Wednesday, December 29, 2021

The temporary architecture of Covid-19

Mobile Testing Unit, Canada Water

 Is anybody documenting the temporary architecture of COVID-19?

All those pop-up testing, vaccine and booster centres. White marquees in lockdown-emptied carparks. Public buildings grand and shabby transformed into collection points for saliva and mucus. Neighbourhood chemists with queues round the block administering life-saving vaccines.

Testing Centre by Devonport House, Greenwich

In a nation obsessed with memories of a war that hardly any living person now remembers, analogies are often drawn between the Blitz and the pandemic. Absurd in many ways – viruses are not waging war on us, just reproducing in the conditions of the world we have created. But maybe there are parallels with the vanished bomb shelters that sprang up in World War Two- places of huge significance that largely disappeared when no longer needed, evidenced only by fading signs painted on nearby walls. Nobody is cowering in a test centre fearing sudden death from above but there is a quieter diffuse fear. For some people taking that test was the first step onto a journey that ended in hospital and death. For many that injection was what saved their life.

Booster vaccine queue at New Cross Pharmacy/Waldron Centre
Waldron Health Centre, Amersham Vale SE14. Mural reads (in English and Spanish) 'I feel it is my duty to protect myself and my community''

And what of that instant workforce, thousands of people in the front line of the pandemic, a global precariat performing vital tasks on casual contracts employed not by the NHS but by companies like Sodexo. Who is documenting the stories of the ‘Test Operatives’?

We can only hope that one day we will be able to look back and wonder that this was ever how we lived our lives. But for now it sometimes feels that it’s been going on for so long that we risk ceasing to notice how extraordinary this all is.

Walk Through Testing Site, Vanguard Street, Deptford
Lewisham Civic Suite, Catford (and below)

Tuesday, December 07, 2021

All Swell at Camberwell - Women in trousers at the town hall shock (1941)

'All Swell' - 'an unofficial bulletin published monthly by the Camberwell Branch of Nalgo for the special benefit of members serving with the Forces... Edited by David Leggatt, Food Office, Wilson's Grammar School, Peckham Road'. The motto of the old Camberwell Council  - now incorporated into Southwark Council - was ‘All’s well’, so the Union was playing on this. NALGO, the National Association of Local Government Officers, became part of Unison.

Anyway the big news in November 1941 was that the ‘the town hall saw for the first time women members of staff wearing trousers’.  This was something the author approved of: 'trousers are more hard wearing than stockings and more economical at the present time; by their use, women save both coupons and money. It follows then that fewer stockings mean more tanks for Russia'

 [original document is in Southwark Archives]

Monday, December 06, 2021

Mourning the Channel Dead on the Thames by Deptford Creek

Cycling by the Thames yesterday we came across this impromptu memorial by Deptford Creek to the 27 people who died attempting to cross the Channel from France to England on 24 November 2021.

'It is a disgrace that we cared so little that we let you drown.
Let's hope our children have more humanity'

Imagine if it had been 27 English people drowned, say a group of people helping out with a cross-channel swim. Would people have more or less stopped talking about it a week later, would their names have been forgotten? If they had called for help, as seems to have happened here, would the authorities have quibbled about whether they were in English or French waters and left them to drown, or would they have mobilised every resource available to save them?

Thinking here of Judith Butler's question of' 'whose lives are considered valuable, whose lives are mourned, and whose lives are considered ungrievable...  An ungrievable life is one that cannot be mourned because it has never lived, that is, it has never counted as a life at all' (Frames of War: When is Life Grievable?, 2009).  Of course these lives are grieved by friends and families, but to many others they are merely migrants whose life or death is a matter of indifference. People attempting to block lifeboats, as happened recently in Hastings,  are basically saying that they would rather people drown than be rescued.   

So well done to the anonymous mourners of Deptford Creek, and let us not forget these names and faces-

Twana Mamand Muhammed

Khazal Ahmed, right, with her son Mubin Rezgar, older daughter Hadia Rezgar and younger daughter Hasti Rezgar

Maryam Nuri Muhamadamin

Harem Pirot

Donate to RNLI (lifeboats)

Support Channel Rescue (monitoring and support): 'We will not sit back and allow the English Channel to become a mass graveyard, like the waters of the Mediterranean'

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Strike against job cuts at Goldsmiths

A good turn out at Goldsmiths College in New Cross today at a rally to mark the start of a three week strike by members of the University and College Union against threatened job cuts.

Goldsmiths UCU say: 'Goldsmiths Senior Management Team (SMT) is planning mass staff redundancies across departments this term, as part of a wider scheme of redundancies to be rolled out over two years. Management has informed us that it plans to cut 52 jobs this year: 20 academics in English & Creative Writing and History, and 32 professional services staff. The survival of courses in the departments of History and English and Creative Writing are in serious jeopardy, and the professional services cuts (to staff in timetabling, student support and other areas) risk causing chaos and harming student experience. 

This is part of what SMT terms ‘The Recovery Plan’: an attempt to use job cuts to improve the College’s finances. Goldsmiths UCU (GUCU) argues this is a bad plan, both in terms of the financial impacts and the injustice of the proposed job cuts themselves. Senior management also claims these cuts are required by the banks due to a deal that was struck with Lloyds Bank and Natwest bank, negotiated by the consultancy firm KPMG, committing to £4million of staff cuts this year followed by £2million next year'.

The strike will continue until December 13th 2021, with daily pickets and teach-out sessions (details here)

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

'Close to Me' - Christopher Eccleston and Connie Nielsen in the Rivoli

Channel 4 drama 'Close to Me' is the latest to make use of the Rivoli Ballroom as a location. In the story a fundraising event for refugees in Hastings actually takes place in Brockley Road SE4.  Sometime Dr Who Christopher Eccleston and Danish actor Connie Nielsen - sometime Queen Hipployta in the DC universe - tread the boards and wander through the side bars alongside the dancefloor.

See previous posts about the Rivoli - featuring Kylie, Lana del Ray and many more

Monday, November 15, 2021

Joy Crookes - South London Songs

Joy Crookes at Queens Road, Peckham

Singer Joy Crookes has a new album out, Skin,  and very good it is too. She's been compared to Amy Winehouse, but she has a great voice of her own and her songs are rooted firmly in 2020s London. Joy grew up at Elephant and Castle and her songs reference various South London locations, notably the Elephant itself on the track '19th floor' which bemoans the changes there: 'Lost the tower where my heart is,  Cinema skylines that I don't recognise, Strip the life out of these streets,  It's a daylight robbery'. The song mentions 'Bopping down Walworth Road'

'When you were mine', a single from the album, has a Brixton setting - 'Hand in hand, Coldharbour Lane... Smile with a Brixton shine'.  The Ritzy cinema and Electric Avenue are namechecked and the video is filmed around Brixton market particularly the area near Brixton Rec.


Joy explored these streets on some of her earlier songs. London Mine (2019) is a kind of hymn to multicultural London with a video shot on Walworth Road featuring local faces including tailor George Dyer.  Lyrics include 'Lovers walk Old Kent Road' and Kennington Road is also mentioned.


There are kids playing football at Peckham Town's ground...

...and dancing in the now vanished Elephant and Castle shopping centre.

Another 2019 track, 'Two Nights' sings of 'runnin' through East Street with emotional baggage', and much of the video is shot in East Street market as well as at the Michael Faraday steel box memorial at the Elephant (erroneously believed by some to have once belonged to Richard James/Aphex Twin!)

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Little Amal comes to Deptford

At least a couple of thousand people turned out last Friday (22/10/2021) to greet 'Little Amal' to Deptford: a 3.5 metre-tall puppet of a young refugee girl that has been travelling  8000 km across Europe from the Turkish-Syrian border. Created by the Handspring Puppet Company (famous for The War Horse among other projects), the puppet is the centrepiece of The Walk ' a travelling festival of art and hope in support of refugees'. Deptford was the first stop in London.

The procession made its way down Deptford High Street to Giffin Square, where there was something of a festival arranged by Lewisham as part of its 'Borough of Sanctuary' role. There was a big wheel, various art happenings, and stalls from local community groups such as Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network and the Migration Museum (based in Lewisham shopping centre).

'Migration is not a crime' says Paddington Bear, picked up this bag from Migration Museum stall on the day. 'Disco Against Fascism' badge from 'We Do Good Disco', whose giant 'campotastic' disco washing machine was set up outside the Albany during Amal's visit.

The celebratory atmosphere was in stark contrast to the political mood music last week with the Government continuing with its harsh anti-refugee bill. The hostile environment was highlighted on Saturday (23/10/2021) at Lewisham Hospital where Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network along with hospital campaigners protested against the Government's punitive charges for migrants using the NHS.

Photo from LRMN

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Open Mic at Telegraph pub

 The open mic session at The Telegraph at Earl of Derby pub (Dennetts Road SE14) continues to go from strength to strength. It was a full house last week (21st October) with featured act Bolt the Door. They started out with 'Last night's fun' which as well as being a well known Irish Reel it also the name of one of the best books written about traditional Irish folk sessions (discussed here before). They also played a version of the North East song 'When the Boat Comes In'.

The Open Mic at the Telegraph is on every Thursday, if you want to sing/play turn up early and put your name down.

As for Bolt the Door, they've been booked to play in the pub in their own right, playing there on every second Saturday in the month from 6 pm - next one on 13th November.

Monday, October 18, 2021

An Anti-Slavery Speech in Deptford, 1830

In November 1830 one B.C. Challis gave a lecture that was published shortly after as 'The Substance of a Speech on Negro Slavery. Delivered at the Rev. Mr. Barker's Chapel, High Street, Deptford, on Tuesday Evening, 2nd November, 1830'. The whole text is available to read online and while some of the language is archaic, it is a passionately argued case for the abolition of slavery.

Modern historians of slavery are quite rightly critical of a narrative of British 'white saviours' leading the abolitionist fight, and there is scepticism about the motives of some who may have been concerned for instance with wider colonial interests (such as undermining the French in the Caribbean who were arguably more dependent on the slave trade continuing).

It is important to recognise that slaves themselves continually resisted slavery and in this sense were a key driving force in its abolition.  There is an echo of this within this speech, with a reference to the successful slave revolution in Haiti (described as Saint Domingo here): 'Who can for a moment doubt that this great island, under the dominion of a free negro population, situate in the very centre of the West Indies, and contiguous to the large and populous islands of Cuba and Jamaica on the one side, and Porto Rico on the other; who I ask, can doubt that the government of that island, will take every occasion to stir up the surrounding slaves to insurrection?'. The author uses this threat to argue that the abolition of slavery is actually in the interests of the 'white inhabitants' as the alternative is that 'the lives and immense property of the colonists be thus exposed to destruction'.

Some of the specific proposals put forward here seem rather feeble now, such as the suggestion of gradually abolishing slavery by starting with young women (whose children would then be born free).

Nevertheless it is also important to acknowledge that rank and file slavery abolitionists were putting forward what was, in the context of the growing British Empire, a principled and radical assertion of equality and opposition to racism. 

Of course there is criticism of how slaves are treated:  'And, now then ye degraders of humanity ! -the best of your slaves are allowed but one pint of corn meal for their day's allowance, which is no more, and no better, than that which every gentleman's sporting dog has in England. They are flogged - abused and mutilated, whether feeble, decrepid, or lame, - spurred on to a laborious task, in a sultry climate, without encouragement or reward'. 

But more than this there is a recognition that slaves are people with the same rights to liberty as anybody else: ' although the system of negro slavery demands all the force of intellect in its defence, yet it requires only a sense of justice , an universal sentiment of execration, and a determined intention to do unto others , "as we would they should do unto us ”.  It requires I say, only the belief and practice of that one golden precept of our holy religion, to induce us, at once, to hate, to despise, and to abolish it [...] I am sure you must all feel such a just sense of horror at the thraldom, which is entailed upon the black, by his merciless owner, who differs from him only in the colour of his skin, and an anxious desire of breaking their bonds?'. 

At the end of this meeting in Deptford, 'Several resolutions were then read and carried, and a Petition praying the Total Extinction of Colonial Slavery adopted'. Those involved obviously wanted to disseminate the message further as they took the trouble to print it. We are told that it was available in Deptford 'sold by Warcup, Broadway; Ellis, Lower Road' and W. Brown, printer, High Street; also by J. Cole, London Street, Greenwich'.

Barker's Chapel in Deptford High Street, 1839 - I believe location was approximately where the Poundland shop now stands, next to the former Mechanics Arms (now Tomi's Kitchen restaurant). The 
(picture from British Library). The building was replaced by a substantial Congregational Church in the 1860s.

1850 sketch showing the chapel next to pub and railway line

Monday, October 04, 2021

BBNO - new brewery at Mordern Wharf

Out for a bike ride round the Greenwich peninsula last weekend we saw some people drinking at tables next to a warehouse on the riverside at Morden Wharf. So of course we stopped to investigate and had a quick drink - just one, hey we were cycling. 

The site is the new home for South London craft brewery BBNO (Brew by Numbers), moving from previous location in the Enid Street railways arches in Bermondsey - though their taproom will remain open there as well as their barrel store in Peckham. The new site in its early stages of development but  you can already choose from a wide range of beers and sit at tables inside or out. The brewery hosted the Riverside Beer Festival there last month.

Current opening hours - Thursdays and Fridays (3 pm - 10 pm); Saturdays (12 noon - 10 pm); Sundays (12 noon to 8 pm)

Monday, September 20, 2021

Music Monday: Broadside Hacks

Broadside Hacks is a new 'London-based collective committed to the celebration and perpetuation of folk music', with a great new album out, 'Songs Without Authors Vol.1'.  The collective have been doing a folk session at Skehans (Kitto Road SE14) and a video for one of the tracks - Willie of Winsbury by Katy J Pearson & Maudlin - was filmed at the Rivoli Ballroom in Crofton Park. 

Some of the performers have previously been more associated with 'indie' acts such as Sorry or Goat Girl - the latter's ex-bassist Naima Bock contributes one track. They say: ' The marvel of Folk music is, in our view, its ability to find relevance in all times and places, while remaining essentially local. Broadside Hacks believe the old songs can still be relevant – that in the ancient melodies and words about past times can be found truths about today. If you want proof, revisit one of the albums that introduced them to folk – Liege and Lief – and hear songs that could be drawn from today’s headlines, about honour killings, about class, about lives forced into certain directions for want of the choices wealth brings. In 2021, to so many people folk just means “someone with an acoustic guitar”. Songs Without Authors is not that: it is music rooted in a place that has grown to encompass something universal'.