Flash Says…

Archive for the ‘Leytonstone’ Category

Today I received an unexpected email. Five years ago I’d written this missive to “future me”, and it was delivered out of the blue, completely forgotten. So what did it say, and how accurate was it?

“Today is 7 Jan 08” I began. “Bill Gates showed off a coffee table with a touch sensitive computer in it and reckons in 5 years’ time there will be ‘tens of millions’ of people sitting around them in their lounge.

“So here you are, 5 years on – amazing things will have happened like the Olympics, and like Leytonstone tube getting more accessible – so, have you got an interactive coffee table yet?”

Wow. Touch sensitive coffee tables eh? Well, I’ve got a tablet that I use in bed or in the lounge, and a smartphone of course, but that’s as touch sensitive as my house gets! Cynically, I googled “touch sensitive coffee tables” only to find an article – dated today – about a new giant tablet which will act like a coffee table, or even an air hockey game. But it isn’t an actual coffee table – that was just an analogy for its size. So I suppose Bill Gates is hoping nobody remembers what he said half a decade ago!

I wish I’d been more insightful, more detailed. Instead I referred just to “amazing things… like the Olympics”. Well, it WAS amazing, and living near enough to hear the closing ceremony fireworks from my house, it was exciting too. I spent two very enjoyable days at the Olympic Park (one watching Tom Daley grab Olympic diving bronze, another seeing Paralympic heroes Oscar Pistorius and David Weir in the stadium) and benefited from other 2012 events such as New Year fireworks, and seeing my current favourite band Tom Williams and the Boat performing live at an east London park.

But my local station remains inaccessible to me; there are stairs and no lift. I still have to get a minicab to Stratford in order to get onto the Underground. The thing I failed to predict was Ken Livingstone being ousted as Mayor of London. In came Boris, and out went many promises on which disabled people were depending. He shelved plans to make my local station accessible to me, saying there was no money… while I still have to fork out a fiver for each cab ride to my nearest accessible station.

Therefore, my first hopes for the next five years are that Boris loses the next Mayoral election, and the Tories lose the next General one. Budgets and benefits have been cut beyond what some people can cope with, which is shocking and depressing to see.

There were other sadnesses that I didn’t predict. After more than two years of illness, my dad died in 2011. Then last year my 12 year old greyhound succumbed to cancer. I don’t feel ready to lose anyone else close to me, although my nan-in-law is in her nineties…

Perhaps the next five years will bring opportunities to travel and relax. I got ill in 2011 and I’m still trying to manage my health challenges now, although I’ve now got the assistance of some great specialists. My immediate priority is a holiday, and then when I’m well enough, a puppy!

I’d also like some more opportunities to speak on TV and radio; this is something I didn’t predict, and which really began in 2008 when I was featured on Countryfile and The One Show. By 2012 I’d also been on Radio stations 2, 4 and 5, loads of local radio programmes, BBC World, Sky News, and on BBC Breakfast TV – though each only for a few minutes at a time. Hopefully over the next five years I’ll get more chances to share my knowledge and experiences with the world! If I could one day make my living in that manner, I’d be delighted.

Those are my hopes for the future – what are yours? Do you have a prediction for how we will be living in 2018? Perhaps you can help me reach my goals in some way! Let me know your thoughts.

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Why would a self-professed atheist like me join a hymn singing marathon? Read on to find out how I spent my weekend…

A twitter friend is the organist of a local church. When she announced a 30 hour “hymnathon” to raise money for organ repairs – singing every hymn in the New English Hymnal – it caught my imagination, as someone who loves choral singing. But I didn’t yet know exactly which hymns the book contained. I signed up anyway, and invited my friends to be “organ donors”. Kathryn wrote an article explaining why it was so necessary to restore the instrument she played.

My research told me that the original English Hymnal was edited by my favourite composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams – himself a non-believer. This had been superceded by the New English Hymnal in 1986.

On Friday I wheeled myself through the door of St Andrew’s. I’d been afraid of a reverent “bless you for coming” but instead the atmosphere was light and informal. I was told about the free food for singers, and invited to buy raffle tickets. I greeted Kathryn, observed the notes for singers (sing in parts as you wish, but in unison for the last verse) and took my place, ready for the three hours that I had volunteered, and promised to my sponsors.

At one point there were as many as 7 of us… at other points it was a duet, and the other girl happily said “I’ll follow you” but I was sight reading… *gulp* – and of course part singing went out the window! Luckily nobody criticised my growling! I am now familiar with ALL the hymns of Easter, Ascension and most of Pentecost. I particularly enjoyed Now The Green Blade Rises, an interesting tune and words that symbolise spring and new life.

Parishioners were present at all times so we had a small audience, which was nice. They were encouraged to sing too, which surprised my husband when he arrived 45 minutes before I finished! (I think he busied himself with his phone.)

Time flew by, and my voice began to tire. At last my three hours were up, and I left – Kathryn still flitting about between singing, playing, and greeting!

On Saturday, I felt a need to attend the finale (pictured). It was partly a wish to see things through, and also a desire to see which hymn had “won”; sponsors had been asked to name their favourite hymn, and whichever took the most money would be used to close the event. I slotted into position, this time next to twelve other singers and a second organist, to learn that there had been a tie. Jerusalem (which my atheist supporters had backed) took the same amount as Be Thou My Vision (obviously significant to others). We sang them both.

And that was it! Kathryn had done a fantastic job organising (and was still speaking coherently after 30 hours) and I was delighted to see that the event had been welcoming to believers, atheists and agnostics; to people of all ethnicities, gender and ages; and made me feel an important part of proceedings. Surely this is the point, speaking as an outsider, if a church is to remain current – it must represent everyone in its parish and make them all feel comfortable to be there. Maybe I’ll pop into the church’s cafe in future.

The total on Monday morning was £5k. Not bad for a handful of musicians, two dozen singers, and other volunteers. But the total needed is £25k, so the fundraising goes on!

My part is over. Now it’s your turn – if you’re able to support the hymnathon, please go to my JustGiving page and give what you can afford. I know that any contribution will be valuable in supporting choral singing within my community.

The Olympics is over, but the venues are being transformed ready for the Paralympics in a couple of weeks. The Olympics was undoubtedly a success from a sporting perspective, but how was it for those of us who live within a mile or two of the venue?

The good:

  • Our high streets have been improved. In Leytonstone the High Road was redone which meant pavements repaired, new street trees, ramps at the entrance to every side turning making a smooth path as you walk down the main road, and basically the whole street scene looks better and is nicer and easier to walk or drive along. In Leyton businesses had new shop fronts and a lick of paint so the whole street looks smarter. And in Stratford itself there was “Operation hide the concrete shopping centre from the 60s” as colourful shapes appeared in front of the more ugly buildings. I doubt any of this work would have happened so soon or so comprehensively if it was not done to make the area look attractive for the Olympic visitors.
  • There were local events inspired by this being Olympic year. As a choir member, I’ve never known so many opportunities to sing! I’ve performed at a music festival in Waltham Forest, at a council run Christmas “Winter Wonderland” and even in the Olympic Park itself, singing opera in the media centre. Many of these opportunities involved singing with local school children, in the vein of “inspiring a generation”.
  • There were some free tickets available to local people. For example Waltham Forest council gave away tickets to over 60s. I’ve also heard of free tickets for some local schoolchildren.

And good things about the Olympics themselves – as well as being a wonderful event, the army were charming and friendly while undertaking security checks, the volunteers were happy and helpful, and free travelcards were sent with every ticket, a great idea. It all made a good impression of London, and hopefully showed that East London is a great place to be.

The bad:

  • The army put a missile on a tower block near my house! This was ostensibly to shoot down a hijacked plane if terrorists should try to attack the Olympic venues in that way. As a pacifist, I find this kind of thing frightening and unnecessary. I don’t want to see the army in my neighbourhood streets.
  • Parking – every residential street has had a permit parking zone imposed upon them. Although residents can register for a free permit, it’s only for the specific area in which you live. And although people in my neighbourhood have largely got to grips with this, when the bays for these parking zones were created, some of my neighbours were given parking tickets if their car was in the way. Apparently the council put notices on cars and through letterboxes, but not everyone received one.
  • Police with machine guns at stations and near the Olympic Park. This might not be a surprise to people from other countries, but in the UK our policemen don’t routinely carry guns, nor do members of the public, so it is always a small shock to my system when I see one.
  • The Leyton “Olympia Market”, set up to provide food to passing Olympic visitors, has been a complete flop. None of the designated walking routes to the Olympics went past it! The traders have lost thousands of pounds as a result.
  • The cost and difficulty of getting tickets. I was desperate to see some of the sport on my doorstep, and I’ve already detailed my Olympic ticket marathon in an earlier article.

It was also difficult to get to Stratford: as a wheelchair user I can’t get on the tube at my local station. I have to get a minicab to Stratford to begin my journey – Olympics or not! However, police were forbidding any vehicles from stopping to set down, even when I explained I am a wheelchair user. So we couldn’t stop at my usual place and instead I had to be dropped some distance from the station. You’d think a drop off point for disabled people would have been made available.

But some things haven’t been nearly as bad as expected. The traffic was terrible on day 1 of the restrictions, but Transport for London reacted and made changes so that it was manageable thereafter. Even when there were queues going down the High Road, these were clearly not local drivers, because the rat runs were clear and I could quickly get around the queues via back roads.

On balance, I’d say the Olympics has been good for the area. Improvements to the area will remain long after the Games has finished. The Olympic Park itself should become a lovely place to visit, and the Athletes’ Village will provide new homes in due course. We just have to brace ourselves a little longer, while the Paralympics takes place.

What do you think? Do you live near an Olympic venue? Have your experiences been good or bad? I’d love to hear your views.

This weekend the Stratford shopping centre, Westfield, has been closed except to visitors with an Olympic ticket, for fear of overcrowding. Yet neighbouring areas Leyton and Leytonstone don’t seem to have any extra visitors – even though they’ve been spruced up for the Olympics. If you’re visiting east London, here’s why you should try shopping just a mile or two from Stratford…

Leyton is almost walking distance from the Olympic Park. I lived there for many years and yet I don’t recognise it nowadays. Shops have been given a facelift and the buildings are coloured and attractive. To be fair, Leyton doesn’t have a huge heap of reasons to recommend it – it is just another suburb of London, with all the shops that you might want along with a trading estate, so you’ll find at least one large supermarket, clothes stores like TK Maxx and Next, and a few cafes. There’s also a pop-up pub in the Town Hall, where you can watch the Olympics on TV. If you’re staying nearby and need to stock up, you could do worse than Leyton. It’s a friendly area with plenty of “blitz spirit” where the older neighbours still chat to each other on the street. There’s also a temporary market which is complaining of being quiet – why not give it a go?

Leytonstone is a little further away, two stops from Stratford on the Central line. It’s where I have lived for a decade and an area about which I am passionate. This is where everyone should be coming! We have high street stores such as Argos, Boots, Superdrug, Primark and Matalan, a big Tesco, and lots of independent traders. My favourite is the Engine Shed, a Hornby and modelling shop. However I understand that Olympic tourists may not want to go home with a toy train! We also have some fantastic cafes – I recommend Horizon on the High Road, with hot chocolate to die for and a wide range of patisserie and main meals, as well as Cafe Montmartre in Church Lane, which sells homemade chocolates. Both of these are within 2 minutes walk of the tube station.

”Peace There is also a thriving arts scene in Leytonstone. In Church Lane you can visit Stone Space Gallery (currently showing an inspirational group exhibition called Wandering Rocks, open Thursday to Sunday), and next door is a window display space displaying a series of colourful prints inspired by a hospital stay. Not enough art? By the tube is Stone Space Projects, a temporary gallery, currently exhibiting a Peace Quilt with squares contributed by children, one from each of the countries participating in the Olympics. The North Korean square was snuck out of the country, and there is even one from Iran. The whole thing is inspirational and well worth viewing (until August 10, 11-5 daily).

Need to stop for food in Leytonstone? I recommend The Olive, a wonderful Turkish restaurant near the tube station, which provides affordable and delicious food (my favourite is Mucver, feta and courgette fritters served with tzatziki). Need a drink? Stop at CAMRA’s East London pub of the Year, the Red Lion, which has real ale, a beer garden, and provides highchairs, dog biscuits, and disabled access. Fancy a walk? We can offer green space in the shape of Wanstead Flats and Hollow Ponds, both a part of Epping Forest. If you fancy testing your athletic prowess, you can hire a rowing boat on Hollow Ponds or enjoy a 5km run on Wanstead Flats.

To be honest, you will get much more of a feel for the East End by visiting Leytonstone (and to a lesser extent, Leyton) than sitting in a soulless hotel in Stratford. The council has spent a lot of money revamping our streets and pavements – the least you can do is come to visit!

Written for Waltham Forest Guardian where I am a blogger. 

2011 has been a tough year for many people as the recession bit, but in Leytonstone there were some signs of hope and a couple of fantastic additions to the area.

First came the reopening of the Red Lion, as a community local which attracted me, my friends and neighbours. Often when I drop in, I’ll run into someone I know, and that for me is part of what a good “local” should be. The pub has some great ales, and holds live music events, so there are plenty of reasons to visit. At last there is somewhere to meet friends and to pause on the way home – just what the area needed.

Second came the new art gallery, The Stone Space. Run by many of the people who organise the annual Leytonstone Art Trail, along with a number of keen volunteers who invigilate during opening hours, The Stone Space is a wonderful venue which has already hosted a number of interesting exhibitions. They change roughly every two weeks. For more information see http://thestonespace.wordpress.com

Next door to The Stone Space is Slate, an art display space in the windows of what used to be Waltham Forest Direct. To mark its new name the display boards have turned dark grey. It’s overseen by artists from The Stone Space, and I’m the co-ordinator. Exhibitions change every 6 weeks, and currently on show is a show of woodblock & linocut printmaking, and jewellery, by Somhairle Kelly. http://www.slate-arts.com/

So it’s not all doom and gloom. We end the year with some new venues which have much to benefit Leytonstone – and hope for 2012.

Wherever you are, I wish you a Happy New Year!

My part of Leytonstone has been subject to power cuts recently. The first happened at dusk, as people were drawing curtains and putting on room lights. Suddenly, we were opening the curtains again.

People go out into the street to see if any other houses are affected. There I saw neighbours wandering around, and others staring out of the window, mouthing “You not got power? Me too!”

Friends ring to find out the latest – one encouraged others to report the fault to UK Power Networks as they were saying it was “just him”! Their helpline told me I could sign up to text updates, or ask them to call me back with information, which was good – I soon learned that the fault was at the substation in our street.

Neighbours check on each other – have you got enough candles? I had, but no matches so I visited my local corner shop, who were hurriedly closing in the dark – they made time to pass me a box for free. Community spirit was showing itself.

I was reminded of the last power cut I experienced, when living in a dingy flat on Whipps Cross Road – the evening was spent under candlelight at the Alfred Hitchcock pub, where bills and change was calculated on paper, where we relied on bottles from the fridge. It seemed that everyone had made a beeline for the pub so it was busy but had a strange air of excitement. I ran into people who I’d previously only known to say a passing hello – now we could begin to chat and had something in common. Here, too, a power cut had brought people together.

Back in my street this week, again I spoke to people who would normally only offer a brief nod in greeting – the youth from down the road, lads from round the corner – and now they were genially chatting about how to cook dinner without a microwave!

Of course technology plays a part in daily life now, and neighbours were exchanging notes about the outage on Facebook, connecting from mobile phones, while remembering not to run the battery down until they could recharge!

The power was out for nearly three hours and in that time I had several friendly chats with neighbours and got to know a few more a little better. But there was one other person I remembered to speak to – just after the lights came back on, I wandered over to see the engineer. He told us that a switch had come open, probably due to old age, but he had closed it again. I remembered to say thank you – to the forgotten man who inadvertently got people talking.

This post will also appear on Waltham Forest Guardian‘s blog section, where I am a writer.

The police woke me in the small hours of the morning – not at my door, but in my street, around my car, and having closed off the road. It made me wonder how well I truly know my neighbours…

Dozing while my husband slept beside me, I heard the sound of a car alarm – just a couple of blips. There it came again. Then banging, thuds of a door being slammed and something being thrown around. I stumbled to the window, to make sure my car was secure. To my surprise, police in body armour and helmets were all over the street.

The entrance to our road turning was blocked by a police van, and I could make out the nose of an ambulance standing by on the High Road. Next to my car was a large unmarked Transit van into which men were unloading their kit. On the other side was a dog unit, its occupant being walked back down the road – the German Shepherd complained as they put him back in the van, and my own dog stood up and barked back. What a great way to wake up the neighbours at 3am!

Plainly the police had been stealthy on arrival but less considerate as they packed up again. I’d obviously missed the “action”, but it was clear that they had been raiding a property further down my own cul-de-sac, or the close behind my house.

As I returned to bed, I couldn’t help wondering – terrorist, or drug dealer? Perhaps the target was a child porn ring, or an armed robber? Could it be the students at number 53, or the man who’s just moved into 19A? I quickly ruled out terrorism – the Muslims in our street are all family men, friendly and quietly spoken. Perhaps the woman who keeps herself to herself at number 70 has something to hide, or I should suspect the Lithuanian family at 86? Stereotypes swam into my mind, while I tried to work out how well I truly know the people in my street.

Those characters are ficticious. The people don’t exist and nor do the house numbers. But I do pride myself on knowing my neighbours – I’ve lived in this house for 8 years and am active in my local residents’ association and neighbourhood watch group. I can’t leave the house without running into people I know – in fact for one week I counted, and found that during a 20 minute walk with my dog, I’d run into an average of seven people who’d say hello, two of whom would stop for a chat. A few of my neighbours have become good friends. These kind of reassurances made me think I had a good measure of the people living in my pleasant, peaceful, dead end street.

I’m not surprised to learn that “busts” and “raids” can happen anywhere; everyone’s got to live somewhere, after all. But it’s always a shock to look out of your window and see a street full of policemen, especially if they feel that armour and dogs are necessary. I do love the area where I live, particularly as so many people open their doors to me – but now I’ll be wondering a little more about what goes on behind them once they are closed.