london diary

december 2006


my london diary

december started with me weighing almost a stone less than usual and feeling very sorry for myself. but soon the anti-biotics started to kick in , and if not entirely recovered, i felt well enough to try a little work.

dagenham is not my favorite borough, although i've photographed parts of it, and the walk from chadwell heath station to the dagenham civic centre was a familiar one, if having little to recommend it.

once a thriving industrial centre, dagenham is now both doggedly working class and short of work. it's a dreary place, with little to do and would drive most of us to desperation. in may, the british national party, generally regarded as a fascist and racist organisation, become the second party in the council, with 12 seats (conservatives have 1, with labour, including a labour and coop party member, having 38.)

there were allegations of underhand practices, with some bnp candidates being registered as living in derelict properties in the area while actually coming from plusher suburbs across the river, and bnp supporters certainly spread (and continue to spread) false allegations about unfair allocation of housing and other benefits.

when the bnp announced their intention of holding a public meeting in the borough, there was considerable opposition. they claim they were refused permisison to use a hall and so had to call an outdoor meeting. the main body organising the opposition to them was 'unite against fascism' who called a counter-demonstration.

i joined the roughly 500 counter demonstrators as they met up outside the civic centre. as well as many locals there were others from neighbouring boroughs and some london students. it was a lively crowd from very mixed backgrounds with a number of trade union and other banners.

they set off towards the car park where the bnp meeting was to be held, carefully watched by the police who were intent on keeping the two groups seperate. there was a rally on the hard standing around 50 yards from where the bnp were beginning to gather, separated by a high fence and a line of police.

among the speakers were those from the trade unions, including steve hart from the tgwu, linda perks of unison, paul mackney of ucu and michelle emerson of cwu. other speakers included mp jeremy corbyn and lee jasper who represented the mayor of london.

the police had closed gates to make it a walk of several hundred yards to the bnp rally. i arrived just before it started, with the leader of the bnp group on the council, richard barnbrook addressing around 60-70 people. as became clear later in the meeting when he asked for questions, not all of those present were supporters of bnp policy, although the majority appeared to be.

barnbrook climbed up onto a small platform in front of a range-rover, wearing his usual white suit. The platform was given a suitably homely touch with a small carpet. At first he tried to address the meeting without a megaphone, but the chants from the demonstrators made this impossible, and he had to get them to come nearer and to use a megaphone. This seemed to worry him, as apparently he did not have permission to use amplification.

he started by telling those present to ignore the demonstrators, saying that anyone who shouted back or made any gestures towards them would immediately be expelled by the stewards. then we got his take on policies such as housing, with some of the bnp myths being repeated.

i'd been a little worried about photographing the bnp, having come across a few problems in covering previous right-wing events. in the event, everyone was calm and although i did once get jostled slightly and another time asked to move back, i had no real problems. rather less in fact than in covering some events organised by some left-wing groups.

despite this, i was glad to get away. the people were not generally friendly, and some seemed unhappy with the presence of the press. so it was good to be sitting on a bus and making my way to barking station and the train towards the center of london.

later i put some pictures (as i often have done from political events) onto the indymedia site. within minutes there was an ill-informed comment that i shouldn't post pictures of people taking part in such demonstrations, as it lays them open to fascist attacks. as it happens you can see more pictures from the event on the web site of the organisers of the demonstration, but in any case the point of the demonstration was to stand up and be counted. as the placards reminded us, "For evil to triumph, all that is necessary is that good people do nothing."
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southwarks frost fair is a reminder of days long gone, when old london bridge so restricted the flow of the thames that there was a lake above it between the city and southwark. in cold winters, this would freeze over, and in some years the ice became so thick that a fair could be held on it.

the chances of this happening again given global warming seem slight, although once the polar ice cap melts in twenty or so years time, the whole global weather system will be upturned. we may even lose our warming water and air streams and our climate could perversely become more continental with freezing winters and torrid summers. of course, we may by then be abandoning the city and southwark as water levels rise.

today it was sunny, though there was a chill in the wind, and the tide was running out at a rate of knots that made it hard going upstream for the rowers in the cutters that came from the city to southwark, going upstream of the millenium bridge before turning to reach the pier outside the globe.

waiting for them there (and we were waiting a long time) was a group of guildsmen. there was a speech of welcome, shaking of hands, and then the company went off for refreshements while i wandered through the frost fair. to be honest, there didn't seem to be a great deal going on. a band palying, then some carols sung, food and drink being sold. even the promised huskies didn't seem to be around, though the stall was taking bookings for rides.
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i should have been there yesterday for the lantern parade, but had other things to attend to. but there seemed to be little to do or to photograph today, so i strolled over the millenium bridge and around st pauls to get a bus to the west end.

i was looking for santas. i thought i might find some on oxford street, and have a look at the xmas decorations too, but both seemed rather thin on the ground. a few holding sandwich boards, the odd person with a santa hat. stalls with hats and costumes for sale, but where were the people wearing them.

i paused briefly outside marks and spencers for the regular picket there, today a small choir was singing. i thought of the dispatches i'd read from deacon dave, on a peace visit to palestine, assualted by a jewish settler, and the many stories of how palestinians are being denied the right to work their lands, including the building of the wall that separates some from their fields.
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i jumped back on a bus again, going to the top deck to peer out for santas, and as it came up to trafalgar square, there they were, around the base of nelson. i jumped up. fortunately the bus was just coming to the stop and i was able to run off and start taking pictures.

the assembled santas sang a few santacon carols: away on a bender,
o come all ye santas, hark! the drunken santas sing and more, hymns to drunken excess, though it was early in the day and most santas seemd pretty sober. we were all waiting for more santas to arrive, and at last they did so in a group coming from the northeast of the square. now there were certainly several hundred of them, though i couldn't manage even a rough count, as people kept moving. as well as the santas there were also some others including a team of reindeer and a few oddities.

then came a piece of real life drama as one santa declared his love for another, down on his knees, surrounded by the crowd, producing an engagement ring. i can't actually remember how i proposed (probably my wife can) but it certainly wasn't like this. certainly an event the two of them will remember (and fortunately she said yes.)

after that, anything else would be anticlimax, and as the santas left to go up the strand, i turned away for home.
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history seems about to repeat itself in leyton, although the outcome may be different this time. it was in 894 tha king alfred drained leyton marsh and gave the local people the right to graze their animals on the lammas land created. (details in here come from a leaflet written by lorraine metherall and neil bedford, publishe by the new lammas lands defence committee (nlldc) and from the games monitor web site

in the 1890s, the east london waterworks company tried to take over the lammas lands, and on lammas day 1892, a large demonstration met on the marshes and ripped up their fences. the company tried to sue one of the people involved, and locals set up the 'leyton lammas lands defence committee' (llldc) and fought the case in court. the water company ended up admitting defeat, paying all costs and giving money for a local essay prize.

the efforts of the llldc led to the '1904 leyton urban district council act', in which parliament vested the lands in the council, making them responsible for maintaining them as "an open space for the perpetual use therof for exercise and recreation..." the act made them a permanent public open space in return for the giving up of the lammas rights, and was confirmed by parliament in 1965.

over the years parts of the land have been taken for other uses, including railway sidings, gas board land and, more recently, the lea valley riding school and ice rink. when the lea valley regional park acquired most of the lammas lands by compulsory purchase in 1971, they for some reason felt able to ignore the 1904 act, and have blocked public access to some areas.

the latest threat to leyton lammas lands come from the london olympic delivery authority (oda). although outside the olympic area, the lammas lands are a handy place to dump the unwanted, in this case the allotment holders of manor gardens. in the late 1880s the blessed virgin mary appeared at eton college and prompted them to set up a charitable settlement in hackney. the eton manor settlement bought up land, including lammas land in hackney and leyton and set up various sports clubs and related activitires including the manor garden allotments.

althought the oda is apparently set on jettisoning inconvenient requirements that were a part of its original agreement - such as the need to replace common land, it apparently still has to re-site the allotments, and its preferred site is on marsh lane, part of the leyton lammas lands. unfortunately the current land is unsuitable, being heavily polluted with a relatively thin layer of topsoil on top of wartime rubble.

making them usable means removal of some existing soil and bringing in many lorry loads of new topsoil, probably half a metre over the whole site. this would mean an new vehicle access to marsh lane, bringing traffic the few yards from orient way, along with widening marsh lane with the loss of some of the fine avenue of trees currently on both sides. this would also need to stay open for the use of the allotment holders, and would almost certainly result in the newly widened marsh lane becoming a heavily trafficed short cut to church road.

the oda needs the support of the local council for their application, and the nlldc hope to raise enough local support to make them think again. it is of course possible that the courts could be asked to ensure that the provisions of the 1904 act are enforced.
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i was in the east end partly to meet a mate at columbia market, but in the end he couldn't make it. with christmas just over a week to go, prices were high. i calculated we'd just sent several hundred pounds worth of eucalyptus twigs to the incinerator after i did a bit of pruning recently, and those three holly trees in the back garden would be a goldmine. strangely, even at these prices, some people seemed to be buying the stuff, though by the end of they day there did seem to be quite a lot of plants being loaded back into the lorries, and there were certainly plenty of christmas untrees left.
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real trees of course have roots, and we always get one that has them, and grow it on for a few years between jan and december. a few die off, but others eventually get too big to get through the door, and there are three that would suit trafalgar square down the garden.

i took a few snaps, and then took a walk through bethnal green to visit another friend who has written a book on the area and is using some of my pictures, to take a look at the design. there was some nice light on some of the streets and buildings, and queen adelaide's head curiously lit up as i passed.
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thursday was a cold dark day, the mercury hanging on zero and grey in the air, a fog which never quite cleared. i needed just one more picture for the project on bethnal green and emerged from the underground half an bour before the shortest day of the year officially turned to night. having done what i had to do, i kept walking as it got darker still, and more lights came on.
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Boxing Day we had a short bike ride going up to Colnbrook but I didn't make many pictures.
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And a few days aftger Christmas we walked another section of the London Loop, going from Enfield Lock station to Chigwell.
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Dagenham Rally Against the BNP

Central Park, Dagenham. Saturday 09 Dec, 2006

Dagenham © Peter Marshall, 2006
Numerous trade union banners were carried by the demonstrators
Dagenham © Peter Marshall, 2006
NUS students supported the action
Dagenham © Peter Marshall, 2006
United to stop the fascist BNP
Dagenham © Peter Marshall, 2006
Dagenham Rally Against the BNP © Peter Marshall, 2006   
Dagenham © Peter Marshall, 2006
Braybrook enjoys the attentions of the media.
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Bankside Frost Fair: Traditional Thames Cutters

Bankside, Southwark, 16 December, 2006
© Peter Marshall, 2006 There was a very strong tide running with the current, and navigation was tricky
Bankside Frost Fair © 2006, Peter Marshall
Welcoming the cutter crews at Bankside
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St Pauls & Oxford Street

December 16, 2006
Christmas Oxford St © Peter Marshall, 2006
Oxford Street Christmas
Weekly picket outside M&S calls for an end to the 'Apartheid Wall' in Palestine and a boycott of Israeli goods.
Oxford St, London. Boycott Israli goods © Peter Marshall, 2006
More pictures
from St Pauls and Oxford St


Trafalgar Square, London. December 16. 2006
Santacon, Trafalgar Square, London © 2006, Peter Marshall
Santas get engaged!
Lots more pictures

Loss of Common Land

Leyton Lammas Lands, Marsh Lane, Leyton. Sun 17 December, 2006
Leyton Lammas Lands © Peter Marshall, 2006
Allotments displaced by the Olympics may be relocated here on Leyton Lammas Lands
Threat to Lammas Lands © Peter Marshall, 2006
Marsh Lane, now mainly a cycle route, may become a busy road in the Olympic Development Authority has its way. The 'New Lammas Lands Defence Committee' hope to protect ancient rights.
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Columbia Market

Bethnal Green, Sunday 17 December, 2006
Columbia Market © Peter Marshall, 2006
Expensive rootless trees in Columbia Market
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Bethnal Green

Sunday 17 December, 2006
new lammas lands defence committee
Queen Adelaide's Dispensary, Bethnal Green
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Bethnal Green Solstice

Bethnal Green, London 21 Dec, 2006
Bethnal Green © Peter Marshall, 2006
Empress Coaches and the Gasholders refelcted in the canal at the northern edge of Bethnal Green.
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Staines to Colnbrook

26 Dec 2006
A country lane to Colnbrook - but soon we had to get off and walk
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London Loop - Enfield Lock to Chigwell

28 Dec 2008
A view across the Lea valley
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