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Bow Riverside, River Lee Navigation, East London

It was on Saturday 20th October, a somewhat murky afternoon, that a group of us decided to walk the towpath of the Lee Navigation from Hackney Marshes to Limehouse Basin. The Lee Navigation itself is a canalised section of the River Lea and forms a part of a complicated network of rivers, cuttings, overflows channels and streams - one of which runs past the rear of my flat - that dominate the geography of the local area.
About 3½ miles into the walk, with the rain beginning to fall, we reached the point where the Lee Navigation meets Bow Back River. 
I immediately fell in love with the relatively new bridge that crosses the river at this point. I think what fascinated me about it wasn't so much the angular design of it, but more the way in which it blended perfectly into this strange urban-rural hinterland - or 'edgeland' as some have called such landscapes.
The navigable river, with its old trees and foliage on the banks, gives the walker a sense of seclusion from the ur…

The Bakiga Window Vol. II: The New Class

With their distinct lack of formal school clothes, and their inherent naughtiness, the Senior 1 classes stand out against the otherwise uniformity of the student body at Kigezi High School. It is not long into their first year in senior classes and their new uniforms are yet to arrive.
It is Tuesday 3rd April 2012 and I am sat at the back of class S1D as they embark on an English language lesson. The subject that Penninah, their teacher, has chosen for today’s class is ‘the active and passive voice’.
The topic itself may not be fascinating, but to observe these students taking their first tentative steps into senior education is amazing. In the UK, I am often amazed at my students forgetting the basics of English language, so to see group of twelve-year-olds getting their teeth into such a subject is strikes me as being an admirable undertaking.
Casting your eyes about the classroom it is clear to see who is already assuming which role within the class. To the front of the class a sh…

The Bakiga Window Vol. II: Splinters in the Air

Walking to the bottom of hill on Johnstone Road, turning into the area off Bugongi Road, past the bar advertising Pork and Beer in simple painted letters, and away from the tarmac of the main streets used to fill me with a little fear. Now, in the morning mist, I see a hive of activity and get a glimpse of different facet of Ugandan life. 
It is Thursday 5th April 2012 and I have taken a stroll with my colleague Jas through an area of Kabale that I have often passed by and seldom explored over the years. Indeed, in my first visit to Kabale in 2009, in the best traditions of bazungu in Africa for the first time, I labelled the area somewhat ignorantly the ‘Poor Quarter’. Although many of my reflections from that time are generally accurate, if under-informed, there is a lot more to this district than my over-simplification of these streets as being ‘Poor’ – this mzungu has learnt and is still learning at least.
Away from the dawn chorus of boda-bodas, and the chanting of the children …

The Austerity Olympics by Janie Hampton

Having moved to one of London’s Olympic boroughs during the 2012 Olympics, it has been hard to escape London 2012 fever. Indeed, it has even affected me and I am now the proud owner of a road bike in my vain attempt to be like Bradley Wiggins. 
With the infection still coursing through my veins, I stumbled upon Janie Hampton’s The Austerity Olympics: When the Games Came to London in 1948 whilst wandering through a Waterstones in Cardiff. 
The book tells a tale of striking contrasts and remarkable similarities with the 2012 games. Sebastian Coe, who was seemingly everywhere before, during and after London 2012, sets the tone in his foreword to the book, stating, “That London managed to stage the 1948 Olympic Games so soon after the Second World War is remarkable enough.” 
The most heart-warming thing about this book is in its tales of a much simpler time. A time where amongst the bomb damage of the WWII, young boys would sit looking wistful outside a stadium in the hope that someone w…

Iglesia de San Pedro, Gijón, Spain

On the last Saturday of September, I was fortunate enough to be strolling along the long sweeping sands of Gijón's largest beach. My friend was getting married in the Iglesia de San Pedro later in the day and consequently an area of Spain I had perviously no knowledge of was opened up to me.
The wedding was simply fantastic. The ceremony started at around 8pm and the festivities, for me at least, finished around 4.30am. There was great food, great wine and even better company, all from the beautiful art deco setting of the yacht club on Avenue de La Salle that overlooks the bay.
Gijón is a gem of a place, with its sidrería's, fantastic and reasonably-priced seafood, and generally laid-back vibe. On the strength of this short three-day visit I am sure to be returning there - frankly I think I could happily live there!

Airbnb: Where Hospitality Meets Social Media

Earlier this year, I was privileged enough to get an invite from a close friend to attend his wedding in Gijón, in the north of Spain. He’s a private kind of guy, so let’s just say he’s an Englishman and his bride to be is Spanish and leave it at that.
I’m not a rich man, so wisely I booked all of the different components of the trip in stages: first stage, beg my boss for a day off work during term time; second stage, book the flights; third stage, book the transfers from the airport in Santander to Gijón; finally, book the accommodation.
Other than the obvious disappointment that my tight budget meant I had to book a flight with Ryanair – an experience I won’t be repeating any time soon – most of the components were booked easily and at a reasonably cost, but I was struggling to find suitable accommodation.
Doing what I often do, I turned to the internet and to Google to see what I could find. Almost purely by accident I came across the website of Airbnb. 
According to their websit…

The Bakiga Window Vol. II: The World at the Border

I think that border crossings in East Africa have a lot in common with central London railway termini. A complete cross-section of society, in reality a miniature society in itself, seems to exist around the sequence of barriers and guards delineating the invisible divide between two nations.
It is Sunday 1st April 2012 and we’re crossing from Gatuna on the Rwandese side of the border, to Katuna on the Ugandan side of the border. The sun is trying to break through the clouds, and is finally beginning to win its battle over darkness.
After the drive from Kigali, the border provides us with our first sighting of bazungu in a few days. My students, seemingly forgetting that they are foreigners here, start pointing and staring at the small group of tourists – they're apparently feeling at home after just a couple of days. 
The bazungu we see look slightly worn out and in need of a wash after travelling on a coach from Kampala. I overhear one of them discussing that they should have t…

Brompton Cemetery, Kensington and Chelsea, London

In a busy, sprawling metropolis like London, people are always trying to find a little something somewhere to hide away from the world, often just for a few minutes of quiet. One such place that I chanced upon recently is Brompton Cemetery in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, west London.
The cemetery was consecrated in 1840 by the Bishop of London and features long Italianate colonnades, a chapel, bell tower and catacombs, all to recreate the feel of an open-air cathedral. Indeed, when viewed from above on a satellite map, the outline of the shape is clear to see.
To the sides of the main colonnades run two paths. Walking along one of these smaller paths, the sense of seclusion from life in the capital is profound. From in-between the headstones and monuments grows an abundance of vibrant green bracken and other foliage, making the path seem isolated, even from the other pathways inside the cemetery.
In addition to being an escape from the noise of city life, the cemetery…

On The Beach by Nevil Shute

Those who know me well will know that I seldom act on book recommendations made by family or friends and that I often judge a book by a cover. Luckily, when my mother recommended On The Beach by Nevil Shute, after I had told her that I’d recently read H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, I found the book reissued with a great cover.
Published in 1957, On The Beach tells the story of a small group of people in Australia in the post-Apocalyptic world of 1963. World War III has been and gone with territories in the northern hemisphere having destroyed each other with hydrogen and cobalt bombs. Those who had survived the direct attacks were then  eventually wiped-out by the slow movement southwards of the radioactive fallout cloud.
The novel mainly centres on the lives of five individuals. Peter Holmes lives with his wife Mary and their baby Jessica. Peter works for the Australian Navy and despite their lack of functioning ships, is called back to work to act as a liaison officer on the America…

London Pleasure Gardens, Pontoon Dock

Since July of this year I have been experiencing something of a renaissance in relation to my opinion of London. A couple of well-timed documentaries focussing on elements of London's social and architectural history have really caught my attention and have already inspired me to go off in search of some of the hidden gems I knew little about before. My recent move to Walthamstow in east London is likely to encourage this trend.
On Saturday 21st July 2012, I headed out east to a place called Pontoon Dock for the BT River of Music Africa Stage. The weather was great with sun beating down from the direction of the City. The music was of course fantastic and featured Angelique Kidjo, Hugh Masakela and Baaba Maal.
Shortly after Angelique Kidjo's set, I took a wander around the grounds of the short-lived London Pleasure Gardens where the concert was being hosted. The sun was still very warm, but had mellowed in brightness and was reflecting beautifully off the still water of the f…

The Bakiga Window Vol. II: A Sanctuary in a Storm

I think that it is an oft-repeated mistake by bazungu to consider a canvas the scale of Africa, let alone East Africa, as being coloured by sweeping, broad brushstrokes. The result of such an error is that you can so easily miss the hidden nuances that exist below the bold primary colours.
It is Saturday 31st March 2012 and I have paused for a moment by a cascade of orange flowers in the gardens of the Genocide Memorial Centre in Kigali, Rwanda. The air is warm and heavy and just how I like it.
From early this morning it has rained incessantly and has served as a timely baptism for this year’s group of students, dispelling the myths about the African continent being one big dust bowl early on. Just before we departed for the memorial centre, the sight of them huddled around in their waterproof coats, carrying faces filled with shock, was priceless.
Our arrival at the Memorial Centre provides the group with the opportunity to disperse and to learn about the events of April 1994 and th…

Diamonds Are Forever by Ian Fleming

As has become a tradition over the last three summers, I always read at least one James Bond novel during the summer break from work. This summer was no exception. With the beach at Villefranche-sur-Mer as my deckchair and yachts floating on the Mediterranean Sea as my backdrop, I started the fourth novel in the series,Diamonds Are Forever (1956).
The story begins in the nighttime darkness of rural French Guinea, ten miles north of Liberia, and 5 miles from the border with Sierra Leone, and hints very early on that this story is going to be one that carries Bond across vast distances. Out of the night sky comes a helicopter, landing on a makeshift helipad to facilitate the exchange of a few precious rocks.
Back in London, Bond has been tasked by M, after a tip-off from Special Branch, to explore a diamond smuggling ‘pipeline’ that is taking Sierra Leonean diamonds to America, by way of Europe. Central to his mission is the necessity to discover the identity of who is at the top of th…

Nuruddin Farah @ Southbank Centre

Nuruddin Farah is someone who has only recently come onto my literary radar. I was gripped with the savage honesty with which he portrayed the struggles of a female in late-fifties and early-sixties Somalia through the eyes of the simple nomad girl, Ebla, in From a Crooked Rib.
Once again, the blessing of living in London meant that mid-week there was the opportunity to see him speak about his latest bookCrossbones and about Somalia in general as part of the Africa Utopia season at the Southbank Centre. Even though I originally missed the advert for the talk, my eagle-eyed friend Nasri Adam of Safara Trust informed me of it in the nick of time.
Sat patiently with Nasri, her colleague Elizabeth, and a diverse audience composed of many colours, creeds and nationalities, Farah’s entrance seemed so unassuming for a man who blatantly confronts the injustices of his own culture and the injustices inflicted upon his culture by outsiders.
Our chair for the talk, Maya Jaggi, introduced Farah …

The Bakiga Window Vol. II: Jebena, Cini, Bunna!

The captain’s voice, lilting with a slight American inflection, crackles over the intercom and thanks us for travelling with Ethiopian Airways. The students, most of whom have slept solidly throughout the journey, look groggily around with the realisation that we are in Africa.
It is the crack of dawn on Friday 30th March 2012 and I’ve arrived, accompanied by a group of thirty-one others, in Addis Ababa. The air is still cold, by African standards, but is getting warmer as the minutes pass by.
Once again we are in Addis to change planes; the first leg of the journey having brought us from Heathrow, and the second taking us from here to Kigali, Rwanda. Unfortunately, such journey itineraries seldom match up perfectly and we have a four-hour wait ahead of us.
It is something of a cruel trick that Ethiopian Airways play on us annually as we are led to the smaller of the two terminal buildings, away from the spacious glass and steel, air-conditioned luxury of the newer building, to look …

York Watergate, Victoria Embankment Gardens

Recently I caught the end of a BBC documentary called 'The Bridges that Built London' presented by Dan Cruickshank. Quite simply the documentary reaffirmed my love for London and in particular the rich history that flows through every street, alleyway and building, all leading to Father Thames.
One part that really interested my revolved around the The York Watergate. This watergate, built in 1626, once directly bordered the Thames, but following Joseph Bazalgette's construction of the Victoria Embankment between 1865 and 1870 it became marooned a few hundred metres from the current bank of the Thames.
After learning this, I went looking for the watergate when walking back from a training session in central London. Its historical use is obvious when you see the shell details over the gateway, hinting at a more maritime past.
The watergate is located in what is now Victoria Embankment Gardens. The gardens are open all year round. For more information: http://www.westminster…

Zopa and Social Lending

 In a manner not unlike most former university students, my finances suffer from a number of perennial hangovers. Firstly, there is the student loan that we’ll all be paying of ad infinitum; secondly is the all the money we spent on our student overdrafts and credit cards with their foolishly high limits of the early noughties.
Initially, back in 2007, when aged 23 and quite miserable working my first proper job after university, my finances were a disaster. I was employed in Croydon and commuting from Farnham five days a week as a lecturer. The wages, travel costs and rent just did not add up and I found myself floundering. Luckily for me my bank were able to help, albeit with an interest rate on a loan that reflected my poor credit status, but I was grateful they helped at all.
After my one-year contract in Croydon finished, I moved to my current job in Hammersmith. My finances looked up thanks to much lower transport costs, much better wages and living shared accommodation. This …

The Shard

One of the perks of living in London is there is always plenty to do. After watching a midweek open-air performance of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest near City Hall, I passed by the Shard.
At this time of the night the light had already left the streets, but at the top of the shard, in its nearly complete state, there was still plenty of daylight left to reflect off the steel and glass rising up over the south side of the Thames.
With this particular filter on the Instagram app, there was something reminiscent of the early 1970s colour photographs of the World Trade Center as it was being constructed.

Het Withstraat Dagboek: De Rivier is Bevrozen, maar Onze Harten Zijn Warm

It was always somewhat inevitable that last night’s party would last until the wee small hours. Even though everyone was back in time for curfew, this didn’t bring an end to the festivities. 
It is Sunday 12th February and 59a Witte de Withstraat is alive with the packing of bags, shouting of names and the scurrying of people to and from the breakfast room at Werelds. As ever I am just as bad as the students for leaving packing to the last minute whilst Pia, Julian and Jas stand around looking smug having done the bulk of it last night.
Last night’s partying was mild really and went without any reproach from any of us teachers. The students were sober and where we could keep an eye on them, so it seemed only fair to let them listen to music and talk loudly.
Having been called to a room under the pretence of a student being ill Julian, Pia and I were all also presented with gifts by the students who jumped noisily from cupboards, closets and the like – wine in the case of Julian and m…

Brighton II: A Rusty Winch

After taking some considerable time eating lunch on Jubilee Monday at Terre a Terre, a group of us went for a stroll along the seafront at Brighton. Whilst the girls went into the Brighton Fishing Museum, I went looking for something rusty to photograph.
I found an old winch, presumably once used to pull the fishing boats ashore, sitting on the beach as a testament to Brighton's once busy fishing industry.
Using the Instagram app once more, I selected a filter that darkened the grey clouds in the sky, but kept the real subject of the photo light.
For more information about the Brighton Fishing Museum, visit: http://www.brightonfishingmuseum.org.uk/

Brighton: from Inside Terre à Terre

During the four-day Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations, a small quartet of us took the train down to Brighton for lunch and some sea air. A friend of a friend, led us to the vegetarian and coeliac-friendly Terre à Terre on East Street in Brighton for lunch.
The weather had spent most of Monday looking decidedly moody, but in the middle of lunch the clouds cleared and sunlight came flooding through the skylight.
The photo was taken using the Instagram app for iPhone. The filtering effect was designed to washout some of the colour and give the cleanliness of the white and blue an effect like a 1970s Swedish design photobook I once flicked through.
Terre à Terre comes with my highest recommendation. For more information: http://www.terreaterre.co.uk/

The Grass is Singing by Doris Lessing

After watching a couple of films, Chocolat (1988) and White Material (2009), directed by Claire Denis, a French director who spent part of her childhood in colonial West Africa, I went in search of more information about the films' settings. In doing so, I discovered an interview with the director saying that the latter was inspired by Doris Lessing’s The Grass is Singing.
The novel is set in rural, 1940s Rhodesia, although confusingly the setting is referred to as ‘South Africa’ throughout. Lessing said in an interview that there wasn’t “very much difference between the Rhodesian experience and the South African experience,” although, “The Grass is Singing is very Rhodesian because it was based on the life of the district which I was brought up in.”
The focus of the novel is on Mary Turner, whom we discover at the outset of the novel has been murdered at the hands of her houseboy, Moses. The first chapter deals with the people of the district’s response to the murder and discuss…

Het Withstraat Dagboek: Onze Laatste Maaltijd in Rotterdam

Refreshed from an afternoon nap, I find Rotterdam exactly as I left it: peaceful, chilly and with a layer of ice or snow covering everything outside of the large windows of No. 59a Witte de Withstraat.
It is the evening of Saturday 11th February and after a day of wandering around Amsterdam everyone has retired to their rooms prior to this evening’s meal. Pia and I wait patiently as Julian, who is ‘being mother’, makes tea in a saucepan on the small stove in the corner of the room.
As it dawns on Julian that there is the opportunity to watch the first half of the rugby match between Italy and England on TV, Pia suddenly does a death-defying backflip over the sofa, forward rolls out of the door, jumps over the banisters and hides in her room – all without spilling a drop of her tea, or a crumb of her biscuit. Obviously she’s not much of a rugby fan.
By the time we leave 59a, Julian is wondering why he bothered watching the match as England head in at half-time losing 12-6. Interesting…