Laptop at a writing Workshop.

At bloomin’ last I saw a laptop being used by a writer at a writing workshop. First time ever. People still use A5 feint lined paper in pads or A5 notebooks…. with gel pens indeed!

During the inevitable predictable ice-breaker I confided in my partner at the table in the round and asked her not to repeat what I’d said. Oh trust! She opened her gob and told the other wannabes that as soon as I entered the room I had wanted to leave. Mouthy. But it was okay because I was amongst stoics, creative in their own bubbles who had little experience of relating to people who don’t look like them. Yikes. Ready to run. I’d travelled with Up Your Street seniors who’d never smelt the inside of a writing workshop so had to stay to wink at them across the table at least.

We were at Canada Water Culture Space. To many people that means “library”. The Canada Water library is like a market-place. Today Anansi stories were being drummed out to toddlers and those engrossed kiddies were sitting whitely on the floor carpet by the front door. There’s a café, some chess areas complete with noisy players, lifts going up and down, stinking toilets and seen from the actual culture space room, a river.

The workshop was promoted as being all about the Mixed-Race identity but you didn’t have to be Mixed-Race to join in. You had to bring an object that reminded you of home. Four of us did as we were told. The rest is history.

I’d lugged in a cheap vase so I was actually bothered to read out my paragraphs and SHARE.

‘Today was different as though the wolves had been set free. My father returned fuming with the story about his brother-in-law standing arms and legs akimbo preventing his entrance. The story was shocking. Finally after the Burton van was loaded, my father and brother were allowed inside. My grandmother’s mink coat had been left in a wardrobe. There had been a box loaded and inside was the white vase with its lid, some coat-hangers, Vim and yellow dusters and a whole box of fish knives and forks. As for the furniture my brother said the wood wasn’t worth the taking.

My mother sat down and retrieved her knitting needles and the pink matinee coat in the making.

“Any sign of the blue glass set? See, Rita bought that for their fiftieth. That’ll be gone then.”

My brother told me to put the kettle on.’





Big ole windy Bertha. I loved her. The wind was going mad on the tree tops outside. I do live next to Epping Forest; am proud to say. I used to live on a windy and very nasty cold northern island, home of my ancestors. The wind used to lift me and howl across the flagstone roof looking for any broken skylight into which she could swoop and cause havoc. My washing was once dragged across to a neighbouring uninhabited island, torn on the barbs of fields and telegraph poles. I loved that wind. It swept and hissed and moved flower pots and polytunnels from the hillsides into the village. The pier master would radio in and warn fisher folk to stay home and batten down the hatches. Ferries stopped running and school students were told to stay put in the morn. New residents dreaded having any reason to be flown into the mainland hospital for any treatment, baby-birthing, canal-dredging: older people were stoic in the face of war and famine.

Today I stayed in and watched television as the war continued in Gaza. I’d watched 9/11 unfold in the same atmosphere, in a place which couldn’t be controlled. Nature was at her best both on the windy island and in urbania today.

I left New Orleans a few months before Katrina struck. Unbelievable. I am more than sure our breakfast waitress with her great smile was swept away with her bowls of grit and deep-fried sugared doughnuts. And then the horses. There were horses always floating and bloated with great yellow gnashers stuck in the bits. I met not one jazz musician although I searched and searched.

Half Of A Yellow Sun

**Interview with Mrs Chinyere Achonu from Leyton about

Half of A Yellow Sun by  Ngozi Adichie.

The half of a yellow sun refers to the Biafran flag design.Biafran flag

“A story,  a story. Tell me a story”.

Chinua Achebe, master Nigerian story-teller and  Adichie’s mentor and  fan praised her story-telling craft. The Daily mail went so far as to describe the book as a classic. There’s a whole queue in front of Adichie’s work a vying to be classic let alone read.

During the Biafran War many of the Ibo community members from Nigeria comprised of minor civil servants  lodged in Walthamstow. It was the late sixties, early seventies . Years after the Nigeria-Biafra War they moved back home retired and elderly . They left behind a population of mixed race offspring raised by professional white English mothers. Only those  forgotten mothers  can have any idea about the impact of the war on Nigerians in London but like their spouses they relied on pro- Nigerian government news on BBC TV.  The men meeting at The British –Biafra Association  meetings in Red Lion Square,  Holborn during the war outbid each other in their guilt for being safely away from the mutilations, rape, curfews, black market trading and starvation and then wrote group cheques for their unknown comrades in the field In a bid for self- salvation. After the war no-one spoke about it.  The important thing then was to know your enemy and get Nigeria back on its feet.

Who in London wants to remember let alone review the war? The book is a story and has to be that. Adichie knows that memories are warped and elaborated. She pays homage to her parents and grandparents by writing down what they revealed. She is the dutiful daughter and the privileged tutee of the master story-teller,  Achebe.

For me I respect  Adichie for gathering  stories from her traumatised parents whose related experiences of the Biafran War inspired her to  shape characters in a time she never knew when a country was  rapidly- changing and being mortally fractured in the process.  Exploring those  memories and  by creating  three main characters,  Adichie  shows  the way people use their instinct to survive,  and their capability to adapt to circumstances and fellow humans. The impact of the novel is by way of its crafted story-telling . The reader needs to empathise with those desperate people in villages and towns where running water and electric light never existed,  in places where some people have much and most people have nothing . She does a good job taking the reader there and setting the scene. She is however more interested in relationships and how people tick.

Hope reigns in the novel. There is an Igbo saying , “No condition is permanent”.  It used to be painted on the overcrowded public transport together with prayers to God.  It’s a mantra deep down in the psyche of eastern Nigerian people.  It suits the book.  So could suit, “Nothing surprises us!”.

I disliked the main characters: The white visiting professor searching for something deep in Africa and looking weak  in the process,  the houseboy daring to be intelligent and thinking with ambition and cunning  (going right against the grain!) and the young learned daughter of Biafra who would be all right whatever happened. Cream always rises.

The book tails off at the end as though the story-teller is exhausted and the reader has to form their own conclusions especially about who the narrator is . (Spoiler alert).

Here is a book I can easily forget and others say the same. It is worth celebrating as Achebe does but one not worth revisiting.

C. Achonu (Mrs) August 2013_________________________________________________


My garden is gorgeous, full of trees and one manky old cooking apple tree too. The crop this year was bountiful and all the cider-men said the same about the harvests in their orchards . So I had my mind set on apple jam-making and apple pies with custard. I’ve only just moved into my home. Most of the boughs overhang into a neighbour’s unkempt, unloved garden. The garden is the playground of squirrels, foxes and cats galore. The whole house, Victorian and beautiful,  is unoccupied… still…  since April 2013 in fact.

On a rainy day in mid-September I went around the corner to put a note through the neighbour’s door. It’s a weird set-up where neighbours gardens in the adjacent road back ours. It was a jolly note on a jolly notecard saying how we could share the crop  and that I needed permission to climb over into someone else’s territory before the rot set in. I could not watch food going to waste. I’d seen the pears in Lloyd Park blossom, fall and rot.

Some days later I espied over the back wire fence a woman whom I presumed to be my neighbour.  I chatted to her about the apples on my tree, how the branches over her patch of grass were weighed down with apples and how as no-one lives there I’d love to be able to gather the crop. She said something whatever it was, said new people were moving in and that she didn’t live there being an absent landlady and she’d spoken to the new tenants about the apples and that they would love to have them themselves. I laughed but said indignantly in my head “But they’re mine!”  Without any by your leave she then answered her mobile. I went in.

Those apples were magnificent in quantity and quality. Collected by me in fifteen minutes. I made pies for social clubs for older people in my community and even froze a couple for the absent neighbour. Slipped down a few tartlets with custard too.

Two months later (two months!!!!) this was slung through my letterbox. No signature, no niceties, no well-edged paper, and no neighbourliness.

apple tree owner

Boo hoo!

****************************************************************Life’s too short**

The Real Story being the one about the crust of bread.

Mrs Dench lived over the back of us. Her husband was a tall upright misery of a man who always wore a brown suit with a waistcoat, thick horn-rimmed glasses, had a moustache and wore a hat. He strode rather than walked being rather tall.

Our house was on the end of the council terraced block next to the alleyway into the  parallel roads on Coldfall Estate. In those days, the alleys were short-cuts without strewn mattresses and piping or trip -wires put in place by malicious youth. Everyone used them without fear. Schoolchildren walked safely along backs of long gardens and houses. It was the early 1960s. The Kinks lived up the road. As Mr Dench  passed up the alley every night around eleven he would have heard clearly my parents as they swung punches, shouted  and threw dad’s hair-brushes at each other. I heard everything. My sister and I would whisper between bunks and ask each other whose side we were on. If we were bored and intrigued by the nightly quarrels it was certain that Mr Dench took in some interest. I remember feeling embarassed that the night walker knew my family’s sordid business.

Mrs Dench was squat and ugly. She had  a swarthy complexion and a mass, a triangular shape, of black and grey frizzy hair. Even then I suspected that she were foreign, and what was called half-caste in those days. I remember she never looked at anyone when she spoke; her eyes would  be elsewhere, out into the distance or down at her shoes. She used to come in to mum’s when dad was at work with a bundle of shoes from”the lady up the road” who “only wanted a few pence for them”. Once my mother, in our front room with Mrs Dench, put a pair of shoes on the table-cloth on the table. Mrs Dench, quite agitated said my mother should remove the shoes from the table  because it was bad luck.  Then she calmed down and noticed the shoes were used. “Oh, it’s only bad luck if the shoes are new”. She was the teacher here, looking much older than my mother. They were two women doing business. It was women’s business: My mother told my sister and I not to mention the shoes to our father. We never did. The business of the shoes was not of any consequence to our lives. I don’t even know if my mother were the seller or the buyer or both. I do know that she had conversations with her back neighbour. Mrs Dench was always in her blue mack and my mother always had on her thin blue cardigan adorned with two nappy pins or safety pins and wore a clean but tatty apron with its frayed blue piping. The hem of her dress was always just above her yellow knees. She had thrombosed varicose veins pumping out from her fat legs, caused possibly by six confinements and more to come.

The children were on school holidays; one week before Christmas and one after. I was in the front room with my mother who had just come from the kitchen. There was a knock at the door and my mother opened it and let in Mrs Dench directly to the front room. The front room was never the reserved room for Sunday dinner or special family visitors. It was a dining room, a  homework room when we grew older, dad’s stenographing room, the ironing room and my sister’s courting room when Charley came to call. It had a table always covered with a white table-cloth and benches for we children to use during meal-times.

Mrs Dench was quite breathless and my mother was looking decidedly hostile, She never greeted anyone with a smile. I decided that she was not expecting any shoe or clothing business  at that time so was taken off guard. I never knew. Mrs Dench never looked at me. She put her closed fist on the table and leant into it, her full Christmas Post bag on her back. She spoke to the table-cloth.

“Oh Mrs P. Have you got a crust of bread I could have?” There was no ‘ please’. My mother was taken aback. She went to the kitchen. I heard her pull down the cabinet flap. She returned and passed to Mrs Dench the crust from a sliced loaf. I was shocked that my mother showed little compassion and actually gave a crust rather than a buttered piece of bread which would have been more polite or expected at least. I saw my mother’s nastiness and meanness. I also knew that my mother cared only for her family and that giving away a crust meant less food for her brood. I had realised then that the relationship between Mrs Dench and my mother was of no value. It was true that my mother didn’t have any  friends and seemingly had no need for them either. Her family was all. The shoes were only worth bothering with because they might have  been useful for her children. I was embarassed for Mrs Dench becuase she had to beg for bread in front of me, a child, and I took on her embarassment because she was a married woman with a husband in a smart three piece suit and she was starving. She had released the news that her husband was not providing for her.

Years later I learnt form my mother and my sister that Mr Dench beat his wife mercilessly throughout their miserable marriage.


When I returned from working in Africa to my house in east London, I saw in the neighbour’s garden an Indian woman hanging out clothes on a line. Having come from a land of beaten housegirls,  I had supposed that by her small stature and she being involved in domestic chores  she was the maid whereas in fact my English neighbours had moved away whilst I was adventuring in the Equatorial Rain Forest and  had been replaced by a family fleeing from Idi Amin.

I was humbled and disgusted with my assumption. That Indian lady was the neighbour of the century: Mrs Parmar, senior,

What a love. She held my children when I went for driving lessons and until her moany husband stopped her doing me that favour. One day when the back garden fence was down and the sunflowers were as high as Jack’s beanstalk, she wended her way in a bright yellow sari  carrying carefully a typical silver tray. I was indoors with the French windows wide open. She was bringing me daal and puffy breads. Heaven in a garden.

Thirty seven years later and her legs failed her so she was carted off to live with her married son in the next parish.

Then,  the next door banging began as the 1930s house once remodelled in 1986 began a new life as a gutted and  freshly adorned dwelling. In moved the most tiresome people I’ve ever known.

On the day the family of four moved in, I greeted them and never even got back a nod.  I let them off to give them a chance and of course it was possible that they were out and out racists. Sacré bleu! Days passed and I’d hoped for some chat with the woman of the house and at least a miserable attempt at a smile of recognition from the post- teen daughters.

The family fight all day and into the early hours. The three women rarely go anywhere. The mother hangs out washing daily on Mrs Parmar’s same old line. The man of the house has regular times when he  comes in and out.

Such screeching goes on which I hear through the walls to the extent that I almost phone the social services for I imagine beatings and hair-pulling and subjugation techniques. The family on the end recently re-housed from their caravan are bad but nothing as downright unneighbourly.  I am a long-standing resident, as friendly as hell and I know that one day next door’ll need me.

I’m used to the grown daughter and father on the other side calling each other effing seeyouentees.

Definitely I am making sure my fences are sound because good fences make good neighbours. Really?

RAGWORKS comes to town

In the spacious gallery that is Stratford east Picturehouse amidst the smell of pop corn  and within the echoes of staff chatting by the hot dog machine downstairs, you will be amazed to find RAGWORKS. Under sympathetic lighting,  wall-hangings depicting Grimm and Anderson fairy tale characters,  West African humanised animals and other flights of an artist’s fancy are  displayed on recycled bamboo hangers.

These art works have been lovingly hand-made and crafted from abandoned refreshed textiles begged from local manufacturers.

Come and see The Palm Oil Daughter, how pretty she is as she melts by the river or Red Riding Hood covered in blood.

Gillian, the artist, (that’s me) studied art at Hornsey Art College and  West African literature in Leicester way back in the seventies before the word ‘multi-cultural’ met Carol Vordermann’s vowel-tray and has exhibited batiks both in east London and Orkney. Over the past two years whilst forging ahead with Up Your Street Gillian has attended many art and craft workshops in the 6 London 2012 boroughs., notably ceramics at The Centre For Better Health in Hackney.  Thirsty to revisit techniques from university days she has joined and completed felt-making classes, patchwork curtain ones, screen -printing workshops, courtesy of Songololo-Feet, and a host of other courses which appeared as freebies to engage seniors with the Olympic and Paralympic Games 2012. All to the good. Can’t stop learning.