Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Tinderbox plc: a poem for Grenfell Tower


A poem for Grenfell Tower by Anna Chen marking a month since the disaster


Today marks a whole month since the devastating fire at Grenfell Tower in the London borough of Kensington and Chelsea, yet the conflagration that killed at least 80 people seems ever present, still fresh in the mind and the heart. This is more than an accident, a natural tragedy — call it gross negligence, call it murder, someone had to make a buck. Only £2 per panel of cladding separated the chances of survival from inevitable death. Then there were the absent sprinklers, the single stairwell, the lack of adequate firefighting equipment, the destruction of regulations designed to keep us safe, and all the other corrupt, mendacious, money-grabbing decisions taken that led us to this point.

While the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea took £55 million a year in rent from the remnants of its social housing, only £38 million made it back to the property that yielded so much loot that the borough was able to amass £274 million to spend on council tax rebates for the better off and flashy opera events in Holland Park. The poorest paid for the amusement of the wealthy. Funny how there's always money for those who need it least.

Artists are engaging with events. Here is my attempt to make sense, reflect and refract. I hope my readers get something out of it.

Tinderbox plc

At the hot point
Of the turning world
A spark lit the flame
That caught the cladding
That burnt the facade
And threw a light
On the burned-out shell
Of the state of the State,
By Lucifer's light,
A glimpse of hell
Roiled and erupted.
Two pounds of flesh
Per shake of dice
No values known,
Just the cheapest price
In modern Britain plc.

A giant with his fiery sword
Sliced and smote from the flash at four,
He slashed the night to twenty-three,
Dividing the world, rich and poor.
He made his mark, he slashed the dark
On the bias to the roof and higher,
Earth to sky, sheer cliff of fire,
Sliced the tower to light and ash
On one side life, the other a fire of flesh,
A cash-fuelled slomo waiting-room of death,
Each poisoned breath counting down
Lives extinguished but not the flames
Blackening air with soot and cinders.
That is my neighbour, this is a mum,
There is the artist, those are children
Unto the last babe in turbulent dreams
Such horror wreaks and wrecks.
This is the state at the top of the heap,
What power sows, the weakest reap.

Another giant slashed and burned for years
And turned a world upon its head,
A bonfire of red tape set in motion
A cascade of events, invisible, minuscule,
Each piling onto each in spidery increments.
Action group Cassandras screamed murders in waiting,
Grievous bodily profit with intent.
Lift a rock and see what crawls,
So many in the frame, your head spins,
The shitlist lengthens with every trawl,
Cash is cruel, cash is king:
National Grid gas pipes, KCTMO, austerity,
Stay Put, politicians, the construction industry ...
Even Maggie Thatcher takes a bow
Her dishes are all cooked by now,
Her high rise cladding on simmer the year the miners struck,
No law now, just luck and the gift that keeps on giving,
She slashed and burned faster than the FR60
One-hour fire-hold rule she flamed,
Halted building, sold off social housing,
Health and safety not gone mad. Just gone.

Aberfan, Hillsborough, Grenfell Tower,
Who had the cash also had the power
To wrap Babel in plastic, for the view palled,
No thought for the living when the opera calls,
A class event, a bagatelle paid for with Grenfell rents,
Rip off the poorest, the system bent.
Gas pipes up the stairwell, smoke in the vents,
Alarms on the fritz, saved a few pence,
Water pressure failing, too little spent,
Retrofit sprinklers too high an expense
And on ignition, stay put was their best advice.
Two pounds of flesh per shake of dice
No values here, just the cheapest price.

The giant scrawled in smoke and flame
Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here
But the firefighters came in all the same
Through Bosch's vision, the scorching Hotpoint near,
Over bodies they clambered, up clogging stairs
Barely three feet wide, on a wing and a prayer
And an underfunded gulp of air.
The sullied air chokes but the horror is pure,
Breathe deep and inhale fury and fear,
Cyanide, asbestos and your neighbours.
Which is the most toxic?
Down in your lungs even now
The death clock ticks, reset

Time was the enemy.
Fire was the enemy.
Mammon was the enemy.
Kensington and Chelsea council was the enemy.
Kensington and Chelsea TMO was the enemy.
The industry was the enemy.
The government was the enemy.
They sprung a trap, a trap was sprung.

Yet still we lived. Watching from an outer circle,
We were resourceful in those hours.
In our heads, at least, perhaps a car could provide a landing.
Could a mountain of mattresses soften the fall?
For these were no princesses on the pea
But cheeky, boisterous girls and boys.
We wished a man could fly.
We wished for Superman, iced chunk of Thames in tow.
We wished a child could bounce,
That they weighed a quarter of an ounce.
We wished we could put gravity on hold
Stretch this moment til an escape was found,
Slow down damn time til they reached the ground.
A thousand people prayed a million wishes:
For a Star Trek transporter to beam them away,
A fakir's rope dropping as the gentle rain from heaven,
For wings to sprout, something miraculous to get them out.
A ladder! A tall ladder, a platform with a high pressure hose,
No, too fanciful when the giant slashes and fire stations close.

Did those knotted blankets lead someone to safety
Or a dead end?
"I had my whole life ahead of me," Gloria Trevisan told her mum.
And it was.
Six and a half minutes with Rania Ibrahim
Is to take a trip to a dark side,
Her voice rings out truth everlasting.
Walk with her, it's the least she deserves.
Walk with the Grenfell dead and soar with the angels.
A bonfire of people followed the bonfire of regulations
As surely as night followed night followed darkest night of the soul
Cry cruellest murder, the tower can never be put right.

Over the main route into London from Heathrow,
Looms a burnt-out colossus:
A coked-up Tory wideboy in a cheap suit with a pocketful of loot;
We all learnt the meaning of metaphor that night
In Tinderbox plc.

by Anna Chen
12th July 2017

The author was born and raised in Hackney in east London and lived at Hackney Downs and the Gascoyne Estate.

Apologies for not being able to find the photographers who took the photographs on this page. Please let me know if you took the photographs and if I have your permission to use them with a credit (or if you'd like them taken down). By the same token, please feel free to publish my poem with a credit and link to this page. Thank you.



EDIT: More poems are turning up. I'll link to some of them here.

Grenfell Tower, June, 2017: a poem by Ben Okri. ‘If you want to see how the poor die, come see Grenfell Tower.’ Video here

This video of "No Alarms" by Sana Uqba made me cry with its haunting rhythms and powerful imagery

The Merited Moral Remembrance Of The Wilfully Massacred Residents Of Grenfell Tower - Poem by Stanley Collymore

"Grenfell" by Olga Dermott-Bond

"Nowhere": a response to the housing crisis by poet Tony Walsh – audio

"A Hope for the Future" by Angi Holden

On the Liturgical Poetry website, "Grenfell"

"Grenfell Tower" by Lisa Rey

"Towering Shame" by Sarah McGurk

Video of "Grenfell Fell" by Rakin Cisse Niass

"Grenfell Tower" by Maxine Black

"Kensington and Chelsea" by David R Mellor

Video of "Grenfell Tower Fire" by The Truth Poet

"Family Trees (Grenfell Tower)" by Steve Rowland

"Of Grenfell Tower and other scandals": Why we must Whistleblow a wind of change, by John Pearce.

I think this one is from a firefighter or police at the scene: "The Grenfell Tower" by Thin Blue Line UK

"For Grenfell Tower" by Dave Rendle

Two poems at the Culture Matters page, one by Alan Morrison and one by Paul Dovey

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Who Should We Let In? Anna Chen joins Ian Hislop's investigation of immigration hysteria in Britain

Anna Chen discusses Victorian and Edwardian-era Yellow Peril fears with Ian Hislop on Who Should We Let In? Thursday 22nd June, 9pm, BBC2



From the sublime to the ridiculous. There was I, having a high old time with Ian Hislop on Who Should We Let In?— the First Great Immigration Row, his grown-up investigation into the origins of immigration hysteria in Old Blighty, when – like a toxic photobomb – up pops a modern embodiment of racism. Yes indeed, poor Katie Hopkins (for it is she), has been projecting her demons with satanic ferocity only to have it dawn that the monster is actually herself.

I'd been talking to Ian about Victorian and Edwardian attitudes towards the Chinese, portrayed in the 1900s as "hordes of fanatical barbarians", and lurid reports of massacres that never happened in early versions of the Fake News which the Daily Mail does so well and so often. Never mind the mid-19th century Opium Wars waged by Britain, which was mass producing industrial tonnages of opium in Bengal and forcing it onto the Chinese population at the point of a gun. Having turned an expensive aristocratic vice into a cheap nationwide addiction, the Brits were able — along with the other European and Asian superpowers — to take advantage of an ailing, decrepit Ching dynasty and bite off great chunks of China. Hence Hong Kong, among other territories ceded to imperialist powers.

A vicious Yellow Peril mania fuelling fear, revulsion and paranoia saturated the Yellow Press. A tiny turn-of-the-century UK Chinese population of 400 was smeared with images of drugs and sex: a bleedin' obvious projection of the vast undifferentiated id belonging to the repressed Victorians. By 1905 Britain had scored its first immigration control in the form of the Aliens Act (aimed at Jews) and, when in 1906, on the promise of jobs, 32 Chinese migrants were allowed in to Liverpool, the press barons were not so much predicting a riot as pouring on the petrol to ensure that riots took place.

"British jobs for British workers," was the rallying cry, something I have heard in my own lifetime applied to UK Chinese not only from the right but also in the British outside left. Trade unionist and co-founder of the Independent Labour Party (ILP) James Sexton may be a hero of the Liverpool labour movement, but he rode this wave of hatred for all it was worth: it has been pointed out that "he won St Anne's ward in 1905 on an overtly anti-Chinese (and anti- Semitic) manifesto." Whether or not the left stick to socialist principles over free movement of labour as well as capital when Brexit presents such get-rich-quick pickings remains to be seen.

In 1906, still others scented blood. With a jaundiced eye on the main chance, American writer Claude Blake migrated to Britain and rang the dinner bell on the tiny group of would-be laundry and shop workers in a sensationalist series of articles, entirely oblivious to the hypocrisy of his own freedom to travel and displace hard-working journos in Ingerland. His most infamous article, "Chinese Vice in England: a view of terrible conditions at close range" in the Sunday Chronicle, described "dark, dirty, evil-smelling streets", "half-caste youngsters" and "sinister offspring". (Well, hell-ooo!) The Chinese were "far less fitted to form an integral part of a civilised white community." These stereotypes linger still — more easily detected in up-front "monsters" like Hopkins but also hanging around the left like a bad smell.

Alarmed by Blake's article, Liverpool City Council investigated, finding only that their Chinese community was in fact "the embodiment of public order". Facts? Facts? Who cares about facts?

Over a century on, nuthin' changes. Hopkins observes, "Two things sell newspapers, Maddy McCann and migration." "It feels so modern, so contemporary," she gushes over Blake's article. Under Ian's steely gaze and queasiness over her use of the word "cockroaches" to describe migrants, she slips and slithers and volunteers some bullshit that it was really migrants' endurance that led to the comparison. She says she admires Blake's language, both of them happy to describe migrant communities as "festering sores". Ian offers "an offence against humanity" as a more accurate definition but this hurtles right over her pink-rinse. Challenged on her "plague of feral humans" — "Are they all feral? Is it actually a 'plague'? Have you met any asylum seekers?" — her pitch and volume rise as she defends the indefensible, descending into Trumpelicious attacks on the PC meeja including Hislop; collectively responsible, she says, for the biglyness of her audience. She reminds me of Caliban, the dark mirror of the human soul, and seems to see herself as a Teller of Titanic Truths who would people "this isle with Calibans" while blaming others for her excesses.

Well done, Ian, for leading Hopkins to some sort of moment of self-enlightenment, even if it did emerge with the feeble glimmer of a 20-watt light bulb. Illuminating, all the same. Hopkin's self-aggrandising movie cliché, "I am the monster but you made me," denies intellectual responsibility or free will, putting her at the heart of a drama whose tragic consequences have nothing to do with commentators like her mangling the facts.

I've tried to be generous with Hopkins, aware that she has a severe epileptic condition that wipes out swathes of brain cells with every episode. However, making her illness an excuse would risk ascribing her malice to everyone sharing her disability rather than merely those sharing her poisonous ideology. But what do I know? Perhaps fear and paranoia around "other" really does come down to a brain disorder with synapses misfiring all over the place and, as ever, innocents caught in the crossfire.

As innocents always are.

Who Should We Let In is available to watch on iPlayer for 30 days from 22nd June 2017

More information about the programme here



Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Roger Moore dies at 89: sweet guy on and off the set


Hours after the horrific murder of young people at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester targeted by nihilistic sadists, comes news that another one of our screen icons is dead, aged 89.

I met Roger Moore when I was in one of the Bond movies as a teenager. I was sharing the dressing room opposite his at Pinewood with Bunny twins and he'd have us over for tea — proper silver service with cakes and sarnies. He was a lovely, generous guy even if he wasn't my favourite Bond by a long chalk. A great raconteur and delightful company who everyone found easy to work with.

So many deaths today. Look after the kids, Roger. RIP all you innocents.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Somi de Souza's play Revolution in a Catsuit opens in Los Angeles: video interviews

Somi de Souza's play Revolution in a Catsuit has bite, depth and substance. Ignored in Britain where minority artists are rendered invisible, it finally won support in Los Angeles where it is running at the Bootleg Theater until the end of April.

Can't wait for the video of the show. In the meantime, here are some behind-the-scenes conversations.

Somi de Souza:


Michael Phillip Edwards (multiple award winning actor, writer and director of the play 'Runt') discusses directing 'Revolution in a Catsuit':


Kirk Wilson - Production Designer:







Thursday, 13 April 2017

First ever UK exhibition on the Great War’s Chinese Labour Corps: Durham University 7th April to 24th September.

I'm afraid I've missed the 7th April launch date for the Chinese Labour Corps Memorial Campaign exhibition but it runs until 24th September 2017. Nearly 100,000 Chinese men served on the European battlefields of World War I doing the dirtiest and most dangerous jobs, clearing mines and dead bodies, and transporting explosives for the allied effort and yet they remain unrecognised. Here's the score ...

Chinese Labour Corps Memorial Campaign — Remembering the 96,000 Chinese volunteers of the First World War

Major new exhibition seeks to right an historic wrong and increase public awareness of the contributions made by Chinese volunteers to the campaigns in France and Flanders.


“Smiling for the camera”. WJ Hawkings Collection, courtesy of John de Lucy.


• Durham University’s Oriental Museum stages UK’s first ever exhibition on the Great War’s Chinese Labour Corps.
• Draws on official and private collections - including diaries; rare photographs; trench art; medals; newspapers; ephemera; and original equipment.
• Recently rediscovered WJ Hawkings Photographic Collection on public display for first time.
• Exhibition challenges the traditional narrative of strained relationships between British Officers and their Chinese charges.

The Ensuring We Remember Campaign has had the pleasure of working with Durham University’s Oriental Museum for almost three years, supporting the museum to stage a major new exhibition, A Good Reputation Endures Forever: The Chinese Labour Corps on the Western Front, opening on 7th April. It explores the role of the thousands of Chinese who risked their lives alongside the British armed forces during the First World War.

During the First World War 96,000 Chinese men volunteered to work for Britain as part of the Chinese Labour Corps (CLC). Although officially non-combatant, the CLC served on the Western Front and was commanded by British army officers and NCOs. They undertook essential and often dangerous work behind the lines on the Western Front and many lost their lives, whilst others won awards for courage.

Exhibition Curator, Dr Craig Barclay, said: “The exhibition’s title - A Good Reputation Endures Forever - recalls one of the inscriptions to be found on the gravestones of the men of the CLC who now rest beneath Flanders Fields.”

“Although there has been a considerable rise in interest in the story of the CLC in China, there remains little awareness in the West of the contribution of China during World War I. Since 2010, a small number of academic publications have explored the lives of the men of the CLC. No exhibition devoted to the subject has ever been staged in Britain however and the members of the CLC have rightly been described as the 'forgotten of the forgotten'.”

Drawing on official and private collections - including diaries; rare photographs; trench art; medals; newspapers; ephemera; and original equipment - this exhibition seeks to right an historic wrong and increase public awareness of the contributions made by these Chinese volunteers to the campaigns in France and Flanders.

Steve Lau, Chair of the Ensuring We Remember Campaign, observed: “This is a truly historic exhibition, not only because it is the first such exhibition in the UK, but also because the numerous personal items of British Officers on display, in many ways, challenge the traditional narrative of strained relationships between British Officers and their Chinese charges.”

A large selection of the WJ Hawkings Photographic Collection, rediscovered in 2014 by his grandson, John De Lucy, will be publically displayed for the first time. Unlike the set piece propaganda photographs taken by official photographers, the WJ Hawkings Collection gives a unique insight into the day-to-day lives of the Chinese Labour Corps; many of the photographs are believed to be unique in the subject matter they cover, including the only known extant photographs of the burial of a member f the Chinese Labour Corps.

A Good Reputation Endures Forever opens to the public on Friday 7th April 2017 and runs until 24th September. For more details visit the museum website: www.dur.ac.uk/oriental.museum

The Oriental Museum is open Monday - Friday, 10am - 5pm and Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holidays, 12pm - 5pm. Entry to the museum is £1.50 for adults, 75p for children (five-16) and Over 60s, and free for children under five and students.


ensuringweremember.org.uk

Friday, 7 April 2017

President Trump turns on a dime and bombs Syria: deep state regains control

Obama era anti-war protesters  

Lemme see ... in the week when Steve Bannon is finally ousted from the National Security Council (NSC) with nary a murmer from Trump who suddenly does a dramatic reverse on Syria in the very moments when Chinese President Xi Jinping is at Mar-a-Lago ... Phew! All the behind-the-scenes action finally manifesting in the public sphere with the first direct U.S. airstrike on a Syrian airbase.

Let's unpack this with what little info we have. Assad is winning the civil war but, just at the moment the rebels and their backers want the US smashing them into regime change, he handily provides the event most likely to bring it on and uses the banned chemical weapon sarin on his citizens leaving some 80 dead and many more horribly injured. And only weeks after 30 Yemeni civilians including "beautiful babies" and an American Navy Seal were killed in allied airstrikes in concert with those noble defenders of democracy, Saudi Arabia, and closely following over a hundred killed in Mosul.

Out of 59 U.S. Tomahawk Cruise missiles aimed at the Syrian airforce in a "precision strike", 24 hit their target resulting in around seven deaths but with many more lined up if events escalate.


No evidence has been presented so far to justify this unholy rush to military conflict. Check out Trump's efforts to keep Syrian refugees out of the US (and ours to keep them out of the UK). What of the depleted uranium and cluster bombs used by the US and Brits which continue to do their damage in Iraq? Will the US allow the Syrian rebels to continue using chemical warfare? Guess who sold Syria the chemical components for sarin only last year? BRITAIN! Commiting, facilitating and using atrocities to further your political agenda is WRONG no matter who is doing it.

We are run by monsters who care nothing about the general population — not you, not me, not "beautiful babies" — only the retention of power.

Still, it's an ill wind that blows nobody any good. Reuters report that shares of Raytheon, the makers of the Tomahawk Cruise missile, soared 2.1 per cent immediately after the attack while you'll be relieved to know that US stock futures recovered from a drop after the airstrike on Syria.

This is doing the rounds on Twitter:

What was Trump's reverse-ferret REALLY about? Why is Tillerson now pivoting towards dislodging Assad when all Trump's election rhetoric expressly rejected that particular neo-liberal policy? Is this a diversion from his myriad domestic problems? Had Trump just seen the figures showing U.S. job growth screeching to a halt, and the unemployment rate up at 4.5 per cent signalling the end of the Trump reflation rally? Or has Deep State been digging into the murky oubliettes of Trump and his team, applied the thumbscrews and now produced something solid on him? 'Ey, wanna be impeached? Your businesses trashed? Or would you like us to present you as the best. Pres. Evah? Gotta sell your mate Putin down the river. Gotta let Bannon sink. But you are our President now.

What did they tell Xi at Mar-a-Lago? (Apart from, here's a nice bit of fugu fish that President Abe left for you the other week.) Don't interfere in our plans for Syria if you don't want an unpleasant trade war or worse? It must have been like the Godfather at the southern White House with Don Corleone letting everyone know who's boss, but we don't yet know if the actual Don is the Donald or Deep State, the US political and economic establishment. ('Dis is wha' happen when a guy don't do what a guy is told, capeesh?')

There are parallels with Iraq and look how well that turned out. Let's hope they don't turn Syria into radioactive rubble as well. Meanwhile, we continue to suck up to Saudi, Duterte, the Stans ...

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