RBKC set to become “the best Council”?

“A challenge given to us by the bereaved and survivors from Grenfell Tower. Simply…to be the best Council.” – Councillor Elizabeth Campbell, leader of Kensington & Chelsea Council, Keynote Speech, May 2022

Kensington & Chelsea Council (RBKC) is consulting with North Kensington residents again. We ask what will be different this time around.

RBKC’s amoral bearings…. ‘What a good thing it is to dwell in unity’

RBKC’s current Grenfell Recovery Programme runs until March 2024. Their planning work for the post-2024 period has commenced with a “wide-reaching conversation” about the future with bereaved, survivors and the local community. In theory, the consultation will provide an outline of what “best council” will mean in practice.

Click link below to read in full

KDR – Planning for the next phase of the Council’s work on Grenfell

Problems

A problem with the current consultation process is that in other initiatives with similar wording and ostensibly aiming at the same outcome – change – RBKC has comprehensively failed to create any identifiable change.

“This Council – its policies, its leadership, its senior people and its culture – has changed.” This was the audacious claim of Cllr Campbell and Barry Quirk, RBKC’s then Chief Executive in March 2020.

Yet, it was not clear what specific things they were referring to. No evidence was offered. RBKC internalised their story and believed it to be self-evidently true.

After June 2017, RBKC enthusiastically adopted noble-sounding policies but didn’t implement them in the community. After the fire, the council’s leadership changed. The chief executive quit and the disgraced councillors Paget-Brown and Feilding-Mellen were made to resign by the Communities Secretary Sajid Javid. But the new leaders carry out approximately the same policies for the same political party and Conservative campaign literature in the borough goes out of its way to avoid mentioning Grenfell and North Kensington.

For an area in which many residents disproportionately suffer the impacts of poverty and inequality, the upshot has been no meaningful culture change at the local authority during the years when implementing change and offering real political concessions to North Kensington seemed possible. During those years, backing up their declarations of “change” with real action should have been a moral imperative to RBKC, impossible to resist despite their ideological discomfort with socialist policies. This failure was acknowledged by Callum Wilson, RBKC’s Director of Grenfell Partnerships, in an email to residents about the Beyond 2024 consultation: “I do recognise that many people in the community will ask why this work has not already been done, and we need to acknowledge this openly – but nonetheless I think it is important that is done now, however delayed it may feel.”

It is difficult to draw much confidence from this admission given the record. Five and a half years since Grenfell and RBKC have not offered a major vision, nor have they significantly improved their attention to detail in delivering services.

Expectations

There is a natural expectation that does not fade over time that the scale of change should be commensurate with the scale of the crime and the losses suffered. There should at least be a sincere attempt at commensurate change.

If power continues to be distributed unevenly in Kensington, profound change does not look possible. Consultations have taken hundreds of volunteer hours from the local population but have not addressed worsening social and economic injustices. Increased democracy would do more to arrest the prevailing impotence and apathy than another 50 years of consultations, conversations, and co-designs.

RBKC and the media have talked about the local authority ‘regaining trust’ as a prerequisite to North Kensington’s recovery. They need to drop the ‘re’ and focus on establishing trust for the first time since the borough’s creation in the 60s.

“Devastatingly Frank”

In a conversation with Urban Dandy, Callum Wilson acknowledged that there is a long way to go regarding trust: “We know we are dealing with a degree of apathy heightened by Grenfell, with some people not taking part because they believe change is not going to happen. But we have to keep trying and we have to evidence change.”

On ways for the public to participate without having to sign up to the RBKC format, Wilson said: “Spin-off consultations, run by residents with or without council representatives, are possible. They are more organic. There’s an end-of-year deadline for all consultations. We’re happy to receive input, we’re happy for people to make demands.

“I just want as many people to share their views as possible so we can try and build a Council that works better for all our residents.”

RBKC says that over 600 people have spoken to them so far about what they want to see from their council in the next five years. Some have been “devastatingly frank” Wilson told us.

We will pick up our dialogue with RBKC’s Director of Grenfell Partnerships in the new year when the latest consultation has concluded, and the council can explain how they will “simply…be the best Council.”

 

By Tom Charles @tomhcharles

Exclusive Interview: Emma Dent Coad on Labour’s Grassroots Purge

Emma Dent Coad, the only Labour politician to win Kensington in its true blue history, spoke to Urban Dandy about the Labour party’s decision to bar her from standing at the next general election.

Context

Architectural historian, author, activist, and local resident Emma Dent Coad was elected to Kensington and Chelsea council in 2006. She campaigned on the full range of issues impacting residents in the most inequitable local authority in Britain including housing rights, poverty, and air quality. Dent Coad’s background in housing made her an ideal choice to be Labour’s 2017 parliamentary candidate in a constituency home to oligarchs and royals yet has seen a dramatic life expectancy decline in the borough’s poorest wards once austerity economics was imposed in 2010.

The councillor’s 2014 report, updated after the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, The Most Unequal Borough in Britain, used incontestable data to lay bare the shocking inequity of the borough where at one end 51% of children live in poverty vs at the other only 6% suffer this indignity. Dent Coad’s 2022 book, One Kensington, cemented her reputation as an expert on the impact of neoliberal economics in the borough.

PosterBaraka
Emma Dent Coad at a poster design competition for children affected by Grenfell, 2017.

2017

On Friday, June 11th the final seat in the 2017 general election was declared and Dent Coad was elected MP for Kensington: a first-time Labour gain. Winning by 20 votes, Dent Coad joined the activist Labour MPs’ Socialist Campaign Group in parliament. The role of socialists diminished under New Labour, but backbenchers like Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, and Diane Abbott kept community-based democratic, internationalist socialist politics alive in parliament. Labour’s left-right, democrat-technocrat schism had widened under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, yet New Labour was confident enough in its political project to co-exist with anti-war backbenchers and their frequent rebellions.

Three days after the Kensington constituency victory, the fire at Grenfell Tower brought the local issues that Emma Dent Coad had campaigned on to national prominence, crystalizing her parliamentary priority: justice for Grenfell.

Party leader Corbyn and other Campaign Group members were supportive of North Kensington; but Labour’s bureaucracy was dominated by factional enemies, intent on sabotaging the leadership, and as came to be revealed, actively worked to deny Labour an election victory. The harassment of Diane Abbott, the diversion of funds from left-wing candidates in marginal seats to right-wingers in safe seats and smear campaigns were among the methods deployed by this group, which included Iain McNicol, Labour’s then General Secretary. In 2017, Labour finished just 2227 votes short of being able to form a government.

Internal Labour documents leaked in 2020 showed senior party bureaucrats favouring cronyism over Corbynism. They preferred Tory rule with all the misery that brings to their own party’s kinder, more equitable, leadership. As the leaks became public (albeit not reported in the mainstream news) Dent Coad revealed her campaign had received little support from Labour HQ even when it became clear that an historic win in Kensington was on the cards.

Dent Coad explained: “When the atrocity of the Grenfell Tower fire ripped through my neighbourhood, I was finally sent help from McNicol’s office. However, it quickly became clear that this was not the help requested; I needed assistance with my casework team, who were struggling to help those impacted by the fire, but instead the general secretary sent someone to police me.

“I had been going out every day, mostly on my own or with a couple of colleagues. There was no feeling at that time that I was in any kind of physical danger. However, on day three while I was addressing a crowd of local people, including a group of very distressed young men, my ‘helper’ attempted to drag me away, saying “Ian McNicol says you must get out of here”.

“Out of here? I lived there – and still do. These were my neighbours.”

Despite McNicol’s and other fifth columnists’ efforts, Dent Coad represented the shocked people of Kensington with grace and constant solidarity, pushing for justice against a series of hostile Home Secretaries and Communities Secretaries.  

2019

By 2019, Brexit dominated British politics, with battle lines drawn between those supportive of the democratic will of the people and those manoeuvring for another referendum. Chief among the latter category was Sir Keir Starmer QC who, with the patronage of Shadow Chancellor McDonnell, became Shadow Brexit Secretary.

Starmer. Image from Wikipedia Commons

Starmer, having committed political sabotage by reversing the leadership’s Brexit policy live on-stage at party conference, was reliant on McDonnell to survive on the front bench. McDonnell maintained that Starmer’s establishment profile was an asset, offsetting the activist image of other prominent Labour figures. McDonnell’s misjudgement, at a time when most Labour MPs were obsessed with stopping Brexit, stopping Corbyn, or both, forced Labour into an absurd position. For the 2019 election, Corbyn had to present a plan of negotiating a deal with the European Union, which would then be one of the options in another referendum, with prime minister Corbyn staying “neutral” on the EU exit agreement that he himself had made. In contrast, Boris Johnson could repeatedly declare that all 635 Tory candidates supported his “Get Brexit Done” strategy after he ejected 21 of his MPs from the party for backing Starmer’s opposition to the Conservatives’ exit deal.

Starmer’s Brexit sabotage created an unsustainable paradigm for Labour MPs in marginal seats. At a time when Labour could have been laser-focused on Corbyn’s campaign to transform the economy through popular policies, MPs were instead burdened with confused Brexit messaging.

The result was a landslide for the Conservatives, followed by Starmer’s emphatic win in the Labour leadership contest. Unlike the Tories, however, Starmer immediately abandoned his key election pledges.

In Kensington, reflecting the position of her constituents, MP Dent Coad campaigned as a Remainer. As well as the historically strong Tory vote, the incumbent had to contend with the Liberal Democrats’ repeatedly declaring that only they could stop the Conservatives and Brexit in Kensington and, despite polling clearly demonstrating they were a non-contender, the national media consistently parrotted these declarations. Thus, the Lib Dems cultivated a local following amongst anti-Brexit hardliners as The Guardian amplified their loose talk, advising Kensington residents to vote Liberal to stop Brexit. This combination, above all else, handed the Kensington seat to Tory Felicity Buchan.

Dent Coad has remained a local councillor and was elected leader of the Labour group at RBKC; Buchan voted against implementing the recommendations of the Grenfell Inquiry in the Fire Safety Bill.

Labour’s Purge

Labour’s right, having fatally undermined the party from within in 2017 and ‘19, continued to attack its own. The Labour party has purged many grassroots members, detailed by al Jazeera reporting of a 500 GB leak of internal party documents. This data and its story were not reported by mainstream British media.

Al Jazeera’s documentaries reconfirmed that the “antisemitism crisis” in the Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn was a fictional construct. Used to undermine lifelong anti-racist campaigner Corbyn, false claims of antisemitism were used to target MPs, councillors, officials, members, campaigners, and journalists. Using calculated and insincere tactics mimicking those of the McCarthyite era, Labour bureaucrats under McNicol deliberately slowed the investigation process of those accused. Showing a disregard for Jewish suffering, they enabled the notion that British Jews were under threat from Corbyn to become received wisdom. The accusation of antisemitism is so historically important that it should never be leveraged carelessly. When Jennie Formby, a Corbyn ally, replaced McNicol, the investigations process gained efficiencies and a seriousness in its fact-finding mission that led to the data-supported conclusion that less than 0.3% of Labour’s members had faced investigation, let alone been found guilty.  

The media chose not to publish this underwhelming conclusion to the story. Having gorged themselves on exposés trashing the party’s grassroots, mainstream journalists remained silent on the results, facts, and findings. With media complicity, Keir Starmer was emboldened to attack the Labour left more directly and began a purge of socialists and activists from the party’s ranks.

Human Story

Jeremy Corbyn’s and Emma Dent Coad’s commitment to those affected by Grenfell is an example of how to value everyone in society regardless of wealth, race, and creed. True leadership guides, supports and lifts success. An empathetic leader is dedicated to community and defends the contributions of those who may otherwise be swept aside or belittled by the wealth motivations of maintaining and increasing personal gain. Starmer’s defenders argue that his actions will get Labour into government. But leveraging an accusation as serious as antisemitism callously and insincerely to target and abuse grassroots members for personal gain is a shameful and abusive act, not an electoral strategy. The purposeful fear this has stoked is successfully silencing dissent and driving Labour further to the right, hence Corbyn losing the party whip in 2020 for mild pushback against his accusers. 

This treatment of grassroots Labour members is wholly relatable to many people. Similar to the very real anxiety of the growing cost of living, food poverty, the heating crisis, the dismantling of public services and growing job insecurity, party activists not following the party line are silenced and isolated for fear that they may suffer the same public shaming and professional losses of Corbyn and Dent Coad, punished for championing the many over the few. The messaging is clear: anti-war anti-racists will be falsely accused, blamed, and shamed in the virtual town square. A powerful tool to silence discussion and dissent.  

EDC Blocked

Urban Dandy strongly condemns antisemitism in all its forms. One manifestation of antisemitism scarcely mentioned is that of Labour politicians and officials manipulating and weaponizing it to stoke fear in Jewish communities and remove those that literally care for the poorer, marginalised elements of our society and want better healthcare, education, transit, and welfare for their fellow citizens.

This is the establishment utilising an evil that nobody could ever defend for personal gain, to protect the wealth of a few and ensure services are not given to the many. It is both calculated and gross. No one defends or associates themselves with an antisemite! To wield this accusation so broadly, even vaguely is absolutely unconscionable. Yet there is no recognition that it must only be used precisely, so important is it to defend those who could suffer under such oppression.

As you will read below, the antisemitism fiction was utilised by senior party bureaucrats to eliminate Emma Dent Coad from Labour’s candidate list here in Kensington, joining accusations as infantile as having ‘smiled or laughed’ at a comment made about Starmer to manufacture a context for their purge.

Interview

We sat down with Emma Dent Coad on the day that her successor as MP for Kensington, Felicity Buchan was announced as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. Dent Coad describes this appointment as “the ultimate kick in the face for Grenfell bereaved and survivors. She’s voted with everything the Tories have done. She’s never even spoken on housing.”

Urban Dandy: How are things at Kensington CLP (Constituency Labour Party) after what happened to you?

Emma Dent Coad: “People are supporting different candidates, in good faith according to their personal priorities. But what we need is somebody to truly represent Kensington. Grenfell was a symptom of what’s been going on here for 50 years, but in Kensington and Chelsea deprivation and inequality is unforgivable because the Council has the funds to tackle it. In my book ‘One Kensington’ I show that during the austerity years when many councils lost a lot of funding, we lost very little government funding because Business Rates Retention, which was designed to soften the impact of cuts, brought in so much money.

“In terms of the local party, we should be a healthy, broad church. We should work together campaigning to get the elected candidate elected. We did even when Blair was leader and the Iraq War was affecting so many residents. It was tough campaigning, but we did it. Our then MP Karen Buck voted against the war; she wasn’t blocked from re-standing.

“I’d like to know more about the remaining candidates. What they’ve done to support communities. I’d like to see their full CVs. Some of the candidates don’t have much of a footprint from their previous work.”

UD: What happened when you were barred from being a candidate? What’s the process?

EDC: “I was asked to attend a “due diligence interview” and emailed a list of alleged ‘crimes’ a few days before the interview. At the interview, there are three members of the panel and one observer. The chair of the panel makes the decision.”

UD: So, it’s a real interview? Or have they already made the decision by the time you get there?

EDC: “It felt like they’d already made the decision.”

UD: Officially, why were barred from standing? We saw a list of the reasons online, and they were ridiculous. But were there any where you thought ‘fair enough, I can just about see their point there’?

EDC: “No, there weren’t any that felt fair, and some were simply inaccurate or wrong, like things I couldn’t have done because they were during lockdown, and I was at home for months recovering from cancer. One of the things on their list was that I went on a Counterfire march during lockdown. The thing is, Counterfire don’t organise marches. It was a Stop the War Coalition march in 2019 and there was a photo of me. In the background was somebody holding a Socialist Appeal placard. My crime was standing near someone who was holding a placard from an organisation that was proscribed – two years after the march.”

UD: Is it all just things from social media? Do they just go through people’s social media accounts till they find something they decide they can use against them?

EDC: “It feels like that.”

UD: What else was on their list?

EDC: “A lot of it was Thought Crime, a lot of it was straw-clutching, things you wouldn’t give a second thought to. They created a long list of these things then concluded I have “poor judgment” so shouldn’t be a Labour candidate.”

UD: So, the length of the list is used to justify the decision even though it’s all fluff?

EDC: “Yes. Prince Harry came up, and when they read it the chair actually laughed at the joke I made about whether or not he was able to fly a helicopter. This was at a Republic meeting. So I’m allowed to be a republican and I’m allowed to be a pacifist but can’t crack silly jokes. One of the ‘crimes’ was that when I was an MP I spoke at a CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) rally in Parliament Square. Bruce Kent was speaking, so I listened to him, then I gave my speech, and then went back to work. During the rally, somebody played guitar and sang a song that the chair said was ‘offensive.’ I didn’t even hear it, but that was on the list.

“It’s guilt by association – joint enterprise if you like – and nothing I said in the interview would have made a difference.”

UD: So, it’s called a ‘due diligence interview’ but it isn’t really due diligence?

EDC: “Hardly.”

UD: Did antisemitism come up?

EDC: “Yes. I had ‘liked’ a comment years ago on Facebook that one elderly Jewish CLP member had made to another elderly Jewish CLP member, criticising Israel. It was a short factual comment, but this was deemed antisemitic; this was well before the IHRA definition was adopted by the way. When I was elected to parliament, I voluntarily arranged to meet the Board of Deputies; as far as I know, I’m the only MP to have done this. It was a positive and helpful meeting. I also did antisemitism training twice with the Jewish Labour Movement. Words matter and we need to be careful with how we describe others. So I generally kept quiet about the Middle East, which is hard when you have so many constituents with family there, and you can’t speak out for them without being accused of something so repellent.”

UD: Do they at least show appreciation for the work you’ve done over the years before they tell you you’re not allowed to stand? Is there a sense that they value your contribution?

EDC: “No, there was nothing.”

UD: Did they mention Grenfell?

EDC: “Grenfell wasn’t mentioned once. I think they want to make it go away.”

UD: So, they don’t have to justify their accusations?

EDC: “No. One of the things was that I criticised Labour’s lack of policies last year. But they weren’t coming out with any policies, I was just stating a fact.”

UD: The thing that stayed with me most from the al Jazeera documentaries was that the people who were being targeted by the party were really innocent people who had probably never thought about any kind of factional rivalries. They were just trying to do their best for their communities and they were subjected to harassment and abuse for no good reason.

EDC: “It’s really difficult. They say all these things about you and then you’re vulnerable. As I was coming here, I heard somebody behind me call my name and for a second I thought ‘oh no’ because it could be somebody abusive. But it was my neighbour saying ‘Don’t worry, Emma, we don’t believe this stuff,’ and he gave me a hug.”

UD: Who was on the panel?

EDC: “Three NEC members and one observer. One of the panel had already publicly declared their support for one of the other potential candidates in Kensington. We reported this conflict of interest but there was no response at all. The panel were clearly all on the right wing of the party; I didn’t stand a chance.”

UD: What is your take on the national Labour party now?

EDC: “It’s a shame they’re narrowing the sphere. The world is changing all the time and we need people with a variety of experience. There is little or no expertise in the built environment in parliament, and that is something I can offer. After 40 years in the party, I’ve always been in the Labour family, and it has been inclusive. Not now.

“More than anything it’s difficult to have been blocked rather than having the chance to present myself to local membership as a candidate.

“But we are where we are. I’m a team player, and I will continue to represent residents as I have done for the past 16 years.”

By Jennifer Cavanagh @Jannanni & Tom Charles @tomhcharles

AUTUMN WINTER THOUGHTS – QUEENS PARK…

Why do I think so much?
How does my mind make sense
Of the madness inside my head?
The boy who lived on the edge
Never truly fitting in-never wanting to!
Now a mature man who can relate to anyone
Who knows beggars and their dogs….
Judging nobody – for my own house is but ruins
Feeling comfortable with drifters
Those running away from society…

I always knew I was different
Maybe a little odd or even lost
Always looking behind the mirror
In search of my true self
Which still remains just an Autumn shadow
Glimpses of sunshine break through the clouds
Warmth upon my face
It’s going to be a long winter…

Memories of boyhood solitude
Bike rides to the moon
My heart my soul are quiet, tranquil, peaceful, content
I feel like a dry golden crisp leaf
Slowly falling-swaying
Finally settling on the frost-covered grass
I am always dreaming
For my reality is not the truth
But something entirely different…

A friendly robin is following me
I smile as she sings
My new companion-A brief acquaintance
Her secret melodies only understood by nature
A song of Spring’s return
New life fresh hope new beginnings
I pray she makes it through
As she flies away alone
Into the cold misty night
To be alive is truly wonderful
To feel the joy and pain of true love
Perhaps the greatest gift of all…

M C Bolton, October 2022

Photo by Jennifer Cavanagh

SPID Theatre takes on RBKC for Housing Justice

How to deal with an inflexible, disconnected, disgraced local authority that gets to mark its own homework on its supposed Change policy?  SPID Theatre on Ladbroke Grove spun its web and caught some official flies with an up-close performance of The Story of Fires and Floods. It then headed to the V & A to perform the same show and screen its film The History of Neglect. The event was also used to announce that SPID and residents of Kensal House are taking legal action against the council for its neglect.

Three of the protagonists break down how this all came about….

Act One – Sophia

‘Social, Progressive, Interconnected, Diverse!’ we shout.

The audience at the Victoria and Albert Museum rises, celebrating with us Kensal House Estate’s heritage and breathing life into the museum. The place buzzes with community spirit – artistic activism in action. It’s empowering to meet the eye of so many press and SPID funders as I announce class action against our landlord, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) for their negligence. Continue reading

Retrograde Borough of Kensington & Chelsea

RBKC’s coat of arms. The motto means ‘What a good thing it is to dwell in unity’ – picture from rbkc.gov.uk

An outsider assessing Kensington and Chelsea Council (RBKC) from a distance can be forgiven for believing that the council has become a more progressive, liberal, and democratic institution since the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017. This illusion is sustained by the local authority’s exhaustive public relations policy and an absence of political or media scrutiny. In this induced amnesia, RBKC keeps a firm grip on North Kensington. But the council’s approach to the north is arguably more regressive and undemocratic than at any time in its history. A study conducted in the early years of the borough sheds light on the dynamics at play.

Sixties London

In 1963, the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea was formed by a merger of the separate K and C boroughs through the London Government Act. In 1967, Professor John Dearlove of the University of Sussex began researching the relationship between RBKC’s decision-makers and those seeking to influence policy, referred to as interest groups. For years, Professor Dearlove attended council meetings and learned about community issues, publishing his findings first in an academic journal[i] and later in a book[ii].

In the 1968 local elections, London turned blue, the Conservatives winning control of 28 councils to Labour’s three. The 2022 results reflect a changed city with just six councils controlled by the Tories and 21 by Labour. But RBKC stands apart from the wider city, remaining a Conservative safe seat throughout, and the only remaining Tory council in inner London. But it has been a divided borough, with North Kensington council wards tending to vote Labour, and two now-abolished parliamentary constituencies, Kensington North, and Regent’s Park & Kensington North, returning only Labour MPs to the Commons between 1945 and 2010.

The stark contrasts of the borough were present from its inception. The London Housing Survey in 1968 stated: “one of the most distinctive features about the Royal Borough […] the sharp contrast between North Kensington and the rest of the Borough”[iii]

Professor Dearlove noted the north’s higher number of manual labourers, its overcrowded homes, lack of open spaces, and higher proportion of children. Relating these disparities to his research, Dearlove saw the social, economic, cultural, and political divide between the north and the rest of the borough reflected in the contrasting interest groups interacting with council decision-makers, with northern residents inclined to seek innovation, change, and sometimes the reversal of the council’s policies. Continue reading

Both Barrels

Sitting alone upon the hill inside my head

Overlooking the City

Watching soldier ants devour, destroy each other

For no reason, no reason at all

Slowly returning to their homes

Questioning their beliefs their actions

Cognitive dissonance quickly vanishing – Vanquished

For the perpetual lie must continue…

Picking up a placard like a sword

Needing a cause to feel validated

I am here, they cry

We are the virtuous ones 

My life is relevant

My identity counts

Truth is it doesn’t…

You’re full of self-delusion

Just used by idealogues for a lost cause

Of their immature revolution

Always a follower

Never a leader

Or even worse an individual free thinker!

Feeling safe in a crowd

A peaky blinder

No one’s listening or cares

Even you don’t really

In the quiet of your bedroom…

But hey! The next march beckons

I sit upon my hill in peace

For I am a gang of one

I left the battle long ago

Slowly walking away

Leaving the foolish to fight the deluded

While the band plays on………………….

M C Bolton, May 2022

drawing by TC

THE HOMECOMING

Gently I stroll barefoot

Across the dew-soaked grass

The sun slowly rising

My feelings, my emotions stretching

Dusting off the fine particles of my subconscious dreams…

Is this the Promised Land?

I cannot return to the wilderness

Never again do I want to feel

It’s hard sand between my toes

Or hear the jackals howling at the moon…

I have made it this far

To the land of giants

Where their walled cities stand defiant…

Leaving behind my former self

Shredded like an old snakeskin

Blown away by the breeze…

This flawed, weak man 

Like a piece of driftwood

Made smooth by sea and sand

Tossed casually into the eternal flame

A sacrifice of unconditional Love

To glow amongst the embers

Finally, home

Finally free………………….

Mark C Bolton, August 2022

Why Write

Now & again, we are invited to deliver writing workshops for young people. Here’s what I like to tell them…

I tell them that the aim of the workshop is for them to write skilfully, to express their ideas creatively and with confidence. We encourage them to take ownership of their English language; it belongs to them, not their teachers, schools, or exam board.

Why does writing matter?

Because people think with words, vocabulary is very important; it allows us to understand ourselves, each other, and our world. And all jobs require communication, from applications to emails, to writing reports, and blogging – a way with words boosts your chances of success in any career.

We always emphasise that we are not there to judge them. We aren’t following the national curriculum. We are genuinely curious about what they have to offer. Usually, blank faces look back but some grasp this concept of creativity for self-expression and liberation. Writing is largely a self-taught discipline; anybody can develop a style that works for them, with enough practice.

Impact

Words can be used for various reasons – to hurt, inspire, inform, lighten, uplift, and connect. People without words are frustrated and angry, they feel impotent. Continue reading

INITIUM NOVUM

A calmness entered my soul

Just briefly I was complete

Everything made sense

Feeling that inner peace 

Of refusing to fit in or go with the flow

I was right all along

The never ending war inside my head

Slowly rescinding as I accepted defeat…

Knowing I just had to be me

Taking risks-Putting it all on the line

No fear of rejection 

For there is truly nothing to reject

Being human wanting to love

To be intimate-To care

Sharing a moment in time 

For reasons I know not…

Gentle touches-A stolen kiss

Yet everything is slipping away

A landslide of the heart

Swaying like a reed in the breeze

Reaching out-Reaching inward

To feel-To grab

Hanging on to the thin thread of hope

Falling backwards into space

Beyond time-Towards darkness…

Then comes the bright piercing light

Blinding-Cleansing my soul

As I am born once more

Trying to hold on 

To my knowledge my experiences

But it’s all slipping away

Slowly slipping away

Knowing nothing once again……..

M C Bolton, July 2022

Awareness Alone

She was flying at speed, with no sense of fear. Kaleidoscopic rainbows of colours were rushing past her with excitement, an eager playfulness that she found contagious. She looked down and saw hills and valleys beneath her, she saw ploughed and fallow fields and the microscopic activity of lives being lived. She looked up and witnessed the stillness of the stars. There was a never-ending depth to them when viewed from this angle, like brushstrokes to the infinite. She looked ahead of herself and into the oncoming colour, she felt a reassuring calmness within the speed. 

She had always been a rebel, quick to play the devilish advocate of the opposite and contrary, quick to assume the role of the antagonist committed to playing the counterpoint. For so many years she had been the one trying to rush others onwards. She had called it passion. She had judged most of life as a drudgery, a flattening bore of responsibility and restraint. She had seen those surrounding her, family and friends, even strangers who’s path she would cross, as needing shaking up, waking up into the pure potentiality of a life lived in full glory. She had made herself a nuisance without any sense of shame. Pushed forwards with the wholehearted belief that she was following a higher cause, the lifetime commitment of an awakened truth-seeker, desperate to both inspire and be inspired. The counterpoint to what she perceived as inertia had always been movement, a dragging and a thrusting, a call to arms proclaimed by an individual rushing onwards at speed. Now that she was flying at speed, she found herself playing the counterpoint again. Only it wasn’t the inertia that she had always imagined it to be, the counterpoint to speed was actually stillness. 

She was still, while flying at speed. And with the stillness came a calm contentment. Strangely familiar, like a friend from the past that one struggles to recognise at first. That moment before the spark of reconnection lights the fires of your heart. The squeal of delight, the lightening of spirit, the widening of the eyes. It was as if every cell in her body was pulsating with the eternal light of the stars above. She could feel everything with expanded awareness, the entirety of her body, as well as the vistas above and below. The wind was her too. The way it rushed past with eager delight. Every colour was a world of its own, a doorway into a past moment of her life. Red and orange, blue and green, yellow and fuschia, purple and pink. She had been all these colours and more and she had retained their stain as an imprint upon her soul. The fibres of her being stored the memory of how she had been, and her past being had shaped her even more than she realised. 

Her subservience to ideology and principle had left its residue. It had been corded to her for so long and during any time of cording there will be a continual osmosis, unconscious assimilation and the creation of baggage. It wasn’t enough to cut the cord and be done. That idea was born of impatient irresponsibility. There were dues to be paid, reparations to be gathered, uncollected baggage waiting to be reclaimed. She would have to suffer the kickbacks of her former trigger-happy self, and when they came, as they surely would, she would have to resist the temptation to re-cord herself to her former ideas and principles as a method of self-defence. For such a method would place her finger back on the trigger, it would result in more shots, more death and destruction, the creation of even more baggage, further dues to be paid, further reparations to be gathered. An endless cycle of birth and death, pleasure and pain, an almost continual suffering. 

She would have to stay clam, retain a connection to stillness. And her unofficial counterpoint training would help; because in a world of continual change: new creations, physical death and decay, emotional rises, psychological shifts, developing thoughts, ever-reactive senses, the only counterpoint is that which never changes. That which is consistent. 

Awareness. 

Her Awareness. That within, which is aware of all the changes, the senses and thoughts, feelings and beliefs, all the fluid identities of the surrounding world. The ‘I AM…” that connects itself to different things in order to complete the trailing sentence and experience itself in absolute totality. If she could remain connected to the knowledge that in truth, given a long enough timeframe, she is only that awareness and nothing more, then she would probably be alright.

She continued to look ahead. The confluence of different colours had merged into a fixed point of light. Colours continued to exist in the periphery, but her attention was so concentrated that she didn’t notice them. She was beginning to know something beyond colour and form, separation and difference. She was still aware of what was below her in the fields and the valleys, she could even feel the sadnesses and joys of those who ploughed them. They fell into her like a pebble to a lake, causing a splash and a ripple that settled into calmness and transparency, security and rest. She was becoming aware of the source and the sauce. The source of it all, as distinct from the separate sauces of life, the different tastes and fancies. She was beginning to connect to this perennial awareness. Something singular and alone, but far from feeling lonely she felt more accepted and connected than she ever had before. And no sooner had she smiled to herself in self-satisfied satisfaction, than she awoke to the warm daylight of a summers morning, the rest of her household fast asleep. Her day just beginning.


by Palmer Golden

photo by talib