Friday 18 February 2022

Diary of a Cycling Instructor 20th September to 1st October)

Cycling back to Edmonton and its incinerator


Phallic and menacing: the beast in the background (photo by the author)

Edmonton never stood a chance against Cambridge. Not as a vis-à-vis encounter. After all one is a ward and the other one a city. The imbalance was shown more in the way of how campaigns played out in each area and how effective they were.

It always feels strange going back to Edmonton. As soon as I cycle past White Hart Lane (or Tottenham Hotspur Stadium as it’s called now) and enter N18 territory a sense of nostalgia overcomes me.

I lived in this neighbourhood of Enfield for more than twenty years (my abode was in N9). Whilst some people have long had reservations about this part of north London (diverse, multicultural, working-class), I’ve got a soft spot for it. I was one of Edmonton’s residents, one of the many immigrants shopping in the Green, having my hair done (when I had long hair) at Victoria’s on Fore Street and buying jollof rice and chicken from Rebecca’s Kitchen.

But when I went back recently in order to deliver some cycling training at a primary school off Fore Street, there was another thought doing the rounds in my head. A Facebook friend of mine had just sent me a link a few days before to a BBC Sounds podcast. The programme – called “Power to Which People?” – focused on the planned expansion of the Edmonton incinerator, the largest of its type in Britain and a bone of contention for environmentalists and community groups for many years.

I had already moved to Edmonton and my son was still a small baby when I first spotted the monster in the distance. It stood erect, a carbon dioxide emission machine coughing up smoke continuously. I still remember that in those years we had someone from Greenpeace or similar outfit camp up in our fifteenth-floor flat for a whole day, monitoring the incinerator.

Since the news was announced, there has been a campaign to stop the extension of the incinerator. “Power to Which People?” touched on that. A village in Cambridge faced a similar issue. A developer wanted to build an incinerator in Waterbeach. Had they gone ahead with their plans, the new structure would have been taller than Ely Cathedral and visible for miles around.

The council stopped the project on its planning stages arguing that it would have a detrimental impact on the landscape and nearby historic buildings.

Sadly, Edmonton is not Cambridge. It is an urban, heavily populated and deprived part of the UK. There are historic buildings, however. Salisbury House, on the northern side of the A10, is a Grade II listed late 16th century three-storey building. The poet John Keats lived on Church Street with his siblings and grandmother. A blue plaque links his presence to the area. But instead of cathedrals, there are chicken shops, kebab joints and Poundstretchers.

Edmonton is already at the receiving end of a pollution onslaught. It’s surrounded by the North Circular to the west, the aforementioned A10 to the north (officially called Cambridge Road. Oh, the irony!) and Southbury Road (already Ponders End territory) to the east. To the south, Mollison Avenue completes what I used to call when I lived there “the square of death”. Lung-wrecking fumes from cars, lorries, vans and buses engulf the local population.

As I cycled away from the school the first day, I turned around, looked up and locked my eyes on the beast. The incinerator still looked menacing. Phallic and imposing, it was the tallest structure dominating Edmonton’s urban landscape. I set my pedal and rode off. Power to which people? My answer to the question is: power to the people trying to stop the incinerator’s extension.

Every school has them: the eye-rubbing, guilty-looking, late-running children pushed gently (and occasionally not so gently) towards the school gates by angry-red parents.

The location of a headteacher’s office tells you a lot about the way a school is managed. There are pros and cons when it comes to the headmistress/master’s office location. Put it in close proximity to classes and I can smell micromanagement a mile off. Place it away from the madness and it’s a hands-off type of SLT (Senior Leadership Team), trusting teachers to do their job.

Or a headteacher who doesn’t give two monkeys how the school is run.

I love a staff room with a sense of humour: a hatted skeleton looking like a version of a mambo-dancing, “The Mask” era Jim Carrey is just the start we need every day.

It will probably have to wear a “mask”, being so close to the incinerator (photo by author)


“Cuban, Immigrant, and Londoner”, on sale now.

Wednesday 16 February 2022

Chronicles of a Newly Published Author

Brixton: a cultural and intellectual powerhouse of London


Photo by Deborah Jaffe

One of the advantages we, immigrants, have when relocating to another country, at least at the start, is a lack of awareness of codes.  By this I mean that we are not conscious of local prejudices and hang-ups. The urban geography we slowly become acquainted with is just that: new territories to discover and new names to learn.

That’s how I found out about Brixton and its (unjustly deserved, in my opinion) bad reputation. In my early days at the travel agency where I worked for more than half a decade, I once mentioned to a colleague where I was planning to go later on that evening. He looked at me as if I’d just sworn at a client on the phone. Brixton? Are you mad? Do you want to get knifed?

Irony of ironies. My colleague (London-born and nearby Kilburn-dwelling) came from Irish stock and in years to come he’d relate to me tales of his parents (both from Northern Ireland) and the animosity and discrimination they faced when they arrived in the British capital. Yet, here he was, repeating the cycle. A cycle whose meaning I couldn’t grasp at the time but which was already making me curious.

Of course, I went to Brixton that night. As days turned into years and years turned into a couple of decades, I came to fall in love with SW9. I may live north of the river and hang out mainly in east London, but there’s something about Brixton that lures me back. It’s the crazy, organic and hard-to-define cultural and intellectual mix the place has to offer.

I saw a post-Baduizm but pre-New Amerykah Part One Erykah Badu at Brixton Academy (before it became O2 Brixton Academy) in the early noughties. I’ve raved to anyone who will listen about Fish, Wings and Tings, one of the top street food joints, not just in London, but probably in the country (pre-pandemic I’d already been to the place about half a dozen times. I can’t wait to go back). I danced my head off to the beat of master percussionist Kevin Haynes’ batá drums outside Habesha, an Ethiopian restaurant in Brixton Village on a sultry summer evening a few years ago.

At Pop Brixton I enjoyed an excellent dance-heavy set by the bandleader, pianist and producer Eliane Correa’s band, Wara, in the summer of 2018. And at the Electric in 2017, I was reunited with the music of one of my salsa heroes: Isaac Delgado. Along the way from that evening in the late 90s up to now, I’ve caught up with the history of the place. From the controversial sus laws to the Brixton riots, I’ve been filling up the gaps my university degree never addressed.

In the summer of 2015 when I embarked on a three-market bicycle tour (Borough, Brixton and Portobello), it was in the second one where I stopped and spent more time. Whether speaking in Spanish to the many Latin Americans who have stalls or work in the area, or waxing lyrical with the elders on Brixton Station Road, this was me taking full advantage of the culture London had to offer. The difference was that this time around I was aware of the code system. And I didn’t give two monkeys.

So, piece of advice for any fellow immigrant newly arrived in London. Go wherever the hell you want to go. Codes are meant to be broken and postcodes to be travelled through. You could even start in SW9. I know it will welcome you with open arms.


“Cuban, Immigrant, and Londoner”, on sale now.

Tuesday 8 February 2022

Diary of a Cycling Instructor (6th September to 17th September)

 The loneliness of the long-distance BMX rider

The office these days (photo by author)

He said, me and my dad cycled to Epping Forest. I asked him, you’re telling me that you went on that bike? And he nodded. Nah, I replied, no way you could have cycled to Epping Forest from here Lordship Rec, on a BMX. And he insisted. And I resisted. And he kept going at it. Minuscule Year 5, looking at me, resembling more a Year 3 if you ask me. And eventually I relented. In the end, I relented. We’re all allowed our fantasies. Even if they’re about fifteen miles long and ridden on a BMX.

Sunday 6 February 2022

Chronicles of a Newly Published Author

 Petticoat lane in east London and an immigrant's memory-building

Photo by Deborah Jaffe

Talking to yourself can be useful. And writing means being overheard.” Zadie Smith, “Intimations

More than being overheard, we writers hope that our readers will eavesdrop on our conversations. Even when there’s no other interlocutor but our reflection on the mirror. We don’t want to be read by accident, but with intention. So, yes, please, come closer and place that glass on the wall.

Memory-building works in different ways. Years after I visited Spitalfields Market and Petticoat Lane, I ended up cycling down the latter in my first shift for the Felix Project as a volunteer. By them I’d been in London for twenty-one years.

For almost a decade I was a volunteers’ manager, amongst other roles. First, at Enfield Arts Partnership, in Edmonton, and after that, at the Field Federation of Churchfield and Houndsfield Primary Schools, also in Edmonton. Along the way, I learnt the value of volunteers’ selfless contribution to society. Long before Eton-educated, twenty-five-grand-shed-owner David Cameron’s ill-conceived, opportunistic “big society” idea, I had already seen evidence of communities coming together for no other interest than to improve the lives of the many.

Eventually it was my turn to become a volunteer. It all started in 2012 with a local group, Bountagu (a portmanteau of Bounces Road and Montagu Road in Edmonton, Enfield), a Big Local-funded project that sought to tackle various pressing issues. It, then, continued behind the mike at East London Radio, co-presenting different shows and leading one, “The Marathon Man”. Since 2018 I have been volunteering for the aforementioned Felix Project, hoisting a heavy, Deliveroo-style bag onto my back and cycling from café to café, restaurant to restaurant, or supermarket to supermarket, collecting unwanted food in good condition in order to re-direct it to where it’s needed most.

That’s how Petticoat Lane (or “The Lane”, as it’s known by locals) and I reconnected. The market on Wentworth Street runs six days a week and the one on Middlesex Street (word has it that the street changed its name from Petticoat Lane to Middlesex Street in the 1800s to spare the blushes of virtuous Victorians who couldn’t deal with the thought of underwear) operates only on Sundays. In regards to the latter, it is said that one of the reasons for its presence is the influence of the Jewish community. Since Saturday is their Sabbath, it makes sense for them to shop on a Sunday.

That’s how we build our memories. That’s how we take pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard. That’s how one day we catch ourselves talking to ourselves.

And you reader, yes, you, you are more than welcome to place that glass on the wall and eavesdrop on our conversation.


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