Friday 29 October 2021

Why I Wrote "Cuban, Immigrant, and Londoner"

 My book is a call to strengthen the bonds that unite us

Photo by Deborah Jaffe

Published by Austin Macauley, supported by an Arts Council England grant and with photographs by the excellent Deborah Jaffe, my first book, “Cuban, Immigrant, and Londoner” hits the shelves this week.

Somewhere towards the end of my book, I write “This is what writing from an EAL immigrant’s perspective represents. Shards of glass that amount to nothing more and nothing else than the imperfect creation of a glimpse into the life we’ve lived, the one we have yet to live and the experience that has accompanied this process.” The “shards of glass” are a reference to an image produced by the photographer Gillian Allard in 2017 for one of her challenges on the Sky Arts show “Master of Photography” (Gillian went on to win the competition).

Shards tend to be seen mainly as broken pieces of glass and therefore they have a negative connotation. For instance, you can get cut if you walk on them barefoot. For me, though, shards and the distorted image they return, represent the various ways in which our lives as immigrants play out.

That’s why I decided to split “Cuban, Immigrant, and Londoner” into five different chapters. They each deal with five different identity markers. Cuban, Immigrant, and Londoner was the trigger to write the book from a self-proclaimed Londoner’s perspective. A Cuban in London and London in a Cuban is a collection of 250-/300-word light-hearted vignettes depicting those little moments that enrich an immigrant’s life. As the Land is the Language is a reflection on our relationship with the English language as immigrants. From Here and There is a compilation of the articles I’ve published in newspapers and magazines in the last fifteen years. The closing chapter, An EAL Immigrant Writes, seeks to explore the ways in which we, non-native speakers, express our ideas and thoughts in our adopted country’s language, in this case, English.

The main aim of the book “Cuban, Immigrant, and Londoner” is to serve as a platform for fellow immigrants to share our experiences. Furthermore, through the book I would like to start a much-needed conversation with the wider public in the UK on the contributions made by immigrants to this country.

The ideas behind this book have long been in gestation. Some come from my professional life. An example of this was a First Light-funded, EAL children-supporting project I managed at two primary schools in 2009. Another film-related project I managed years later, in 2014, sought to delve into issues related to identity and belonging.

Above all “Cuban, Immigrant, and Londoner” is part memoir, part autobiography and part reflection on an Afro-Latin Caribbean immigrant’s life in London for more than 20 years. It’s a journey that’s barely begun. Welcome aboard and enjoy the ride.

Monday 25 October 2021

Diary of a Cycling Instructor (Week 7th June — 11th June 2021)

Are children the only future we have? Aren’t we all (young and old) the future, too?


Seen at a primary school: “Children are the only future the human race has. Teach them well”.

I’ve no problem with trusting the younger generation to guide us in the right direction. But I do think that by focusing solely on them, we end up ignoring those like me in their mature years. Thus, we create a two-tier system. Children, teenagers and young adults sit at one end, all future-ready, whereas middle-aged and elderly people occupy the other, past their prime and with no future to look forward to. The much-needed cross-generational overlap doesn’t happen or it happens rarely. The only future the human race has is an across-the-ages approach, in which we leave behind our differences and hang-ups and concentrate on our similarities and common goals.

Now, let’s go outside and teach this lot how to do a proper hand signal.

Odd, incongruous and ironic sign of the day: “We only have one planet. Look after it”, whilst underneath it sat two packs of 12 plastic water bottles each.

Working in schools again reminds me of that moment when you have a group of children in front of you in a semicircle. Most seem to be paying attention to what you’re explaining, but there’s always one talking in a low voice, their pitch just a few decibels high, enough to communicate the joke, but not enough to remain unnoticed.

There are some sounds in schools that I’ve missed: for instance, the slapping sound of a pair of flip-flops marching down a corridor, announcing the arrival of summer.

Terminology in cycling training can be confusing sometimes to outsiders. For instance, the phrase “creeping and peeping” has nothing to do with stalking someone. It’s what happens when we approach a junction and visibility is poor. As we inch past the give way lines (creep), we’re in a better position to make a judgment (peep) as to whether to continue our journey or wait.

Another phrase that might floor those not familiar with cycling training is “new lane, new look”. This phrase has nothing to do with our approach to fashion, but how we negotiate junctions, turn at them (new lane) and check behind (new look) to see what the traffic is like.

Sadly, cycling also falls prey to the parenthood-as-status phenomenon. The perpetrators are chiefly dads and their sons. The former more than the latter. In this case, the offspring-on-two-wheels becomes an accessory to advertise daddy’s coolness.

Time and time again we come across the “But my dad says…” type of comment when we’re training children. To which the only reply can be “Yes. Your daddy says that you can ride with just one hand/use just the one brake/or not bother wearing a helmet. Sorry to break it to you like this, but, your daddy’s not always right. Also, it’s our duty to train you properly. Outside, you can do whatever you like, even take both your hands off the handlebar. But in here, we’re in charge.” That usually does the trick and keeps them quiet. The kids, not the dads.

Monday 18 October 2021

Diary of a Cycling Instructor (Week 31st May — 4th June 2021)

Summer’s finally here and so are showers 

Week 31st May — 4th June 2021

On my way to Enfield today, I choose the Green Lanes route. I’m co-delivering a playground-based, week-long, half-term, cycling training programme. As I ease down the still-new, Holland-inspired, off-road cycle lane, my mind wanders off.

I think of those pioneer record-holders at the 1896 Olympic Games, seeking to improve their fixed-sprocket frames. The result was an increase in size of the front wheel with the pedals still on it (no chain yet, in those days). And that’s how the penny-farthing was born.

Blue-shirted, dapper-looking elderly man with matching hat. I salute you, sir. And I thank you. That little nod and hand on heart as you walked past me in Victoria Park, Finchley, whilst I was talking a learner through a cycling drill was priceless.

I’m sure you were a cyclist in your younger days. Who knows? You probably still are.

I’m waiting for a learner for a 1–2–1 session in Priory Park, Hornsey, north London. The voices of two blokes working out not too far from me are drowned out by the sound-blasting fitness routine music unleashed on the park by a personal trainer. 

Whilst still in Priory Park, I suddenly remember that I’m not far from Campsbourne School, where a plaque celebrating a couple of years ago. I wonder if they let visitors in. Masked up and on two wheels. Worth finding out.

Some people get second cars. This cycling instructor just got a second bike: a folding Raleigh EVO 2 beauty. 

Someone forgot to tell Halfords that we no longer use the term “women’s bikes” in cycling training. 

On behalf of all cycling instructors in the world, or at least those based in the British Isles, 

Sometimes people ask me  How else do you think I can have some proper banter with parents/carers and their children without looking like a dodgy bloke?

Monday 11 October 2021

Diary of a Cycling Instructor (Week 24th May — 28th May 2021)


A cycling trip down history near the king’s former hunting grounds

Week Monday 24th May — Friday 28th May 2021

was an on-off, sudden-shower, sun-bursting type of morning ride today. On arriving at the school where I was working today I was greeted by a row of bicycles left outside. It never ceases to amaze me that children who leave their bicycles out when it’s raining are more concerned about wet seats than soaked helmets (also left outside).

lashback: walking down a corridor I spotted a sign on one of the school’s display boards. It read “Together Everyone Achieves More” (TEAM). I still remember when that used to be the go-to motto for every community and voluntary group’s workshop or event.

big thank you to the brother who gave me the thumb-up (just the one, mind, he kept his other hand on the wheel) on a miserable-looking, grey morning as I went up Cannon Hill. You made my day.

rying to explain to a group of Year 6es the better way to control your bicycle whilst riding slowly is futile if you do the explaining in the vicinity of a Year 1 class playing outside. The little ones will always drown your voice out. And very welcome they are to do it every time.

ilho da puta!” The words pierced the rain-soaked air on Green Lanes. A car had pulled out of Effingham Road without checking and had just missed a scooter. Scooter Man had made his feelings clear by calling the driver a son of a bitch. I caught up with Scooter Man at the traffic lights on St Ann’s Road. What a son of a bitch! I said, hinting that I’d understood the phrase he’d just used. In my country, he replied, I punch him. Here, in UK, no, but in my country… and he mimicked decking someone. Where are you from? I asked him, knowing beforehand that he’d name a Portuguese-speaking country. Portugal, but I lived in Brazil.

The lights changed and he sped off, leaving behind a trail of Portuguese swear words on a London road.

Monday 4 October 2021

Diary of a Cycling Instructor (Week 17th May-21st May 2021)

Julian Barnes’ definition of style and how it applies to cycling


Week Monday 17th May — Friday 21st May

he early morning sunshine was misleading. By the time I got to the junction of Green Lanes and the A406 (otherwise known as the North Circular Road, or North Circ) on my two-wheeler, the sky was overcast and north wind-driven grey clouds were presaging heavy rain.

It didn’t take long for the showers to materialiseNothing like a Monday morning downpour to snap you awake and set you for the week ahead.

ne and a half sugars is either just one or two. Very rarely does the person making the tea or coffee get it right. That’s a fact. This applies to all work environments, from offices to school staff rooms.

tyle is a function of theme. Style is not imposed on subject-matter, but arises from it. Style is truth to thought. The correct word, the true phrase, the perfect sentence are always “out there” somewhere; the writer’s task is to locate them by whatever means he can. For some this means no more than a trip to the supermarket and a loading-up of the metal basket; for others it means being lost on a plain in Greece, in the dark, in snow, in the rain, and finding what you seek only by some rare trick such as barking like a dog.” Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes.

The same is applicable to cycling. The way we create our own “cycling style” is similarly individualised. How we set our pedal up, on the left or the right. How we check the traffic around us, either a furtive glance over our shoulder, or a more professional-looking, almost-under-the-armpit look. How we navigate stationery vehicles at junctions (some slalom their way around them until they get to the front, others prefer to hang back at the end of the queue). This is what defines us as riders. And as instructors.

most schools you find the same old messages on the noticeboard: timetables, health and safety directives, union bulletins and staff responsible for safeguarding. And then, there are the schools in which you come across a beautiful display of photos where people are hugging and beaming at the camera, in the “before” times.

ife’s not about finding all the right answers, but asking yourself tough questions. If not, ask a cycling instructor. We arrive in schools with the expectation of providing nuggets of wisdom on how to ride on the road. Most of the time, though, what we’re doing is unlocking knowledge. We’re eliciting the answers our young charges already have but are too young or afraid to ask.

Cycling training is not just about riding a bicycle well, but capitalising on the sense of freedom your pair of wheels has already given you and building up the skills and capacity to do it more often and more assertively. In a nutshell, we provide the frame(work), you provide the feet and the brain.

hat moment when a member of staff starts a conversation about a particular child only to realise halfway through that there’s a visitor in the staff room (me) and suddenly ellipsis ensues.

sensor-operated bin greets me when I step into the disabled toilet. Its slowly-opening mouth an inviting yawn to drop my litter or take a peek in. I choose the latter and I’m presented with an array of used tissues and sanitary towels. It looks slightly frightening, this bin, it does. It reminds me of a crocodile, lying still on the grass, fangs open, its long row of teeth on display.


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