Thursday, July 22, 2021

New Crass Massahkah on South Bank

Linton Kwesi Johnson’s New Craas Massahkah poem, about the 1981 New Cross Fire, is on display by the South Bank Centre where the track is being played on the hour every hour until the end of August.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Women's Day for Disarmament 1983

'Women's Day for Disarmament' took place on May 24 1983, with hundreds of events across Britain. This was the period of the Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp against cruise missiles and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament was at its height.

In South London events included a temporary peace camp on Clapham Common near to the South London Women's Hospital, which was threatened with closure. South East London Greenham Women put white crosses on Peckham Rye before marching to the Imperial War Museum. Later 5000 women gathered in Trafalgar Square before making a chain around the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall

Socialist Action, 13 May 1983

Socialist Organiser, 26 May 1983

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Black Lives Matter in South London, one year on

'ACAB' 'Floyd' - Albert Embankment SE1, April 2021

A year ago today the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis sparked off the latest round of the global Black Lives Matter movement. The UK movement really started off with a march in Peckham on the 30th May and today Black Lives Matter activist Sasha Johnson is in our thoughts, seriously ill in Kings Hospital after being shot in Peckham last weekend. We have covered some of the many protests and posters in South London here before, but a year on here's a few more examples of the visual impact of the movement locally.

'FTP/BLM', Cold Blow Lane SE14

'Black Lives Matter', Hilly Fields

'Abolish the police' - Queens Road, Peckham

Lewisham Way, outside Goldsmiths

'George Floyd' with fist, Barry's Food Store, Barry Road, East Dulwich

'Black Lives Matter - we understand that we will never understand. However, we stand'
(London Theatre, 443 New Cross Road)

'More blacks, more dogs, more Irish' - sticker on Lewisham Way

Black Lives Matter topiary, Brixton end of Dulwich Road

A number of professionally designed posters appeared, including on paid for advertising billboards. The messages and images were sometimes strong, but I did feel uneasy at a kind of marketing style 'aestheticisation of rage.'  

'I can't breathe' - Brockley Cross

'Black British History is British History', Amersham Road SE14

'Bun the Police' - Queens Road station
Arguments about appropriate (or even appropriating) imagery came to a head in relation to the use of the instantly iconic photograph of Patrick Hutchinson carrying an injured white man following clashes in London on June 13th. On that day a large number of right wing eejits demonstrated in central London, supposedly to defend statues from Black Lives Matter protestors. They had a punch up with the police and as some warriors of the master race were heading home via Waterloo station they were humiliatingly decked by anti-racists. Dylan Martinez got a great photo of Hutchinson, and this was reproduced all over the place - including on this 'bank note' billboard by Queens Road station, Peckham. 

Soon though people began to question why this image had become so acceptable in mainstream media. It seemed to being used to suggest some cosy reconciliation between racists and their opponents, mediated by the figure of a 'respectable black man'. This was certainly not Hutchinson's intention. In interviews since he has been very clear that racists can't complain if they face the consequences of their words and actions, and his motivation on the day was partly to prevent young black people ending up on serious criminal charges if the guy had ended up  badly injured or worse. 

Local mural artist Lionel Stanhope painted a mural based on Martinez' picture on hoardings in Lewisham in September 2020. Lionel is a good guy and meant well but the critical discussion about the overuse of this image was reaching its zenith. Somebody painted over it 'We don't rescue racists in Lewisham, we run them out'. Soon it was painted out altogether (see discussion at Huffington Post).

Builder Balfour Beatty had allowed the original mural to be painted, along with other street art, on the boards around its property development near Lewisham station. The limits of its tolerance were exposed shortly after when Balfour Beatty painted over a mural opposite the police station in memory of Kevin Clarke who died while being restrained by police in Catford in 2018. A reminder that we have our own George Floyds closer to home who also must not be forgotten.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Lewisham Museums of Migration and Neoliberalism

With museums and galleries reopening let's celebrate two small but perfectly formed and radical museums in the borough of Lewisham, with a few photos from pre-lockdown period.

The Migration Museum

The Migration Museum in Lewisham Shopping Centre reopens on 19th May 2021.

 I visited in that brief inter-lockdown window in Summer 2020 and saw The Singh Twins great artwork 'NHS v. Covid 19: fighting on two fronts' showing an 'an Asian nurse on horseback slaying the Covid-19 dragon' while highlighting 'Britain's historical dependency on people of BAME origin' and the 'labour and resources' of the 'colonised and exploited'

Angelica Dass's humanae is an ongoing attempt 'to document humanity's true colours' in terms of colour tones 'rather than the inaccurate labels... associated with race'

The Museum of Neoliberalism

The Museum of Neoliberalism is in Lee Green at16 Eltham Rd, London SE12 8TF.  It remains closed, but hopes to reopen in July 2021, pandemic permitting.

'The 1970s is a period known for cults, serial killers and the capitalist class becoming organised to defend its interests'

Curated by Darren Cullen and Gavin Grindon it features some highly imaginative exhibits including a Grenfell Tower Cross Section...

...a bottle of Amazon worker's urine and a working model of an Amazon warehouse (sorry fulfilment centre)... well as some interesting toys and games like this Hornby Standing Room Only Passengers set

Monday, May 10, 2021

Music Monday: Elephants and Castles - Song for the Birds

We've featured some of  Elephants and Castles' South London-tinged songs here before, including Concrete Love (filmed in the now vanished Elephant and Castle subways) and The  World's Greatest Complainers, filmed in Jenny's cafe in Deptford.

Their latest single, Song for the Birds, was inspired by hearing birdsong down Deptford High Street during lockdown  'so we wrote a song back to them, trying to explain the shit show they've been looking down on over the past year or so'. The video was filmed in Deptford and Cornwall, featuring the band's Robin Spencer and Chris Anderson, as well as birds including a robin, great tit and waxwing I think. Never seen the latter in SE London, but a quick google search found an old Brockley Central posts with a photo of some in Arklow Road SE14.

You can support them by buying the single at their bandcamp site as well as on iTunes.

In case you missed their earlier lament to the demise of the Elephant and Castle shopping centre and the Heygate Estate, What's Left for Larry and Janet?, here it is:

Monday, April 19, 2021

The Covid Memorial Wall

The National Covid Memorial Wall has been painted over the last month by volunteers along the South Bank of the Thames between Lambeth Bridge and Westminster Bridge, opposite the Houses of Parliament, and including the riverside wall in front of St Thomas' Hospital. There are around 150,000 hearts, each representing one of the UK Covid dead (so far) and many of them dedicated to named individuals. This unofficial memorial was started by people involved with Covid-19 Bereaved Families For Justice UK.

It is hard to do justice to the scale of this monument in photographs, stretching as it does for around 500 metres. I strongly recommend that if you get the chance you visit it yourself.

Harder too to keep a dry eye as you read the names and messages on the wall, and feel a rising sense of sadness and anger.

The impact of Covid is so often rendered as a series of statistics in which the individual lives lost and damaged are rendered invisible, the wall places these lives back at the centre - mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, grandparents, lovers and friends.

'The UK has one of the highest death tolls in the world. While many have become used to seeing the statistics associated with Covid-19, it is important to remember that each one of these numbers represents a loved person, a life gone too soon and a family torn apart. Our loved ones were not just numbers, but treasured relatives who will be missed forever.

As more and more information comes to light, it has become clear that the UK hasn’t ended up with one of the highest death tolls in the world by coincidence. Gaps in the country’s pandemic preparedness, delays to locking down, inadequate supplies of PPE and the policy of discharging into care homes among other issues have all been identified as having contributed to the level of the death toll. Despite this, the government continues to refer to its ‘apparent success’ and being ‘proud’ of its record. Not only is this deeply hurtful for bereaved families who have already gone through a traumatic loss to hear, but this reluctance to engage honestly with what has gone wrong is a barrier to learning. Every day the government fails to learn lessons, more families are going through the same loss and trauma. It is heart breaking to see the same mistakes repeated over and over'

Most of the names on the memorial are of UK dead but good to see acknowledgement too of the global dimension of the pandemic including a heart for Li Wenliang, the Wuhan doctor who was one of the first to raise the alarm about Covid.

'When politicians and experts say that they are willing to allow tens of thousands of premature deaths for the sake of population immunity or in the hope of propping up the economy, is that not premeditated and reckless indifference to human life? If policy failures lead to recurrent and mistimed lockdowns, who is responsible for the resulting non-covid excess deaths? When politicians wilfully neglect scientific advice, international and historical experience, and their own alarming statistics and modelling because to act goes against their political strategy or ideology, is that lawful? Is inaction, action? How big an omission is not acting immediately after the World Health Organization declared a public health emergency of international concern on 30 January 2020? At the very least, covid-19 might be classified as “social murder”'
(Kamran Abbasi, Covid-19: Social murder, they wrote—elected, unaccountable, and unrepentant, British Medical Journal editorial, 4 February 2021)

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Fenton Ogbogbo- murdered by racists in the Old Kent Road, 1981

Fenton Ogbogbo was a 25 year old man who was murdered in a racist attack on the  Old Kent Road in June 1981.

 Three white youths aged 15 to 17 from the Peckham area were jailed at 'Her Majesty’s pleasure' in  a trial at the Old Bailey in the following year.  The court heard that on 21 June 1981 after an incident in a pub on the Old Kent Road, 'Other white youths were recruited and they went after him. But Mr  Ogbogbo of Nunhead Grove, Peckham,  was rescued by young whites he had been playing pool with' in the pub. A few minutes later the three murderers 'who had described the rescuers as “n* lovers”, caught Mr Ogbogbo alone in a fish shop' and stabbed him  repeatedly (Times 23 February 1982). Fenton has been watching a  boxing match on TV in the Senol Fish Bar in Old Kent Road. He died at Guys Hospital.

Fenton had come to London from Nigeria in 1969 and gone to schools in Peckham before working assembling computers, but he had lost his job and was unemployed.

Bizarrely the police suggested that he may have considered suicide earlier that day having supposedly 'pulled back from jumping from the balcony of a block of flats'. This was denied by his family, and in any event was irrelevant to his brutal racist murder later in the day (Times, 23 June 1981)

His father Isiah Ogbogbo, an electrical engineer, said: 'I have lost a child because of the racial trouble in this country. Why should somebody kill a quiet innocent boy like him? [...] It is these skinheads with their hated of black people. That is why my child died. We have a lot of English people living in Nigeria but we do not kill them'.

The report below mentions that another black man had been stabbed in a racist attack in Peckham in the previous week, and that in the same period there were clashes between the police and black youth in the area:

'The Saturday night of Fenton‘s murder hundreds of black youth, joined by some white youth, had fought for two hours with the police in Peckham Rye. “It looked like they were seeking confrontation with us“ said Superintendent Staplin in charge of the police on the scene. He couldn’t have been more right. Wooden stakes were torn up from fences and used as spears to throw at the police, police vehicles were attacked, and such money grabbers as Currys, Boots and British Home Stores were broken into. The BP petrol station narrowly escaped destruction.…

A few miles from Peckham in Lewisham shopping centre, in just two forays by the police, 20 black youths were picked up on 4 and 5 June. These youths, the youngest of which was 13, were held for hours in Ladywell police station. A pregnant teenager among them was attacked and given a black eye. All were subjected to a constant barrage of racist abuse. When one young girl asked how she was supposed to get home when she was released late at night with no money she was told “you can swing on trees“. She was left as an easy target for the kind of racists who killed Fenton Ogbogbo that the police allowed to roam the streets' (Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!, July/August 1918 - sourced from the Splits and Fusions archive)

Monday, March 29, 2021

Music Monday: Pinty at the Gowlett Arms

I heard 'Found it', the new single from South London MC Pinty, on Gilles Peterson's BBC6 Music show at the weekend. Wait a minute, does he actually mention legendary Peckham pub The Gowlett on this track? Yes indeed, my ears were not deceiving me.

 It is in fact 'a love story set in his local pub, The Gowlett in Peckham. Produced by friend and collaborator Tomos, ‘Found It’ is a heady blend of dubby house and hip hop. Pinty's first memories of The Gowlett are being taken there after his father’s Royal Mail shift, sharing a pizza whilst his dad drank beer: “Weight of father’s shadow towers…”. On ‘Found It’ we find Pinty back in that pub as an adult, torn between taking his night elsewhere with his new love, or staying within the realms he knows so well. His first ever ‘love song’ it’s an unusual tale of love lost and then found: “Arm to arm, Bukowski types / Love was lost I found it / Are you around I’m about it / let’s French exit like it’s so crowded” (Pinty bandcamp).

I have had many a drink and a pizza there myself over the years and hope it won't be too long before we can all do it again.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

'Predatory culture' - challenge to Dulwich College continues

Boys boarding school Dulwich College has been rocked in the last week by allegations of a culture of sexual abuse and harassment amongst its students, targeting in particular young women attending local schools with which the College has links, notably James Allen's Girls School (JAGS). A demonstration planned for last Friday by pupils from local schools with supportive Dulwich College dissidents was called off after the school's head emailed parents stating that pupils could be prosecuted for taking part. The protest had been called 'against the predatory culture of Dulwich College and the school management [which] condones it'.

An open letter to the school put together by a recent ex-Dulwich student included around 100 personal accounts, mainly from current or former JAGS pupils. The dossier includes cases of rape, sexual assault and harassment, as well as allegations of  homophobia and racism.

Although the protest did not go ahead on Friday, JAGS pupils staged a vigil and have put up posters on the railings outside the independent school on East Dulwich Grove.

'Not all men but all women'

'The behaviour of your students is not a reflection of their confidence, it is a testament to their entitlement, to their experience of an institution which has enabled their sexism, their racism, their homophobia and their abusive tendencies... At the heart of this attitude, one which leads so many of your students to believe themselves authorised to control other people’s bodies, is a sense of superiority and entitlement borne out of a discriminatory worldview'

'End rape culture'/'No means no'

'Your school is a breeding ground for sexual predators who are being released into the world, safe in the knowledge that they can be whatever they want, and do whoever they want. I am a woman in a world that is unkind to women, and the predators around me no longer wear uniforms marking them out as God’s gift (ex-JAGs student who left in 2019 -  Dulwich College was originally known as 'the College of God's Gift) 

Not all Dulwich College students, but... 'The submitted testimonials do not present a divide between the many and the few. They describe a community of abusers and their enablers, violently sexist boys whose behaviour is underpinned by a collective understanding that their comfort and status is worth more than the lives of those who fall prey to their abuse. In almost every story, experiences of assault, revenge pornography and slut shaming were exacerbated by the aggressor’s friends, young men who were not, in that instance, one of the “very few” but who enabled them, who laughed at stories of sexual violence, who shared illicit photos of teenage girls without consent, who stood by as their mates, the supposedly “very few”, ruined lives'.

'we do not want to use the term harassment, what is happening today is sexual terrorism'

'I have been sexually assaulted by boys from Dulwich College. My closest female friends have been raped. It started aged 14 when boys would rate us all out of 10, sitting in your classrooms on their phones. It continued with requests for underage nude selfies which when refused were followed with misogynist comments and when women complied these shared around illegally. Your teachers were aware of this but not enough was done. It continued to escalate as I got older, boys from your school would drug and intoxicate girls from local schools and proceeded to rape and assault them when they were under the influence. Where are these men now?... This HAS to stop. Teach your students how to treat women'.

'Throughout my 13 years at JAGS, my experience with Dulwich college boys were almost entirely negative. There is an extremely prevalent rape culture and violent culture at DC. This is present throughout Dulwich college but exacerbated amongst the sporting teams, particularly Rugby'

While Dulwich College has been the initial focus of this fast spreading movement against sexual abuse and harassment linked to schools, accounts of similar behaviours are emerging in relation to other schools in both the private and state sectors and are being collected by Everyone's Invited. I am sure young women in all kinds of education settings are having to deal with this day in day out and it doesn't help to single out just a few high profile schools and pretend everywhere else is fine. On the other hand saying something happens everywhere can lead down the slippery slope to saying nobody is responsible. 

The response in some schools is no doubt more positive than others in terms of how they challenge these attitudes and behaviours and how they deal with allegations. The accounts from the Dulwich College dossier do suggest that some matters were raised with senior leaders at both the College and JAGS with what the victims viewed as inadequate responses. The consequences may vary from school to school too - is an alleged offender less likely to be sanctioned when their wealthy parents have barristers at their disposal and the school is a multi-million pound business worried about its reputation? Though as the last week has shown, failing to deal with this can lead to a much worse PR disaster down the line - not great when one of your own pupils is quoted in a national newspaper saying that they 'woke up every day feeling shit about going to Dulwich College because it’s not a place that attracts or makes good people'.

And some places are no doubt worse than others. It is quite possible that the culture of how women are viewed and treated differs from school to school, and a segregated group of young men living apart from families and the community and told they are the creme de la creme of future leaders might well have a different sense of their boundaries and entitlements than others.

[All photos taken of outside of JAGS in East Dulwich Grove this weekend; all quotes in italics from open letter/dossier to Dulwich College. The full document is quite harrowing. I have not quoted detailed accounts of abuse, hopefully some of these will end up in court]

Friday, March 26, 2021

Green Onions re-opens - Stefan Finnis (1974-2021) remembered

Green Onions, the much loved health food and record shop in Clifton Rise, New Cross, has reopened after a period of closure.

Sad to report that the co-founder of the shop, Stefan Finnis, died on 15 January 2021. There's a lovely collection of photos and memories of Stefan online, and a book of remembrance in the shop also. In the words of his brother:

'For Stefan, meaning was to be found in the beauty of the natural world, in artistic creation and in championing the interests of other people.

Most of us know about his work over the last 20 years in London: Brockwell Park Community Greenhouses, CoolTan Arts, Bee Urban, finally in his and Adrian's wonderfully multifaceted shop Green Onions in New Cross. In this one venture, Stefan's different passions could find an outlet: his unfailing sense of the aesthetic, his passion for community issues and for the promotion of local artisans and artists, his deep knowledge of plants and of everything to do with good food and healthy living. He conveyed these passions in the calm, effortless and generous manner we all loved'.

Stefan Finnis (1974-2021) in Green Onions
(photo from East London Lines)

There's an interview with Stefan, and more photos, at Deptford is Changing with reflections on change and regeneration in the area. In  Stefan's words,  “Clifton Rise has a special energy; New Cross in itself has its own energy, but Clifton Rise is special. If New Cross has a centre, you could say it’s somewhere round here. It has something to do with how people move through the area, it’s a meeting of worlds, of historically richer and poorer communities; Clifton Rise is somewhere in the middle of those two.” At the time of giving that interview the shops on Clifton Rise were threatened with demolition as part of the redevelopment of the neighbouring Achilles Street Estate. As a result of the community campaign which Stefan was involved it was decided in 2019 to remove the shops from the demolition plan, though the housing redevelopment is planned to go ahead 

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Vigil to remember victims of patriarchal violence - Telegraph Hill Park

There was a vigil in Telegraph Hill Upper Park last night (20th March 2021) 'to remember victims of patriarchal violence' . A list of women killed by men stretched across the ground ending in Sarah Everard,  recently killed while walking home in Clapham.

Those present read out the following together: 

'We lay down flowers and light candles to hold our sisters in our thoughts, to remind us to love and protect one another, may they rest in peace and power'

'In the last year 1300 Lewisham women were referred to domestic violence services'

Nearby on the railway bridge on Avignon Road a roadside 'Stop femicides' memorial has been pasted on the walls by Feminist Collages, with names of murdered women.

Spotted this freshly decorated barge on the canal by Hackney Marshes last week: