About Me

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

Thursday, 31 March 2016

All strength to the Carnegie Library occupiers - and shame on cloth-eared Lambeth council

Big protest on the last official day of Herne Hill's Carnegie Library turned into a sit-in

No, sadly it wasn't an April Fool's joke, but thanks to the brave and brilliant 80 or so people who locked themselves inside Herne Hill's Carnegie Library last night, Lambeth council's dismal scheme to turn this and other libraries into gyms is once again under  close media scrutiny.

A London borough council is supposed to be responsive to the views of its electorate, and to do its best to protect their interests.

For the past year or two, on the subject of libraries (not to mention housing estate regeneration)  Lambeth is doing precisely the opposite of this,  the opposite of serving its public.

This is a council that is planning to turn two of its best loved libraries - the Carnegie and the Minet at Myatt's Fields, both of which were donated by philanthropists to the people of this borough over a century ago - into gyms, so-called "healthy living centres" where you'll pay to get a bit of physical exercise. And to close another two.

So much love for Carnegie Library, Herne Hill - closed down by Lambeth council, occupied by its usersThat is to take away four of the 10 libraries that  are currently struggling to cope with demand of the borough's library users.

The anger this "culture 2020" policy has provoked can hardly have surprised the council. We've all been  marching and shouting and petitioning everyone possible about it for  the past year or so.

Each time they turn that big deaf ear to the protests they raise everyone's  determination to resist and overturn the bonkers gym idea.

So when, at 6pm, March 31 2016,  the Carnegie Library in Herne Hill was supposed to have closed its doors for good, and instead, dozens of users of this amazing library staged an occupation, what did they do? They called in the cops , of course.

Thing is, even the police only need to take one look at the beautiful Carnegie Library building to understand that the gym idea is not only absurd, but also immoral. As soon as you entered this library you realised it was a well-loved place. I mean, how many public libraries in London have their own "Reading and Wildlife Garden"?

Carnegie Library, Herne Hill - closed down by Lambeth council, occupied by its users
The Carnegie is a beautiful place, designed  for a specific purpose, to be a place where people of all ages and backgrounds can  read, study, and learn in peace;  where people can share their love for books and literature and storytelling and information-giving. It has always offered more in the way of extra, volunteer-led activities for a huge range of interest groups, from toddlers to yoga freaks to chess players, than  almost any other library I have visited.

It even had a large exhibition space, which helped launched the careers of many local artists and photographers.

And what does the council say?

"Changes to Carnegie Library"

So, they suggest Carnegie Herne Hill users should try Brixton Central or West Norwood libraries instead. Good advice? Maybe not.

The clue is in the word, "Hill". The Herne Hill library is up on high, it serves a large area of residential streets, young families with young children in pushchairs,  also lots of elderly local residents.

 Lambeth tells them to get down to Brixton centre, then back up again? And when they get there, where will they sit?

Carnegie Library, Herne Hill - closed down by Lambeth council, occupied by its users
Or all the way down, then up again, to West Norwood Library, which is itself in temporary accommodation? Is Lambeth going to offer free bus passes to this displaced group of library users, or a taxi service?

It's all worse than insulting! (And I am not even a regular Carnegie Library user, can't you tell? But I am a Lambeth council tax payer, and I am disgusted by the way they treat so many of their electorate as though they were naughty children, and then carry on perfecting their vanity projects).

Now the council has even admitted it doesn't have a detailed plan on how it will convert this building into a gym. Look at those beautiful parquet floors, then imagine how they will bolt down those absurd stationary bicycles you see in gyms. There's now talk of using the cellar, involving as lot of excavation and possibly the destruction of the garden. Just think of the costs.

It's all very well saying this. I'd be saying it even if the Carnegie were an ordinary public library. Thing is it's a very special place, but the tragedy is you won't be able to experience its magic again unless…unless the brave action of yesterday evening's occupiers finally makes this cloth-eared council listen, just for once!

The following pics, I hope,  show a bit of the passion of those defending this wonderful place, and a bit  of what you and me and all of us will lose if the council's plans for converting this place into a "bookish gym" actually go through.

The wildlife and reading garden at the Herne Hill Carnegie Library

Carnegie's staff and friends ensured that the library, if it had to close, would close with a bang or two, and not a whimper…and predicted that the closure would not be  permanent

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

The destruction of the Battersea Bridge Road mural and its aftermath: why property developers love 'Art', but hate art….

Nuclear Dawn - an inadequate photo of Brian Barnes'
amazing Brixton mural, which gives you a taste of what
we have all lost in the destruction of his biggest work,
The Good, the bad and the ugly on Battersea Bridge
Road, back at the dawn of Thatcherism (1979)
Since visiting Embassy Gardens, with its blingy public art and its splendid new Waitrose - I've had this nagging feeling, a sort of sense of mismatch and angst.

Can't get the strange sight of former Young British Artist Sarah Lucas's sculpture gracing the granite paving slabs of property developer Ballymore's crowning glory,  slap bang in the middle of the monstrous Battersea-Nine Elms-Vauxhall killing fields, out of this tiny mind.

We all know how much property developers love Art. Like a dog approaching fox shit, they want to roll in the stuff so that some of its magic rubs off on them, and onto the properties they are busily promoting. If they could just get a whiff of Bacon or Lucien Freud, just a dab of  Hirst or the essence of Emin, or best of  all….a little sprinkling of Bxxkxy….they would be so thrilled.

But look: they build a pug-ugly block on reclaimed brownfield marshland, or redevelop a former school or hospital or prison,  and sell their luxury apartments for £1,500 per square foot.

What rank amateurs!

Just think how much a square foot of a Banksy or a Basquiat or a Rothko would be worth.

No wonder they are so keen to get these names into their brochures.

A bit of the right sort of 'Art' in the right place - that is, not impeding their schemes to make billions out of millions. But it does have to be the right sort of art, in the right place. Art with a big fat "A" for asset, the sort dealers and auctioneers thrive on. Art with the capital F: we are rich and clever, you are  nothing: Fuck right off! And leave us here to appreciate this 'Art'.

It hasn't always been this way.  Or maybe it has.

Back in the 1970s, during the first phase of Battersea's gentrification, real community art came up against property and lost out in a big way.

It happened about a mile to the west of the current mega-development. The factory of one of Battersea's biggest employers,  Morgan Crucible, was on the south-west corner of  Battersea Bridge, and it fronted the river most of the way down Battersea Church Street.

It was a big piece of prime riverside property, and after the company relocated in the early 70s the factory was left empty. Local residents launched a campaign to keep this space for the community, and the Wandsworth Mural Group, run by local RCA-trained muralist Brian Barnes, got to work on  London's biggest ever mural.

There's an excellent interview with Brian Barnes  by Julian Vigo on her Endoplasm site, in which Barnes explains how he asked locals what they'd like to see in place of the factory - and it was this dream landscape of an open-air swimming pool,  human-scale housing, factories to work in, car-free streets for kids to play in, and plenty of buses,  that went into the mural.

Against this utopian vision, Barnes and his fellow muralists knew about the forces they were up against - bent politicians and town-planners, the press, greedy developers, cynical capitalists - and these went into the painting as well, along with their henchmen, the cops. Hence the title, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

This mural, as I remember it, stretched all along the factory's boundary wall from the foot of the bridge all the way down to the junction with Battersea Church Street. It took Barnes and about 60 volunteers two years to paint. It was completed in late 1978, and at 276 feet long by up to 18 foot high, was one of the biggest murals in the UK.

Despite its satire and sharp political message, the mural gained praise from high quarters, and was apparently on the way to getting legal protection when, in the middle of the night of June 6 1979, the entire wall was demolished by Morgan Crucible's contractors.

This underhand behaviour by the owners, who knew they'd face a big public protest if they'd attempted this in the daylight,  set the scene for age of Thatcherism and all that followed.

Go there now and you see what looks like a smart housing estate from the outer suburbs, nicely planned and nicely maintained and nicely private. Perfectly bland residential architecture with one of the best views on the Thames, across to Chelsea Reach.

Sadly I have no photos of that great lost mural. You can get some idea of its scale and ambition from the always excellent London Mural Preservation Site, which also features many of the artist's other works. There's also an excellent 53-minute Arts Council funded  film, Morgan's Wall,  made in 1978, which you can buy or watch online from Concorde Media. The film looks at some of the other contemporary murals around the country and shows clearly why so many artists at that time chose to paint on exterior walls in public places rather than on canvas for private collectors.

Also worth a look is another interview: The man behind South London's murals - Brian Barnes, (Londoner #96) for the 1000 Londoners project.

Here's what the public got in compensation for the destruction of that
magnificent and utopian mural: the bland housing development of
Morgan's Walk and this even blander piece of sculpture
Well, at least we can now walk  along the riverside public path. Oh, and the developers even left a bit of art to cheer us up. Unfortunately it's a piece of sculpture so anodyne and so happy-families cheerful you wonder if it's deliberately, ironically so: it's called In Town and it's by the late John Ravera.

Looking to illustrate this piece, I went to the site of one of Brain Barnes' many later murals - the Stockwell Deep Shelter War Memorial.

This famous piece of public art is currently almost totally obscured by those ubiquitous orange and green barriers and plastic fencing, as Lambeth 
undertakes another of its local prettification schemes - you know, wider pavements, a few sad trees in pots, those single-seater benches our co-operative council has fallen in love with. Theu are always set at slightly odd, suggestive angles, as if the planner had seen one too many 1940s npoir movies where cops and narks exchange information in a public place.

Anyway, Stockwell is all set to follow Clapham Old Town into this utopian vision of public space.

Laugh! Cry!

The upshot being I took no photos. SO you can make do with a much earlier shot of an earlier photo of  what I think is this artist's best work - the Brixton Nuclear Apocalypse. HArd to photograph, and suffering from neglect, this piece has some of the cinematic power that the old BAttersea murals had in buckets. LOve it while you can.

The sad fate of Brian Barnes' Battersea Bridghe mural is only too well known, and we must never gorget it either. The massive mural, reckoned to be the biggest in London if not the world, was painted on the wall of the former

Only too aware that while talking about the "art" at EMbassy Gardens in the not-beating-heart of the Nine Elms development, a much earlier case of

Brian Barnes, the Battersea Bridge muralist, is still very much alive and still kicking.

As recently as 2010 he hit the headlines again for adding a portrait of Jean Charles de Menezes to his famous War Memorial mural in Stockwell.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Death by scissors: the deadly serious (that is, hilarious) business of a bloke trying to get a decent haircut in London in 2016

I have once again been reduced to a quivering knot of silent, internal laughter by one of Daniel Ruiz Tizon's podcasts.

The eponymous "Is Available" series reached episode 123 this week,  but I have been away, I am trying to catch up. The  blessing and the curse of the digital age: if you absent yourself from it, even for months, you get back and everyone tells you, you can catch up! It's so easy…listen, listen again! I, player!

Yeah it's easy, but you need to have the time. And stamina.

Unless, of course, it's something as good as what I listened to last night.

I listened to Ep.122, and was enjoying iy enormously. And then he got to the bit that was directly relevant to a personal problem. Getting a haircut. Now that my haircutter has absconded. Gone back to Cyprus to grow figs and olives, he says.

So I tune back into Daniel Ruiz Tizon is available. I find episode 122, there are 39 minutes packed with all the highly nutritional material his fans demand, are addicted to even. A cape revival. How to catch chicken pox. The worst American accents on British TV.

And then, Daniel's decision to get a haircut somewhere in Victoria. He went to a salon and had a bit of an awkward time with the stylist, Victor, who fancied himself as a scissors artist. One of those haircutters who had long ago eschewed the electric clippers. Yes, that's him. Victor, of Victoria.

All of which was difficult listening for me. The agony of this experience was just too excruciatingly real and too horribly familiar.

If you listen to this on Daniel's latest platform, Acast, you can see some related images  - such as a sketch of the strange arc this stylist had somehow created in the hair on the back of the author's head.

For the past 10 years I'd been lucky: I had found Andy in Landor Road, and he knew exactly what all his customers wanted and gave it to them, no fuss. With Andy you could ask for all sorts of fancy hairdos but he'd probably give you the one you needed.

After a lifetime of the sort of embarrassment so beautifully described in this podcast, it was a massive relief for me to find a barber who didn't make want to dissolve into a fluid and disappear into the drains as soon as I left the shop.

Does anyone else have this hang-up? The knowledge that, about once a month for about three decades of your adult life, you'd been pressing lots of money and even handsome tips into the hands of people who have just made you look even worse than you looked when you went into the shop?

Who made you wish you had a big paper bag to pull over your head as soon as you left the shop?

Who ensured that instead of returning to work you went straight home and started hacking away at  the "style" with blunt scissors, and then started applying conditoner, Flora, Trex, Brylcreem, bleach, something your auntie gave you for Christmas in 1974 and you'd never used, whatever you could find to try, to please god allow you to change that horrible 1983-look fluffed up thatch some crazy iD-reading harem-pant wearing new romantic had just inflicted on your stupid transplanted bum fluff.

Well, I had a 10 year holiday from all that. But now Andy's gone, I'll have to get used to it again. I'm a month overdue on the haircut. Next week I'm going south to Garratt Lane in Tooting on a quest. The last thing Andy told me was that I should go to a hairdressers there called something like Goodfellas, where I should find young George,  the apprentice he was training for most of a year before he retired.

I will try to find him, or will at least make a discreet reconnoitre of the area. Maybe he'll remember how Andy trained him on my bumpy scalp.

But how will I ensure I get him, and not just the next available stylist?


Behold! The Nine Elms nightmare is becoming reality – and someone's put their foot in it

Nothing like a bit of public art to add the sheen of quality to the latest ghetto of luxury flats: but does Simon Fujiwara's colossal foot have a message for the wealthy occupants of the surrounding apartment blocks?
After years of watching the Battersea-Nine Elms development as it gradually blocked our views and filled our homes with dust,  there's now a little bit of this new heaven on earth that is more or less finished, so now we can see for ourselves what all the fuss has been about.

It's right in the middle of the two or more square miles of building sites that stretch from Battersea Park to Vauxhall Cross. As you ride west down Nine Elms lane, past the old New Covent Garden market and the commercial estates, you come to a small patch of wild grasses, very lush, and right in the middle of it is the sign, Embassy gardens.

This area, smartly abbreviated by its developer to Eg, will be the serious heart of the whole Nine Elms developments, even more so than Battersea Power Station. It will have both US and Dutch embassies. It will have super-luxury flats with walk-in access to the well-hyped "Sky Pool" (a glass bottomed swimming pool suspended between the  10th floors of two apartment blocks).

In the background you see the bulky cuboid building which looks like it might be the new US embassy.
A few yards further on you find the essential markers of any new luxury urban development: some obscure and  expensive-looking public art, and a lovely great big brand spanking new Waitrose supermarket.

The art is curious: a colossal disembodied foot, which seems to have trodden on a sharpened wedding ring before being violently removed form its unfortunate owner. This piece, called Modern Marriage 2015, is by a well-known artist, Simon Fujiwara.

It's not clear what it's made of: marble? No. Concrete? Maybe. Plastic? Most likely - it has that bland, smooth look as though it had come out of a 3D printer. One struggles to find  meaning in this piece: it definitely seems to be a warning, but a warning of what? Wedlock? The mind boggles.

A bit further on, between the Waitrose block and the next block, is what a first sight looks like a huge tin turd on the ground, or a massive discarded party balloon of the type used by The Mask to create balloon-poodles.

 Look again, it's a giant vegetable - possibly a courgette or cucumber, or maybe even a gherkin? Well, actually, it's a marrow, rather a skinny one, and it's in fact a bit of a tribute to the fruit and veg traders using the New Covent Garden market down the road. The artist is even more famous - Sarah Lucas, one of the Sensation YBAs, well known for shocking the establishment with fried eggs, frozen chickens, etc.

This piece? Well, it's lovely, made of bronze, ever so expensive. Very shiny, nice reflections.


It turns out there's a third piece of sculpture somewhere around here - but it wasn't immediately obvious where. This area had been designated as a "Destination by design" sculpture park by the developers of the Embassy Gardens area, The Ballymore Group.

The installation was curated by Norman Rosenthal, late of the RA, and apparently there will eventually be six permanent works there.

This is just across the road from the first completed residential area, the Riverlight development,  a set of six trapezoid blocks, about 12 to 15 storeys high.  These buildings sit like a wall or some sort of defensive barrier, a gigantic tank-trap, all
Riverlight apartments: this is a real photo, not a computer-generated architect's wet dream….
 along the river. For some reason they are colour-coded with bright green, yellow, orange, red and mauve panels. They're not particularly ugly, just brash and a bit silly, like those semi-finished holiday apartment blocks you see all along the coastline of southern Spain. Or those lurid green and orange office blocks, so dismal in their total lack of any interesting qualities,  that have ruined the area between St Giles and New oxford Street, these from the distinguished architectural practice of Renzo Piano

According to the Nine Elms  developers, these apartments are now all sold, but there's very little sign of the proud new owners. Of course it's too early in the day: they'll all be at their desks in the City or Canary Wharf.

Walking up the stone-paved "street" between these blocks you get the feeling you're actually in one of those computer simulated images so beloved of property developers: it's all so clean and new and shiny!

But instead of the glamorous young yuppies in their yoga pants and Hugo Boss suits there are pairs of builders and surveyors in hi-vis jackets on their fag break.

They blocks - described in the developer's blurb as "pavilions" - are all ranged north-south, apparently to maximise access to the views across to Chelsea and Westminsters enjoyed by the occupants. Unfortunately, for everyone else living along the Wandsworth Road corridor,  these buildings are now the view, where once we could also see Westminster.

 Oh well.

Move just a little further west and there's a big hoarding around what used to be the massive Royal Mail south London depot, which was itself partly built on the old gas works. This area, according to one of those helpful boards put up by developers, is undergoing "remediation" by the BAM Nuttall group. It will eventually be a lovely park and …err….some more flats.

Remediation is a not a word I'd been familiar with, but when I look it up in the Merriam Webster dictionary, I have a "duh" moment. It is of course "the act or process of remedying" something - especially making something undesirable, desirable, or something unsafe, safe.

Squinting through the dirty plastic window so thoughtfully provided, you see mountains of
churned-up mud, some of it presumably polluted by all those old gas-making chemicals. It might make a good track for mountain biking or dry skiing.

So that's it. There are a couple of "streets" you can walk down,  a bit of grass, and all surrounded by many square kilometres of mud, dust, rubble and skeletal skyscrapers in waiting. And the massive trucks rushing up and down Nine Elms lane all day long.

Keep on trucking, as they used to say.

In fact, would you mind not keeping on trucking, please?

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

From memories of Bowie at the Brixton Book Jam to tales of Cuba in ice-cold Clapham…a good week for literary luvvies in this part of town

FLyer for the Brixton Book Jam, 7 March 2016, The Hootananny, Brixton, London SW2Two literary events in the space of five days: what's going on? Next stop Hay-on-Wye?

Well, probably not. But what, on these dead, cold March evenings could be better than a dash to a local shop or a pub, and get a free evening's entertainment from a bunch of talented and fascinating writers?

Well, for a cheapskate old blagger like me, the answer is: not very much. Which is why on Monday evening people queuing for buses around Clapham Common and Acre Lane glimpsed a mad old scarecrow, woolly-hatted, two scarves, two pairs of everything - cycling madly towards Tulse Hill.

Going as fast as possible, against the biting wind, just trying to keep warm. And thus arriving unfashionably early at the Hootananny, Brixton, for the 13th quarterly Brixton Book Jam.

I remember writing these events up during a very short stint on doing listings for the Brixton Blog, and yet I never actually went to one - until this week. And realised immediately what a very fine thing it was that I'd been missing.

The Hootananny is one of those huge old roadhouse pubs that London used to have loads of. Now, they've fallen out of favour, and who knows how long it will be before we're signing petitions to save this one, à la Half Moon in Herne Hill?

No, perish that thought. This place is crazy but it's usually busy, there's music or comedy or something on every night,  there are pool tables, food outdoors in the summer, and it has a little hotel too. The spaces are gloriously old school. For Monday's event, which had tipped its hat to late local boy David Bowie, there were rows of school-hall style chairs arranged across the dance floor.

Some of the anecdotes were memorable, notably those from the legendary photographer of  the Manchester music scene (and Man City), Kevin Cummins.

And also David Bowie….As featured at the Brixton Book Jam, London, 7 March 2016Instead of plugging any of his books in particular, Kevin ad-libbed a bit about his times shooting David Bowie. The first time when he was still a student and devoted Bowie fan and thus too much in awe of the man to get the shot he wanted (He did get the shot a day or two later on the next stage of the tour, in Leeds).

He told the best story about Bowie I've heard since the man died. It involved Bjork. He also showed a pic taken at an early Smiths gig in Manchester, with two punkish girl fans, and then announced that both these girls were in tonight's audience. "See if you can spot them!" Cringe. But everyone could spot them (especially as he waved the mike at their table).

The second memorable Bowie anecdote came from local artist Nathalie Dubruel, who had been an extra in a shoot for one of Bowie's videos. It was in the early 1980s and the location was the famous Wag Club in Soho (a place I already knew I was too old and dull to get into in 1984 even though I was desperate to be there, having read all about it in The Face).

She told the story with all the enthusiasm of her teenage self, down to the bit where she sees the video for the first time, and see herself dancing directly in from of the (frankly, overdressed) star-man "wearing my Woolworths t-shirt".

It was again instant transportation back to those strange days, when they started making videos for MTV even though we couldn't get it here at the time.

 There were also some good poetic imaginings about, or inspired by, Bowie. Bowie on a cold night in desert in Sudan, watching the tracer shells from some rebel encampment. It was mind-blowing stuff. I think that was Richard Skinner - but there was so much good stuff. That's the thing about a jam. It's a confiture…an embarrassment, almost, of riches, richness.

Another great memory from the Jam will be seeing Marcia Robinson talking about her dad:  Sledge - The Soul of Notting Hill.
Sledge, The Soul of Notting Hill, by Marcia Robinson, a memoir of her dad, as featured at the Brixton Book Jam on 7 MArch 2016

She'd written this beautifully-illustrated memoir of her father, Gladstone "Sledge" Robinson, partly to keep his name alive, and because she'd promised him she would. Sledge died back in 2008, tragically, in a house fire which also destroyed most of belongings. By then he was know well beyond his London W11 manor as London's first Rasta Man, one who put up with no end of aggravation from police and others through the 60s and 70s and 80s for the dreadlocks he grew a full decade before anyone here had heard of Bob Marley.

Sledge was one the elders of London's West Indian community, famed for his dreadlocks, and  his bongo drumming on Aswad and Bob Marley tracks.  What was less well known outside the Notting Hill black community was his generosity, his strength as a community leader, and his role as a human rights activist.

He inspired people to stand up for their rights,  Marcia said, and she conveyed very clearly that he was a great man who left an important legacy. And which other pioneer fighter for the UK's law centres and legal aid movement has also been - in his later years - a fashion model and cover star  for GQ magazine?

You could tell, he had taught his daughter well, Marcia was a kind but powerful presence in the room, with a great voice and a great laugh.

One of the writers who attracted me to this event was Martin Millar, who I always thought of as Brixton's own punk novelist, with an early novel, Lux the Poet, set at the time of the 1981 Brixton riots and squatting punks.

But of course Martin Millar is Scottish, and it may not be fanciful nonsense to imagine a bit of a link between his early writing and that of a slightly older Glaswegian surrealist writer Alasdair Gray.

These days he's a successful writer of fantasy fiction, but there's an echo of Lux in his latest  novel, Goddess of Buttercups and Daisies , which is his first historical novel. Alas, I was called away as he started to read, but the bit I picked up made me think he was in a way going back to the good old bad old surreal punk fiction of the 80s….so, he's another one to go check out again.

Debut novelist C D Ross completely changed the mood in the room with a reading from her book, Gangland, as a young mother encounters a gang fight on bonfire night in Clapton, and ends up comforting a stabbed teenager who is probably dying. Powerful, chilling stuff.

So, how do you top all that at a literary event?

Well, you don't need to, there's no topping anyone in this world. Well actually there is, as the final author made very clear. This was the poet Stefan Clark who has just written his first novel, which is "a prequel to Shakespeare's Hamlet set in modern times" called  Love and Blood and the State of Grace.

It was another firework display, a pyrotechnic reading; he put so much energy and malice into the character of the murderous Claud as he sets about humiliating and killing his brother (Harry) that at times you felt like taking cover. Great stuff in the mode of a Brendan Behan, but on who'd  swallowed plenty of Bukowski , a spot of Henry Miller even, with just a hint of an Alexi Sayle style sense of black humour.

So, that was what a book jam is like. If I'd been sceptical, I am now a complete convert. It was jam of the choicest variety, a veritable confiture, Tesco's finest. On bread. With butter.

Oh, and by the way, this being the Brixton Book Jam, in Lambeth,  meant that it also gave time and space to a librarian called Stevie ("luckily for me I work in Southwark") who explained what is happening to the 10 libraries in the borough, and encouraged everyone to sign the Don't Steal Our Libraries petition and  come along to Thursday evening's meeting at Brixton Library. She received such a warm round of applause and cheering that you imagine most of the audience had already signed - but those who hadn't, will have now.

Thank god!

(PS: next Brixton Book Jam is on June 6)

And so, wind back the clock to last Thursday…

… and a five minute walk to the bijou Clapham Books to listen to author Leila Segal reading from Breathe, her collection of nine short stories about Cuba.

She had lived there for several years, first  in Havana, then out west in what sounds like the idyllic province of Pinar del Rio.

Author Leila Segal read extracts from her Cuban short story collection, Breathe, to an enraptured audience at Clapham Books on a cold night in March 20
Leila read fragments from the stories in a quiet but powerfully expressive way. You immediately got the flavour: it was careful, a tentative approach through which you got these glimpses of a vividly different world.  She really brought the words to life. The small audience - ten people at most, sipping at their free glasses of red wine in the children's books room, were rapt. We nearly all had questions for her. She answered every one, fully. She clearly loves Cuba and loves talking about it, her enthusiasm was infectious and her knowledge deep.

There's a story of a British girl experiencing the sheer sensual pleasure of being at night-club, dancing with Cubans to West Coast rap music.

Another is seen from the pod of an Italian business man.

She's got a good, tough writing style, she doesn't waste words, but she does conjure up places and people with  the flick of literary wrist…a perfect phrase here, a couple of words of dialogue there.

She made me want to go back to Cuba, though from all as he said things are actually a bit harder there now than when we went. All that expectation of the coming "thaw" in US-Cuban relations, it seems, is bringing out a different side, and maybe some of the old insects are going to be scuttling out from underneath the cupboard they've been hiding under for so long.

I bought the book, and scuttled home for more red wine.

Buy these books!

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Save Lambeth Libraries march defies lousy weather and crazy policies: ALL TEN libraries must be defended!

Can you hear us, Lambeth Council? Can you read? Save Lambeth Libraries marchers outside Tate South Lambeth Library, Saturday March 5 2016.

"No ifs!  No buts!  No Lambeth Library Cuts!"

It was the same chant, on a march with many of the same people, but also plenty of new people, on the same route - from the Central Brixton Tate Library in Windrush Square, to the Tate South Lambeth Library in Vauxhall - for the same cause - as the first Save Lambeth Libraries march back in November.

The weather was even worse today - just as wet and even colder than on that autumn day - but the emotional climate was different. We're less than a month away from the proposed closure of two of the
Best banner of the day? Says it all, really.
borough's best-loved libraries, and despite an 11th hour U-turn on the plans for Tate South Lambeth and Upper Norwood Libraries, the "bookish gym" madness is still very much what Lambeth intends to push through at Herne Hill's Carnegie and the Minet Library on the Brixton-Camberwell border.

We've had four months of protests and action in between, in an imaginative and well orchestrated campaign, but a campaign which for a lot of the time seemed to be meeting a solid grey wall of indifference at the level of Lambeth council.

At some of the meetings, you actually got the feeling they were sniggering at us for our audacity in using time-honoured democratic protest techniques in response to their newish-Labourish cost-cutting Culture 2020 policy and its follow-up, the proposal to turn three branch libraries into fitness or "Healthy Living" centres with a few books, PCs and wi-fi but no trained library staff.

That is, until yesterday, when (somewhat coincidentally? oh surely not!) a partial climbdown, a semi-U-turn was allowed to slip out. As reported so swiftly on the always excellent Brixton Buzz site, Councillor Jane Edbrooke has decided to spare Tate South Lambeth library from the immediate indignity of having its books and staff replaced by gym equipment.

However, the plan to do just this at the wonderful Carnegie and Minet libraries remains - which was why today's protest was so moving. It was all about solidarity, and the overwhelming message was that Lambeth has 10 libraries - that's not enough perhaps, but we have 10 and we're not going to lose even one of those – particularly not to what has now been described as one of the most crackpot schemes in British local government this century.

Yes, a very good point, libraries do need trained staff. Under Lambeth's
plan, there'd be no full-time professional  librarians at the proposed
'bookish-gyms' to be run by Greenwich Leisure Ltd at the Minet and
Carnegie Libraries
It was great that people from the semi-reprieved Tate South Lambeth and Upper Norwood libraries were there on the march to make clear that they were still part of the campaign.

It was great that, again, there were people from Lewisham, Barnet and Wandsworth libraries voicing their support, and calling for a London-wide or nation-wide save libraries campaign to grow out this grassroots movement.

It was good to see local author Will Self (and his dog) telling us not to get too hung up on the nostalgic joy of books , but to protect the spaces that libraries occupy and the access to information that they offer. He made the obvious link between library closures and gentrification, too - though I think the people who will be snapping up those £1m + flats in the Oval Quarter, Brixton, and Vauxhall will be going to much snazzier gyms than those likely to be offered by GLL.

The real point of the whole events was best made by two people - Laura Swaffield, who has been the lynchpin of this whole campaign since it started (well, in truth that's years ago, as Lambeth has often tried to chip away th eLibrary service when budgets are not balancing, it's easy meat).

She made the point, one that cannot be repeated often enough, that these libraries are - morally speaking at least - not the council's to muck around with. They were all given to the community, not the council, by their various benefactors (yes, see how an earlier generation of corporate monsters gained immortality, the Tates and Carnegies).

That's the truth behind the slogan: "Don't steal our libraries!"

Of course Lambeth's lawyers have had no trouble in dealing with that little inconvenience.

The other great speaker was the chair of the Friends of the Carnegie Library in Herne Hill, Jeffery Doorn. He spoke with passion but also  great precision about what this library does for its community.

The notion of this incredibly popular place (busiest children's library in the borough) being turned into a sort of third-rate gym is shocking. It seems amazing that the very people whose well-paid job it is to protect and improve local amenities are blind to this. The whole building screams, Library! Books! Reading! Scholarship! Learning! Stories! Imagination! Soul!

(To get a really good taste of the place, please check out the short video Save Carnegie Library by Kaatje Jones on YouTube).

It really does look like people are going to have to take direct action to stop this place being ransacked or desecrated on April 1.

That was again the shocking realisation - that the ultimate nonsense everyone has been so energetically trying to avoid - not just by protesting but by offering sensible, worked-though alternatives - is now very unlikely to be stopped. It's not actually the money any more. It's more that too many political careers are at stake.

It was a foul day but a beautiful event, and thanks again to all the brilliant people of the Save Lambeth Libraries and Defend the Ten campaign.

Local author Will Self explains why he opposes plans to turn two of Lambeth's public libraries into gyms
with a few books on the side.

Save Lambeth Libraries march, against threat from Lambeth Council to turn two libraries into gyms,  in Brixton, Saturday 5 March 2016

Don't steal our libraries! Please….

 against threat from Lambeth Council to turn two libraries into gyms,  in Brixton, Saturday 5 March 2016

 against threat from Lambeth Council to turn two libraries into gyms,  in Brixton, Saturday 5 March 2016

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Nine Elms disease: so not even the super-rich want this two-mile strip of ugliness

Battersea-Nine Elms development: Spot the remains of Battersea Power Station amidst this swamp of architectural mediocrity
Fascinating to read in yesterday's Evening Standard that the boss of builders Taylor Wimpey, Peter Redfern, is warning developers not to expect vast profits from speculative investments in the new Battersea - Nine Elms development.

By which he means that ribbon of hideously bland luxury apartment blocks going up between Battersea Park and Vauxhall Cross - a great flood of mediocre architecture which had already swamped the remains of Battersea Power Station and is blighting the view for about 80 per cent of people living in south west London.

The development, which has made life hell for anyone living within vibration distance of the main artery roads used by the ready-mix cement tricks which have been thundering around this circuit, one a minute, all day long, for the past five years or so….well, it seems it has all been a bit of a waste of time.

Property developers, it seems are no longer confident of making sky-high profits on these luxury units of accommodation. The currency of the Thameside apartment block has slumped. They'll still make money, but not enough, it seems, to satisfy their infernal greed. They'll go elsewhere.

From the way he was talking, with his mentions of a "glut of expensive flats in south London",  it seems this two-mile stretch will become London's next ghost town slum, a sort of Thamesmead for south west London.

Actually, that would be fine. Then at least those blocks could be commandeered by Lambeth or the next mayor to provide shelter for the increasing numbers of homeless people we see all around us every day….or they could be squatted. The power station could be returned to its proper use as a location for raves and parties and art happenings.

All the artists and dreamers priced out of Shoreditch and Hackney and Bow and Peckham could come and squat in the penthouses with Thames views. Tens of thousands of refugees from the camps of Calais could be housed here; give them Eurostar tickets now. Together, they could all throw parties in that 8th floor infinity pool they are so keen to show us. Then this new development might have some value: it might become a new tourist attraction, knocking Camden Market, Brick Lane and co into a cockenry hat.

There could be non-stop car-boot sales all along this linear park they are boasting about. The new  Northern Line extension would never be switched on, and those tunnels could be used to grow top quality weed and other vegetable delights.

 What a glorious thought. A dream. It would almost make the loss of the view of London worthwhile.

Microgroove33 and a third quiz fun time: 

Mark the spot on this photo where you once would have seen the dome of St Paul's Cathedral. Answers on a postcard, please. The person who is closest will win our splendid first prize!

First prize: one year's free subscription to this blog.
Runners-up: lifetime free subscriptions to this blog for yourself and all your friends and family.
Terms & conditions apply*

* Terms & conditions: there are no prizes at all, obviously. But the question is real so if you want to do it just for the joy, then please ….