Wednesday 14th June was the day Urban Dandy was going to write up last week’s historic ousting of the Conservatives from Kensington in the general election. Twenty Labour voters, some from the Grenfell Tower, had contacted us with their joyful responses. North Kensington, so victimised for so long, had something to celebrate.
But the horrific events at the Grenfell Tower on the Lancaster West estate overtook us, and our beloved North Kensington.
Urban Dandy was born on Lancaster West, where the spirit of defiance among the downtrodden inspired our name.
The estate has had serious issues, most significantly a lack of investment and a very negative attitude towards residents from the council. The neglect of the estate during my years there struck me as something of a cruel game – the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Association (TMO) seemed to be actively against residents. So what should have been routine phone calls to resolve minor issues got nowhere, with a suspicion of a perverse pleasure being taken by the TMO. Nobody liked the TMO, nobody rated them, and today the anger against the organisation and their local authority overlords was everywhere.
A day of helping out at the scene raised many questions: where is the council’s organised response? Where is the prime minister? How can this have happened? Nobody on the estate, and it really is nobody, doubts that the long-term neglect of their housing is behind the disaster. Neglect is a political choice.
The UK is the first world, but within the first world are pockets of the third world. In the third world people don’t buy contents insurance and councils don’t install communal fire alarms.
All the questions will be addressed in time. Some truths we already have: North Kensington is a remarkable multi-cultural success story. It is the best of British, in which everybody is welcome. Today the community was out in force, in total unity, all ethnicities and all religions.
To fully recount the experience of the day would be impossible. So many moments of spontaneous human kindness and decency passed in the blink of an eye. So many tragic scenes were glimpsed in passing. So much love was shared between people. There was no separation, no melodrama, just an outpouring of humanity, brotherly and sisterly love, love for children and love of life.
The events will stay with residents forever: children being thrown from windows, phone calls made from the tower by fathers to say goodbye to loved ones, desperate residents switching their lights on and off to get attention as the fire spread. Many local people told me about the screams they heard coming from Grenfell Tower, and their feeling of impotence at hearing their neighbours perish.
Many people died today, and so many lives have been shattered. The community has not been shattered though, and so it is fitting that the art work for the celebratory blog on the Labour victory is used here instead. Come Unity.
Donations can be made at:
Al Manaar Mosque
Westway Sports Centre
St Clement and St James
Rugby Portobello Trust
Tabernacle Christian Centre
Google or call first to see which donations should go where.
It’s theage of uncertainty, overuse of the word ‘Terrorism’ and common sense gone digital. If what the astronomers tell us is true, we’ve moved light years away from the cosmic location we were at just four years ago and you can kinda tell. Yet Mario’s key cutters, Poundland, and Tesco’s all seem to have remained in the same location as I look through the eyes of a child.
The said amount of time has passed since we shared, right here on Urban Dandy, how the natural falling of a tree on our block inspired the locals to spill out onto the streets and finally make themselves known.
I don’t know if it’s time, frustration or just karma for me, but it seems that the neighbourly thing is at an all time low. The same eleven-year-olds that used to humbly greet me on my way out the door are now fifteen and just about neighbourly enough to replace those kind words with a nod and an ice grill and if I’m really lucky it may also be the waft of urban incense of the green variety. I can’t tell you how many times my doorstep has been littered with rolling papers, Subway sandwich wrappers, rappers and pitiful young girls, a few months into puberty and possibly a couple of years from single motherhood. They would exchange a type of loud poetry of the sailor type among themselves and upon any young ears that are unfortunate enough to be near their fruitless performance.
I remember the gradual build up to this and the times when my suspicions of drug activity were vague and unsubstantiated, but I never expected to be welcomed home with an offer to buy drugs on my own doorstep.
Yep, it’s certainly a different time and place in space and you’d easily be forgiven if you don’t remember the tree that considerately descended on the very same block, even though, at the time, it was the most activity we had seen and the main focus of conversation for months. Now two years on, teams of mopeds turn the streets into Silverstone as they wheelie up the track block dropping off their illegal supplies under the diffident noses of the police, the housing association, the moon and even the mid-day sun, for that matter.Rumours spread of the neighbours’ children having knife tussles in the street and of warning shots being fired in a place that celebrities could never imagine while they strut with all their pretense, trying to ignore the echoes of their own name. It’s hard to believe that one area could support such opposing lifestyles. But Notting Hill is such a place.
The local news is sometimes national news, depending. It could be about the actress Eve strolling through her new manor, a sixteen-year-old laying in a pool of blood, Rita Ora doing a photo shoot, or a mob of eleven police restraining a wannabe thug kid. Considering the later; this not yet man will no doubt only use this encounter as a badge to show the peer group that he has achieved a Netflix version of manhood. Meanwhile, the Beckhams will do the school drop off oblivious to this. But all of this in one stretch of concrete.
These are not incidents but everyday life. It’s like a kind of trash bag made of diamonds. It’s odd knowing that Princes William and Harry went to school up the street and feet away from the ambitious parent attending a school viewing, hoping for the same experience they may experience the polar opposite. It’s also a Big Issue magnet, a haven for the more ambitious of the homeless. I know this because it took me two years and some strong language to be rid of one such aggressive Big Issue seller and to have him accept that I was a regular guy. He eventually dissolved our tacit contract and moved on to more supportive folk to maintain his structure.
Home and Away
Elsewhere in the world there are at least a few miles between these classes. I find the choice to park in the centre of a spot that could hold two vehicles snooty and sub-civilised, but no less churlish than maneuvering a 60 lb leather sofa into a parking space in front of your own home, but who cares…Damn right it’s an environmental crime but not to be declared in Orwellian style with the hope of profit, but just to dispense a call for the raising of one’s personal standards, empathy and maybe a little shame. Yeah, the mice come out knowing that the neighbourhood ugly gives them hope that there will be a serving for at least four when they carelessly drop pizza and other food items on their own doorstep, but who gives a..?
The bigger picture
Truth is, beneath all of this is a fight between two demogra-folks, both too smart to actually realise they’re in a war over a silly name. I’m not sure who named Ladbroke Grove Notting Hill but the two gangs have both been co-living on the same turf for some time now. As Notting Hill gets written into the history books, Ladbroke Grove makes its own history reminding us of the area’s past like an immortal storyteller. Immortal because, much to the disappointment of some locals, it just won’t go away. This neverending story is what opened the doors to make it Notting Hill, (Ladbroke Grove or whatever you choose to call it) Marvin Gaye, The Sex Pistols, Malcolm X, Muhammed Ali, The Rolling Stones and all.
Rough Trade Records started out in Ladbroke Grove and without moving an inch has become Notting Hill’s musical pride and, somewhat organic, record shop. Yet who remembers when they sold NY W.B.L.S. radio mix-tapes and when people sprayed the bricks with Sham 69? How about, graffiti artist Futura 2000 knocking around with the Clash or Queen Latifa searching the crates for her little-known single?
Synonymously the neighbouring food equivalent would be The Grain Shop that still lives opposite Tavistock Square on Portobello Road, Notting Hill, or is it Portobello Road, Ladbroke Grove? Even regular healthy food got caught in this name politics and was changed to organic without its consent. Even though The Grain Shop still services the area for their food needs, the name of the food they offer, although it’s mostly organic, refuses to boast, because unlike most other things their attitudes have not changed. But you would have to remember Ladbroke Grove to know that. To know that the owners care more about the nutrition that they provide for their community than giving it a fancy name.
Then there’s The Tabernacle: it still sits in Powis Square but seems to be wanting to slide up the hill rather than down the grove. Thankfully it is regulated by culture. Every time a hundred pound designer Champagne creeps onto the drinks menu a Jerk Chicken wrestles it down to the ground, sometimes it’s a saltfish fritter fighting a salad or even an unexpected Chicken Saint Lucia being drowned by the soup of the day.
Yep, most of us are just casualties of a war of status and as soon as Notting Hill recognises that it’s Ladbroke Grove is the moment that Ladbroke Grove will see that it is Notting Hill. Gentrification will then become an organic process with the participation of locals. The area’s potential will then be clear and we can concentrate on bigger things like what the fuxit our exit from the EU actually means and how we need each other more than ever, NOW.
Whether it’s your micro neighbour or your macro neighbour we need constructive communication and not snobbery. Coming to accept that there is not, and has never been, a middle class may be a little hard to swallow for some but for God’s sake get over it quick because at this time if you’re not excelling to new financial altitudes whereby work is but a choice, then your choice of neighbours is not a choice at all. It’s Russian roulette, only now there are three slugs in the chamber of the proverbial gun to your head. It’s easier, far easier for somebody to complain about their co-inhabitants rather than to seek resolve with each other. Whether you dropped down from Knightsbridge with high expectations or you have never left the area and cannot quite grasp the gentrific change, it’s time to talk; otherwise, the government (or foreign corporate interests to be precise) will be only too happy to play your friendly mediator.
If you’re like me and have lived in any of the other communities that are globally accepted as parallels, you’ll know that there is not another area on earth like this one. New York, Paris, and Los Angeles all boast of multiculturalism but even as diverse as they are, the local cultures have enough distance between them to never meet. Not so with us, just look at the size of our streets, somebody sneezes, you feel it across the road. We live in a very claustrophobic space of scraping buses and folding wing mirrors but with that comes the unique advantage of having to interact and survive within each other’s world, without each other in this little village. It makes sense for us to finally define it ourselves with the help of those who bring their foreign experiences if they are only willing to introduce themselves and share rather than seize real land, by any other corporate term.
I believe that on this third rock, in this western hemisphere, in this Royal Borough, while the world divides itself in the hope of the government submitting a plan for re-uniting it we have the potential to become a beacon to the world but we have to stop the selfishness and start participating, preserving, embracing and becoming curious about our homies, and each other’s welfare not farewell.
Dedicated to: *The Krew: Shaban, Drew, Kevin Wez, Nicky and Jeff (RIP). Song: The Escapades of Futura 2000 – Futura 2000 and The Clash
Within just a few short months, the world’s concerns have gone from refugee to presidential. Makes me question who’s doing the choosing inside the old noggin? I, in defiance of the directive, am watching a documentary on the plights of Medicines Sans Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders) and I’m so moved by it that I feel as though I’m actually in the Mediterranean on board the rescue boat – Bourbon Argos.
So enlightened by the whole ordeal, I find myself wanting to join the team. For me, the safe delivery of the worn out refugees is better appreciated by comparing it with the area of obstetrics. The uncertainty, the anticipation and danger of the breaking water creates a contradicting consternation followed by the sheer satisfaction of delivering those people who had already decided to let their outright need overcome their utmost fear for the potential of entering into a new, unfamiliar, safer world. Or not.
Inspired by this, I contacted Lindis Hurum, one of the humanitarian workers featured in the documentary, directly, who told me she wasn’t actually a recruiter and advised me accordingly. As luck would have it, or maybe fate, this lead to an incredibly beautiful conversation, ending with the following communication of rare insight. Rare because there aren’t really many words that can explain the emotions exchanged between the deliverer and the delivered but if we must seek out words to elucidate this fervour, let us not try guessing and experience them first hand.
Lindis Hurum is the field coordinator for Medecins Sans Frontieres, an organisation founded four decades ago by a group of doctors. The emergency medical aid organisation was set up to provide care for people facing natural and man-made disasters, epidemics and war, regardless of race religion or ideology. In the last forty years, an unfathomable amount of lives have been delivered through the safe hands of the organisation.
It’s dawn in early January on the Greek island of Lesvos. A brisk breeze sweeps in off the wintry Aegean Sea. Small waves break on the dark carpet of water, flaring and dying like liquid stars all across the surface of those freezing depths, a sea that expands from my view all the way to the beaches and rocks of Anatolia just under twenty kilometres to the east. There lies Turkey. Another country. Another continent. Its hills and mountains backlit by the barely risen sun. Pink and burnt orange unspun clouds hang above it in the magnificent deep blue sky. My friend Pawel has already seen the boat. He leans forwards squinting, almost pressing the binoculars to the windscreen of our hired van. He hands me the binoculars and points out to the edge of the horizon. ‘A small black dot. Look. It’s flat, very flat, down in the water.’ I see nothing. Why can’t I see it? I open the door and step into the freezing wind. Pawel is already in the back of the van checking on our supplies; gloves, socks, children’s clothes, emergency blankets. He’s a relative veteran on the island and has been part of the emergency team many times before, spotting and greeting refugee boats in this inhospitable and rocky part of the coast. A tall blonde blue-eyed Polish guy who’s spent time in Nepal and the West Bank and as such speaks pretty good Arabic, a much sought after skill in the camps and landing points of Lesvos. I still can’t see the boat. The other members of our team, Iker and Andrea, can see it. The Spanish Bomberos, volunteer firefighters from Castile and Leon can see it and are now preparing their equipment for landing. Where is it? I start to doubt myself. What’s wrong with my eyes? I ask someone to point to the boat. I follow their direction and eventually see a tiny, almost invisible shape very low in the water, too low. I see the flat line of the dinghy and tiny little orange dots that are the life vests worn by the people sitting up high on the sides of the vessel.
The minutes pass. The sun brightens the sky. The boat comes slowly, battling the torrents in fits and starts, almost as if the motor is struggling to keep a straight course. I know that there’s anywhere between eighty to a hundred refugees crammed onto the tiny boat. A rickety barely sea-worthy dinghy. I look through the binoculars and see each wave crashing over the bow soaking the people on board with every hit. I also know that the refugees have organised themselves so the men are on the outside and the women are towards the middle huddled and cuddling the children and babies to protect them from the freezing water washing over the dinghy with every strike. I’m struck by an acute feeling of helplessness. I find myself talking out loud. ‘Come on…come on…slowly…easy…easy. Just keep it steady.’ The sea is too rough, and the boat looks so unstable under the weight of people. I know the pilot of the boat has never done this before. He’s a refugee who’s paid a little less than the thousand euros asking price to cross the sea, his reduced ‘ticket’ is reward for taking on the duty of driving. I do the sums quickly. A hundred people at a thousand euros each. That’s 100,000 euros per boat in the coffers of the Turkish people smugglers, no doubt cuts going to the mafia and the local government officials turning a blind eye to the operation. As I stand on the edge of the western world watching these people escaping the warring factions, the brutal regimes and the western bombs now littering their homeland, the helplessness ferments into anger. Anger at the unnecessary risks these people are forced to take. Anger at the inactive European Union. Anger at the dormant Greek and Turkish authorities. There is no reason why these people aren’t granted safe passage. No reason why they must make this perilous journey across these dangerous waters. The EU makes its rules. It grants asylum or not, but that’s not the point I’m making here. Safe passage should be a right granted to all refugees fleeing conflict in their own countries.Continue reading →