The Colour of the Notting Hill Carnival

Crowds at the Notting Hill Carnival

I was at the Notting Hill Carnival over the Bank Holiday weekend. I took a few photos and uploaded them to Flickr.

Notting Hill Carnival
Two revellers ask for directions from a helpful copper, Notting Hill Carnival, London, 27 August 2012. Photo by yrstrly

While I was there I posted a tweet complaining about the boarded up shops. I attributed the boards to the fact that there have been disturbances and vandalism in previous years. However, one source who grew up in the area tells me that there have always been boarded up shops, mainly to stop people relieving themselves in shop doorways, rather than for fear of broken windows.

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Flashes, Camcorders, and Compulsive Documentation at the #Olympics

I think the strangest example of compulsive documentation is the bizarre need we feel to photograph events that are definitely going to be documented anyway. The athletes filming the Opening Ceremony from within the parade last week is a great example of this. I was very taken with this at the Opening Ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Games and took a really bad photo of the athletes filming the crowd during that ceremony.

And I’ve noted this oddness before, when thousands took photos of the 2008 Presidential inauguration, Malia Obama among them. In these actions, (entirely superfluous in the age of the mass media), we see the audience authenticating their own experience. “I was there and I took my own pictures to prove it.”. It’s the digital equivalent of picking a pebble off a beach – banal in itself, but imbued with meaning and sentiment for the one who took it. Continue reading “Flashes, Camcorders, and Compulsive Documentation at the #Olympics”

Cycling to Work on the Eve of the Games

The smug designer with the skinny t-shirt and a fixed gear bike.
The mother in blue track suit with an empty child seat fixed to the pannier.
The ill-prepared lad in the baggy jeans on mountain bike with the seat set way too low.
The hobbyist with orange glasses and Lycra that matches his titanium frame.
The dreadlocked courier with a thick chain wrapped around his chest.
The woman with frayed ginger hair crawling out of her helmet.
The two Japanese tourists, inexplicably on Boris Bikes (miles from a docking station, surely?)

Could I discern
The same eager twitching as the red lights wane,
The same grit of the teeth as clear road opens up ahead
The same extra power on the pedals as the bike overtakes a bus
The same glance over the shoulders, to check the gap between the person behind,
The same confident gait of the one who imagines himself to be wearing a yellow jersey,
As I perceived in myself?

At the four way pedestrian crossing at Ludgate Hill,
When the red lights rudely put the brakes on our makeshift peloton,
Did I perceive in the tall old man in a linen suit,
In the girl in a flowing white dress and flat sandals
In the woman in the business skirt and trainers,
In the sweaty man in shorts, now carrying his fold up bicycle,
A quicker step
A longer stride
A firmer tread
As if the noise that heralded the green man
Was no longer a high-pitched beep
But a starters’ gun?

The World of An Insignificant Woman

Over the past year, I’ve been working on a creative publishing challenge I set myself. It’s time to blog about it here and draw a line under the project.

A few years ago, my parents showed me a faded typed manuscript of a memoir, The World of an Insignificant Woman. It was written in the mid 1980’s by my grandfather’s sister, Catherine Thackray, about their parents and family. It is based in a large part on the handwritten memoirs and letters of my great-grandmother, Hilda Marjory Sharp (born 1882).

In recent years I’ve taken a particular interest in new forms of publishing. I drink in the columns of Cory Doctorow and the experiments of James Bridle (two London-based thinkers I have had the pleasure of meeting a few times, through English PEN and Free Word Centre activities). The potential of print-on-demand and eBook publishing is huge, and I had begun to think seriously about getting in on the micro-publishing action.

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Quoted in Politiken

Over the weekend I was quoted in Politiken, the Danish broadsheet, discussing the LOCOG attempt to control how staff, athletes and the public tweet during the Olympics.  The ‘Games Makers’ have strict tweeting rules, and Twitter have been roped in to police ‘ambush marketing’ attempts by companies who are not an official games sponsor.

Here are the quotes:

Hos den engelske afdeling af PEN, der kæmper for ytringsfrihed over hele verden, siger kampagneleder Robert Sharp, at han finder forbuddet direkte latterligt. “Det er bizart og man kan spekulere over hvilket signal OL sender ud ved netop at lægge så meget vægt på deres sponsorers interesser. Det efterlader en med en dårlig smag i munden og det strider for mig at se imod hele den olympiske ånd, der går ud på åbenhed og at dele”,  siger han.

and

Robert Sharp tvivler alvorligt på, at de den Olympiske Komite kan håndhæve nogen form for censur. “Vi har tidligere set i forbindelse med retssager her i Storbritannien, at selv ikke et forbud fra Højesteret har kunnet stillet meget op overfor twitter. Tværtimod tror jeg ethvert forsøg på at stoppe en twitterpost eller et opslag på Facebook vil have den modsatte effekt. Det vil sprede sig på nettet med lynets hast”, mener han.

 

 

Sign the Petition Against Dow at the Olympics

I know that politicians and people in power can be notoriously out of touch with reality, and we’ve seem some spectacularly tone deaf policies from the Chancellor of the Exchequer recently… but the Dow Chemicals sponsorship of the London Olympics really takes the biscuit.

Bhopal is a town in Madhya Pradesh, India.  In 1984, a gas plant run by Union Carbide malfunctioned and poisoned at 3,787 to death.  Almost thirty years on, the total number of gas-related deaths to date may be closer to 15,000 with the Indian Government saying that up to half a million people had suffered health problems as a result of the disaster.

Union Carbide, the company responsible for the disaster, is now owned by the Dow Chemical company. Dow deny that they are culpable, despite the numerous convictions of Union Carbide employees in Indian Courts.

The IOC says that because Dow only bought Union Carbide in 2001, that they were not responsible for the accident and the deaths.  However, that’s not how things work.  When one company buys another, they buy the brand and the liabilities of that company as well as their assets.  Wehn Dow bought Union Carbide, Dow legally became Union Carbide – their histories and destinies become intertwined.

Even if the Dow/Union Carbide version of events is true (something that the people of Madhya Pradesh and successive India Governments consider complete baloney), the fact is that a gas leak at their plant ruined the lives of many lakhs of people.  While litigation continues, this company should not be allowed to sanitise their reputation through the sponsorship of London 2012.  It is deeply inappropriate for the International Olympic Committee (hardly a paragon of virtue itself) to take Dow’s money.

Early Morning at #OccupyLSX

I have been meaning to visit the Occupy London protest camp at St Paul’s Cathedral since it appeared in October. Yesterday morning I went via St Paul’s on my way to work and shot a few slices of video of the camp, while its denizens were still sleeping. Its a snapshot of the eclectic mix of ideas being discussed at the camp.

Shadow Cities

There is much to admire in André Aciman’s Shadow Cities, a ‘classic’ New York Review of Books essay.  For Radhika Jones, it is the way the writing evokes her own memories of New York.  As for me, I like the concept of overlaying imagined cities and long-lost viewpoints:

New York is my home precisely because it is a place from where I can begin to be elsewhere—an analogue city, a surrogate city, a shadow city that allows me to naturalize and neutralize this terrifying, devastating, unlivable megalopolis by letting me think it is something else … Straus Park allowed me to place more than one film over the entire city of New York, the way certain guidebooks of Rome do. For each photograph of an ancient ruin comes a series of colored transparencies. When you place the transparency over the picture of a ruin the missing or fallen parts suddenly reappear, showing you how the Forum and the Coliseum must have looked in their heyday, or how Rome looked in the Middle Ages, and then in the late Renaissance, and so on. But when you lift all the plastic sheets, all you see are today’s ruins.

I didn’t want to see the real New York. I’d go backward in time and uncover an older New York, as though New York, like so many other cities on the Mediterranean, had an ancient side that was less menacing, that was not so difficult to restore, that had more past than present, and that corresponded to the old-fashioned world I think I come from. Hence, my obsession with things that are old and defunct and that seep through like ancient cobblestones and buried rails from under renewed coats of asphalt and tar. Sealed-off ancient firehouses, ancient stables turned into garages, ghost buildings awaiting demolition, old movie theaters converted into Baptist churches, old marketplaces that are now lost, subway stops that are ghost stations today … Going to Straus Park was like traveling elsewhere in time.

This is a marvellous evocation of why I enjoy much of the literature and imagery that I do.  I have discussed the idea of overlaying of invisible worlds onto a physical space quite a lot on this blog.

To wit: The human ideas imposed onto China Mieville’s The City & The City, and the secret Londons described in Un Lun Dun and Kraken; The transnational societies in Cory Doctorow’s For The Win; the myriad wifi networks on Exmouth Market; my idea for a London Underground game, marvellously realised by Chromaroma; and overlaying a fantasy narrative onto Edinburgh in Ghost.

Releated: there is the leaving of a digital breadcrumbs trail we saw in Stalking Shawn; andPulling echoes of the past into the present space in [murmur];

And finally, there is the fascination with the organic nature of cities: Buildings in a state of constant alteration and repurpose (the Free Word Centre where I now work is one such building); Medieval cities that persist in the twenty-first century, like Fes; The way buildings can take on a personality, when plugged in; the way a city can seem to be a jungle; and buildings that make you feel as though you are already a part of history, such is the weight of their (future) iconic status.