Grenfell: Some Relief for Some of Us

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Ten-year olds in North Kensington have seen more than they should ever have seen. Heat, fire, pain and death from the Grenfell Tower; Slowly inhaling the dust of the lost. 

A mutilated building stands as a constant testimony to the mass incineration of June 14th. As they look down the street, between houses, the Tower appears, as they travel through the concrete jungle, Grenfell is there, on their skyline and their minds.

The children of North Kensington lost faith in the safety of the world, and any sense they May have had that the role of government is to support the population. Profound trauma, with parents’ availability to provide emotional support severely reduced by having to fill the space vacated by government in the disaster response.

Waves

But for some of us there has been some release. In Devon my 10 year old was finally freed from weeks of the oppressive atmosphere of disaster. As the waves crashed in, she ran away, then chased them back into the sea, shouting at them. Her shouts turned to screams, pure joy and liberation…

Nature was safe again, the world was suddenly the right place to be after weeks of questions about cladding, fire, safety and the inhumane treatment of people. Re-connected to her original source, this child was at one with the water, sand, the vast sky and the cold wind.

To see her lose her ‘self’ and be her pure, true self in those moments was to regain my own faith in life. But most North Kensington children have not yet had such a moment.

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Housing

As of that day, 2nd August, 12 households from the Tower had been rehoused – a statistic that tells much of the story about the re-traumatisation of victims by way of bureaucracy, political decision and incompetence in the richest borough on the planet, with its 1,400 empty dwellings.

If there is to be a restoration of faith, it will not be courtesy of Kensington and Chelsea council or Theresa May’s government.

Genuine relief is provided by local charities and community organisations, quietly organising weekends away, holidays and residentials for families. Here in North Kensington, there are creative, sporting and communal activities to lighten the burden on parents.

Power

The community has stepped in to provide what the council cannot – humanity. What none of these organisations can provide is what the council can, but aren’t, providing: housing, the only way to dignity. And as such the dignity of the victims, survivors and the wider community is not being honoured. On the contrary, it is being threatened and trampled daily.

Individual stories in North Kensington tell a bigger story of dehumanisation and some of these will follow on Urban Dandy. In the meantime, I’m relieved that I had moved away from the Lancaster West estate to safety, and that my traumatised daughter could connect with Blessed nature, arriving home again.

 

Tom Charles

Come Unity – Grenfell Tower

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.come_unity

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.

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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.

Art by Sophie Lodge, Ladbroke Grove,

By Tom Charles

@tomhcharles

Nott in Grove

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Neighbours, everybody needs good…

It’s the age 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.

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It’s a challenge not to compare the rubbish on the balcony with the scene on the street

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..?

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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.

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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?

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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.

Keeping Tabs

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.

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*The Tabernacle 80’s. Grafitti artist: Brim (left) with the Krew

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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.

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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.

Angel Lewis

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The subtle language of conflict

   

Dedicated to: *The Krew: Shaban, Drew, Kevin Wez, Nicky and Jeff (RIP).  Song: The Escapades of Futura 2000  – Futura 2000 and The Clash

The Intensity of Insomnia

Love and stillness to all; dive within – find yourself, the kingdom of God is within you. Salvation, revolution, liberation, to take back out and play in the world. Play your role with presence and love. Attune, be a child, be wise, it’s all there in your heart – love, be loved, connect. (God).

But

Sleep anxiety leads to sleep problems, wakefulness and so on

Must relax, must relax, relaxing is worthy, relaxing is good, a good person would relax – Now, if I’m a good person I’ll relax – here comes the test – here it is, hold your nerve, woah – I’m in bed – Yes! Surely I’m doing the right thing – now I’ll be a winner…Oh no! Wait, I’m awake, nevermind, Nirvana will come now – time has passed now I see – oh no I’m a bad person…now only mindful awareness can save my sleep and therefore my soul.

Body scan, okay? Yeah.

Thoughts – bad person. No thinking

Scan and zzzzz

Fits and starts – “I’ll go on manfully”

Oh my? I just haven’t earned it yet, baby.

Spread thin. Warrior thin. Thin warrior. Tomorrow, next week will bring salvation – were we meant to live in concrete blocks?

A hut in the woods, to simplify life = to be present to what goes on, surely that promotes sleep – But not Be Present Man,

Look at me,

listen to me – hear it, I’m present,

But Be. Do you ever meet anyone that impresses you? I don’t mean admire, I mean, impress, Someone at ease with themselves ∼ you know they’ve done the work. It is the most admirable,

Cast your mind – can you name anyone? One or two in 38 years.

Now that’s my mind tired and negative.

Better plan – be it. Be admirable. Impress yourself – do it good.

Being and life are you – flowing with energy, you’re fully alive ∼ come into that.

Now from there what do you need? You need sleep. What’s stopping you? Nothing.

Spread Thin 2

 

By Tom Charles

Women Wage Peace

When Men Can’t.

I found the volunteering of Israeli and Palestinian women to make a stance against war together, magnetic, ironic, inspiring and even prophetic. At the same time serving as a mercy to silly men in suits who make decisions, offering them a final chance to listen to the earth’s cries before it consumes us all. As men have continuously failed at this ego-free opportunity to relieve the planet, I wanted to talk with a more reasonable group. 

Yael Treidel is an active member of Women Wage Peace. W.W.P. are a collective of Israeli women who decided to unite in an effort to stop the warring in the wider region. On October the 4th 2016, WWP set off on a two-week march to Jerusalem. 
 It seems that Sunday, anywhere else in London, could be considered a day of rest but not in the  W11 area.  One phone call later, after struggling to get a peaceful place to converse in a busy venue in Notting Hill, I’ve finally managed to secure an empty office space with enough solitude to satisfy a sleepy baby. The famous Skype ring tone disturbs the rooms blissful peace and off we go.

imgres UDL: Hi Yael, is that any better for you (the connection)?

Yael: Yes, right now it sounds much better.

UDL: Good. Did you hear any of what I said before?

Yael: Yes I heard it, I just wanted to tell you that we are definitely not the first ones to do this. The women in Liberia were the main reason and maybe the only reason why the slaughter there stopped so they are a great inspiration for us. The peace in Northern Ireland, the women were very important there too. Also, even here there was a group in the 90’s called The Four Mothers and they actually were an important cause of why we pulled out of Lebanon. So women are doing it already and have been for a while.

 

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A statue erected for The Four Mothers in Petah-Tikva, Israel

 

UDL: This is a new realisation for me, I guess I’m quite naive in respect of that but I am 100% in support of it, and that’s why I want to do whatever I can to further this cause and spread it.
Who started W.W.P. and what inspired you? Continue reading

Lad Broke Groove

By Tom Charles

“In the heart of the Urban Dandy is the fate and the conflict of the bohemian, to become preoccupied with the things he/she shuns – materialism and money” (About Us)

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Art by Angel Lewis

Descriptions like this can be traced back nearly two centuries when the word ‘Bohemian’ was first used to define those who didn’t fit the mainstream, bourgeois view of respectable living.

Mid-nineteenth century bohemians were those associated with alternative lifestyles and world views, engaged in the arts, writing and philosophy. They were united in their rejection of bourgeois materialism, trivia and sentimentality. What was respectable to the bourgeois was, to the bohemians, banal.

The thinker Alain de Botton describes the “martyr figures” of the bohemian value system as those who “sacrificed the security of a regular job and the esteem of their society in order to write, paint or make music, or devote themselves to travel or to their friends and families”[i]

By favouring sensitivity over worldly attachment, bohemians found themselves destitute, unable to reconcile themselves to spending their time and energy in service of a job they loathed to secure comfortable material lives. They looked elsewhere, forming their own subcultures and alternative movements.

But while mainstream society has its status symbols (peerages, job titles, awards, bling etc.) the bohemians’ status is attained through social skills, poetry, choice of reading material and company kept.

In the 1800s, society reported only bourgeois achievements and alternative heroes were seldom seen. The bohemian response to this freezing out was to try to shock respectable society out of its complacency. The Dadaists and Surrealists provided alternative voices to the prevailing narratives of social conservatism and fear of difference. Similarly, the Beat poets challenged a culture dominated by those who believed society offered a just reward system.

Bohemians tend to gather in ghettos, a survival instinct and economic necessity. Inner city areas with low end rent have been the focal point, potential havens of freedom, liberation and creativity.

All well and good, but any Bohemian must operate within the laws of the land. And so, the fate of the bohemian is still to become preoccupied with what is ostensibly shunned: money and material comfort.

In North Kensington, a wind chill factor of poverty blows in. Over half of the Borough’s children attend private schools, while 41% of their peers live in poverty. Boho? Many of those who had enjoyed a degree of material comfort and predictable security can no longer rely on this. And the society is more atomised and less community-based than ever. The future is uncertain.

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Screen-grab from the Kensington and Chelsea Foundation

Under an entirely unnecessary sham economic policy called ‘Austerity’, brutal class war is being waged. For those leaving university with five figures of debt, fulfilling their life’s purpose and building a community that enables people to realise their own individuality is not an option. Neither is debt slavery an economic benefit to the country; it is a deliberate, class-based political decision.

The result is best articulated by Oscar Wilde: “There is only one class in the community that thinks more about money than the rich, and that is the poor. The poor can think of nothing else. That is the misery of being poor”[ii].

The confusion of the value of a human with the monetary value of what they possess has led the majority into tedious, demoralising work in a bid for respectability. Wilde said that our society has been constructed on such a basis “that man has been forced into a groove in which he cannot fully develop what is wonderful, and fascinating, and delightful in him – in which, in fact, he misses the true pleasure and joy of living”[iii].

And this is the dilemma of the Urban Dandy; it is what is inside them that enriches life. But they must live outwardly. And that is why, in our hundredth post we declared our intention:

“Identifying with the downtrodden, the poor and the dandies, the human, those who won’t back down and those that capitulate under pressure”.

A final warning: Beware of the word Bohemian now. It has been bastardised, called Boho…Tory Bohemia

 

Vacuous

Been the king of Notting Hill, Lord of Ladbroke Grove

Seen new money flooding in, pretentiousness exposed!

All about the bag you hold, label inside your clothes

Even though it’s daddies cash you wanna be boho!

Without a picture painted, book or verse

A modern day hippy – but in reverse!

The queen of hearts has marked your card

Like me seen through the looking glass

Oh! Alice dear you’re lost in space

What’s really happening to this place

But Alice dear -don’t you understand

For most of us it’s not wonderland!

 

Poem by MC.Bolton, 2015

 

Endnotes:

[i] Alain de Botton, Status Anxiety, Penguin (2005), p. 280

[ii] Oscar Wilde, The Soul of Man Under Socialism, in The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, p.1180

[iii] Ibid p.1178

Breaking Water : MSF Exclusive

The Sea section

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.
 
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The Bourbon Argos (the delivery room) intended as a medical supply ship. Photo: Lindis Hurum
 
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. 

Continue reading