Meet Phil Bickley, owner of Tonic, the classic menswear shop on Portobello Road. Phil sat down with Urban Dandy just after his shop’s twentieth birthday as retail opened up again. He explained how Tonic started and became a Portobello mainstay, what inspires the shop, the impact of Covid on retail, and how some major currents in British history and culture have shaped his personal story…
What is Tonic about?
Tonic is about quality, understated clothing for quality, understated people. It is socially and environmentally responsible, anti-mass production, clothes with value, established names and up and coming new brands.
What explains your longevity?
We were 20 years old in November. We offer classic labels and designs and value for money.
Three months closed in the first lockdown, then another month, and on – how do you cope?
Now that’s a question!
Two days before lockdown we photographed every item in the shop, bit rough and ready. Then in the first one to two weeks of lockdown, I was editing and adding stock then I started to put down my thoughts on retail and Tonic and its place in the community.
I sent these thoughts out in the next few weeks as emails to my customer database and through social media. The response from customers was emotional, it touched me the response we received, and the support. It helped me understand how much the shop means to our customers…retail is much more than the transaction.
Tonic isn’t just about selling stuff, it is a place, an attitude, a place people like to come and hang out, talk about the world, society, community, politics, music, football and sometimes clothes. Now and again they like to buy….
I started to come in once, then twice a week, sending out online orders and delivering orders that were close enough by hand. It was good to see people. The neighbourhood was very quiet, people appreciated me delivering by hand, sometimes I’d take two sizes of something that had been ordered so the customer could try both and decide which was better, this went down well.
We were able to access some of the government support. I’m not a fan of any Tory government, never will be, but their initial response on the financial side was good, it was decisive, considered and timely. Everything else though has been terrible!
And, in my own experience, I know there’s many with not such a good experience in lockdown.
What is the future of fashion retail and the high street?
Retail will never be the same again. The pandemic has accelerated what was already happening, people shopping from home and high streets dying. For retail businesses to survive, in my opinion, they need to be open and honest. Look after people, be nice. Sell good quality at honest prices, be true to a vision, whatever that might be.
How did you end up down here, establishing yourself on Portobello?
In 1989 I went to Hillsborough, going to footy and clothing was my thing in my later teens, I was in the Leppings Lane end with a group of friends, unfortunately, three of them didn’t make it home. At 18 years old it was tough to deal with something like that. In the 80s there wasn’t much support in how to deal with something like that. Later that year I decided to leave, maybe it was running away, I’m not really sure to be honest, I think you were expected to deal with things differently then.
Anyway, I was working in the Post Room of the Girobank in Bootle, Liverpool, and they gave me the opportunity to go and work in the London office as junior junior office assistant. It was my ticket to a new life. I moved to London not knowing anyone but gradually found my feet, found friends, worked in Greece, found rave culture, which was probably the natural next step to an ex-football going fashion lover…
Then after working in clothes shops in Soho I decided to go back into education, I managed to talk my way in to doing a fashion degree at London College of Fashion. Then I went on to work for Paul Smith in London and Nottingham. Then I had a buying role at The Moss Brothers Group, and from there I went on to roles buying for the Hugo Boss UK stores, then developing own-label ranges for the Cecil Gee stores. That is where I came up with the concept of Tonic. 20 years later, here I am.
With you being so directly affected by the atrocity at Hillsborough, there’s an obvious parallel with the Grenfell atrocity. What are your thoughts on how the community can interact with the ongoing injustice?
I grew up in Liverpool and my dad was a fireman. There would be fires in flats all the time and they were put out, they didn’t spread. Estates were built in conjunction with the fire brigade. What happened at Grenfell Tower was so different from this and it would be a disgrace if the families are made to wait as long as the Hillsborough families did for justice.
I see the similarities, the fact that minorities and marginalised communities are demonised, the misdirection from the media. With Hillsborough, it was The Sun demonising people from Liverpool, but the reality was that there were fans from all sorts of places at Hillsborough that day.
I just really hope they don’t have to wait so long but I’m concerned for them as it seems the same tactics of delay and demonisation are being used against the Grenfell families and local community.
It’s 11.45am on a Tuesday in March and I’ve just come back to Portobello after moving some things into a Brentford storage unit.
Heavy work, so you’d think a full English carb fest was on my mind. Not so, here’s why…
…So, we get to the door of the Electric Diner on Portobello Road, only to be greeted by our regular (Antonio Banderas looking) waiter. I may have appeared a bit rude as I zipped past him fully aware of the clock ticking away on our 50% local discount deal as it fast approached 12.00. I rushed past into the ready and waiting waitress. “Will you still honour the discount as it’s not yet 12 O’ clock”? I said in a half couldn’t care less way, without revealing the fact that her answer was a remote control to push an invisible button to send me away or make me stay, just like a puppet”. ” If you order before 12.00 it’ll be fine”. She said. You’ve never seen a person sit down so quickly.
It was about 11:52 when my guest: sweet Juliet ordered her poached eggs on toast with avocado and a bit a lemon on the side, accompanied by a pot of mint tea to kill the chill. Note below, the avocado’s succulence. Continue reading →
“To bring high street chains in to the area would be commercial suicide”
Our burgeoning blog has been full of reports of high levels of gentrification anxiety in North Kensington recently. London in 2015 has seen a new strain of hypergentrification take hold, one in which the victims are expected to stand impotent and mute watching their communities being transformed in to something different in which their needs are not met, but those of other, wealthier, groups are. Fears abound that North Kensington is going the same way as Brixton.
In this climate, The Westway Trust published its proposals for the mile of land stretching under the brutal A40 which dominates and darkens the area from Acklam Road down to the riding stables at Latimer Road.
Westway Trust are custodians of the mile, entrusted with making it work for the benefit of the local population. But the community group Westway23 has accused them of an “abuse of power” and an intention to betray the area by accelerating the gentrification process.
We wanted to put W23’s concerns to the Trust and give them a chance to give their point of view. We also wanted to explore the context in which the changes will be made and look at the limits imposed on local people by global forces.
We sat down with Phil Dibsdale, Senior Development Consultant of Westway Trust, who is heading the Trust’s programme of changes. Phil explains that he is born and bred in the area and remembers watching from his bedroom window as the Westway was erected.
Phil was joined by Martin Oxley, Head of PR and Communications. Our questions were plucked from our articles on the Westway23 protests, as well as some that arose in conversation:
Q1. Will you build ‘tired, top-down developments that could be anywhere in the world’?
WT: ‘We hope not. We hope to avoid that. Of course, we have to abide by building regulations and standards to ensure safety. We also have to work with TFL, who have a vested interest in what we do. But we’ll ensure that what we build has lots of uses, including on the Acklam site, which is currently underused.’
Angel Lewis @ Urban Dandy: ‘With Acklam, I grew up with it being a hub of hip hop, parties and graffiti; bands came up there who went on to be big. I went to the US for a few years, and when I came back, it was fenced off’…
Q2. What became of Acklam Hall and the playground? Are the fears expressed of a repeat of this history justified?
WT: ‘The playground was closed for health and safety reasons.
Acklam village is not commercially viable, Monday to Friday. It only has a license until 9pm and no sound proofing. The skate park, which is very successful, creates noise that bounces off the motorway and the timber structures. It has a negative impact on its neighbours.
We want to see live music at Acklam. Our current plans for Acklam are to have four bays:
One will be used for market storage,
A second will be a shop unit,
The third, which will be one and a half units, will be for community and cultural events, a white cube where you can do anything,
The fourth will be similar to what is already there.
We want to protect our tenants in the shopping arcade. They will move across to Acklam while we refurbish the arcade. Then they can choose whether to stay there or return to the arcade. With the new arcade design, all the shops will have an outward-facing front. Currently, business is poor because very few people explore inside the arcade’.
Urban Dandy: Will rents increase?
WT: ‘Rents will resume at current levels, but we will introduce a profit sharing system to help Westway Trust recoup its outlay.
In the past, things have happened organically, but it needs to be organised with a business plan. There have been a lot of white elephants over the years.
But this is not about taking a capitalistic approach. All the money is reinvested in the community. Of our 120 tenants, only one, Sainsbury’s, is a big high street chain, and it brings in a lot of money’.
Urban Dandy: But isn’t a Waitrose going up right opposite Sainsbury’s?
WT: ‘The council controls that building’.
UD: What they were saying on the Westway23 protest was: “What’s happening within the language is what was happening when Acklam Hall was closed. Words like ‘regeneration’ should be a warning to the community.” That’s the most specific thing I have heard: it’s the same language again and they lost those two venues previously, so are the fears expressed legitimate?
WT: ‘Obviously I wasn’t around then, so I can’t comment on what was said back in those days but obviously what replaced those things wasn’t properly built buildings they were for temporary uses and made without a strong business plan. That won’t happen this time’.
Q3.How aware is WT of the social cleansing going on locally? Do WT’s plans include anything that will offset it and help unify the community?
WT: ‘There are limits to what Westway Trust can do. We maximise the number of opportunities we can give to local people. We are creating 200 jobs, we’re keeping local businesses going and we have an apprenticeship programme.
The area was actually originally built for the gentry, with those big Victorian houses but then became a poor area. There is a recognition that demographics are changing in the area again. Demographics are always changing and we have to serve everyone in the community’.
Q4. How will local people be involved, aside from attending consultations?
WT: ‘Westway23 were invited to meet with us but didn’t turn up. They can be involved, but we will listen to the ideas generated by the consultations’.
Urban Dandy: You mention invites to the community to take part in the planning process; are you taking steps to attend and become part of the community’s groups and events?
WT: ‘Our Head of Culture and Partnerships is Lynda Rosenior-Patten and she is very active attending events, meeting people and organisations in the community. We have lots of partnerships with local groups and we use as many channels as we can to gage opinion.
If we were private developers, we’d have started the building already. But we have a democratic governance structure which means that community groups are represented. Westway23 were encouraged to sign up’.
Q5. Which groups are your priorities?
WT: ‘Our priorities are the people most in need and supplementary schools. The original area of the Trust was to benefit Kensington and Chelsea as a whole, but I think everyone can see that it is the North of the Borough that receives all of the benefit.’
Q6. Why didn’t you consult the community before drawing up the original plans?
WT: ‘From 2011 onwards we held consultations to establish the tone and parameters of the changes. There has been a lot of consultation and we then chose to put something out there, rather than just a blank sheet of paper. It was the culmination of four years of consultations’.
Urban Dandy: It can seem quite cold, as a resident, to receive a document with artists’ impressions of the plans. It’s easy to feel indifferent about it.
WT: ‘If people are just angry or against us, they can’t have that influence they want. We have spoken to hundreds of people and our Cultural Manager is talking to people with heritage in the local area.
Dialogue has to come both ways.’
Q7. What kind of feedback have you received?
WT: ‘A huge range. From the traders’ survey, we saw that people are desperate for change. Although not all of them filled out the survey’.
Angel Lewis @ Urban Dandy: There is a perceived division between the trust and the local community; if that division is bridged it may feel more like one organisation. Myself, looking at your brochure, I don’t feel included in this, it appears done, dusted and complete.
WT: Well you’ve got to be in it to win it, you’ve got to have your say and this is your chance to have your say.
Tom @ Urban Dandy: I went to a public meeting with the Kensington Aldridge Academy and they wouldn’t answer any questions in a straight forward way, and people were getting angry – they felt that they were being given spin instead of answers, what has been coming back to you from the public?
‘There’s been a huge range of feedback from people saying “why haven’t you done this already?” particularly the traders and local business owners, to people saying “don’t do anything, absolutely leave it alone”.
Over the last nine months with seven months’ of consultations going on, most people have recognised there is a need for improvements and that the market needs to be supported. But they are mostly concerned with keeping the character of the area. It’s difficult, it’s evolved over 100 years so when you try to build something with that character from scratch it’s not easy, but if we can build something with the look and feel of Portobello then it should evolve and people will grow to taking it on board.
The last seven months’ of feedback has proved to us that there’s consensus for change locally’.
Q8. Will flats for the rich and retail units for the middle class be built?
WT: ‘It depends what you mean by rich. There will be 12 flats built to be sold at market rate. This is for financial reasons, Westway Trust raises money for its community projects this way.
As for the shops, they will all be really small. To bring high street chains in to the area would be commercial suicide. People can go to Westfield to get all that stuff’.
12 affordable units is not going to change the tide of affordability and won’t make a great amount of difference to the area. They will look like what is already here. If it were the development on a large scale, like 250 units, then it would.
Q9. How do you feel your ability to fulfil your original mandate is being affected by gentrification and capitalism?
WT: ‘Westway Trust has to represent the whole community democratically. We have programmes to target those most in need. The public realm should make everyone feel safe and welcome.
But there are limits. Health and safety regulations have sterilised children’s play areas and brought about a lot of banality. There’s less sense of adventure’.
Urban Dandy: And gentrification?
WT: I don’t feel constrained by it, it’s one of those waves you can’t stop unless you have government intervention. Gentrification makes my job more of a challenge, and I recognise that for local people it is a real threat’.
Q10. The idea of a ‘village’ is not popular with Westway23 and it does seem a bit tired – any comment?
WT: We found some references to the area as a ‘village’ in documents written 20 or 30 years ago. It was only ever a working title for consultation purposes and it definitely won’t remain’.
And our time was up, we had to vacate the room for more meetings. A conversation that could have run all day ended, but as we packed up we had time for one more question to Mr Dibsdale: ‘Do you still live in the area?’
His reply: ‘I don’t. I can’t afford it to be honest’.
You will have already read our blog about the predicament facing the Kensington Park Hotel and what it means for the local area.
We thought it would be interesting to follow this up by gaging local reaction to the news that KPH might soon be closing to make way for flats for the rich. Rather than stating the obvious (that the public supports KPH and opposes the building of more luxury homes,) your intrepid dandies set out to ask local businesses what they thought.
Methodology: We asked everyone, indiscriminately and inclusively as long as their business was situated a stone’s throw from the KPH…
Receptionist: ‘I’m not from the area, nobody in here is’
UD: ‘What? Nobody? About 50 people have passed through the reception area since we’ve been here’
UD: ‘But what do you think about the fact that a local music venue is closing?’
An inauspicious start, but we headed north, away from their mirrored windows, closer to KPH…
‘They should let it run, it’s a good place for music. They bring lots of people, they should keep it open’
‘It’s a charming venue. The area is much more diverse now since they improved it’
‘It’s a shame especially because they spend lots of money here, the KPH buy from here’
‘If they become a chain they will buy elsewhere not from local shops’
UD note: Chain being the pertinent word as this would break many links in the chain of supported stores.
‘They are our customers, he uses our services’ (her colleague looking on curiously)
‘Why?’ (distressed now)
‘Oh no! That’s a shame, it’s a very nice place. I know the staff working there, I go there a lot. I never go to the other pub, this one is friendly, everyone is going there, why they want to close? I think it’s not a good idea.
UD: ‘Why do you like it so much?
‘It’s just KPH’
‘I would like to live in this area because it’s nice; rich people live here, poor people live here, it’s very nice, it’s not like this everywhere’
(Staff member expressed surprise when we informed him, bearing in mind you don’t normally go to banks for a chat about local goings on, but we’re just UD and we had to seek that balance) ‘You mean Mr.Powers (sic)? The Mean Fiddler? I’m local to the Mean Fiddler so I know him’ (What followed was all positive but off the record so the iron eagle doesn’t swoop on this friendly soul)
‘It might be closing? I didn’t know, but good I’m happy. The manager keeps parking on our premises without asking. So I don’t go there. Well, I went there once, but not any more’
‘Compared to the way it used to be its a lot better, the clientele is better. He should just ask and I would probably say yes if he has the decency but on a business level it’s a conflict of interest. If rich people move in they might buy furniture from me. We’re a mid-range furniture shop’
‘On the broader picture, I’m completely opposed to this sort of thing, it affects communities and it’s not good for society. It’s always nice to have a local pub and it’s sad to see this type of thing happening’
Estate Agents John D. Wood & Co
‘We go there for drinks a lot, I didn’t know that it might be closing. He turned it all around. That’s a shame, it’s been there for such a long time. It was a mess before he came in and did what he did’
‘We now go there and that’s testimony to what he has achieved’
‘Yeah it’s right in the area and we go in and say hello to him. It should stay, well those are my thoughts. It’s such a shame, what’s happening in London’
(At this point I must say, it seems to sound a little scripted but in truth these are the unadulterated views of the local businesses surrounding the venue)
Local Chip shop
‘I don’t personally drink but it’s sad if it’s going, it’s bad enough having a Cafe Nero over there (pointing),it’s a bit like an extension of Holland Park and not Ladbroke Grove. Like all of these coffee shops, there’s no unique coffee shops anymore, there’s no authenticity’
‘I grew up in this area, now I travel here for work and the area is changing, it’s all for rich people now’
Local Betting Shop
‘Huh? I’m only here covering for the day’ (Okay, moving on swiftly)
Estate Agents Bective Leslie Marsh
(Now here’s a surprise) ‘We weren’t aware of that…I’m stunned, I didn’t know’
(A suited, authoritative looking character stands up and takes over the conversation)
‘Great music venue upstairs. I’ve been to some great gigs there. I thought it was listed as a place of community value. If people realised what was really going on they’d be gutted.
The problem with this area is you can’t go out and drink because it was all built by the methodist church back then. If people knew what was going on….gutted. If there’s a petition going around, I’ll sign it’
‘Yeah I’d be happy to participate. Y’see, Golborne Road end is more community and the Portobello end is now more sanitised. We’ve seen that reflected in property prices; rich people moving to the area now want to live on Golborne instead of Portobello because they see it as authentic. The community is what gives the area its value. The property value is actually based on the community’
‘It will be sad to see it go’
Post Office/News Agent
‘Business is good while they are there, I can sell my cans to their customers for £1.00 while they are there charging £4 a pint’ (smiling)
‘I didn’t know they were closing. It’s improved a lot’
‘I didn’t know (UD note: nobody knows) – it’s a great pub, but it’s what’s happening everywhere’
‘The music is great. It’s weird, to hear classical music played that loud. At first, we had no idea what was going on (laughing) but it’s a great pub’.
UD: ‘The council is assisting the speculators in taking it over’
‘That’s no surprise, they would have got rid of us if we weren’t just the ground floor. Everything in this area will be flats soon’.
Urban Dandy would like to bring to your attention the loss of a beloved community member. Stand 52 is not really what you would have in mind when asking for a half a pound a grapes but if you are from the area you would have used stand 52 many times.
Tommy from stand 52 Portobello Market, for some is Portobello Market, having supplied us with fresh fruit and veg for years. I can say from experience that he was one of the faces that you got used to seeing every morning on the corner of Portobello Road and Blenheim Crescent, arranging that lovely coloured nutrition in delicious order offering to quench your thirst and satisfy your body’s need for vitamins and minerals.
It’s interesting that with all the supermarkets popping up here there and everywhere, the question of local loyalty is underlined. I must admit within my own experience there is some guilt as I have a very specialized diet for health reasons, but that said I do what I can where I can and would only hope that most like myself will be also sad to see the end of a Portobello market legend.
Here is a man that took only two weeks off work each year. This is a very rare form of dedication. As noble as this may be, sadly it took the dreaded cancer to force a year’s break from the market.
In a brief conversation with Maureen, Tommy’s wife, I learned that his dedication and commitment to us as customers went way beyond Portobello Market and into his own domestic environment as when the question of marriage occurred Tommy was reluctant to take time off on a Saturday, so we should all feel privileged standing in the way of their wedding vows.
Portobello Market is made up of some tremendous locals just like Tommy who really tend to smile through everything they face including the decrease in turnover based on their goliath super-chain competitors, yet they continue.
Even those who didn’t know you knew your presence, work and commitment. On behalf of the family, extended family and every other market trader we say Rest In Peace Tommy Kane.
“There’s something weird about mushrooms, there’s something weird about Portobello…I fit in”
Just a stone’s throw from Portobello’s Tesco is a stall at the other end of the food spectrum: honest, healthy, community-minded and with a genuine passion for nourishment, flavour and creative cooking, Tom James Dean’s mushroom stall.
Tom, sometimes known as Mushroom Man, welcomes the hordes of Portobello tourists with their cameras (for fb, tw and inst) each week in what is definitely a labour of love. He probably gets a fair number of people like me stopping by too, who know that mushrooms are good for you, and, well, that’s about the extent of our understanding…
Tesco (and the rest, but we’ll pick on them) sell low quality mushrooms, covered in plastic. This maintains the consistent appearance and size of the mushrooms, but not their health benefits or taste. Mushrooms should shrink; Tesco mushrooms might look good (as mushrooms go), “but in reality they’re rotting away” says Tom.
Tom uses breathable plastic and brown paper bags, so the mushrooms don’t go mouldy and don’t dry out. He’s also cheaper than Tesco, offers “more flavour” and “more benefit”. His mushrooms are also of a far wider and wilder variety…
So, what are the benefits of buying from an expert seller like Tom?
“First of all I buy from South Korea, which is known to treat their mushroom workers much better. They also grow their mushrooms in sterile conditions, in labs”.
While Tom says he occasionally comes across “mushroom hobbyists” selling at Farmers’ Markets, none of the organic farms in the UK grow their own mushrooms, and instead they get them from buyers, the same buyers as Waitrose and the other chains. This is contributing to the emergence of monopolies of sellers and supermarkets and causing smaller farmers to go bust. Tom James Dean works with experts from “all over the world,” in whom he has gained trust, including Indigo Herbs in Glastonbury, knowing that his partners have a genuine interest in what they eat, and are conscious of environmental issues.
Most obviously of all, “mushrooms are an ideal substitute for meat, so we can create a sustainable planet…a lot of sensible vegetarians simply change from meat to mushrooms.” Meat is murder and recent revelations have shown that not even religious slaughter is exempt from the horrors of the industry, no matter how piously packaged.
Oyster mushrooms, with their bland taste may not be a favourite of the veggie community, but check this out: “they clear up landfills and oil spills…a tough mushroom”.
Mushrooms absorb heavy metals, so Tom advises not to pick them in or around London. And, expert advice should always be sought when picking your own shrooms. Even in remoter areas of Wales and Scotland, picking wild mushrooms can be a health hazard, as the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident hit those countries more than it did Romania, and mushrooms absorb radiation.
For all us amateurs out there, it’s best to look at mushrooms the same way we look at berries. “You have blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries that we are familiar with, then there are other berries that look good but would kill you in the most horrible, painful way. Mushrooms are the same.”
Says Tom: “the Asians are the best with Mushroom study, they believe they can create longevity. They have had evidence that proves that certain mushrooms can stop your DNA from unwinding, particularly mushrooms such as Cordyceps, Reishi and Shiitaki. With Cordyceps they have had breakthroughs in cancer research and have successfully reduced cancerous cells. Psilocybincan ease depression and relieve headaches for six months. Chaga mushrooms are used in Russia for stomach disorders”.
“Another Russian favourite is Chanterelle, it’s a wild mushroom that we also call Foxes mushroom, they eat it raw although I would never eat mushrooms raw. I just cook them with a bit of butter. That one is probably my favourite, and it’s also known for its anti-cancer properties.”
Here’s a brief outline of a few benefits of a few of Tom’s favourite mushrooms:
Sun drying with the gills up allows the mushroom to absorb six times the level of Vitamin D, which boosts the immune system, mood and much more
“If somebody had suffered extreme exposure to radiation I would have them lay in a field of shiitake mushrooms to see if it draws it out. Hey you never know”
A fungus that grows on the bark of trees, in Russia this mushroom is prescribed for digestive disorders
Very expensive and tightly guarded, with one Russian tree having two armed guards of its own
Good for anxiety
Cancer, immune system and fertility benefits
“If I found out I had cancer I would eat loads of Reishi and loads of Cordyceps. I’ve seen some significant improvement in my immune system from eating them every morning. I boil them in water in the morning. They say it boosts fertility. The first time I took Cordyceps my girlfriend was pregnant within a week.”
Aka Magic Mushrooms
Legal trade in the UK shut down in 2005, but in 2015 the benefits of psychoactives are being studied again
Can open up the floodgates of memories, both good and bad, so can help people to move on
Being used in trials for easing post-traumatic stress disorder
Can treat severe headaches, including cluster headaches
While the trade has been passed down from his father, Tom says his dad was a business man, first and foremost, having started importing mushrooms in 1967. Tom, though, is partly led by sound business practice, and partly by spiritual and ethical concerns, which he inherited from his mother, somebody who fed him on home grown food, “straight from the ground.” How refreshing to see this mix at work, right outside Tesco. Did we mention them already?
And as he tells UDL about his parents, we can see that he’s an exact cross between both. Like his father, he has no time for quackery, he wants proof. But when he has the proof, he’s not shy about talking about it. Good news and good health are to be shared.
In the middle of the Little Babylon that is Portobello Road, Tom’s stall is well worth a visit. It has a mysterious feel; Eastern, Western and from the places where we daren’t explore, these strange looking foods, grisly and grimy, contain a wealth of life-enhancing benefits.
They’re weird. He says he’s weird. I don’t believe him, he’s really an enthusiast and a fountain of information. Courted by corporations, thinking about writing his first book, and keeping Portobello fresh, Tom James Dean, on the corner of Portobello and Westbourne Park Roads, is ready to share his passion with you, to educate you and to bring some well-being in to your life.
In our times and in our North Kensington, this mushroom expert is an urban sage for our age.
Sometimes it’s the things we don’t say that can cause the most damage.
I rarely write on this type of issue but I feel compelled.
It was only a week ago when I thought to myself ‘I wonder what this woman’s story is’? She seemed a little perturbed at times but would often afford me a smile and a wave if a little far, that’s if I didn’t get there first. This had become a ritual that we both kept up every morning around the never ending race called ‘The school run’. She and I never failed to say ‘Good Morning’ to each other. Sometimes I wouldn’t know whether to wait when I saw her stride suspended by her toddler walking at snail pace while putting my key in my front door. She seemed pretty patient waiting with the baby in the cumbersome buggy while she stalled outside my doorstep for the little angel to catch up.
A slightly chubby woman with soft black silky hair always pulled back in a ponytail. There was a seriousness to her that caused me to wonder what had painted that expression into her soft, smooth, brown, face. I did remember seeing her a few times with a tall slim Jamaican guy who, as friendly as I am, I did try to avoid. My reasoning told me, children’s Daddy but they were pretty banausic and self preserving.
For me survival is a learned behaviour, after living in Brooklyn for the formative part of your adult life you get to know how to ignore people who move a little faster than natural. This slim sporty looking character was that. He knew almost everybody in the neighbourhood within just a few months. I would spot him talking with… let’s just say locals with way too much time on their hands. I waived many opportunities to become an acquaintance through those unwanted six degrees but some underlaying instinct kept me in the same street but on a different, different road. He was always coming when I was going and I was partly the orchestrator of this.
After a few times seeing them together I figured that they were certainly an item. At this point I believe it would have been safe for me to have said maybe more than ‘good morning,’ speaking from those thoughts a few months back because I feel it may not have warranted any negativity. She could have possibly answered ‘I’m okay just cant be around that man anymore’. To that I would have replied, ‘If it’s that bad stay somewhere else, a sister, your mother anywhere is better than arguing’. Or she could have said ‘Just so tired after watching the new season of CSI’. In which case my words could have been ‘You should try to watch some more inspirational stuff like some Deepak Chopra or something, that stuff stays in your head and when you get in an unfamiliar situation, you never know what’ll pop out”. I could have said a number of things to which she may or may not have listened but we will never know because none of this ever happened. Why? Lots of reasons: I was in a rush, It was cold outside, I was a bit scared, she was not that familiar.
On Friday evening…well no, on Saturday morning I was given a sheet of paper by a young man after he knocked on my door. The familiarity with his dark outfit let me know it was of a typical probing nature. He was looking for information on whether anybody had been approached about any of the goings ons within the flat at the end of my road. Immediately I thought of them.
By Friday afternoon our good mornings would be exchanged no more for the mother of two, allegedly murdered her husband and the toddler that evening and left a cold mystery for the neighbours to try and unfold, backtracking trying to figure out why. Alcohol, drugs, self defence? No, nothing makes sense. Obviously she had snapped. This cold act created a historical tragedy equal to any other Hollywood drama, that will be told to the neighbours children’s children. One day it will be told to the surviving child by her foster parents. This event will be the reason why the place will be gutted and refurbished and even years later when its departed from everybody’s consciousness, there will be someone questioning whether they truly heard the remnants of the slain souls that left so unexpectedly.
I have seen tragedy and death before but for some reason I felt attached to this situation and, for the past few days have used a practice called Zero Limits for removing negative energy and bringing clean and clear energy. Still I ask, rather than a moments silence for the all around loss of a family, this woman who’s life is well and truly over, to look deep within your neighbour’s eyes when you greet them and let it not be all formality and routine. Dare to see through them, see if they are really okay, really. Say something uplifting to them because if one word a wordy person like myself could have said at that opportune moment could have changed this, it would have been worth switching the ego off for.
Please look after your minds and definitely talk with each other.
Kensington MP Sir Malcolm Rifkind has been suspended by the Conservative party after being punk’d by Channel 4, who secretly filmed him showing great willingness to work for, and acquire information for, a fictional Chinese company.
The obvious question for residents of Kensington is ‘Will he still be my sole representative in parliament?’ The answer is less obvious, but if you live in North Kensington, you’ll understand completely: Rifkind not being in parliament would make absolutely no difference to most of his constituents.
Sir Malcolm, or Riffers to his friends in the numerous jobs he juggles, is nowhere to be seen in North Kensington and doesn’t hold surgeries for constituents to raise their problems and concerns with their representative. He did appear once that I know of, the day after the riots. Somebody who was at the meeting with him told me “he doesn’t care…he doesn’t know anything”.
With Malc as your MP, you might take solace in the fact that as a former Foreign Secretary, he might be able to represent your concerns about Britain’s foreign policy to ministers. But, no, Sir is pro-war, an armchair bomber, who replies to constituent letters of concern about war with what amount to fatuous press releases, steadfastly refusing to address any of their concerns head on. For half a day’s work he charges “somewhere in the region of £5,000 to £8,000” to give talks on the Middle East.
A constituent told me about her experience contacting Rifkind regarding the onslaughts on Gaza by Israel: “It was pointless. He was closed off and unresponsive, the letter I received was a standard template everyone I knew who had written to him had got. I felt as though he was brushing off my concerns”.
So, North Kensington is essentially left without representation in the UK parliament. In the C4 footage, SMR talks of the great amount of free time he is able to enjoy. Most constituency “events” take place during weekdays, he explains. Not commitments, not work, not engagement with the community, just events.
So what does MR MP do with the time he frees up by abstaining from representing us? Turns out he’s a freelancer – “I am self-employed – so nobody pays me a salary. I have to earn my income” he says despite the £67,000 he gets paid, by us, for being an MP. In his other jobs, which pay him three times his MP salary, Malc Talc cannot possibly do much, as he explained to the phoney Chinese company that he spends much of his time “reading and walking.” Great.
So, North Kensington, one of the most successful showcases for peaceful ethnic and cultural diversity on the planet, has a huge democratic deficit. It’d be nice to be represented, but for today we’ll just have to represent ourselves.
Portobello Premier Farmers and Fine Foods Market launches a new speciality food market this weekend. In future this addition will be open Fridays-Sunday (10:30-17:30)with produce reflecting the ethnic diversity of the capital. Alongside top UK produce (rare meats, fresh fish and organic farming) you’ll find delights from Poland, Spain and France. Opening day is Saturday June 18th and includes interactive activities for kids and adults alike – get down there for the wine tasting, music and more! 4-8 Acklam Road (at the Portobello junction)