Friday, 30 October 2009

Notes On A Man About To Die

Once in a while, an event occurs which makes everyone sit up and take notice, question the very basis on which reality is built. Some events are so momentous that, upon hearing of them we wonder if the person informing us is, in fact, recounting a scene from some outlandish film.
This is how I felt a few weeks ago when one of my colleagues asked me, a propos of nothing much, if I'd heard the news about Akmal.
“No, what news?”, I queried.
He told me that Akmal had been sentenced to be shot by firing squad for drug trafficking in China. The execution was imminent, barring a last-minute reprieve being granted by The Court of Appeal.
   I bent over the office computer, and typed the name Akmal Shaikh into the search engine. Straight away, Google poured out a list of pages and articles about the death sentence. I was shocked, but not entirely surprised. I had been well aware that this man was a massive risk-taker, a person who would leap without a second glance either to his left or to his right. How could he have come to this?..
   I had been a self-employed leaflet deliverer--- a sort of private postman who went from door to door shoving cards, menus, and leaflets through people's letterboxes. Because of the low fees which I charged all my clients, I was seldom without work, and I enjoyed the freedom which it gave me. The solitary nature of the job gave me a lot of time in which to think, and to organise my creative ideas. In good times, I would combine two types of leaflet from different firms, thereby doubling my wages for the same distance walked.
It was through this line of work that I came into contact with Teksi, a fairly-successful cab firm in Kentish Town, North-West London. The owner of the firm was a short, squeaky- voiced chap called Akmal Shaikh, a Pakistan-born Briton.
    He had a kind of wariness about him whenever I went into his office. Was it unfriendliness, disdain? I didn't care, since I was my own boss, a freelance who chose his own working hours. I would be in there for, at most, twenty or thirty minutes at a time. He was at his most cagey whenever his female employee was in the office.
    She was a homely young Polish woman, wholly devoted and protective of her boss. It soon became plain to me that, although he was married, he and the Polish secretary/ telephonist were more than colleagues. There were times when I would see her sitting on his lap as I entered the office. One day, right out of the blue, he announced that they were now married! Several months previously, he had begun to call her by a Muslim name which he had given her. She soon left the firm, went back to Poland after the birth of their first child---his fifth.
    She was now living full-time in Poland, while he ran his business from London. He would go over for weeks at a time to be with his now-Muslim new wife. Since she left there was a vacancy for a telephonist. He employed a succession of pretty young ladies, mostly Poles, who were glad of the chance to work here. Their country had only recently emerged from Communist rule, and membership of the-then European Economic Community (now The European Union) was several years away.
During his return trips to London, it is rumoured that he had affairs with a succession of the young girls in his employ. Some claim that he set up home with one of them. When she left to continue travelling , he sought a replacement.
    By this time, I had long since stopped working for him, having taken up a sedentary job as a controller with a rival firm. After a year or so, my new employer closed his doors, apparently because Akmal did not want a rival to be based only a hundred yards away from him; he claimed that Akmal had made numerous complaints about our drivers' noise-making to the local council, in which he had some influential friends.
I moved on, having secured a controller's post with yet another firm, this time about a mile away. I kept bumping into old colleagues from Akmal's office. None of them had a good word to say about him. There were constant rumours of unpaid wages, monies being unfairly held on to...One night he made a phone call to my employer ( a former employee of his with whom he had had a falling- out). He wanted him to know that he was selling up, quoted him a price, and demanded an answer there and then. Upon hearing this, I advised my employer not to have anything to do with it---I could smell a rat.
    A few months later, we realised what had caused his hasty departure....The local newspaper had a shocking report of a mini-cab boss who had been charged with sexual harassment of a female employee. On the third page, there was Akmal's photo for all to see. He was fined a large sum of money by an Industrial Tribunal, after he lost the case which had been brought by the young woman. His loss of face was complete. He fled to Poland.
     The next time I heard about him, it was claimed that he had split up with his wife ( the devoted Catholic who loved him so much that she had changed her religion for him), other rumours had him being arrested for I don't know what...Out of the blue, one ex-colleague had me in stitches by saying that Akmal had been sending him emails inviting him to “ do jihad “ with him! I almost fell off my chair laughing...
    The newspaper articles all talk of a trip from Warsaw to a remote part of China. Upon searching his luggage, Customs found a quantity of heroin. Some say it was four kilos, others, seven. He claimed no knowledge of the drug's existence, claiming that he went to make a pop record about world peace. It is also claimed that he was homeless at the time, and had befriended a shadowy figure who claimed to have contacts in the music industry.
    Newspaper reports say that the judges at his trial laughed openly at some of his claims, his testimony is said to have been rambling and incoherent. He bombarded the British Embassy with long letters. The rights group, Reprieve, claim that he suffers from bi-polar disease and is delusional. The Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has been persuaded to make representations, all to no avail, it would seem.
    He may already have been shot. China, after all,  is one of the governments which is most ready to execute prisoners. Even if he were to be released tomorrow, his life is in tatters. I pity his children. They were polite and pleasant young people whose lives are forever tarnished. Their ambitious father---he once visited the Dassault factory in Toulouse saying he wanted to buy an aeroplane with which to start an airline ---he is gone from them, even if he were to be released and pardoned.
    I am not in favour of the death penalty, not even for mass – murderers. After all, did Jesus of Nazareth not tell us to spare the sinner, or cast the first stone if we have never sinned? The Chinese authorities take a different view; after all, did the British and French imperialists not seek to weaken their society by selling them hard drugs not so long ago? The memory of the opium trade may still be fresh in the minds of their officials.
I find it a pity that a man who may have been mentally-imbalanced is being made to pay the price of those past wrongs.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

On the South Bank of the Thames

The South Bank of the River Thames houses one of the great collections of cultural and artistic meeting- places in London. The complex consists of The National Theatre, The Royal Festival Hall, The Hayward Gallery, The Queen Elizabeth Hall, and the Purcell Room.

A trip to the South Bank Centre is best approached on foot across the Waterloo Bridge.The view from the bridge is absolutely spectacular; on one side, there is the Palace of Westminster, wherein are The Houses of Parliament, as well as the world-famous London Wheel.
The Royal Festival Hall , one of London's premier concert venues, has been in existence since 1951.Like the rest of the South Bank complex, the building is in the style of the-then-fashionable "brutalist architecture" of the post-war period.Opinions are divided as to its aesthetic worth, but I believe it is now a listed building.
During the day, it is common to see buskers and other street musicians around the concourse .Around the side of the building, there is a large bronze bust of Nelson Mandela, as well as various cafes and eating places.There are plenty of seats and benches on which to sit , and drink, and to watch people go by...In fact, it would be possible to spend an entire day in the Complex--starting at a contemporary art exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, the visitor could then go to sit and eat at one of the cafes or restaurants. Those who enjoy a spot of reading can pop into a bookshop  or the Poetry Library( Level Five of the Festival Hall)...

There are often free recitals of classical music , as well as photographic exhibitions in the foyer of the Festival Hall. During the summer, there is a great book market along the river bank, with a large number of vendors with their stalls in front of them.

After visting the art gallery, the free concerts , and other attractions, the visitor might like to end their visit by attending the National Theatre to take in one of their productions.This is the home of some of the most-acclaimed heavyweights of British theatre.

A visit to the South Bank is a" must-do" for the visitor to London.It is a family-friendly and relaxed day out, especially in view of the pedestrianised nature of the complex, and the picturesque backdrop of the River Thames.There is bound to be something there for everyone.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

A Visit to Portobello Road Market.

Scenes from Portobello Road& Pembridge Road(bottom picture).

The visitor to London should pay a visit to Portobello Road Market. This is one of the capital's landmark tourist attractions.
The best way to approach it is by turning right into Pembridge Road from Notting Hill Station, and following the crowds! A few yards down the Pembridge Road, you will notice that the majority of the pedestrians turn left at the "World in Splendour" pub.
This is the beginning of the Portobello Road.
Before proceeding down the road, and rummaging through the myriad of antique and other shops, it may be worth your while to pop into the pub. It is just as pleasant to buy a drink, lounge around on one of the benches outside, as it is to sit inside this bustling meeting place.
Down the road there are stalls in front of almost all the buildings, many of them sell antiques of one kind or another, while others sell such touristy articles as t-shirts and badges.Antiqe sterling silverware jostles for space and attention with crockery, glass, and other expensive items.Prices here can not be described as cheap--after all, this area, Notting Hill, is one of the most affluent in the whole of the country.Residents here include well-heeled American bankers who feel hard-done-by if they don't receive their £200,000 -per-year bonuses on top of their salaries!
If you become hungry after shopping or browsing, go to the junction of Westbourne Grove, turn right, and you'll find an embarrassment of culinary riches.Here you will find a restaurant to suit every taste.
It is worth pointing out that at the end of every August, there is a national Bank Holiday.This is when the whole of Notting Hill becomes the backdrop for the world-famous Notting Hill Carnival.During those three days, the whole neighbourhood shuts down, and the air is filled with colourful and boisterous street dancers and their musicians.
This is, without doubt, one of the most vibrant streets in the whole of London.It is well worth a visit on any weekend!

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Green And Pleasant Land

This post contains photos from  locations  outside London .If you ever fancy a day out from the husle-and-bustle of London, you could do worse than going down to the lovely South  of England, especially the county of Sussex.
Both the picture at the top---of a scene from Rye--and the picture of Beachy Head, were taken by Eddie  Anderson, an old  friend of  mine.
You can view  more  of  Eddie's photos on his page:

Friday, 27 February 2009

The most famous zebra crossing.

Every single day of the year hundreds of tourists  flock to  a  pedestrian crossing  in North-West London to pay homage to four of the most  famous musicians of the recent past----John, Paul, George and Ringo..
   Abbey  Road  Studios  was  where  they  made  most  of  their  records,  under  the  stewardship  of  George  Martin.
     The  walls  outside  the  studios  are  the  only  spot  in  London  where  nobody  gets  arrested  for  scribbling  or  spraying  graffiti  . Indeed,  there  is  so  much  of  the  stuff  that  the  record  company  managers  send  someone  out  once  every  few  weeks  to  whitewash  the  walls....They  are  soon  covered  up  by  new  messages.
     The  zebra  crossing  outside  the  studios  was  immotalised  on  the  front  cover  of  the  eponymous  "Abbey  Road"  album,  which  was  released  shortly  before  the  four  members  of  the  Beatles  split  up  and  went  their  separate  ways.
       It  has  been  about  three  decades  since  then,  but  the   flow  of  pilgrims  keep  flocking  to  this  corner  of  St. John's  Wood.   Thanks  to  them,  the  legend  will  never  die...

Abbey  Road

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Two Scenes from London's West End.

Here are two scenes from the West End, taken early in the morning.
   The  first  picture  is  a  mechanical  representation  of  a  cooper---above  a  pub.
 Below  it  is  a  picture  of  Eros,  in  Piccadilly  Circus.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Suicide Bridge

I  took  a  journey  into  the  past  early  this  evening,  up  the  hill  past  Archway  Station,  up  the    busy  Archway  Road.  Halfway  up  the  hill  you  will  see  a  century-old  bridge   which  is  notorious  throughout  London.
Suicide  Bridge.
Ever  since  I  came  to  live  in  this  part  of  town,  I  have  never  known  it  to  be  called  by  any  other  name.  Tucked  away  in  the  inner  pages  of  the  local  newspapers  , there  used  to  be  frequent  reports  of  people  who  had  jumped  to  their  death    by  scaling  the  railings...

Suicide  is  always  a  dreadful  way  to  die,  but  jumping  from  this  height  only  to  land  on  top  of ( or  in  front  of ) some  unsuspecting  motorist  on  this  busy  road  seems  such  a  public  way  of  declaring  despair  and  helplessness...
  I  lived  for  several  years  at  the  end  of  the  road  which  crosses  the  top  of  the  bridge---Hornsey  Lane.  On  a  couple of  occasions,  I  would  see  a  huddle  of  people  at  the  end  of  the    bridge,  placards  in  hand.  At  other  times,  there  would  be  a  clutch  of  bouquets---they  would  lie  there,  undisturbed  for  a  couple  of  weeks,  only  to  be  cleared  away  before  the  next  victim  decided  to  choose  the  darkness  over  the  half-light  of    life's  incessant  struggles.  Indeed,  my  elderly (late)  ex-landlady's  husband  lost  his  life  here.  It    is  rumoured  that  he  came  back  from  the  Second  World  War  a  broken  man .  He  went  out  one  night,  and  never  came  back.
    The  fence  around  the  bridge  has  been  thickened  ,  and  made  a  little  higher,  but  I  doubt  that  we  will  hear  the  last  of   Suicide  Bridge...

Monday, 2 February 2009

London's Gone Soft.

London's gone all  soft...Last  night  we  experienced    a  bit  of  wintery  weather,  the  first  snowfall  for  quite  some  time.  The  result?  Almost  all  normal  life  has  been  suspended  until  further  notice---schools  are  closed,  all  buses  are  off  the  road,  and  people  have  been  told  to  stay  at  home  unless  they  have  to    go  out.
   This  means  a  massive  loss  to  London's  economy,  since  the  snow  is  forecast  to  fall  until  Wednesday...

 I  ventured  out  after  taking  this  photo  from  my  window(picture  above )--very  picture-postcardish,  very  pretty,  but  is  this  totally  alien  to  London?  Should  this  be  enough  to  put  a  major  Northern  European  capital  out  of  business  completely?..
   It  is  not  as  if  London  has  not  had  snow  before--when  I  was  a  child  of  ten,  we  used  to  walk  to  school  alongside  Clapham  Common  in  snow  three  times  as  high  as  what  I  saw  when  I  went  out  of  the  house  this  morning.  Back  then,  we  coped,  and  the  country  coped,  and  got  on  with  things.
  London's  gone  soft---too  soft,  in  my  view.

Friday, 30 January 2009

A Riot of Colour in Camden Town.

A visit to Camden's markets is always interesting---especially if you enjoy large crowds.

For those of us who either live or work nearby, it is too easy to take this riot of colour for granted.

Passing by the numerous stallholders hawking their diverse wares, the various food stalls, and the hordes of tourists, it is easy to become almost dizzied by the constant assault on all of one's senses...

Looking at the photos from my recent stroll along Camden Lock the other day, these opening words from one of W.H. Auden's poems came to mind:

As I walked out one morning

Along the Bristol Street,

The crowds along the pavement

Were fields of harvest wheat....

Friday, 23 January 2009

A Statue Seen in Hampstead.

 A Statue  Seen  in  Hampstead.  Physically  imposing,  but  who  is  he  based  on?..Too  tall  to  be  Ghandhi.

The Healthiest Street In London?

I went for a stroll through Hampstead this afternoon, with a view to taking some pictures of one of London's most well-heeled and salubrious areas.

Almost every side-street has something of a story to tell, a little bit of history...

One such corner is the bucolic enclave known as The Vale of Health. It is well and truly off the beaten track, an attribute which enhances its mystery and charm...

Out of respect for the residents of the street, I shall not tell you exactly how to find your way there, but, of course it is on any map you care to open.

I was once told an apocryphal tale which sought to explain how the street acquired its name.

It is said that during the Great Plague which wiped out large portions of London's population, the bubonic-plague-causing rats were spreading very rapidly throughout London, leaving death and fear in their wake. Apparently, they were too exhausted when they reached the hilly terrain around parts of Hampstead, and were therefore unable to ascend to the the land which lay in the valley near the top of Hampstead Heath. Consequently, the inhabitants of this valley were spared the infestation of rats, and thus escaped the Plague.

The area therefore became known as the Vale of Health.

It is now a tranquil little village in the North of London. In fact, it would be easy to imagine that you are in the middle of the countryside if you had slept on the car journey here....(There is no public transport nearby---you either have to walk, or come by car).

In fact, it is only a few minutes away from a busy main road, but the entrance is fairly well-hidden.

Incidentally, the inhabitants of the street( it is actually a collection of three or four intersecting streets) do not seem to be too keen on unannounced visitors, judging from the wary looks, and twitchy curtains which always greet me whenever I have been there...I don't blame them for wanting to guard their secret domain so jealously---it is truly beautiful here. If you could hear the dawn chorus of birds chirping in the trees around here , you would imagine you were experiencing an out-of-body experience which had taken you somewhere light years away from London. Little wonder then that so many writers and poets have lived around here throughout the ages.

I stopped to say “hello” to a couple of builders who were renovating a house, and explained why I was there. One of them told me that the extension to the Jubilee Line part of the Underground Railway had had to be diverted as a result of the discovery of a large burial ground where the casualties of the Great Plague had been interred.

Well, I seem to learn something new every day.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Eccentric Camden

A Shoe Shop facade  in  Camden High  Street,  on  the  way  to  the  popular  Camden   Markets.
  There  are  many  examples  of   eccentric  shopfronts  in  this  area,  and  I  shall  be  posting  a  few  more  photos  from  there  soon.
   I  don't  really  like  going  there  at  weekends,  as  something  like  2  million  visitors  pass  through  the  world-famous  markets  every  weekend,  making  the  whole  place  a  bit  too  lively  for  my  liking!
  However,  if  you  are  a  visitor  to  London,  it  is  one  of  the  "must-see"  sights.  There  are  so  many  sounds,  sights,  aromas  to  beguile and  excite  you   there...

Friday, 16 January 2009

Stalin, Bond Street, and Israel-Palestine.

I went down to Bond Street the other day with a view to taking a photo of an artefact which I had noticed fleetingly some time ago. My camera's batteries decided to go on strike just as I made to shoot---it gobbles up batteries the way a lizard consumes flies...What struck me was an odd feature of the (double) statue—can you see what is wrong here?..Well, the anomaly struck me straight away; of course, there should have been three elderly gentlemen portrayed on the bench. This was, after all, one of the most famous photos of the last century now transformed into a three-dimensional statue.
However, the photo shows three men---Churchill, Eisenhower, and...Stalin.
They met , as war-time allies, in the Black Sea resort of Yalta, as the Second World War was reaching its conclusion. Broadly speaking, they met to decide how to deal with the Axis Powers once they had defeated them..
My question is: why has Stalin been left out of a reproduction of such a world-famous
picture? Is it an attempt at airbrushing the “bad man” out of a now-unpalatable facet of history? If that is the case, Stalin would have been proud, at least with this method of making a political opponent “disappear”!
The apparent message seems to be that Britain and America were alone in the fight against Fascism...I see it as an opportunity wasted to educate younger generations as to what really happened in those dark days, even if this picture was taken after the famous group photo.
Political airbrushing of a similar kind is now occuring on our televison screens. We are confronted daily with images of defenceless Palestinians watching helplessly as their neighbourhoods are bombed to smithereens, their lives shattered beyond repair...
In the meantime, our leaders unflinchingly parrot the shameless justifications provided by their American masters. They, in turn follow the script which has been force-fed them by their Zionist masters---we learned only last week that the outgoing Israeli Prime Minister is able to drag the President of the United States out from the middle of a speech in order to dictate to him how to cast his vote in a United Nations vote on a possible caesefire to the present conflict in Gaza. The tail wags the dog...
At least, we have a handful of newspapers over here who are able to tell us the facts as they are. Without reading such excellent publications as “The Independent”, one would be ignorant of the reality behind the air-brushed version of it. The Israeli propaganda machine's representative in London has been allowed to repeat the half- truth that Israel “withdrew” from Gaza several years ago...I have yet to hear an interviewer challenge this assertion by pointing out that the Israelis still control all the access to Gaza's air and sea routes, electricity and water supply. Their borders are controlled by the Israelis, Egypt seems unable or unwilling to open its border.
In fact, elements of the Right have been up in arms because a functionary in the Vatican
used a most-appropriate term to describe the situation in Gaza...The term “concentration camp” has riled more than a few Zionist sympathisers.
What is it about human beings? How is it that those who have long suffered under oppression can prove themselves so accomplished in inflicting such brutality on others?
We are still being cajoled into thinking of Israel as the defenceless “little guy”, while the Palestinians are exhorted to relax because “it is not they who are being targeted”. The F16s which are knocking out their homes, schools, municipal buildings, etc., are “only aimed at the Hamas terrorists”.
Almost every interview with an Israeli representaive includes the term “terrorist”. No-one thinks fit to remind them that their state was founded as a result of “terrorism”....To do so is to run the risk of being labelled “Anti-Semitic” .
As I write, the rockets still rain down on Israeli towns, The tanks are still patrolling the centre of Gaza, and thousands are dying. Just as unrelentingly, the photoshopping of modern reality continues...

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to you all. Let us work towards a peaceful and harmonious 2009.
The past few weeks have been hectic and very demanding, that is why I have been “away from the keyboard” for a while; my new ambition (I shall not call it a resolution) is to become a prolific blogger this year. Having bought myself a new digital camera, I have also decided to take a lot of photographs of London.
I popped out to try and obtain a few snapshots, but today has been comprehensively grey and downcast, so I felt it would have been a waste of time.
However, I popped the old SD card into my new camera, and selected a picture which might cheer you up a bit more.
The photo of the gigantic table and chair were taken on Hampstead Heath about five or six years ago. Apparently, they are the work of an eccentric Italian artist whose name escapes me...You can imagine the size of the objects by comparing them to the full-sized trees in the background.
The installation was not left out there for long—as I recall, it was removed after a couple of weeks..Not very long, but such artefacts do tend to add to the gaeity of nations!!!

Random photos and Observations of London, as seen by a Londoner.