Should We Go Back Into Afghanistan?

Like any sensible, educated person, I feel that violence should be avoided at all costs. It should only be used as a last resort, wherever possible: surely there is always an alternative to war, bloodshed, pain and death. Yet I’ve just been watching the news, and today marks a year since the Taliban regained power in Afghanistan. Watching events unfold there, I have to wonder, how can we just sit back and watch these religious nutcases wreck a country? The reports coming out of Afghanistan are shocking, with women being totally stripped of their rights, children as young as seven being sold into marriage with one another by their families. While I know how vital it is to respect other cultures, I also see this as an example of the damage religion can do to humanity, and why such zealotry must be eradicated, whatever form it takes. Say what you like about the 2001 invasion in the first place, given that it was the West’s withdrawal from Afghanistan which invited the Taliban to take back control, I just think surely we now have a responsibility to go back and once again relieve these religious nutters from power.

Why Shouldn’t London Host Eurovision?

I wouldn’t call myself a fan of the Eurovision Song Contest, but it’s one of those big, international events which pulls everyone together which interests me; a big show full of pomp and ceremony which can reveal a lot about how a city or country wants to present itself to the rest of the world. While I think it’s fabulous that it’s going to be hosted in the UK next year, I must say I’m quite bemused to hear that London isn’t in the running to be the host city. As reported here by the Beeb, “The shortlist of UK cities that could host next year’s Eurovision Song Contest has been revealed, with seven locations in the running. Birmingham, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield will vie to stage the event in May. Twenty cities expressed an interest, the BBC said, and those not making the shortlist include London and Belfast.” I can’t help raising an eyebrow upon hearing that. Surely London is the obvious choice: we already have the infrastructure in place. One of the obvious possible venues would be the O2, which has a capacity of thousands, good if not great public transport and is well used to hosting mega events. Are there any similar venues anywhere else in the country?

Of course, it could be argued that London has hosted so many large, international events, it’s about time somewhere else got a turn. I certainly think that’s a valid point: as the UK’s capital city and largest metropolis by far, I think London is a bit of a default venue for such events. Perhaps it’s time somewhere else got a turn on centre stage – after all, look how well Birmingham just did hosting the Commonwealth Games.

Yet I still think London would be the logical, sensible option, simply due to the infrastructure the capital already has; we have the experience and cultural gravitas here, and a Eurovision Song Contest hosted by London would surely have been incredible. Perhaps I’m slightly biassed having lived here for twelve years, but I can’t help feeling slightly bemused that the capital is already out of the running for this. The drive to ‘level up’ the country and let other towns and cities have a bit of the limelight is all well and good, but might it have caused the UK to miss a trick in the process?

London’s Waterways

Everyone knows about the Thames. When you think about London and rivers, the Thames is probably the first thing which comes to mind. It’s London’s biggest, most well known river; the waterway London is famous for. Yet people often forget that there are many more rivers and streams around Greater London than just the Thames.

For one there’s an entire canal system. While perhaps not as advanced as the canal networks of Venice or Amsterdam, London’s canals are a charming relic of a long gone past. Running behind houses and through parks, they weave throughout the metropolis, slightly hidden but there nonetheless if you care to look. On them you will discover a blossoming riverboat culture which you would never realise existed, if you didn’t come across it like I did. In the north-east of the city especially, there is an entire labyrinth of waterways to explore: canals, streams and even fully-formed rivers like the Lea, waiting to be walked along.

And I can. Largely thanks to the restoration work of recent times, most of these waterways now have very accessible, perfectly flat towpaths running beside them, meaning I can trundle in my powerchair along them for hours. One of my favourites is to start over the Thames from the O2 at the mouth of the Lea, and go all the way up, through Cody Dock and past the Amazon warehouse, to Stratford and sometimes beyond. There is an intricate network of streams and canals there, many created over two centuries ago and possessed of rich histories, begging to be explored.

A lot is said about London’s transport system. There are obviously roads everywhere, and it’s underground train network is one of the most famous and well-developed in the world. Yet before any of them were the canals, down which barges, usually pulled by horses, plied their trade setting the foundations for a metropolis and a nation. Such waterways remain, fragments of a long-superseded past yet still bustling with activity. Yesterday, for instance, I saw a bit of the Regent’s Canal, which first began to be dug in 1812. These days it’s a quiet little waterway running for miles across north London in a semicircle. While it once bustled with trade, it still bustles with activity: people living in barges, small cafes set up on the bankside, even one or two book shops. It’s a wonderful, thriving community which is often strangely forgotten about; a fragment of a quickly fading past which is nonetheless still there, helping to give London the rich character and diversity I love it for. And when I reached Camden, I was awe-struck that such a quirky little area, so full of life, could exist without me even having known about it before.

My explorations, it seems, have barely began.

HBD Mark 2022

I just checked my blog archive, and I find myself wanting to re-type this entry today, pretty much word for word. It’s my brother Mark’s birthday again today, and just like last year I find myself struggling to come up with something to say here due to the extreme heat. It has still been too long since I saw Mark and his family – years, in fact. Of course we talk over the web quite frequently, but even then Mark’s appearances on the weekly family Skype call seem to be growing rarer and rarer, he’s so busy these days. While I met my parents up in Stratford yesterday for a lovely lunch, it now seems far too long since all my family were in one place, largely due to the pandemic. Now that has subsided, it’s probably high time that we started to organise a family get together. Lots of families like mine will be in a similar position, so family reunion organisers must be making a fortune.

Happy birthday Mark, have a great day.

Raymond Briggs Dies

When I was four or five, one of my favourite videos was the Snowman. I used to sit in our front room for hours, demanding my parents rewound it and played it over and over again, bawling my eyes out every time it came to an end. Thus to mark the sad news of the death of Snowman animator Raymond Briggs, I’d just like to direct everyone here.

The Origins of Geordie

I know I once said that I wouldn’t use my blog just to link to random Youtube videos that I’ve found, but I have to say this one strikes me as interesting enough for an entry. As someone interested in language and communication, I’ve always been fascinated by etymologies and where words come from. This video looks into Geordie and where the Newcastle accent comes from. It’s far richer than you might at first assume: there are fragments of Norse in there, old English, French, Gypsy…. It’s well worth a look.

Don’t Let It Go To Your Head, Brum

I was out yesterday evening at a very nice grill at Mitchell’s place in Brockley, so I didn’t watch the commonwealth games closing ceremony. I just caught up with it, but to be honest I can’t say that I found anything about it particularly noteworthy here. It was basically one long concert, although I wouldn’t have necessarily associated most of the acts involved with Birmingham. (Ozzy Osborne perhaps, but he’s more of an American these days.)

I have to raise an eyebrow, though, at the fact there’s now talk of a Birmingham Olympic bid. I suppose it’s only natural that now Birmingham has hosted one multi sport event, it would want to try its hand at another, even bigger version. But are such ambitions realistic? I don’t want to come across as patronising or big headed here, but from what I have heard over the past couple of days, Birmingham seems to suddenly be referring to itself as a great world city, the peer of London or Paris. Of course, by all accounts they did a terrific job with these commonwealth games, but the Olympic Games are another order of magnitude entirely. Only places with the infrastructure and transport systems of cities like London have their bids accepted, which is famously why New York has never hosted the games. Thus I have to say that I think this recent success has lead Birmingham to get slightly ahead of itself. As a born northerner, I also think that, if any uk city is going to bid for the Olympic Games within the next twenty years, surely it should be Manchester.

Back To The Globe

One of the things I love the most about London is it’s architecture, and how it’s buildings vary so much from area to area. Before I moved here, I assumed London would be boring, just like an average British town only bigger. Living here, though, has made me appreciate London, and buildings like the Dome, Shard and Gherkin. One of my favourite buildings in the capital is Shakespeare’s Globe, and how the recreation of a seventeenth-century playhouse sits sweetly by the Thames.

John and I were there again yesterday. He’s visiting me again, and I think wanted a bit of culture. Just before the pandemic hit, we watched The Merry Wives of Windsor there. This time, instead of a comedy, we saw The Tempest, one of the great tragedies. That, in itself, was a thrill for me: The Tempest was one of the Shakespeare plays I studied at school at both GCSE and A-level, but I had never seen it live. Thus to watch it properly, in the round among the groundlings was a real treat. Sat there watching the action unfold before me felt like I was being reacquainted with an old friend.

I thought the performance itself was great. Those guys really know how to act, although the initial sight of the guy playing Prospero in rather skimpy swimming trunks came as a bit of a shock. I must say, too, that this time I didn’t have the best views, as there were people standing right in front of me for most of the performance. Those things aside, though, it really was a fantastic thing to do on a sunday afternoon, and I feel so fortunate to live in a fantastic metropolis where such joys are so readily at hand. The Isle is indeed full of wonders.