Diary: November 2019

This month’s diary includes…
Liverpool 3-Man City 1, memories of The Clash at Museum of London and sublime music at Barbican from Karine Polwart

Saturday 2, London
The CoLPAI (City of London Primary Academy Islington) building site preparation opposite seems to be taking a very long time.

Friday 8, London
I noticed for the first during a speakerphone chat this morning that Fiona has a really ‘girly’ young voice. I don’t actually know how old she is, but I guess her to be in her 50s. Apologies in advance for the use of the word girly.

Sunday 10, London

Wednesday 13, London
Bad picture of Labour Education chief, Angela Rayner, from a picture in the Guardian.

Thursday 14, Hackney
The S2L Open Studio invites are out.

And here is a piece I have been working on, which today Michelle told me to stop because I was ‘overworking’ it. I obeyed, but may come back to it when she isn’t looking to do some fine black stitching into the ink lines that came with monoprinting onto fabric.

Later I started a photo project with Stuart, picturing Kat’s vast array of shoes.

Saturday 16, London
My November City Matters column is out …

Every month I take a photograph of the building site outside my flat that was once the Richard Cloudesley School. The plot is being redeveloped in a joint venture between the City Corporation and Islington Council. The plan is to build a two-form primary academy school and a housing block of 66 apartments, split equally between Islington and City of London tenants.

The scheme is contentious on many levels. There’s a question mark over whether the area needs a new school. Opponents argue that there are plenty of primary school places already available in the existing nearby schools, Moreland and Prior Weston. Then there is the matter of which of the two collaborating councils will manage the new housing block. The current plan is for Golden Lane’s estate management team to do it. Nobody knows whether current Golden Lane tenants will get the opportunity to transfer to a new flat, or how sharing a building with Islington tenants will work out. 

All of these questions, and many more, need answers, but next to hearing angry complaints from neighbours about work on the building site – noise, dust and mini-earthquakes erupting inside their homes – the most fascinating aspect of the project for me is having a top-floor grandstand view of the diggers, cranes, earth movers and bickering construction workers.

My strange interest in the nuts and bolts of a big building project in progress is shared by one of my close neighbours, two-year-old Thomas, who gazes transfixed as the big yellow machines dig holes, fill them in with the stuff they’ve just dug up, press it all down with a massive rolling thing, then move on to another plot. Thomas’s early life is lived in front of this daily spectacle and he is loving every minute of it.

Another of my neighbours is in the habit of referring to put-upon executives as “flak catchers”. These are the people put in the firing line when difficult questions come shooting. It doesn’t sound like a fun job, so hats off to John McGeachy from Age UK, who performed bravely coordinating a recent transport consultation, fielding discontent with good grace.

Residents’ issues ranged from buses stopping with the middle-door exit parked right in front of a waste bin or bike rack, and drivers not waiting for passengers to be seated before jerking away from the stop, catapulting passengers down the length of the bus. There have recently been changes to bus routes not properly publicised or consulted on. Then there are those pesky hire bikes and scooters whizzing around haphazardly. No lift at Barbican station is the biggest irritation of all. 

McGeachy gathered all the information patiently, gave some limited feedback and even last week went on a fact-finding patrol with residents and officers from TfL (Transport for London) to get a proper taste of our problems. The team agreed to return again soon with further updates, so to see the findings so far, or to add to the consultation, email jmcgeachy@ageuklondon.org.uk.

There’s still a chance to enjoy the fun of the Barbican Archive Jukebox, an audio-visual experience featuring six key stories about the Barbican and Golden Lane (told by me). The Jukebox was such a success during the recent Barbican Archive Residency Weekend that it has now been moved to the Library, where it will stay until 29 November.

Other successes during the Archive Weekend included a panel discussion with the building workers who went on strike for a year in the 1960s during the construction of the Barbican, and a presentation by punk historian Stefan Dickers, who is the unlikely figure who manages the Bishopsgate Institute’s surprisingly unstuffy collection of old things.

Dickers included in his presentation a call-out for contributions to the Institute’s Great Diary Project, a mission set up in 2007 to collect and store diaries, journals and personal documents so that future historians and researchers get a more realistic picture of everyday life. The Institute believes that your daily scribblings about what you ate, what you saw on TV and why your children were fighting ranks alongside Big History such as the outcome of the upcoming 12 December General Election. Go to thegreatdiaryproject.co.uk for details on how to submit your long-forgotten volumes to the collection.

Mola is the hot new brunch ‘n’ lunch place to open in Whitecross Street. It replaces a greasy-spoon cafe, which some residents are not happy about. They see it as another nail in the coffin of tradition and further evidence of the neighbourhood’s creeping gentrification.

Whatever your view, Mola is staffed by helpful, polite people serving freshly made food and drinks at a reasonable price and with a warm welcome. 

Hot dishes carry an international flavour, many from the Mediterranean, the Middle East and North Africa. Vegan dishes are on the menu, as are a good selection of artisan teas and coffees, plus divine cakes to match. And for the die-hard greasy spooners, the full English Breakfast is still available, with the added twist that the bacon is English.

Billy Mann lives in Basterfield House on the Golden Lane Estate. He is a teaching assistant, a City of London Community Builder and a blogger. Write to him at goldenlanegazette@gmail.com.

👉 An edited version of this column appeared in the City Matters newspaper, edition 111, p22.

Sunday 17, London
To the British Museum for an early Community View of the big new Troy exhibition. Here’s what I wrote on Trip Advisor.

“The stories have been imagined and re-imagined, told and retold, so many times… And the big themes endure: courage, valour, loyalty, heroism, bravery. It’s all here in these mythical figures. The characters are stock archetypes. Odysseus want to go home. He is a bit of a whinger about it. And home is where his love, Penelope, is. Epic stories and bitter, violent rivalries run riot.” 

Monday 18, London
To the Barbican for a look at the ‘Into the Night’ exhibition. You could be suffocated by cool at this show, so lush and dense is the content. My favourite room was from 1920s-30s Germany.

I set the alarm off on a picture of Le Chat Noir in Paris when I got too close to this woman’s weird shoes.

Friday 22, London
Met Sue and Lil at Museum of London to see the ‘London Calling’ Clash exhibition. It was compact but full of some great material, especially from fans, plus original handwritten reviews and bits of artwork.

Tuesday 26, London
“Do it now before we all die”. This is the memorable punchline of an on-the-spot lyric invented by Robbie Williams for the old theme tune used by the BBC’s ‘Grandstand’ programme. He sang it hastily as a stunt on the Saturday-morning (November 23) Radio 5 Live Scott Mills/Chris Stark show and it has been replayed on 5 Live ever since.

Wednesday 27, London
Jane said no to an invitation to an awards lunch for local volunteers. She is too busy volunteering.
To the Barbican last night to see Karine Polwart’s band:

Lots of epic 80s songs covered here, opening with Waterboys’ ‘Whole of the Moon’, and a big studio feel to the production. Six band members, all multi-instrumentalists. When they did ‘I Could Be Happy’, by Altered Images, I expected Clare Grogan to pop onstage, as Jane has seen her recently in a local shop. The standout songs for me were Massive Attack’s ‘Teardrop’, Talking Heads’ ‘Road to Nowhere’ and, best of all, Big Country’s ‘Chance’.  Some very touching, poignant moments, especially the memorial recollections about home and school. Downside was that the audience was horribly white, bad-middle-class, and sad-old. This quality of performance deserves a more diverse crowd. 

Thursday 28, London
At Headway today Laura asked me to pose for a picture pimping the upcoming Open Studio event.


Off to the Barbican to help with a brain-injury awareness-raising presentation with Ben, Cris and Bryn to talk to staff from the Creative Learning department, including Beth and Sophie. Ben started by describing the types of brain injury, then moved on to the effects.

Here he introduced Affiong, Tiiu and myself to talk about our experiences. This played out as a panel interview. Then we broke out into three groups and staff got to chat with us individually. There was a lot of cake left over.
Back to the Barbican to see Andrew Scott in Noel Coward’s ‘Present Laughter’

We both found it quite forced and very shouty. The introduction of Scott’s character Garry as bisexual, plus two other roles gender swapped are said to be the play’s innovation.

Read October’s diary

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