London August 2012
The disappointment was biting: it fired and soured my friendship with Barry. Barry, who’d spent serious money and time making a flat in his commerical showroom above the Romford Road carpet shop, clearing out, adding a shower, beds from Halesworth, and that final touch – an Arab carpet centre piece. All for the Olympic games. Except the tickets we had were bogus.
They were from Norway, where everyone was honest. I’d called Oslo, spoke to someone with that slow Norwegian lilt, who said ‘Yes, we have these tickets as a quota to Norway, and are selling them off. No we don’t have any for the Athletics any more, but yes, we do have Taekundo, and Greco Roman Wrestling, and yes, we’ve just got 2 left for the Synchoronised swimming’. All so plausible. After the frustration of trying to go to the official site, which was a nightmare. I heard the name Euro Ticket and Fraud on Radio 4 felt furious and kicked myself. Arriving in Stratford and walking in Westfields, seeing people come and go, the frustration bubbled over.
‘You’re so non co-operative’ I say to Barry, fresh from my Open University Philosophy course in Bath.
Tower Hamlets cemetery – a new one for Barry the east ender.
‘Unbelievable. Never knew this was here.’
An unexpected jungle of trees amid concrete tower blocks. It was opened in 1841 as one of London’s magnificent 7 cemeteries (seven great cemeteries created (1832-1841) to solve the contamination problem with small London church yard cemeteries (Highgate, Nunhead, West Norward, Kensal Green, Brombton and Abney Park (Stock Newington).
We saw the tower blocks while searching for parking – impossible: no pay and display, and men on motor bikes hovering to give us tickets, so we drove straight in. Barry sorted it with the Caretaker – we parked next to his garage. It was a good start.
A young volunteer was taking young mums and their charges to visit the bee hives when we arrived, so we tagged on. Bee heaven here, surrounded by the tree pollen of ivy, Sycamore and Lime, as well as abundant wild flowers, corn, pea, escaped golden rod. There had been a tension, the volunteer said, with some local people and those wanting to leave the cemetery overgrown, as it had become, won. What joy. Huge trees arched over our paths, dominantly the successful Sycamore with an occasional established oak with power to challenge the success of the sycamore. Tree roots lifted the gravestones, titling them haphazardly. Such wilderness was an uplifting and surprising pleasure for both of us.
‘A builders going to get hold of this’ Barry kept on.
The cemetery fell into neglect 50 years after its incarnation, was bombed during the 2nd world war, taken over by the GLC in 1966, and closed for burials. After the Borough took over its ownership in 1986, the best thing that happened was pressure from the local Friends, who campaigned and succeeded in declaring it a local nature reserve in 2000. (It is also been designated as Metropolitan Open Land and a Conservation area). Dogs can run freely, and Kali did.
We walked up to the old turning circle (for horse drawn hearses) Hamlets way, then cut in to a lesser path to find a rash of smaller stones, not for children, but as B said, for the common man (and woman, I add). The original company (who bought the land and secured the site in 1840) consisted of wealthy directors reflecting the industries of the day: corn merchant, merchant ship broker and ship owner, timber merchant, but it quickly became a popular East End place, many poor being buried in public graves – several persons, entirely unrelated to each other, could be buried in the same grave within the space of a few weeks. Some graves dug 40 feet deep and containing up to 30 bodies. We found names of trades, a few Edwards, but found no stories, beyond the dates and family members, Until we found Will Crooks:
A copper by trade, a guardian of the poor, a borough councillor, a mayor of Poplar, a county councillor and member of parliament. Definitely a story here.
Born in Poplar, he was forced to enter Polar Workhouse when his father lost his hand as a ships stoker. He became politicised by local reformers, worked in the docks and became the dockers spoksman during London Dock strike. Joined Sydney Webb and other labour movement leaders, reformed local local workhouse. In 1901 Crooks became the first Labour mayor of Poplar, and two years later was elected to Parliament as MP for Woolwich. Crooks set about reforming the local workhouse, creating a model for other Poor Law authorities. He died in the London Hospital.
We dallied with Roxy, the caretaker, chair bound, his large brown belly bare, an Irish man his companion, some empty brown ale beer cans on the table.
He’d lived here since 1960, as caretaker, but was now retired.
‘So they let you stay here.’ I say habitually finding the possitive.
‘They can’t get rid of me,’ he said ‘They keep offering me basement flats in tower blocks. Why would I want to move from here, with such quiet neighbours.’ I wonder how many times he’s said that.
‘Come inside’ he beckoned. ‘Open this door’.
I was nervous of what I may find, but inside was empty, it was the heavyness of the door he wanted me to experience. It was where the cemetery records were kept securely.
‘You’re welcome any time. Park the car. No problem’
A perfect dog walk.
We watched Andy win his Olympic gold at Stratford Park. We watched Usain Bolt win the 200m in Top o the Morning, pub at side of Victoria park, eating Sushi, in the company of strangers who became our brothers and sisters for 20 seconds. (The usual common pub conflict – they had to keep the music going, but someone made high the TV sound). An Olympic discus throw from the park, hightened the energy. We dog walked along the Lee at the end, the Olympic stadium illuminated.
Uganda’s national anthem; John Lenon’s imagine, the ghost of John, the image dissolving, the installation created by Yoko Ono; Brian May on that guitar; And finally, Eric Idle Always look on the Bright Side of Life, (recalling the 3 on the cross)Morris dancers and great Punjabi bhangra players and dancers.
Eton Manor by Carol Ann Duffy
“The past is all around us, in the air,
the acres here were once ‘the Wilderness’-
“Blimey, it’s fit for a millionaire”-
where Eton Manor Boys Club came to train;
or, in the Clubhouse, (built 1913)
translated poverty to self-esteem,
camaraderie, and optimism similed in smiles.
fleas, flies, bin-lids, Clarnico’s Jam; the poor
enclosed by railway, marshland, factories, canal-
where Wellesley, Villiers, Wagg, Cadogan came,
philanthropists, to clear a glorious space;
connect the power of place to human hope,
through World War One, the Blitz, till 1967…
on this spot, functional, free, real- heaven.
This is legacy-
young lives respected, cherished, valued, helped
to sprint, swim, bowl, box, play, excel, belong;
believe community is self in multitude-
the way the past still dedicates to us
its distant, present light. The same high sky,
same East End moon, above this reclaimed wilderness,
where relay boys are raced by running ghosts.”
Para Olympic Games, Stratford International
Born out of the frustration of fraudulent tickets for the Olympics, I got the tickets for the Opening Ceremony of the Para olympics while cruising the web as I did every morning. £300 quid each, by that stage and worth every penny of Barry’s generous money. ‘Just get it’, he said decisively.
The moment of Stephen Hawkins static body, a pin prick in the great arena, still, spoke in that computer voice, declaring
‘There is no such thing as a standard or run of the mill human being.’
‘Look up at the stars, not at your feet. Be curious’
That was the moment of explosion. Weeping I was, moved to a core.
‘We’re back’, was the tag line. Sepia movies of the first games, in 1948, gave the context: born in the UK out of the vision of Ludwig Guttman, the surgeon of Stoke Mandeville, who saw that sport healed and enhanced the lives of the many souls and bodies battered and shattered by the Second Word War. The first competition – an archery contest among 16 disabled war veterans staged at Stoke Mandeville hospital on 28 July 1948 to now, the opening day of the last London Olympics.
The struggle, individual and political. “Spasticus Autisticus!” Ian Drury’s song of protest refused not to be heard.
Ian Macellen narrated. “O, wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here!” the Tempest’s Miranda, eyes of the show, told us. “How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, That has such people in it.” I thought of Tony Nicklinson, recently in the news, campaigning for the right to die, another end of such a spectrum.
Out of the night sky above the arena, abseiling down came a small figure carrying the torch. Unusually small. Where his legs should be, blue Bermunda shorts flapped in the wind. Assumptions. We’re legs should be, where arms, hands, fingers, toes, sight should be, where we are accustomed to seeing such and such a form, there is another form. Our assumptions arrested, our judging eyes take a step back, eye brows lift, our eyes are opened to another view. Body is just body.
Jo Townsend, the legless abseiler, is a Royal Marine who’d had both legs blown off in Afghanistan in 2008. The procession, all 2 hours of it, was packed with these histories, the politics of war, the overcoming of adversity, the ‘ability to do’. ‘Afghanistan’, came the ebullient announcement over the loud speaker, and a singular wheel chair athlete emerged from the mouth to the arena. ‘Fahim Rahimi is Afghanistan’s only competitor at the Paralympics. He lost his leg in a land mine (Russian) when he was just 12, is a taxi driver in Kabul, but tonight, paralympian power lifter, as a he carries the Afghan flag into the Olympic stadium’.
It is difficult to wave and wheel at the same time.
Palestine, Algeria, Iran, Iraq, Tunisia, those eastern countries, torn by wars of politics, in present states of revolution.
Not all war. The epidural injection that went wrong, the stroke, the car accident, are a few of the dialogues I picked up on the big screen in the park. (In between the too frequent and frustrating advertisements).
The end of the Opening ceremony came from nowhere (how can they do this without my seeing?). An enormous version of Marc Quinn’s Alison Lapper sat naked, glorious and unapologetic in the centre of the stadium. Body is just body.
Thanks to Paul Wittgenstein’s one handed piano commissioning, Marc Quinn’s sculpture of Alison Lapper, Stephen Hawkin’s understanding and communicating of the cosmos, thanks to Oscar Pistorius, the wheel chair basket ball teams, blind footballers, dolphin handless legless swimmer Brazilian Daniel Dias, – these inspire us, us with all our cracks in our structures, cracks that may be not so visible, but felt all the same.
The goalie is sighted, shouting directions to his team to help defend, and behind him, the guide to the other side, shouting directions to his team to attack. The first match was between Iran and Argentia, so no idea what was being shouted. We too partook. We had to be silent, so the players could hear the commands. On the tip of all our tongues was a desire to shout – ‘It’s over there’.
The tenderness of touch
A penalty shootout, helped by a guide first tapping on each goalpost, the sound guiding them towards the target. This was humanity at its best, working together to achieve what would be impossible alone.
Watching Clark, the leader of the UK team, sheepishly interviewed after coming 7th, saying – with all the coverage and support received, funding and acknowledgement will garner the base, watch out Rio, this team will go places.
Today I found seeing so many with 2 arms and 2 legs almost unusual. All people in wheel chairs now are para olympins. T11 running. Finally got a legend for the categories. T11 is for the most visually impaired who run with a sighted runner.
Deeply unexpectedly moving. The bonding, and touching, arms and legs in unison. Twinning with a blind runner. What do you do for a living? We madly clap the losing duo, Algerian, who have been twice lapped by the main bunch, and who run the last lap alone.
For those who are able to stand,
Watched night after night Channel 4’s much-admired The Last Leg, fronted by Adam Hills, an Australian comic with a prosthetic limb, who cut through all the fearful political correctedness with such questions as ‘Well you look ok, all hands and legs, what’s wrong with you?’
Neither of us was in fine form – head ach from walking in too hot a September sun, and techiness with each other, but all were safely over come with the event.
The cauldron was extinguished with a spectacular show of fire, with fire blazers cutting pattens in the grass, fire throwers, and fire jugglers, with huge fire sculptures.
Lord Coe said the last six weeks had banished the spectre of the 7/7 terrorist attacks, which took place a day after the capital had been awarded the Games in 2005, quoting a doctor who worked in the aftermath of the bombings and then as a Games Maker volunteer: “I have seen the worst of mankind. Now I have seen the best of mankind.”
Independent: beatnik flavour of last night’s Mad Max neo-Pagan pageantry, demonic stilt walkers and the fact that a key prop designer – Mutoid Waste – were at the heart of the 1990s illegal rave movement. What unfolded before the 80,000-capacity audience, whose members included Prince Edward, was something of a retro junk yard son et lumiere with a distinct dash of steam punk.
Brief edit Halesworth 2013