Always loved Leyton. Wasn’t born here. Who was? I loved it because it was very multi-cultural and we were all in the mood to learn about each other. Even the warring mothers who were angry that their offspring, apprentice Ukippers, had to stay off school for Guru Nanak and who’s he when he’s at home and we should have a day off for St George’s Day, turned on their worn heels, refused to move away to the white fields of Chingford, and began community stuff in their ailing libraries. Powerful grans them.

Leyton was united in its awareness of other nationalities and cultures and its youth quickly began mixing up, producing the beautiful mixed race generation which is visible and usual in the parish. We all used the word ‘Halal’, watched mosques fill and churches empty, applauded the rise of Somalian, Eritrean, Bangla, Caribbean and Irish community centres, watched our languages, learnt PC and continued living together.reminisecnce quiltRAGWORKS Leyton Quilt

Leyton residents were united in their financial poverty too. There was no embarrassment as more pound shops opened and no-one objected to increased numbers of big -name supermarkets, the transformation of a bus garage into a KFC, and the proliferation of betting shops. Leyton people were used to change or were too busy making ends meet to worry about the world. The people are that nice that when the local GP had a breakdown he ran along the streets praising and loving “you working class mothers”. Child-minders smiled, pulled in black and white toddlers nearer to their Swan prams and got on.
I have seen people from Walthamstow wince in mental pain as they walked the streets of downtown (no other part is there?) Leyton and clearly they wondered if people really lived there. One person actually said to me “What? You walk down this street by yourself?” What can we do but laugh?
Leyton was called ” mattress city” by a community leader four years ago because the town has a transient community hopping onto or out altogether from the housing ladder. The temporary residents move on and all their wordly goods are left bare and inviting for the scavengers who march along the streets mainly on Monday mornings with their supermarket trollies, keen eyes, and fingerless gloves. It is like that but that’s because there are front gardens!!! Why, you can fit a whole house load into some of the front yards. There are alleyways too so they need a sprinkling of abandoned MFI.

Businesses disregard aesthetics and leave out their cartons and oil drums on road corners under the full glare of streetlights. Fly-tipping is illegal and we live in a generous borough which sends out lorries to clear street bulk rubbish because “Them foreigners don’t know how to put out their rubbish.” Rubbish. In Upper Walthamstow and lower Village you never see household rubbish unless the whole house aka cottage is being gutted: Because there are no garden spaces to deposit the mattresses and bedside cabinets, emblems of Leyton.
There are some fabulous awesome shops and cafés (?) There is forty years old and strong Paga Café on Lea Bridge Road near the Hackney boundary. There’s Doreen’s, an allegedly trannie shop in Bakers Arms with Grandma fashions in lemon and size 9 ladies’ shoes allegedly. There’s Tesco which jiggled its way to its current location as it grew and grew in little ole Bakers Arms. Of course Bakers Arms, currently a mess, is having a mysterious make-over. We don’t need to know why there are now massive pavements outside non-descript retailers and money shops. Mark you, reader, the circus will come to town. On a pristine pavement it will set up and then in will come Awesomestowers.

There isn’t a soda bakery or a vintage outlet or a pop-up theatre event nor a community kitchen. The people are round and fat, full of chips and hen and smoothies and pie. The Costa-cup carriers don’t live in Leyton: They’re passing through. The local private nurseries have not stepped up their objectives for healthy eating in the playrooms for Cheyenne and Shardonnay.

Leyton High Road not to be confused with The High Street (in E17) is grotty and not seen for the trees really. A fox can’t smell his own hole so they say or someone did. The road is a chaos of grey shutters, deliberately abandoned blue corner shop bags full of fags and empties, garages, gaps, car-cleaners, badly-lit areas, interesting names for newer shops, flying black cloaks, and flung-out mattresses. The Post office collection point is, despite being listed, maybe, part of that disgrace. During the London Olympics and Paralympics I was the one who took down the tattered and filthy England flag from the building  pole . That act is similar to Awesomestowers filling kerb edges with Latin-named plants. You can never fault a resident for wanting to improve the appearance of their front garden.

Cultivate Waltham Forest. To eat healthy you must work donkey.

In 2006 I took an allotment in Chingford. What a dump it was. Considering the land was/is owned by LB Waltham Forest, surely they had a duty as landlord to keep it in good nick. It was a massive uncultivated plot full of elephant-high brambles, and rubbish such as wheels and iron bits obviously thrown in by other allotment holders as they tilled their neat patches. Next to it was/is a bee hive inside the thickest blackberry bushes you’ve ever seen with ripe blackberries no-one would dare gather. That enterprise was managed by the allotment manager’s brother

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Despite the shortage of allotments in the borough and believe me, I had to do the running around myself to find one and that was miles away, most allotment owners actually owned more than two plots each on the same grounds! Allotments were gold dust.

Recently I overheard hipsters say how they rent half an allotment. Make no mistake though you need muscle for even a quarter of a plot …all year round. You get a manager breathing down your neck waiting for you to default, report you to WF Green Spaces, then evict you so he can give the plot to his family allegedly.
So in 2006 I lost three stone in weight carrying water, heaving away junk, and sweating under the unshaded relentless World Cup year sun. All trees were ground-hoggers and cut down. I know! In hallowed Waltham Forest! There was one tree on my plot which served as shelter in the torrential rain and shelter for the horse-radish. I’d hide my tools under a corner of weeds which would not budge. They were always moved but at least not stolen. If my bladder were full, tough. The only toilet was locked and up to today I await the requested key. Obviously only menarchial women harvest under the moon. I was nagged and nagged to get rid of that tree.

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I’m glad I had the experience. I made sure my sister got that plot. Others made sure their families were allotment-holders so what suits the Chingford Whites suits me. She was targeted and threatened with the closure of her tenancy because while she was on maternity leave she “neglected” her site. She never knew how the powers were over-charging her for years but knows they never apologized. They picked on the wrong woman for a squabble. She used her mouth and answered back holding on to her hollyhocks! Sure the management stinks allegedly but the ground workers collude as they join ranks and keep something to themselves for themselves. Selfish land-grabbers.
Meanwhile seven years on I lament the loss of dried mud on supermarket potatoes never mind cry at the price charged for washed anaemic spuds. I used to farm and tried to munch my way through over stocks of veg. The indoor drawers would be full of tomatoes in newspaper; every neighbour’s house like mine would stink of sulphuric boiled cabbage. Onions hanging on rafters would bang your head whenever you entered sheds. I built greenhouses from scratch with another person helping. We recycled abandoned wood frame windows from renovated old croft houses. All this before the revolution. To eat healthy you must work donkey.
I am looking forward to the Cultivate Waltham Forest conference at the end of March this year. It’s the first of its kind and is a natural result from the initiatives inspired by the dynamic new population arriving in Walthamstow. Beetroot is the new black y’all!Coldfall Wood. Cold January 2014

You can see it all now: potato prints, mushroom collages, smoothie pop-ups.. again, odes to onions. All good but hoping Leyton people get a look in. In Leyton it seems that any space, back garden or otherwise, is taken up by concrete for the car, low-maintenance blown-leaf clearance, or a bed for a mattress. And farming the land doesn’t necessarily carry social prestige in any community. Minds have to be fertilised to view what’s on our doorsteps if we want change in our health and community living. The Cultivate conference will aim to do that surely besides it being a ra ra forum for self-congratulation over green projects.

issue 4. Up Your Street

issue 4. 2014

Wed 29th  Jan   £3   1-4pm at Chingford Assembly Hall E4.   Tea dance ChingfordIMAG00602

Thurs 30th Jan free 11-1pm Newham informal carers meet-up with stalls and advice.

Large hall at St Johns Church, Stratford Broadway E15 1NG. Gayna fairy


Sat 1st Feb         free Health and fitness day at Chingford Assembly Hall.

Sun 2nd Feb     free afternoon of reminiscence and creative writing  at 4.30-5.30pm               Book at      info@creativewrites.co.uk

 at the All You Read Is Love pop up shop: Unit 3 on Central Parade, Hoe Street, E17 4RT. The workshop is called Coffee & Cake .  

Sat 25th Jan. BU S Y

Sat 25th Jan                           Three free events.

                   2-11pm    St Mary’s Old Church, Stoke Newington Church Street

Art and installations from The Unfortunates called “UnLondon”

Fully booked but the organisers say “drop in”. Eventbrite bookings going onto waiting list.
                 2-3pm “Another Country” private view and Artists’ Talk. Contact Bow Arts.
Nunnery Gallery
181 Bow Rd
E3 2SJ

11-3pm plus meal.


There will also be a PACT meal available, feeding hungry givers and takers and reducing food waste at the same time.

breakfast home made bread

Give or Take day at Redmond Centre, Kayani Avenue. N 4  by Manor House Tube Station. Recycling. Organised by PACT in partnership with Hackney Council


Ben Okri’s Arrogance

Tonight I should have been at the readings in Hackney of some of Ben Okri’s work. One stinking cold gripped me. I was to have been in the audience for what would have been a clever set-up to learn about another author through her self-promotion and then would have been invited to join a reading appreciation group. The organisers never knew I was coming so never knew I didn’t make it.


“SHANTI-CHI Afrakan Storytelling and Spiritual Healing Director of Shanti-Chi Place of Residence: UK T: 07765070042 E:  chicreations@shanti-chi.com http://www.shanti-chi.com/

Griot Chinyere is one of the directors of the first Afrakan Storytelling Festival in Britain, along with Sista Mena. Shanti-Chi Shanti-Chi is a creative healing space where individuals, families, communities and organizations come together to explore spiritual healing through Afrakan storytelling performances, workshops and retreats for personal development.

They have created a series of courses; Training Rites and Griot Journey, to prepare ones and ones for  the powerful event. All you have to do is book yourself onto one of these life enhancing programs and completion guarantees your participation in this amazing adventure.

Shanti-Chi would like to welcome you into their world. They will host The First Afrakan Storytelling Festival in Britain during July 2012!


Recently, as Kindle took over, I gave away my “The Famished Road” paperback. No-one else wanted it. I was doing a clear-out of all my reading group ‘boughts’ and my dipped in African authors library which was again unwanted by any one else I know who actually reads.

neech in RAGWORKS 2012
Ben Okri was bought up in Peckham London. We should remember that. His father arrived with his nuclear family  just on top of Nigeria’s independence from the United Kingdom when travellers were still suited in the post-colonial era. Besides that family in came the many sons of villages whose fathers and uncles had decided their fates. They were versed by the foreign office in how to dress for breakfast in an English boarding house. Their fathers would arrange the bride-prices for them to marry when they returned home.

Those early journeys to London  were the beginnings of a sharing. Nothing was planned. From the early boat trips and Nigerian Airways flights came voice-powerful fighters with nothing to lose and a fresh found freedom from compliance. They were the soul brothers with their chewing sticks and an itch. Chinua Achebe was their father. The story-tellers were unleashed and Longman’s reigned them in. From the kerosene lit huts in small-case towns, fictitious characters emerged glorious with headaches and heartaches and a way with words.
Poet and author Ben Okri did not like being called a post modern writer or whatever the publishers wanted to call him. I was intrigued that he wanted to be known or wants to be known as a writer shaped by magic.  Cherishing the folk-lore of a nation, he calls his work dream logic as he explores the rooms in his mind. I can relate to that . When I read he said that my spirit awoke. Yep I said my spirit .

Palm Oil DaughterRAGWORKS

I lived in Westray. When I wrote in fiction, safely, about people and experiences on Westray I was immersed in a culture I knew from somewhere before. There was a specific language and a vocabulary unique to the island. There were ancient ways of behaving which came naturally to me because I belonged there but wasn’t from there. When the first nations’ people came from Canada on an exchange visit in 2004  I knew their dancing steps. They were my relations through my grandfather. Nowadays the magic has gone for I am not soaked in the sunsets and snow drifts, the slyness and the friendliness, the isolation and the judgements.

At the time I lived there tourism was a dirty word and so anything attempting to record the ways of the folk was unwanted, seen as a way of exposing private people to a world they could do without. I, despite having bought my ancestors’ house and having tramped on my ancestors’ fields, was in the islanders’ eyes not worthy of writing about the island because I was a labelled “Incomer” not born of the island’s earth. Well, excuse me! The place seems timeless so therefore dream-like and all muddled up , wrapped up in a universal togetherness. A writer delves and goes deeper, looking at the people and morphing those people into one scary guardian of the culture.

So yeah I get Okri’s arrogance and respect it.

Issue 3. Up Your Street

Mon 20th Jan free 5-6.30pm  Stratford networking in the community. Stratford Library, 3 The Grove.  Monday’s event will feature Well London, Technopop (an 8 week science and technology festival on the Olympic Park) and the introduction of ‘Echo’ – a timeback for Newham. This in addition to the usual refreshments and networking.

Tues 21 Jan free 5- 7pm
Free cook and taste course. Want to learn about eating well for better mental health. Learn to make delicious healthy meals. Find out more about healthy eating. Meet people and have fun cooking. To join contact Manny at Helping Hackney Health on 07885 629384. Age group: Adults. Well Street Surgery, SHORE ROAD, London, Hackney, E9 7TA. Disabled access: yes. Contact: Manny Epton. Email: manny_epton@helpinghackneyhealth.or Telephone: 07885 629384

Wed 22nd Jan  free 12-2pm as above cooking course.

                      free for over 60s after you’ve paid £6.90 for year card, there’s  swimming for over 50 years young. 0930-10.30am. Leyton Leisure Centre. E10.

Thurs 23rd Jan free 6-8.30pm  E17 Community Kitchen  at Waltham Forest College E17

                               free  6.15-7.45pm.Best to book.Tanya  Harris at Hackney Museum . Launch evening. “Side by Side” Living in Cazenove exhibition.

Sun 26 Jan  free 2.00  – 4.30 p.m. St Augustine’s Tower Open Day
Hackney’s oldest building will be open to the public. Discover the history of the building and climb the 135 stairs for the best view of Hackney. Disabled access to ground floor. Admission free. . Age group: All ages. Mare Street, Hackney E8 1HR. Disabled access: yes. Contact: Laurie Elks. Email: l.elks@btconnect.com. view website

Wed 29  Jan  £3 Tea Dance 1–4pm Chingford Assembly Hall  Station Road  Chingford , E4 7EN

                          free 6-7.30pm Poetry share at The Centre for Better Health 1a Darnley Rd Hackney. Hosted by Cirillo

Thurs 30th Jan £3 7.15pm Haringey Independent Cinema. West Green Learning Centre Tottenham. Screening of “Parade”

Coldfall Wood. Cold January

Coldfall Wood. Cold January 2014

You can just about park and freely outside the Creighton Road entrance to the wood in Muswell Hill, North London. Today the forecast was periodic sunshine with increasing heavy showers of rain. It bucketed down but we three friends met to enjoy the ancient and empty Coldfall Wood. We stood under one umbrella by a lonely bench and drank hot soup . Wet, wet, wet it was. We enjoyed seeing the brooks and the newly made Wetlands bit which looks as though a brook has burst its banks: The walkway over it is ace. We looked about Barrenger Road and checked out the construction site set up to build an eco-house. All the houses on Coldfall Estate N10 were council-owned pre Thatcher. Today the Estate is deadly quiet as it was way back in no private cars 1950. Some houses are pink and some yellow; some still retain the grey picket fences, and the red front door steps, the pride of the housewife. There are padlocked gates in alleyways and a padlocked turnstile into the Muswell Hill Playing Fields. It is that quiet that in Creighton Avenue at 1.30pm we could hear the joyful screeches of primary school pupils at Coldfall School along Everington Road and the crows were louder than east London ones. The grey squirrels had yellow tinges in their rat-fur.

Three  Sisters Drinking Tea by Lovers’ Lawn in Ancient Coldfall Wood in January in the Pelting Rain.

Sliding mud, scraping mud

Chilled to the bone our toes.

One sister wore her  boots

Clumpy dregs adorned with the dried mud

And yellow clay of her Chingford allotment

Sensible coverings for a lookabout in an ancient wood.

The cold bit our hands.

In the great green trunked trees, the high-up crows were affronted.

Intruders we were bold in their space. They flapped.

They jumped to different levels

They cawed and soared and the squirrels tame as you like

Busy in their foraging, started.

The creatures heard our breathing yet we hardly crackled the bracken.

The rain had sodden through, seeped through dead leaves and coppiced twigs.

All was mush.

The earth was sprung.

We were buoyant

Despite the drip and the gush and the splatter

Of the splish splosh

Pitter patter

Deluge of wetness.

We gripped the wooden sides of a bridge

Over a stagnant green wetland

We searched for a  bench or a customised log

Near the flat and memory of Lovers’ Lawn

Our hoods were sodden.

One sister placed down the thermos, another the rolls,

A bounding childish dog sniffed his muzzled jaw up to the food

Ahead of a dog-walker’s apologies

Said in the posh tones of the neighbouring estate.

She went. We laughed and said  What are we like?

Three sisters under one dripping umbrella

supping soup, milking tea,  renewing friendships

in our once local wood.

One said “I’m not nostalgic

I just feel I own it. It was our wood.

Glad we came”.

Outside past the bent wrought iron railings

The cars splashed through gutter pools

Mothers trundling buggies  or on laden bicycles

With precious cargoes plastic wrapped

Waited at the kerbs on pink paving stones.

It was gone 3.30pm on a January afternoon.

More dog-walkers came.

We three sisters kissed goodbye

And went our separate ways.