Monthly Archives: March 2010

Campaign takes the High Road

If you’re lucky enough to have taken a southward stroll down Kilburn High Road recently, or unlucky enough to have been sat in endless traffic heading the same way, then you may well have spotted the latest posters put up by the Conservative party. A few weeks ago, Tory candidate Chris Philp’s cheery face appeared temporarily on several billboards around the postcode, telling us about the various things he’d done for the local community. The latest Conservative posters on the High Road are part of a national campaign featuring a smug, demented-looking Gordon Brown, smiling away as he informs us of his “achievements”, like how he lost £6 billion selling off Britain’s Gold, or how he doubled the tax rate for the poor.

This is typical of the negative-style campaigning rife in the election build-up of all the major parties; a recent Conservative newsletter tells us to look out for tactical smearing by the Lib Dems, and supplies an “official” Lib Dem smear-watch email address for people to write in to. Within days, a leaflet from the Lib Dems themselves came through the letter box with ‘BEWARE!’ written on one side, and the reverse telling us that in fact it’s the Labour party who are conducting a desperate smear campaign. This all basically amounts to the playground classic of ‘I know you are, but what am I?’

In other news, quite a few people have been commenting on the fact that Labour haven’t shown much of a presence on the campaign trail yet. Well, that’s all changing now with the opening of the party’s constituency HQ on Kilburn High Road. The volunteers in the Labour office have been busy stuffing envelopes, which will no doubt be coming soon to a recycling bin near you. And either they’re clinging onto a glorious past, or they have been credit crunched good and proper, as they are currently operating underneath a large ‘Hampstead & Highgate Labour Party’ banner. So last season, darling.

But if all this election talk is getting you down, why not go for drink at one of Kilburn’s many fine pubs? If you do, you might bump into Tamsin Omond and her fellow Commoners, who tonight will be on a pub crawl sing-along, performing their latest To the Commons ditty. I think they may have misunderstood the concept of a political “party”…

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A very Hampstead & Kilburn hustings: the low-down

My first hustings, and it was  everything I’d hoped it would be. Politicians taking shots at eachother, excitable audience members shouting and jeering, and an overwhelming sensation of ‘this sure beats sitting at home watching TV’. Little did I know, Inside the Perfect Predator was being broadcast on BBC1 – thank goodness for iPlayer.

The Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, in association with the Ham & High, played host to the event. Around 150 people squeezed into the hall, sitting in neat rows facing the altar. At the top table were seated, from the audience’s left to right, Glenda Jackson MP (Labour), Chris Philp (Conservatives), the Chairman (that’s right, I never bothered finding out his name), Ed Fordham (Lib Dems), Magnus Nielsen (UKIP) and Bea Campbell (Green). Tamsin Omond was given a kind of ‘seat of honour’ in the front row of the audience, but was not involved in the BBC Question Time-style debate. The questions were selected in advance, and each candidate was given the opportunity to answer in turn, with the odd rambling, opinionated contribution from members of the audience.

Proceedings got off to a friendly enough start, the candidates milling about near the  top table, chatting freely amongst themselves. The gentlemen were all looking very smart, with a full complement of dark suits, buttoned-up shirts and ties. A more interesting range from the ladies, with Glenda sporting a smart black jacket over a little black dress, Tamsin mixing it up with a trouser suit, complete with zip-up hoody and t-shirt. Bea was wearing the evening’s red-carpet miss (actual carpet colour: blue), with a pink t-shirt over a long sleeved grey number, clashing nicely with her massive green rosette.

The candidates’ answers to the first question, which happened to be on Darling’s budget, set the tone exactly for the rest of the evening. In fact, I could have walked out after those first 15 minutes with the same impression I was left with at the end of what turned out to be over 2 hours worth of party-politicking debate. Bea Campbell’s main point was that instead of building warships, we should be building wind farms. And a fair point too perhaps, but if the Greens are really hoping to make waves in order to obtain power (little hydro-electric joke for you there), they’ll have to convince the wider public that there’s more to their policies than just glorified hand-holding and tree-hugging.

Magnus Nielsen and/or Christopher Lloyd

Magnus was definitely my favourite speaker, though by far the worst candidate. He spent most of his question-answering time explaining that he didn’t have enough time to answer the questions. As the UKIP candidate, everything was Europe’s fault, predictably, from sleaze and corruption to debt and recession. Want to improve the NHS? Get out of Europe. Or you could just read his new book, which he was keen to let us know is out soon. Magnus is like that great-uncle who sits in his chair in the corner, commanding attention, shouting a lot, and making boldly inappropriate comments. He also reminded me of Christopher Llyod’s character in Back to the Future. If his party’s policies weren’t so intolerant, unsubtle and weak, someone might even vote for him.

Glenda, Chris and Ed: the big three

As for the big three, they each did their parties proud. Glenda tended to talk around the questions a bit, eventually settling on overwhelming support for the party line. Everyone seemed to overlook the fact that she got MMR mixed up with MRSA at one point, but this was hopefully just a slip of the tongue, as opposed to a real lack of knowledge. She spoke fluently and authoritatively on most subjects, but owing more, I imagine, to her experience as a public speaker than to her depth of understanding. Highlight: when an audience member exclaimed that they had never seen Glenda shopping in Hampstead, the Labour MP was quick to come back with, “Well I’ve never seen you before, how do I know you live here?” Much to the audience’s amusement.

Ed Fordham is a man who has done his homework. On the matter of the transport disruptions that plague our constituency on the weekends, Ed produced a statement read out in parliament in 1999 supporting the PPP scheme, by the then transport minister, Glenda Jackson, with Ed saying to the incumbent, “the reality is, you stitched us up.” Queue applause. Nor did he shy away from taking digs at Tory candidate Chris Philp. When the latter proudly boasted that in his four years as councillor he had never claimed expenses, Ed pointed out that as a local councillor, he did not have the ability to do so anyway. Essentially, he hadn’t claimed expenses because he wasn’t able to do so. Some of his remarks could have been construed as being a little catty, and Chris certainly didn’t appreciate being accused of being disingenuous as to the origin of his campaign funds. Having said that, Ed comes across as a mature candidate who understands the matters at hand and the concerns of his (potential) constituents.

I was equally impressed by Chris Philp. If I had to sum-up his performance last night in a single word: smooth. He looked the part, he sounded the part, he acted the part. If you were voting based on a candidate’s individual merits, as opposed to the party they represented, you could do much worse than to vote for Chris. He spoke with confidence in a matter-of-fact tone, coming across as prepared, but not rehearsed. The only candidate in his introductory speech to thank the Chapel for hosting the event, he was charming at times and, when he needed to be, impassioned too. In a heated moment, on campaign funding, Chris brought up a dodgy unreturned donation to the Lib Dems’s coffers of £2m, saying, “maybe you’ll find it down the back of your sofa, Ed.”

The best question of the night was posed by Tamsin Omond, who asked the candidates to name their own party’s faults, and how they hoped to remedy these. This struck me as a fantastic opportunity for the candidates to give off an impression of openness and honesty, and to demonstrate their individuality. Unfortunately, none of them made the most of it. Chris gave it a shot by saying that in ’97 he’d voted Lib Dem, but his party had moved on since then. Glenda probably came closest, bemoaning the lack of female candidates being presented by Labour in the party’s safe seats. Tamsin told me that she had found the overall experience quite depressing, with the candidates’ focus seeming to be on the negative elements of their rivals’ campaigns, as opposed to the really positive aspects of their own.

Hampstead & Kilburn is one of the most marginal seats in the country, a fact recognised by all the candidates. Interestingly, the audience – excluding pockets of supporters for each candidate – was representative of this fact. I didn’t get the impression that any particular candidate had more support than any other and, encouragingly, well-argued points received equally generous and vehement rounds of applause, regardless of who had put them forward.

The bookies still have Ed down as favourite, with Ladbrokes offering the best odds of 5/4. At Paddypower, you can now get 2/1 on Chris, and 5/2 on Glenda winning. Ladbrokes are now also offering 25/1 on Tamsin and her Commons party, with Magnus and Bea joint-outsiders at 100/1.

There’s everything still to play for, and the candidates will all be upping their games in the run up to May 6th, with Glenda (ominously) announcing that we’ll be seeing a lot more of her in the coming weeks. More events like last night’s hustings are due to take place in the run up to the election, and I’d urge you to come along to one for yourself, especially if you’re a floating/undecided voter. They offer a great chance to see the candidates for yourself, up-close and personal.

But I’m afraid I couldn’t pick you a winner – not based on last night’s performances anyway – not from all the way up here, on this fence that I’m sitting on…

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Brap! It’s Crime and the Kilburn Bandits

Those of you lucky enough to have met me will be aware of the fact that I’m not what you might traditionally call ‘street’. As such, since creating this blog, I have so far shied away from some of the musical and cultural elements that aren’t much parts of my life, but nevertheless are for so many other young Kilburn residents. Well, no longer!

I recently came across a local MC by the name of Crime. This alone will be enough to reinforce the beliefs of the many rap sceptics who say that the genre breeds and glorifies violence. Indeed, the lyrics of Crime and his fellow Kilburn Bandits crew members are littered with references to gun and gang crime. But the Bandits, who also operate under the name GTS Mob (Grind Till I Shine), also rap about the virtues of hard work, in order to leave behind the ‘ghetto life’. Their more critical peers, by the way, are the first to point out that Kilburn is not exactly a ghetto.

Crime and GTS Mob

Crime himself decided not to follow his cousins into the burgeoning UK grime scene, popularised by artists such as Dizzee Rascal and Wiley but, in his own words, “I jumped straight into the UK Hip-Hop scene and went hard!” Picked up by Ruthless Recordz, he has started to make a name for himself, particularly in London and the Midlands.

Asked what his music is all about, Crime says, “Real Life Music! I’m reaching out to everyone: girls, ladies, mums, grandmas, baby mums, gangsters, hustlers, full time workers, tax payers, everyone trying to grind until they shine.”

I’ll let you be the judge of that. The video below is for the single ‘In Da Hood’, which in this case refers to Kilburn. If you like what you hear, or want to see more of Crime and GTS Mob, there are plenty more tunes and videos on their Myspace page and on Youtube, most of which show large groups of hooded youths loitering in stairwells. And rapping of course.

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I <3 NW6

It should come as no surprise to learn that I love NW6. If you are in any way shocked by this revelation, then you have surely misunderstood the entire point of this blog.

But we, the enlightened NW6-loving few/many (delete as appropriate), are not alone in our postcodal obsession. In fact, there’s an entire movement – well, an online store/blog combo – dedicated to this kinky hyperlocal fetish.

"my boyfriend moved to NW6 and all I got was this AWESOME t-shirt"

The chirpy people over at ilovemypostcode.com asked both myself and my fellow NW6 blogger @WHampstead if we wouldn’t mind contributing to their growing catalogue of postcode guides. Time-rich (but money-poor) as we are, we obliged.

To see the fruits of our labour, just click here. Magic.

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Déjà vu? That’ll be the local papers

For those of you unfamiliar with the rather snappy little term ‘churnalism’, it refers to the modern practice by journalists of re-using pre-packaged stories, generally from press releases or news wires. It stems from a perceived need, in our age of round-the-clock news, for publications to be completely up to date with all the latest stories, and all on the cheap. It has been estimated that even in the quality press here in Britain, as many as 80% of stories are not original, and that only 12% of stories are generated by reporters.

It might come as no surprise, therefore, to learn that our local papers here in NW6 are practising these same methods. I can’t help but be disappointed, however, as local papers are not in direct competition with the quality dailies. In fact, here in NW6, they’re barely even in direct competition with each-other; the Hampstead & Highgate Express, the Kilburn Times and the Camden Gazette are all owned by the Archant media group and run out of the same Swiss Cottage offices.

On 3 March, I read a story on the To the Commons blog about how Tamsin Omond had stood up to some kids sitting at the back of the bus who were disturbing fellow passengers with their mobile phone-produced music. She had asked fellow passengers to raise their hands if they felt action should be taken. They did, and it was. A small victory for Tamsin and for community-led initiatives. Also a blatant piece of PR, reported as it was on the blog of the political party for which Tamsin is the only parliamentary candidate. So when I read an online article published by the Camden Gazette on 16 March, almost two weeks later, reporting this story under the headline ‘Tamsin makes a stand for peace on the buses’ I was a little disappointed, to say the least.

That was nothing, however, compared to how I felt this morning (19 March) when I read a newly published article on the Kilburn Times website with the headline, ‘Silence is golden for Tamsin’. The same story, with the quotes directly lifted from the original To the Commons blog post, only now a full 16 days after the event.

Whilst I understand, if not approve of churnalistic tendencies, I feel that the point should at least be to keep consumers up to date with the latest breaking news. Copying and pasting pieces of PR, two weeks late, strikes me as plain lazy. The papers named (and shamed) above do contain plenty of excellent articles of local interest. I just wish they’d leave out the churno-padding.

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The Tricycle’s Weekend of Irish Cinema – does what it says on the tin

When ‘the night before’ was St. Patrick’s day, there’s a solid chance that the last thing you want to hear about on ‘the morning after’ is further celebrations of an Irish ilk. You’ll be pleased to learn, however, that to enjoy these latest festivities you need not parade, worship or indeed binge drink. Simply enjoy with a cup of tea and a nice sit down.

In recent years, some great films have come out of the Emerald Isle, including mega-award winners such as Bloody Sunday and The Wind That Shakes The Barley. In recognition of this fact, and to celebrate the latest batch of releases from Irish shores, the Tricycle is hosting, this coming weekend (20th – 21st March), a mini-festival, aptly titled ‘The Tricycle’s Weekend of Irish Cinema’.

Broadbent and Murphy. Paddy was busy.

The highlight of the event has to be the Q&A session with the much loved and omnipresent legend that is Jim Broadbent. You’ll probably remember Broadbent for his roles in, well, everything, but his latest venture, which he is here to promote, is Perrier’s Bounty. His character, Jim, is the father of the film’s protagonist Michael (Cillian Murphy – 28 Days Later, Batman Begins), who is forced to flee Dublin after getting in way over his head with local hard-nut Perrier (Brendan Gleeson – In Bruges, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire). The film has had mixed reviews, but should be an entertaining Guy Ritchie-esque romp nonetheless. Saturday, 18:30, £18.

Ondine

Also showing are the rom-com Leap Year, 2008 drama Eden, and the new Colin Farrell film, Ondine, the story of a fisherman who unexpectedly catches what he believes to be a mermaid in his net, written and directed by Interview with the Vampire director Neil Jordan (Sunday, 17:30, £8).

Currently on at the Tricycle – but not part of the Weekend of Irish cinema – is the film adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. To catch it on the cheap, head along on Friday afternoon for £4 (and a free cup of tea), or Monday night for a fiver. Full cinema listings here.

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St. Patrick’s Day in County Kilburn

St. Patrick and crew

Kilburn, along with the surrounding areas of Cricklewood and Willesden, has long since been home to the largest Irish community in London, if not the entire country. Our trustworthy friends at Wikipedia reckon that as many as 13% of Kilburn’s population was actually born in Ireland. The area’s demographics are changing, and the many traditional Irish pubs that lined the High Road are slowly being replaced by trendy bars and music venues; for not much longer will it deserve the nicknames ‘Little Éire’ and ‘County Kilburn’. As such, the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations are not now what they once were. Having said that, you can still expect the pubs to be full of revellers: Guinness-a-flowing, whiskey-a-spilling, and novelty hats-a-wearing.

The annual St. Patrick’s Day parade is a family-friendly affair, getting under way at 4:30pm from Willesden Green underground station. Costumed-dancers and pipers will accompany the floats as they take the short trip down to Willesden Green Library. The Library Centre is also playing host to a number of other events, including story-telling and an Irish market (4 – 7:30pm), and various performances of traditional music and dancing, from the likes of the McCarthy School of Irish Dancing, Irish Mist, and a comedy set from Deirdre O’Kane. The full programme is available here.

Less traditionally Irish music can be heard at Power’s, which is putting on its fortnightly acoustic session – free of charge, as per usual – or for a mere £4 you can catch Fit and the Conniptions at the Good Ship, with Stop.Motion.Trio and Can’t Swim! Won’t Swim! providing the support. Alternatively, it’s pub quiz time at the Westbury: 8pm start, £2 entry.

For proceedings of an even less sober nature, just stumble down to any of the pubs and bars on Kilburn High Road. Brondes Age is a solid bet if you want to celebrate St. Paddy’s day with plenty of people and a decent atmosphere. For a pint of Guinness with the regulars, head to the Coopers Arms, the Kingdom or the Old Bell. For an off-High Road tipple, the Alliance on Mill Lane is always good value, or Father Ted’s on Willesden Lane.

Whatever you get up to, may your craic be mighty.

Too much Guinness left Murphy feeling dog rough

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