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THE ISLE OF APPLES

Last month’s Apple Day in Walthamstow saw a local celebration of a fruit that seems somehow quintessentially English. So much so that I’m always a little surprised when I remember that apples only arrived on these shores comparatively recently. Like rabbits, which also seem as though they have always been here, hopping about the hills and meadows, we owe the presence of apples to an invader; the Romans. I have to admire their taste in this latter regard. Crunching down on a fresh apple – sweet yet refreshing, pleasurable yet healthy – is a fine experience. And cooking with apples is enjoyable too.

Every year I make a dozen or so jars of apple and onion chutney, to a recipe my mum always used. It requires pints of malt vinegar and pounds of dark brown sugar, much chopping of apples and onions, and a large, heavy-bottomed pan to cook it all in. It takes over three hours to cook and fills the house with a pungent, sweet and sour aroma that literally brings tears to the eyes. I hated the smell back when I was a boy and mum used to cook chutney at home. I love it now, though.

While Mum was always the chutney maker, on those years when there was a glut of apples on the three trees that grew in our garden, my dad would make apple jelly. He used to claim he strained the apple juice through one of his old socks, but that was just a joke. I hope. Apple jelly can be made from any kind of apples – including crab apples. You start by chopping them up. There’s no need to peel or core or even remove the stalks – it all goes into the pan with a couple of pints of water to be boiled up. Mash the apples when they’re soft. Now comes the straining. You put the boiled apple mush into a straining bag suspended over a large bowl or jug. You can buy special bags for this, or make one yourself if you can get hold of some muslin or similar cloth. I’ve even used a new tea-towel, the kind with the tiny holes in, boiled first to sterilize, and then hung up by the corners and suspended from a hook fixed to a shelf in the kitchen. You leave the apple mush overnight, slowly dripping into a bowl, and in the morning you find a pint or two of pale pink syrupy liquid. This you use to make the jelly. A pint of the strained apple liquid to a pound of sugar, boiled to a setting point and poured into sterilized jars. It sets a distinctive pinkish-orange and glows like amber when held up to the sun. You can add herbs like rosemary or sage, or chili flakes, to make a savoury jelly. Or leave it plain and spread it on your toast. Delicious!

Tom Bloor – November 2012

(any views are the author’s own)

GODIVA AWAKES AT THE TOWN HALL IN WALTHAMSTOW

The individual and the communal, the need to evolve and the need to preserve, the need to break away and the need for a home; these are tensions constantly at play in all our lives. We seek guidance in resolving these differences in many places. In stories, for instance. Take the tale of Lady Godiva. An individual agrees to submit to ritual humiliation in order to save her community from suffering. In turn, the community act as one (apart from Peeping Tom, of course, who, in a piece of authentically medieval  divine brutality, is blinded ) and they turn their backs on her enforced parade, thus preserving her modesty.  Here are two noble acts, one by an individual and one by the community, the results being to the benefit of all.

On Sunday 5th August, a project called Godiva Awakes reached what certainly felt like a triumphant conclusion amidst the happy crowds outside the Town Hall in Walthamstow. A giant puppet of Godiva herself acknowledged the cheers, fully–clothed, in her victorious post-story incarnation (though she was riding on a horse later revealed to have a taste for wearing fishnets and red stilettos most unusual in the equine).  The puppet, tall as a house and beautifully articulated, had been on the road for seven days, powered by one hundred cyclists, as it travelled  from Coventry, the setting of the original story, to London.  She was ushered into town by a vibrant street carnival and welcomed to the end of her journey with song, dance and floating sculptures, which drifted sedately across the town hall fountain in the afternoon sun. A wide range of schools and community groups from across the borough added their weight to the two thousand participants who had set Godiva on her journey.

It felt like a day of connections. A carnival in the London Caribbean tradition, with lavish costumes and lorry-born sound systems, chimed with the upcoming celebrations of Jamaican independence.  A story of civic heroism  from medieval England found an echo in the huge communal effort represented by the project itself, which culminated in the presentation of an enormous Book of Intent to the mayor of Waltham Forest. The grounds in front of the Town Hall were awash with crowds, and towering above them all was Godiva herself, a lovingly realised piece of art and engineering, graciously bowing her head and gazing benignly about her, blinking occasionally as she appeared to take in the scene.

There is perhaps a tendency to overstate the potential for lasting change that this summer’s Olympic Games will set in motion, and the Godiva Awakes project in Walthamstow was itself a part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad.  But, by drawing a thread that links us as individuals, if only for a moment, to a diverse range of local groups, and on to the people of other towns and cities, and then out into the wider world, events such as this one gently remind us of the vital connection that exists between the personal and the communal.

Tom Bloor – August 2012

(Any views are the author’s own)


FOR EVERY ACTION, A REACTION

( Or how the end of the Cold War spelt ruin for my courgettes.)

Everything is connected, both the negative and the positive. An oppressive world power, the Soviet bloc, collapses. Economists in the West take this as a vindication of their monetary systems. Capital, it seems, can do no wrong. Growth is anointed king. The realities of a world of finite resources are ignored.  Some nations become wealthier, the more privileged among their peoples become more comfortable. And the rich get even richer. But global warming becomes a reality nonetheless.  And then the Capitalist bubble bursts. Meanwhile, melting polar caps lead to changes in the meander of the gulfstream. In the summer of 2012, the UK endures months of rain. Though disastrous for many butterflies and birds, there are also winners; there’s a 50% increase in slugs and snails. Some of whom have eaten all my courgettes. The grim masters of the Kremlin were unaware that their defeat would lead to this. Who could know?  But, although some might consider the line of connections drawn above somewhat fanciful, it could be said to illustrate how everything has its consequences, and how many of those consequences are unintended. An instinctive awareness of this fact leads many individuals to suffer a kind of paralysis of action, a problem movements such as Transition have come into to being to counter. Because inaction, of course, will also have its consequences…

Tom Bloor – August 2012

(Any views are the author’s own)

COMMUNITY QUILT PROJECTS AND OLD VINYL

The potentially divisive power of language is demonstrated in a slogan I saw printed on a carrier bag from a used clothing store in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, where I’d just bought a couple of shirts; “It’s Not Vintage, Stupid – It’s Second-Hand!” But whatever you choose to call it, the traders at Wood Street Indoor Market in Walthamstow have long been champions of the notion of “re-use”.  Housed in a complex of interconnected passageways behind a row of shops and the Duke’s Head pub, the Indoor Market, following a recent re-launch, is enjoying something of a renaissance.  It’s currently home to a wide range of enterprises, including locally based artists and craftspeople together with long-established traders in second-hand records, books, ornaments and memorabilia.

Near the centre of this intriguing web of passages is shop 52/53, which the new occupant has named The Hub. This is the base of operations for Catherine West, the force behind Significant Seams, whose remit extends from the provision of humble haberdashery to community-based craft and therapy projects.  The Neighbourly Quilt project, for instance, is calling for local residents to make individual 6-inch square patches based on ideas of neighbourliness, or what they love most about Walthamstow. The patches will then form part of a large-scale assembled piece; The Neighbourly Quilt itself. A series of workshops have been planned to teach the various techniques that can be used.

The Neighbourly Quilt is a continuation of Significant Seams on-going Community Quilt Programme, whose earlier undertaking, The Quilt Map is currently on show in a local touring exhibition. Interested local residents had the opportunity to embroider a gold-thread thumbprint onto the piece, marking the position of their homes.

The Hub is host to a range of other activities too. Upcycling, on a Thursday evening, described as “teaching through experimentation”, encourages the re-use and re-imagining of old, unwanted clothing.  Significant Seams also hosts The Stitch and Craft Library, a cooperative book lending venture, which, for a small membership fee, allows members to borrow from an expanding collection of books and patterns “to inspire crafting and creating” by local residents.  Along with workshops and projects aimed variously at children and their carers, expectant mothers, and adults suffering from anxiety and stress-related disorders, Significant Seams (a registered social enterprise) will also happily sell you a button or suchlike if that’s what you’re after.

The re-launch of the Indoor Market, which was organised in partnership with Gort Scott Architects, Design For London and London Borough of Waltham Forest, has brought new businesses to the Wood Street area and has provided the opportunity for creative groups and individuals such as Catherine West to build a base in Walthamstow. And the old established traders are going strong, too. I always find second-hand vinyl hard to resist, and while waiting to talk to Catherine about this blog post (she was busy with a customer) I took the opportunity to buy an old K-Tel Four Tops Greatest Hits platter. I can’t help myself…

For more information on Wood Street Indoor Market see http://woodstreetmarket.com/

Significant Seams website is here – http://significantseams.wordpress.com/

Tom Bloor – April 2012

(Any views are the author’s own)

FROM THE NORTH POLE TO WALTHAMSTOW HIGH STREET…

Having recorded it a while ago, I recently got around to watching the last programme in the BBC series Frozen Planet, with its dramatic images of shrinking ice caps and dwindling glaciers. The polar regions are warming at twice the speed of the rest of the planet. The programme made a point of addressing the effects of environmental changes at both a local and a global level. The local and the global are, of course, intrinsically linked; two ends of the same line. For anyone concerned with environmental issues, putting an emphasis on the local in our everyday lives offers a practical way to acknowledge some of the problems already stockpiled for the future.

The columnist Julian Baggini, writing in the Independent on-line a month or so ago, argued that ‘there is a dark side to this piety about “going local”. He quoted the sinister comedy of the League of Gentlemen – “are you local?” – in his preamble, and made his point by using the example of a big brand supermarket that treats its employees far better than an independent local shop run by a mean-spirited, exploitative entrepreneur. Although I found it hard to tell how seriously Mr Baggini wished his words to be taken, I would agree that it is wise to guard against an oversimplified world-view that reduces thinking to the level of “local good – global bad”.

There are many thorny issues to be encountered. Consider the prevalence of very cheap clothing available in high streets across the country. In these straightened times if you’re hard up then such deals can amount to an offer you can’t afford to refuse. Of course, a sense of unease may well accompany your purchase; such garments may have been produced in sweat-shops in developing countries, for instance, or may use raw materials such as cotton, the farming and processing of which carries with it many of its own environmental and labour-related problems. On the other hand, to place an embargo on the import of such goods or to boycott their sale on our streets might simply reduce the locals at the point of production to ever more abject poverty. The global affects the local and vice versa.

For most of us, a compromise position is often the only way to get by. There are no quick and easy solutions. All we can do is to try to keep an open mind as we contemplate matters as immediate as popping round to the nearest shops, or as distant as the frozen wastes of the North Pole.

Tom Bloor – March 2012.

(Any views expressed in these blogs are the author’s own.) 

SNOW IN THE ‘STOW


Changes in the immediate environment can have surprising results. Take snowfall. Overnight a location can be transformed. Some kind of awareness of this change seems to seep into the consciousness while we sleep. On waking you notice an unaccustomed quiet. Snow has muffled all sound. And a strange, bright light, reflected from expanses of white ground, finds its way round even the thickest of curtains with its blank silver glow.

This year, snow fell in Walthamstow on a Saturday evening. Revellers returning home in the small hours were moved to make exuberant and artistic use of the conditions. By morning, many streets were lined with enormous snowmen, as calm and stately as ancient Easter Island statuary. As Sunday wore on, more snow sculptures joined them, in front gardens, on street corners and in parks throughout Walthamstow. These creations ranged from the basic abstract minimalism of the giant snowball, through traditional carrot-for-a-nose figures and thence to more adventurous subject matter, such as the magnificent snow crocodile I saw; six feet long, it slithered down the front steps of a terraced Walthamstow house, its snout nosing the pavement.

Out and about on that first day of snow, people seemed more inclined to smile or nod a greeting to one another. The novelty of the conditions, the way snow has of chiming with positive memories of childhood, real or imagined, results in a temporary lowering of our usual city-dweller’s guard. Unexpected change can do that.

Snow doesn’t last of course. Not here in London, certainly, where it either freezes underfoot making pavements treacherous, or thaws and turns to filthy sludge. And not everyone welcomes the snow. A cold snap can be fatal, especially to the elderly. Worldwide, the changing weather patterns – rising temperatures which, perversely, have resulted in harsher winters here – are a well-known cause for concern. But London snow is still infrequent and relatively harmless in its effects. When it snows many of us will still experience that small but undeniable flicker of delight that the place we live can be so utterly transformed. Change can be fraught with difficulties. It can also be wonderful.

Tom Bloor – February 2012

(Any views expressed in these blogs are the author’s own)

ALTERNATIVE ENERGY – A JOURNEY ACROSS WALTHAMSTOW IN SUN, WIND AND RAIN

It can often seem as if the dominance of fossil fuels as a power source, no matter how damaging their use or finite their availability, is so woven into the fabric of our lives that nothing can be done to change it. But take a journey through Walthamstow and, if you look hard enough, you’ll see a range of alternative renewable energy sources in use. These are tiny steps, yes, but they are heading in the right direction.

So to our journey.  First, picture yourself on the top deck of a bus, Number 212, going from Fulbourne Road to Saint James Street. Look out the window as you pass the bus shelter outside the school in Shernhall Street just past the turning for The Drive. On the shelter roof you see two solar panels. The sun powers the light that illuminates the shelter. Clear Channel Adshell, purveyors of outdoor advertising space, install and maintain the bus shelters for Travel For London, including those on Walthamstow’s streets. Together with TFL, they have worked closely with design firms such as Lacock Gullam, who are behind London’s new hi-tech “Voyager” shelters.

Having passed another solar-powered shelter, this one in Selbourne Road, you get off the bus and walk to the train station, because you need to pay a short visit to Clapton. You board the train and as you leave St James Street Station, before you reach the open expanses of the Walthamstow Marshes, you see a private house, its roof fitted with panels similar to those you saw on the bus shelters. A degree of financial uncertainty has been visited on the solar industry by recent moves to slash feed-in tariff rates (for more on this see the Renewable Energy Focus at www.renewableenergyfocus.com ). But the situation promises to become a little clearer as of late January 2012, and, for those able to make such an investment there are still plenty of firms eager to offer installation to suitable properties, for both private home-owners and the commercial sector alike.

Your business in Clapton complete, you return on the train and alight at Walthamstow Central. You decide to take a walk, so you head up St Mary’s Road and along the lane that runs past the Vestry House Museum gardens, then on through the old church yard on top of the hill. You cross the main road to get to The Drive and from there you reach Falmer Road, where you pause for a moment, half-way down the steeply sloping pavement, to admire a view of the flats on Forest Road and observe the whirling white blades of the miniature wind farm on its rooftop. This residential development, built, perhaps reassuringly, on the site of a closed-down petrol station, was undertaken a few years ago by the architects BPTW Partnership for Islington and Shorditch Housing Association.

Wind power is a well-known and ancient technology. There was once a windmill in Walthamstow, and a blue plaque marks its former site, in Oak Hill Gardens up on the borders with Woodford Green. You decide to take a stroll through the wooded glades of Walthamstow Forest to visit the place where, some two hundred years ago, the old post mill once stood. On your way up Forest Road you pass a large Homebase store, and you peer down past the trees and through the chain-link fence, into the outdoor garden centre. There you see another even older and far simpler piece of technology; the water vessel. Amongst the wheelbarrows and Jamie Oliver Grow Bags you see rows of slim-line water butt sets, (with integral tap and lid) manufactured in shiny green plastic. The rain water collected in such vessels, in yards and gardens across Walthamstow, is not used to run engines or heating systems, but it is still an example of the reuse of a powerful commodity, one essential to life itself; water. This water is used, by and large, to feed garden plants. And, as rain clouds gather above and you reach for your umbrella, you wonder how important the employment of water butts in Walthamstow might be in years to come, perhaps just as vital as greatly increased use of the other renewable resources.

Tom Bloor – January 2012

(Any views expressed in these blogs are the author’s own)

Sound & vision

Bill Henderson, a singing teacher long-listed for Radio 4’s Material World amateur scientist of the year competition, is hoping to conduct research into how music helps bond communities. It’s an intriguing question. From battle cries to hymns of peace, music has always played a part in defining groups of humans, and it’s easy to trace an imaginary line from songs of ancient ritual warfare for instance to, say, football’s terrace-chants. Bill Henderson’s theories on music-enhanced community building are also centred on communal singing, in this case by the local choir.

The community choir is a concept that sits well with some of the general aims of the transition movement, where strengthening of community bonds is an essential base for moving to the establishment of more sustainable ways of living. St Giles Church hall, off Wood Street, is the home of one such community-based singing group, called The Singing Room – a Capella E17. Roger Skipper, a member of the group for over a year, was new to this kind of music-making when he first joined The Singing Room. ‘I’ve surprised myself,’ he says of the experience. ‘I never would have thought I’d be singing in front of people.’

The choir, run by Anna Williams, holds rehearsals in Walthamstow and performs largely to local audiences. The main focus of their year, however, is the annual Sing for Water event, raising money to combat water-born diseases world-wide, which takes the group well beyond their home territory.  As one of around fifty community choirs from around the UK, they rehearse the same seven songs, finally joining forces to perform as one massed choir of choirs at City Hall on the banks of the river, as part of the annual Thames Festival.

A contrasting form of communal music could be said to be reflected by the rise of the open mic night. A rarity twenty years ago, nowadays an aspiring performer with a three-song repertoire could probably spend every night of the week honing their act in one or other of London’s many open mic spots. There are currently at least two such evenings held in Walthamstow; one at the Rose and Crown pub in Hoe Street, on the first Wednesday of the month, and another at The Hornbeam Centre situated at the Leyton end of the same road, on the second Friday of every month except August. Open mic events such as these provide a platform for an eclectic range of individual performances. The mantra of Graham Larkbey, who runs the Rose and Crown event, is ‘the only rule is – there are no rules!’ Acts performing at these two venues in December ranged from a klezmer trio to an electro-pop chanteuse, and from a cross-generational ukulele duet to a harmonica soloist, along with numerous combinations of guitar and voice.

One of the dangers of putting an emphasis on community might be a tendency to move towards a degree of intolerance towards less group-orientated individuals. Just as there is always tension between tradition and innovation, so too can friction often be found between the needs of the community and the aspirations of the individual. Consider the colliery or works brass band traditions of the industrial regions; they could be seen to represent an opposite to that old rock and roll dream whereby music provided a means for working class artists (The Beatles etc.) to escape the restrictions of their communities, rather than remaining a part of it. Might one element of the challenge faced by the new communities be questions of how to create strong communal bonds while still recognising the values of individuality and the need for freedom of expression; to respect tradition while still encouraging innovation? Music could well provide one of the means through which this challenge is addressed.

This is the first in what I hope will be a series of blog posts celebrating groups and individuals from within Walthamstow’s diverse community who, whether directly or indirectly, are helping to lay the foundations for a move to a more sustainable way of life.

Tom Bloor –  December 2011

(Any views expressed in these blogs are the author’s own)

Regular attendees at Transition Walthamstow meetings are welcome to contribute posts on this page.

5 Responses to Blog

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