A fete in a cemetery, a tiny underground mail train, and a museum in a shopping centre. Come and celebrate everything that’s NOT the British Museum.
Bug hunts, whittling workshops, crypt tours, a petting zoo, ice cream — a ‘typical’ open day. It’s spring and there’s still a chill to the air, but after months of lockdown we’re enjoying being outside. Before arriving if you’d asked me who’d be at the open day I’d have said three history buffs and a dog — but the place is bustling with hundreds of people: market stalls, a community choir, a ‘murder of goths’ (about 30, I’d say). The cemetery is being re-wilded, and as the forest reclaims the place, the wildlife has returned — mostly birds and squirrels, but on one walk we took here in the depths of the winter lockdown, on an overcast day with snow all around, we saw foxes darting between the gravestones and trees. Today, though, there are too many people for foxes. We finish at a pop-up cafe near the Scottish Martyrs monument, with tea and scones and jam. My nan used to make scones like that. The five Martyrs campaigned for parliamentary reform, and for their troubles were transported to Australia in 1794.
Tunnels running east–west under London carrying narrow gauge driverless trains and delivering millions of letters a day. What more could you want? Royal Mail began as the personal mail service of one of the English kings. Some time later, if you could afford it, you could send letters where the recipient paid for them on arrival. When the Penny Black stamp was invented, the first adhesive stamp, postage was democratised and became accessible to anyone. By the 1920s millions of letters were being delivered to Londoners every day. The mail rail opened in 1927 to counter London’s congested streets and the ensuing delays. In the 1930s the GPO established a film unit. ‘Night Mail’ is its most famous production (Written by W.H. Auden). On our visit to the Museum we watched the surrealist jaunt ‘Love on the Wing’ (1939) by Norman McLaren. In theory it was an ad for the postal service, but the images plugged straight into my brain and I have no idea what it was about.
Popping into Sainsbury’s to grab some toilet paper? Why not stop at the Migration Museum? It’s Saturday morning and we bus it to Lewisham shopping centre. We sit up front of the top level of the double decker bus (for only two pounds you get a comprehensive view of the city, and every trip is like a mini tour). Founded about 20 years ago, and without a permanent home at the time, the MM was initially a series of collaborative exhibitions and events travelling all over the UK, including London, Oxford, Leicester and Edinburgh. From 2017 to 2019, it was based in Lambeth, then it moved to Lewisham. The bus delivers us to Hight Street’s bustle: market stalls selling fresh fish, fruit and vegetables, clothes, fabrics, and street food from Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. Nearby are Polish and Italian delis, Turkish and South Indian restaurants, and my favourite fish and chip shop in London: ‘Something Fishy’. The décor is straight out of the 1970s, and alongside an array of different fish (and chips) they serve pie and mash, and jellied eel. Before we head into the centre, Lewisham’s hustle calms me, makes me feel at ease with London on those days I feel anxious. It’s a human scale that feels about right; the perfect place for the Migration Museum.
London’s Migration Museum (Lewisham)
BP or Not BP Campaign
Friends of Nunhead Cemetery
The Log Books Podcast
Museum of Neolibralism
Museum of Homelessness
Climate Museum UK
Feminist Library Peckham
Museum of Slavery and Freedom (Deptford)
Black Cultural Archives (Brixton)
George Padmore Institute
Not Quite Right For Us Podcast
Twitter & Instagram: @LDNbylockdown
Hear about Shona’s da’s story; learn about the highland clearances, the 10-pound poms, and how people fashion intimate connections and meaning in countries far from their place of birth; and travel through 400 years of UK Departures and Arrivals. (Two years ago today, the UK locked down.) Dear Migration Museum, Hope you’re well. Just a note to let you know that I loved volunteering with you and it was really important to me. I know it might sound a little strange, saying that, given I wasn’t there too long, but you’re just such a brilliant place. (I know I don’t have to tell you that.) When I first visited you as a punter, it hadn’t struck me before that I was a migrant. I’d grown up with so much UK media (mostly BBC productions on the ABC), and even now, the UK is presented as ‘the same’ as Australia; that we both understand each other’s cultures perfectly. Again, I don’t have to tell you this, but that’s not true. The difficulty in navigating London is that it’s all so similar, but there’s a tilt that makes everything awkward, more confusing and difficult, and it’s just askew enough to discombobulate me without my being able to put my finger on anything specific. Shona and I both knew going in we were travelling to the belly of the Colonial Beast, but I didn’t realise how ingrained that thinking is; how colonialism is celebrated in so many contexts without any reflection; and how the idea of ‘born-to-rule’ permeates. (But of course, you give us the other perspectives and stories.) ...
It’s almost the end of 2020. As a special gift for getting through a hard year, in this bonus episode we share one of our all time favourite pieces of radio, and a holiday classic: ‘Xmas in Merimbula’ by Kayla (then aged 8). ************************** Some 30 years ago, aged 17, I first heard The Pogues’ ‘Fairytale of New York’ and fell in love with the city, the band and the song — and all the complexities and contradictions within. Unlike so many other Xmas songs, there’s nothing sentimental here: “It was Christmas eve, babe; in the drunk tank. An old man said to me, ‘Won’t see another one’. And then he sang a song: ‘The Rare Old Mountain Dew’. I turned my face away and dreamed about you.” It’s not a song of solace, but a cautionary tale. There but for the grace… As the years have passed, ‘Fairytale…’ has migrated in from the margins. Nowadays it’s played in supermarkets, and since 2005 it returns annually to the top 20 charts — MacColl’s beautiful voice (she grew up in Croydon, South London, not far from here) perfectly counters McGowan’s character’s dirty murky syntax. And when listeners turn from McGowan’s scowl to MacColl’s songfulness for comfort, they fall victim to a beautifully rendered ambush: “They’ve got cars big as bars, they’ve got rivers of gold, but the wind goes right through you it’s no place for the old.” Who are these people? I get preoccupied with a song’s words. In retrospect, I always have. I listen to songs as a writer, zeroing in on utterances, while Shona draws meaning from the music, listening as a musician. She plays guitar, ukulele, piano, and sings. I ...
When a 1979 BBC documentary titled "Who is Poly Styrene?" introduces us to the punk singer’s work, we become utterly fascinated. With help from Poly’s daughter Celeste Bell, musician Rhoda Dakar and archival audio from Poly herself, this episode explores why her work looks, feels and sounds so relevant today. I know your antiseptic, your deodorant smells nice I’d like to get to know you, you’re deep frozen like the ice He’s a germ free adolescent, cleanliness is her obsession Cleans her teeth ten times a day Scrub away, scrub away, scrub away the S.R. Way — X-Ray Spex “Germ Free Adolescents”, 1978 Marianne Elliott, better known as Poly Styrene, formed the punk band X-Ray Spex as a twenty-year-old in 1977. (Polystyrene is an inexpensive, clear, hard and brittle synthetic aromatic hydrocarbon polymer that can be solid or foamed.) With songs like “Germ-Free Adolescents”, “Plastic Bag” and “Oh Bondage, Up Yours!” the music of X-Ray Spex brings together the many worlds of Marianne Elliott and Poly Styrene: the woman and the artist; the mother and the daughter; the punk and the hippie — all united by a willingness to laugh at and expose the limitations of the throwaway culture of the time (and of today). Arena’s gritty 1979 documentary flies to us straight out of the past, clear as day and with prophetic lucidity. Directed by Ted Clisby, it is gritty (there’s no better description), but it’s also personal and warm, with its aesthetic beautifully anchored in a storytelling past that also endures. Just like Poly Styrene’s lyrics, and precisely because it is a type of storytelling we don’t use so much anymore, the documentary and the music are out ...