Multi-cultural Part 2

_PW_2578_79_80-EditNote – although published 15th July, this post was written before the dreadful Bastille Day attack in Nice.  I’ve no wish to make political points based on that tragedy so have left the post unchanged.  I’m sure those on both sides of the argument about our relationship with Europe will find justification for their views from it.

My visit to London coincided with Theresa May’s ascension to the role of Prime Minister, just one of the many unforeseen consequences of the recent vote to leave the European Union.  May kept a low profile in the campaign and allied herself with David Cameron and Remain, which allowed her to demonstrate to her peers a degree of loyalty that Boris Johnson, and Michael Gove did not.  At the same time her invisibility prevented her from incurring the enmity of those in her party who detest the European project and everything about it.

It could be argued that compared to those who lead the Brexit campaign she has played a very canny game – she can claim to be onside with those who wished to remain, but in declaring that she will deliver the will of the electorate (“Brexit means Brexit”) she has earned the respect of those who did not.  Would it be cynical to suggest that this week’s outcome was exactly what she sought, and the referendum was just a means to an end?

So much of what we have seen since that date in June has seemed to be about the pursuit of power at any means.  The inaccuracies in the information both sides shared showed that the result was more important than allowing people to make balanced judgements.  Consequently there were people campaigning in social media for the opportunity to go back to the days of eating fish and chips from newspaper because trying to understand the real issues and their consequences was impossible in a fog of misinformation.

_PW_2581Those who espoused that and similar arguments seem to think there is a Golden Age that our exit will take us back to.  An age before immigration (not sure how far back that age would be), when Britain ruled the waves, and a major proportion of the world map was pink.  These are the people who would staunchly defend our right to retain the Elgin Marbles referred in the previous post for no other reason than that we’re British and we were the prevailing world power at the time, so perfectly within our rights to take ownership.  They look to Churchill as our greatest leader and plunder his speeches for evidence of views on immigration.

_PW_2596We are already seeing an increase in racist attacks in the country as those of the far right take encouragement from our new-found insularity.  No wonder I spotted Mark Darcy, one of the BBC’s political correspondents, staring out into space from Westminster Bridge.  He must be wondering where this will lead.  Behind him on the other side of Westminster Bridge stands Boudicca, perhaps another inspiration to the xenophobic in our midst.

Boudicca Overshadowed
Boudicca Overshadowed

The great warrior queen of the Iceni who portrayed herself as an ordinary Briton whose freedoms had been lost to foreign invaders, rose to drive the Romans from our lands may be an exemplar to those who tell immigrants to go home.  They should remember that she failed.

My birth town of Sunderland was one of the most vocal in calling for Brexit.  It’s easy to blame the unemployment there on immigration, though in my experience there are more complex factors of education and motivation in the mix.  Will the vote for Brexit give them the cosy Anglo-Saxon nation they crave?  A walk around the capital provides the answer.

_PW_2612-Edit

BTW – the pic of the two guys playing with the basketball was shot in poor light and through some fencing so I was having to focus manually on a moving target.  That’s my excuse for it not being very sharp.  Nonetheless there’s something about the two expressions and the movement in the shot that I really like.  In the split second that followed it the guy in glasses shifted the ball around to his left side and made a perfect pass behind himself.  You’ll just have to take my word for it!

Subterranean Homesick Blues

On the banks of the Tyne at Jarrow stands a strange-looking building; conventional brick walls, pretty ordinary windows, but with a roof that is definitely flying saucer.

The clue to its function lies in the fact that its twin lies across the river, just visible above the bow of a tug heading upstream.  This is one of the entrances to Britain’s first purpose-built cycling tunnel, though it also serves pedestrians for like the barrels of a shotgun this is two tunnels in one.  Opened in 1951 it incorporates what were at the time the world’s highest single rise escalators, though these days they are rarely active.  Luckily there are small lifts at either end.

I first visited the tunnel as a small boy, taken there by my godmother and her then boyfriend I think as part of a child minding session.  I probably never went near it again until 20 years ago when working on North Tyneside I would regularly cycle through it, both for the enjoyment of cycling but also more practically because it was faster than sitting in the queues of traffic that built up at the Tyne Tunnel for vehicles.

The tunnel then is an old friend, and though I no longer have cause to use it practically it remains an interesting spot for photographs.  I took my youngest daughter Holly there a couple of years back and miraculously found an almost identical shoot in a local lifestyle publication a few weeks later.

Like any old friend, the tunnel is showing its age, and what were once pristine ceramics are now crazed and cracked, giving rise to all manner of excrescences upon their surfaces.  As one pedestrian remarked on see me with my camera there today:

“It’s dropping to bits isn’t it?”

Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be!

Aside from its visible charms, the place also has its own unique soundscape, the buzz of cycle wheels spinning in an enclosed environment, the echo of distorted voices, the ebb and flow of footsteps and in between the constant hum of the strip lights whose fluorescence also shifts, creating an eerie movement in the shadows.

As I was ready to leave today I heard another sound.  A man virtually skipping down the static wooden steps of the escalator came into view, and John became today’s portrait.  I was less sprightly as I breathlessly climbed up to daylight once more.  Heavy camera bag you know.

Bob Dylan – Subterranean Homesick Blues

Pride of place

I was concerned to hear in the news this week of the extent of heritage crime in this country, with English Heritage reporting that some 70.000 listed buildings were damaged last year, many of them significantly.

In the 20th century we seemed to have a patchy attitude to our history and the buildings that embody that history.  Much of the centre of Newcastle upon Tyne was cleared in the 1960’s to be replaced by John Poulson‘s concrete boxes, but much of the UK will have had similar experiences.  In Sunderland the story was the same, including the demolition of the magnificent Sunderland Town Hall, leaving in it’s place an empty space for some time (great planning there), eventually filled by more uninspiring concrete.

The Civic Centre, built at a different site, was highly functional and full of the design ideas of the moment.  It’s multiple layers and swathes of steps and ramps was a disaster for anyone with mobility problems, and like anything that adopts the latest fashion it quickly looks tired and dated.  I’m starting to sound like Prince Charles now, so back to the point!

Hearing the English Heritage news I was dismayed.  In my travels around Europe I have loved developing my understanding of other cultures by seeing how their history has developed and how it has been reflected in their art and architecture.  The UK has its fair share of castles and stately homes, but plenty of supposedly lesser buildings have not received the same care and attention.  The National Trust’s decision to purchase and restore John Lennon‘s childhood home was refreshing development, that I hoped reflected a change of attitude in the national psyche.

Walking around Darlington I spotted this piece of graffiti which seemed to underline the report’s implication and adding to my sense of despair at my countrymen.

My faith was restored this morning though with a short walk around Whitburn where I live.  Its an environment filled with opportunity.  The village itself has long been a place of beauty, winning awards from Britain in Bloom, but aside from planned displays, South Tyneside council’s decision to liberally disperse spring bulbs in roadside verges brings freshness and colour that lift the mood.

This was enhanced as I reached the Village Cafe where the proprietors were preparing for the day.  Outside on each table was a small vase of yellow daffodils.  There was no need for them to do this; the café’s clientèle are pretty loyal and enjoy the south facing aspect regardless of any flora, but the owners’ decision to bring this spot of colour to their tables created beauty for everyone who passed.  Thank you Fran and Pete for taking pride in your environment – you made it better for us all.