london diary

april 2005


my london diary

april 1 i took a walk with linda and sam around a part of the london loop, from bexley to petts wood. much of it was surprising rural in feel. the green belt policy preventing surburban sprawl sometimes has its idiocies, but it's strength has been in conserving areas such as these. of course it took more than that, with campaigns and generous donations being needed to prevent some of the woods being built on. walking through woods is pleasant but i soon find it boring, but there were a few incidents and highlights to break the monotony.
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saturday was the second european day of action for migrant rights, and a few hundred demonstrators gathered at clerkenwell green for the march to haggerston park. at least - unlike some large demonstrations - there was no interference with photographers, but perhaps not really a lot to photograph. at least there was a samba band and also a bicycle mounted sound system to supply some music as we slowly made our way east.

the march halted for a few minutes at old street, outside one of the offices where immigrants are sometimes called to report. they go in not knowing whether they will be allowed to leave normally or possibly be taken out of a back door under police escort and on the way to deportation and perhaps danger or death when they get off the plane back in their home country.

in all of the cases i've come in contact with personally, migrants are here wanting to work and contribute to our society, often having skills in great demand which they are barred from using. some have genuine fears of imprisonment, torture of death if they are forced to return home, some have families who have the right to stay here. none pose any threat to our safety or well-being, but they are still liable to be deported on relatively arbitrary grounds. it's time we stopped bowing to racist and chauvinist pressures and saw these people as a resource rather than a problem.
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vaisahki was marked by a procession in southall on sunday 2 (the actual date is 13 april), with an estimated 15,000 sikhs and a few interested onlookers including myself. i arrived at the gurdwara just a few minutes before the procession started, and had either to take off my shoes or get off the road that had already been swept for the start of the event. those leading the procession do so barefoot.

for sikhs, although vaisahki had been a festival day since 1567, it is celebrated for the forming of the khalsa by guru gobind singh in 1699. it was then that sikhs adopted their distinctive dress and the five symbols. near the front of the procession (or nagar kirtan) are traditionally dressed panj piaras representing the five first members of the khalsa, and they are followed by the sikh holy book, the sri guru granth sahib. the first row of khalsa carry the sikh flag (nishan sahib), a saffron cloth with the khanda emblem. They are followed by a row of khalsa holding ceremonial swords. it's an impressive sight.

generosity is an important aspect of the sikh religion, and there are stalls giving away free food and sweets and drinks, pressing them on you. sometimes its hard to keep taking pictures rather than just enjoy some real indian delicacies, and even harder to stick to a strict diet.

vaisahki (or baisahki) is also celebrated generally by people from the punjab including hindu and muslims (at least before partition) as a new year festival at the time of the spring wheat harvest.
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After a church service commemorating the 500,000 roma murdered in the nazi holocaust, roma from several countries marched across london against the ethnic-cleansing of 30,000 gypsies from their own land and in protest over threatened evictions at dale farm, essex, smithy fen, cambridgeshire, and elsewhere.

After the march, gypsy richard sheridan was to announce that he was standing against sitting tory mp john baron at billericay in the general election on 5 may in order to make the travellers' voice heard.
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this week sees events around the world as a part of the make poverty history campaign, and staines got in on the act on sunday 9 april, with a short procession through the high street to the two rivers shopping centre. on the way people handed out ballot cards to shoppers.

two rivers is basically a few decorated sheds around a large car park, with a few pieces of sculpture. the march stopped at one of the better of these, two figures by david backhouse, time continuum, which are on a small mound that makes a useful podium. Of course like most such shopping centres it is private property, but the manager had kindly allowed us to hold a meeting there, although apparently no one had told the security people on duty.

here lord archer (lord peter archer of sandwell) spoke about the aims of the make poverty history campaign. he urged people to both acknowledge the progress our present government has made and to press them to go further.

people were then invited to put their completed ballots into the ballot box, and after a couple more short speeches, the procession returned back down the high street.
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the uk climax of the global week of action on trade justice was an overnight vigil in westminster on friday-saturday 15-16 april. along with many thousands of others i travelled to the opening event at westminster abbey, only to find it was already full. fortunately we were able to hear the relay sitting in the seats marked 'members of parliament' in st margaret's church next to the abbey, but there were many more people in parliament square and around the area.

at 11pm we moved off into whitehall, where it soon became obvious there were far too many to fit behind the crush barriers and we took over the road, leaving just a single lane for northbound traffic. people lit there candles and made a fair bit of noise, before leaving either for home or to try to attend one of the various events that had been organised through the night. i went to the vue cinema in leicester square to see a preview of 'the fever' starring vanessa redgrave (she had talked earlier in westminster abbey.)

when that finished i'd hoped to do something else, but all the venues were full, with long queues, so i went for a walk by the thames. the organisers had expected a couple of thousand people, hoped and planned for five thousand but altogether estimate that some twentyfive thousand turned up for all or part of the event.

from 4 to 4.30 we crushed into whitehall again for a mass vigil opposite downing st. millions of people around the world suffer from unjust trade, and this was chosen as the time when the largest number of them are awake. i was rather less so, but still managed to blow my whistle and take a few pictures, though i messed up rather more than usual.

i'd dressed up in warm clothes (the forecast had told me 4 degrees at 6 am), but even so, sitting on a bench in parliament square after this was a mistake. i fell asleep and was woken up shivering, around half-past five, by a smell of burning. someone sleeping on the ground nearby had set some of their clothing on fire with their candle. fortunately it was quickly extinguished, with a bottle of lucozade serving as a fire extinguisher.

soon after the dawn procession began to assemble and i managed to drag myself up to photograph it.

people were remarkably wide-awake and cheerful as the ten thousand or so who had stayed the night either made a short walk through westminster as the sun rose over the buildings. by half past seven it was all over, and i walked back to waterloo taking a few more pictures in the morning light.
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sunday i was attacked by a militant imbecile, assaulted and subjected to false-imprisonment. eventually the police came to my rescue, upholding our right to take photographs, but only after i'd spent a very nasty fifty minutes in the company of one of the most unpleasant and stupidest men it has ever been my misfortune to come across.

as i was photographing a ford across the river colne at little britain - near uxbridge - three kids came running along the middle of the river. one of them saw me taking pictures and started shouting to his mates about "a pervert with a camera" and they ran off screaming. i took a couple more pictures, walked over the footbridge and cycled off down the road. i heard the kids still running along screaming but didn't think any more of it. further down the road i stopped to take a few more pictures, then got on my bike again. as i cycled away, a 4-wheel drive vehicle swerved across ahead of me and a man jumped out and grabbed me, shouting nonsense about me being a paedophile.

i told him to stop assaulting me, and said he was talking nonsense, but he continued to accuse me, and said that the police were on their way. i protested that i was a photographer and offered to show my id, but he refused to listen. he threatened to attack me if i attempted to move on, repeating these threats at intervals. i tried to show him the pictures i had been taking but he started shouting and making further threats when i started to do so, trying to take the camera from me until i protested. a couple more men came and stared at me in a threatening fashion.

he made an attempt to justify his behaviour, with the totally ridiculous suggestion that he was acting as a concerned citizen should, and saying that he was a father etc. i responded that citizens should act in a rational and lawful manner, and asked if he had questioned the kids about what had happened. i didn't get an answer to that; obviously he and his friend had simply reacted to their screams without any thought. eventually the police arrived, asked me to tell them what had happened. i told them, showed them my pictures. they could not have been more polite, apologising for the difficulties i had had, and thanking me for waiting to see them.

i should have made an official complaint against the person who had assaulted and threatened me, but i was shaken by the whole thing, and just wanted to get away from the scene as fast as possible. it was an unpleasant experience that highlights the dangers of the media hysteria against paedophiles, and the dangers of brain-washing kids to believe that all strangers are out to harm them. any responsible adult would have asked those kids exactly what had happened, and would have told those kids not to be silly, that a man with a camera is a photographer rather than a pervert. Kids are in any case at most danger from people they know, not from strangers. at the age of these boys, i wandered for miles, sometimes on my own on my bike, enjoying a freedom they don't have now. i don't think there has been any increase in the numbers of attacks on kids by strangers since those days.
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it was a fine sunny day and i put the brompton on the train to waterloo, then cycled east to deptford and greenwich, taking another trip along one of my favourite riverside paths around the greenwich peninsula. north greenwich is still interesting, although the area by the dome is now rather bleak. time went surprisingly quickly, and i had only got just past the dome when it was time to make my way back.

just over a week later i tried to take up the ride from where i left off, but, only made it as far as the bridge over deptford creek, when i heard a loud bang as my rear tyre punctured. i should have stopped, mended the puncture and gone on, but i couldn't face it.

i wheeled the bike to greenwich station, got on the train and came home. one of my few gripes about the brompton is that mending punctures is a bit of a pain; the small tyres are hard to take off and even harder to replace, and if you want to take the rear wheel off, it is a rather tricky business that i've yet to master. i have tyres with kevlar inserts that are supposed to be puncture-resistant, but they don't seem very effective.

after i'd arrived home and had a cup of coffee, the puncture turned out to be a straightforward job.
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st george keeps busy as a patron saint of canada, catalonia, georgia, germany, greece, lithuania, malta, palestine and portugal, as well as a number of cities including moscow and venice, a whole raft of trades including farmers and soldiers, as well as herpes and syphilis. it's perhaps surprising he still has time for england, although until recently you would hardly have noticed it in any case.

st george until recently was left to the nutters, football supporters and racists (three highly overlapping groups.) those elites who run the country generally found patriotic display about englishness rather beneath them - only our celtic fringe and ethnic groups have a 'culture', the rest of us are too modern and intelligent for such primitivism. Its the kind of thinking that led the arts council to refuse to support morris dancing, while pumping thousands into steel drums (as they should - but there is nothing wrong with supporting our english heritage as well.)

this year, the royal society of st george (posh patriotic nutters with the queen as their patron, started in our american colony around the 1770s) were organising celebrations in covent garden, and after a morning at tate modern i went to see.

although i think morris ought to be supported, i'm not a great fan of the dancers, though its ok outside the pub on a sunny day for half an hour a couple of times a year so long as i don't have to take part. the moulton morris, performing as a part of the event were more impressive than most, both for their costume and the dancing, and also for the half a dozen young people taking part. somehow there seemed to be less beards and sandals than most sides.
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brompton cemetery is a pleasant place for a walk on a sunday morning, with some interesting monuments. quite a few fairly famous names ended up there, including emmeline pankhurst.

i walked through it on my way to the fulham road, where i photographed england's armenian community protesting about the failure of turkey to acknowledge the attempt they made to wipe out the armenian population around 1915.

turkey was modernising and also creating a muslim-dominated state. the large armenian christian population within it was seen as a problem, and their solution was final. hitler took their extermination policy as a model, and when the idea of 'genocide' was internationally recognised and named, the turkish killing of the armenians was one of the prime examples cited.

still some 90 years later, the turkish government has failed to admit the policy and practice of genocide. with turkey applying for membership of europe, its treatment of minorities - including armenians and kurds - needs to be closely examined.
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saturday 30 was a busy day. i started at marble arch where a number of muslim organisations were showing their unity in protesting against the anti-terrorism laws and the way the 'war on terror' was used to detain prisoners at guantanamo bay and bellmarsh, to carry out increased stop and searches on muslims in the uk, and threaten them with extradition, and to label the liberation strugges in palestine, kashmir, iraq and chechnya as terrrorism.

the 'muslims united against oppression' march and rally was organised by 'stop political terror', the 'islamic human rights commission', 'hizb ut-tahrir britain', 'cage prisoners', the 'islamic part of britain', 'muslim directory' and other organisations., and representatives of many of these spoke at marble arch. there were also two former guantanamo detainees who spoke, martin mubanga and mozzam begg who read a moving poem.

ashfaq ahmad spoke about the detention of his son, babar ahmad. babar was born and brought up in south london. on dec 2,2003, anti-terrorist police broke into his house in the early hours, and assualted him brutally in front of his wife befo re taking him away. six days later he was released without charge. he had over 50 injuries to his body, two potentially life-threatening, but despite this the crown prosecution service decided there was insufficient evidence to prosecute any of the officers involved.

babar ahmad was again arrested on 5 aug 2004 following an extradition request by the us government. he is still in prison awaiting a final verdict on whether he will be sent to the usa, although a fair trial there seems unlikely. the allegations against him appear to be that he emailed a us sailor on two dates (one was babar's wedding day, the other in the middle of his honeymoon on a remote island without internet access), that he had a brochure from the empire state building (true, his father had got it on a visit there in 1973) and that he had travelled on a false passport, despite the fact that his real one has the appropriate entry and exit stamps.

unfortunately our extradition agreement with the us apparently does not allow britain to refuse requests on the grounds of evidence.

having failed to treat babar with any justice in this country following his arrest - almost certainly a case of mistaken identity that too many would lose face over to readily admit, it now looks as if we will hand him over to our american allies for further mistreatment.

around 5000 muslims made there way from marble arch and along the edgeware road towards paddington green police station for a further rally.
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i made my way to the charing cross road to meet the rmt march against rail privatisation, a two-week, 14-city national mobile demonstration from glasgow to london to make the case for re-nationalising the rail network.

as someone who travels frequently by rail, i'm fully convinced of the need for some action. on my line to london, services are less frequent and less reliable and slower than when i moved here thirty years ago. the latest trick has been to write yet more 'spare minutes' into the timetables so that more trains will arrive on time. journeys that a few years ago took 28 minutes are now timetabled for perhaps 34 minutes.

there certainly seem to be a great problem over signalling on the lines, with trains that should have a clear run on green with miles of clear track in front of them continually finding amber or double amber and occasionally red. either systems are not working or there are not the signalmen to work them.

the whole fare structure is also a nonsense, far too complex for anyone to understand. none of the enquiry services ever seem to be able to tell you anything other than standard fares (if that) and journeys covering more than one operator are a nightmare. try several online systems and you are likely to get several different answers as to fares and availability. as a first move back to a sensible system why not set up a national fare structure, with train operators paid for running trains from a central body?

it was a good-natured demonstration making a real point, but unfortunately not one any likely government wants to hear.
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finally i went off to little venice, where the inland waterways association was having a three day canalway cavalcade celebrating the bicentenary of the battle of trafalgar. in 1805, canals were growing as the main form of inland transport, and it was the year two of the major civil engineering structures of our canals, the pontcysyllte aqueduct and the blisworth tunnel were completed.

i'm not a great canal person, though i often cycle along the towpaths. the first time i ever drove a narrowboat, i found myself in charge of 70 feet of steel hull through the dark narrow length of blisworth, and later the same year also took the slightly oversize craft through pontcysyllte, where there was considerable resistance to its movement through the narrow channel. getting through some of the locks was harder, and we learnt some of the less conventional locking techniques, opening the upper gates for the water to force the marginally overwide hull through.
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however i'd not come to see the boats, even though the navy were taking part, with one of our smaller ships, a crew of three and commander from the royal naval reserve.

mutiny arts from brixton were to perform an ecological drama, london isn't venice, yet, warning of the dangers of global warming and rising sea levels. it went down well with the audience in the sheldon square ampitheatre, part of a new office development in paddington.
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Wake Up to Trade Justice,

Westminster, 15-16 April, 2005
Mass Vigil on Whitehall, 4-4.30 am

Don't chicken out on trade justice was the message

Trade justice, not free trade placards held high as the procession passed the Houses of Parliament. The time, according to Big Ben, 6.40 am.
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London Loop

Bexley to Petts Wood, London

River Cray at Five Arch Bridge, North Cray, London
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European Day of Action for Migrant Rights

Clerkenwell to Haggerston Park, London

Stop the war on asylum seekers. Start of the march at Clerkenwell Green, London, April 2, 2005.
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Southall, London

Five Khalsa carrying the Nishan Sahib at the start of the Nagar Kirtan, Southall, April 3. 2005
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Roma Nation Day

March Against Racism, London, 9 April

Leading the Roma march in St James, London
Children lead the march up Tottenham Court Road

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Make Poverty History Procession in Staines

Sunday 10 April, 2005

As the procession went up the High Street, people were offered cards to join in and make poverty history.
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Colne Valley

Sunday 17 April, 2005

Some kids ran along the river in front of my camera
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Deptford & Greenwich

London 21 April, 2005

River Thames and Drydock, North Greenwich.
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St Georges Day

Covent Garden, 23 April, 2005
Morris Dancers at Covent Garden, London.
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Remember the Armenian Genocide

Fulham Rd, April 24, 2005, London

Marchers call for Turkey to acknowldege the genocide of Armenians, London April 2005
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London, 29 April, 2005

Reflection of the Laban building in Deptford Creek, London.
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Muslims United Against Oppression

Marble Arch, London, 30 April, 2005.
M ozzam Begg reads his poem. War on Terror = War on Islam
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RMT march to Renationalise the Railways

Bloomsbuty, London, April 30, 2005

Renationalise our Railways - RMT calls for action against PPP
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Canalways Calvacade

Litttle Venice, London, 30 April, 2005

Decorated narrow boats at Little Venice, London, April 30, 2005
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London Isn't Venice, Yet!

Mutiny Arts, Little Venice, April 30. 2005

Eco-drama by Brixton group tells of perils of rising water levels, Sheldon Square, Paddington, April 30, 2005.
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