Saturday, 16 May 2015

London Disappeared (2)... China Walk

China Walk is adjacent to Lambeth Walk, but by London standards it is a relatively new development, with work having begun in the late 1920s. It is just across the Kennington Road from the Imperial War Museum.

I actually have personal memories of China Walk going back to the late 1960s. An old school friend of my father lived there, and we visited on a weekend now and then. I remember playing outside football with the local lads, in exactly the place where I took this photo yesterday. In those days, people actually socialised with their neighbours, and would sit outside chatting endlessly. I remember the shouts of "Oi, keep that bloody ball away from my windows or I'll 'ave yer..!"  But I especially remember the corner shop where the lady who ran it made delicious ice lollies from fresh orange juice - the shop is gone, it is now the 'Latinos Help Centre'.

The China Walk Estate is a style of architecture that is very common in South London, especially the in the boroughs that lay on the south bank of the Thames, Lambeth and Southwark especially. In the latter case, much of what was 'Jacob's Island', as immortalised by Charles Dickens in 'Oliver' looks pretty much like this. (Its true - Jacob's Island really did exist. In fact, my daughter's first primary school was on George Row, the easternmost border of Jacob's Island - Now she studies law in the Netherlands).

Yesterday I passed through China Walk and took time to reflect, and to take a few photos. Its not the same now.

To be frank, I only saw a handful of people that I could identify as being indigenous Londoners. They were all very old, and looked stressed and in ill health. Interestingly, I think that all but one that I saw were using walking sticks.

Demographics change, its a fact, and that is not always a negative thing. Much of the old community has done well, and moved on. They simply left the old days behind.

Karel Reisz's classic documentary 'We Are The Lambeth Boys' (1958) was largely filmed in this neighbourhood, and a little to the south heading down to the Oval cricket ground. The follow-up 'We Were The Lambeth Boys' (1985) is of more interest to those who want to see the story of the changes in the community put into a fuller perspective. It also includes most of the more interesting and entertaining content of Reisz's original.

London Disappeared..... Lambeth Walk

The sign is most poignant. The Lambeth Walk is an iconic symbol of London culture - albeit one totally unknown and unappreciated by the majority of Londoners today.

The fact that the Lambeth Walk pub, which has guarded the entry to the Walk since 1951 is now closed and up for sale really reflects what has happened to the Walk itself. There are a lot of empty properties and hardly any economic activities whatsoever.

Over recent years I have passed through a number of times, and it always strikes me how few people there are on the street. For those unfamiliar with the geography, from parts of the Walk you can actually see the Houses of Parliament across the Thames. Its that central, albeit on the South of the river, an area that has always been neglected.

The street market that flourished since the 1860s is long gone. The shopping precinct that was built in the 1960s to service the local community was largely boarded up and derelict by the mid - 90s.

The old Pelham Mission Hall, pictured right, looks like its seen better days, but at least it is still standing. I doubt that it will ever be used again for its original purpose, but I understand that Morley college has a sculpture studio on the premises.

It was always a poor working class area, but it had a thriving and colourful community.

Now it has nothing.

And of course, I couldn't resist adding the video.....

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Fings ain't wot they used to be!

Returning to Brussels from a week long school trip on Friday, his 10th birthday, George had expressed a particular wish. He wanted to go to a French restaurant and have snails.

And so we did.

Lots of children are a bit fussy about their food at this age, but this is not a problem I have ever had with George.

Today was his birthday party - no girls invited - he just wanted to go bowling with the lads, and then to go and try out the laser shooting thing. I think that they were a bit disappointed that these lasers don't actually cause people to explode, a la Star Wars, etc., but a great time was had by all.

We never had lasers when I was 10, but I knew how to make my own bow and arrows by then - and I could never have imagined that people would actually eat snails!

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Gone but not forgotten....

Homelessness is a big issue in Brussels. In fact, for a European capital city, in social terms Brussels is a disgrace. Levels of poverty match the poorest regions of the former Soviet space, such as those in what was until quite recently known as East Germany.

I never spoke to Dumitru, but I saw him around often. He was one of the great characters that Brussels throws up so often. For at least the last 6 or 7 years he lived in what was once a tent, close to St Katherine, in the city centre.

He could often be seen feeding the pigeons with copious amounts of bread - in Brussels it is absolutely normal for shopkeepers to give unsold food to homeless people at the end of the day.

Now he is gone, and on the spot where he lived something of a shrine has appeared.

Yesterday I passed by and I noticed how this was attracting the attention of a number of people who walked over to take a look. I wonder if any of them would have even acknowledged him when he was alive.

It is very touching to see how the community he belonged to has built this little memorial, with flowers and other small tokens. There are a lot of sea shells there - I do not know if this is a reference to his earlier life, or if it has some cultural significance - I believe he was one of the many Roma who live in that district.

There are some fascinating characters around us, it is a shame that so often they are not even spared a glance.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

On the terraces...

Royale Union Saint-Gilloise 1 - Hasselt 0

Which means that USG will be promoted to the second division of the Belgian league.

To be frank, the first half is unlikely to go viral, but the second half was much better. The USG goal looked set to be followed by a quick second, but it was not to happen. Hasselt mounted a spirited last minute attack, with even their goalkeeper in the USG box.

Great game, great atmosphere - well done USG, and well done Hasselt!

Many thank to Brussels journos Andy and Cillian for the invite. George and I will be back......

Monday, 16 February 2015

One Bela or another......

Quite close to Brussels Central Station, in Place d'Espagne, there stands this statue of Béla Bartok, the Hungarian composer. Its a little sinister, but I like it. It was given as a gift by the Hungarian government to mark the 50th anniversary of Bartok's death. I cannot pass it without smiling, however, as it always brings back a priceless memory.

I think it was in 2006. I was walking through Place d'Espagne with a British MEP, a nice chap who is sadly no longer with us, and a group of visitors from Devon. We were all on our way to dinner near Grand Place.

As we passed, he declared to our small group "And over here is a statue of Bela Lugosi..."

Nice one, Graham!

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Birth of a Nation

It is nice to have a favourite statue in the local park, but this is something really special. Make your way to Square Marie Louise, just a few minutes walk away from the European Parliament, and you will find this.

This statue won gold at the Paris exhibition of 1937. The LIFE magazine of August 9 headlined: "US art was represented by this old theme The birth of a nation, by an obscure U.S. sculptor named Marius Vos”

It is superb, and I can walk past it most days.....

When my son was 3, he was caught climbing on it.... There was a bit of a scandal....

Friday, 30 January 2015

There is a Corner of Brussels....


I find this very touching...

It is on the corner of what is now a school in Chaussee St Pierre in Etterbeek.

It commemorates the men of the neighbourhood who fell during the First World War. It is quite an impressive memorial given that it appears to have been a local initiative, but then there are rather a lot of names there.

I walk past this little glimpse into history several times a week, as it is on my route to the European Parliament. There are often fresh flowers laying alongside, and I cannot help but wonder if any of the families of those names appear on the plaque still live in the area.


Monday, 19 January 2015

Robert E. Lee

Today, January 19th, marks the 208th anniversary of the birth of arguably one of the greatest of  all American soldiers, Robert E. Lee.

Volumes have been written about his exploits, and it is not possible to condense even a fraction of his achievements into one blog post. Suffice to say that despite facing overwhelming odds, and with poorly equipped Confederate armies, he inflicted painful and humiliating defeats upon the Union forces facing him during the American Civil War (or the Northern Aggression, as many Virginians still like to refer to it).

At various times he saw off the armies of McLellan, Pope, and even the legendary Ulysses S. Grant, despite being outnumbered and outgunned. It was to Grant, however, that he was to surrender, effectively bringing an end to the war. Lee had supported Breckinridge, Johnston, and Beauregard in trying to persuade Jefferson Davis to end the war honourably, and to prevent further loss of life. As such he is recognised today not just in the South, but across the US not only as a great soldier, but as a man of great honour.

I could write on this subject endlessly.....

Incidentally, if you ever visit Arlington National Cemetery, that big white mansion you will see was Lee's home.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Bob Montgomery has passed away....

Bob Montgomery & Buddy Holly
I was saddened to learn of the death of Bob Montgomery, just a few days ago, at the age of 77.

Montgomery was a childhood friend and schoolmate of a certain Charles Hardin Holley - best known to the world as 'Buddy' Holly. A self taught guitarist, and a budding songwriter/composer, he was to establish a partnership with Holly that was to shape popular music for decades, even after  Holly's death in February 1959.

They formed a duo - Buddy and Bob - performing in and around Lubbock Texas, in a then popular style known as 'Western & Bop'. Bass player Larry Welborn soon joined them, and radio appearances followed, with a regular spot on KDAV. It was 'Hi Pockets' Duncan at KDAV who first spotted the potential, and became their manager. . Buddy Holly now had his first trio. In those days, Montgomery general sang lead, but on the few recordings that survive, it is generally Holly we hear. (Possibly that is why they have survived).

Holly went on to form the Crickets, was signed to Decca, and the rest is musical history.

Montgomery did not fade into obscurity however, he continued to write with Holly, and I guess that the songwriter's royalties from tracks such as 'Heartbeat', 'Wishing', and the much covered 'Love's Made A Fool Of You' would run into substantial figures.

He also wrote for many other leading artistes - he penned 'Honey', which was a million seller for Bobby Goldsboro.

He was also a successful businessman, and at one point was vice-President of CBS records.

The album 'Buddy and Bob - Western & Bop' comprising early demos, recorded in Holly's garage in 1954-55, was released, I think in about 1979. I remember buying it at the time, and I still have it to this day. It is primitive, but exciting nonetheless. It also shows that even as a very young man, Holly could write beautiful ballads.

In the late 70's, Rockabilly venues were springing up all over London, and there was one particular track from the Buddy & Bob album that always caused a stir. And I found it on You Tube.

I know - Holly purists prefer undubbed versions, but I genuinely prefer the overdubbed version in this case. Maybe that is because I remember how as a teenager I put this on the turntable, and it was the first track I heard. Enjoy -


Larry Welborn, by the way, is still with us. The last photos I see of him were about 2 years ago, and he looked great. He lives in Oklahama, where for some time he ran his own recording studio, and I believe that he still performs with his own band.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

The Last Javelin...

I learn today that the world's last surviving Gloster Javelin is to be transferred to an aircraft museum. It is a beautiful looking aircraft.

I should point out here that the Javelin was a bit before my time - well almost....

There was an example at RAF Cosford when I did my training there, rather a long time ago. It was really basic stuff we did with it, like learning how to approach an aircraft on the flight line, basic safety procedures, and stuff like that. We had all sorts of stuff to pore over at Cosford, because as well as being a major training station it is home to a museum. It is always to a major indoor athletics facility.

However, that giant of English politics, Norman Tebbit, now Baron Tebbit of Chingford, actually flew the Javelin. I once spent a lovely afternoon with him in the House of Lords talking politics, Europe, and of course the RAF.

A lot of these old aircraft types survived for many years as 'gate guards' at RAF stations around the world. They were generally little more than shells, exposed to the elements for decades, but lovingly looked after. They cannot survive for ever though, and at least this last Javelin has found a safe home.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Constantin Meunier- Belgian Realist

Yesterday was a real highlight. My charming friend Inna and I visited the Constantin Meunier exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels.
I looked forward to this visit for some time. Meunier was a realist sculptor and painter who lived just across the road from me. To be honest, he passed away in 1905, but I live in an old quarter of Brussels, and if you are ever passing by, then I can show you his house.

The expo was wonderful.

Meunier was a classicist, and his early works owed a lot to Rodin. There was also a strong Catholic influence in his early days, that was to underpin his work throughout his life. He moved on, but those early influences never left him. He spent some time, as a young artist, in Spain. ....and then he really emerged, as he became more cosmopolitan.

Meunier captured the lives of working folk at the end of the 19th century, more than any other European artist (in my opinion). In the steel mills and the coal mines, he saw everything, and he portrayed the trials and tribulations of the working classes.

Van Gogh wrote about Meunier "He is my superior in every way"

I love his realist style - I am grateful to him for capturing on canvas, and in bronze - the suffering, and the pride, of the working classes.

I could write forever about his art, and about his influences, and about his legacy - within walking distance of my home there is an academy and a museum, both named after him. But I leave it to you, dear reader, to make up your own mind....

Details of the expo are here....