Wednesday 28 November 2012

Food, Music, Food, Music, Food, Music (Ad Infinitum)

As autumn changes into winter and temperatures drop even more, I find myself craving the warmth of a good old broth. And as promised a few weeks ago to my veggie readers and fellow bloggers, this time “Food, Music, Food, Music, Food, Music… Ad Infinitum” will feature a vegetarian recipe.

Lentils and vegetable soup


3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup red lentils
1 cup tomatoes, diced (fresh or canned, include juice)
1 large onion, finely diced
3 medium size carrots, finely diced
1 celery rib, finely diced
1 cup zucchini, finely diced
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
4 green onions, sliced
Fresh lime juice (1 lime)
Sea salt and pepper, to taste


Cook onion in extra-virgin olive oil over medium heat in a big soup pot - stir occasionally. After cooking onion for about 2-3 minutes, add carrots, celery, and zucchini. Add 1.5 teaspoons sea salt, turmeric, and cumin - cook for another 5 minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Add lentils, tomatoes (plus tomato juices, if any), and 5.5 cups water. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and allow everything to simmer with the lid partially on - about 20 to 25 minutes, or until lentils have softened.. Add lime juice, stir. Add sea salt and pepper, to taste - you may not need to add any more salt, so be sure to taste first.  Just before serving, add sliced green onions to hot lentil soup - about a tablespoon of green onions per bowl. This red lentil and vegetable soup is delicious on its own, or with some whole grain bread or a bowl of rice.

The music I’ve chosen to go with this recipe befits the season: a rainbow of red, orange and yellow leaves lying on the ground and bare trees, finally beaten to submission by the harsh weather. The first salvo comes from one my favourite musicians ever, Aziza Mustafah Zadeh, and her own take on a jazz classic. I have just bought her 1997 album, Jazziza, and this is one of many gems in it. Enjoy.

When I saw Poliça on Jools Holland recently I knew immediately that I had to blog about them. There’s a serious groove in their sound. Love them. And the clip is very well made, too. Just like a red lentils and vegetable soup.

I’ve left Valerie June for the end because her voice reminds me of that last bit of soup you scrape off the bowl with whatever bread you have left. It’s the final touch to a fine, heart-warming meal. One that I hope you have enjoyed tonight. Because food and music should always go hand in hand together. Thanks.

© 2012

Next Post: “Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music” to be published on Sunday 2nd December at 10am (GMT)

Sunday 25 November 2012

Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music

I’ve noticed lately that a lot of my new readers and fellow bloggers are either poets or are heavily into poetry. Blogging is one of those phenomena where there’s a lot of serendipity. It’s not strange to find oneself hopping from one virtual space to another and enjoying lashes of good art along the way; and poetry (as an art form in my humble opinion) features prominently in these cyber-houses. Sometimes I imagine blog-land like a massive Spanish tapas bar where you have a wide variety of dishes on offer: gambas gabardina  (king prawns dipped in butter) here, mushrooms sautéed in garlic over there and Andalusia-style crispy squid served with homemade paprika at the far end. Hmmm… I see you licking your lips. That’s how I feel after I’ve visited the blogs of those who write poems or post poems written by other authors.

That’s why I want to open up my blog once more and turn it into a live platform where we can all share our love for poetry. I’ve done this before but never with poetry. A couple of years ago I organised an online debate on feminism right here on this very space. Click here, here and here to read the opinions of the five (female) contributors. That was followed by another forum on the gender divide in November 2010. You can read the original article here and the follow-up here.

This time around, though, what I would like to do is share with you a little hobby that some friends of mine and I used to indulge in when we were in uni. On those typically warm and humid Cuban afternoons, once lectures were over and I was done with my teaching (I was a teacher-student in those days) we would all repair to the famous, long, pink wall across from our faculty. When we were all seated and comfortable, someone would produce a book of poems from his or her bag and our game started.

“I open (book title0 on page X and read the first poem on the right handside”. That was the only abracadabra needed to unlock the treasure chest containing metaphors, similes and prosopopœias. That was our entertainment. I’m sure we’d seen it in a movie, probably a romantic one, but for the life of me I can’t remember which one. Or maybe it was a pastime someone else had come up with before and it’d been handed down from group to group over the years. The origin was not as important as the fun it brought. My friends and I were poetry enthusiasts at that time (especially after the success of the Argentinian film “El Lado Oscuro del Corazón”/The Dark Side of the Heart. I’ve already mentioned that movie on this blog a few times. Check it out on IMDB to find out why it was so essential to us, Cuban youngsters in the early 90s) so playing this game was a healthy way of reviving the art of reading poetry in public. Even if it was just to four or five other amigos.

Here’s the idea. Go to your bookshelf, reading room, local library, wherever you want to go, it doesn’t matter. Take a book of poems and let it open on your lap randomly on any page and just say to yourself: I open (book title) on page X and read the first poem on (you choose which side). Where a poem has already started and you’ve caught it halfway through, you can go back to the beginning of it and post it in its entirety. Next, e-mail me the poem at, with your blog name (I know some of you use your real name online. That will be honoured, too), blog address and if you happen to be an artist (you might be a published author, or potter, or painter, or photographer), please, send relevant links to your work. I will post everything on my blog next Sunday at 10am.

The beauty of this game and it hasn’t really changed since I played it all those years ago is the surprise element. I trust that we’re all acquainted with Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day” line but probably less with others that might be equally enchanting. If you are a poet who has had her/his work published, then, of course, you can grab your own book and let it open on any page and pick a poem at random (maybe with your eyes closed?)

I tell you what, my lovely readers and fellow bloggers. You can eve riff off on the theme I’ve just given you. Say, you send me an e-mail that starts thus: “Yo, Cuban man, guess what? I was walking down the road with (book title) in hand and suddenly, out comes from this pub (name of the poem) tumbling around like a drunken sailor. Or, how about this: “Hey, you, past-being-Cuban-almost-a-Londoner, I was waiting on the queue in the supermarket the other day to pay for my weekly shopping, I was holding (book title) in my hand and when it was my turn to cough up, all of a sudden the cashier began to read (name of the poem).

Above all, this game relies on randomness. After all, many of us find good literature that way. So, let’s crack on, shall we. The length of the poem doesn’t matter, however, taking into account that we live in an age where attention span is shrinking rapidly, I would avoid any Coleridge collection. Imagine finding yourself halfway through the The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. If need be, I will post all contributions over two Sundays.

So, what are you waiting for, poets and poetry lovers? Get writing. I look forward to your submissions. In the meantime I'll leave you in the company of one of my recent musical "dicoveries". Doesn't French sound beautiful, especially on an autumn Sunday morning?


Next post: “Food, Music, Food, Music, Food, Music… Ad Infinitum”, to be published on Wednesday 28th November at 11:59pm (GMT)

Wednesday 21 November 2012

Of Literature and Other Abstract Thoughts

A few days ago I had a small dinner party to celebrate my birthday. In preparation for the event, I tidied up the lounge and sorted out one of the bookcases in the room. I have to admit that the majority of volumes on two of the three bursting shelves belong to me and my wife has repeatedly asked me to either limit my book purchasing habit or donate some to a charity or a second-hand bookshop. I refuse to do either. My only recent compromise was not to get Zadie Smith’s  latest novel. NW will have to wait for a little while… maybe until Christmas.

Whilst I was waiting for my guests to arrive and the food was simmering slowly (I made red kidney bean soup with a vegetarian option that included carrots and sweet potatoes and a meat one with diced pork and beef) I looked around the lounge to make sure that the place was tidy and clean. It was then that my eyes alighted on the middle shelf of the small bookcase. I scanned the titles on display and I came to the sudden realisation that I had, unconsciously, mind, “tarted up” this reading corner. I had committed the ultimate sin: I had “sexed up” my mini-library. In swapping books from the (equally small) bookcase upstairs to the one downstairs, I had ended up with the more interesting and intellectual-looking ones on the ground floor and left the less exciting ones on the first floor. Vanity had finally got the better of me.

Or had it? Was I really being vain?

It’s a habit of mine, which I have had for many, many years, even stretching back to when I still used to live in Cuba that, whenever I visit someone’s house, I must also pay a visit to their bookshelves, if they have any. I also check out their CD collection if it’s in full view, but that’s another column. I can literally spend hours looking at the literary choices of my hosts.

A person’s bookcase says a lot about his or her personality. I’m not only referring to the genres they opt for, but also to the state of their reading material. Each book tells a story of use, re-use and in some cases, misuse (even abuse. But let’s not go there!). Sometimes my host(ess) satiates my curiosity with an anecdote on this or that volume and how it made him/her feel at the time. New authors have been recommended via another person’s mini-library. What I do have noticed is that very rarely are the books on display uninteresting or dull. They’re usually well-known pieces and as conversation ice-breakers, priceless.

So, with these thoughts in mind I wondered if others spruced up their books display as I had, apparently, done. Do you, dear reader/blogger, arrange your poetry, non-fiction and fiction material in a way that looks more eye-catching? I am aware that in the old days reading rooms were… well, just that, reading rooms. A whole section in the house would be devoted to this literary sanctuary. There was no need to “tart up” anything. What you saw was what you got. Brown leather-bound books in glass cages were the only species in this literary zoo. But I doubt that in modern times people have such lofty ambitions. For starters, there’s the practical: lack of space. And, number two, there’re the priorities we have nowadays. I guess that some people would sooner turn an empty space into a gym with state-of-the-art treadmill, than a shrine to the likes of Zola and Hurston.

Nevertheless, the more I thought about the way I had “prettied up” my bookcase (not that it was ugly to begin with; it was just very, very messy) the more I realised that the truth lay elsewhere. And it did, indeed. A few days before my dinner party I had been mulling over a - now defunct - column that used to come out in the Saturday Guardian’s Review supplement. It was called Writers’ Rooms and it could be found regularly on page five where the My Hero section is located these days. I found Writers’ Rooms a beautiful and warm read. In a few hundred words, authors (poets, short-story writers and essayists, amongst others) let us in on the secret to their magic. Because there’s no doubt that that place where you churn out word after word like a blacksmith taming the rough iron, is a magical place. Writers also showed us the mess, the reigning chaos in which they work (for instance, Marina Warner), or, in some cases, the pulchritude and wide space they needed (Joan Bakewell). Above all, I marvelled at the different notions of what a writer’s room is or represents. Simon Callow hasn’t got one since he’s always on the move. I would have thought that, if there were to be someone sticking up for the grand reading room as it used to be back in the day, Mr Callow would be its most prominent exponent.

When reading Writers’ Rooms, I remember scanning the photos of the authors’ work spaces for clues as to their source(s) of inspiration. And that’s probably one of the reasons why I ended “sexing up” my own bookcase. Not in an attempt to become a writer by osmosis (writing might have once been an aspiration I had but that goal is fading further and further away from me it as time goes on) but because I wanted to keep my sources of inspiration closer to me. The Kleins, Joyces, Piñeras and Mantels are the reason why I continue to read. Literature has never ceased to amaze me. And I don’t think it ever will. So, it wasn't vanity after all, but advertisement. I was advertising the power of reading (and good writing) to unlock the creative inner self.

© 2012
Next Post: “Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music”, to be posted on Sunday 25th November at 10am (GMT)

The "sexed-up" shelf

Friday 16 November 2012

Pieces of Me, Pieces of Havana

... what I remember the most is when I used to go to El Templete to circle the Ceiba tree every 15th November, near the midnight hour, almost on the 16th. You walk around it once and.... No, no, bro, you’re wrong. You walk around it three times and you make three wishes. Actually, I think he’s right. You go around the Ceiba once and you make three wishes as you do it. No, man, you two are wrong, believe me; I used to go every year. In fact, I started going when I was still in my teens, mainly because my birthday coincided with that of Havana’s, on 16th November. Your birthday’s on the 16th? Yes. So, is mine, happy birthday! Yes, mi herma, my birthday is also on the 16th November! Thanks, likewise. Anyway, as I was saying, I began to attend the ceremony when I was still in college, probably Year 11 or 12. It couldn’t have been before that. I was still under curfew. I couldn’t stay out longer than 11pm. Do you remember the first time you went? Yes, how can I forget it? The place was not as choc-a as it would be in later years, but it was still mainly locals coming down around this time, not many foreigners in those days. You mean nights. Ha, yeah, you’re right. That first time I went with my best friend from college. We walked all the way down Neptuno St until we got to Prado St. We carried on down Obispo, past the La Moderna Poesia bookshop until we arrived at the Plaza de Armas at around 10pm.The queue was short and we still had some time to kill. We walked around for a while. I remember being overwhelmed by the occasion and by the history behind the place. El Templete was the place where the conquistadores stopped after their long journey northwards from the Mayabeque River; on the southern coast. Mayabeque was not a viable option as a port anymore, especially after the expeditions to Mexico and Florida in the 16th century and therefore had to be vacated. On that first night when I went to walk around the Ceiba I wondered how it must have felt for the Spanish soldiers to leave a swampy area full of mosquitoes and arrive in what they probably saw as the “promised land”. There were signs to convince them that they had made the right choice: The Chorrera River, with its clean and transparent waters that greeted them in 1519 and the fresh sea breeze from Havana Bay slapping them across their tired faces. And to cap it all, the tall Ceiba tree attempting to tickle Heaven’s belly with its long branches. Under the shade of a similar majestic tree El Templete, the Little Temple, was born three centuries later in 1828. I heard or read somewhere that the original Ceiba tree was cut down and in its place a plinth was erected to celebrate the historic date. You’re quite right. In fact, the plinth was surrounded by three new Ceibas. But they, too, were felled down. Seventy-five years later, under Governor Don Dionisio Vives’ orders El Templete came into being and with it the Ceiba tree around which we all walked three times on the 16th November when we still lived in Havana. Once! Once! Ha, you two don’t give up, do you? However, the number is not relevant. What matters more is what we’ve all taken from our city and brought with us to the Big Smoke: the memories, the history and the culture. You’re quite right, ecobio. It makes no difference if it was three, or four or five times. Havana will always be Havana and the Ceiba tree is one of its symbols. And so was the ritualistic Areito ceremony performed by our very own Indians, with their call-and-response chants. Which, by the way, preceded the ones sung by the slaves brought from Africa once the cruel Spaniards exterminated the indigenous population. With that kind of foundation it’s not hard to see why we’ve always been a musical country. You’re right, mate. Our delicious rumba was born in the ports of Cárdenas and Havana, played on wooden boxes with metal spoons by stevedores and foremen. And accompanied by the essential Cuban clave, the two sticks that are the heart and soul of Cuban music. Sometimes people played with their bare hands if they couldn’t get hold of a pair of claves. Later on we added the Spanish guitar, conga drums and voilà! We suddenly had son, guaracha, cha-cha-cha, mambo, salsa. Do you miss walking around the Ceiba tree? Yes, I do. How about you? What did you use to wish for? I always had the same two wishes. No need for a third one. Health, first and foremost, for my family, friends and me. And change. A radical change. Not just for Havana, but also for the whole country. It hurts to see the city you were born in slowly fading away. With its buildings collapsing, its people leaving or alienating themselves. It hurts. I know what you mean, bro, it hurts me, too. But tonight let’s forget about the misfortunes and celebrate the history of our birthplace. Let’s think of all those hands, black, white and yellow touching the legendary Ceiba tree and let’s raise a toast to our 493-year-old beautiful lady: Havana.

© 2012

Next Post: “Of Literature and Other Abstract Thoughts”, to be published on Wednesday 21st November at 11:59pm (GMT)

Image taken from Cuba Debate

Sunday 11 November 2012

Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music

Y es que el hombre aunque no lo sepa/unido está a su casa poco menos que el molusco a su concha/no se quiebra esta unión sin que algo muera/ en la casa, en el hombre, o en los dos.”(“Man might not be aware of how attached he is to his house/little less than a mollusc to its shell/this union cannot break down/without something dying in the house, in the man, or in both”). “Últimos Dias de Una Casa” (Last Days of a House) by Dulce María Loynaz*

The unveiling of the latest stage of the regeneration work taking place in my neck of the woods in London led me back to this gem of a poem (above) by one of Cuba’s foremost poets, the late Dulce Maria Loynaz. The North Mall Square has been refurbished and a few more new shops have opened.

I have lived now for more than a dozen years in this area and I have seen massive changes. Some have been for the better and some for the worse. But what all these changes have brought about in me is a sense of belonging. Home is not just my rented house, but also my barrio.

I often wonder at what point we start calling our chosen patch of land “home”. In Cuba that question would have not arisen. Then, again, I would have probably not had the chance to have, not even rent, my own house. Yet, the city, the people, my family, they would have been part of that thing we call “home”.

Loynaz’s poem is written from the point of view of an old house that watches, worryingly, how all “its sisters have almost all disappeared” (“Soy una casa vieja, lo comprendo/poco a poco, sumida en stupor/he visto desaparecer a todas mis hermanas”). In their place new “intruders have risen”. I see parallels between these verses and the ugly warehouse that rose right across from our house a few years ago. The view the new building blocked was almost a visual respite from the industrial landscape by which we were surrounded. If truth be told, it wasn’t the best sight in the world. We couldn’t, as Loynaz’s house was able to do in her poem, “see the sea/I used to see naturally, next to me, like a friend/and every morning we greeted each other” (“Cuando me hicieron yo veia el mar/lo veia naturalmente, cerca de mi como un amigo”). My view was rather more prosaic, just a few bushes and trees. But they looked pretty from my wife and mine bedroom. Now, all we have is a large, blue and white building with the name of a famous store chain on it.

One of our bookcases, our sofa and our reading lamp
It’s a funny business this “an Englishman’s home is his castle”. For starters, I’m not English, and neither have I got a castle or plans to own one (just joking). Jesting aside, though, I don’t know if I’m allowed to call my rented house my “castle”. Surely we’ve lived here for close to a dozen years. We all have our little corners and arrange the cushions on the sofa in our peculiar way when we watch telly or read. The children have their own bedrooms, something I did not have for more than twenty-five years living in overcrowded Havana. Although our house is small, we still have space. But the question still gnaws at me: can I call it “my home”, or even “castle”, if it’s not even mine, but a housing association’s?

The idea that home ownership allows an individual to feel more integrated into society as a citizen is not new. Already in the 17th century those arguing against universal male suffrage said that “no man hath a right to an interest or share in the disposing of the affairs of the kingdom… that hath not a permanent fixed interest in this kingdom.” However, we shouldn’t underestimate the power that comes from having a roof over one’s head and a place by the fire to rest our tired bones at the end of the working day.

Loynaz’s poem continues in a sadder vein. Whilst new houses are erected, our protagonist is left alone with days going by and “nobody approaches me/I feel like a sick house, like a leper/it’s necessary that someone comes to get the mangoes/that are falling down in the garden and get lost without anyone tasting their sweetness/it’s necessary that someone comes to close the window/of the dining room that was left open/last night some bats flew in/it’s necessary that someone comes to tidy up, to shout, to do anything” (“Otro día ha pasado y nadie se me acerca/me siento ya una casa enferma, una casa leprosa/es necesario que alguien venga a recoger los mangos/que se caen en el patio y se pierden sin que nadie les tiente la dulzura/es necesario que alguien venga a cerrar la ventana/del comedor que ha quedado abierta/y anoche entraron los murciélagos/es necesario que alguien venga a ordenar, a gritar, a cualquier cosa”). How many of us have witnessed a similar scenario? A house left to rot. What makes it more unbearable is that in the UK owning a house is one of those ideas that are drummed into children from an early age. According to Shelter, the housing and homelessness charity, only Greece, Spain and Ireland come on top of the United Kingdom in regards to home ownership. Was it, then, so surprising that we had a house bubble in the mid to late noughties and that this led to the economic crisis in 2008?

Dulce Maria’s poem ends with the demise of the house: “They are the men, and only them/they are of better clay than I am/their greed overcame their need to keep me (…) thus I was sold/because I had better value in their accounts/than in their affection/and if I’m worthless in their affection/I’m nothing/and it’s time to die (“Los hombres son y solo ellos/los de mejor arcilla que la mia/cuya codicia pudo mas que la necesidad de retenerme (…) Y fui vendida al fin/porque llegue a valer tanto en sus cuentas/que no valia nada en su ternura/y si no valgo en ella… nada valgo/y es hora de morir”)

These were the thoughts going through my mind as I saw the newly refurbished North Mall Square. Then I was suddenly and painfully reminded of the ugly, large blue and white building across from my house. The place I would like to call “home”, but I’m still not sure.

* Translating poetry is not my forte. I’ve done my best to bring you the essence of Dulce Maria Loynaz’s poem, a writer who, I believe, is completely unknown in the UK, and in the Anglophone world by extent. “Últimos Dias de Una Casa” is a long poem. I’m not aware of any English translation of it, and if there is, I hope the author(s) will forgive me for my daring act.

© 2012

Next Post: “Pieces of Me, Pieces of Havana”, to be published on Friday 16th November at 12:01am (GMT)

Wednesday 7 November 2012

Urban Diary

16:40. I’ve got five more minutes to catch the 16:45 overground train from Liverpool Street to Enfield Town departing from platform 4. My pace quickens. I “Oyster” myself through the ticket barrier along with the rest of the rush hour pack. The eight-carriage metallic Monstro swallows us all, willing Pinocchios; some going back home from work, others, visiting friends in the sticks.

My seat faces west. In front of me a couple. They giggle constantly, in a world of their own. To my right a besuited businessman. He holds a tall latte from Starbucks and listens to some music on his iPod? iPhone? Smartphone? Hard to tell from where I am sitting. But that the gadget he is holding in his hand is a sophisticated one, I have no doubt. Behind him another couple. They silently look outside the window at the impromptu-Usain Bolt-copycats, making a mad dash for the closing doors. Everyone’s clothes are a statement of the change of season: bright pinks with reds mix with beige wool coats. Purple polo necks pair up with grey skirts. Some, like me, remain monochromatic; I am part of the sea of blacks, dark greys and navy blues that sweeps through my carriage, like a challenge to the light brown and off-whites sported by those more attuned to nature’s current colours. London’s urban landscape has just got classier and trendier. 

The doors shut. There’s a two-second silence in which you can almost hear everyone’s breathing. Especially that of the late arrivals; gasping for air, taking off their scarves and opening the top buttons of their jackets. Suddenly through the tannoy a voice announces that “this is the 16:45 train Liverpool Street to Enfield Town stopping at…” 

Ahhh… I wonder,what if it were a different announcement? What if it said: “This is the 16:45 train Liverpool Street to Enfield Town stopping at…” 

Bethnal Green, formerly part of rural Middlesex and now multicultural hub. Sliced up by the new railways in the 1800s and key player in the East End’s lore. 

The dying sunlight steals through the windows of my carriage as the train moves past tower blocks, factories and London Fields. Again, the imaginary voice comes on the PA system: 

We have now arrived at Hackney Downs in the borough of Hackney, a part of London that has gone from no-go area to gentrified hipster’s paradise in the blink of an eye. Excellent traditional, alternative and international cuisine can be found here as well.

The train snakes further up north and east until it comes to a halt. This time the greeting from the voice is different: 

Shalom, passengers, you are now at Stamford Hill station. This area is renowned for its Orthodox Jewish population. On Saturday mornings yarmulkes mingle with tichels, and black is the colour to be seen in on the high road. 

On the train rambles and at almost exactly 17:03 a sharp bend announces the next stop. I peer down as the train crosses a bridge beneath which lie dozens of shops run by Ghanaians, Turks and Jamaicans. Seven Sisters station needs no introduction. It can do so itself: 

I’ve got a big Colombian community who love hanging out outside El Parador Rojo restaurant on Saturday night; reggae, soul and funk music fans checking rarities at Every Bodies Music just up the road; the warm and welcoming Marcus Garvey library within spitting distance and the Bernie Grant Arts Centre dedicated to the memory of one of only three black MPs to be elected to Parliament in 1987. 

At 17:11 we arrive at Edmonton Green station. This time it’s poetry that takes our hand and invites us to get off the train. John Keat’s Draught of Sunshine is becoming weaker and weaker as twilight begins to envelop us. The imaginary voice on the tannoy informs us that… 

As soon as you come out of the station, you need to turn left onto Church Street. Walk up the road for about five minutes and you’ll see the house on your right handside. Venture in and a blue plaque will tell you that “On this site formerly stood the cottage in which the poet John Keats served his apprenticeship (1811-1815) to Thomas Hammond, a surgeon of this parish." 

The train reaches its final destination: Enfield Town. The early evening hustle-bustle contrasts sharply with the notion that this is a sleepy suburb in north London. The last announcement comes on: 

This train will now terminate at Enfield Town station belonging to the borough of the same name. The area has one of the oldest, if not the oldest, markets in England, established by Royal Charter in 1618. Catch the 191 outside the station and get off at Forty Hall and you’ll be able to see the remains of Henry VIII’s Elsyng Palace, a hunter lodge also used by Elizabeth I. I hope you have enjoyed your journey. 

Indeed, I have. I hope you have, too, reader, for this is part of my urban landscape. What makes London my London. But I keep thinking, if only train announcements were slightly different, uh?

© 2012 

Next Post: “Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music”, to be published on Sunday 11th November at 10am (GMT)

Sunday 4 November 2012

Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music


It’s hard to find anything to joke or laugh about in the on-going Jimmy Savile saga. But irony has the peculiar characteristic of surfacing in the most unusual places. And so it is that it has suddenly turned up in what appears to be prima facie one of the most appalling cases of paedophilia to have ever taken place in the UK in recent memory.

George Entwistle, new director general of the BBC, was questioned by MPs recently 
The irony stems from seeing some of the media outlets leading the cavalry charge against the BBC and all the other institutions responsible for allowing the former Top of the Tops presenter to allegedly abuse young people on their premises. Paul Dacre’s The Daily Mail and Dominic Mohan’s The Sun (the latter, an ex-columnist of the showbiz section Bizarre) smelled blood from the moment the story about Jimmy Savile’s alleged sexual abuses broke out. And like bloodthirsty hounds, they haven’t let go of their prey. In The Sun’s case, this crisis at the Beeb is perfect timing, as it diverts public attention from the Leveson enquiry and more specifically from the way News International conducts its business. News International, just in case people don’t know, publishes The Sun.

At this point it is worth repeating what has been said before: the Savile scandal is no small matter. Also, I’m not, in any way, excusing the behaviour adopted by those at the top of the BBC, including its director general. There has been too much hand-wringing involved when honesty and straightforwardness would have been much more welcomed.

However, for me the key word here is perspective. Jimmy Savile’s alleged actions were not just the product of status (his, as a celebrity), easy access to minors and adolescents, intimidation and voluntary ignorance on the part of those tasked with protecting young people. They were also the result of a bigger problem, one that, although demanding an urgent solution, will be forgotten once Savile becomes an embarrassing footnote in the history of the BBC and of those institutions where he allegedly carried out these sexual abuses.

The problem to which I’m referring is the sexualisation of children and adolescents, a phenomenon that has become a sad indictment of our contemporary society. And girls and young women in particular are the more affected. That is why I feel repulsed by the hypocrisy displayed by both The Daily Mail and The Sun. A cursory glance through the former’s website, Mail Online, will throw up countless photos of scantily-clad women accompanied by comments on every single inch of flesh they (unintentionally) expose in public. And sometimes not even in public. But who cares? As long as the sound of “Kerching!” keeps ringing around The Daily Mail’s offices, the nation’s self-appointed “last bastion of virtue” won’t mind a bit of double standards.

As for The Sun, its near-paedophilic fixation with pubescent girls is legendary. After all this is the newspaper, lest we forget, that decorates its (in)famous page 3 regularly with young women’s breasts. Sans bra, of course. The newspaper which, when singing sensation Charlotte Church turned sixteen years-old, saw fit to say “She’s a big girl now”. Big for what? I bet Jimmy Savile used the same line with some of his victims.

I said before that the key word here was perspective. I have already explained one reason. The other one is that whilst we’re busy feeling (rightly) outraged at Savile’s alleged vile actions, the government recently let slip that the worst of the UK’s recession was over. It didn’t get so much as a second look, let alone a well-articulated riposte from the opposition. But if we look closer we’ll notice that one of the indicators for the “good news” was the Olympics, a one-off boost. We are still waiting for the long-term strategy and Osborne’s Plan B. Neither has been forthcoming. Instead we get more coverage on Newsnight’s decision to scrap a report on allegations of abuse by Jimmy Savile a few weeks before tributes were to be aired following his death last year. In the real world, however, we had one of the largest demonstrations against the government’s cuts recently. More than 100,000 people took to the streets of Glasgow, Belfast and London bearing banners with captions that read: “marching for a future that works”. How many column inches were devoted to these protests compared to the ones churned out about the Savile scandal? I will let you do the maths yourself, reader. 

The last reason why a sense of perspective is needed is that some media outlets, including the aforementioned The Daily Mail and The Sun, have gone overboard with their criticisms of the BBC and all the other institutions responsible for Savile’s alleged predatory behaviour. It’s true that he did hideous things apparently. That, however, doesn’t make George Entwistle, the new director general, a paedophile ring leader. Nor does this whole scandal call for the closure of the BBC (I know, I know, preposterous, but, believe you me, the hints have been there all along) or the NHS. If anything, the current hoo-hah is convenient for certain people to “bury” their bad news and divert attention from issues that affect us more in the mid- and long-term than a dead octogenarian’s alleged predatory behaviour. I hope that the people responsible for allowing Jimmy Savile to take advantage of his celebrity status are held to account. But what I hope for, above all, is that we go back to focusing on the things that matter most: for example, what are we going to do as a society about the sexualisation of young people? Answers on a handwritten postcard, please.

© 2012

Next Post: “Urban Diary”, to be published on Wednesday 7th November at 11:59pm (GMT)


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