Tuesday, September 28, 2010

[The Life of Shaun #420] The News Blotter of Shaun

It's been a while since I sent one of these out. I've actually been quite busy, but more in a fulfilling way than dramatic.

I visited my family in Corfu. Mom, Dad and Lisa now live there, and Lara was over from her new home in Istanbul. It was a bit of a stressful weekend as we learned two days before that Emilio (Lara's oldest) had MD. Fortunately, in the time since, we've learned it's Becker's MD, the mildest form, so he's expected to have a nearly, if not completely, normal life and lifespan.

Rachel came to stay with me for a month, which was perfect. She (Amsterdam, Edinburgh) and we (Berlin) travelled a bit, but it was wonderful just to have her here as a fixture rather than as a fleeting guest. She plans to do it next year as well and both Marco and I hope she does.

I applied for and was approved for British Citizenship and had a (very successful, as my depleted supply of wine glasses will attest to) party to celebrate the five years in London that brought me to this point. I actually expected this milestone to be something that I waxed lyrically about, for far too many lines, how life, I and my London have changed. But this has felt like home for so long now that, happy as I am, it felt more like a natural progression than a victory.

The travel highlight, to the horror of my British friends, has been Leicester for Pride. Marco and I went with the (schadenfreuden and selfish) hope of a Middlesbrough-cum-New Delhi. We were surprised, and just a bit disappointed, to find out that it's actually a rather nice city and, despite the rantings of the BNP, still majority white. Also, unfortunately for us, the gaysians there haven't shed the cultural weight of the subcontinent and were much less numerous than in the street, or than in London. The parade itself was only about three minutes long, but it was really nice to go to a pride that actually meant something more than another way to advertise for the pink pound.

Russ arrives tomorrow from Hong Kong for two and a half weeks before relocating back to the States, during which we will perform the unholy trifecta of Manchester, Berlin and Bucharest. The first two are repeat visits, but ones which we love. Neither of us has been to Romania, so it will be a new adventure. And, from what we've foregathered, not a gaycation with parties till dawn and boys swinging from the rafters. But, as we age, we find appeal in different experiences than ten years ago. But don't worry - we're going on a Big Gay Cruise in February, just to keep grounded.

Attached are a couple pics from Leicester; there are more here if you wish to see --> http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=294456&id=713081334&l=5ac9135435

(Also, including below for those who are interested, an article about my borough I quite liked.)


1 - Our hotel. I'd taken a picture of the building before I knew it was our hotel, so imagine my delight when we rounded the corner and saw the Premier Inn sign attached.

2 - Pride in the park. No Brighton, but a damn sight bigger than anything in Vegas, despite being a much smaller city.

3 - The multicultural beat of Leicester.

4 - A very old tower next to a very old (and pretty!) building.

Life & Style

Bangladeshi tower hamlets
Bridging the culture gap: young Bangladeshis celebrate their heritage — but they are also a crucial part of modern Britain

Tower Hamlets: The rise of the new East End

Doug Sanders

To stroll East from Brick Lane 15 years ago was one of the most dangerous things a Londoner could do. You were entering the migrant-packed heart of Britain's poorest, most violent borough. Now, as I visit the second-generation immigrants who'd been children then, I find in Tower Hamlets deprivation replaced with university education, violence with an upwardly mobile community.

I've spent the past three years examining urban districts dominated by rural-born migrants, spending time in marginal neighbourhoods of London, Amsterdam, Berlin, Paris and Madrid. And I have found London's Bangladeshi districts offer important lessons — and some warnings — for the transformation of such areas.

In 1995, the East End was racked with bloody clashes between Asian gangs and neo-Nazi skinheads and stained with drug crime and extremism. It suffered a full-scale outbreak of tuberculosis, a disease that had been absent from London for a century and existed mainly in Third World slums.

The figures unearthed by the Evening Standard in 1995 when it exposed Tower Hamlets as Britain's most deprived borough were dire: a third of families lived on less than £4,500 a year. Two-thirds of children were poor enough to qualify for free school meals. Houses were all but collapsing on their residents, often packed four or five to a room, with three children sharing a bed — overcrowding was five times worse than the national average. The borough ranked lowest in Britain for standards of living, health and quality of education.

You will still find crime, religious conservatism and ill health — it's not hard to identify, especially among part of the young male population. But the larger picture is fascinating. In Tower Hamlets, and almost nowhere else in Europe, I found it easy to find families in which the parents had been born on dirt floors but the daughters are now university-educated civil servants, scientists and bankers.

The Bangladeshis of Tower Hamlets come mainly from one of the poorest corners of one of the poorest countries in the world: at least 90 per cent are from the thoroughly rural Sylhet district, where most families must survive on less than £1 a day.

Of half a million Bangladeshi migrants to the UK and their British-born children, half live in London, and half of these in Tower Hamlets, where they form more than a quarter of the population across the council and in some wards are a majority.

Success, then, needs to be measured against this backdrop. But it is genuine success: in Tower Hamlets today, 46 per cent of Bangladeshi students achieve passing grades in five GCSE courses, only slightly below the national average of 51 per cent, and far better than the 30 per cent achieved by the borough's white students. Indeed, sociologists and social workers now focus on the grandchildren of the cockney dockworkers, not on immigrants, as the main sources of deprivation and social tension.

But why has Tower Hamlets thrived while the Turkish core of Berlin and the high-rise outskirts of Paris, for example, turn more violent?

First, studies over the past decade show it is far easier for immigrants to start a small business in London than in other European cities. The explosion of curry-houses wasn't just a dining phenomenon, it was an investment in social mobility.

Another key factor is citizenship: the people who arrived in the East End over the past 40 years, like the Eastern European Jews and French Huguenots before them, found it easy to become full citizens and participate fully in the economy and politics.

A study by German sociologist Joachim Bruss found 82 per cent of Bangladeshis in Britain felt their ethnic and religious backgrounds have no effect on their job prospects — compared with only 54 per cent of Turks in Germany. In other words, Tower Hamlets has avoided the violence and misery of its European cousins by understanding that its residents aren't pathetic cast-offs. They are people who came here with a project and we have removed the barriers to their success.

If we jeopardise any of this — through middle-class urban policies that make it harder to open small businesses in residential neighbourhoods, through immigration policies that block the pathway to citizenship to newcomers — the gains of the East End could be lost.

Doug Saunders is the author of Arrival City: How the Largest Migration in History is Reshaping Our World, published this week by Heinemann. More information at arrivalcity.net

Shaun H. Coley
Shadwell, Tower Hamlets
London, UK


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