About Me

"Use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?"

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Old white guy has wonderful evening at Brixton's Black Cultural Archives inauguration

The original dub poet, Linton Kwesi Johnson, performs for the Black Cultural Archives opening, Windrush Square, Brixton, London,

How often do you get to enjoy a full evening of great music,  poetry, dance, and inspiring speakers  on a warm summer's evening surrounded by thousands of happy people, then cycle home in 10 minutes with your soul fully re-charged? And all for free?

And how often would this event include one of your all-time heroes, the original Dub Poet, Linton Kwesi Johnson?

About once in a lifetime - if you are lucky. Well, tonight I was lucky, thanks to this evening's opening event for  Brixton's new Black Cultural Archives, a three-hour bash which (among many other things) made you realise what a great space Windrush Square really is.

So, thank God again for the people of Brixton, who seem to be the last part of this weird and scarily changing city who have the ability to make me feel truly alive. Even before the public celebrations began, you realised this was a much bigger event - bigger even than Brixton. The BCA is the result of a 30-year battle, and the victory that this evening represented reverberates right across the country, not just south London.

The new Archives open to the public tomorrow with a big inaugural exhibition, Re-Imagine: Black Women in Britain.

The  centre occupies the two completely refurbished  Regency townhouses (formerly Raleigh Hall) and a new education/refreshment area - an elegant piece of architectural melding and blending, which actually enhances this great space opposite the Town Hall and next to the Brixton Library and the (now sadly troubled) Ritzy Cinema.

Thanks, especially, to all the people who made this amazing new institution a reality. And the amazing performers who ripped up all your notions of the worthy benefit show. Especially good were the poet, rap artist, and blues singer Floetic Lara.
 We saw her two years back at the "Bob Marley Way" event. Then she seemed raw and exciting. Tonight she was even more exciting but far from raw. The layer upon layer of ironies and barbed line-endings, her sudden taking flight into deep Nina Simone or Aretha territory, it was moving, inspiring, funny, and amazing all at once.

It inspired me, a 61-year-old burnt-out case, so heaven knows how good she must have been for the 15-year-old aspirant artists in the crowd.

LKJ was a cool and white-hot as ever, the old stories fresh again as he reminds us of the New Cross Massacre, and all that followed back in 1981 - events which led to the determination to build this archive. When he read his poem about  the 1981 riots, Di Great Insohreckshan - well, at first you miss the heavy reggae backing of Dennis Bovell's band, but then you realise he doesn't need any accompaniment. There's already fire in the air, LKJ has ignited it.

The artists who follow him - spoken-word artists Akala and  El Crisis, and the calypsonian protest singer Alexander D Great, seemed to pick up on LKJ's mood. Unfinished business is very much in the air (see the latest Met revelations). We felt strong vibrations of 1981 and 85 and 1993 and - what 2014? in Akala's amazing Uzi-style delivery - he builds up to a hailstorm of words, each  so carefully and beautifully chosen, so sharp so deadly. You want him to slow down so you can catch it all but he can'tt slow down - and then his nice trick of separating the final word, so it hangs there like a barrage balloon of meaning.

Stuff  hanging in the humid air - there's still feeling of outrage here tonight, it was a night for white people (i.e., me) to be made very aware of how they (i.e., we) dragged their (i.e., our) feet through those decades. How much more we could all have done to help these beautiful, forgiving people who make this city so much better than it ever really deserved to be. Yeah, anyone can do more than nothing, which  with one or two exceptions (but not me, tbh), is what we did.

Read a good history of the project here on Brixton Buzz.

High-velocity spoken word artist/rapper Akala opens minds and hearts at the Black Cultural Archives launch event, Windrush Square, Brixton,

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

A London swimmer's stolen summer days in the silky socialist waters of the Serpentine

It has become a bit of a ritual, but a summer is not a summer for me without at least one hot, sunny, stolen day at the Serpentine Lido in Hyde Park.

I went three days ago, and the magic was still there, as strong as ever. As strong as it was, perhaps, way back in  1930 when the so-called "Lansbury's Lido" opened in Hyde Park, allowing mixed-sex open-air  bathing in the Serpentine for the first time.  See for yourself in this amazing footage from British Pathé.

George Lansbury, the radical socialist,  pacifist,  reformer, campaigning MP and Labour Party Leader (1932-35), who was determined to give ordinary Londoners a taste of the open-air bathing pleasures available at the seaside, right here in the centre of the richest, most royal area of the capital city.

I first went back in the mid-1970s, and kept going through to the mid 1980s. I remember being there on the day of Live Aid - a hot Saturday afternoon, I was listening on the walkman radio. You could feel the vibrations from Wembley in the hot air.

At the time the place was under threat, there were constant health scares about the water , and people generally grimaced when you said you'd been swimming there: "Oh, how could you, it's all slimy and stinky and all those old men in speedos…."

Back in those days I was a 27 year old in Speedos, and yes, there was a bit of slime under the toes as you inched your way down the slope into those greeny-brown waters. But it was benign slime,  a soft layer of weedy mud. This was real water - the Serpentine is fed by natural springs and the submerged River Westbourne - and it felt totally different to the chlorinated refined stuff you get in swimming pools. It feels soft and silky, it feels gorgeous against the skin

The crowds who went down to the Serpentine in those hot summers of 80 and 81 were very different to the diehard members of the Serpentine Swimming Club, the ones who did lengths every morning, every day of the year, before going off to work.

The "father" of the Lido, George Lansbury,
headed a successful campaign in the
 1920s to get affordable open air swimming for
 all Londoners in the heart of the city.
The great thing here was we could all co-exist - the serious swimmers and the hedonistically sun-worshippers, the narcissists and the creative skivers, taking a few hours out from their office jobs. God, how we all love that place, that little Oasis in the centre of the metropolis.

I would go with a book, a bottle of water, something to eat, Palmer's cocoa butter skin cream and plenty of cigarettes. I would lie there and wait, and sure enough before long the spaces next to me would be filled with all manny of chambering young and not-so-young swimmers. There was a strange community about the place - as if we all belonged to some slightly secret club.

We were the lazy ones, the sun-addicts, young and old, we mixed with the hordes of Spanish and Californian and Brazilian and Italian and South African and Australian backpacker tourists who found the place a bit like home from home.

The Serpentine Lido has so much going for it - a little bit of paradise, saved for the people of London and the world by idealistic socialists of the early 20th century.

The place still has that democratic feel. The entry fee is less than for most of the stingy local authority pools around the outer boroughs - and if the weather's good you get the feeling of being in some private club, soaking up the sun in your skimpy swimming gear as the crazy centre of capitalism goes about its greedy business a few hundred yards away.

Although, as one very long-term fan of the Lido  - she had been coming here since 1958 - told me,  they built the  Lido on the wrong side of the lake. "it's north facing, so to get the best of the afternoon sun you have to  turn away from the water," she laughed.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Clapham Old Town: A good place for single people who wish to remain single

This bit "of urban regeneration" around the Pavement/Polygon area of Clapham has already come in for some stick here - most of all for its murderous, Alice-In-Wonderland approach to bike lanes.

There's another aspect which only became startlingly clear right at the end of the project. This charming "piazza" where Claphamites (not Sodomites or Catamites, you understand) can stroll around showing off their very expensive designer gear and haircuts to each other.

Single-seater piazza in London SW4 - lonely old town, as they say.
We are single and we will damn well stay single: Clapham Old
Town's new public space  boasts seating arrangements are great
for the aggressively anti-social: don't invade my space, OK yah?
Sure, the mustard yellow surfacing of large areas of this "piazza" will not flatter many skin tones, but at least it's a big open space with no cars; well not many cars - going over it.

But if it's wonderful for good old-fashioned Clapham yuppy posturing, it's definitely not meant to encourage socialising.

Look at the seats the council has so thoughtfully provided for our rather onanistic population.

Yes, they are all one-seater affairs, placed at weird angles to each other. As though wanting to stop people reading newspapers over your shoulder or whatever.

Just far apart enough to make conversation difficult.

You see, if you want to socialise in SW4 you are meant to go to one of the designated places - a bar or restaurant or "patisserie" or "brasserie" or whatever - and pay through the nose for it.

Of course, there's the Common for the Common folk, like me.