Bread, no really! and Circuses.

There is a road, an ancient road leading to the edge of Epping Forest in Leytonstone once Essex called Cann Hall Road. It’s a shabby long road heaped with Victorian rail workers two up two downs each with long back extensions. It’s heavily tenanted and has mostly pre-loved front gardens and walls. It is not a derelict road by any means. Between the schools’ open gate times it is a quiet back road. There are four caffs each struggling to keep on keeping on and never worth visiting if you’re local. One is a tea place recently changed in management but still owned and visited by the bakers who specialised in West Indian bread. That place sits on Cann Hall Road’s junction with old Selby Road. Its side wall is a dirty-looking painted-over eyesore which the bakers neglected. Along came the Waltham Forest guardians of community pleasure and decided to change the wall as a mark of respect really for the residents who have lived and shared worlds in what was and maybe still is the highest socially and educationally deprived part of the whole borough. There has been an influx lately of home-buyers from Hackney paying out half a million for sought-after quaintness then spending tons on re-fashioning the small interiors. They are a community amongst a community with all their vegan, cycle and sourdough ways. The chicken wing shops still thrive as all chicken shops do in poor areas.
Well, there’s the rub: The bakery cum caff is owned privately by a family. The wall is theirs. The family is absent physically and vocally. Why wouldn’t they be?
The wall is dark blue, patchy in places with the red and yellow dust of the 1891 bricks making the roughness rust-coloured. The borough council’s agents with a keen eye on the Borough Of Culture banner pervading their desks rather like Brexit taking over all of Parliament’s business have awarded forty thousand pounds through some other non-Council money-pot to an artist and his aide to uplift the afore-mentioned blue wall. Tiles will be bought in from Goadalming; blue tiles. Interspersed amateur blue tiles made by the public through ceramic tile-making workshops would juggle on the same wall. The tile decorations depict all the different breads in our communities.

Some people have been noisy and abrupt on Facebook saying how the design is inappropriate for a Victorian road and etc. A few voices dared to differ. For me, it’s unfair that a shop owned privately gets £40k spent on it. The owners have not said anything. The café remains almost empty every day. Meanwhile Up Your Street saw and grabbed an opportunity for seniors to learn a skill as in tile-making using raw clay and listening to tutors who guided them step by step. We were working in a wonderful venue under the railway arches. Not one student there cared about the politics going on. I was happy that we were taking part in a community venture having tried for years to get Up Your Street even uttered at other people’s parties. And pleased as Punch that women who were nervous about achieving a square tile made by hand with their own bread picture on it were successful.
Afterwards we had vegan soup and bread á la vegan. {We were in vegan country.} The artists were whisked away in a cab with tiles ready for the kiln.
This was a prime example of Up Your Street seniors being local and ready to be that audience, that ready-made group of seniors as visible go-getters and engaged in their community goings -on. We are mostly overlooked, engaged for five minutes then forgotten. On Facebook no-one is registering what seniors have done as part of this contentious project. We woz there.
No curiosity. No “Who are those people?” “How are they involved?” No “What shall we do for them?”

Some of those bread pictures are ace. There were swirls and feather-like patterns, shortbread triangles and shell-shapes. As old arms rolled the clay, the pictures became distorted and even more fluid. On firing the lines will be striking blue against a white background. Can you wait?

The forty thousand came through the council from some other funding for arts and boroughs of culture and regeneration. Bet the local chicken shop would like to say something.


More Is In me

The old George Mitchell School in Farmer Road Leyton London had as its motto “More Is In me” and I would say that not one student attending there in the nineties let alone the staff ever knew there were a motto. Well, this weekend I went from being jaded at workshops where sucking eggs was more illuminating to feeling rejuvenated at a local tile-making workshop this evening.
Phototherapy aka sticking photos in a journal and going through the angst of memories in front of an amateur therapist and her mates did not inspire me. A Black History Month council driven healthy eating jamboree where fifteen folk arrived to partake of smoothies and African hand-me-down recipes altered for an international market delivered by earnest mothers come business women touting for exposure and business left me disappointed. I was angry that for eleven years Up Your Street subscribers have attended healthy eating courses and one-offs and listened to the dangers of not eating from that healthy-eating platter and feigned interest at growing your own to stave off Diabetes Type 11 . Stave off? Starve off? Today a couple of African ingredients and veggies were added to the mix because it’s October. We were still at a networking party to showcase individual wannabees in that great Tory do it for yourself challenge as austerity brings out the self-employed in us. Up Your Street’s The Pamper Shop was well before its time but borne of the join-in spirit of London 2012. Now everyone’s on the same yoga mat.

A good spirit was exhaled by the sole organiser/Mistress of Ceremony who drove energy and order into the marketplace.
The joy was in meeting up with ten others from Up Your Street who never de-robed from their winter coats but managed to carry along with their scarves and shopping bags paper boats full of avocado cake and fried posh bread, doughballs and apple fritters.

I witnessed bad manners. Women grappled with others to get a sweet like Roses were going out of fashion. A councillor was interrupted in her preachy flow by a woman arguing that without a garden, man, you can’t grow veg. True that. The only white woman there actually initiated the dance when the Congolese trio’s drum major invited us to dance and caused a flurry of gasps as years of stereotyping jaw-dropped to the floor and “White Men Can’t Jump” sailed by on the flaps of an Ethiopian flag.
A woman full of herself dressed in her Shalwar Kameez was deemed to be an expert on every Asian infused dish. Good job Uzman wasn’t brought to the stage as she never ever cooks and wouldn’t be able to tell her nan ingredients from her chapatti ones. And no, fish ‘n’ chips isn’t what white English women slave over in their kitchen. Stereotypes are offensive and ignoring men in the kitchen is not going away when only mothers are promoted as lunch-box fillers.
We have not moved on, people. We are still back in the day, back in 2012 when every nation in London’s developing and changing east was recognised and embraced, given platforms to outdo each other and then side-lined to curl back into their private lives for eleven months of the year.
We left all of that and ate sugary biscuits and drank milky coffee,

Back into the real world of penny-pinching and sticking to what we always do, some of us joined others at Canons Farm Kitchen. Now, here’s a story to make your hair curl. Eat your crusts. Canons Farm Kitchen is the recent name for what was Butler’s Bakery in Cann Hall Road Leytonstone. When I first saw it from the bus two years ago, I thought it was an artisan bakers in my head full of gentrification spawning into parts that others beards never reach. I investigated further and found that it was a West Indian baker’s shop with steam spouting from a vent through a huge scummy blue wall. I bought some hard-dough bread and resented paying more than £1.50 for the loaf. Things happened from then on like Ladies Who Jerky spending an evening there and RAGWORKS being invited to hang art-work. Managers and chefs changed hands. I also followed an outfit online whose writers described the blue wall of Canons, also called at one point Chef’s Corner, as an eye-sore and I also knew that the wall was private property. It belonged and belongs to a family business.

Imagine the neighbourhood’s shock to know that the Council is forking out £40000 to make that wall pretty.
Casting aside prejudice and principles, we went to the inaugural tile-making workshop to be part of the movement of commoners, preferably local ones, to make tiles decorated with outlines of types of bread like hard-dough! which will be mounted over the flaking blue distemper in Selby Road to create something for the future, a marker proving ! that the community represents migration and tolerance and all things fair and that the courts are on the level and that the ladder of justice has no top and no bottom.

It was fantastic. It was in a glittery space with 1960s soul playing softly on the radio behind the aspidistra, Sue created a Mauritian bread, Sara moulded a croissant with striking Henry Moore shapes. Two sisters honoured their Scots ma by revering her traditional island bakery produce. Some did chapatti and one a paninni. Blue and white are the colours and pride was our end-product.
Twas good. More is in me.
Some of we seniors continue rolling the clay in November. We are the community.
Spoiler alert, just hope the council finds money for the scaffolding or those fired tiles will be going nowhere.

Sweet Chestnuts and Green Parakeets

Today at last, I made it to the “Stroll around the Georgian Remnants of Wanstead” library-organised walk. What a dismal day weather-wise but we anoraks were out in a score! Coincidentally, in keeping with the essence of royalty and fiscal richness which permeates the very coffee-scented leafy air of Wanstead the news came out that Meghan of the Markle is expecting the first bi-racial heir to the British throne. Well, during Black History Month 2018 some may beg to differ about that first, knowing the documented ancestry of Queen Charlotte. All Wanstead stuff as that Queen made it to Wanstead House a couple of times in the 1600s.

I was expecting some stone blocks of ruined palaces, some obelisks and a smattering of bronze statues. No, it was all maps and linked up past glories mingling in with C20th reminiscences and facts. Good. The guide competed with noisy territory-guarding ring-necked parakeets high up in the sweet chestnut branches in Wanstead Place and booming leaf-hoovers being employed by work men in the Counties part of Wanstead Village or its Conservation Area. Those chestnuts are fit for gathering but I didn’t want to be the only scavenger in the company of reserved English walkers.
What did I learn considering just lately I have done much research about Wanstead House, and Samuel Pepys and that crowd of unwashed who had fingers in every money-making pie and especially the goings on at the East India Company? The money topping up those rich landowners came from the misery imposed by them on their subjugates.
I learnt that the grassland in Wanstead is bogged down with water and remembered the state of the grass in July. I learnt that M&S Food is tucked away by the famous The George pub and that Redbridge Museum in the Central Library has an art collection with some paintings of The Grove gardens and that the Wanstead Library is built on a plant nursery which was there in the 1930s.
And on and on after seeing massive mansions tucked away and likely turned into flats, and hearing about an observatory in the C17th and being interested in Mobs something, an area way back when which sounded a bit like Soho in the sixties.
The first time I visited Wanstead was when I was researching West African Literature at a time when Longmans was publishing everything Black. I was invited to interview an African author and wondered even then what a black man was doing in white Wanstead. He’s big in theatre now.
Was a great afternoon, folks, and then I came in to see Whitechapel Gallery inviting Up Your Street seniors to a design and architecture workshop.

Too shy to nod

We are halfway through Black History Month, some say a kind of dinosaur, a relic and then, certainly and proved, uninteresting to many. Borough Councils who never cared for it are solidly righteous now as red and yellow Borough Councils this year planned to ignore it or spread it out a bit and call it Month of Diversity. There was on Politics Sunday last week a nod to it by bringing around the table inarticulate guests who encompassed nursing and seventy years of the NHS as reasons to be vehement and to raise the black, gold and green flag. BBC Radio 3 did its annual blast of Gershwin’s biography. Other radio shows shakily existing because of funding and borough raised eyebrows were unable to influence deck-mixes with smatterings of massive collections of Black singers and musicians. And no, there was no adulation throughout the year either. What missed opportunities.
It looks like you have to be brave to join in the sparse but deep offerings this year under the Black History umbrella. Eventbrite UK is crowded with images of black entrepeneurs under its events listing “Black History” or” Africa” and Croydon is dominating the scene. Newham is exploring the whys and wherefores of why we do do Black History Month. Up Your Street Caucasian subscribers were worried that they may be too obvious as out of place at Windrush tea parties. Three Indian Jews were not allowed entry until vacant seats were found when other non-ticketed women of colour were allowed through to the buffet. Yes, I obviously made a complaint but the apology was worthless. Black History is for all.
An exhibition at the Darnley Gallery works on the premise that schools do not introduce black women achievers ever. Not so. The Jenny Hammond Primary School was on the case and always is and I would say that schools in many London Boroughs are doing it for their students. And have done. There is a long way to go and that is perhaps why I am vexed that Black History Month is off the calendar as decided by young things in assembly halls and on the beat with officers of the law, all ticking off “reached out to the community” on their mission lists.
And so I was intrigued when the advert for Forest Gate Art Group had the word “diversity” slipped deliciously into the banner headline. Was that a nod to Black History Month when the group’s art works were leaving white Wanstead estate agents’ windows to hang in The Gate, Forest Gate’s flagship community events and library space in Woodgrange Road? Well, I had to see for myself as I was not convinced that Forest Gate Art Group’s stretches of the imagination would include disability and queerness as diverse just yet. Did it all mean that the artists were diverse in ethnicity, that the works were all in homage to Jah, that all the paintings showed some form of appropriation? I slid into the gallery area where pupils were chasing around and enjoying a cultural hub or so we are told. I searched for diversity quite prepared to ignore the blossom trees and the bowls of fruit. Ah, not for sale were some African faces. When I say some I mean three or four. Fine and then some excellent work but hardly diverse in content. I expected full-on black art with colour shouting out at me to be seen and noted, to smash the walls with images not seen in posher galleries. I wanted to know what the instructor’s brief was to encourage what transpired as an almost silent nod to BHM, that shy nod, that hope for a difference. It takes years of being and looking, and absorbing other communities to reflect anything extra in one’s art work. Ask ole Gershwin. He lived in South Carolina singing those Negro-Spirituals.

So as long as it takes ages to reflect all our communities in the London I know then we need a firm explosion of Black arts and culture merging and otherwise in at least one month of the year. We have to address other cultures as visible and as being experienced and step out of our habitual art where we copy others before us. To abolish Black History Month and to lessen it as an area of impact by calling the replacement a celebration of diversity we are doing no favours to all our school-children and to our way forward. Who decided what we celebrate?

Paddy at The Museum

Paddy of Up Your Street researched at The British Museum and at The Victoria and Albert Museum in order to take her peers on a free guided tour of Southeast Asian lacquered artefacts and research she did. She led us around the gallery on the ground floor at the V&A explaining the different types of lacquer and the trees from which the sap is collected.
She made fantastic links by joining up the dots between the Gujerati, Turkish and Chinese artistes and their expertise as lacquer designs reached out to international markets over the centuries. She didn’t labour the beauty and aestheticism of the objects but rather gave us a human story behind religious vessels and dynastic fruits.
Informal but earnest Paddy has graduated from novice guide to a confident experienced approachable tour guide.
Museum curators and funders are desperate to increase the footfsll ofseniors into their hallowed halls. looks like “Sisters are doin’ it for themselves”.

Cynthia the snake, in a playground, in a community school, in a time capsule, in old Leytonstone.

Loved it; loved every minute of the Buxton School Festival. I’d followed the history of Tom Hood School, the building of Buxton, the demolition of the old school, (in that order) and fallen in love with the name Cobbold. And then I went and bought one of his houses, outside WC an’ all. On Buxton’s site, the first thing I noticed was the space and that every gateway and nook was covered by staff in security uniforms of lilac tabards or mauve. And who doesn’t love the smell of cooking food at a fair? No vegans here.
The playgrounds were measured out into zones with the family zone cut off in a secluded part of the school’s grounds. It was likely the nursery playground. Sandra’s sewing stall and Gayna’s Pantry of chutnies made from the produce of her allotment were allocated stalls there. Bit weird as kiddies don’t have that spending power.
Rushing around were the school’s volunteer members. They were students with an air of responsibility and the ability to be customer-aware. I was confident in their manner and their training. Well done. Also walking around alone was Sally Littlejohn, the lady Mayor resplendent in her heavy chain of democratic power.
Every member of staff was alert and helpful even to the end when gates were locked and a way of escape looked increasingly difficult.

Children joined in Karate moves given by the Karate school under the Thorpe railway arches, and carried on to do mask-made with felts and glitter. It was very good and then by the construction tubs along came the Suntrap team with snakes, giant snails, centipedes, a beetle and a lizard. Children were made heroes for wrapping Cynthia the snake around their necks. What fun.
Spicy chicken and rice £6.Bit steep. Steeper were ice cream cornets at £2. Steep for those used to Tesco ice cream deliveries and we are.
Best of all was the community spirit. It was just joy. Here was a brand new spanking school, an all-through the ages school, desperate to be the community one and in front of the smaller but no more intimate Jenny Hammond Primary School. Things have to be proven. Buxton has a beautiful history, that of the most popular Tom Hood School. And a loyal following of Alma Mater in the plural.

The community outreach staff led by the militaristic Molly, aka one senior teacher, worked hard to get the Festival off the ground. Their success was evident and I as a community person applaud that achievement.

Buxton was Tom Hood was Cobbold. Cobbold was old John Chevallier Cobbold.He was an MP and a landowner, a brewer in Ipswich, a railway addict and a soundslike Richard Branson who was as wealthy as sin and had built the two ups two downs along the Lanes off Dames Road; near the new railways, see. Love that geezer.

Past Glories

After a dismal time trailing community art and wondering how the word “mediocre” morphed into “brilliant” I was pleased to get my teeth into the history of Earlham Grove’s Durning Hall in Forest Gate. Throughout my whole research my maternal grandmother appeared up in my head in her mink or pine marten stole talking about voting for the local North London Conservative candidate because she wore a mink coat and that was in 1955. Even then I sensed she was a silly-billy. Durning Hall in Forest Gate was opened in 1959 so my grandmother was around then and probably about forty looking a hundred and certainly dressed in the same way as the women in the press photos of the time.

I went to Durning Hall doing a reccie for Up Your Street members. My chums had gone to Toynbee Hall in Old Castle Street E1 for an ageing and wellness course and there is incredibly a link between the history of both halls. Argh, I nearly ran away at the state of the building and the vague welcome by the reception staff. It’s a highly secured place and is scabby-looking in and out. The toilet is okay at least. Upstairs where the House of Love sessions take place all about companionship and alleviating isolation is dreariness itself. The walls impose in their 1959 wallpaper of gloss, dirty pale lemon and swirls. There are doors everywhere and one could say it’s a rabbit warren. The shock was seeing an amazing large brown-coloured hall complete with parquee floor. My eyes would have revealed my inner thoughts termed “potential”.

A woman was in charge of boxed pre-loved board games, fresh Madeira cake, the blaring CD player and the register which was a heap of fallen away papers. What a scene.
She explained the lack of clients due to the lack of a lift. I believe her even though there was only one other woman there who would never remember that I came and that we shook hands.
What a to-do. Mend the lift Aston-Mansfield Charity people! What a place. Only Up Your Street folk could liven it up. It’s easy for Leyton and Stratford seniors to get to. 58 and 308 buses stop outside. There’s Wanstead Park and Forest Gate stations and many buses up from Stratford.
Instead of eating dinner more and more recently called lunch then I Googled for the “E7 Now and Then” reports about The History of Durning Hall. Do it. Read for yourself. Then into the spotlight came Miss Theodora Durning-Lawrence. She was a spinster so inherited her double-barrelled name from her uncle who himself had acquired Durning by Royal Licence before he became a Baronet. She inherited wealth beyond our dreams but despite getting to church in a Daimler, lived her life in a seedy hotel. Strange but true. Takes all sorts. A good name to have, eh, as it smacks of a mega- wealthy Liverpool family? Lawrence is pretty cool too: My paternal grandma’s name by marriage.

I’ve commissioned my clever sister to find out if ole Theodora were hands on with the women in the local women’s settlement or whether she was just the purse.
I doubt if she were that philanthropic but I’ll welcome a surprise.
This is another story really of the rich of Forest Gate in those days and how they were all tied up in politics and being elected mayors and how church and synagogue were prominent features in their and every citizen’s life then. There was abject poverty up to and between the world wars. Earlham Grove’s rich tenants fled during the east end bombings and their houses were converted to flats. This according to E7 Now And Then was the beginning of the demise from grandeur into scruffiness.

Beats mediocre.