souls. The rest peer mournfully at each other. I'm not going to make my 10am meeting. The snow is still dense, though now sleety as well. Nice. I can't stand any more, I ring the office. My colleague is sympathetic and efficient (and, importantly, at the office!). In fact, lots of people seems to be smugly 'at the office'. How have they done it? Eltham is obviously is some kind of snow Bermuda triangle.

10.20am - Back at Eltham train station. The concourse is mysteriously clear of crowds - could there be trains in these 'ere parts? (read in pirate accent). I speak to spiky hair ticket woman again. "Where is everyone?" I ask falteringly, fearing her reply. It comes. "Oh there's been a train". What! There was one train in the last hour and I missed it while in the High Street stoically stalking a bus. I feel like beating my chest and screaming like a beast in the jungle. Instead, I say, "oh".  She couldn't say when the next train would arrive. She gave me a sympathetic yet distance-maintaining shrug. Sod it.

10.45am - Have trudged home. My clothes are covered in snow. I am bedraggled. My 'oh what a good idea' wellies feel like a ton on each foot. Luckily for me though, I can't feel my fingers anymore.

Tomorrow, I shall set out and do this again.

(Hubby made it in to London Bridge from Eltham at 7.30am this morning. But there were no trains to Eltham from London Bridge this evening. He waited ages, for a train or any information, then gave up and came back via the Jubilee Line and a taxi from North Greenwich.)

Still, it makes for some nice 'Eltham in the snow' pictures (click to enlarge photos)...
north Eltham in heavy snow from loft
rear garden

north Eltham, on way to

Monday 29 November 2010

Angry protests at Lewisham Council budget meeting

It's all going down in Lewisham tonight (again)- the blogosphere and Twitter has been buzzing.

Lewisham Council met tonight to vote on a budget which includes £60m cuts up to 2014. Protesters have been demonstrating outside, and some inside, amidst scenes which included police dogs and some horses. The Council were only allowing 28 people into the public gallery, which sounds about usual for such a meeting.

The cuts package was apparently approved 36 for, 3 against and 11 abstentions. That's Labour for, Lib Dems all abstained and Greens and Tories voted against.  That's Tories voting against the cuts budget, which is a strange turnaround of events.

Loud chanting from the crowd of 'Let us in, let us in", "the workers united, will never be defeated", "shame on you", "this is what democracy looks like" and "no if-no-buts-no-public-sector-cuts".

Green Crofton Park reported early here, David Hill's London blog here, and Brockley Central here, Lewisham Right to Work here, Transpontine here, with a broader, more analytical piece here.  YouTube vidoes here and here.  And the BBC's muted piece here.

It is a tricky situation as I've tried to describe in an earlier post (albeit quickly and inarticulately). The Chief Executive and Council of any local authority are legally obliged to set a budget. Greenwich, my home borough, will not be far behind in setting their reduced budget soon. It would be an extraordinary situation for Lewisham to go it alone in defying government (didn't Liverpool try something like that during Thatcher's time ... Derek Hatton is now doing Come Dine with Me isn't he?) as it would for any university to come out openly and wholeheartedly against the current higher education proposals.

What would be most effective is collective agreement and action amongst the organisations themselves (i.e. the Councils / universities) - but then again, I can't think, at the moment, of a similar instance occurring, let alone being successful. We did have today's front page in the Telegraph, about the call by eminent professors for a public commission into the funding of higher education.  More another time.

Tuesday 23 November 2010

'My Britishness is more than skin-deep'

A Guardian 'comment is free' piece last Sunday, by Amardeep Sohi, discusses a claim made last week by a Oxford University adviser to Migrationwatch, in a Prospect magazine article:
"My Britishness is more than skin-deep

It was claimed last week that by 2066, white Britons will be a minority, but should we really be worried by this?

I'm British, but Professor David Coleman has made me feel like a permanent immigrant. He's the Oxford University migration adviser who claimed last week that by 2066, white Britons will be a minority. He believes that this shift, based on skin colour will "represent an enormous change to national identity". But surely, national identity should be based on a system of values upheld by a population, not skin colour."
I agree with many of the sentiments in Sohi's piece. It is deliberately inflammatory to dissect the future in this way, picking on just one characteristic, colour, when there are other more meaningful ones (eg. languages, or skills). What if the majority of the world's population will no longer be 'white' (who ever that includes) by a particular date - what is the proposal here exactly?

Sohi ends her piece with:
"When Professor Coleman speaks of immigration in terms of colour, he is marginalising generations of Britons and disregarding decades' worth of contributions made to British society by immigrants and their offspring. And he is playing into the hands of the far right. Immigration should remain on the agenda, but the arguments should be about numbers, not colour.

Focusing on the issue in terms of the effects on "white Britons" is short-sighted and reductive. National identity should be based on values we uphold collectively. Before there's a crisis of national identity, we would do well to remember that."
The piece has attracted 612 comments (gulp!) of which I rather liked someone quoting Thomas Paine (political philosopher, 1737 - 1809): "My country is the world, my duty is to do good" (though there are various versions of this quote out there, and of course I'm not that keen on some of Paine's other views)

Monday 22 November 2010

Photos of Eltham Lights Up

I mentioned before that I wouldn't be able to get to this year's Eltham Lights Up last Thursday. I hear it went well but that there were no fireworks this year. I wonder why - cutbacks by local business? But lots of people did go. There are some nice photos at here at the Londonbackpackers website.

Related posts: 
Eltham Lights Up Again (2010)
Eltham Lights Up (2009)

Saturday 20 November 2010

Largest Sikh temple outside of India?

It was a co-incidence that for the last couple of days I have been in Chatham, North Kent, for a work event because down the road from there a remarkable building has been built.

Yesterday was the formal opening of the Guru Nanak Darbar Gurdwara, a Sikh place of worship. This incredible building, off Saddington Street in Gravesend, Kent, is believed to be one of the largest Gurdwaras in the UK and perhaps outside of India.

The remarkable aspect is that the cost so far of £12m or so has been entirely voluntarily contributed, and so has some of the labour to build it. The project started eight years ago. There are apparently about 12,000 Sikhs in Gravesend. I think the overall UK Sikh population is about 500,000 last time I checked. Some of the earliest Sikh settlers in the UK in fact lived in Gravesend although most attention is often focused on Southall in West London as being the heart and soul of southern England's Sikh community - there is a Channel 4 documentary about the Gravesend Sikhs which I must locate again (be grateful for any links...)

The new Gurdwara has been built on the site of the previous the Gurdwara which opened 41 years ago, in November 1969 - click here to see black and white photos of the opening event all those years ago (I always love to see early immigration photos, of whichever community - they encode so much about the time.)

Sikhs are famously known to be a convivial people (though I guess I'm a bit biased!) and very welcoming of interfaith connections - for example, two years ago the the Deans of Rochester Cathedral and Canterbury Cathedral (photo left) visited the new gurdwara site to plant trees in the grounds.

Back to the future, the new building looks very impressive.  The President of the Gurdwara Management committee, Jaspal Singh Dhesi, has said that the building "gives Gravesend an international landmark that will be here to serve many generations.” As with most such places it welcomes school visit, contact them through their website.

The opening date for the new Gurdwara has been chosen as it coincides with
541st Birthday of Guru Nanak Sahib Ji, the founder of the Sikh faith - a service will be held at the Gurdwara on Sunday 21 November.

The BBC has lots of pictures of the new gurdwara here.

Wednesday 17 November 2010

The Browne Review. The Comprehensive Spending Review. 'The Cuts'

Time to address the elephant in the room (or on this blog at least)...

The Browne Review. The Comprehensive Spending Review. 'The Cuts'

I've been especially busy in recent weeks helping, in my lowly capacity, to address a conundrum. If you are a Mayor, or a public sector Chief Executive, or a university Vice-Chancellor, how do you manage reaching agreement and then implementing your strategic and budgetary plans, which are your best response to the government-imposed cuts, in the face of vociferous and often disruptive opposition from your constituents and/or staff?  (deep breath...)

I read that Steve Bullock, the Mayor of Lewisham, was tonight heckled and shouted down, having to abandon a meeting intended to introduce a programme of severe council budget cuts. Lewisham Council is facing massive budget cuts after the Coalition significantly reduced local government funding in October’s comprehensive spending review. At least £60 million of cuts will have to be found over the next four years.  As if it was his idea.

Vice-chancellors in universities are also having to deal with the responses of their staff, while they (and a whole myriad of dedicated staff), do their best to deal with the financial future handed to them by this coalition government.

The Mayors/Chief Execs/Vice-Chancellors say they are campaigning and lobbying to influence policy behind the scenes in the usual way - through their lobby groups and meetings with governments ministers and senior civil servants. The ‘No-Ifs-No-Buts-No-Cuts’ supporters seem to want Councils/Public sector organisations/Universities to go head-to-head with the Coalition Government in open and public confrontation.

This conundrum has been typified in the recent ‘Day of Action’ last week, led by the National Union of Students. For example, the student protesters at Goldsmiths, University of London, want their university management to speak out and campaign against the recent Higher Education proposals announced - specifically against the introduction of tuition fees of between £6k - £9k from 2012.

The specific problem here is that because most public funding will be withdrawn from non-science (or ‘non-STEM’) based universities such as Goldsmiths, tuition fees will be all that such universities have to survive on. If universities reject tuition fees then they may as well announce that they are closing in 2012.

Another factor in allying themselves with the approach of some of the more ‘excitable’ elements of the protests, is the risk to the reputation of the university. Which student, parents, donors, research partners would want to associate with a university which values radical protest above concentrating on providing the best higher education possible, with the funding available?

The serious and immediate problems with protests such as those tonight at Lewisham Council and others associated with Goldsmiths is that they detract from the task of crucial everyday business and forward planning.  

The Right have been handed the ‘fire-extinguisher thrower’ on a plate  - all protesters are forever thus tarred. I have always been a supporter of protests against shrinking the public sector. I believe in publicly provided health, education and other social services, rather than private ‘free-market’ provision. It’s not just ‘whatever works’ (as Blair/Campbell said); it matters that the most poor and vulnerable in our society are provided for.  But I believe in peaceful protests, and the ballot box ultimately provides that.  Arguments about the suffragettes and the ANC, as examples of justified ‘illegal’ protesters are well and good - but those groups did not have the vote, and nor the many other peaceful means at our disposal.  Ultimately it is the Coalition Government, (which I believe is using the ‘budget deficit’ as a state-shrinking fig leaf) which needs to be targeted rather than the staff of public sector organisations going about their business.

Let’s not fight amongst ourselves.

Wednesday 10 November 2010

Remembrance Day in Eltham, 2010

This Sunday 14 November Eltham marks Remembrance Day:
10.45am - Organised by the Eltham & Well Hall Branch of the Royal British Legion, a parade of war veterans, ex-service groups and youth organisations will make their way through Eltham High Street to the Eltham War Memorial at the junction of Eltham Hill and Eltham High Street. A two minute silence will then take place at 11am, followed by a Remembrance Day service inside St John’s Church, Eltham Hill, Eltham, SE9 (photo left).
You might be interested to read about one man's horticultural quest to look after what has become Eltham's local War Memorial at the boundary wall of a historic church in Eltham, St. John's - see Russell Bowes' Project 'Remembrance' site.

I was interested last night to catch part of a BBC documentary on 'Remembrance: The Sikh Story' - a programme "examining why followers of the Sikh religion were marked out as a 'martial race' under the British Empire, and how Sikh soldiers fought for Britain in two world wars". I just wish I could locate round the house somewhere a treasured (but sadly ink stained) sepia photo of my uniformed grandfather (an Indian Sikh) proudly posing with his fellow Allied soldiers in Burma during WW2 (it was why my mother happens to have been born in Rangoon, Burma...)

Other Remembrance Day events in the London Borough of Greenwich here.

More London-wide Remembrance events at Visit London.

Tuesday 9 November 2010

Eltham firefighter and undertaker

Someone pointed out to me that a recently well-established Eltham business had been in the national newspapers this week. The Daily Mail story said:

"A striking firefighter is running his own firm of undertakers which offers services including a ‘magnificent’ farewell firework display incorporating the deceased’s ashes.

Dean Wilson, who works full-time for the London Fire Brigade, is also managing director of Dean Wilson Funeral Directors, which operates from premises in Eltham, South-East London.

He even produces films on how to organise the perfect funeral. His family-run firm, set up in 2004, provides traditional funeral services as well as such extras as a Scottish piper, a singer, a New Orleans-style jazz band and a string quartet.
Customers can also have ‘their loved one sent skywards as part of a magnificent final firework display’.
Last week The Mail on Sunday revealed that one in three of London’s 5,900 firefighters is holding down second and even third jobs."

It was a seemingly bizarre story - what was its point?  I pass this premises frequently - it is on the Well Hall Road (up the Shooters Hill end), close to the Eltham Cemetery and seems well-kept and well-run. Occasionally I've seen black coach and horses parked outside in full plumage.

But then the final line of the article gave it away. Aahh it was a 'anti-firefighter strike' story.   I have to agree with one of the comments on the online piece - no-one seems to complain when MPs hold down multiple jobs, while on a public salary, and at far greater rewards.

Monday 8 November 2010

Halloween done

Ok, so I might have missed Diwali, but we sure did Halloween, despite my antipathy towards it.

We had the costumes (my little vampire and witchy below), the pumpkin, and 'aren't I the perfect mummy' Halloween scary fairy cakes.
On Halloween evening we ended up in Eltham Park South - there had been some Halloween games and walks, hot dogs and drinks, and then some Halloween treats for the children, while all the little witches and vampires ran about in the misty, floodlit tennis courts. I have to say well done to Colin Jerwood and colleagues who run the Eltham Park cafe and organised these events - they've have made the park come alive.

Now for Christmas ...

Sunday 7 November 2010

Diwali rescued!

Following my Diwali post yesterday, here are two local events if you want to join the celebrations:

Sat 13 November 2010, 11.30am to 4pm

Diwali celebrations

Music, dance and creative workshops at the National Maritime Museum

Celebrate Diwali with a dynamic afternoon of music, dance and creative workshops for all the family. Take part in a vibrant procession from the National Maritime Museum to the Royal Observatory with the Bollywood Brass Band. Make your own lanterns, contribute to a giant rangoli and discover more about the Moon and its significance at Diwali.  FREE event.

Venue: National Maritime Museum, Romney Road, Greenwich, London SE10 9NF.   National Maritime Museum and Royal Observatory location map
Fri 26 November 2010

Connecting Cultures festival of Kathakali

Kidbrooke School, Corelli Road, London SE3 8EP

An evening for all the family celebrating kathakali and connecting different cultures - with food. Featuring the Kala Chethena Kathakali Company to include living legend Padmashree Kalamandalam Gopi with other world class artists from South Kerala.   Food 6pm. Procession at 7pm. Performance at 7.30pm. Price, FREE 

Seems to be in connection with Greenwich Theatre
The NMM event sounds wonderful - such a shame my kids have a clash with football and a family birthday party.

More Eltham / Greenwich events here.

Saturday 6 November 2010

No Diwali!

This year I have failed miserably to mark Diwali, which was yesterday. We were due to visit my mother's but plans changed and other life-things took over. Like going to work, like going to school, and being generally exhausted. So there were no diyas (candle things), no burfi (sweetmeats) and no lashings of yummy Indian food. Angela Merkel would approve. I don't live in an Indian community and nor is my husband Indian so it always takes a special effort to mark the day. (I must say it's been a particularly explosive week at work, and one well-covered in the media, but I decided long ago that professionally it was not a good idea to go anywhere near blogging about work, or even to 'come out' about my identity, and so, 'Raven' it is, for now...).

But back to Diwali. I regret not having made an effort for the sake of my kids who would have at least got to experience one special Indian day, amongst the host of other celebrations that they get to enjoy. Must 'try harder' next year... In the meantime I can only repeat below my Diwali post from last year.
"Saturday, 17 October 2009

Happy Diwali

I kinda liked this photo which came across my radar - it's the big smile on the face of President Barack Obama, last Wednesday, lighting "the official White House "diya" to mark the celebration of Diwali, a Hindu festival that will be celebrated by Hindus, Jains and Sikhs around the world this weekend. A local Hindu priest from Maryland recited the mantra as Obama lighted the lamp." [credit: SAJAForum]
Anyways, we're West London bound to my mother's for the Diwali weekend. Not that I am of the religious variety, but the children enjoy it, just like Christmas, and I appreciate the beauty and history of it all. Hubby gets to eat lots of Indian sweets and gets fussed over. The kids, hubby and me get to light a candle at the local gurdhwara (sikh temple) and I might get to find out the answer to that eternal question that's always puzzled me - what's the explanation for the amazing co-incidence of Hindus and Sikhs celebrating Diwali on exactly the same day but for totally different reasons? Can anyone enlighten me? (I can't ask my mum because I don't know how to say 'co-incidence' in Punjabi..."
I came across a nice piece yesterday which explained why Sikhs (and Hindus) celebrate Diwali (though still not the co-incidence of them falling on the same day):
"In Sikhism, the festival commemorates the return of the 6th Sikh Guru Hargobind to the city of Amritsar after his imprisonment in Gwalior Fort by the Mughal emperor Jahangir, as the Golden Temple along with the whole city had been decorated with lamps to celebrate the Guru’s return. Sikhs also refer to Diwali as Bandi Chhor Diwas, meaning “Day of the Release of Prisoners”, as the Guru had arranged for 52 royal political prisoners to be simultaneously freed from the fort... North Indian Hindus in general celebrate Diwali primarily to mark the return of the Hindu deity Rama to the city of Ayodhya after his victory over Ravan, as described in the Ramayana. Many Hindus also celebrate the festival for a range of other reasons, including offering prayers to the Hindu goddess Lakshmi so that she blesses their families with prosperity during the following year. Public decorations of lights to mark the occasion are common worldwide wherever there are sizeable Hindu populations."
That post also included what I thought would be a too-religious-for-atheist-little-me video clip. But I played it and found it to be a haunting piece of music - it's Mitr Pyare Nu by Jagjit Singh (btw it features the 'golden temple" in Amritsar which I have visited a couple of times, a beautiful meditative place).

Happy Diwali and a Happy New Year!

Santa Run at Greenwich Park

There's something quite funny about the notion of 'santa runs' - here's an early one going on locally...

The World Cancer Research Fund is calling for runners to take part in a charity run:
"His traditional form of transport is a sleigh and a team of reindeers. But soon Santa will be using his own two feet to raise money for charity – and you could be part of it.

Each runner will receive a free Father Christmas outfit – complete with snowy beard – to don for the December 5 race around Greenwich Park, South East London.

Around 2,000 ‘Santas’ are expected to take part and WCRF are asking everyone to raise at least £100 in sponsorship. Beginners are welcome and the emphasis is on taking part, so even if you just want a festive stroll around the park you can join in.  It’s a great way of getting into the festive spirit at the same time as raising funds to help us continue with our cancer prevention work.

Sign up or find out more by visiting the World Cancer Research Fund website or by calling 020 7343 4205."
Numerous other charities are calling for runners too for this race e.g. the Mines Advisory Group. From what I can tell the race appears to start at 10am and the course is 5km though people are free to amble around if they prefer rather than running.

More Eltham/Greenwich local events here.

Wednesday 3 November 2010

New Asian cool not so new

Just before ‘cool Britannia’ emerged in the early/mid-1990s onwards (Blur, Oasis, Geri in a Union flag dress), the ‘new Asian cool’ was also quietly taking off - Madonna in henna and bindis, Nitin Sawhney, and Goodness Gracious Me (just to condense a decade into a trite sentence!). Since then a host of British Asian cultural artists have become household names and the infamous claims about chicken tikka masala have become legendary. 

Now, in a move surely designed to enrage the Daily Fail reader, a new book traces the long standing influence of South Asian textiles on British cultures of fashion, dress and design.

A collaboration between geographers at Royal Holloway, University of London and the V&A Museum has resulted in the launch of a new book ‘British Asian Style: Fashion and Textiles, Past and Present co-edited by Christopher Breward, Philip Crang and Rosemary Crill.
"The book is one of the public outputs of ‘Fashioning Diaspora Space’, a project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council as part of its Diasporas, Migration and Identities research programme....
This book is illustrated with an array of vivid images from the V&A's exceptional collections, alongside contemporary photographs from street fashion and the catwalk. South Asian textiles have shaped British fashion and dress for centuries, from the fashionable chintzes of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, through the silk and paisley Boteh patterns of the nineteenth century, to the orientalism of 1960s Bohemian fashion and the street styles of British Asian youth and designers today. British Asian Style looks at the on-going importance of South Asian textiles to British culture and fashion, as styles move into the mainstream.... 

British Asian Style shows how the South Asian presence in British culture has been apparent for centuries rather than being just a recent phenomenon...”
British Asian Style was published by V&A Publishing on 25 October 2010. I can't find much out there about this book yet so I don't think it's been picked up yet. The material is certainly fascinating - I must try to get a look at a copy (though I don't think Eltham Library will be stocking it any time soon...).

The AHRC's Diaspora research programme has funded some interesting projects, esp. around the 'British Asian' theme, which I hope to get time to blog about sometime. In the meantime, let me know if you get a look at this book and what you thought.

Related post:
William Morris' art influenced by Islam