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.

 

Week 8: Synchronicity or what?

After completing Week 8 something happened. I just happened to be browsing an on-line newspaper and tucked at the bottom of the page was a request for readers to write about experiences that have happened to them; experiences they have fictionalized.  I quickly went to my ‘recent documents’ on Word and looked at stuff that I had written some time ago. I found a story that was close to the word count requested and spent a week tweaking and altering.  When I felt it was close to perfection (just kidding) I submitted the story, with a part of me asking myself why was I doing this? Did I really think they would select this?  Five days later I receive an email from the editor telling me that he had selected my story to be published in the next edition of the newspaper.  I could not believe it!  It had made my day, it had made my week.

Clearly, The Artist’s Way is an amazing book.

The Artist’s Way – Week 8: Does this ‘Week’ know me? Has it ever met me?

I read Week 8 then stopped.  I could not believe what I was reading. Did Ms. Cameron specifically write this for me? As ‘it’ seemed to be so apt: talking to me, knowing exactly where I was in my life and what my problems were?  It knew why I felt the need to blame someone, anyone; why I was hiding and therefore procrastinating on what I was meant to do. The conclusion drawn: fear was the driving force and I allowed it to dominate me.

But nevertheless I still need to read it again just to make sure I have not missed anything. Well in fact I have!  I must read it again because I really didn’t have enough time to do the tasks and exercises which as any TAW follower, is a must! But I am finding this book to be thought-provoking, even to the point of being slightly disturbing.  Will keep you posted!

The Artist’s Way – Does it really work?

The Artist's Way

I realize this is the wrong time to mention The Artist’s Way as I’m currently on Week 5. Never mind so what am I experiencing? Anything profound?  Difficult to say only except that no matter what I feel that I have to keep going. I bought this book over a year ago and just watched it collect dust while it was on my book shelf.  Then one day, I said to myself that ‘tomorrow’ will be the day that I will start this thing! And so I did.  I did my Morning Pages, sometimes the Artist’s Date, occasionally the tasks and had to keep reminding myself to do the Check-ins, and then I stopped, without giving myself any reason.  This year, I promised that I would restart it and complete it. When I completed Week 2 I understood why I stopped last year. I was afraid.  Afraid that this book could impose some changes that I was not ready to handle. The strange thing was that after Week 3, I went for a walk to the nearby park and three Rottweiler’s charged towards me! As I stood facing the gate of house, hanging on and screaming my head off for dear life (as I really thought I was going to meet my maker!), two of the dogs ran past but the other one bit my calf.

Shaken, I went to a house and took refuge in the property until the dogs were harnessed put away. An exchange took place between me and the owner of the dogs. She apologized for what happened but was very defensive about her dogs. She insisted on taking me to the hospital and paying for any medication. I was given a cocktail of tetanus, anti-rabies and antibiotic injections plus a number of tablets. I found out several days later the owner lied about her dogs being up to date with their shots. But anyway, I am fine. But it got me thinking. Synchronicity? Even before coming across this word in the Artist’s Way I was never a believer in ‘coincidence’.  So the question I put to myself was did I bring this negative experience into my life, and if so, why? I still don’t know the answer (unless any of you guys can tell me).  But I pray that as I continue with this journey which I want so much to work that the ‘excavation’ does not unearth anything else profound.

Week 4, I found myself writing more than just three pages. Writing a letter to myself when I’m 85 and writing a letter from myself at eight years old I found totally cathartic.  The experience stayed with me for the entire day, and just kept me thinking about my past. My past was not all that great but I guess I have learnt to bury all the debris deep within, believing that I would not have face it but in Week 4 I did.  I’ll keep you posted.

I know it’s a bit late but Happy New Year everyone!

I am running late. Just got back from a trip in Ghana, and whoa, it really was a busy and enjoyable experience. From going to Cape Castle, to Aburi botanical gardens and how could I forget Kakum National Park. The firework display on New Year’s Eve, at the hotel, was spectacular. I think just as good the one witnessed in Dubai.

Now back to everyday. One or two resolutions that I hope that I don’t break and that is to do The Artist’s Way without stopping or ‘breaking’. I started this book before and just got up to week 5 and then I stopped! Can’t remember why but I never got back to it again. Now I’ve restarted (just completed Week One), I try to make myself be more conscious of what I have to do. There are some principles that the author (Julia Cameron) wants you to follow, so I have to do that. Let see how it goes.

The second resolution is to lose weight. Gosh, how many times have I promised myself this?? I’ve lost count. But I just hate how my body shape seems to have settled down and refusing to accept change, aided and abetted by myself of course! But I will try my hardest to lose this weight.

2011 was a tense ridden year for me; from problems that involve loved ones to problems with the State. But as my Pastor constantly tells me: The Almighty Father never gives us challenges that we cannot overcome. I guess there must some truth in that as I’m still here!

I hope and pray for a more positive time, to be more forgiving and understanding to others and for peace to be given more of a chance.

Happy New Year Everyone!

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.

 

Review: The Help by Kathryn Stockett

What did I think? It was well written, interesting characters and a great setting. But I have to admit, I am slightly jealous.   Here I am, trying to put a story together.  I’m always trying to put a story together. Once that’s done then I send it off to the publishers which is followed by some rejections.  Nothing to do with the writing they say, but what seems to bug them is I have created scenarios where one of the black characters do not like the white characters.  If there is one thing you cannot have is black characters hating white charactersThe readership would never accept it! Mmn!  I am confused as it is not to say that my black characters are not properly punished if they are bad, or, some of my black characters don’t have white ‘friends’.  In the same way Stockett has written, I am also interested in the underlying conflict which we know exists between people – whether it is people of the same race or people of different races or people of the same class or different.  The film ‘Crash’ is a perfect example of what I am trying to explain.

And then I come across The Help and the character Minny who is sayin’ it jus like it is’.  I have to ask myself, when black writers will be able to have their stories published without the having conditions attached? The Help was a fascinating read but I just wished it was ‘us’ who are allowed to tell such a story.

The photo from the site – A Critical Review of The Help

Comment on Nadine Gordimer’s Biography: No Cold Kitchen

suresh-review6

Robert Suresh Roberts

I have read three quarters of the biography of Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer titled No Cold Kitchen, and so far I find it an enjoyable read. I feel that Robert Suresh Roberts has a good writing style and yes, the book shifts from a documentary type to something of a tabloid, which I still think is OK. But I want to look at another possible reason why Gordimer may have objected to the book – something that was hinted at in an article on the topic I read in The Guardian (UK edition).

In the UK, there has been complaints from the Black (writing) community about an unprecedented number of black characters inhabiting today’s mainstream fiction best-seller lists, but few of them are created by black authors. So authors such as James Patterson, Maggie Gee, Alexander McCall Smith etc have been ‘attacked’ and Black writers are determined that they should be allowed to get in on their own act! Writers such as Doris Lessing and Nadine Gordimer are exempt from this because their writings are considered as ‘political’ writing and anyone who is looking to support the ‘cause’ must always be praised and respected. It was only when there was a fuss about Gordimer’s ‘July’s People’ being removed from reading lists/curriculum that the thinking here was that if that is what the Africans wanted then who are we to object?

But here you have a writer who happens to be Black, who seeks to write about a prestigious writer who happens to be White! My friends and I are thinking – here you have this incredible ironic situation of a White author who has made a reputation writing about Black people but totally reject or object to being written about by a Black author. If this is her objection then it is pure hypocrisy. As Suresh outlines in the final paragraph of My Problem is with you states quite clearly his relationship with Gordimer:-

“….worthwhile biography seeks intimacy without loyalty, proximity laced with dissent.”

One is tempted to think that Gordimer expected/wanted a biog that would make her personality as good and wholesome as her dedication to showing the truth about the ramifications of Apartheid in South Africa. Meeting a South African academic who had met Gordimer told me – Gordimer is a “good person but not a nice person”.  But are we looking for someone with all her incredible experiences to be totally pristine and gleaming and no warts??  That would be unrealistic. In the same way that given all what Winnie Mandela went through, she is certainly not faultless and neither is she looking for any approval or to be liked!  Gordimer should not be fearful or hypocritical and realize she has earned the right to be who she is. From the impressions I get from people I’ve spoken to in SA, she is truly respected.