Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Big Strike in South London

Busy day not working due to the huge November 30th strike by public sector workers. The main issue was pensions, but there is a wider sense of grievance against having to work longer, be paid less, and then end up with a poorer pension - that is if you make it that far in a climate of permanent job insecurity.

There were walkouts at schools, colleges, hospitals, Government departments, councils and many other workplaces across South London, and of course across the country.

At Goldsmiths College in New Cross there was a big 100+ picket, with lectures cancelled. South London Solidarity Federation had been marching with a 'mobile picket' of 30-odd people between picket lines across Lewisham offering biscuits and solidarity, and their arrival at Goldsmiths was the spark for people to block the road (Lewisham Way) for 15 minutes or so before being cleared by police. Incidentally the 'Capitalism is Crisis, Goldsmiths is a symptom' banner was hung up from the roof of Richard Hoggart building overnight before being removed by security.

At Elephant and Castle there were pickets out in force at the London College of Communications...

...where this banner was on display:

At London South Bank University on London Road there was a Strike HQ and Strikers Canteen supported by Southwark Trades Council, with free tea and cake to keep people going.

There were some great Simpsons-placards on display there:

Staff and students from South Bank University were joined by striking Southwark Council workers.

London South Bank Students Union had made their own N30 All Out t-shirts especially for the occasion:

After an Assembly meeting of strikers and supporters, about 200 people set off on an impromptu march up Waterloo Road and over Waterloo Bridge to join the main, and very large, London-wide demonstration from Lincolns Inn Fields. On Waterloo Road we passed the pickets outside London Ambulance Service and there was some mutal cheering.

Later, activists staged a protest at the headquarters of mining giant Xstrata in Panton Street (near Leicester Square), whose CEO is believed to be the highest paid in the country. According to Xstrata's annual report CEO Mick Davis, received a pay and free share package worth £17.7m in the last financial year. We're all in it together? Yeah right.

Updated 1 December:

My day out on strike has some nice photos and reflections, including of various Lewisham pickets, including the one above from Lewisham Hospital: 'physios standing up for pensions'.

Bob from Brockley's thoughts: 'We urgently need to re-assemble the value of solidarity, to re-boot our politics, and to start crafting an alternative. Still, we can be proud of what we did on November 30' (pretty much what I think).

Some pictures from Occupy Goldsmiths.

East London Lines: reportage and photos.

Martin Powell-Davies reports on teachers striking locally, including this fine banner from Sydenham School:

Workers Liberty Reports: 'Went to Unison's rally at Lewisham hospital. About 150 people present - all blowing whistles, so it was hard to hear the speakers. Some of the people on the rally were going back to work afterwards. Most Unison members in the hospital were not out for the whole day. Branch sec blamed this partly on large numbers of members regarding themselves as essential for patient care, though they don't seem well organised enough to have had a proper exemptions system. I had been told this was a joint rally with Lewisham local government branch, but no sign of them there. However, there were quite a few physios members of CSP there who said almost all physios were out 5 working to provide an emergency service. They said likewise almost all OTs were out. There was a student nurse who was organising people to go up to St Thomas' and join a health worker's feeder march there. She also said she'd heard 75% of London Ambulance staff were on strike. There were a few RCN reps who had come on their day off, they said they were planning to ballot if there's been no progress on pensions by December.  Despite what seemed to me largely ineffective action, the people at the rally were all very enthusiastic & public support was high, with horns going from passing traffic almost continuously. Overall, I don't think the staff there expect this dispute to be won by today's action, but I think many of them would be willing to go out again. Many of these people have never been ballotted before, if anything I think today's action has increased their confidence'.

Dissident Chickpea at Indymedia (with sound recordings) reports on pickets at Lewisham hospital, Lewisham Job Centre and 'Lewisham Town Hall... I was pretty pleased to see a happy-looking, vibrant crowd of picketers wearing at least three different union bibs (a nice bit of cross-union solidarity and organising going on - GMB, NUT, Unison, Unite...) and a good percentage of women in the crowd of about 30 people. Cars, buses and lorries passing by honked and waved in support every half a minute on average and many pedestrians took the literature that was being handed out... Jane, a social worker and family therapist, candidly discussed how the pension cuts would effect her: "I'm here today primarily over pensions...I've done the calculation as to what these changes would mean for me, it means over the next three years I will be paying 100 pounds a month more for 100 pounds a month less in pension so it's really significant...I think women are really effected by this because they work part-time to look after children, they take maternity leave...The average pension for women is about 4,000 pounds a year.'

London Subterranea

London's Lost Rivers: A Walker's Guide

An interesting talk coming up next week at South East London Folklore Society on  London's Lost Rivers, featuring the author of a new book on the subject:

'When people think of London's river, they think of the Thames. But the city was built around many other rivers too - and traces of these still remain for those who know where to look. A secret network of underground rivers snakes beneath the capital. The rivers predate the city and its people. The rivers may be buried, but they still flow underground. In some places they can be seen and heard. By rediscovering them, and tracing their courses, the way we see London is transformed. Using the visual and aural clues left in the streetscape, we can burrow down through layers of London history to river level, revealing the city as it once was. Tom Bolton is a researcher and writer, the author of London’s Lost Rivers: A Walker’s Guide: a series of ten walks tracing these hidden routes across London published by Strange Attractor'.

It takes place on Thursday December 8th, 8 pm start at The Old Kings Head, Borough High Street, SE1 (facebook event details here). Price £2.50/£1.50 concessions

All Cities have Magic

On a related theme of the matter of London and its subterranean secrets, South London 'writer, record collector, DJ and Voodoo witchdoctor' Stephen Grasso has his text Smoke and Mirrors serialised at Bang the Bore:

'All cities have magic. You just have to find it. For some, London is a mechanistic urban grind. A compassionless engine powered by seven million dreary and disillusioned lives that trudge back and forth across the city in their tremendous rush hour waves. Spilling out of holes in the ground each morning to labour at deskbound servitude or whatever menial task has been allotted, moving paper around for unknown masters, tinkering with abstract systems, selling anonymous product, keeping the machine well greased and oiled. Whatever you can do to keep the slow trickle of funds coming in. Whatever you can do to stay afloat...

The tunnels of the underground trace a boorish path through boneyards, plague pits and thwarted resting places for the dead. The air is thick with spirits down here. London is built on two thousand years of corpses, the sedimentary remains of the dead piled atop one another like a ghoulish layer cake of fossilised lives and forgotten cities that once were. On the tube, you are never far away from a skull or a rib or a thighbone. Spirits abound on the London Underground. Dead Roman centurions trying to puzzle out the implications of the East London line extension. Regency swells unwittingly trapped forever on the circle line, unable to breach its magical barrier. Victims of blitz, and fire and homemade bomb howl through the endless tunnels, snared in their death rattle, nothing left of them but a scream in the dark. Lonely suicides pack the platforms of their demise, hoping for a fleeting glimpse of the loved ones they left behind. A thick soup of spirits caught in the gap and pleading for blessed release. But to the Londoner, these old ghosts are just another nuisance trying to take up more of your valuable time. Sorry mate, got somewhere else I need to be. Keep on walking. It’s somebody else’s problem, but somebody else never comes'.

The text comes with a nice dubby mix for you to download to accompany a drift around the city.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Lost Figures of Lewisham

On Robert Elms' BBC London radio show last week [November 2011] there was some discussion of  the 'lost figures of Lewisham'. Back in the 1980s there was a clock in Lewisham shopping centre featuring these figures, which apparently were revealed on the hour.

The figures represented 'Characters of South East London' and were designed by the artist Sam Smith (1909-1983). Not sure exactly when the clock was removed, but on the radio show a couple of people came forward and revealed that they had independently salvaged a couple of the figures - if more can be found maybe there can be a reunion in the shopping centre!

Robert Elms' show is one of those threatened by cuts to BBC local radio. I can't imagine any other radio show running an item like the above, but the point is not just about keeping Robert's show going. The issue is whether BBC London is going to have any meaningful London content at all. Cheap generic shows are no substitute for programmes knowledgeably  informed by what is happening in London, its history and its present - and reflecting the fact that London is not just Westminster and the City but places like Lewisham and New Cross.

There is a Save BBC Local Radio day of action on December 1st, including a 6 pm protest at Broadcasting House. (photos courtesy of Robert Elms' facebook page, posted by listeners)

Update: September 2015:

The tailor figure from the Lewisham set turned up on Channel 4's Four Rooms programme this week with Lewisham's Ellie-Mae Reilly selling it to a collector for £750. I was surprized how big it was, and that it was not just a figure but an automaton with an internal mechanism so it moved its head and scissors.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Kit & Cutter Winter Warmer

Kit & Cutter are doing another of their lovely folk nights at The Old Nuns Head (Nunhead Green, SE15)on Saturday 3rd December 2011. The Kit & Cutter Winter Warmer has the cutest possible flyer too.

'So we were thinking… what would we all really enjoy to ease us into December? It’s a bit murkish and foggy outside so what further delights could our musical adventures together offer up? After some mulling the answer floated into our minds all of a sudden: psyche tinged trad folk and a steel pan band! A steel pan band? – Yes! It was obvious!! And maybe the Sacred Harp choir could come back and do some Christmas songs? And so we have a very special show lined up with some extra seasonal trimmings…

Rapunzel & Sedayne: From Lancashire (where women die of love, as Balzac would have it) charming husband and wife team, Rapunzel & Sedayne play traditional arrangements alongside their own compositions with a gentle eccentricity, spontaneity and lovely floating fluting vocals. They specialise in a variety of ancient and traditional instruments including kemence, violin, crwth, flute, kaossilator, 5-string banjo, lap-top harmonium, frame-drum and drones. We don’t even know what some of those are....

John Thomas Steel Pan Duo: In the winter what better to lift our spirits than the sultry tones of Trinidad and Tobago? John has been performing all over the world since 1976. He has performed on the same bill with folk greats Diana Ross, Liza Minelli and has performed live on stage with Blondie. As well as being an illustrious performer of the steel pan, he is also a sought after teacher with a great deal of knowledge about the history and development of the instrument.

Let's get December rolling with Carols, free Xmas buffet, Extra Special Festive Tombola, some rousing Sacred Harp, and as yet undreamed of wintery delights to surprise you with… And in case it was all getting a bit too cheery for you, your hosts will serenade you with THE WORLDS MOST DEPRESSING CHRISTMAS SONG'.

Doors 7.30pm, £7 entry. Wonder what the 'most depressing Christmas song' will be? My bet is 'Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis' by Tom Waits - surely hard to beat on the miserable scale.

Opposing privatisation and cuts at Rivoli & Goldsmtihs

A couple more moments in the unfolding movement against cuts and privatisation:

Lewisham SOS NHS

Lewisham SOS NHS, which is campaigning against privatisation of the health service, is holding a benefit gig tonight (Sunday 27 November) at the Rivoli Ballroom in Brockley Road.  They say: 'We have a really great bill of locally sourced comedy and music - local bands The Grey Cats, Delta Detour and the T Men will be compered by Dulwich's very own Stephen Frost, ably abetted by the comedy of Charmian Hughes, Luke Sorba and Niall Ashdown with added musical humour from Pippa Evans ( check out her forthcoming Radio 4 series )'.

Pippa Evans' characters include country singer 'Loretta Maine', check out some of her songs here.

Tickets are £15 and have to be bought in advance here.

Goldsmiths Occupation

I popped down to the Goldsmiths occupation yesterday, and gave a talk on New Cross radical history.

This is the third occupation there in the last year. In March there was a short occupation of the old Deptford Town Hall buiding in the lead up to the big anti-cuts demonstration, and the library was occupied last December. This time around they have occupied the Whitehead building.

They say: 'We are an open heterogeneous group including Goldsmiths staff, students and many others who believe the university is a public resource that should be open to all. We stand with all those affected by the privatisation agenda and against those who profit from its misery. Goldsmiths is now occupied in solidarity with the UK-wide strike on November 30th and the global occupy movement. We are here because we reject the privatisation of the university, symptomatic of the neo-liberal agenda that permeates all aspects of life. For this reason we have strategically occupied the building housing Goldsmiths’ finance offices, responsible for executing the cuts and the privatisation agenda.. All groups on and off-campus are encouraged to use this space to host meetings, events, and planning sessions for actions on November 30th. Where the current government agenda not only encourages, but enforces the transfer of public resources to private hands we join people worldwide in taking them back!'

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Lord Wolseley

The great Dead Pubs site has this picture of the Lord Wolseley pub (76 Upper Brockley Road), showing a charabanc outing gathered by the pub in around 1920. The pub, which stood opposite the Wickham Arms, closed in the 1990s and was converted to flats - pictured below:

Friday, November 25, 2011

Tom Pearce - Drawings of Things

Tom Pearce studied at Camberwell College of Arts and has done lots of drawings 'inspired by the area of London from Vauxhall to Waterloo and around Camberwell, Herne Hill and Peckham'. You can see some of them at his webiste, Drawings of Things. Here's one from the area around Camberwell Grove entitled View to Sky.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Strike video shot in New Cross

Less than a week to go until the biggest strike in the UK for many years, with public sector workers walking out on November 30th to defend their pensions. The basic arguments are set out at the Pensions Justice site: 'Public sector pensions are under attack. The government wants to make people pay more and work longer for a lot less... Few understand all the detail of pensions, but the issue is simple. Most public sector workers are modestly paid. Their pay has been frozen while the price of basics is shooting up. Now they are expected to pay an extra £3 billion a year for much worse pensions, by a government that cancelled the banker’s bonus tax that raised almost the same. It’s wrong to make public sector workers pay an unfair contribution to reducing a deficit they did nothing to cause'.

'Let's Work Together' by The Workers is a track put out in support of the campaign by a group of public service workers. One of the singers is Viv Gosden, a student midwife at Guys and St Thomas’s Hospital in South London who says: 'As health care professionals we spend our time caring and being advocates for others. As I am at the very beginning of my career in the NHS, I realise that we also need to be advocates for ourselves. I hope that people will understand our point of view and support us in what we believe to be the right choice'.

The video for the single was partly shot in the New Cross Gate area, the first half of it featuring street scenes from Camplin Street and Kender Street among others (I think the later scenes are somewhere in north London, round Highbury and Islington).

Locally there will be picket lines on the 30th at Goldsmiths College in New Cross from 8 am, and no doubt elsewhere.
(apparently Goldsmiths students last night occupied the Whitehead building in New Cross, where the finance offices are based. This is one of a wave of occupations in colleges around the country in the build up to the strike. Further report to follow).

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

John Betjeman and Lewisham Town Hall

The current Lewisham Town Hall in Catford (above) was built in the late 1960s to replace an older building on the same site. The older Lewisham Town Hall, designed in a Gothic Revival style by the architect George Elkington, was built in 1875 and was a grand affair:
The Town Hall was joined in 1887 by Saint Laurence's Church (to the left of the Town Hall in the following picture).

It actually ceased to be the Town Hall in 1932, when a new Town Hall building was officially opened by the Duke of York (Times, 23 June 1932). That building, which still stands as the Broadway Theatre, was designed to complement the old Town Hall, hence some of its gothic details.

The old Town Hall and the Church were both demolished in 1968, the former despite a campaign to save it that involved, among others, the poet John Betjeman:

'At the age of 13, William Norton, the son of a police sergeant and a Post Office worker, wrote to John Betjeman warning him of the impending destruction of Lewisham’s Victorian Gothic town hall. In no time Betjeman put William on to the recently founded Victorian Society, urged him to organise a petition, wrote him several long letters alerting him to other fine churches in Lewisham and Catford and then turned up at the town hall to be photographed with the boy. Despite all this, Lewisham town hall was demolished. It was still 1961, after all. England still slept. Betjeman at the same time was vainly battling to save the Euston Arch and the great glass rotunda of the Coal Exchange. Who else would have turned aside from those gruelling national campaigns to help an obscure schoolboy in one of London’s dimmest quarters to try and save a grimy town hall by George Elkington (no, I hadn’t heard of him either — his town hall in Bermondsey has been demolished too)? [Ferdinant Mount, Review of Betjeman: The Bonus of Laughter by Bevis Hillier, Spectator, 13 Novemeber 2004).

Betjeman spoke of the campaign in a television interview, and is pictured below with William Norton outside the Town Hall:

Wonder what William Norton did when he grew up? If you're out there Willliam, it would be interesting to hear your memories of that time.

Two First World War Stories

While researching this post, I came across two local stories from the First World War, both rather sad and involving women workers in or around Lewisham Town Hall:

'Woman Omnibus Conductor Killed: Louisa Rushen, aged 22, a woman omnibus conductor, employed on one of the South London services, in walking round the front of her omnibus on Sunday night near the Lewisham Town Hall, was knocked down by a passing motor-car. Miss Rushen, whose home was at Fort Cottages, Westerham, Kent, died in the Miller Hospital’ (Times, 25 January 1916)

'German’s Daughter Sentenced: At Greenwich Police Court yesterday Emma Ada Clements, 23, clerk, was sentenced to six weeks’ imprisonment without hard labour for stealing a small sum of money from a cloak-room at Lewisham Town Hall, where she was employed as a temporary clerk. It was stated that her real names was Klemm, and that she was the daughter of an unnaturalized German, and that she had twice, when applying for work in Government departments, stated that her parents were British-born' (Times 29 November 1917).

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Deptford Red Rector on Channel 4

Deptford's own Red Rector, Father Paul Butler, was on Channel 4's 4ThoughtTV on Sunday giving a short opinion piece on the Church, capitalism and the Occupy protests:

‘For me Christianity and a radical view of society are integral. I would describe myself as a communist. I am Father Paul Butler, the Rector of St Pauls Church, Deptford, and the co-convenor of the Society of Sacramental Socialists. I believe, along with Jesus, that you cannot serve God and capital…

What the Occupy movement has done is that it has focused all our attention on the fundamental questions about how we now live and how we might live differently’

You can watch the whole thing here.

In his previous job as vicar of St Dunstans Church in Bellingham, Father Paul apparently played a role in getting the short road to the vicarage named Gramsci Way - a little patch of SE6 soil in memory of the Italian communist who died in 1937 after a long spell in Mussolini's prisons.

Monday, November 21, 2011

New Cross State of Mind

New Cross is better than New York is an entertaining new blog by the people who make those 'I Love New Cross' bags they sell in the London Particular cafe. As they rightly point out:

- They've got Macy's, we've got TK Maxx;
- They've got Studio54, we've got The Venue;
- They've got Carnegie Hall, we've got Lewisham Arthouse;
- They've got Brooklyn, we've got Brockley.

Glad I'm not the only one who enjoys subsitituting New Cross for New York in songs, or indeed as they say 'substituting the word “Brockley” for “Brooklyn” in Beastie Boys songs. “No Sleep Til Brockley” is particularly good on the night-bus home'. 'Brockley we go hard' by Jaz-Z also does it for me.

My current favourite is New Cross State of Mind by Alicia Keys:

Grew up in a town that is famous as the place of movie scenes
Noise was always loud, there are sirens all around and the streets are mean
If I can make it here, I can make it anywhere, that's what they say
Seeing my face in lights or my name on a flyer in Deptford Broadway

Even if it ain’t all it seems, I got a pocketful of dreams
Baby, I'm from New Cross
Concrete jungle where dreams are made of
There's nothing you can't do
Now you're in New Cross
These streets will make you feel brand new
Big lights will inspire you
Hear it for New Cross, New Cross, New Cross!

On the old A2, there ain't never a curfew, ladies work so hard
Such a melting pot, on the corner selling rock, preachers pray to God
Hail a dodgy cab, takes me down from Brockley to Deptford Bridge
Some will sleep tonight with a hunger far more than an empty fridge

One hand in the air for the big city,
Street lights, big dreams all looking pretty
No place in the world that can compare
Put your lighters in the air, everybody say yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Rye Books Opens Tomorrow

Contrary to the doomsayers predicting the death of the bookshop, there's actually a new one opening in South East London this Saturday. Rye Books is in East Dulwich at 45 Upland Road, SE22 9EF - up towards Peckham Rye if you head up North Cross Road and keep going. To celebrate the opening there will be music from around 2:30 pm with Dulwich Ukelele Group and Flame Proof Moth.

I believe that the people behind it run (or more probably ran) the very good bookstall on North Cross Road market, from where I have sourced many esoteric treasures.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Back to '92 (or is it '91)

Back to '92, as all the old skool ravers say. And thanks to a rupture in the space-time continuum people passing under the railway bridge at Brockley Cross could do just that this week, where the removal of a hoarding under the railway bridge on Brockley Road has unveiled a gallery of fading posters from twenty years ago.

Our finest Transpontine subcultural archaeologists have dated these artefacts from very late 1991 and/or very early 1992, with the most likely date being November or December 1991.

Malcolm McLaren's The Ghosts of Oxford Street, the soundtrack to his film of the same name,
was released on 2 December 1991 

The Pogues with Kirsty McColl, Fairytale of New York, was a hit in 1987,
but was re-released for Christmas 1991

Steamin! Hardcore '92, a compilation of dance hits, was released in late 1991

Poster for Christmas and New Year Funfair on Blackheath, opening on Boxing Day 1991
with 'free mammoth firework displays' on 4 January 1992
Just to get you in the mood, here's one of the tracks from Steamin' Hardcore '92 - DJs take Control by SL2.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Cuts and Crisis Meetings

With momentum building up to the public sector strike on November 30th, there's are couple of big events coming up locally:

Goldsmiths Assembly of Resistance

'Goldsmiths Assembly of Resistance: We are the 99%' will take place on Thursday November 17th, 6:30pm - 9:30pm in the Ian Gulland Lecture Theatre (Whitehead Building) at Goldsmiths College in New Cross.

The meeting has been called by staff and student unions (Goldsmiths UCU, Goldsmiths SU, Goldsmiths GMB) as well as Coalition of Resistance and Education Activist Network. It will feature a 'mixture of speakers and assemblies and working groups to build for the 30th November and continue the fight against austerity, in universities and also across the public sector'.

Speakers include:

- Ken Loach, filmmaker;
- Owen Jones, author of "Chavs - the demonisation of the working class";
- Seamus Milne, Guardian journalist.

(Facebook event details here)

No Cuts Cabaret

The No Cuts Cabaret takes place on Thursday 24 November (7 - 9 pm) at the Rivoli Ballroom, 350 Brockley Road, Crofton Park. Hosted by the unions Unite and Unison, the event will feature music, comedy and speakers including Labour London mayoral candidate, Ken Livingstone (who was incidentally spotted drinking in the Royal Albert in New Cross on Monday after a meeting in Deptford).

The main focus of the event is on cuts to frontline child mental health services in Lewisham. According to Unite:

'Already this financial year, there has been nearly £500,000 of cuts – with more expected in the next two years. Other cuts to children and young people's services in Lewisham have included the ending of the Connexions service which provides advice on employment issues for 16-to-19 year olds.

Unite regional officer, Richard Munn said: ‘A Save the Children study revealed that one in five of children in Lewisham live in poverty which itself brings adverse impacts on child mental health. Early intervention in childhood helps prevent longstanding problems in adulthood. The evening we are staging is aimed at bringing the whole community together to highlight these pernicious cuts and give a morale boost for the campaigners in the fight to save even more services under threat.’

Cuts by South London and Maudsley NHS Trust and Lewisham Borough Council have already totalled almost £500,000 this financial year (20011/2012) for Lewisham Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), which is based at Kaleidoscope, Lewisham Park and Mercia Grove.  The axe followed budget reductions from Lewisham Borough Council and NHS Lewisham (formerly Lewisham Primary Care Trust). More cuts, as yet unspecified, are planned in the next two years.

Services affected have included the schools’ service, CAMHS social workers, forensic services, refugee and asylum seekers, and looked after children. A number of longstanding and very experienced staff have been forced to leave the service. This was a reduction of almost 25 per cent of the entire service and will lead to fewer frontline workers and longer waiting lists for children and young people. This was an essential service which was commended in various government inspections'.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Amnesty Booksale this Saturday

Sometimes at Transpontine I get asked to publicise things and I think to myself - 'yes but do I really want everybody else to know about this?'

This crossed my mind this week when I got an email about the annual Amnesty International Book Sale in Blackheath, near the top of Blackheath Hill if you're walking up from Deptford or Lewisham Hill if you're walking up from Lewisham. I have been before and it is quite simply the best book sale I have ever been to. Imagine a whole church packed with books in every pew. Not just a load of Jeffrey Archer paperbacks either, but all kinds of surprizes old and new, including obscurities academic and otherwise. It is always very busy, and now I've told you too there will doubtless be a few more people to squeeze past. But hey, here's the details:

'Quality books at knock-down prices: Amnesty International Book Sale

10am-4pm Saturday 19th November,  Church of the Ascension, Dartmouth Row, London SE10 8BF

The Blackheath and Greenwich Group of Amnesty International is holding its annual fund-raising book sale on Saturday 19th November at the Church of the Ascension, Dartmouth Row, London SE10 (10 minutes walk up Lewisham Hill from Lewisham BR, DLR & Bus Station). Doors open at 10am.

The local group has collected thousands of books from a variety of sources, including publishers and book reviewers as well as individual donors. The quality of books – many of which are brand new – is exceptionally high, and there will be plenty of bargains to be found, from second-hand paperbacks to review copies of recently-published novels.

The book sale – now in its 37th year – is established as Amnesty International’s most successful local fundraising event in the UK, raising over £200,000 over the years.

Amnesty International works worldwide for the release of prisoners of conscience, fair trials for political prisoners and an end to torture, extrajudicial executions, disappearances and the death penalty. The Blackheath and Greenwich group has done a lot of campaigning work on Human Rights in China and stopping violence against women and meets at 8pm on the second Tuesday of each month at St. Margaret’s Church, Lee Terrace, Blackheath.

For more information regarding this, contact Tom 07823 322871,'

Thames Tunnel in Deptford

There's a public meeting tonight (7:30 pm, Tuesday 15 November) of the campaign against the use of a green space on Deptford Church Street as a worksite for the construction of the Thames Tunnel 'Super Sewer' system. The meeting, with Thames Tunnel representatives present, takes place in the Salvation Army Hall on Mary Ann Gardens, Deptford. There are also Thames Water consultation events later in the week at the Creekside Centre on Creekside (Thursday 17 November from 2pm to 8pm; Friday 18 November from 2.30pm to 8.30pm; Saturday 19 November from 10am to 4pm).

The aim of the Thames Tunnel project is to put in place a major new sewer to tackle the problem of overflows from the capital’s Victorian sewers into the River Thames. According to Thames Tunnel, 'The site would be used to connect the existing local CSO [Combined Sewer Overflow], known as the Deptford Storm Relief CSO, to the main tunnel via a long connection tunnel, known as the Greenwich connection tunnel' (full details of Thames Tunnel plans here).

If the proposed works go ahead the land will be a construction site for at least three and a half years, and afterwards there will permanently be sewer vents and a work “kiosk” for Thames Water on site. Don't Dump on Deptford's Heart say: 'This public green in Deptford’s town centre lies between Deptford Church Street, Coffey Street and Crossfield Street. It is one of the few leafy open spaces in Deptford’s urban environment. A lot of money and time is being spent on making the centre of town a better place to live and work but undertaking construction works by building a shaft 45 meters deep and 17 meters in diameter to the sewers on our park and leaving us with sewer vents and a Thames Water work “kiosk” would only detract from these improvements'.

As a project, the Thames Tunnel sounds like A Very Good Thing and clearly the construction sites have to go somewhere. But Bill Ellson makes some interesting points at Deptford Misc about 'Environmental Justice', the argument that polluting industries tend to get disproportionately located in poorer areas: 'Here in Deptford the previously preferred bore site near Borthwick Wharf, where spoil could have left by river, has been replaced by a site in Deptford Church Street, where spoil will leave by road. According to Londonist a bore site at Barn Elms, Barnes has been replaced as the preferred option by a site at Carnwath Road, Wandsworth. The picture is not entirely clear, but it is hard not to suspect that what has actually happened is that sites near middle class riverside developments have been replaced by sites in poorer areas'.

I had similar thoughts over the summer when I walked over Bridge House Meadows in New Cross (once the site of the New Cross Stadium). This green space has been turned into a massive spoil heap for the London Overground extension between Surrey Quays and Clapham Junction (pictured below). Again a socially useful engineering project, but you can't really imagine something like this being dumped in somewhere like Dulwich Park or Clapham Common without a massive row.

A campaign to prevent King's Stairs Gardens in Rotherhithe being used as construction site seems to have been successful for now, though it remains a reserve site.

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Little Birdhouse in Your Soul

'I have seen a kestrel flying over the Deptford gasworks, and I have heard a first-rate performance by a blackbird in the Euston Road. There must be some hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of birds living inside the four-mile radius, and it is rather a pleasing thought that none of them pays a halfpenny of rent' (George Orwell, Some Thoughts on the Common Toad, 1946).

'The London Wildlife Trust and Café Crema present an afternoon with bird specialist Diane Wallace, wildlife educator from the London Wildlife Trust. This workshop teaches you all about the fantastic variety of birds in urban gardens and how you can attract them to your garden:

- Dos and don’ts on feeding birds
- Make your own mini bird-feeder
- Build your own bird box, all materials provided

Families and children welcome. Please note for safety reasons, children must be accompanied by an adult for the bird box making in the garden at Café Crema. Free tea and coffee and light refreshments provided for participants. Free, all welcome.

Sunday 20th November, 12-2pm at Café Crema wildlife garden and secret orchard: 306 New Cross Road, SE14 6AF (020 8320 2317). Please call or email to reserve a place'.

1938 picture of pigeons by E.H. Windred, the famed pigeon painter of 352 New Cross Road (lots more of his paintings at this gallery.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

City of Roses

Nice short film from people linked to South London's Youth Animation and Media project. In 'City of Roses' (directed by Boris Furlong), a masked figure spray paints a rose on to a wall- I think by Waterloo.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Bookshop News

A couple of bits of news from two of the best shops in South London - obviously the fact that they're both bookshops gives them a formidable headstart in my view.

The Bookseller Crow in Crystal Palace (50 Westow Street, SE19) has a night with Mark Steel on Friday, 25 November 2011 at 7:30 pm, celebrating the publication of his new book 'Mark Steel's in Town'. It's free, but booking is recommended here.

Kirkdale Bookshop  in Sydenham (272 Kirkdale, SE26) has its Winter art exhibition starting tomorrow. They've also just taken stock of a new book 'A Time and a Place: Near Sydenham Hill by Camille Pissarro' by Kathleen Adler (Yale University press, £12), a short book about the impressionist artist's time in London and in particular his painting 'Near Sydenham Hill'.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Lewisham MP calls for 'gang' video ban

Lewisham East MP Heidi Alexander this week introduced a Private Members Bill in the House of Commons 'to give courts the power to order internet service providers to remove certain material which incites gang violence; and for connected purposes'.

Speaking in Parliament on 8 November she said:

'I am introducing this Bill because I am appalled by the proliferation of online videos glorifying gangs and serious youth violence. The police, via the courts and internet service providers, need to be given explicit power to get these videos taken down or to get access to them blocked. These videos act as a recruitment mechanism for gangs. I believe they lead to an increased number of young people in our cities who feel the need to carry a knife for protection and they terrify any ordinary human being who watches them.

I first came across these videos last year, when a constituent contacted me after his son had been the victim of a gang-related mugging. He sent me links to a video that was up on YouTube of the gang that had robbed his son. The video was filmed in broad daylight in a car park in the heart of Catford. It contained images of 10 to 15 young men—perhaps I should say boys—rapping, swearing and waving knives around as if they were cigarettes. The video boasts about violence; it is menacing, sickening and frightening. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of these sorts of videos on the internet, not just on YouTube, but on sites such as Spiff TV. If someone types “Brixton gangs”, “Hackney gangs” or “Lewisham gangs” into any online audio-visual search facility, they will find these videos. Not all contain images of knives, but the narrative is the same, “Mess with us and we’ll stab you.” These videos have been viewed tens of thousands of times each—sometimes hundreds of thousands of times'.

(full speech here)

While not wanting to belittle the problems of gangs and violence, I question the response of censoring the internet to deal with them. There all kinds of complex social and economic reasons why gangs exist, and it is all too easy to blame social media. In the aftermath of this summer's riots there has been an escalating panic about them - but people have been rioting, robbing and stabbing each other since long before any of these things were invented.

Some online videos might be interpreted as promoting gangs, but banning them isn't going to make gangs go away - it might just hide the reality. I have looked at some of these videos. My first thought was that I would rather be able to see for myself what some of my neighbours are up to, whether I like it or not. It is also obvious that there is a great deal of posturing and bravado - who's to say what is genuine violent intent and what is just some kids showing off? Really serious career criminals don't tend to provide police with the obvious intelligence helping hand of showing their faces on the screen (I know some of them are masked, but it's not hard to recognise people if they're known to you). You don't see many 'hey hey we're the mafia' videos do you?

Likewise who's to draw the line between glorifying gangs and creative musical expression? A lot of DIY rap and grime videos could be victims of a catch-all ban like this. Similar arguments were made in the early 90s about banning 'gangsta rap' for glorifying violence - apart from denying people from around the world from hearing some of the most innovative music of the period, this ban would have simply swept under the carpet depictions of a world that many people would prefer not to think about but exists nevertheless. Music is also one route out of the limited horizons of gang culture - some of those kids boasting about how they run 'their endz' might go on to greater things - see for example the success of Peckham rapper Giggs.

Here's an example of the kind of thing which I think the MP has in mind. From last year, it's Ruff Man and  Y.Affecta's 'My Neighbourhood', filmed it seems in Taylor Close, Deptford (next to Lapwing Tower) - though it also refers to 'Brocktown - that's my neighbourhood' (or Brockley as some people insist on calling it). It talks about the Ghetto Boys (New Cross/Deptford gang), and I must admit if I bumped into some of these guys masked up in the street when I was walking the dog I would be decidedly wary. At one level, yes, it could be viewed as bragging about gangs. Maybe some of the people in this film have been involved in dodgy business of one kind or another - though of course the police already have countless laws to deal with that.

I do think though I should  be able to choose for myself whether to listen to this kind of music and make my own mind up about such films. Even if you find it abhorrent, maybe it's telling you something you need to know about the city you live in.

Heidi Alexander's Bill is also supported by Joan Ruddock, MP for Lewisham Deptford. It is though unlikely to become law, as few Private Members Bills get granted the time to get through Parliament.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

As soon as this pub closes

As I've said before, when a pub closes a whole lot of possibilities close with it. The combination of people, drink and conviviality has sparked all kinds of cultural, musical, social and political movements. Even the most unpromising and unfriendliest of boozers can be the launchpad for some fantastic adventure when a group of people get together and say 'hey let's put on a club here/ start a football team / hold a meeting about some cause or other'.

So I was intrigued to find a mention of one of my local pubs, The Brockley Barge, in an account of a radcial political gathering over the summer. Seemingly, the Platypus Affiliation Society, a Marxist-humanist current, were meeting in the bar with the guests including their Chicago-based leading theoritician Chris Cutrone. An associate of Principia Dialectica, a magazine/website influenced by the Situationists, turned up and seemingly didn't greatly enjoy the conversation:

'Brockley, South London, mid August. It’s a balmy evening and the sun is just setting a beautiful shade of red. We have arranged to meet the Platypus London collective. In the Brockley Barge, a more bucolic setting is hard to imagine, but upon arrival our spirits drop when we realize our destination is in fact a typical Wetherspoons boozer, replete with the familiar royal blue ash-tray franchise coating. It looms up to dominate the high street with its tarty but severe wedding cake outside decor. It doesn’t look much fun. We descend into its jaws. We are soon relieved, however, to find that it is an affable local. The general blitz spirit fug of ‘we are all in this together’ has yet to lift in this particular post-riot London settling of spit and sawdust.

The Platypus group leader is in town, over from Chicago, having been engaged in tentative kisses and cuddles with one of the British Communist parties. I have opted to come down to south London and shake the Chairman’s hand and buy him a drink. The Chairman has been a student of Moishe Postone at Chicago university, the author of the seminal (and much banged on about at Principia Dialectica) Time, Labor and Social Domination. I want to see where it all went wrong. How could the Chairman be so well read, well taught, but still, as they say in south London, well stupid? The plot would be unraveled. We descended lower and lower, into the eerie depths of the Barge. Our eyes gradually accustomed to the dank light . It didn’t take long to find them – they had a poster of the Platypus group logo on the wall to help people like us find our way in the gloom...'

(see full account and Cutrone's reply here)

Not completely sure how this all ended up in the Barge, but probably had something to do with the fact that Cutrone had been giving a talk at the Communist University held at Goldsmiths.

Can't think why but this somehow put me in mind of Alex Glasgow's old socialist song 'As soon as this pub closes' ('the revolution starts').

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

William Blake Again

For many years William Blake was a somewhat neglected artist and poet, but now scarcely a week goes by without something Blakean going on somewhere in London. Here's a few connected to South London:

- the Blake Society were involved in planting an 'angel oak' on Peckham Rye on September 18th, to mark the supposed scene of Blake's childhood vision of angels in a tree. Here's a report on it from Here Be Angels.

William Blake tree planting minicast by HereBeAngels

The newly planted Angel Oak on Peckham Rye,
(near the entrance opposiste Harris Boys Academy)
- as part of the Woodland Wonders event in Nunhead Cemetery in September there was a performance called 'Day of Angels and Fairies' by The Blake Poets (not sure exactly what this entailed, did anybody see it?).

- CoolTan Arts is having a Blake-themed Largactyl Shuffle guided cultural walk from Tate Modern to Bunhill Fields (where Blake is buried) - Saturday 19th November 2011, 12 noon start.

- dancers from Laban in Deptford are involved in developing a production called The Blake Diptych centred on the boyhood visions of William Blake. The company has a blog documenting their creative process.

I've explained about Blake's South London connections here before (with picture of the mural on Goose Green) - briefly the source for the Peckham visions story is a posthumous biography, but he certainly mentions Brockley and Camberwell in his poems.

In Hercules Road in Lambeth, where Blake once lived, there is now a William Blake Estate with a plaque on one of the buildings.

Monday, November 07, 2011

New Cross Fire Book Launch

Earlier this year there was a series of events to mark the 30th anniversary of the 1981 New Cross Fire, when 13 young black people died in a fire at a birthday party (for background information see this earlier post).

Back in January there was a major commemorative evening at the Albany in Deptford, a church service, and the unveiling of a plaque at the scene of the fire (439 New Cross Road), attended by several hundered people.

Later this month, there's a launch coming up of the book The New Cross Massacre Story: interviews with John La Rose. The book was first published in 1984 by the Alliance of the Black Parents Movement, Black Youth Movement and Race Today Collective. John La Rose was the Chair of the New Cross Massacre Action Committee, which mobilised the black community in the aftermath of the fire. The reprint by New Beacon Books and the George Padmore Institute contains a new prologue by Linton Kwesi Johnson and an epilogue by Gus John that explore the significance of the period, the event and subsequent developments. LKJ is among those who still believe that the fire was caused by a racist attack (a view some of the victims' families now dispute) - he writes:

'The most significant date in the history of the black experience in Britain during the second half of the twentieth century is the year 1981. It began inauspiciously in the early hours of 18 January with a racist arson attack on a sixteenth birthday part in south-east London, which resulted in the deaths of thirteen young black people and twenty-six revellers suffering serious injuries. The response of the police, aided and abetted by sections of the media, with the implicit approval of the government, was to use their power to deny justice to the survivors of the fire, the bereaved and the dead. The shock, sorrow and outrage felt by black people throughout the country found expression in concrete political action. On 2nd March, some six weeks after the fire, the New Cross Massacre Action Committee, chaired by the late John La Rose, mobilised 20,000 people for a march through the streets of London. That Black People’s Day of Action was an unprecedented demonstration of black political power. It was a wake up call for the authorities, a watershed moment that signalled a paradigm shift in race relations in the UK. Moreover, with the Day of Action came a leap in Black British consciousness of the power to bring about change...

The New Cross area, in particular the London borough of Lewisham, was notorious as a hotbed of National Front activism and racist arson attacks. In 1977, the Moonshot, a black youth and community centre, was fire-bombed. That year Lewisham also witnessed street battles between National Front supporters on the one hand and anti-racists from the Anti-Nazi League, supported by black youths, on the other. In 1978, the Albany Theatre in Deptford was fire-bombed in a suspected racist attack, as was the Lewisham Way Centre in 1980. The New Cross fire was, therefore, not an isolated act of barbarism, but the latest and most devastating in a history of racist terror.

There were two inquests into the New Cross fire, both of which returned open verdicts. If the first, held with indecent haste just three months after the fire, was a travesty of justice where crucial evidence was suppressed by the coroner, then the second inquest, held in 2004, was a farce, as no new evidence was produced. However, on both occasions the police failed to convince the jury that the fire was the result of ‘black on black’ violence... '

Th book launch takes place on Thursday 17 November at 6.30pm, George Padmore Institute, 76 Stroud Green Road, London N4 3EN. The New Cross Massacre Story is available from New Beacon Books price £5.99; [£7.00 including p&p].

Film Events

Sad that there is no permanent cinema in whole borough of Lewisham, but as we've said before, there is a vibrant film culture. As further evidence, here's a couple of new initiatives:


'The Telegraph Hill-based film club, Cinetopia, will shortly be bringing their winning formula to the Hill Station [Kitto Road, SE14]. Our mission is to combine the magic of great movies with the warm conviviality of the pub quiz and add a touch of mystery. Each Cinetopia event includes a quiz based around the theme of the film being shown plus hot food and a bar. To add extra frisson to the experience the audience do not know what the film is until they turn up. In other words, always expect the unexpected. Each evening will feature a film from a particular city and our first destination is Paris. So, get your berets on and come up to the Hill Station for an evening of Gallic cinema and a little je ne sais quoi!

The mini season will start on Friday 18 November at 7.00pm and run monthly until March. Tickets will be sold in advance at £10 and include film, quiz and food. There will also be a fully licensed bar. To book tickets and for further information contact You can also find us on facebook and at our and blog '.

New Cross Free Film Festival

'Would you like to help start a New Cross Free Film Festival in 2012? Then come along to an informal start-up event - Tuesday 15 November, 8pm onwards, New Cross House, 316 New Cross Road, London SE14 6AF. We're teaming up with our friends at Goldsmiths College, the Cafe in Telegraph Hill Park and Deptford Film Club to see if there's interest in starting a New Cross Free Film Festival in 2012. This follows the success of community-run free film festivals in Peckham and Nunhead in 2010 and 2011.

Come along to this initial gathering to find out more about what makes Free Film Festivals so special - and how you could help set up a New Cross Free Film Festival next year. If you can't come but are still interested just email'.