Richmond's Own (but unowned) Website

 
 
I feel as if I have said this almost every day, but it today was a long day! But full of much fun as well! Didn’t get a whole lot of sleep last night – 4 hours? Maybe 5? It’s alright though – gave myself some coffee this morning at breakfast, and we picked up bag lunches again. Chocolate croissants today! Though I had to use 2 coffee packs, because one in the large cup does not have enough flavor!

We met Dave, Yasmin, and Michal at the bus stop, and took the train into London, then took the tube and an overground train running underground over to Whitechapel.  Today’s session was called “Strangers, settlers, citizens – London and its migrants.” From the reading last night, I thought it was quite interesting – the idea of super diversity – describing diversity in a multitude of dimensions beyond race/ethnicity, such as class, location, citizen status, gender, access to services, etc. Some of these dimensions I had never thought of before. Also, the idea that integration is not a zero sum game, that people immigrating to new countries can be integrated, while still having a strong connection to their homeland (transnataionalism), and I really think that today’s talks have helped me see immigration from some new viewpoints. We were in Whitechapel, which is primarily a Bengali community, and stated off the day at a London Citizens office, running the “Strangers into Citizens” campaign. They are a grassroots group, and the campaign advocates British citizenship for long term undocumented migrants. We talked about the idea of multiculturalism, as well as the changing ideas (or lack of) the British identity, and compared these ideas to those of the United States. 

We ate our doggy bag lunches at the office, before heading off. We stopped at a post office to get some pounds and stamps – they were Thomas the Tank Engine stamps! I was given a page of Daisy stamps. Which led me to my little Thomas the Tank Engine rant, and how it has been dumbed down and Americanized through the TV show, even though it is something that should be quintessentially British.  I think the others thought my main problem was with the new female characters (it’s not that they’re female, it’s that I’m a purist with the original series characters – I’m alright up through the George Carlin narrated stories; the ones that come Alec Baldwin and later is where it really began to jump the shark) – the argument is that it does not really describe railroads – which in the original series is what it is – a celebration of railroads, because it is portrayed as a real railroad – with regulations, controllers, drivers, firemen, signals, tracks that do not run through forests (Henry’s Forest episode) – the seriousness can be seen in the History of Sodor that the Awdrys wrote – and while there were crashes, it’s not realistic that trains crash every episode, or that problems are about doing good deeds and being friends (maybe on top, but not the real story) – problems in the series are based on real railroads (mostly) – double headers, a steam engine with malfunctioning brakes saving diesels – the original series seemed to be like hearing old railroad stories from old timers, and adding some personality to the trains to enhance the stories for children, but not use the personalities for their own sake necessarily, like the American show does. And it just mixes up American locomotives and British – and what the heck is with that wavy bridge thing from the misty island video – all I saw was a clip and I couldn’t believe it. The thing about Thomas (for me) is that it wasn’t just another kids world – especially the books, almost everything (sans the faces) could actually happen on a real railway, and that made all the difference. The television show, especially in the newer seasons is completely unrealistic, and that’s what gets me irked. I suppose I could have done a whole blog entry, and it seems that it has taken me quite a while to make my main argument, so I’ll leave it at that.
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Trains would never go on a bridge like this in real life...I suppose I'm a Thomas the Tank Engine purist....
Anyways, so after the Post Office, Professor John Eade met up with us and gave us a tour around Whitechapel and Brick Lane – both with large Bengali populations (street signs are in Bengali too). The area is traditionally home to migrants – a long time ago, the Irish Catholics, later the Jews, and more recently Bengalis. He talked about the history as we walked, how many buildings were from the Victorian era, and how the area is shaped by these immigrations today. We passed outdoor markets, and the East London Mosque, where we heard the call to prayers as we walked by. The Brick Lane area was amazing as well, with brick Victorian houses, and cobblestone streets – get rid of the cars and street paint, it could have been 150 years ago! That classic London feel from the era.
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shops cater to the large Muslim population in the area
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Walking near the area around Brick Lane
While we were there, we stopped in at a pub, and had some beverages and talked for a while. A lot of pubs in the area have closed (as Islam does not allow for alcohol), though there are still some in the area. There were many shops in Brick Lane catering to the Islamic community as well. We had dinner at a curry house in Brick Lane, and had a curry buffet, which was quite good!
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The pub we went to
After dinner, we went to the Southbank, to the Festival of Britain area. There was a Festival of Britain in 1951, and so this is coming up on the anniversary – some of the original buildings, like the Royal Festival Hall are still there, next to the riverside. At first, we went into the little museum area to learn a little more about the 1951 Festival, after World War II, and their celebration of their culture, and then split into groups to work on our films. Tom and I talked to a few people who had some interesting things to say on citizenship, what British means, and the EU. 
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A model of Southbank for the Festival in 1951
Tonight, we went to a lecture by historian Simon Schama. He talked a lot about British Festivals, but the part that related to us was closer to the end, about how to define the British culture, if it can be defined, and if it can be celebrated, which are interesting questions to ask. I don’t think the idea of “British” is as clear as what people think “American” means – but it’s an interesting dynamic. 

We came back on the train with Yasmin – saying bye to Michal at Waterloo, we almost missed the train – and had to run as the conductor was blowing his whistle (they really do that here! I learned that in the Thomas books/early tv episodes!) to get on as the doors were closing. It really felt like the Amazing Race. As we were on the train, there was a girl (or young woman) in the carriage on her mobile speaking very loudly, with many choice words, to what I suspect was her boyfriend and his answering machine (probably soon to be ex boyfriend) – but it was quite an entertaining ride. Yasmin told us about how people can really get crazy on the trains in wintertime, and the entertainment value of people on the train!

I should comment that besides the weather being crazy, so is the sunlight! The past few days around the solstice, the sun doesn’t fully set until after 9pm, and at 10, you can still see the sky as dark blue – and I know for a fact that it is already well risen and visible by 6am – it probably rises closer to 4am. However, Yasmin said that in the winter, sun can set by 3 or 4pm, as parents are picking up the schoolchildren. Their hours of sunlight are crazy! Though I suspect this is because they are at a high latitude than most of the United States, so their hours of day and night are more extreme. Yasmin gave us our reading packets, we spent some time at the University bar until they closed at 11, and came back to get some rest!
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Love this view of Roehampton University (or Univeristy of Roehampton soon) - it's not completely dark yet - that's about the actual color of the sky after 10pm!
 


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