Category Archives: Clapton

Walking in a London Wonderland

London Wonderland 1

Hackney Marshes, looking less marshy, more snowy and beautiful

We had our biannual snow day two weeks ago, but unfortunately, my son’s school was still open. This presents a slight problem when all you want to do is go play in the snow and your living, breathing excuse to do so — your small child —  has gone off to school for the day. How dare he.

So instead of building snowmen and pegging each other with well-packed balls of ice, the missus and I took a brisk and beautiful walk along the Hackney Marshes, a vast swathe of green space local to our part of East London, providing playing fields and picnic spaces in fair weather, and bright, crisp splendor in the winter as you can see here.

Regents Canal running through the marshes.

Regents Canal running through the marshes.

What I began to notice as I savo(u)red the beautifully self-contained sound of snow compacting underfoot was the underestimated panoramic joy afforded us so close to the center of one of the largest and busiest capital cities in the world. And how it genuinely feels ever so slightly different to stroll though open spaces and trails that neighbo(u)r the grey, sludgy, dull roar of busily trafficked thoroughfares like the industrial Orient Way and Leabridge Road, a stretch that slices right from Hackney to Whipps Cross, just short of Essex. So, with the following photos, I have tried to capture something of the uniqueness of nature within earshot of the chorus of rumbling engines and angry horns scurrying about the roads on their daily grind. I hear it’s snowing again in many parts of America. I hope this captures the brighter side of it. Enjoy.

London Wonderland Winter snow

‘Ello ‘ello. Even the Snowmen in East London demonstrate fine cockney wit.

#Hackney Marshes

“The powerlines have floaters so the airplanes won’t get snagged.”

Tower Blocks on the Horizon.

Tower Blocks on the Horizon.

#HackneyMarshes #snow

Old England, looking a bit like what I envision New England looks like in my unschooled imagination. Puts me in mind of Emerson, Thoreau, Frost etc…

Snowy Path in Hackney Marshes

Beauty dotted with flecks of industrialization on the distant horizon.

Snowy Path Hackney Marshes

“Take nature altogether since time began…” Frost, “Our Hold on the Planet”

Snowy Path under Leabridge Road

“Crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration. I am glad to the brink of fear.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature

Snowy Hackney Park

Signposts worn hard by the snow…

London Wonderland

And alas, back amid the sludge and drudge of civilization. Still, a park in the middle of all this or even just below it near the canal, can be an ephemeral bit of magic. Enjoy it while it lasts…

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Five Things About The Olympics That Will Sodden Your Sporting Spirit

I have to admit, I like the concept of the Olympics. I like the idea of the whole world being united in a sporting contest that goes back to antiquity and encourages a striving for excellence in physical abilities as well as sportsmanship. I like the idea of sport, unmotivated by lots of corporate sponsorship and greed as it seems football is here in England (and Baseball was in the 1990s, when I stopped following my team, The Mets, because I lost faith in players during the strike). And in some weird, perverse, London way, I feel a sense of pride that we got the games. But being an adoptive Londoner, I think I’ve also acquired a kind of second-nature scepticism about waves of positivity sweeping over a place like a juggernaut leaving nothing but vitamin C and sunshine in its wake. It smacks of the worst of blind American optimism and as Springsteen said, blind faith in your leaders, or anything, will get you killed.

There’s no smoke without fire and no scepticism without a seedy little fact lurking behind those shiny Olympic rings.Whilst I think The Games should be an enjoyable experience, here are a few uncomfortable truths to bear in mind as we are jubilantly celebrating sport.

Mowing down the Marshes

The Borough of Waltham Forest, on 7th February, 2011, greenlighted The Olympic Development Authority to build a large basketball training facility right on top of a massive amount of green space in the Porter’s Field section of Leyton Marshes. You can read all about the campaign to prevent the courts from being built here. The ODA say they are obliging themselves to restore the Marshes to their former state by 15th October 2012, but as with rainforests, no matter how many trees you plant and fields you build over, there is no going back to the ‘original state’ of an historic green space. And I have to ask, why does London, a city with a surprisingly large amount of green spaces, need to sacrifice some of them? We host millions of commuters from the home counties every day. It’s not as though we don’t do big events.

Roll up, roll up, Olympic festival fans, it’s Walthamstock

Exploiting green spaces for quick cash during the Olympics seems to be a real trend with Waltham Forest. A council licensing panel granted the Big Events Company (BEC) permission to sell alcohol and have dancing and recorded music between 1 and 10 pm, despite protests from local residents. According to The Waltham Forest Guardian‘s website: 

 ‘Last year the council secretly signed a contract to lease the land to the firm, hoping that a share of the profits from the deal would help pay the estimated £1.5million bill for its ‘Big 6′ series of events to celebrate the Olympics.’

A cynical person might think Waltham Forest was milking the games for all it was worth.

Branded like Cattle 

We have new stadiums, we have a new shopping centre, we even have a new postcode (E20, as if we can really call Stratford a city) but could we please leave our E15 greasy spoons alone? Kamel Kichane, the owner of The Olympic Cafe in Stratford was forced to change the name of his caf or have to pay the council £3,000. The following is Mr. Kichane’s low cost solution to the problem.

What it reveals though is a wrong-headedness, a blinkered vision about the Olympic Brand. What was I saying up there about a competition untainted by commercialism? Correction. The sponsors and organisers project an image that the Olympics is not motivated by commercial greed and work very hard to project that image, but the fact is, according to Adweek magazine, the Olympics has been about greed and private sponsorship since LA in 1984 when Peter Ueberroth, the president of the Los Angeles Organizing Committee of the games that year, actively gunned for private, corporate sponsoship to resurrect a moribund tradition lurching towards oblivion.

Ben Johnson, left, beats Carl Lewis in the 100-metres on Sept. 24, 1988.
Growing up in America, the notion of purity in the Olympics was cultivated. There was a general sense that these weren’t like quarterbacks and big hitters getting paid several hundred thousand dollars per game; you expected double dealings and deviousness in sports like American football and baseball, what with their stink of greasy piles of dollar bills wafting through ballparks and stadiums acorss the country.  We were taught that Olympians were different; these were hard working athletes training for seven or eight hours every day to represent their country in some noble tradition.

We grew up with names like Flo Jo, Greg Luganis, Carl Lewis and Ben Johnson ringing with heroic clarity in our heads. And even in this short but famous list, only the reputations of of Joyner and Luganis remain intact. Lewis is still dogged today with the cloud of controversy caused by his testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul and still being allowed to compete. Canadian Johnson famously tested positive and was stripped of his gold medal the same year. Such was the pressure of the freshly minted money-fed sponsorship-driven games that a slew of Athletes are alleged to have taken steroids and got away with it. Is it pure coincidence that this unethical practice became popular in the wake of the games going corporate? This was an atmosphere that was capable of corrupting even Canadian athletes. Canadians, I say. Canadians! When you’ve got to the point where can wreck the moral compass of the good founders of The Peaceable Kingdom up north, all hope is very nearly lost.

As a result of all this branding, aside from it not being a fair representation of unenhanced human athletic ability, to paraphrase Steve Punt in last week’s episode of The Now Show, the official food of the Olympics is McDonald’s, drink is Coca-cola, official chocolate is Cadbury’s and official disease is type 2 diabetes. Perfect Pint UK reports that there is no British beer to be represented either at the London Olympics, just Heineken. God help you if you are drinking any water except Evian anywhere within the walls of the fortified Olympic Village. The Olympic village will have a ‘pop-up McDonald’s’ that will officially be the largest in the world. With the Olympics in London for the first time since 1948, what do we want to showcase? The sophisticated array of top-notch intelligent chefs and creative organisations and restaurants that the British food industry has grown up into, or the ode to efficiency that is the brainchild of American Ray Kroc? Actually, the former might take some effort. It’s not as though there are any Olympic boroughs serving any good British food nowadays and what chefs can we really claim of any reknown, let’s go with cheap and cheerful, eh?

In efforts to protect trademark rights, you are not allowed to consume anything made by anyone outside of those producers who are official Olympic sponsors. Bog standard confidence trick: advertise freemarket and freechoice, get the punters inside, eliminate the choice and jack up the price, thus annihilating any image the games ever projected of being a competition of pure, uncorrupted athletic prowess for the sake of athletic prowess.

The World’s Biggest Competition to Demonstrate What Exactly?
 
For an event that’s been advertised as a massive benefit to London in the long-run, it doesn’t seem to be doing much for us in the short term. A path I have only just started enjoying along the canal between Hackney and Stratford or rather Stratford and everywhere has been closed and placed under armed guard. Yes, because of the potential threat, you are no longer able to use your own athletic abilities to get near the site at which athletes from the world over are competing  to demonstrate their athletic abilities. Surely this is sending the wrong message, especially since the Games organizers had originally put money and efforts into improving the path and making sure the public knew that it was going to be an enjoyable way to get to Olympia, East London.
G4S — The Mos Eisley of Olympic Security?
Indeed, as the list of revelations slithers out from under the carefully closed and locked doors of the Olympic media machine, I wonder if it would be possible to find a ‘more wretched hive of scum and villainy’ than in the offices of the firm G4S. I posted about a protest I saw at St. Paul’s about the Anglo-Danish firm, not knowing much about them at the time. I’ve since researched and correct me if I’m wrong here, but we seem to have contracted a lawless band of unaccountable mercenaries to guard London in the summer of 2012. Were G4S a Catholic, the list of sins it might start with in the confessional booth run as follows:
  • The death of Angolan refugee Jimmy Mubenga whilst in the custody of G4S guards on a flight from Heathrow to Angola
  • Hiring confessed murderers as security guards
  • Carrying out the government’s deportation policy while sustaining 773 complaints of those that were within their custody
  • Failing to fulfill the contract to keep The Olympics safe in 2012
  • Hiring a director with really bad hair. I’m no one to talk, but if you had as much money as a CEO with a company like this, wouldn’t you try to look like you were older than 14?  
Probably best we just leave G4S and the local priest in the confessional. No telling how long either of them might be there.

When you wade through cliches, slogans and soundbites like ‘take the stage’, ‘London prepares’ and ‘Take the respect’, what do you have left at the centre of all the smoke and mirrors? We seem to have a London that has taken performance-enhancing security firms, regulations and cash injectiosn in order to improve its performance as a city this summer. It would probably be wise for us as Londoners to bear in mind that the Olympics committee chose London, in all its brash and savage beauty, not some sanitized, tarted up, Americanised caricature of itself.

Will we, for these and other less than savoury things about the 2012 Olympics, be like the people of Ursula LeGuin’s people of Omelas, and our joy be all the richer for knowing its real costs? I’d like to think so, but I’ve got a feeling that we shall just close our ears, open our mouths and eyes wide and smile, asking only for bread and circuses, lights and neon.

For more on G4S, take a look at http://notog4s.blogspot.co.uk/
For more on the creepy crawly things scuttling around underneath the sheen of the Olympic brand, look at
http://www.olympicsredflag.blogspot.co.uk/
To find out more about the efforts being made to fight the deleterious effects of the Olympics on Hackney and the East End check out http://saveleytonmarsh.wordpress.com/

To read about a very clever  and creative response to all this Olympian palaver, have a look at ‘The Austerity Games’.

This post has also been informed by the following two articles:

Something Else for the Weekend

My best laid plans for blogging this week seem to have all ganged aft agley. It’s been the penultimate week of term and so I’ve been putting reports to bed and eating glorious Indian food. More on that anon. As my compatriot the former governor of California used to say, ‘I’ll be back’. In the meantime, to tide us all over, here’s some more Bohemian Hackney mdf art to feast your eyes on. This little piece resides on Clapton passage and I just can’t decide, but I think it’s probably beautifully interacting with its environment. There are implications though that the subjects are trapped in their own depiction, non? It is covering up a house under construction in a dank area behind a shop and near a dumpster, if that aids interpretation.

When does street art become less edgy and more trendy? It could be when graffiti artists get commissioned, but I still think there are probably immense benefits to publicly funding a street artist and then celebrating his work, as happened last month with American artist Frank Shephard Fairey. Read about it here
American street artist Frank Shepard Fairey
Photo: Teri Pengilley, Copyright The Guardian
I’ve also started a new page on this blog entitled other writing and hopefully will be writing more frequently for sites like The Hackney Hive and other assorted publications, so I guess, quite literally, watch this space. In the meantime, here is the review I did of Sheba on Brick Lane for Hackney Hive. I have to admit, I was surprised. These days, the Asian end of Brick Lane can seem a little tired, so I was glad to find a delightful pearl among the… other places around the area. 
Enjoy your weekend, wherever you are. Many thanks for reading. 

The Clapton Hart: Heralding an era of Restoration

I’ll admit, I was sceptical. I, along with many other local community members (that’s what I’ll call the rumour mill) had heard that the old Clapton Hart building, that crumbling boarded up edifice standing up until recently undecorously at the mouth of the Lea Bridge Roundabout, was going to be taken over by a pub franchise. And when you say pub franchise, I think ‘Wetherspoons’ and there is no quicker way to restore the rock-solid reputation of Murder Mile circa 2002 than to plop a chain pub like Wetherspoons right at the roundabout. I lived across the street from the Wetherspoons on Roman Road Market in Bow when I first moved to London. Looking out the window was better entertainment than any reality TV show any night. And on Saturday nights, it was like that old American fly-in-the-wall, or corner of the squad car as it were proto-reality TV show, Cops, complete with drunken brawling, police vans with vested officers spilling out, pinning down drunken disorderly offenders on their stomachs, knees pressed to their backs, pressing a promise to be good out of each of the inebriated, cider-filled customers to frequent the establishment. Sans guns of course. This was the East End of London. The local gendarme are nothing if not a little civilized.
I digress.
It is this term ‘franchise’ and my wife’s lukewarm review of the place on its opening night what made me apprehensive before my own visit with a couple of friends last Tuesday. Luckily, the new Clapton Hart could not be further from that cookie cutter chain pub that we have become accustomed to seeing on British high streets. Antic Ltd, who also run the Stokey favourite The White Hart, have taken over the decrepit building that used to house the pub of the same name with a notoriously dodgy past. They seem to have set out to restore the interior of the pub as sensitively as possible, bringing it right back to as close to vintage as possible, having taken the retro looking block capital sign from the outside of the building and brought it in. 
The Hart has created a spacious and inviting atmosphere that manages to feel welcoming and contemporary while at the same time kindling a sense of old Hackney circa 1891
And that’s to say nothing of it’s choice of beers. I was suitably impressed that they carried Tottenham-based Redemption Fellowship Porter, a fruity and smooth, but not overly sweet brew that I last had at the Pig’s Ear Beer and Cider Festival when it was in The Round Chapel

Somerset-based Blindman’s Buff was a lighter, more seasonal beverage, ‘a proper bitter’ remarked my friend Dom upon tasting, but I was most impressed by the Jamboree ale, with hints of citrus and summer washing all the way down the palate. I was as impressed by its provenance as by its taste though. It seems very easy nowadays for a pub to put Meantime or St. Peter’s on tap and call themselves local and organic. I very much like Meantime and St. Peter’s, but the beer buyer at The Clapton Hart has clearly worked hard to find beers that we haven’t seen in all the other organic gastropubs popping up in Stokey or Islington or Hackney-Wick-Upon-The-Marsh. Jamboree Ale comes from the East London Brewery in Leyton just down a shot on the dastardly, daren’t-traverse-it-on-a-dark night, Lea Bridge Road and they’re producing sensational beer. Fair play to them and to the Clapton Hart on a great sourcing job. I am a bit surprised and frankly a bit disappointed in The Hackney Citizen with finding fault for just this aspect of our new watering hole. 
Clapton is a very different place even from what it was in 2008, when last this place shut its doors for business. We’re seeing more and more signs that we are closer and closer to that affluent and civilised merchants’ village of the 18th Century here where we can trust our neighbours and our neighbourhoods for our children to grow up in. May The Clapton Hart be a further sign of that restoration.  

The Clapton Hart is just at the top of Lower Clapton Road and can be reached via the 48, 55, 38, 254 or 106 and is well worth making time for.
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