During half-term, Urban Dandy delivered a writing and poetry workshop to children at North Kensington charity Baraka Community Association. Eighteen children from local primary and secondary schools attended and explored methods for self-expression through writing short articles and poems.
As it was the 14th of the month, children considered memories and feelings evoked by the Grenfell Tower fire, eight months on. The group mind mapped their experiences during and since the fire. They then shared their memories of that day and how they have seen it affect their community, from the surreal experience of attending school on the 14th June to how people coped over the long summer.
Producing a piece of writing, the young people were free to choose their subject. Many went for Grenfell, but others wrote on other aspects of their lives. In both cases, the focus was on expressing ideas and feelings from their own experiences, rather than conforming to ideas about what they should write.
As the workshop was designed to be off-curriculum, the children heard about finding their voices, how to have a real impact, identifying a ‘hook’ for their pieces and writing for an audience, not a teacher.
London’s finest poet, Mark Bolton, then explained the process of writing poetry, and his own poetic journey. He read out his first ever composition, followed by the much more recent Aisha and the Sea, which was written in the aftermath of the fire.
Inspired and encouraged to open up, the kids then set about writing their own poems, and the workshop ended with everybody reading out loud what they had produced.
A number of the children took their work away to develop it and complete it. We hope to be able to publish a few pieces on Urban Dandy soon…
Who would have guessed that the most attractive currency in the world could be something that you cannot touch, taste, smell or hear? In fact, you cannot physically experience it outside of seeing it represented on a digital screen.
Cryptocurrencies are not yet the most powerful currency but as people become familiar with the circulation of bespoke non-physical coins, it seems to be heading that way, ultimately killing the dollar and decentralising the money system.
But this will not be immediate, the Queen B on the block is Bitcoin and she means different things to different people. As she flirts with investors and anarcho-capitalists alike, they all seem to want a bit.
I have often pondered on how today’s world of escalating dishonour, in every facet of trade, could be reverted back to good old trust; and suddenly, from the least likely place, my questions are answered. A catalyst for change in the form of a coin. What have we done to deserve this? Nothing really, I guess the heavens showed mercy on those of us who actually want a fairer world of trade. Or maybe it is a curse for those who get paid from the imbalance. All we really need is a little gratitude, to say thank you and to make sure that the security of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology is upheld as a standard for mankind. Hopefully, before extremists succeed in resetting this crooked world.
What’s All The Fuss About?
It’s a very, very big thing, even if you don’t know it yet, you soon will. In 2010 I was baffled by the concept of E-gold so I became curious. Virtual gold-backed by real gold? How can you trust it, who, what, where, why?
I was lead to discover that people were beginning to use an alternative currency called Bitcoin. Immediately I thought that this may be the beginning of my ideal – A world of unregulated, yet consenting, free trade. Being a traditionalist at heart, a currency that you cannot touch seemed well abstract and wasn’t easy for me to accept, but on the other hand, a currency owned by the people: very understandable.
All this caused me to delve deeper into a more abstract concept called cryptocurrencymining which basically involves virtual miners (manned computer hardware) solving a digital request in the form of an algorithm and a complex equation verifying transactions on a blockchain. With this done successfully, the miner is remunerated in, the digital currency, Bitcoin. The request normally aims to verify a ledger entry.
Even after reading numerous articles, and watching as many videos, it all still made no sense to me. My interest was destined to go MIA after realising the amount of processing power needed to generate a substantial amount of Bitcoin (more here); it was an investment that I felt was too expensive, time-consuming and risky; it didn’t quite weigh up.
Fast forward five years, I only recently returned as, what I call, a late-early adopter as this was just before the period of mass awareness – 2016 to the present. My interest soared. I now see that I was clueless (and still am) as to how many fresh possibilities cryptocurrencies offered. It’s almost a sin not to know.
Although much about this new type of money has become common talk, I still couldn’t grasp a full understanding of it. I put this down to the complexity, the huge scope of this money of account thing, the volatility and the many huge unanswered questions surrounding it. But now, I think it’s safe to say that four years on, many of the initial issues, such as the convenience and transfer times, have been addressed with its natural evolution. By the growing amount of startups and the thousands of crypto exchanges emerging online right off of its back, you can see that the world is shifting.
Less than eight months on from the Grenfell Tower fire disaster and Kensington and Chelsea Council’s money grab in the North Kensington community is back in full flow. Canalside House, one of the last remaining spaces utilised by charities, the voluntary sector, small businesses and other local enterprises, is to be sold to property developers. The decision raises questions about whether the Conservative council has learned any of the lessons of the Grenfell Tower fire, which was the culmination of years of neglect, indifference and wilful ignorance by the local authority. In the run up to the crucial local elections in May, the decision to sell Canalside represents a calculation by the local authority that the local population will be apathetic as one of the community’s last assets is stripped.
Canalside House, less than a mile from Grenfell Tower, is home to almost 20 organisations, most of which have played a direct and ongoing role in supporting the community in the aftermath of the unprecedented fire on Lancaster West estate on June 14th. In the absence of a serious local authority response to the disaster, local organisations and their volunteers stepped into the void left by the Tory council. The council is widely believed to be responsible for the 71 deaths and incalculable trauma in North Kensington.
Kensington and Chelsea has a large number of charities, but it is a borough that needs them, owing to the grotesque levels of inequality and high levels of poverty, much of which is concentrated in North Kensington. Canalside House is one of the main hubs for community organisations, serving hundreds of local people.
We’re in an atomised society, but you’re not an atom, you’re a social, interdependent human. So, with the demise of the extended family system, the weakness of the nuclear family system and the rise of the lone individual consumer system, finding community is necessary.
Where’s your group? What’s your group? Who’s got your back when you’re down, out or lonesome? We whittled matters down to one question and asked it to a load of Londoners. One respondent told me that the breakdown of the family system is “actually against natural law as it leaves most people desperate and stressed with feelings of redundancy, unworthiness, detachment at the cost of a feeling of separation rather than attachment” – well put.
The question was the same to each person: “What do you get from your group that you wouldn’t otherwise have in your life?”
Agathe told me about her meditation group:
“Whenever I walk in to ‘our’ room I am enveloped with a feeling of welcoming and acceptance. A feeling that I have a place there, so it’s a sense of belonging…a feeling of support from others. It doesn’t matter how I’m feeling, how I’m meditating, those in the group do not judge me and often they can also relate to me. I know this because we talk openly about things that matter to us and that we wouldn’t talk about so easily to others. What a treasure and comfort it is to be able to talk about who we are, to be able to connect – in an unstable and constantly changing world – to our unmoving and unmovable self in a safe and supported environment. What we have in our group is friendship based on truth and compassion”.
Antonio talked about group psychotherapy:
“We are very interested in each other’s pain, we become kind, loving and compassionate…Without the group I would be less accepting, less tolerant. I’ve learned acceptance and tolerance in my group”.
Alice participates in a variety of groups – addiction recovery, yoga, employment:
“Connection – identification and closeness to people with who I share a common bond and/or interest (the purpose of the group). Group participation takes away a layer of separation between people, and brings those who might not otherwise socialise together under a common purpose or interest. Groups remove the superficial reason for separation – gender, age, race etc. between people.
From this connection stem opportunities for intimacy, the sharing of thoughts, ideas and where appropriate feelings, which, in my experience, reinforce the sense of connection between people… From intimacy stem a whole load of emotions – hope, excitement, sadness, fear, love – all of which ultimately result in a sense of fulfilment – the acknowledgement that I am alive and living”.
Martin talked about his family:
“I feel that being part of my sibling group gives me a support and a feeling of value. Inside the family, because we are totally familiar, there is an awareness of the full capacity of my commitment the group. So, when help is required I am asked only what I am capable of. I feel happy to be of service and have a sense of value because I am useful to great people that matter to me. To me, the family group is a symbiotic relationship that feeds everyone involved and expands the spirit. Groups outside of this can feel contractual and draining, without the end feelings of voluntary service. I imagine the difference between receiving a letter from a friend in need and a letter from the tax office. One group leaves you feeling useful”.
So the key to success could be getting as close to a healthy family dynamic as possible…
Jason: “I’ve been going to men’s groups for the last three years”:
“The feelings I get within them are a mixture of frustration, challenge and at times a sense of deep connection. On the whole, they are something that nurtures my soul, rather than just banter or goal-orientated back slapping.
One is a Ritual Group. Men who come here are looking for deeper or spiritual exploration to see their life anew. Men are part of the group, but somehow go beyond it, going into a deep personal space, which may or may not be shared.
Usually a key function of all these groups is a talking circle. Or more accurately a listening circle. Men take turns to speak without interruptions. The intentions are to be lean of speech, talking from the heart and only saying what is most essential. There is no direct feedback. This would shut down and close off what the speaker is going through.
This is the most important thing we can give to each other, to be heard. Only I am in a position to help myself, and I know more about my problem than any of you. Advice is useless. Empathy is useful.
Sometimes it’s powerful and enough to hear someone talking about their own story instead of talking about mine directly and seeing the parallels to find solutions. Hearing their struggles can sometimes help me find strength in managing my own tribulations.
With women in the group, unconscious power structures come into the dynamic, which is not useful for heart speaking.
In support groups, I am usually challenged on my intentions and thoughts. Men will actually say to my face that they think I am wasting my time, or avoiding important decisions based on what they know of me. Very useful; who in the world actually tells us what we need, due to fear of offence or because they can’t be bothered?
In the support group I currently go to, we initiate each other and de-initiate each other, challenging ourselves on why we are entering or leaving the group, what we offer to it. We have a charge circle, putting out into the open things we feel are uncomfortable about each other, and what they in turn say about us. We take turns to lead and give each other feedback on our leadership. We spend time in nature as a group.
Above all, men’s groups give me a chance to be brotherly towards other men, in a deep and caring way. A form of love which is not idealised or sexualised. Something plain and solid like a shaker chair”.
The Dalai Lama
(no quotation marks, this is me writing, not him) When DL first visited the United States in 1979, he was shocked to hear how much self-loathing was implied in the questions he was asked by his audiences. He attributed the self-hatred to the alienation brought about by the dominance of the nuclear family system, in contrast to the traditional extended family in India and Tibet.
A retreat into a world of one is a safety blanket but the atomization of our culture is shaping our ideas and attitudes about ourselves. How do we habitually see ourselves? Dignified and noble? Or very negatively? From nagging pessimism about our value to the depths of darkness and loathing, my thoughts are often turned against myself.
A disconnection between the internal and external is exposed and hope lies in recognizing and nurturing the internal. This cannot be done alone. Where is your group in 2018?
Urban Dandy Meditation will take place for the first time on Thursday 15th February, 7:30pm in the Library, downstairs at Essex Unitarian Church, 112 Palace Gardens Terrace, Notting Hill Gate, W8 4RT.
Free meditation class for the North Kensington community, learn/practise transcendental meditation, there will be readings of literature and poetry, information, discussion…All faiths/no faith, come as you are, everybody welcome,