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Archive for August, 2011

I’m at the yoga studio chatting lightly with a fellow American. I ask her where she’s from and she tells me Delaware. She returns the question and I answer with Texas. This question is followed in it’s normal fashion with “what part?”

I give her the story. I grew up outside of Houston. I then spent about ten years in Austin and two in the Dallas/Fort Worth area somewhere in the mix.

There’s a man standing nearby, hanging around on the edges of the conversation. He turns to Ms. Delaware and says “I went to Houston once about ten years ago. It was awful. I took a yoga class in a hotel gym and it was like being in a competition. Not yogic at all! Ugh, Houston!”

Hello? I’m right here. What alien takes over some people’s brains when you tell them where you are from and makes them immediately insult it?

And yes, I’m sure your one experience in a Houston hotel gym ten years ago qualifies you as an expert.

I relay the story to my friend, Carolyne. Carolyne is hilarious. She has a thick southern accent despite being long gone from South Carolina and having married a British man. While I usually get asked if I’m from Canada, she gets asked if she’s from Texas. Oh, the irony.

“Girl, try being from South Carolina. At least they don’t tell you that where you’re from people marry their siblings.”

Yes. Touche.

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I’m typing this from the security of my flat. I came home from work tonight and deadbolted my bank vault style front door. I then called a friend and asked her to alert me if there was any danger in my neighborhood. I’ve decided not to watch any more news tonight. Absorbing the news on the riots was making me feel like a prisoner in my home.

This smells of terrorism. For the first time in my life I’ve uttered the words at work “I’m sorry, but we’re closing early due to civil unrest.”

“Wow,” said one of my yoga teachers, Gabriella. “The country I grew up in was a war zone. It feels like I’m back there.”

My mind brings up newspaper and television style images of war torn foreign countries seen across oceans. I’ve been so grateful in the past not to have experienced such things.

But now I’m seeing this all differently. I’m cautious, but not devastated. My house is fine. None of my friends are hurt. It’s still a little distant, but I can see it with my own eyes. There’s another shift too. I’m seeing the difference between the truth and the media portrayal.

I took the bus home late last night after working. I was aware of the riots, but oblivious to the level they had reached. The atmosphere around town was eerily quiet. People were being just a touch too polite for this to be London. I checked my Facebook page and was confronted with a steady stream of riot related updates. I decided that I was sticking my head in the sand and that I really should turn on the television. The next three hours were consumed by BBC and Twitter. The BBC kept asking people to check on their kids. I thought it was touching that the British were so concerned about the safety of the next generation, until I finally understood that the majority of the looters were indeed children.

I was so tired but I was afraid to go to sleep without a conclusion. Perhaps that’s a product of our TV culture. We want everything to be wrapped up neatly before we leave it. To be honest, I was more afraid of nightmares than I was of a break in. My neighborhood was still untouched, but the youtube videos were daunting. One moment a group helps a bleeding disoriented kid up off the street, the next moment they rob him. As Gabriella says, we all embody the good, the bad and the ugly, but this is a darkness I just can’t understand. Correction. This is a darkness I don’t want to understand. I don’t want to believe this is a naturally occuring state of humanity, but my eyes are now wide open.

I stayed up until I absolutely couldn’t. It worked- I slept through the night.

As I didn’t have to work until evening time, I knew I had two options on how my day would go. 1.) I could sit at home obsessively watching TV, checking Twitter and damning humanity. 2.) I could pitch in and help with #riotcleanup. I chose the second option. The first choice was never really an option.

How do you pack for a riot cleanup? I don’t know, so I went with water, trash bags, a shovel and garden clippers. The garden clippers ended up being unnecessary. I made my way to Clapham Junction figuring that I would spot the other anti-rioters in progress. I arrived to find about 500 people standing around with brooms and trashbags.

Many had already been to areas like Camden and Hackney cleaning up. They reported that with the sheer numbers of people it only took twenty minutes. Others had arrived at 9 am only to be turned away. Forensic testing needed to be completed before the cleaning commenced.

Typical crowd member: broom, home made shirt (trust me), staying connected through social media

The atmosphere was one of camaraderie. People were making shirts and posters. They were talking to one another and meeting strangers. The attitude was of “we’ll do this everyday if we have to, and we’ll do it with a smile.” I honestly had more fun meeting similar civic-minded people who fight fear and rage with love and grace than I could ever imagine having rioting. And that’s not because I don’t get angry.

Lovely girls with home made t-shirts.

As we waited, a man from Sainsbury’s came out to pass out water. Battersea Art Centre brought over loads of sandwiches. We shared food and stories.

Sainsbury's passes out water

Sandwich boxes from Battersea Art Centre

The crowd was not without it’s diversity. An elderly lady named Brenda came out to join. She had been out the night before challenging the thugs who were destroying her community. “Why don’t you go to a movie?!?” she asked one. “Because there’s nothing on,” he told her.

Brenda

We played the Mexican Wave with our brooms. (That’s just simply “the wave” in the U.S.) We dubbed ourselves the Broom Army.

Broom Army

The atmosphere was much livelier than when I had first arrived:

First arrival: Fire and police men in the distance at work.

I waited several hours in total as the officials carried on. The firemen in the distance are hosing down a party supply store. The looters raided the store for masks to hide their identity from CCTV and police while engaging in their debauchery. Surely that’s the type of clever thinking that when channeled appropriately could benefit our society instead of destroy it.

And that’s the theme that keeps popping up. As adults, how can we direct those who feel helpless when budgets are cut and futures are bleak? How can we help them channel their rage into something productive, good for society AND them? – not just the people at the top. Or at least we could teach them to protest properly. The riots were not a protest. Unintentionally, the cleanups were.

This is not the Big Society - we're just here to clean.

The rumor had hit that Boris Johnson was on the way. We instantly read from twitter that he had been heckled while addressing others in the area. As we saw him approaching, the resentment started to bubble. The crowd began chanting “Where’s your broom?” Lucky for him, someone passed him a broom. He stood in front of the crowd and addressed the cameras. I was standing near the front, but did not hear a single word he said. At this moment, I began to feel like a prop. A loving grassroots movement to clean up our community was turning into a PR opportunity.

I kept reminding myself and others “It doesn’t matter. We came here to clean.” Finally we were let go to do the job.

Finally.

The streets were clear at this point and most of the shops were asking the cleanup crew to stay out. Hundreds of people milled around the streets looking for things to pick up, but feeling largely useless. There was some cleaning going on, but mostly the feeling was of community support.

Some cleaning to do

Appreciation.

Some of the stores were passing out snacks and drinks to the clean up crew. Starbucks was there with coffee. Jamie Oliver’s Recipease had cupcakes. M&S had sweeties. “Great PR for you” a woman told the Starbucks crew. A little cruel, but indeed it’s hard not to be cynical.

Coffee

This lack of cleaning left a lot of time for gawking. The reason I hadn’t brought my fancy camera was exactly to avoid this. I did not want this to be a voyeur experience, but I guess some gawking was unavoidable.

T.K. Maxx Store Front

The Curry's was completely wiped out.

It was interesting the stores that were chosen. They seemed to be ones the rioters patroned themselves, like a backlash at their own consumerism. Many of the stolen goods were destroyed in the street and not even taken home.

I left at this point as I was of absolutely no help.

I sat by a police officer on the bus on my way to work. The city is now swarmed with them.

We gave each other knowing glances. He looked at the Battersea love sticker I had acquired.

“I don’t think I was much help, but I think my presence was appreciated,” I said.

“I’ve been working very long hours today. I’m going home to my family now,” he said.

“Get some rest and good luck,” I told him.

He exited the bus and stopped to wave from the sidewalk. I waved back, not knowing how to process this exchange or the past 24 hours.

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First I saw a blurb about Yalla Yalla on Time Out. Then Gourmet Chick lists it as a top ten cheap eat in London. The very next week, the Hungry Engineer and her husband are visiting London from Austin. They give me a run down of the top places that they’ve eaten so far in London. They do not shut up about the batata harra at Yalla Yalla.

“We know” says April. “It’s weird to say the best thing we’ve eaten is potatoes but they were so good!”

I resolved to scope this Beirut street food venue out.

Yalla Yalla has two locations near Oxford Street. The one I visited is tucked away in Soho in a street that is more of an alley. To find it I cruised down Brewer, poking my head down every street I passed until I finally saw the yellow Yalla Yalla sign. For the record, Green’s Court is between Lexington and Wardour. It’s not a place that you just bump into while not paying attention.

The small cafe was full with people waiting for takeout and eating in. There were a few full outdoor seats as well. The secret is out.

I slipped into the only small empty table and started contemplating my order.

Busy staff behind the counter

Olives and pickles while I contemplate.

I settled on the lunch special – a wrap (I chose halloumi) with a side of hummus. I added an apple mint ginger lemonade. How can you resist a drink like that?

Apple mint ginger lemonade? yes, please.

Hummus and pita bread

Halloumi wrap

I left completely stuffed. I could have done without the hummus and pita bread.

Seriously affordable.

I returned a few weeks later for another halloumi wrap, this time to go. I waited outside as the order was prepared and took my wrap to devour in the park. I’ve really got to make it back again to try out those potatoes.

Yalla Yalla on Green’s Court is open Monday to Saturday 10am – 11pm and Sunday 10am – 10pm.

 

Yalla Yalla Beirut Street Food on Urbanspoon

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I was given a tip to stop by the York Sculpture Park while traveling from Leeds back to London. Husband and I had some time to spare and thought, why not?

I wasn’t expecting anything major, maybe something along the lines of the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas. I was surprised to find that this place was so expansive and impressive. We ended up spending the whole day exploring the grounds and exhibits.

 

York Sculpture Park is just one mile from Junction 38 of the M1 and is open daily except 24 & 25 December. Admission is free, parking is £5. 

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