THE PARTING

I dropped anchor

Watching her slowly sail over the horizon

Knowing we would never see each other again

A small tear formed in the corner of my eye

Where it stayed

For the stoicism within my soul

Kept it from rolling down my cheek…

I knew I would miss her

We had fought so many battles together

At times against each other

She was brave good and true…

Capturing my heart upon my first gaze

Knowing it was doomed from the start

I still entered willingly

Laughing inwardly at my foolishness…

Yet what a journey

For a brief moment

We were both truly alive

Living dangerously -Without fear of tomorrow

Caring, sharing, touching each others’ spirit

Even praying together one time

Feeling the Love of God

Descend on us like a dove

But even that was not enough

For religion, tradition, duty calls

What should have pulled us together

Tore us apart!

I held on briefly-Still do

Believing that what God ordained-Brought together

No man could separate!

This world, this often cruel sea

Not made for the likes of us

As we both sail into the mist of time…

I will never forget you

For you are like the cool Summer breeze

That blows through my hair

I know it’s you

Just passing by

Just saying hello!

Just saying Hi !

A wry smile cracks upon my face

I truly love you still

Yet you can never hold the wind….

M C BOLTON MAY 2022

photo by TC

RBKC has bins

Norland Ward in Kensington & Chelsea is 0.2 miles from Grenfell Tower. In a rational political culture, local politicians seeking election in that ward on Thursday would express support for the victims of the Grenfell fire and solemnly vow to address the worsening economic and social inequality that characterises North Kensington. But in the Royal Borough, pushing policies of injustice and inequality can guarantee you a safe seat, as the Tory candidates make clear in their campaign literature.

We previously looked at Kensington & Chelsea News, the local Conservative Party’s main election propaganda, which sets out their key policies: bin collections, borough-wide parking permits, clean air, low council tax, saving the local police station and money for parks. While some of these pledges are contradictory and some are probably fibs, they are accompanied by the biggest profanity of all; council leader Elizabeth Campbell claiming that “continued support and meaningful recovery for the communities most affected by the Grenfell tragedy will be at the heart of everything we do.”

North Ken Censored

The election propaganda for Norland Ward is more of the same, talking up the threat of a Labour-run council, promoting absurd policies and ignoring residents in the north of the borough. Even though Norland’s boundary reaches into North Kensington, there is no mention of Grenfell or the poverty that plagues the area.

The Conservative candidates, Stuart Graham and David Lindsay, have ultra-safe seats and plenty of political space to express any conscience or vision they possess. They instead follow the council strategy of studiously ignoring North Kensington. They state they are “committed to standing up for the residents of Holland Park and Notting Hill,” omitting North Kensington completely.

The Norland campaign literature is aimed squarely at those who already live in comfort. In the irrational borough, this group is attended to slavishly: “We need a council that has a record of standing up for residents and delivering more while costing less.”

The Tories do have a record of standing up for certain residents; the ones who don’t need anybody to stand up for them. And what has happened to those who don’t fall into that category? Take one look at Grenfell Tower for a clue. “Delivering more while costing less” is pure propaganda and doesn’t exist in the real world. It is a message to rich voters that the Tories will spend the bare minimum on statutory services.

Bins Vs Beings

Like in Kensington & Chelsea News, the Norland Tories use fear to try to galvanise voters. As there aren’t any actual threats to the wealthy of Norland, the candidates invent one: the ward is being threatened by the local Labour party, who want to make the streets dirty. They urge readers to “protect the look of Kensington and Chelsea’s streets,” vowing that if elected they will defend the “pristine condition” of Norland’s pavements “at all costs.” The scaremongering peaks with the statement: “The fate of our community will be decided by you.” Quite chilling, if your political creed is based on rubbish.

The fetishization of bin collections fills the void left by the candidates’ disinterest in communities outside the rich Tory base. Stuart Graham, a new candidate for the ward, appears well-versed in the art of political distraction, coming from the euphemistically named “political and public sector communications industry.” His website’s main picture is of the refugee-hating home secretary, while his LinkedIn shows he supported the imbecile health secretary as thousands died unnecessarily at the height of the pandemic.

Revolution

It’s a small step from spinning Patel and Hancock to representing Kensington and Chelsea council in its post-Grenfell iteration. “Let’s protect our progress” Graham and Lindsay urge. Progress? Inequality is growing in the borough, and the council, led by Campbell and deputy leader Kim Taylor-Smith, has used the trauma of the fire to tighten the Conservatives’ grip on the borough.

“The successor to politics will be propaganda” – Marshall McLuhan, 1972.

“Join a team that has truly transformed this local authority over the last four years” – the Conservatives’ Norland candidates, 2022.

The only transformation here has been the Tories’ publicly funded fulfilment of McLuhan’s prophecy. The only progress the Norland candidates are pushing in their campaign is a wanky-sounding “al fresco dining revolution”.

One Kensington?

The omission of North Kensington from all the election propaganda (aside from Campbell’s weasel words) belies the Tories’ two-pronged approach to the north: exclude the area from anything but the bare minimum while tightening political control to narrow the space where independent, community-focused movements might emerge to fulfil the borough’s natural split in two.

Excluding important community issues from the political debate creates certain false impressions about who has value in society and who government should serve. Kensington Town Hall is an incubator for this irrational, divisive politics. The Norland candidates are on the bandwagon, or the bin lorry, and they’re piling on the rubbish.    

By Tom Charles @tomhcharles @urbandandyldn

THis Is North Kensington has a look at all the candidates in all the wards in this excellent blog

Review: Kensington & Chelsea News

The latest propaganda from the Kensington and Chelsea Conservatives comes in the form of a glossy A3 publication with the tagline, Community News. The Spring 2022 edition of Kensington & Chelsea News has the look of a free local newspaper but is a campaigning leaflet for the Tories ahead of next month’s council election. Its mix of policy pledges and class-conscious signaling makes clear the council’s priorities five years on from the Grenfell Tower fire. We read and analysed it so you don’t have to.

Page One

‘K & C News’ bucks the trend in these dark times by starting with a feel-good story titled “Café Society is here to stay.” The article features reassurances that locals can still object to pavement licenses being granted if noise is an issue. Even more reassuringly, K & C News informs us that Café Society will operate “from Sloane Square to Westbourne Grove,” skidding to a halt just before it gets to North Kensington. This geographical description could be a mere rhetorical flourish to name two upscale streets popular with the rich Tory voter base. Or it could be more sinister; the first signal to K & C News’s readership that the north of the borough is of little concern to the council.

The next headline is also good news but comes as a bit of a shock: “South Kensington saved by local campaign.” In my ignorance, I hadn’t known that South Kensington, the richest area in the country, faced an existential threat. The detail is that London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan, wanted there to be a big glass building there, but heroic local (Conservative) councillors thwarted his plan. South Kensington was rescued from the jaws of Khan back in November, but this newspaper is campaign propaganda to remind core Tory voters and donors that the council remains devoted to them. For those who follow the politics of RBKC, particularly its public relations approach to the five years since the Grenfell Tower fire, it is interesting to be able to read a document that sets out their true priorities, however dressed up in deceit they might be…  

The big front-page headline reads “Over 2,000 residents back council’s plan to save Notting Hill police station.” Since the borough’s establishment in 1963, crime and safety have been two of the Conservatives’ priorities, reflecting the anxieties of their voters, most of whom probably own quite a lot that might be coveted by the criminally minded. A local police station is a good thing, so taken at face value, this seems like a genuinely reassuring, and vote-winning, bit of information.

Council leader Elizabeth Campbell explains that saving the station will keep more police on the streets. Confusingly, the Evening Standard reported in February that RBKC would not maintain the building as a police station, quoting Kensington MP Felicity Buchan that the building would be retained as “something that will still help residents such as a GP surgery.” Buchan doubled down on this socialist approach by explaining, “what we don’t want is for it to be bought by a property developer who would turn it into luxury flats, many of which would probably remain unoccupied”.

A bit of background: The local Conservatives have asset sweated the north of the borough, including attempted sales of the local library, college, and a community centre. Their goal was precisely what Buchan finds so unpalatable for the middle of the borough: the removal of community assets, to make way for private investments. The cut-price refurbishment of Grenfell Tower was caught in this raft of aggressive Tory moves in North Kensington as they sought to drive out poorer communities from some of the most expensive land in Britain. No mention is made of the economic imperatives that might impel the sale of community buildings by local governments.

K & C News points the finger for the jeopardy facing the beloved police station at the local Labour party: “residents are starting to ask whether Labour councillors will ever put local priorities ahead of party loyalty.” Page one’s footer sets out what the publishers believe should be our priorities, instructing readers to “vote for a greener, safer and fairer borough on 5th May.”

Page one finishes with a teaser of what’s to come over the page: a photo of a bin lorry and a photo of three men in ‘K & C Community Warden’ vests staring at an empty café, possibly confirming to each other that “Café Society is here to stay.”

Page Two

Page two keeps the momentum with another photo of people in high visibility vests. One is Elizabeth Campbell, leader of the council, holding a pair of spectacles and squinting at a man. In the background we see a skip mounted on the back of a truck and a recycling bin in the middle of the pavement. I suspect the recycling bin was positioned there for this photo opportunity as it is rare to see a misplaced bin on the back streets of Notting Hill, Holland Park, or South Ken, such is the devotion to pristine pavements. The connection between the headline – “Council protects twice-weekly bin collections” – and the accompanying photo is tenuous as no bin collections are shown. It is perhaps implied that Cllr Campbell herself, who is wearing thick gloves, is about to collect some bins, such is her commitment to this policy.

The article reflects the elevated political status of rubbish in Kensington: “Protecting twice-weekly bin collections is a top priority for local residents. And as the cost of living rises, it’s more important than ever to make sure local services deliver value for money.” This newsletter is mainly aimed at people who will not struggle with the rising cost of living. Many will probably benefit from it.

Cllr Cem Kemahli is quoted as saying “our job as councillors is to protect the high-quality services residents depend on, while keeping the low council tax residents need.” Pretty liberal use of the words “depend” and “need.” RBKC has always prided itself on keeping council tax low but now equates an extra bin collection per week and a small amount of money saved in council tax per year with meeting essential human needs. The link between twice-weekly bin collections and mitigating the rising cost of living is not explained.

The target audience is again clear: “4,000 more homes in Holland Park and Notting Hill will have access to food waste collections.” North Kensington is omitted, and the focus is pre-empting the possibility of a minor first-world inconvenience for people who don’t have actual problems.

The second story on page two describes RBKC’s “crack down on noisy vehicles,” with the council planning to roll out its use of acoustic cameras to identify drivers of very noisy vehicles to Holland Road, Chelsea Embankment and Earl’s Court Road. North Kensington, the most polluted area of the UK with an elevated dual carriageway going over it, is again excluded.

Page Three

Yet more good news: “Kensington and Chelsea improves air quality the fastest in London.” The council has pledged £100 million to “cut air pollution” and £6 million to improve parks and green spaces, including Cremorne Gardens, Cremorne Wharf and Holland Park. A new open space is included in the council’s Earls Court Masterplan. No North Kensington parks are mentioned. There is a horribly pixelated photo of the Japanese garden in Holland Park.

The next article is titled “Whole borough parking permits here to stay.” For a small borough in central London spending £100 million to cut air pollution, you’d think that discouraging driving would be the consistent and green thing to do. But as that might be slightly inconvenient for the party’s base, unnecessary driving is encouraged. The Tories provide the feel-good factor of green policies without their voters having to slum it on the bus with the hoi polloi.

K & C News spells it out: “getting around easily is a priority for residents.” Cllr Josh Rendall then adds some spin: “From nurses getting to our world class hospitals in Chelsea, to teachers travelling to our outstanding schools in Kensington, the borough permits help so many of us”.

Cllr Rendall doesn’t add that a nurse might need to drive because they don’t live anywhere near their workplace. The average nurse’s salary is £33,384 (Royal College of Nursing figure). If they paid zero tax, spent no money, and worked for 140 years they would be able to buy an average-priced house (Foxtons figure) near one of the hospitals in Chelsea.

People who do dedicated and skilled work that benefits other people are the ones impacted by the unfolding cost-of-living crisis. Tory voters in Holland Park are not impacted. Yet the council’s political project is to slavishly attend to the latter group at the expense of the former. This is well understood, and K & C News can be seen as a signal to inform the public that this power imbalance is in safe hands.

The token mention of Grenfell Tower appears on page three. It is titled ‘Grenfell Update’ and consists of one sentence from Cllr Campbell:

“Continued support and meaningful recovery for the communities most affected by the Grenfell tragedy will be at the heart of everything we do.”

That sentence barely reaches the level of a sick joke, but to the target audience, it perhaps satisfies their curiosity regarding Grenfell recovery.

Far from being “at the heart of everything” the council does, Grenfell recovery is not touched by a single policy or priority mentioned across the four pages of K & C News.

Page three finishes with the first bit of pan-borough news: every RBKC neighbourhood will get its own “dedicated community warden” who will focus on “anti-social behaviour.” The article conflates this policy with the Tories saving the police station (but not really) story; Cllr Emma Will explains that “a visible police presence is really important” but doesn’t explain what hiring a few community wardens has to do with it.  

Page Four

The final page has two news items. First, “Council works to protect residents from cost of living rise” in which North Kensington finally gets a mention. Unfortunately, the article links poor people and their capacity to stay above the poverty line to RBKC’s commitment to low council tax. The real beneficiaries of the low council tax policy are the wealthy people the publication is aimed at, who save a few pounds a year, many probably pay little to no income tax and enjoy huge passive incomes from the most unproductive sectors of our economy. Cllr Campbell’s naming of the actual victims of the government’s cost of living crisis – “teachers to street cleaners, young families to pensioners” – is inserted to ameliorate any uncomfortable thoughts entering the minds of the Tory voters. ‘We’re all in it together, this policy that benefits me is also benefiting the poor.’

“Holding Thames Water to account” is the final chapter of this RBKC fiction. It refers to the July 2021 floods when “residents’ homes across Holland Park and Notting Hill were seriously affected by flooding.” Again, the north is omitted despite being hit hard by the floods. “The council plans to implement sustainable drainage schemes in Holland Park and Notting Hill” but not in North Ken.

Kensington & Chelsea News finishes its Spring 2022 edition with 10 election pledges from the Conservatives. One would have sufficed: ‘We’ll protect the status quo.’

None of the ten policies have anything to do with “continued support and meaningful recovery for the communities most affected by the Grenfell tragedy.” The cosmetic approach taken to this most serious issue signals to the Tory base that the Conservatives will continue to prioritise their quality of life over everything else. And to the rest of us, the message is clear: ‘Your recovery is over – our class war has just begun…’

What’s Missing?   

In politics, what isn’t said is as telling as what is. This is certainly true with the council’s latest PR publication. Its newspaper-style format suggests that the content is meant to be accepted as the natural order of things rather than a series of political choices.

North Kensington and the other impoverished neighbourhoods of Earl’s Court and the World’s End are virtually ignored while the interests of people who have no actual problems expand to fill the space, like the fishes in the Kyoto Garden. Hypothetical inconveniences to wealthy residents are attended to assiduously while actual problems, like the absence of any justice following the Grenfell fire, are not considered worthy of coverage.

Also missing are serious political leadership and vision. A confident leadership with a serious political project would seek to take their base along with them in pursuit of higher goals, innovation, and genuine change.

RBKC’s leaders have internalised their own propaganda and believe that North Kensington’s recovery is omnipresent in everything they do. Not a single Grenfell-related policy is mentioned in the publication, yet we’re told it is “the heart” of the Tories’ policies. This is Orwell’s doublethink – holding contradictory positions and believing them both to be true.  

A party that was serious about serving all communities in the borough would take steps to address the scandalous levels of impoverishment in K and C. The legwork has been done for them, in Kensington & Chelsea Foundation’s report on poverty and Emma Dent Coad’s report on the borough’s economic, social, educational and health inequality. Both were published after the 2018 local elections but neither has impacted the ruling party’s priorities.

Five years on from the Grenfell fire, the Conservatives’ masquerade of humility and ‘change’ is largely gone, and their propaganda now reflects this.

Kensington & Chelsea News, promoted by Kensington and Chelsea Conservatives, is out now.

By Tom Charles @tomhcharles

The Kind Man

I sit amongst empty tables 
Where the walls sweat history
Knowing my haunting will return
They come for me
Demons, accusers of shameful acts of passions release!
Maybe I am not the man I seem?
A cursed wretched being of sin…
Yet I know God’s grace
His mercy new every morning
Forgiving-Restoring-Loving…

Like the Great Gatsby
My mystery lies in secrecy
Of a tormented tortured soul…
Constantly carrying around  this old sack of bones
Occasionally gnawing on them to ease my pain…
The hurt of hidden sadness
Buried deep inside my heart
Night-time an escape from the falsehood I portray
Death awaits me with ultimate patience 
For his is the long game…

Like a stage door Johnny
I stand to catch a glimpse of the world’s most beautiful woman
Forever holding this same red rose as a futile gift…
Rejection engrained upon my soul
Cast aside, my kindness too much to bear!
Trauma slicing through body parts
Discarded like butcher’s scraps to wild dogs 
They feel no pity, it’s just tradition…

Everything now lost!
Nothing left for me
Like Saul, I will fall upon my sword
Journeying to a better place
Where I will wait for you….


M C Bolton February 2022
pictures by TC

RBKC: Flattening The Curve

“We’re going to review the review” – Kensington & Chelsea Council, 15th February 2022.

Those were the words uttered by a council officer two minutes into last night’s public meeting on the imminent closure of North Kensington’s main recovery centre for victims of the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire, The Curve Community Centre.

‘Reviewing the review’ was not what the assembled residents wanted to hear with the loss of a community asset only weeks away and no plan in place to rehouse The Curve’s services, delivered by around 20 local community groups.

A hundred meetings along the same lines have taken place since 14th June 2017: Council officers with no decision-making power try to play for both sides and fail; they nod in agreement at residents’ complaints; they say ‘we’ll take this back to the leadership team’ and they get out, another box ticked.

Some residents reassure them, ‘we know it’s not your fault…you’re just doing your job…we know you don’t have any real power…’

But if they don’t have real power, where does that place us in the hierarchy? Five years on from an atrocity that shocked the nation, North Kensington is stuck in trauma and the only thing that has enjoyed any “recovery” is the council’s power over us.

Loads of Buildings?

There are “loads of buildings available” in North Kensington to replace The Curve said the other council officer, without adding that there is little to no chance that a council renowned for its asset sweating will offer up a new community space. It was only political pragmatism on the council’s part that saved North Kensington Library from being turned into a private school and our college from being replaced by ‘luxury’ flats.

Under Kim Taylor-Smith, its property developer deputy leader responsible for Grenfell recovery, RBKC wanted to sell Canalside House, another community asset, months after the fire.

In terms of numbers of buildings, essential for local organisations to gain a foothold in both fundraising and recovery, the loss of The Curve next month will put North Kensington back to where it was in 2017. Bay20 was built on community (not council) land by the BBC, but Grenfell Tower was lost, with its playground, green space, boxing gym and nursery. In terms of increasing North Kensington’s community spaces, the council is in deficit.

But none of this was mentioned by the two council officers, typical of another feature of RBKC’s community meetings: the recent past goes down the memory hole, the focus is always ‘moving on’ with opportunities to ‘help decide,’ ‘influence,’ ‘co-design,’ ‘oversee’ and so on.

Steering Committee

Last night’s meeting was intended to be the start of setting up a steering group to then establish a Community Trust to “oversee” the £1.3 million that remains in the budget allocated to The Curve.

The Curve, rented from its private owner by RBKC in the aftermath of the fire, will close in March, with the council then having four months to return it to its original state before the lease expires.

Most questions put to the council officers went unanswered, including:

  • What will happen to the residents who currently use The Curve every day?
  • Will the council provide budget for a building that can then be run by the community as an independent base for recovery and income generation?
  • Can the survivors who attend The Curve every year on the anniversary come this year, the fifth anniversary?

One question that was answered was ‘Why wasn’t this all done last year if you knew it was closing in March?’ The answer: ‘Covid’.

All of these anxieties would have been avoided if RBKC had acted on a proposal from The Curve’s board of governors in 2019 setting out a vision for the centre’s future, which combined a community hub (akin to The Tabernacle), a world-class trauma recovery centre and training in industries of the future for young local residents, all at The Curve, which would have been secured on a 50-year lease on favourable terms. To say this detailed proposal by the supposed governors was rejected would be misleading; it simply wasn’t regarded as a real thing by the council, the words didn’t register.

It would have been popular and empowering; hence it could never see the light of day.

Image from Frost Meadowcroft’s brochure

Last Night’s Meeting

Eloquent exasperation and untreated trauma poured out of the attendees, every single intervention a valid, well thought out point. The council officers were forced to go rope-a-dope for the duration. As ever, they had not been sent to the northern outpost of the royal borough for a serious meeting between equals. The officers represented a council with a monopoly on power and has spent tens of millions in such a way as to guarantee no diluting of that mix. This level of chaos on RBKC’s part cannot be accidental.

The archaic council system does not work, with officers taking notes back to the Town Hall to legitimise decisions already made by politicians with no democratic mandate in North Kensington. It is a system that meets a common-sense suggestion like opening The Curve up for survivors on the Grenfell anniversary with a ‘computer says no’ response.

We continually look for creative ways to carve out some independence that would enable real recovery. The council has been assiduous and successful in blocking all our attempts so far.

The agenda of the meeting was ignored, except one item, ‘End of meeting’.

Behind a partition, a group of primary school aged children sat doing their homework as the meeting played out. They looked anxious, absorbing the trauma of their families and neighbours, a perfect snapshot of five years of RBKC’s approach to Grenfell recovery.

If this was the children’s lesson in how the world works, it could not have been any clearer. Ordinary people are abused and disempowered. Another, smaller group tries to soothe the people and “manage expectations” on behalf of a third group. This third group remains unseen by the children. But the children will surely know the third group as their enemy…the ones who shut the doors to their community centre and who blocked every attempt at real recovery for North Kensington.      

REST IN PEACE FRANCIS O’CONNOR – a true artist who exposed the con artists. Read a fitting tribute to Francis here.

By Tom Charles @tomhcharles

After the Flood, the Nightmare…

I have moved home seven times since Monday the 12th of July 2021 when Ladbroke Grove was hit by what the media called a “Biblical flood.”

As I evacuated myself that day, I had no concept of the bureaucratic Kafkaesque indifference and incompetence that has replaced the duty of care and professional standards of my landlord, London & Quadrant.

As my North Kensington exile began, I had no idea it would be an ordeal that would push me to TOTAL exhaustion. I also had no idea that my landlord housing association would be so ambivalent about what happened to me.

July 12th: The Flood

I had been working overnight and got back to my home, a basement flat on Ladbroke Grove at 8am that day. To try to regulate myself back to normal hours, I carried on with my day rather than going straight to bed. By 4pm I was hungry but chose not to go out for food because of the heavy rain that had started outside. Instead, a nap on my sofa.

I slept for an hour and a half and when I woke, I was out of it, that jet lagged feeling of being in-between conscious and unconscious. There was silence, aside from the comforting sound of rain outside.

As my eyes began to focus, I thought “Wow, this is beautiful, the floor is reflecting the water falling on the window…”

I watched the watery floor for a while, not even realising yet that my curtains were closed, so no refection was possible.

I stepped down from the sofa – splash – and jumped back up at the immediate discomfort of my toes touching the cold water – “aaaargh” – the shock – “what the fuck? It wasn’t a dream!!!!! Aaaaaaargh… This is real water” I shouted. And that’s when, sitting on my sofa barefoot, the beautiful dream and floating sensation turned into a nightmare.

“Where is this water coming from?” I asked myself, confused.

Barefoot and scared of being electrocuted, my phone not nearby, for ten minutes I was paralysed. The only way out was to put my feet in the water. After what seemed an age of interminable considerations and careful scanning of my surroundings, I stepped into the water and headed for a cupboard where I knew I had some wellies.

The rain coming in under the front and back doors, I wandered around trying to save things, removing appliances from danger, my possessions floating around me. My panicked inventory took me to my bedroom. I stopped in the doorway and my wooden table floated past me, for a split second, watching this scene, I was back in my surreal dream.

The only dry place in the flat was the bathtub, which I started using as a storage unit.

My face was soon wet with tears, my moment of despair stopped short when I saw my neighbour coming down the stairs at the front. “You too?” he asked, ”don’t cry, we’re ok, it’s only material things, we can replace all this. We’re OK, it’s the main thing.”

We went to check our other neighbours and realised the flooding was widespread. 999 and the fire brigade couldn’t come – “too busy” – the first of many occasions when help wasn’t forthcoming.

London & Quadrant

This is the name of the housing association, L & Q, who bought their stock from Notting Hill Housing Trust back in the day. I had lived in the flat since 2009. I called the L & Q emergency number but got what I learned would be the usual response when somebody needs something: tried to get me off the phone…but she also heard the sirens in the background, and said “don’t worry you’ll be booked into a hotel. Somebody will call you back with the booking information.”

My powerlessness had begun.

“Somebody will be with you in the next four hours.”

“When?”

“Within four to five hours but We don’t know. It might be longer…”

Portobello

I filmed my flooded flat and sent it to a friend, a stall holder from Portobello market, where I had been working over the weekend. Why him? Because he was always bragging about Polish people being construction experts. He offered to come over. “Great, thank you so much” and I’m not sure why, still in a state of confusion all I asked him was “bring apple juice and bin bags.”

He was proactive, getting the water out, but I was half working, half paralysed with indecision/confusion. The rain stopped. He got all the water out, from six inches to almost none.

When the electrician arrived, he took photos and told me “we’ll pass it on, somebody will come tomorrow.”

At 9:30pm details arrived about my new home: Marylebone Travel Lodge, for three nights.

At midnight I was still in my flat salvaging. I stayed, frozen with the trauma, watching the sky for more rain, till 4am when I packed my plastic bags and headed to Marylebone.

July 16th

L & Q call me: the Tenancy Management Officer wants to talk about my request to move to a new flat. This is not a request I made because the flood, but three years earlier. I was granted a transfer then and after ignoring me all that time, they were suddenly in touch asking me to fill out the same forms I had already filled and sent back 18 months ago. They decided now was the time to get into the administrative process of moving…at the exact moment when I needed them to help me in the emergency. But as annoyed as I was, and not knowing whether to laugh or to cry, I thought “great! yes, let’s do this now, please do the transfer now, since I’m technically homeless. Let’s get things moving.”

From that phone call, my life has been at the mercy of L & Q, its maintenance team, its rehousing team, its other team whose names I can’t remember. L & Q…

Uncertain Days

Marylebone Travel Lodge was extended for a few days, and Eddie from the Maintenance Team, wanting to do good in this world, was helping me. He was determined to help me, a decent human being watching another in a difficult situation. Eddie had the technical skills and knowledge to quickly and efficiently resolve the issue in a practical manner, but he was still unaware at this point of the administrative chaos and infinite meetings he’d have to go through to actually start the work.

On Ladbroke Grove, Eddie took photos. In Marylebone, I made friends with the hotel receptionist, useful because it was she, not L & Q, who told me whether I’d have a roof over my head, day by day, and if my booking was being extended.

I was back at work too, partially on location and partially “from home”, the latter being made almost impossible with the internet at the Travel Lodge (£3 a day for an insecure and unstable public/not confidential network); L & Q’s 45-60 minutes on hold phone line wasn’t helping my career.

Late July

Ten days on, no internet, no fridge, no food vouchers, nada, no L & Q direct phone or email.

Only one thing for it…I went crazy at them. The result: they gave me my birthday present: an email address for my rehousing officer so I could make my first complaint against L & Q.

Reply from L & Q: Complaint received, and they’ll be in touch. Another email from L & Q: ‘Customer’ satisfaction survey.

Conversations with L & Q follow a pattern. Them: “I’ve asked my accommodation booker to find you more suitable accommodation, a one-bedroom flat.”

Me: “Why don’t you just transfer me to a new flat and save money on hotels?”

Them: “I can only offer you a new flat if the maintenance team say the repair work will take more than six months.”

At this point, it will apparently take two weeks for me to be home again. It’s always two weeks. I will soon get to understand the how long two weeks is.

Back and forth I go to Grove, letting people in to the flat to take photos.

On the 28th July, 3:30pm, I am offered a one-bed flat in Earl’s Court. One hour later, this has inexplicably changed to a studio flat.

On the 29th, with no idea if I had a bed that night, I email L & Q at 9:45am, telling them I have to vacate my hotel room by 12. They tell me the studio flat is booked for a week, and I’ll have a one bedder straight after. I presumed this would be for the duration of the repair work. How wrong I was.

5th August

Finally, a decent place to stay – stylish, has a kitchen, and INTERNET! I can work from home…

L & Q sent a decontamination team to the Grove. Working night shifts, on location, but I am there to let them in. I’m hopeful, optimistic, excited even…a decontamination team getting involved, maybe in two weeks, I’ll have a home again.

But of course, the decontamination team had the appointment time of ‘the afternoon’ and when they finally arrive (from Wales!) I opened the door expecting to see something like the Ghostbusters, a decontamination team coming to sanitise and disinfect sewage and water damage, known to be toxic, but am met by a man with a bucket and mop.

Surveying the wreck of a flat, he declares “I don’t know what to do.”

“I bet you don’t” I think, “I too have a mop and a bucket and already extensively used it in the property.”

L & Q haven’t told him about the damage. He leaves, back to Wales, without doing anything, except taking photos.

A week passes and I am moved from the studio flat to the one-bedroom flat originally promised but my booking remains insecure, only extended for a week at a time.

My key contact is still not anybody at L ‘We care about the happiness and wellbeing of our customers’ & Q, but is the receptionist at my new accommodation, who informs me that they are fully booked from 26th August, but that they (the hotel staff, not L & Q who are possibly busy analysing their many photos of my flat, seeing who captured the damage most artistically) are trying to rearrange things so I can stay.

On the 26th, I call L & Q. I give the rehousing officer there his colleague Eddie’s email address so they can coordinate their work. I’ve become a project manager. The flooring in the flat on Ladbroke Grove is removed to reveal polystyrene, which cannot be decontaminated, so the floor is to be replaced.

1st September

I call L & Q. 45 minutes on hold, and then I am told that only one person on the team can possibly help me, but they are on annual leave. I email and am told that my current accommodation cannot be extended beyond the 7th, but that I will then be given accommodation until the end of the repair works.

I reply: “Why do I have to move again? I am working…”

They reply: “The reason is: you can no longer stay there, they’re fully booked”

They offer me a studio. I remind them that I had predicted this would happen. But of course, the person I warned (a true representative of L & Q) probably has no interest in my situation, certainly not enough to raise the issue with a colleague who might later be called on to do something for the ‘happiness and wellbeing’ of a customer, or a tenant, as I like to think of myself…

But the tenant is the last thing that matters to L & Q, we are chess pieces (specifically, pawns) being moved at their convenience, not human beings who they have a responsibility towards.

I’m pissed off. I want to stay in Earl’s Court and am working with the real people on the reception to try to make it happen. As my departure approaches, I’m in denial. I can’t really face another move at somebody else’s lazy, indifferent discretion.

3rd September

I’m offered a place in London Bridge “for the remainder of your decant” but we all know what that means by this point. I refuse and they reply: “It’s only seven miles away” from Ladbroke Grove.

I’m then offered a place in St Christopher’s Place, West End. I take it, preferring it to the 14-mile round trip to let people take photos of my ruined flat.

6th September

A lot of phone calls later and I move again. I must be out by 12, but the new place won’t be ready till 4pm. L & Q start booking overlapping accommodation, so I officially have two flats for a day, paid for by…L & Q’s insurance? Their tenants? Customers…

9th September

My belongings on Ladbroke Grove are to be put into storage.

13th September

ACE Removals call me to say they will bring boxes to pack my stuff. They ask for a video of my flat so they can evaluate how many boxes to bring. I send one, but there’s no reply from “high quality” ACE. They don’t do any of the things they said they’d do.

20th September

ACE call me, angry and aggressive. As I hadn’t heard from them, and was working, I had presumed the removal job was off. I had emailed L & Q that ACE hadn’t confirmed.

“Award winning” TSG Gas also give me grief, twice standing me up when I travel to Grove, waiting in the contaminated flat to let them in to do a gas check.

21st September

I hear that I will have to move again in five days, to James Street, West End. There’s no news on the decontamination of my Ladbroke Grove flat.

Once my things are in storage, they’ll be stuck there till I move back home. How long will it be until I get my belongings back? I know their “two weeks” deadline could take me beyond winter. Shall I keep my winter jackets with me?

I email L & Q asking for a longer-term solution and complaining about the removal man’s abuse, criticising the gas company. Exhausted and close to burnout, but still confident in my ability to argue.

24th September

I am offered a ‘L & Q private apartment’ and my belongings being stored in another vacant L & Q flat. Again, I’m told I’ll be there for the duration.

30th September

James Street won’t be renewed, I’ll have to leave on 4th October.

1st October

I’m offered studio flats in Vauxhall and Covent Garden, but I have collected more of my things so need a bigger space and to be closer to Grove. The weekend arrives, it all goes quiet.

4th October

All, packed, dressed up and nowhere to go. Emails to L & Q: ‘I have to check out in two hours, where do I go?’

My anxiety rises, I call, 45 minutes on hold…

’For anything else, press zero’ – I press zero, I ask to speak to somebody about my situation. They transfer me. There are two rings and the line goes dead.

I call back and speak to six different people, they all tell me I’ve come through to the wrong department (reception.) The L & Q receptionists are irritated and start shouting at me. The call ends.

Call seven and I speak to a functioning human, Corinne, who is keen to get things sorted. 30 mins before checking out, I get a call from L & Q telling me: “You can stay in Covent Garden for a week while we sort things out.”

The L & Q culture of rudeness is getting too much. I want to cry. I get a cab to Covent Garden, knowing it’s only for a week max.

5th October

I’m offered a place in Hammersmith. Phew. And maintenance work at Ladbroke Grove is due to last four weeks as the radiators have detached from the wall.

8th October

My Hammersmith phase begins.

14th October

I request an update including how long it will be till I can go home. No reply.

26th October

I again request an update. No reply.

2nd November

I email again asking for an update, adding that I had popped to Ladbroke Grove and found that my front door had been left open by L & Q.

I add: “I have moved seven times, and I do not wish to move again, this is causing physical and mental strain.”

3rd November

I email: “My temporary accommodation will end soon – what is happening?”

12th November

I send an email compiling my various unanswered questions.

15th November

And I ask for an update, again.

This time, a reply from L & Q: ‘I’ll let you know on the 16th where you’ll be living on the 17th

With L & Q it’s always the eleventh hour, or it isn’t done, or you’re ignored.

16th November

Email from Eddie at L & Q: ‘I will meet with my colleagues and update you in due course.’ Due course!

My booking in Hammersmith is extended to “the beginning of December.” I am still there.

30th November

Email:

“Hi Miss H, Hi Eddie,

Tomorrow is the beginning of December and I was not specified a precise date for the end of my booking but could you kindly give me an update of the work in progress and extend the booking accordingly if necessary.

Many thanks.”

L&Q reply:

“Hi Miss W****,

The current hotel booking expires on 17th December 21, @Eddie are you able to provide an update on the works?

Thanks.”

14th December

Email to L & Q:

“Hi all (Cc: Miss H – Rehousing Team + Eddie maintenance),

Just a reminder that the booking expires in 3 days (please see email below) Please advise accordingly.

Many thanks.”

– L&Q reply:

“Hi Miss W*****,

I do not have any updates on the repair works however, I have extended your hotel stay for 28 nights to cover the Christmas period and New year. Your extended booking ends on 17th January 2022.

Thanks”

15th January

At 20:39, an email from Eddie. He’s happy to tell me the work has started and he’s expecting it to last for…guess…two weeks!!! Rejoice.

He has a feeling we may be close to completion…. I can’t help laughing, I’ve been told two weeks since July! Eddie is professional, efficient and compassionate, but even with these qualities, he can’t overcome a chaotic L & Q system.

I find out from the receptionist at the hotel my booking was extended for another four weeks.

18th January

I miss a call from M****, newly in charge of the open complaint I made years ago regarding harassment I suffered from my neighbour (antisocial behaviour, stalking, invasion of privacy in the form of opened mails, peeping through my bedroom window, rubbish thrown outside my bedroom window). The complaint had previously been closed without the complainant being informed.

20th January

M**** calls to ask me how I am doing; she means well and is really trying to help but has also been caught in the web of an overcomplicated system.

I’m confused because it seems so pointless, she knows it, I know it. She can’t offer me a transfer as that falls to a different department; she is aware I’m being decanted, temporarily solving the harassment issues but still must call me to keep the complaint open! Are you still following?

24th January

I’m drinking a glass of Prosecco at my temporary home in Hammersmith, after a long day of work, although I’m not sure what I’m celebrating because I’ll have to follow up with L&Q soon regarding the end of my temporary accommodation booking coming up soon, admin / complaints / transfer request from years ago, advancement of renovation / philosophical questions like “Do we really know how long two weeks is?” but let me unwind and pretend everything is normal, just for a minute…

Tenants are customers in London in 2022. Duty of care and professionalism are indifference and incompetence. Two weeks is now indefinite. Justice is nowhere to be seen. I raise my Prosecco to the other flood victims of 2021 – those who didn’t have the strength to speak up, those left rotting in contaminated properties and those waiting for their two weeks in a hotel to end –  I hope they haven’t suffered the double disaster of the flood and London & Quadrant…

By ‘Miss W’

@urbandandyldn

Top 10 Places to Eat Around Portobello

1. MAKAN, (Malaysian) Portobello Road, under the Westway

What can you say about Makan? Undisputed king of eateries on this mightiest of lists. Best place to eat cheaply in West London. Roti channais. Nasi Lemaks. Singaporean Laksas. Chicken Satay. Amazeballs aubergine, fried tilapia. All institutions. Incredible service and value for money.

2. KAS, (Moroccan) Golborne Road

You’ve seen the burger vans outside football matches, right? Well, this definitely ISN’T that. Because the food is good – three great soups – very generous – beans, lentils (with cardamom etc)

£3 a pop including bread. Burgers with egg – £4. Done. Stand outside. Tell Kas I sent you!

3. PANELLA, (Italian) Goldfinger, under Trellick Tower

Giulia and Giuseppe run this like a Sicilian canteen. Beef Ragu pastas, Arancinas, Escalopes, Caponatas and the tiramisu. Well, the tiramisu is to die for – got me into tiramisus.  Out of this world.

4. BABAJANI, (Kurdish) Portobello Road

Kurdistani Middle Eastern fusion restaurant that does amazing falafel and halloumi and lamb wraps and incredible salads – everything is super fresh and made with love – massive salads are only £9 and owned by Chris, originally from St. Vincent where my Mum is from, and his Kurdish wife

5. THE FISH HOUSE, (British) Pembridge Road

Crisp batter, fresh fish. Great chips too. Best fish and chips in West London. MUCH better than the Chipping Forecast. And cheaper too. I think it’s like £9 for haddock and chips.

6. LOWRY & BAKER, (British / Mediterranean) Portobello Road

Great sandwiches – not that cheap – but incredible consistency – artichoke, chicken and pesto, mushroom, and brie. Don’t tell Falafel King on Golborne but they also do a better falafel, IMHO.

7. EAT TOKYO, (Japanese) Notting Hill Gate St

Japanese food. Not too ornate or fancy – like a Japanese tavern – izakaya vibe but not without the kotatsu seating. Excellent food. Grilled Mackerel set, Soba noodles. Great sushi boxes. £9.50 for the bento box set.

8. MARAMIA CAFE, (Palestinian) Golborne Road

Very friendly Palestinian restaurant. Their hummus and aubergine dishes are incredible. CHICKEN MOUSAKHAN is the star of the menu though. £9.95 but that’s all you need

9. HASSAN FISH, (Moroccan) Golborne Road

Moroccan fish place – open all week – I seem to go there on a Friday. Sole, sea bass, tuna, swordfish, calamares. £7 for the fish, chips, and salad. Another great deal.

10. KURDISTAN BAKERY, (Kurdish) Church Street

Another kiosk, hole in the wall. Incredible lentil soup with incredible flatbread done on stone oven = £3 = Aubergine and cauliflower – £3.

Also

HIBISCUS, (Jamaican) Portobello Rd, under the Westway

Used to be Boom Burger; this is a bit more upmarket, but they’ve kept the Caribbean vibe. Great curried goat, ackee and saltfish dumplings, callaloo, amazing rotis and lovely hibiscus sorrel drink too. Eat well for about £12.

By Chris Arning

chrisarning.weebly.com

Makan

CROSSING THE RUBICON

Slowly I walk down slippery stone steps
A mist hovering over the Thames like mustard gas in no man’s land!
The creeping barrage inside my head
Keeping me one step behind insanity
Being by the river chills my bones, yet I feel truly alive
Connected to the past….
My own feelings, emotions like an old door
Drifting away on the current of time
I am stripped naked internally, laid bare
Left only with my faith in the power of deep Love….

Something has happened in my heart
This old warrior king has found his Queen
But the closer I get to her
The further she seems away!

I am sick of this world
The madness, dividing, faux religiosity, virtue-signaling hypocrisy!
Tombs full of dead man’s bones
Whitewashed to make death look magnificent!

Fumbling for some change
To give a kind-faced beggar
Who’s eyes reflect his crushed plans, broken dreams
My mind returning to rule my heart
I think of her, she has captured me I’m no longer free
Two lovers walk by holding hands
I spy their aura as they stop to kiss , embrace
Before disappearing quickly into the night
Like ghosts in a hurry
Returning to the graveyard before dawn
Their’s is a story within my own story…

Perplexed I sit upon a bench
Wheezing in the damp air
No fear, for my assassin has always been myself
Why this? When I had everything in order, planned out?
You entered my heart
Trashed its kitchen!
But don’t leave me,
Don’t go now!
It would be too much to bear
For I truly love you deeply………..

M C BOLTON

JANUARY 2022

Ten Years Ago, St. Mark’s Road

Darkness flowed ten years ago, at 3am on St Mark’s Road, when I walked home from A****’s flat.

Such was the desolation in my heart even the warmest of souls couldn’t provide respite beyond a few hours. Laying in bed, listening to empty nothingness, the torment gripped me – the worst bit, the unpredictable disorder before numbness kicks in. Knowing I’d have to make my exit at daybreak anyway, I grasped the nettle of my aloneness and set off home.

From Dalgarno Gardens, I turned onto St Mark’s Road. With the park in pitch blackness on one side, it was disquieting, with exhaustion and all that negativity putting me on edge for my journey.

Down St Mark’s it was just me, a few foxes, the city and the cosmos beyond.

My nerves were shot. I needed the fresh start of a new day and dragged myself towards it. No people, no cars, silence in London aside from my own footsteps.

I turned right onto Lancaster Road, left through Verity Close. Still no people on street level. Thousands slept.

My final turns were Walmer Road then Bomore Road. The leisure centre that was there then is gone now, but I remember rounding a slight bend on Bomore, which put me in sight of my flat, my bedroom…and onto the highlands of Paranoia, sensing that something wasn’t right.

I saw a figure at the gate, hunched over, rubbing its hands, grunting. My emotions morphed my perception and produced a surge of paranoid fear like I’d never known. I’m short-sighted and it was the dead of night; what I saw when it looked back at me was a half-beast, some kind of golem.

Like I’d unexpectedly interrupted some private business of his, which I guess I had, he did a double-take then went back to his grunting business without acknowledging his fellow being. I was close to him, a few yards and he was emitting not-quite-human sounds. At that moment, I saw my desolation – the disturbance that had been wrecking my days and scattering my sleep had manifested as this man-thing.

I walked around that bend and I was out of his sight – then sprinted to the building and gratefully into my flat.

I rationalised this encounter, weighed all the factors…I’m short-sighted…probably somebody drunken fumbling with their keys in the dark…but still, this was my demon. Down St Mark’s Road, my mind had stayed alert; with home in sight it went off-duty and got caught out, the vision awoke the basest, weirdest, darkest fears to flood my brain.

Unthinking cruelty, the capacity of people to go cold beyond zero, to flick their humanity off, along with their commitment to reality.

In bed, the fear and relief gave way to desolation. Home, but I was being denied my human right to share it with *******. Certain that I would not sleep and not wanting to wake A****, I didn’t text her to let her know I had gone but was safe.

I was awoken at 7am by my Blackberry….”Oh my God, where the fuck are you?”

“Oh shit, sorry, I couldn’t sleep so I walked home.”

“I thought you might have gone and done something stupid…”

This was how serious it was 10 years ago.

A decade on, 305 blog posts, if I said life is very different it wouldn’t be true. Darkness flows on, and that same fear gets triggered by cruelty and hostility. It did today. Same story. Everyone’s mind can create demons. Mine even made me see one.  But it also sees the angels – and round here they seem to outnumber the demons, even in the darkest of times.

Talib @urbandandyldn

Photo by MNT

THE CURATOR

I wander around this museum of my heart
A lone curator of my soul
Dusting cobwebs of my emotions, my feelings…
Shuffling around in my moth holed cashmere cardigan!
Silk scarf casually tied around my neck
Like a drunken hangman’s noose…
Gently touching memories of lost love
of those that have paid the ferryman…
 
My candle flickering as the draught, like passing ghosts,
Blows particles of the finest dust into my lungs
The flesh of the dead, yet my breath offers not life…
Slowly walking along the corridors of time
Missing the laughter of those long gone
There is no sadness, only memories
Another staircase-Another room
Just numbness, the heart’s permafrost of innocence lost…
 
I truly love her, this woman in my dreams
Who appears at dusk
Gently stroking my hand, as if to remind me
She is here, she is always here
We continue our nightly walk, anxiety engulfing me
For time is slipping awayA crow cries for it is near dawn
Until tomorrow I sigh
I turn in hope, she has gone!
Disappearing into my heart, where she forever sits
upon the throne of my desire…
 
My flickering flame comforts me
It’s reassuring, offering hope…
Slowly I walk down the winding staircase into the cellar
To lay amongst the empty barrels of mirth
Muttering happy inside, even content
knowing this new day will bring the same
Awaiting the night,to wander once more
With my true Love…………
 
 
photo by MNT

Mark C Bolton November 2021