Congrats Bonnie!

Just wanted to offer my congrats to Bonnie Greer on being appointed as Chancellor at Kingston University. I’ve not read any of her works  but do remember taking up her offering creative writing courses at the Bernie Grant Centre in Tottenham.

I came across this information by accident of Ms Greer by accident. My son was thinking of applying to Kingston to do a degree and as I was browsing through the prospectus, there was Greer’s smiling face after a few pages.

I wish her all the best!

Review of The Gospel According to Cane by Courttia Newland

I’ve just finished reading The Gospel according to Cane by Courttia Newland. A heartrending story about a woman, called Beverley Cottrell of West Indian parentage who has her son taken from her some twenty years ago. She is educated, previously married and taught English in a prestigious private school, a woman who seemed to have everything but as a result of this tragic action, the experience leaves her damaged, single and withdrawn. We meet her presently living in a house alone, teaching kids at an after school club and attending therapy sessions until one day, a young man comes knocking at her door claiming to be her son. She receives this son named Wills gladly but does it repair the damage done to her, to Wills?  The Gospel According to Cane

The prose is mature and juxtaposes nicely with the street slang spoken by her son, and the children she teaches. The characters whether it is the protagonist or secondary characters, are nicely drawn. In fact one of the characters, Ida jumps to my mind. She is so real. A woman of a certain age who probably was born after the second world war; she is happy to entertain Beverley in her home, happy to bake her a cake but is still ambivalent about the black ‘youth’ and black people and  when there is a kerfuffle on the landing between Beverley, Wills her sister Jackie and her husband Frank, she remains hidden behind the ‘blankness’ of her front door and retreats into her reserve. Then there is Frank. We don’t see him too much but when he appears with his dominant and bitter wife, Jackie, you like that he is there, acting as a go-between between the two sisters, attempting to play down the tension which exists between them. Also Newland subtly establishes the fact there are segments of the black community that are middle class i.e, they are aware of Arnica and they shop at up market supermarkets and are concerned about speaking English, properly. This is shown through Beverley, who finds badly spoken English irritating.

Newland deftly handles writing of woman in a very convincing way; it simply shows how sensitive and how understanding he is of women. The book has no chapters but initially it is interspersed by descriptions of pain although from the middle of the book to the end you see no more of these descriptions. Throughout the story, these small explanations on pain make us realize that it is, almost a facet of life. We can experience sometimes, all sorts and levels of pain and realize how time can be a proper anesthetic. In the main character Beverley, this is clearly shown. She journals regularly, as a way of expelling the pain and in return, she achieves some cathartic moments. It’s funny. Prior to me buying this book, my husband purchased the  book Singularity is here by Ray Kurzweil. It is about how our intelligence will one day become ‘trillions’ more intelligent and increasingly non-biological. On top of that, time, whether the past, the present, the future, will become one. Singular. Then reading Newland’s book I come across this paragraph, thoughts of  Beverley :-

People say time is relative, a point with which I agree. …the nature of time as experienced by human beings is the amazing ability to occur simultaneously in the past, present and future. Everything on the planet, from the tiniest amoeba to humankind, has been is being and is also becoming. That we exist cocooned within an unseen element shifting faster than we can comprehend, that no sooner than we enter the present it is already the past and we are always, without pause, speeding full throttle towards the future. Ponder this, if I lift my finger and touch the end of my nose, I am touching my nose in the present, have touched my nose in the past and about to lower my finger from my nose in the future. All exist at once.

I don’t know if Courttia was/is conscious of this concept whilst writing his novel but it is profound and in keeping with all things to do with Singularity.  Overall, this was an interesting read: I loved the beautiful prose, the descriptions of the characters but if I have to make one criticism it would be the ending. However, Newland is definitely a chronicler of the Black British experience; I believe this is the fourth book I’ve read by this author and trust that he can write our experiences honestly, with maturity and with sensitivity. I can’t wait to read his next book.

Can’t he make friends with who he likes: Denzel Washington and white actors in Hollywood.

When I lived in South Africa, I used to own a boutique selling African outfits. I was not around when Denzel Washington and his wife visited the shop but the following day my staff told me that he was exceptionally nice and gracious and took an interest in what the shop had to offer. Please don’t think that I’m his newly appointed publicist but I do feel he has rights: the right to be who he is and the right to live his life how he wants, without being answerable to anyone. I’m referring to the article that was written in the British Guardian, sometime in January, this year. The article was an interview with Washington about his movie, Flight.

The article, written by Xan Brooks, did not just go on about the finer qualities of Denzel or how spectacular an actor he is but talked about how he did not have actor friends, in particular, white actor friends. It was also revealed how he was a committed Christian and devoted family man. Since the article was written, there has been a flurry of responses from various online sites, such as YahooMovies and the Perez Hilton site; emphasis being on Washington’s supposed reluctance to ‘mix’. As one can imagine, his comments has caused an uproar in Hollywood. According to YahooMovies, when the interview was taking place, Washington’s publicist sat in on the interview and said Washington did add about his ‘friendship with various white stars’. But Mr. Brooks’s clarified in another article that there was no publicist who sat in on the interview and how he stood by his article. Mr. Brooks’s also uploaded an audio recording of the interview, just to prove that Washington was not provoked and neither were words put in his mouth.

What I found annoying is that as Mr. Brooks chose to include Washington’s comments in the article, why did he not bother to find out if Washington held a similar policy towards black actors? Also, Brooks could have inquired if, perhaps, in the early days of Washington’s acting career when he was looking for jobs in Hollywood, was it hard for him as an African-American to find work? Were the directors, producers, casting agents, fellow white actors giving him a hard time? Or Brooks could have asked how relevant is Christianity to his life ie, if being a committed Christian has enabled him to work in Hollywood but still remain dutifully married and keep his integrity intact? Mr. Brooks could have developed this article but he chose not to, leading me to think that he was up to mischief. I wonder if he had interviewed say, Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino or Warren Beatty, whether he would have asked if they had any black actor/non-actor friends.

I don’t know Mr. Washington but reading about him over the years in not just The Guardian but other quality newspapers, he comes across as no-nonsense, committed to his family and Christianity and chooses to hang out with friends from his past. Because of the nature of being in show business, he’s probably selective about whom he chooses to be friends with, whether they are white, black, Latino etc. He describes himself as a working actor as opposed to being a celebrity and I really don’t see anything wrong with that. But judging from all the furore, it proves that still, if you are black and have two Oscars under your belt plus a ton load of money, you may not be able to make as many choices as you would like.

Should Piers Morgan stick to his guns?

I know what it’s like having people in your house, especially if they are not wanted or they’ve overstayed their welcome. My husband always complains that I’m inhospitable, and not accommodating! That maybe but when guests begin to sprout strong opinions about how to run your home, your kids or husband then you know it’s definitely time for them to go. But having watched CNN for the past week, shows featuring Piers Morgan talking about gun control, I have to say as someone who has lived in a country that does not always welcome ‘opinions’ from foreigners and am currently living in another country that is quick to see you as ‘foreigner’ if you step out of line, I was shocked at Piers Morgan not accommodating his guests opinions – in their own country. About some days later, he interviewed another person who supported the right to gun ownership and again, I could not believe he called the man ‘stupid’. It was toe cringing. But given the sad demise of the children and adults in Newtown, Connecticut, there was something in Morgan’s passionate outburst that made me pay attention. How the innocent lost their lives due to a man who had mental problems is not something that we should be blasé about. We should all be passionate and angry about this, in Newtown, and in other places where similar shootings have taken place, whether we are from that country or not.

As for some Americans who want Morgan kicked out of their country because he said that guns in the country should be outlawed, I’m a Black Brit who grew up in the UK; I adore American music, American literature, and American humour, in general I could say that I’m quite influenced by American culture. But I’m not complaining. It adds something to the multicultural society that I’m from; it makes it an enriching and emancipating experience for its inhabitants. In the last twenty years of so, through the news agencies, we have been exposed more and more to the problems Americans encounter, whether it be cultural, fiscal or about the racial divide whether we want it not. So when something such as the shootings occurs, given the amount of awareness we have and dare I say that we can make a comparison to the low gun crime rate in the UK, we have to show our concern and our outrage alongside those Americans who are equally outraged.‘Outsiders’ should be able to state that perhaps if the Government were to introduce policies that incrementally reduced the number of guns that are widespread in the country, the number of shootings, likewise, would reduce. Piers Morgan may be a foreigner who has a big mouth but he has forced us to pay attention but I’m sorry, I just happen to agree with all he says.

Blue plaque unveiling for Bernie Grant.

Today I attended the unveiling of the plaque of Bernie Grant. A number of us stood outside what was formally the town hall and listened to key people talk about the work the man did for the community. The clocks had been put back the previous night by one hour and strangely enough the weather had dropped a few notches in temperature quite dramatically. I scolded myself for not bringing my gloves. When the speeches were over, we all took our time strolling towards the Bernie Grant Centre, waited for sometime before we were allowed into the auditorium to take our seats. I was happy to be standing near the door as I was one of the first who had entered and chose a seat, only to watch the seats fill quickly.

It was not only good seeing familiar faces from my past but once the MC finished with their introductions, seeing ‘old’ faces such as Geoff Schumann, Judith Jacobs, Carol Thompson etc – it was good to know that these guys are still around!

The choir from Gladesmore School was magical and Bernie’s old friend from George Town, Guyana, gave a sparkling anecdote that had the audience virtually falling over themselves in laughter. The poet Zita Holbourne, recited some poems; all were lyrical and very powerful, that I would have loved to have heard some more.

Bernie’s sisters got up on the stage and talked briefly about their life with their brother and that as theirs was a large family; family was considered to be always important. There would be regular family gatherings. At this point, Bernie’s sons went out onto the stage. One of them talked briefly of running his pub with his wife in Hampstead, and reiterated the importance of family and discipline. One of the sisters said that she did not want to comment on her brother’s politics but how she was impressed by his commitment to the Tottenham community and Haringey as a whole.

All in all it was a great evening and I’m sure I can speak for all those who attended: we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. The only thing I would say is that I found out about this event by accident so I think it should have been promoted more widely and not to be seen as a ‘black’ event. Bernie Grant was elected as MP for everyone who lived in Tottenham and not elected just for a certain group of people. As the current MP, David Lammy, Lord Boateng and other prominent personalities were all present, it would have been good if they had stuck around with the crowd after giving their speeches but they were nowhere to be seen! Oh well, such is life.

Malcolm Wicks – MP Croydon North West (Croydon North)

Browsing through today’s British Observer I read that Malcolm Wicks, the MP for Croydon has sadly passed away. He died of cancer on 20th September.

There was a time I used to live in Croydon and had a problem with the headmistress of a school in the area.  My son who attended the school was wrongly accused of stealing and the head was not particularly helpful or supportive. After ringing social services, legal people etc I eventually contacted Mr. Wicks.  When I wrote the letter to Mr. Wicks, the cynical part of me was feeling it was a waste of time. Would he actually respond? About three days later I received a phone call from his secretary inviting me to meet with Mr. Wicks.  I was surprised.  I went to his office and what immediately came to mind when I met him was his genuine caring attitude. He listened to what I had to say and then apologized for what had happened and said he would write a letter to the education department to follow-up my complaint. I was really surprised.  Was this an actual MP? He completely went against the grain of what one would expect of an MP! A week following that meeting I received a letter from the educational department who said that after investigating the matter it was found that my son was wrongfully accused and apologized for the error. I wrote to Mr. Wicks thanking him for his time and effort and how we all appreciated what he had done.

My time with Mr. Wicks was short but from what I saw, he was sincere, compassionate and considerate, and he will not be forgotten.  My condolences go out to his family.

Out Of The Ashes by David Lammy: Review

 

I’m almost coming to the end of Out of the Ashes, the book written by the MP for Tottenham, David Lammy.  Firstly I have to say that I am surprised, really surprised. But why should I be you may ask? Is he not Harvard educated? Or have I been totally bowled over by the rumours that the man is a ‘sell out?’ The truth of the matter is that David can write and the man is passionate about his area. On concluding this book he has made me to realize that, like most things, it’s so easy, sometimes too easy to be dismissive as Lammy is not just some mere simpleton. His style is lucid, sensitive and accessible, and when needs be, he is still able to serve up hard statistical facts which does not interfere with the style of his writing. You believe that he cares about his constituency and his constituents and that no matter what is said of him or has been said about him, he is for Tottenham. Like myself, who was born in Tottenham, grew up in Tottenham and luckily educated by the borough, I’m aware that there are lots of cynics who say: Well! After all he is a politician, what do you expect him to say? That maybe, but one can also argue that the ‘riots’ gave Lammy the opportunity to dispel the rumours that he’s just a ‘careerist’ and the opportunity to get his hands dirty, for once.  Lammy and Clegg in Tottenham

I managed to get hold of the second edition that came out July of this year where in the book he answers all those questions that were ringing in my head: he wrote the book so quick after the riots (that’s because he was already writing the book and then the riots took place); he did it so that he could make some money (any profit from the book will be donated to charities connected to Tottenham).  So the book talks about the riots, immigration, and reform.  It explains how the underclass in Britain came about and what should be done about it.  Lammy places his argument within a context; he goes at length to explain his case cogently but he does not lecture or preach. He looks at the root causes but knows what should be done regarding the symptoms. And although I was overjoyed that he has all these incredible ideas, I couldn’t help but feel his hands are strongly tied by the forces that tower over him.  This is shown in a tiny instance when Lammy was Minister of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills and Gordon Brown became Prime Minister.  Brown requested meetings with the ministers.  Lammy complained to Brown about the increase of knife crime in Tottenham and how it was a regular complaint from the mother’s who attended Lammy’s surgeries. They wanted something done about it!  Brown listened then said the solution to the problem was ‘tax credits’ and then asked Lammy if there was anything else he wished to discuss!

Lammy also manages to weave in some touching biographical details i.e., his fear that he could end up in prison and how some family members also lived in Broadwater Farm; how his father abandoned the family and left for the US and Lammy’s success in winning a chorister scholarship at a cathedral school. It just goes to show that not all is bad in Tottenham.

Although I enjoyed reading this book, I hope it goes some way in putting away the rumours that Lammy is not really interested in the area. If there are truths in the rumours, then I hope he uses this opportunity to show that he is for Tottenham and I don’t mean just being vocal on the betting shops invading Tottenham High Road but making sure he constantly touches base with his constituents and that it’s done with concern and sincerity.

 

Stephen Kelman; Pigeon English – More like Broken English and broken spirits

Well I have read Stephen Kelman’s book – Pigeon English and noticed that it has been shortlisted for the Man Booker prize.  Maybe I’m just a jealous frustrated writer or maybe I need to get real and see some of the themes he writes about of my community instead of me trying to write the decent things that do exist in places like Tottenham.  But instead, this is a book that even before you get to the end you know damn well there is not going to be good ending.

Pigeon English is about a young boy who arrives from Ghana settles in an estate that could be Broadwater Farm; a story which features black Brit-on-black African crime, a story that makes you think about the murder of Damilola Taylor, a story which makes you think what it is to be young and black in modern day London. A story about parents/adults who are not engaged with the kids.

I guess my usual moan is what would a white middle aged man know about black youth?  Okay, so the author grew up in a council estate but does that mean he has understanding of what it is like to be black/Ghanaian?  It almost seems as if there is an idiot’s guide to black people that is available somewhere that writers of a different race and colour can imagine and write what they think it must be like to be black! I wonder if I could get away with as much.

But my really biggest moan is the ending. How dare Kelman conclude the story in such a way which suggests that for the black/ethnic youth there is no hope? The actions of the looters in the recent riots in England, already tell us that a lot of the youth are not engaged in their environments so I don’t think it helps to have literature that affirms that. Instead, the book could show how overcoming ‘adversity builds character,and character in turn builds hope’.  I just wonder if a young person from a certain background were supposed to read this book, if they wouldn’t find it despondent, because I certainly did.

 

41 Days after the Tottenham Riot: the day of Mark Duggan’s funeral.

I made my way to the post office this morning so that I could use the cash machine.  It must have about 10.00am.  The weather was quite cloudy and yet it was warm.  There was an eerie quietness: the usually packed launderette was empty, the post office was empty and corner shop that sold burgers and kebab was still closed.

This was written 21 days after the riot. Note the building in the background

As I joined the queue and waited to withdraw the cash, I overheard an elderly woman standing across the road at the junction where Mount Pleasant Road meets The Avenue waiting for the W4 bus. She said she had waited for more than thirty minutes for a bus, and now she was sure it wasn’t coming because of the funeral…

Was today the funeral I asked myself.  As soon as I withdrew the cash, I asked a passerby if the funeral was taking place today.  He said yes, then checked his watch and added that around 11.00am the cortege would pass through The Avenue then onto the High road. Instead of turning to go back to the house, I walked toward the burger and kebab shop and noticed people waiting outside the corner shop on the opposite side; I turned left into the avenue and my attention was focused on the young dread who shouted out at a group of photographers, asking to show ‘respec’.  As I got closer to them, they were chatting and smiling, totally disconnected to the surroundings but they stopped, placed their equipment into their vehicles and left. I continued walking to Broadwater Farm.  It was ominously quiet except for some people dressed in black heading perhaps to Duggan’s family home.  More cars were moving up and down the street, the drivers stopping for half a second chat with each other and then were on their way.

After a while I left.  I had to finish packing my suitcase for my journey to Nigeria. Whilst I was in London, a bomb went off in the UN building in Abuja killing 23 people and injuring many other. The Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram claimed responsibility.  Prior to leaving Nigeria in July, the police headquarters also in Abuja was hit by a bomb. Both buildings are not too far away from my office.  As one Nigerian woman joked which will it be, Boko Haram or the riots in England.  Is there anywhere, in the world, that is safe?