Friday 18 December 2020



The Rio Tape Slide Archive in the  1980s

In 2017, Tamara Stoll and Andrew Woodyatt were introduced to Andrew Denney who, together with publisher and designer Max Leonard digitised all the pictures in this book and many more and some wrote essays about aspects of the Rio Tape Slide News Group (RTSNG) and also got people to contribute their memories and thoughts. . They met Sandra Hooper, who had been part of the RTSNG and began their exploration of and research into the archives discovered in the basement of the Rio Cinema on the Kingsland Road in Dalston. The RTSNG itself had originated from ideas inculcated at the CENTREPRISE BOOKSHOP which in its turn took its lead from the Hackney Education Institute. They interviewed people who were part of the RTSNG also actually interviewing some of the people shown in some of these photographs from the 1980s.

This is a book about local people and the power and abilities they can utilise and wield as a local community, standing up to injustices brought upon them by the government of the day, through police actions and government policies. The book is about personal belief, finding talents they would never have otherwise discovered within themselves, building confidence and showing the world that they have a voice and can be proactive and carry out actions which are beneficial not only to themselves as individuals but the community as a whole. Ultimately these people and their actions portrayed in this book show that supposedly ordinary poor people are as strong and can be as powerful as any so called elite.

Three young men in hackney in the 1980s.Solidarity.

If anything this book and all the things it represents, local community action, local issues and its links to national issues and international issues,  provides a fantastic example of what a community can do together. The important aspect is, indeed, doing things together. A community can do so much more than an individual can. This book represents a great example of community action. We need more of it now, in this present time of crisis more than ever. We must  fight against all the top down rules and restrictions that are being forced on us by government during this COVID 19 pandemic. The more and more centralised government, organised from Downing Street, tells us what to do the more  individuals are crushed and broken. It would be very interesting to find out, if ,like good child centred  teaching practice , our governance could grow from the individual first, leading to community action based on community needs. The government would then take a lead from the local level. We might discover that we could deal with this pandemic much better  at a granular level.

So after thirty years of being hidden in the depths of the RIO cinema basement, the grey filing cabinet with the Rio Tape Slide Newsreel Groups work was rediscovered. Within the book that Alan Denney has put together there are a number of articles by various contributors, including Alan Denney himself. They are printed on yellow paper so by looking along the edges of the closed book it is easy to see where contributing articles are located. Their yellow edges stand out from the white.

Alan Denney provides an article that sets out the influences and theories , philosophical and political, that underlie the RTSNG’s work back in the 1980s. His article starts with a quotation from Allan Sekula “Photography Politics: One 1979,” which encapsulates what the RIO and the RTSNG with ideas instigated at the Centerprise Bookshop, were doing.

“I’m arguing for an art that documents monopoly capitalism’s inability to deliver the conditions for a fully human life.”

Centreprise the radical local bookshop in Hackney from which so many ideas and radical actions emanated.

The RTSNG emerged from a counterculture in the 1960s. Young people wanted to change society from below, the grass roots. They were able to organise themselves through the RTSNG project and also education programmes set up across the road from the RIO cinema at the Centerprise Bookshop.

Centerprise was a bookshop on Kingsland High Street that sold books by new radical writers, pamphlets and noticeboards provided information, there were meeting rooms, legal advice was given and classes were held.

Changing society from below based on individual and community needs connects with another philosophy the RTSNG and Centerprise promoted and that was the ideas about education that Ivan Illich promoted, the idea of ,”deschooling.” Ivan Illich published his book "Deschooling Society," in which he describes an educational model where the child chooses what to learn while the adult guides and supports them. Illich thought that traditional education, where children must follow a unique curriculum kills curiosity and creativity, not allowing for the development of soft skills. He promoted what we might call child centred education. That process in our schools today is controlled and guided which is necessary depending on the needs of the child.  Some sort of guidance and skills training is needed even with a ,”deschooling,” policy. From my own experiences, teaching for over forty years, I know that a myriad  of rich experiences need to be provided. Human beings need to interact with the world and need a rich mixture of textures experiences  before they can ask questions and feel the need to explore. They need to be inspired.

People in Hackney at a bus stop.

The RTSNG and Centreprise also used the ideas about engaging with society that Paolo Freire advocated. He thought we should look more at society around us, identify issues and link this to positive action for change.. They also connected with Richard Hoggart and his development of cultura studies and also with Chris Searle who was involved with race relations and social justice. All these elements can be seen in the work of the RIO Tape/Slide Shows work. These ideas naturally grow from the needs of people.

Centerprise, under these influences moved from a more traditional set of adult education classes  for the unemployed to  more radical ideas about the role of education.  such as teaching Black History, Afro Brazilian music lessons, Graphics, which could be used to create posters and signs promoting the activities that went on, working with children and many other culturally and socially literate  courses.

The Hackney Adult Education Institute was a driving force in promoting radical revolutionary education too and instigated and supportedmany of the ideas, Centerprise and the Rio project undertook. The whole movement in Hackney,, if that is the right term, was underpinned by a deep theoretical and grass roots need for action.

The archives include 10,000 glass mounted slides and 2000 frames on film strips from between 1981 to 1988, covering seven years. They were photographed using  SLR cameras on 35mm colour slide film.

The people who took these photographs and created this valuable archive were young unemployed locals . Older members of the community, especially women were involved in other aspects of action in Hackney too becoming news reporters and journalists producing their own newspaper.

The older generation got active in Hackney too.

Many of the radical ideas about the use of photography came from the published works of Jo Spence and Terry Dunnet. Jo Spence used her camera to shoot and expose cultural issues. A new name emerged which described her work and which encapsulates the essence of this sort of photography. She was called  a ,” cultural sniper.”

Tape slide projects had emerged previously in Manchester and in other parts of London, Blackfriars and Paddington. Instructions on how to use this tape slide process were available from these other ventures. The Half Moon Photography Workshops in Bethnal Green and their magazine Camerawork developed ideas about using film and tape. They had a feature article in one of their magazines explaining how to do it.

Members of the RIO Tape Slide group.

Michael Rosen wrote a forward to this book during the Summer of 2020. He was recovering from a near death experience with Covid 19.Which of course itself brings up questions about  an unfair and unequal society which is going to have to be addressed and politicians are going to have to answer for  in the aftermath of the pandemic, but for now we are dealing with the 1980s, the effects of Thatcherism, poverty and community action then. Michael Rosen recalls the time he lived in Hackney during the 1980s and recalls his support for campaigns on educational issues which of course has been his life’s work  through his writing especially his  poetry, children’s books and articles for teachers union magazines such as EDUCATE. He also recalls the vibrant community he was part of and its strength derived from community involvement. He has a fondness and attachment to the people of Hackney although he doesn’t live there anymore.

Derelict buildings in Hackney. Squatters moved in.

The Rio Tape Slide Archive book  starts with an introductory section, “Beginnings,” introducing many of the people who were part of that original project, with  short personal biographies. Here are some comments made by a few of the group.

 Felicity Harvest was the Rio Coordinator. Ramsey Cameron was the film programmer. John Paish the projectionist. Some of those people  whose lives were changed and given a purpose in life include, Sandra Hooper an RTSNG leader. They all provide comments on what they were doing at the time.

Sandra Hooper states,

“ Annette Giles was the instigator- she was the person from Hackney Education Institue (HAEI) … who approached me at Centreprise with a view to creating this new project at the RIO. It came out of the Young Photographers Group and Hackney Unemployed Media Scheme(HUMS) and the RIO was very much a community cinema. At Centreprise. Community involvement was the whole essence of Centreprise”

The RIO, on The Kingsland Road.

Barbara Schulz was an original RTSNG member.

“ I started the Young Photographers and then I became part of HUMS…., making a magazine. Many of us from the group joined Sandra at the RIO and became part of the newsreel group, doing news, taking photos, deciding on what stories we wanted.”

BB was interviewed about her role. (She doesn’t want her name revealed.)

“ At the time I never really wanted to be a photographer. That wasn’t my ambition. I always wanted to be a journalist, even when I was young. But I went to a really duff school……….For me the journalism was why I joined the group. I felt it was about learning a little bit of how to tell other peoples stories…….You felt it had real purpose.”

Dalston in the 1980s.

What comes across in these interviews is the agency these people feel and the opportunities to have a voice and through the RTSNG the group develop a force for change in their community. By recording and writing about what is going on in their community they themselves and others, reading and seeing their work can think about the good and bad things taking place and this gives them the energy to act and do something about it. It makes me feel that all communities, wherever you are, should be creating this grass roots up wards approach to local needs. Is this a political act? Probably, but it is the sort of politics that should be happening everywhere.

The other thing that becomes clear is that these people from poor backgrounds, some thought that they  hadn't had the educational advantages of others, which indeed was true, could act and carry out actions that society as a whole often feel is the work of the privileged who go to public schools and the top universities. The people of Hackney are just as capable of observing and commenting on their own community and are far more engaged in the needs of local people than anybody from a wealthy background and posh education reporting for the TIMES or the TELEGRAPH could possibly be. I think that ordinary working class people could run this country much better than the so called, “POSH elite.” We would all be better off.

A march to stop an extension of the M11 coming through Hackney.

 That opening part of the book also gives an overview of Hackney in the 1980s.

“When the RTSNG first met,  Margeret Thatcher was surfing the wave of success in the polls after the Falklands War……  but the combination of decades of  neglect and Conservative policies were hitting Hackney hard.”

Here are some more important  interviews with people connected to the RTSNG and their memories of life in the 1980s in Hackney.

Evaline Marius (poet, youth and mental health worker RTSNG collaborator)

“It was a very discontented era, with people disillusioned, frustrated, angry.”

Keith Brade.

“I grew up in the 1960’s and there were big changes in terms of immigration into the borough by the 1980s but the fundamentals didn’t really change. It was always a place of, sounds corny, but a place of struggle and violence.”

Guy Farrar photographer and Centreprise worker.

“It was fantastically vibrant, active, a lot of social movements lots of people campaigning for change.”


Some of the RTSNG standing outside of the RIO cinema in Kingsland Road.

A photograph of the RIO  in the early 1980s depicts  red and white stripes down the front of the building and  to one side, red and white colour features with giant black lettering picking out the name RIO. The building certainly stood out from its Victorian, grey London Brick built terraces either side. Enter the RIO and you came across avante garde films, a powerhouse of ideas for the community to get socially engaged, a hub for the local people to express their viewpoints about where they lived and to plan action to bring about change. A place where people could learn how to make their voice heard and where they learned that strength came from group solidarity.

A photograph of five young members of the tape slide group shows them leaning against what looks like a FORD Capri with a white  paint job and a red underside and red wheel hubs.The colours of the RIO. Two of them look at the camera determined and sure of themselves. Another two laugh and chat unconcerned about the photograph being taken. Unemployed youths, given the power to act, given a voice. They are together.

Many of the photographs throughout this book show groups of people. A picture on the front cover, for instance, shows three young men standing outside Dalston Kingsland Station, confident , cheeky looks on their faces. A certain bravura about them, facing the world together. A strong group pf young men in attitude and ambition. Another picture on the front shows a group of happy, vibrant women standing up for the NHS, together, smiles, laughter, determination, placards and strength. There is a certain joy in their collaboration. They are in it together. These three photographs depict powerfully what the  work at the RIO and at Centreprise was doing. It was empowering people.

The government wanted to close some of Hackneys hospitals.


Each section that follows is a,”News Round Up,” for a given year.


The tape slide show review group covered such issues as ,”The Death of Colin Roach,” a young black man killed with a shot gun in the foyer of Stoke Newington Police Station. They wanted to know, what happened. They wanted answers which were not forthcoming from the police.

Government policies were threatening the life of many in Hackney at the time. “The Save Hackney,” campaign was begun.

Four hospitals closed in Hackney during the 1980s. The Rio project covered this Hackney emergency.

There was a protest against the M11 motorway link road that was destined to go through Hackney and destroy its heart.

The GLC funded a lot of cultural organisations which developed in Hackney but spending cuts eventually destroyed these important organisations.

RTSNG was directly funded by Hackney Adult Education Institute and they financed other projects working with older people and minority groups. These all suffered under Tory cuts. One particularly amazing project was the,” Hackney Pensioners Press.”

Julia Bard in The Morning Star wrote about the Hackney Pensioners Press.

 “ What they brought was knowledge of how to get things done, courage derived from a lifetime of political struggle, an understanding of how to work collectively, and a burning anger at injustice.”

Heavy handed police action.

In 1983 the Sandringham Road Police incident was covered by the newsreel group.The police had developed a new tactic using dogs along with the unfair stop and search tactics they were using at the time, which were biased against balck youths and black people generally. The photos taken by the group were used by the local MP in Parliament to highlight the issue.

The Stop the City protest was a demonstration that was targeted at was perceived as the greed of the city and the unfairness and divisions in society.

“One Day In Hackney,” was a newsreel project about showing Hackney to Hackney, shops, parks, streets, housing, working environments and as always groups of people together. Felicity Harvest, who worked at the RIO thought up the idea,

“One Day Off in Hackney, involved forty or fifty people. We gave a film to everybody involved and they went out…”

Youngsters in Hackney.

1984 News Round Up.

During 1984, the first anniversary of Colin Roaches death is membered and the campaign to find out what really happened continued.There was a capign against The Police Bill. There were anti apartheid protest. The Hasbudak family was deprted back to Turkey by the Home Office. The poel of Hackney and the headmistress of the school the Hasbudak children attended got involved. There was The Hackney Women's Peace Camp  campaigning against Greenham Common and the presence of the American nuclear deterrent on British soil went on.

 Greenham Common.

The people campaigning in Hackney for the rights of Hackney people realise that wider issues such as deportations and Greenham Common were all part of the same social and economic  struggle  and so they got involved attacking injustices as a whole.

Saving Hackney, saving the world.

Centreprise as a community hub for action and education reopened in 1984. One Dya Off in hackney was recorded. St leonards Hospital was closed The vibrant life and people of Kingsland Market was featured. The people of Hackney supported the miners strike.

1985 News Round Up.

The work of the group began the year with the second anniversary of Colin Roaches death.. Hackney Book Bus was featured, Music and Dance in hackney was featured. There was a lot of cultural cross overs, South African, Jamaican, sound systems, parties and clubs such as the Four Aces, dance groups and drama groups. Hackney was a vibrant grass roots creative community.

Remembering Colin Roach.

Ridley Market was featured which might have been a source for EastEnders. The AIDS pandemic was researched. Rate Capping became a big issue. The government wanted to restrict the taxes local authorities could charge because they thought they were overspending. This resulted in less services in Hackney and an attack on community action groups such as the RIO and Centreprise. The RIO project looked at Hackney shops and community sports. They really did  try to cover every aspect of Hackney Life.

Ridley Road Market. Some say it was the inspiration for ,"Eastenders."

1986-88 News Round Up.

In the final years of The Rio Tape Slide Newsreel Group the participants didn’t hold back in their campaigning and observational efforts. They covered the Albert Town Butteriled area being demolished and rebuilt for gentrification. Hackney CND group was featured. Hoxton Street Market was covered and life in the area, pubs, the Traveller Community The Hackney Empire and the advertisements put up with the slide shows, for local businesses and trades which many people actually complained about. 

Hackney housing.

Squatting was was an issue and all the housing issues related to squatting, the attitude and actions of the council the views of the squatters and  the underlying need for good housing for local people. The Save Hackney Campaign was bolstered by the release of a hip hop number ,”Fighting for Survival.” The Broadwater Farm protest was covered . Cynthia Jarret died of a heart attack during a police search of her home on the estate. During the ensuing riot PC Keith Blakelock was murdered. Life in Hackney Housing estates was covered. Regeneration of the area, the Dalston Cycle Path Campaign, Green Hackney and  The Great Storm  in October 1987.

Travellers in Hackney.

The Tape Slide Newsreel Group eventually disbanded in 1988.

Ramsey Cameron, who helped with programming the issues the group covered said,

“ As Thatcherism permeated  local government and society the levels of subsidy started to decline…….

There was a decline in community organisation and perhaps a general sense of declining community identity as the gentrification of Hackney started to take hold.”

Flower stall in Hackney Market.

There definitely seems to be a resurgence at the moment in an interest in  Hackney and Dalston. Maybe it is considered a litmus test not only for Black Lives Matter but also what is happening to the poorer sections of our society and also the pressures on immigrants and immigration more broadly? The Rio Tape/Slide book, recalling radical community photography in Hackney in the 1980s  and powerful campaigning groups set up in those years, was published earlier this year. Recently I read a couple of articles in The Guardian about community initiatives in Hackney taking place right now in 2020. The Guardian’s Camera Club Monthly Assignment covered street markets and the Guardians Jill Mead went out and photographed Ridley Road Market for the paper. In The Guardian on Sunday 13th December Lorenzo Vitturi also did a study of Ridley Road. He took pictures but also interviewed people and recorded their viewpoints.

“ I wanted to capture Ridley Road market, its edgy dynamic.”

He set out to record what he called it’s ,”crazy aesthetic.”

The result is a collection of pictures he calls, “ Dalston Anatomy.” Asurreal expression of what he encountered.

“ In Vitturi’s images, surreal organic shapes hang suspended against eye dazzlingly bright backgrounds, human Faces are obliterated by small explosions of chalk and pigment, yams and sugar cane are arranged in creative like organic sculptures.”

Another article is written  by Patrick Bulter this time. They seem to be coming thick and fast about Hackney.

“I was amazed to meet the London teens recording the vivid lives of their streets.” Just like the RIO Tape/Slide Group in fact. This time these youths have been given the impetus by a lady called Donna Travis who has founded, “Future Hackney’s Youth Project.”

The photgraphs and interviews are published on social media. Technology has moved on since the 1980’s and ashould imagine all you need to produce photographs and text is your mobile phone.An outdoor exhibiton of this groups photgraphs ahs benn set up. People walking past in the street can engage with it.

Tapiwa Cronin, 15 yaers of age who is a member of Furute Hackney staes, “ The Ridley Road community is so much part of my daily life, but through learning about its’ history, this workshop truly showed me the enduring importance of the road.”


Donna Travis who set up Future Hackney three years ago, states,

“If you take young people out and get them physically engaged with their community for positive reasons they learn to create pathways for themselves.  It gives confidence, the ability to create their own identity. It widens their horizons, gives them the bigger picture.”

Looking for jobs.

Recapping on what the original RIO project achieved and did for the people of Hackney in the 1980s I would say she is absolutely right about now and also then. The whole thing about The RIO Tape Slide Archives, reveals how people can think about and observe their own circumstances, where they live and what happens to them and then make decisions about what needs to be done. Reading through this book and looking at the photographs a raw energy to fight for your needs and rights leaps off the pages. Hackney has become, once again, a source of political action, its people are getting involved in their surroundings. Anybody who takes a photograph and gets involved in group action can bring change.

This book is an amazing historical document that should and can inspire.


The RIO Tape/Slide Archive ( Radical Community Photography in Hackney in the 1980s) Isola Press London published  October 2020. ISBN 978-0-9954886-6-3

Lorenzo Vitturi: 'I wanted to capture Ridley Road market's edgy dynamic' | Photography | The Guardian

Do go back to Dalston: Ridley Road market's black heritage – in pictures | Art and design | The Guardian

Mind the gap: 2 metres apart and masked in Hackney – a photo essay | Art and design | The Guardian

'I was amazed': meet the London teens recording the vivid lives of their streets | Society | The Guardian






Tuesday 29 September 2020

DATCHET TO MAIDENHEAD: a continuing walk along The Thames Path. (Friday 25th September 2020)


Datchet is located in the south east of the screen shot map. Maidenhead is in the north west part of the  map. We walked on the north bank of The Thames, which is the lower loop of the river shown  where the Thames Path wends its way.

Tony Brown and I continued our Thames Path walk on Friday 25th September. On recent sections of our walk along the Thames we have been getting further away from London into Berkshire. The sections of the Thames we have walked recently, have taken us  from Hampton , near Tony’s home, to Lower Halliford and then on to Chertsey, Egham and Staines. It feels a long time ago we first started walking the Thames Path, beginning at Woolwich Ferry east of London with John Lodge , who has joined us on many of the sections.  Tony and I last walked from Staines to Datchet so Datchet became our starting point for this recent walk. The Thames has many tributaries, islands, loops, locks and  reservoirs and we have enjoyed so many of them, as well as each other’s company.

The Thames Path is a National Trail following the Thames. A path was first proposed in 1948 but it only opened in 1996. The Thames Path's entire length, 184 miles, can be walked and some of it cycled.

Tony Brown beside the Thames at Datchet.

  As each stage of our walk moves further away from London going west into Berkshire, we have to plan carefully how we get to the start of the next part of our walk along the river.  This Friday I got the train from Raynes Park to Hampton. London Freedom Passes ( over 60s and only eligible for those living in a London Borough) are not valid on trains past Hampton. We can use our Freedom Passes on buses all over the country however.  Tony met me at the station. We drove to Datchet and discovered a layby with free parking,   beside the river.  

 The aim of Fridays walk was  to reach Maidenhead.  In the past we have planned short routes of no more than five or six miles along the river and then returned, walking back along our route to the car at the start. This Friday we decided to walk from Datchet to Maidenhead, a  longer walk. To return we thought that we would get the bus back to Datchet. 

Datchet is a lovely place. Until recently I had never been there. Often, driving along the M4 to Wales  I have seen signs branching off the motorway to Datchet but had no idea what was there and what it was like. The centre has   a village green with Georgian and Victorian houses and shops set around it. It feels peaceful and appears to be a very nice place to live with expensive houses set in park like grounds bordering the village and along the banks of the Thames. When you look at the map, you see Datchet beside The Thames but you also notice that the M4 motorway is  north of the village close by and that Heathrow Airport is just a few miles towards the east. Aircraft taking off from Heathrow have risen to a few thousand feet by the time they fly over Datchet but they are still climbing and the sound of their engines wining away is evident.

The centre of Datchet.

One of the features of The Thames along this stretch are the water meadows with reed beds and wooded paths and also extensive fields surrounded by tall hedgerows. It is rural and much farming goes on in the area. That seems to be an anomaly with the closeness of major roads and low flying aircraft and the centre of London not that far away. It appears that the world has passed it by and taken detours around it. Surrounded by this idyllic setting we anticipated a pleasant walk amongst trees and fields beside a sparkling full flowing Thames.

There are many houses beside the Thames  with lawns reaching down to the waters edge. The Thames path encroaches on peoples land in some places. Many of these houses are set in beautifully manicured gardens with shady trees and shrubbery’s bordering smooth green lawns. The houses are often extensive in size and I  imagine in price too. Some are modern and are built on stilts. Some have hydraulic pillars positioned under their foundations. The older houses appear to be built on raised ground with high stone walls fronting  them. Of course all these architectural  features are there to deal with  flooding when the river rises above its banks.

Houses beside the Thames.

Many of the larger islands, called aits, have housing on them too set in idyllic settings. Some of these properties have their own piers at the side of the Thames with luxurious launches and motor yachts moored at them.

Each time we walk the Thames Tony and I see canal boats and sometimes large motorised barges that have been converted into luxurious water born  homes. Many of them have stainless steel chimneys for log burning stoves, small wind turbines and expanses of solar panels. Some have satellite dishes.

A barge home on the Thames.

A little way along the river from Datchet we approached Windsor and crossed over a  stone bridge with iron ornate shields attached to the stone parapets informing us that the Queens commissioners had built the bridge in 1851. The Queen being Queen Victoria. The middle span of the bridge was replaced during the 1960s with a concrete arch, topped with rails on each side, making the bridge look like a poor ill designed hybrid. The two stone ends recall an attractive sturdy bridge of the past. We can only guess its former elegance. Windsor Castle rose above the roof tops of Windsor town to our left.

This was the original part of the bridge before the modern central arch. 

It was interesting to see on the opposite bank of the river the expanse of Windsor Race Course. Neither Tony or I had known such a racecourse existed. The grandstand in the distance looked old in style, perhaps Victorian. We wended our way across meadows and fields called ,”The public fields of Eton College.” It occurred that Eton College must own a lot of the land in the vicinity.

Every so often we came across locks with their gate systems allowing boats to pass from one level of the river to the next. We stopped at Boveney Lock ,  to eat our packed lunches. The weather was mild although the day had begun with some rain . The temperature was  a little lower than of recent, about 17 degrees but the wind was strong. Tony found a spot that was sheltered from the wind at the bottom of the levee bordering the river here, near the lock gates. We drank tea from our flasks and ate our sandwiches and fruit. Locks have been built along the Thames since the 17th century. Boveney Lock was built in the  19th century to help control flooding and to ensure the Thames remained navigable at this point.

Boveney Lock.

We walked on past Dorney Lake that is an Olympic rowing lake used in the London 2012 Olympics. It belongs to Eton College.

On the opposite side of the river, set within rolling lawns and tall trees was a castellated stone built manor house called, Oakley Court. We could see extensive patio areas with large sun shades. Marquees were set up within the grounds. This is an exclusive hotel and spa complex. I Googled Oakley Court later when I got home. A room for the night costs between £400 and £1000 with views over the Thames and the lush meadows and fields surrounding it. The bar is open to casual callers but the restaurant must be booked ahead, especially in these times of Covid 19.

Oakley Court.

We walked on past the fields surrounding Dorney Reach. We could hear the sounds of the M4 motorway in the distance. We approached the massive hulk of the bridge taking the M4 over the Thames. Widening of the motorway is happening at this point so the usual pathway is blocked. Pontoons with non slip surfaced walkways have been constructed, floating on the river under the bridge . We walked under the motorway and saw  the impressive long steal arches that support the bridge and motorway above.

A pontoon passing under the M4 motorway.

Often along the Thames we have come across boatyards. All the various luxurious motor launches and the canal boats and barges need to be taken care of. Their bottoms need to be scraped and renovated. Many of the boatyards appear to be family businesses and by the look of these boatyards and the buildings comprising them they look as though they have been there a long time. I remember , as a child seeing workshops, garages and boatyards in Southampton made from corrugated iron and painted a dirty matt green. Many of the boatyards along the Thames , with their mess of ropes, chains, cranes and rusting buoys have this same timeless feel.

A boatyard on the Thames.

We soon reached the next lock at Bray. The village of Bray on the other side of the river was out of view at this point because a series of aits stretch the length of the river here. One of the  aits is called Monkey Island Estate. The grand white stuccoed mansion on the island is another exclusive hotel. Two famous restaurants are at Bray, The Fat Duck run by Heston Blumenthal and the Roux Brothers’ Waterside Inn.  Bray is famous from the culinary point of view nowadays but much earlier than that ,

In good King Charles’s golden days,
When Loyalty no harm meant;
A Furious High-Church man I was,
And so I gain’d Preferment.
Unto my Flock I daily Preach’d,
Kings are by God appointed,
And Damn’d are those who dare resist,
Or touch the Lord’s Anointed.

And so the Vicar of Bray is remembered. He changed religious allegiance to whoever was on the throne so he could keep his job. The poem actually refers to a number of vicars of Bray from Tudor times when religious allegiances could cost you your head up to  vicars in the 17th century  who were also keen to keep their incumbency. We walked past Bray Lock on the north side of the river.

Bray Lock

From Bray,  we were getting tired by now our legs feeling the effort, we walked on to Maidenhead passing under the elegant Victorian railway viaduct, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and featured in J W Turner’s painting  Rain, Steam and Speed.

Maidenhead Railway viaduct, painted by 
 J W Turner. His painting is called ,"Rain, Steam and Speed."(1844)

On reaching  the road bridge, we walked into the centre of the town. We asked people as we walked along where we could catch a bus back to Windsor. Eventually Tony and I found a bus stop, walking through the market and out the other side of the High Street. We took the number 15 to Windsor. The bus took a rather circuitous route looping past the local hospital, through  a housing estate, all the time  travelling, in apparently, the wrong direction  but eventually it drove on to the centre of Windsor. 

Windsor town and castle.

We alighted near the old town hall designed by Christopher Wren which is also close to the public access to the castle. We waited some  time for a number 10 bus to take us back to Datchet. Windsor to Datchet is not far and this part of the journey took no time at all. 

Before we departed from Datchet, an enticing pub called The Royal Stag overlooking the village green beckoned for a reviving pint of beer. Parts of the Royal Stag date back to 1400. Since the Covid crisis we have not been into many pubs.  A sign instructed us to put on our masks and  wait to be shown to a table. We both have the recent National Health Service Covid 19 app on our phones so we scanned the NHS QR code. This new device will turbo boost track and trace,I hope. There were not many people in the pub and it was not long before  one of the bar staff came and showed us to a table. Sitting at the table we were permitted to remove our masks. There was a good social distance from other people at other tables.  A menu enabled us to order beers. I chose a local brew called Grenadier and a packet of salt a vinegar crisps. We could go to the gents as long as we  put our masks back on. 

Part of Datchet village green.

Tony drove me to the station at Hampton. On the train  I sat back, with my face mask on of course,  and phoned Marilyn. "Can you pick me up at Raynes Park?". I felt knackered.

So the next part of our Thames Path Odyssey  will take us from Maidenhead and on past Cliveden and Cookham, then Marlow and on towards  Henley, both very beautiful historic towns on the Thames. I often get the sense that we are walking through Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in The Willows countryside and Jerome K Jerome’s Three Men In A Boat comes to mind also.


 Rain, Steam Speed by J W Turner (The Great Western Railway', painted in 1844.)





Wednesday 13 May 2020

EDUCATING THE EAST END a Channel 4 series

Mr Bispham in the first episode of EDUCATING THE EAST END at," Frederick Bremer School," in Walthamstow.

Among the myriad of ,”real life,” documentary drama series such as ,”Made In Chelsea,” “Made in Essex,” “Footballers Wives,” and other semi glamorous life portrayals, are a set of documentary dramas that are a sub-genre within this set of ,”real lives.” It concerns schools. “Educating The East End,” an eight part series of programmes follows  a head teacher, the teachers, the pupils,  lessons and  staff meetings that take place at the, Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow.
The focus of the first episode, are the trials and tribulations of Mr Bispham, a trainee teacher learning his craft on the ,Schools Direct programme. Schools Direct is one approach to becoming a qualified teacher. The school  pays you a salary on an unqualified teacher rate while you are supported in learning classroom skills. You previously have had to work for at least two years in another career and also have a good degree.  Schools Direct has some advantages over the usual one year PGCE route. More time is spent in the classroom and you are attached to just one school. There is some time allocated to University lectures where the theories of child psychology, child development and the philosophy of education are taught. At the time this programme was made Mr Bispham is the youngest member of staff in the school. He has been put in, at the proverbial,” deep end,” teaching English to a boisterous year 9 class.

We see Mr Bispham first of all waiting in a classroom as a rowdy group of 14 year old, year 9 pupils enter.He thinks of the girls in this class as ,”a force of nature.” He calls each pupil by their name and talks to each one asking them something about themselves. Later he tells the interviewer, out of the hearing of the children, that teaching is 50% ,”stand up,”and 50% motivational speaking. With a lot of ,”banter,”it takes a few minutes for him to get all of the class attending to him and one girl, Tawney, will not stop talking. Tawny, with a pierced tongue  and a big attitude, wants to be an actress and has applied to. “The Brit School.” She is certainly good at,” playing up,” in lessons. Mr Bispham is straining every fibre, alert to every incident and comment and interaction going on in the class. He contends with little arguments amongst some, cheeky comments about his name and his ethnicity, all challenges to his authority. He gets the class to focus on a line in Shakespeare’s, ”Much Ado About Nothing.” On the interactive whiteboard is a speech between,  Claudio and Leonato “ Give not this rotten orange to your friend/ She’s not the sign and semblance of her honour.” The class discusses the meaning of any words they are unfamiliar with and then discuss attitudes to women.  Those ,”strong,” girls in the class are engaged with the topic. It means something to them. After the lesson Mr Bispham leans against the door frame at the entrance to his classroom. He sighs and looks at the ceiling. Everything has been drained from him. He is exhausted.

I often stood at the back of the school hall, on  Friday afternoons, during the end of week assembly, leaning against the wall for support, looking and feeling just like Mr Bispham. I stood there, my face drained, the life sucked out of me. You need to be self reflective.  What can I do next? How do I get them to learn? How do I get them to progress? How can I do  better?  Mr Bispham would agree. I remember feeling every nerve in my body and  like Mr Bispham there were moments when I dug deep for strength and I too wondered if teaching was for me.  I watched Mr Bispham adapting, there, on the screen.

The look of worry and concern etched on Mr Bispham’s face in the corridor after Jenny Bishop , the head, informs him his end of year assessment is due, was my face too sometimes. She gave him a date for the observation. You could see he was anguishing over what she would think of him teaching that year 9 class. She asked if it was convenient. He said ,"of course," and made some comment about the class being difficult. But the head knew that. It was very interesting to watch Mr Bispham go from the despair he must have felt before the lesson to elation after his observation. He was given a GOOD assessment.  Jenny Bishop is evidently a perceptive, warm, strong person, (a great description of a good head). The deputy head praised him too and agreed with the GOOD assessment of his progress and his developing skills. An onlooker, somebody who does not work with children, might not have understood.

Mr Bispham was honest and straightforward. He joked  and the pupils in the class knew he cared about them no matter how awful they behaved. In his observation lesson he was well prepared. He had a focus and clear aim. He had his materials and resources ready, He had a child centred approach taking into account the needs of various pupils. He planned his lesson to fit their intellectual needs. He got them   working in twos, providing them with questions and tasks which challenged them. They were engaged and he questioned them bringing out their thinking processes. They were chatty and lippy and he confronted them with any unacceptable behaviour, pointing out what they were doing, the affect they had on others and the effect they had on himself and he demonstrated what they should do. These are good teaching skills and behaviour management.

The interviewer asked the children about Mr Bispham. They all said he was a great teacher. They liked him and  they all said that they  wanted to do their best for him in the observation lesson and not let him down. He had their trust because he believed in them and so they believed in him. Good teachers give their heart and soul to the kids they teach.

He deserved his, GOOD, assessment. He earned it with more than what can be described as hard work. We watched him lay himself on the line for that class.

This series is something we should all watch. It can’t show every aspect of a lesson and the teaching process, but it begins to delve deeper than most people would normally be able to experience. This series of programmes show us what heroes teachers are and what self-sacrifice  and talent and hard work they  put in. One thought that went through my mind was, what would a teacher from, Harrow, the great public school just 18miles west of Walthamstow, think about Frederick Bremer School and Mr Bispham? How would they teach year 9? Jenny Bishop, is asked at one point why she wanted to be the head of Frederick Bremer. She smiled and said she wanted the challenge and the opportunity to make her mark on children and a community that needed the best. She was fully aware of the,” mountain,” she had to climb. She is a very brave, courageous and hopeful person with a vision and she knows how she wants to achieve it. If she keeps finding the good in Mr Bispham and praising him ,Mr Bispham , will do very well.

Channel 4

Wednesday 22 April 2020


Making my next cup of coffee.

My mother is 95 years old.  Mum remembers her youth and childhood more than she does  yesterday or today. One subject I  talk to her about  is her teenage years, which of course she lived through during the second world war. If the discussion turns to the recent queues at supermarkets and the shortage of toilet paper and the empty shelves that occurred at the onset of this pandemic my mother invariably says, “ we were better off when we had rationing.” I invariably say, “why mum?” And then she relates how she always had enough to eat and that her diet was varied and balanced which kept her fit and healthy. Then I ponder the idea of, “just what I need and no more,” and feel guilty. Of course , in “The War,” they were repelling bombs and armies which they could actually see.They could create defence systems which could work sometimes. 

The ,Coronovirus is something we cannot see and have no defence for. I have been Googling information about it. The virus is made up of unimaginably tiny spherical cells that have a corona of hammer headed spikes surrounding it which can attach them selves, like super glue, to  cells in our lungs.  This virus enters our lungs and respiratory system through fine vapour caused by coughs and sneezes and the exhalation of breath from  somebody infected. What can we do? Wash our hands, (soap removes the waxy surface of the corona cell and destroys it)  stay at a distance from people and stay home. That’s the advice.

So how are you spending your days?

This ,”staying at home,” has given me the opportunity to indulge in reading novels even more. I read sitting under a sun shade on the patio, lying on my bed at night, lieing prostrate on a sofa in the living room, lieing prostrate on a sofa in our kitchen, sitting at the dining room table. Reading takes you places. I have turned to Charles Dickens in this time of plight. Nicholas Nickleby is a chunky novel. My Penguin version is 777 pages. I am just over 600 pages in and slowly making my way through it. I am a slow reader.  In some ways Nicholas Nickleby reminds me of The Lord of The Rings. The powers of evil ranged against the powers of good. A bit like the coronavirus pandemic, I suppose. Chapter 41, by the way, is the weirdest few paragraphs I have ever read. I got to the end of that chapter and just mumbled to myself, “that’s weird, that’s weird.” Chapter 41 haunts me. Well we need to have something to take our minds off things. Dickens is always quirky to say the least and his powerful imagery is an antidote for our times.

I am a running addict; always have, always will, as long as arthritis doesn’t get to me. The weather has been brilliant. Most days have been sunny. I start my day by taking the pills. Who is not on statins at our age? I eat a piece of toast and thick cut marmalade. Once I have had a chance to walk about a bit, my leg muscles loosen up and I feel up for a good jog. I  walk to my local park, The Sir Joseph Hood Playing Fields, every morning. I then proceed to run four laps of the park. I was getting a little bored with that so I started adding a lap of the local cemetery, which doubles up as a nature reserve, until they padlocked the gates. Why? I enjoyed jogging past gravestones and reading people’s names and wondering about them.So I have invented creative ways of running round the park. I do an OXO route some days. OK that is running round the perimeter, that makes the, O. Then I cross the park diagonally and run across the top of the park ending this lap by then running across the other diagonal. That makes the  X. Finally, I run one more lap around the perimeter. That’s the second O. I have also mixed it up a bit doing an XOX and an XXO. Life is interesting.

 I often see the same people each day in the park, dad’s with sons and daughters having a kick about, couples walking, single joggers, cyclists and those who like to meditate cross legged in the middle of the field.  One family were walking towards me and their dog ran at me barking excitedly. Apparently the dog was attracted to the large red tongue on my Rolling Stones tee shirt. A mother who scoots   round the park followed by her young son and daughter also on scooters, has taken to saying ,"hello," to me. I have no idea who they are.

My hair  has almost turned entirely white. I am thinning out on top but , on the whole, I still have a reasonable head of hair and to say the obvious it grows. Recently I was thinking, and Marilyn, Emily and Abigail were telling me, that my hair needed a cut. Kamis, my local hairdressers in Motspur Park is closed. As far as I know all hairdressers are closed. I started looking online to see if I could buy some electric hair clippers. Emily was keen to have a go at my head.Many of the clippers Amazon sell are suddenly out of stock. My hairdressing plans were obviously not a unique idea.  I eventually bought some from Argos. I drove over to Argos in South Wimbledon after I received  an email from them telling me they were ready for collection. The queue was long. I stood within my two meter zone of course wearing my plastic gloves and white face mask sounding like Darth Vador every time I breathed. It took me twenty minutes to get into the shop, located in the Sainsburys Store, one minute to pick up the hair clippers  and a further ten minutes to queue to get out of the shop. Emily indeed, enthusiastically cut  my hair off, using a number 4 height level. Not as drastic as it sounds.  The hair cutting made a mess all over the kitchen floor. I was convinced my hair wasn’t evenly cut and my immediate reaction was never to meet anybody for the next month. Oh, that was already organised of course. Since washing my hair I have decided it looks fine.  The clippers cost £30. A haircut at Kamis  costs £10. Two more cuts and I will have broken even. With practice, Emily might get really good at it and I might never have to go to a hairdresser again. So, I have had a,”lockdown haircut,” and I am proud.

Until I have been kept indoors by  this pandemic, I had never heard of ,”ZOOM.” The onomatopoeic  word of course but not the conferencing site ZOOM. Up to 100 people  at a time, can appear on the screen and  talk to each other. It would be mayhem of course if that really happened. Some sort of rules have to be agreed on first. I have taken part in four ZOOM meetings so far and I must say they have been amazing. Not as good as being with people in the flesh but almost. The first two ZOOM meetings I attended were with people I used to go to school with, from over fifty years ago. A reunion no less.Of course some of them are friends I see nowadays  but the connecting factor between us were those distant school years.I have had a meeting with two other fellow Janeites who live in Virginia in the US.  I have also attended a ZOOM  talk about Jane Austen’s life in Southampton given by Dr Carol Butler a historian and academic. October Books, an independent bookshop in Portswood Southampton, organised and advertised the talk.. Seventy people attended this ZOOM meeting. We had to mute our microphones and only post questions by writing them in a text box at the bottom of the screen. It worked really well. There were people from European countries and many from the US too. The only thing you have to coordinate are the world time differences but everybody can easily work that out for themselves. Just as long as the meeting is not arranged for the middle of somebodies night.

So, what other changes have been happening to me and mine? Every Thursday evening at 8pm Marilyn and I have walked out of our front door and with all our neighbours clapped and cheered for the National Health Service and all the  key workers who underpin our lives and keep us going. Most importantly there is the process of buying food. Emily, one of my daughter’s volunteers for that. She stands in a long queue outside of our local TESCO once a week, keeping her social distancing and wearing a mask. I have begun to notice the   sounds of birds in the morning. There are no cars about. I have painted our garden fence, demolished an old shed, cut the grass three times; so far, trimmed hedges and lain down on the lawn looking at an empty blue sky. There are very few planes flying out of Heathrow now. Marilyn and I,” WhatsApped,”  our granddaughter, Emma in Berlin on her first birthday and waved  and chatted to her. Marilyn and I lay awake one night listening to the most awful inhuman screaming coming from the gardens near us at the back of our house. Emily told us, in the morning, that it was foxes mating. Really?

And then, of course, we watch the news everyday on the television.

So what got me writing my Lockdown Diary? I read the following article in The Guardian by Margaret Attwood and was inspired. I need something to fill my time. A bit of self reflection is good for the soul.

Margaret Atwood’s lockdown diary: life as an eccentric self-isolationist