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.

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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?