This is London

BlogThisisLondonHaving read Ben Judah’s excellent book on Russia under Putin, I was keen to read his insights into London in the twenty- first century.  As a Londoner, I am a keen Londonophile even though, like all enthusiasts, my affection is kept intact by no longer having to live there!

This is first class reportage of life in the capital as experienced by those on the fringes, politically and economically rather than geographically.  Apparently, over 40% of the population of London was born elsewhere in the world. Yet London remains a magnet and the route to the city is well worn by those with great hopes.

Ben Judah states that he needs to see things for himself.  He distrusts statistics.  So, in this book, he beds out for the night with rough sleepers near Hyde Park and meets people in diverse situations across the capital.  One of the most interesting interviewees was a policeman, offering his views from one side of the law.  His insights are made more interesting by the fact that he is Nigerian.

It becomes clear that there is a congregating of ethnic groups in particular corners, a fact that is articulated by many of the subjects interviewed here.  Sometimes this is for safety and companionship and other times it is the economics that keeps people in their place.

Judah does not often pass judgement on what he sees; he communicates his findings which are all based on what he encountered by crossing London.  At times, things seem grim yet this is still a city that welcomes people.  London is continually renewed by the injection of differing cultures.  The views of the migrants on the British are illuminating.

The interviews are thorough and Judah’s gift is to let people speak for themselves.  The stories they tell show that there are many Londons; some are places worth visiting and others you might wish to avoid.

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From East End to Land’s End

BlogEastEndLand'sEndI enjoy reading about history but especially the less well known aspects of key events from the past.  I thought I knew a lot about evacuees from London; my father was one, evacuated to Kent for the duration of the so- called phoney war and back in time for the Blitz!  This history by Susan Soyinka is fascinating and uncovered areas I had not previously considered and revealed new facts.  For example, there was highly efficient planning by the government for the evacuation of children from the larger cities but next to know co-ordination of their return. As a consequence, the authorities were unable to say with any certainty where children were.

The story told here is a specific one, though: Jewish children from the East End of London were evacuated with their school to Mousehole, beyond Penzance in Cornwall. The cultural change experienced by both locals and evacuees is related in an oral history that reveals the best of humanity as well as the resilience of people in times of war.

Many of the children from the Jews Free School were the ones who were not in the first wave of evacuation to Cambridgeshire.  As bombs fell more often on London, they were sent away by their parents and Cornwall was the designated receiving area.

The memories are well handled by Susan Soyinka who is clear when inconsistencies arise or where memories conflict with the records.  In part, the author shows us how she went about researching this history as she discusses her methods as well as her findings.

There are some remarkable insights into how the Jewish religious practices were kept alive in an area far from a synagogue and the story of the refugee children from Europe who, speaking no English, were also evacuated.  Their suspicions of trains and train journeys were understandable.

‘East End to Land’s End’ is a fascinating book.  It is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

Denial

As a fan of David Hare’s work, I was pleased to see this 2016 film.  He wrote the screenplay based on the real events surrounding the legal action taken by Holocaust denier David Irving against historian Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin Books.  Lipstadt had named Irving as a holocaust denier in her book and, as a result, he sued her in the UK courts.  The location is important since in British libel cases, the burden of proof is with the accuser.  Lipstadt, an American academic, therefore had to fight the case in Britain or choose not to do so.

The story is a compelling one; it was by no means clear that Irving would lose since he made the case that he genuinely held the views he did and the other side had to prove that he lied.

The cast is a strong one: Rachel Weisz played Lipstadt; Andrew Scott played Anthony Julius, her solicitor; Tom Wilkinson played the defending barrister; and Timothy Spall played Irving.

We follow the case through the eyes of Deborah Lipstadt who is initially disbelieving at the steps she has to take to defend her honour as an historian.  She does not always like the advice given to her by her legal team.  In one poignant scene, she is horrified that her barrister, on a visit to Auschwitz, treats it like any crime scene and displays little emotion.  At one point, she is invited to a dinner party where some prominent members of the British Jewish community urge her to settle out of court.  Their fear that Irving might win was their motivating factor.

Having successfully portrayed Lipstadt as being on the back foot, the film shows the legal team in action as it dismantles the case of the Holocaust denier.  It is a film about justice and standing up for the right things when the easier option might be to walk away.

‘Denial’, directed by Mick Jackson and written by David Hare, is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

 

Lines and Squares

This is a poem from my youth, read to us as very young children by a teacher in our 1960s classroom.  I recall the collection of AA Milne poems ‘When We Were Very Young’ with a blue border in the hands of my teacher as she read to us.

Lines and Squares

Whenever I walk in a London street,
I’m ever so careful to watch my feet;
And I keep in the squares,
And the masses of bears,
Who wait at the corners all ready to eat
The sillies who tread on the lines of the street
Go back to their lairs,
And I say to them, “Bears,
Just look how I’m walking in all the squares!”

And the little bears growl to each other, “He’s mine,
As soon as he’s silly and steps on a line.”
And some of the bigger bears try to pretend
That they came round the corner to look for a friend;
And they try to pretend that nobody cares
Whether you walk on the lines or squares.
But only the sillies believe their talk;
It’s ever so portant how you walk.
And it’s ever so jolly to call out, “Bears,
Just watch me walking in all the squares!”

A A Milne

BlogAAMILNE

Boy with a Dolphin: Book

BlogBoyDolphinBookI have long been a fan of David Wynne’s work as a sculptor.  There are so many London landmarks improved by the siting of one of his sculptures. Other places, too, have benefited from his talent, including Newcastle, but it is London I know best and it was here that I first put the name of the artist to the work I most admired: Boy with a Dolphin.

This book, which takes its title from his most famous work, is actually a review of his career.  Published before his death in 2014, the book includes photographs of him working as well as of the final pieces in situ.  There are still places I need to go to see his sculpture and some are in the hands of private collectors or private companies so will possibly be beyond sight unless there is a retrospective at a major gallery.

The best aspect of the book is the insight into the creative process.  There are quotes from interviews with Wynne himself as well as excerpts from newspapers and magazines.  David Wynne was friends with people in high places and many of his commissions came from someone who knew someone.  As an essentially self- taught artist, though, the fact that so many pieces are on public display is the best outcome for me.

This book with its extensive illustrations is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

Paddington Bear

The death this week of Michael Bond, creator of Paddington Bear, marks another part of my childhood passing away.  I loved the books about the bear from Peru who comes to London, where I lived as a boy, as a refugee and who learns how to fit in with the British. The first book was published in 1958 and I read many of them in the 60s.  Yet, it was an animated version broadcast by the BBC in the 70s that seared an image of the bear in my mind.  With the late great Michael Hordern as the voice of Paddington, the series of short programmes was the definitive interpretation of the stories.

The greatest animation of all time must surely be ‘Paddington Bear Goes to the Movies’ when the young bear performed a version of ‘Singing in the Rain’. Sublime!  Thank you Michael Bond.

Batman

Reading about the recent death of Adam West who played the Batman of my childhood made me reflect on the fact that the images of our formative years remain with us, despite later re-boots. Therefore, whenever anyone mentions Batman it is the image of the television series from the mid- 60s that comes to mind.

I was of an age that took these things very seriously so I did not, at the time, recognise any of the features that were later described as ‘camp’.  I did not realise that the series was from another country, they spoke English after all.  To me, it was all worth my attention and belief.  I identified more with Robin than Batman, possibly because he was younger and I was a child.

I gave all the later films a miss.  I grew away from Batman and superheroes generally but the truth is that the mid-60s television version remained with me and, when I heard the sad news about Adam West, there were all the images and references from childhood just waiting to return.  Batman, Robin, the Joker, the Riddler and the Penguin were all there (but in black and white- this was British television, 60s style!)

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