Saturday, 25 June 2016

Saturday Evenings: Stay In, Sit Up and Switch On

Scroll down to the video at the bottom of this post now, please. Look at the hands clapping, the hands holding the violin, the hands playing the piano. What do they all have in common?

They are human hands. Hands capable of creating, guiding, helping. Hands capable of caressing, kneading, supporting. Hands that reach out, sometimes to other human beings. Hands that build. Perhaps bridges, you could say. These are human hands, similar in appearance and functionality to the ones I am using now to type up this post. Yes, you could say that they differ, these hands in the clip and your hands, and mine. Because some are bigger whereas others are smaller. Some are lighter-skinned whilst some are of a darker blue. Some have pencil-thin fingers. Others boast short, fat digits. But, despite the differences these hands are human. Human hands that are capable of loving.

They are also capable of hating.

They can hold a gun, these hands. They can hold a ballot paper that will seal a nation’s fate, a knife (with murderous intentions) or a baseball bat on an unlit road. And even if the decision to use our hands comes ultimately from our brain, that final command to act, you could say, it is our hands that carry out the deed. The same hands you saw earlier in that clip caressing the black-and-whites.

We are responsible for what we do with our hands. We are accountable, first to ourselves as adults, then to society, for how we use our hands. Barring pathology, we should be perfectly capable of making rational decisions that benefit us and our fellow human beings. When we do not, we should not make excuses and seek refuge in amendments from bygone eras, abstract nouns like politics or easy scapegoats like immigrants. We are individuals, indeed, but that does not mean imposing an individualistic way of life on others.

And yet…

Hatred is winning. Along with its close relative, fear. We are using our hands more and more to elicit tears of sorrow than joy. The hands guiding the orchestra in the clip are losing to the ones pulling the trigger outside an MP’s surgery. We have ditched the conditional “if” for the more practical and terrifying “when” in statements. We are getting used, like it or not, to hatred and fear.

I am not. A South African opera singer performing a song in Latin to the score of a dead German composer, led by a Dutch violinist in a Brazilian city is the world I want to live in. I do not want to live in a world where a four-year-old asks his father to teach him how to fire a gun because he witnessed daddy killing a robber at the barber’s. I do not want to live in a world in which daddy says that he will teach his son in due course, obviously, but not now. When his son turns five instead…

I do not get to decide how the world shapes up. Nor would I like to, in all honesty. I am not into prescriptive measures. I would rather we, of our own accord, used our hands to bring out the best in our fellow humans, as Kimmy and André do in the clip. After all it is better to cry of joy than to cry over yet another life lost to hatred. Look at those hands clapping, playing, directing. Look at your own now, capable of creating, kneading, helping. Building, too. Bridges, you say? Yes, bridges. They are also capable of loving. And we need a lot of love today. Please, let us use them for that purpose.

© 2016

Next Post: “Saturday Evenings: Stay In, Sit Up and Switch On”, to be published on Saturday 2nd July at 6pm (GMT)

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

London, my London

London’s roads resemble the branches of a crooked tree. They bend and twist whimsically, creating cul-de-sacs and one way streets all over the city. They are as beautiful as they are maddening. Luckily the road I choose today for my latest bicycle adventure is as straight as it is London-y possible.

Southampton Row starts just north of Holborn tube station, in London’s West End. However, it changes names along the way. This is a constant motif as I cycle down Great Queen St. and turn left onto Kingsway, Southampton Row’s first mutation.

As I leave tourist-magnet Covent Garden behind, I also notice that there is another pattern that keeps repeating itself wherever I go in London: parking spaces for bicycles or the lack of them thereof. The majority are exposed to the elements. It is as if all the recent pro-cycling publicity has focused more on getting people to saddle up than on creating welcoming and sheltered places for bicycles. Once again, our continental friends are blazing the trail. In Holland most cycle shelters have roofs and are designed in a way that looks inviting and appealing for still-undecided would-be cyclists. In London by contrast, bike sheds (usually just racks) are installed – if they are – as an after-thought. Today I see evidence of this everywhere. I spend about half an hour in Covent Garden's Piazza and not once do I see a bicycle park, not even the typical sturdy, thick, metallic racks to which I can chain my two-wheeler.

It is a similar situation once I get on Southampton Row. The only sheltered bicycle-dedicated space I find is at Euston Station. Before I get to this transport hub, though, made up of railway connections, a tube station and a bus depot, Southampton Row changes names five times: Russell Square (central London’s second largest square and almost opposite the British Museum), Woburn Place, Tavistock Square (with a well-known statue and bust, the former of Mahatma Gandhi and the latter of Bloomsbury set author, Virginia Woolf), short-lived and Upper Woburn Place and Eversholt Street. It is here on the corner of what one of the green signs calls the A200 and Euston Road that the neo-classical St Pancras New Church looms over the passing traffic ominously.

St Pancras New Church: imposing and awe-inspiring

As I cycle on, I am also reminded of the terrible event that took place on this road eleven years ago, almost to the day. It was here that the number 30 bus exploded when terrorists attacked London on 7th July 2005.  I shudder slightly at the thought of the tragedy.

The reason why I am undertaking this trip is mainly because I am interested in long, straight roads in London. The variety of neighbourhoods they traverse through provides a wealth of history and culture. Already I have gone from pretty, postcard-perfect Covent Garden, through well-off Tavistock Square to what now has become an urban three-branch crooked tree on Camden High Street. Straight on lies my final destination, Hampstead; if I were to take the road in the middle, however, that would bring me up to NW5, Kentish Town. Choose the one on my right, on Camden Road and I will end up in Victorian-era Finsbury Park.  I carry on up Camden High Street. As I head further up the scenery changes as well as the name of the road. I am now entering much posher and bohemian territory and the houses and surroundings bear witness to that. It is also the first time that the road has actually curved. The northwest-bound bend is noticeable because it announces ascent. I switch gears swiftly and remove my jumper. The early spring-morning chill has given way to a noon-time hot sun with not a cloud in sight.

I arrive at Belsize Park tube station and dismount. I park my bike nearby (again, no shelter) and I am amused that by the time I return my bicycle has struck up a rather “overfriendly” relationship with a woman-framed bike. I cannot leave it alone, my two-wheeler. It immediately starts chatting other bikes up.

My bike (left) being "friendly"

I have a soft spot for Hampstead Village. I love their narrow, hilly streets, with cul-de-sacs and lanes leading off Rosslyn Hill and Hampstead High Street. The area has a lot of character, probably one of the reasons why it is so pricey. There are still lots of independent shops and one of them is Daunt Books, a two-store chain with one branch here and the other one in the Heath, on South End Road.

What I have learnt, as I continue to tour around London on my bike, is that the effect of our surroundings (whatever they are, mere objects or historical places) does not have a meaning in itself. We, humans, we, amateur architects, design and build them into memories, beautiful and long-lasting, un-Instagrammed moments. That is the last thought in my mind as I saddle up and disappear down one of the branches of this urban crooked tree we call London.

© 2016

Next Post: “Saturday Evenings: Stay In, Sit Up and Switch On”, to be published on Saturday 25th June at 6pm (GMT)


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