For Wapping

Wapping, a small former parish town in East London, is a place that truly embodies a ‘tale of two cities’. The district begins at the riverbank, where muddied but gleaming Thames water crashes upon small broken-pottery-laden shores. The Met Police Marine Unit is situated there, along with some other small quirks and gems. And Wapping ends where village-like serenity does: the Highway, where trucks, Lamborghinis, and Mercedes-drivers (the latter of which are presumably on their way to their jobs in Canary Wharf and the City) all coalesce.

What I like about Wapping is that it is truly a liminal place. Always moving, yet timeless, caught between times. A village trapped in the midst of a city. Quaint is the best word for it, I think.

Take a walk through Wapping, and you take a walk through a living history book or a museum. This is, I think, as preserved as eighteenth- and nineteenth-century London gets, really. The gorgeous and majestic Tower of London on one side, looming over the road to Tower Bridge.

Walk too far one way, and you get to Peckham. A bustling place, full of energy, in its own right, but simply not comparable to this place. Walk too far the other way, and you get to that rather unfortunate little place that is known as Shadwell… and then, Whitechapel. These places have their good parts, too, don’t get me wrong. But (you guessed it.) they are just not Wapping. 

How unique this place is, and how grateful I am to have grown up here. The other day, a friend of mine told me that she had come here for a visit – specifically, she went to the marina part, where chic little cafes overlook a substantial collection of yachts. The ‘Dickens’ Inn’ is here too, a former brewery dating back to the 18th Century.

The teeming waterside life of Wapping’s former days actually inspired some of Charles Dickens’ writing: he used to come here sometimes, as a child. The workhouses, the docks, the warehouses (which have now all been redeveloped, turned into ridiculously expensive living spaces). The way the lazy summer sun hits these still-cobbled streets. The quaint little pubs, the riverside parks. There is no place I have ever been to that is quite like Wapping.

Wapping Lane: a post office, a pharmacy, a bakery, a greengrocer’s, a butcher’s. A fish and chip shop. A gambling shop, too (rather unfavourably, in my own opinion). A few churches, and my former neighbour – the priest – who laments at the noisiness of the little boys who play upstairs, and at the growing presence of these “thugs” who he says will be borne from the nascent council flats nearby. Then, another pub, and a small café (one of those deliberately vintage-looking ones that charge extortionate prices for almond-based coffee, frequented by all those yoga mums, ‘babyccino’ buyers and and whatnot. But still, I love it).

It is nice that one can set foot into Shadwell, and into Central London, from nucleus Wapping. But, thankfully, there is always this place – peace without boredom, city without too much of it – to return to.

On one side dwell and play the truly wealthy. The yacht-owners, the ones who frequent all these dainty riverside restaurants. Their homes have concierge offices; they are tall and made of glass. The fountains and private rose gardens probably exist primarily to be enjoyed by them, but it’s nice that anyone who passes by can enjoy the view, too.

On the other side, the somewhat less wealthy. The Cockney accents. “‘Ello love!” “You aw’ight babe?” The drunk man who is always fixing something in his flat. The council homes, rows of little ones, and all their washing lines. The lovely old lady who is forever outside, tending to her plants, and feeding the birds. Occasionally, a conversation betwixt two – maybe about the weather, or an angrier one about how certain dog owners do not clean up after their dogs, or about the price of bread at our local bakery.

Dame Helen Mirren lives here. So does Rio Ferdinand. Graham Norton, too: I see him fairly often, actually, at Waitrose.

There are the white working-class people (the ones who chose to remain here, during those periods of ‘White Flight’), and there are all these Bengali ones. There are the sort of ‘hipster’-y people who are increasingly moving in: all these young-ish professionals who live alone; the under-bridge warehouses that have been converted into food places. There used to be a thriving Jewish community here in the East End, too. Here was where the Battle of Cable Street had taken place, years and years ago.

Someday everything that is taking place here right now will be a thing of ‘years and years ago’, too.

And I think I like taking my place, here in the middle of things. It allows one to walk this way, and then that. And you belong to all of it, but you belong to none of it at the same time. There are no obligations; you find yourself untied to anything at all. And, yet, there you are, firmly rooted in the actual midst of things. Everything unfolds right before you. The little wooden bridge that takes you from one side of the canal to the other [the one that used to always be impossibly slippery during the colder months!]

Good things come from balances, from middles. And here Wapping is, you see: caught right in the middle of things.


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

Pubs and Prejudice

Being a South Asian Muslim living in the UK, I have often been made to feel like a victim of prejudice. Stares, comments, tuts- you name it, I’ve received it. That being said, I must admit that I also harbour my own prejudices; labelling people is a flaw that is common among every member of our species.

Precisely a year ago, I went on a little family holiday to Blackpool. Any trip to this seaside resort is incomplete without a visit to its notorious pleasure beach. Although I despise rollercoasters and fairground rides, I decided to get onto the water ride, despite the fact that it was cold, and I was wearing summery clothes.

Inevitably, I was absolutely drenched. I walked around, shivering, looking for a public toilet where I could dry myself off a little. The only public toilets within close vicinity were situated within a pub. This was my first time ever entering a pub (as alcohol is Haram, or forbidden, in my religion). My second time entering a pub was when, earlier this summer, we went on another little trip to Ipswich, and stayed at a small inn. We had breakfast at the adjoined pub.

My initial view was that English pubs were always full of ignorant drunkards, huddling around, discussing sports and why they support UKIP. When I went to dry my skirt underneath the hand drier, I noticed a woman- drunk, white, middle-aged, with a giant tattoo on her arm- staring at me. I braced myself; I thought she would impart some sort of racial slur to me, but she didn’t.

Instead, we had a little conversation about the wretched water ride, and about how hand driers in public toilets are always so weak.


Sadia Ahmed, 2017

The Butterfly Effect

The Butterfly Effect refers to the idea that minuscule, seemingly insignificant, actions can lead to significant reactions- a ripple effect, if you like. This term is typically used in meteorology, to describe how even a butterfly flapping its wings on one side of the world can cause a tornado on the other. The phrase can also be seen as a metaphor. The fragility of the atmosphere can be compared to that of human emotions: the little things we do can have remarkable consequences. A simple smile or a hug can illuminate a person’s otherwise miserable day. A ten-minute conversation over coffee can be the thing that dissuades a person from committing suicide.

We must acknowledge, firstly, that we are all in need of each other, and we should be more reflective upon our actions.

Was Corbyn being anti-Semitic?

This morning, I logged into Twitter to find that the phrase ‘Israel to ISIS’ was trending in London. After further investigation, I discovered that Jeremy Corbyn (the current leader of the British Labour Party) was (yet again) being pressured to resign amid claims that he had made a strikingly anti-Semitic comment in Parliament.

Here is the exact statement he made:

“Our Jewish friends are no more responsible for the actions of Israel or the Netanyahu government than our Muslim friends are for those of various self-styled Islamic states or organisations”

I had several initial reactions to this statement in contrast with the intensely negative responses it received. Firstly, what kind of anti-Semitic person in his right mind would refer to Jews as “friends”? Moreover, Corbyn did not compare Israel to Daesh- rather, he compared the relations of ordinary Jews and Muslims in the UK to fundamentalist organisations, such as the Netanyahu government and (presumably) corrupted governments like that of Saudi Arabia. Daesh was not mentioned in this particular assertion, and yet this is what hundreds of Brits are focusing on.

Corbyn has always voiced views in support of British Jews and Muslims, and yet, due to the above statement, people have deemed the Labour Party “unsafe” for Jews under Corbyn’s leadership. Many gentiles seem to be anointing themselves as spokespeople for the Jewish community, criticising Corbyn’s ‘antisemitism’. But is it really anti-Semitic to oppose the actions of a particular government? Similarly, is it Islamophobic to oppose the actions of the Saudi government? Is it anti-Semitic to actively oppose anti-Semitism on the basis of scapegoating? No. These ideas are fundamentally absurd- they are mere excuses for people to thrive on in order to meet a political objective (in this case, pressuring Corbyn to resign from his position).

Corbyn was right in declaring that Zionism should not be conflated with Judaism, as far too often, ordinary Jews are forced to pay for the crimes of IDF soldiers, and (in a similar sense) ordinary Muslims are forced to pay for the crimes of various ‘Islamist’ organisations. This unjust culture of scapegoating is precisely what Corbyn spoke out against.

Many Jews are tweeting in anger and frustration against the calls for Corbyn to resign, arguing that the Labour leader was right to make such a statement, as people habitually conflate Zionism with Judaism, and physically and verbally attack Jews as a result of this foolish notion. Ironically, the statement that many are branding as ‘anti-Jewish’, was in fact, to protect the best interests of the British Jewish community.

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Source: lbc.co.uk

What I find most disconcerting is that many of the politicians who have criticised Corbyn’s leadership (especially in the past few hours) have never championed the rights of the British Jewish community until now- this is an example of political tokenism at its worst. The interests of the British Jewish community are, once again, being exploited to conform to a political agenda.

Here’s how one of the Jewish activists I follow on Twitter expressed her views on the topic:

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Source: twitter.com

Post-Brexit, British politics have morphed into a thing of childlike folly and deceit, and politicians of high morals and integrity are being held liable for the actions of their (polar opposite) counterparts. Corbyn is not a monstrous anti-Semite as British media outlets are currently portraying him, and anyone claiming Corbyn has an antisemitism problem because ‘compared Israel to ISIS’ is in desperate need of a remedial lesson in basic logic.

 


Sadia Ahmed, 2016

Why GCSEs are a problem

Every British student has his or her own story to tell when it comes to the topic of GCSEs. There are the ridiculously bright, organised and perpetually energetic who jump with glee at the thought of endless hours of revision. Then there are the other 99% of the British teen population: the insanely intelligent and unique individuals who are not particularly compatible with the GCSE system of broad memorisation.

This article is dedicated to all of you: the brilliant, creative beings who have been labeled “dumb” or “lazy” due to your reluctance to sit down for hours on end, memorising an abundance of pointless information; the ones currently suffering from anxiety or depression or ADHD, so revision becomes synonymous with torture; the teens whose lives are currently too unstable for them to bear the burden of the responsibility of such a task, and, of course, the model students who suffer endlessly for their grades. I understand you, and I believe in you. You are not stupid or incompetent, and the system has failed you.

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

To any non-Brits reading this article who are wondering what on Earth GCSEs are, they are a series of examinations fifteen and sixteen-year-olds take here in the UK, across eight to fifteen subjects in total. Most of these tests rely not on creativity, practical skills or logic; they rely primarily on memory retention. Imagine having to memorise subject content (usually about three textbooks of information for each subject) across numerous subjects. Some students have to sit over thirty exams- exams that do not focus on a particular career path, but across a desultory range.

Of course, as a keen socialist, I am all for education- it is the key to success both on a personal and global basis. However, that being said, the GCSE system here in the UK is in desperate need of reform. Not only does it counterproductively dull down intelligence and creativity, it also does little to prepare young individuals for life in the real world, especially in the digital age.

The system has failed to modernise- the constructors of the GCSE system must be unaware of the existence of Google. We do not need to memorise useless dates such as when the NHS Act was introduced, nor do we need to memorise complex algebraic functions or how dust precipitators work. The education of our generation- Generation Alpha- is being placed into the hands of a group of old, incompetent, privileged politicians who are simply making it increasingly difficult for the underprivileged to succeed.

GCSE grades lull high achieving students into a false sense of security and subsequent academic arrogance (which is sometimes absolutely demolished come A-levels) and give underachieving students the false impression that they are stupid and good for nothing. The truth is, not every GCSE Physics student will grow up to become a Physicist, and the same can be said for every other GCSE subject. Everyone excels at something- whether it be painting, baking, engineering or politics- and everyone deserves to be commended for their talents, irrespective of whether or not they were able to bag 10 A*s at GCSE level.

I do not, in any way, believe that GCSEs should be scrapped altogether, however I believe they are in desperate need of reform; the British education system must keep with the times, make learning more accessible and enjoyable (without leaving students with a feeling of perpetual exhaustion and dread), and do a better job at preparing us for the future.


Sadia Ahmed, 2016

Where Youth and Laughter Go

This poem is about the inherent folly of war.


From fighting for  my country, I have learnt

That bombs fall like raindrops,

But so do tears. So does vomit. So does blood.

And the human ego is so

Fragile, yet indestructible.

It finds itself woven subtly

Into uniforms, weapons and empty pledges of empty allegiance.

Looking up at the sooty, dust-filled sky,

I thought it was almost beautiful

How one person flying overhead,

Holds in his hands the limitless power to kill,

To destruct and destroy,

To take our lives and wipe our sins away

And compete against infinity.

Every bullet that slices through the air like a shooting star

Holds the power to slice through a heart,

To bring a man down to his knees and breathe

His very last breath.

To orphan a child, to widow a wife,

To extinguish a thousand hopes, dreams and fears,

To steal a life.

Because war makes us feel powerful- immortal- like gods.

But it reduces men to nothing- to ghosts, not gods, hiding in their own ribcages,

Unsure of what to do-

It’s almost beautiful how men cry too.

In a life where love is the only war we’ve yet to wage,

Where men sit in shallow trenches- shallow graves,

Praying- begging- to see their loved ones again.

They don’t have time to see the irony of it all:

They demolish cities and wreck livelihoods

While they yearn for the comfort of their own families.

Dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori,

Show me where it hurts, and listen carefully:

Listen to how gunshots sound like heartbeats in the distance,

See how the blood that flows whimsically through the veins of the Earth

Has no name, no nation, no personality;

They are fluids of cowardice and terror, of tenderness and humanity.

We are just children, pretending to be men, and I long

To be held again.

To lay roses over the eternal tombs of the fallen, but there are no roses left-

Only shrapnel and shells of men, hollow and bereft.

Slovenly, we shoot for the moon, for the stars, for love, for peace.

But we all end up in the hell

Where youth and laughter go.


Sadia Ahmed, 2016

#TwoMinutePoetryChallenge

I wrote this poem in the space of two minutes and I challenge my readers to do the same.


Look outside.

Are the clouds weeping? Do they share my sorrow?

Or does the world simply go on?

Did the sun rise today? Did the winds still blow?

Did time just carry on as though

Everything is okay?

Did the birds sing this morning? I would not know,

For their symphonies continue to be cancelled out by my desire to hear nothing.

Tell me: did the trees sway in the breeze today? Did they notify you of their reluctance to bear fruit at this hour?

Why must we wait for things? Why do we challenge ourselves to wait to escape?

Patience reflects delusion and a false sense of

Immortality.

Are we all just kidding ourselves?

We are all just kidding ourselves.

Look outside. The clouds are weeping, but they do not share my sorrow.

I am here, encapsulated in a universe that is neither happy nor sad, yet here I am,

Embodying (compensating for)  its lack of happiness and sadness,

All at once.

Like how the clouds gush tears of neutrality, I cry tears of happiness, sadness

and everything in between.

 


Sadia Ahmed, 2016

Clouds that are infinite.

Clouds.
There are clouds in my head; they are pregnant with rain.
Rain.
Monsoon showers that wash away my doubts and rinse me of my insecurities. They moisten the ground, so the seeds become flowers.
Flowers.
They grow into greatness and majesty, into the sky, out of the sky.
The sky.
The empty sea of azure through which we fly. It symbolises hope, uncertainty and infinity.
Infinity.
Clouds. Rain. Flowers. The sky.
You. Me.
Infinity.

The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Here in Britain, we are fortunate enough to have the collective right to freedom of speech. We are allowed to outwardly express disapproval of the actions of certain governments; our favourites to criticise include North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and of course, our own government. When people criticise North Korea and Saudi Arabia, they rightfully speak of oppressive restrictions and abuses of universal human rights. I do not deny that the Israeli government has violated numerous human rights and UN laws, however I do not believe that people are justified in their criticisms when they blame ‘the Jews’ or, worse still, when they allude to the Holocaust.

Expressing disapproval towards the actions of a certain government should never- not ever- be used to convey racist (namely anti-Jewish) sentiment. The Holocaust was a very dark period of history- many Jewish people lost hundreds of relatives and ancestors to the unspeakable genocide, and we cannot use such a sensitive matter to convince people that Israel does not have the right to exist. In truth, both Palestine and Israel share equivalent rights to existence, but neither state possesses the rights to self-determination.

I am strongly in favour of a two-state solution. From an objective viewpoint, I am able to discern that the answer to the issue lies not in war and bloodshed, but in talks of peace, acceptance and unity.

Blind Fidelity

05/05/2016

His heart was pounding so rapidly, he feared that, in a moment or two, it would tear through his chest and fall onto the floor- not that he’d even notice anyway; the only things he could think about were the faces of his dead friends, his intense fear of dying and his acute desire to make it out alive- to be able to kiss his daughter on the forehead again, to tell her he loves her.

In the very back of his mind, he wondered what had put him in this position in the first place- running senselessly to his death. Was it blind fidelity? Fraudulent jingoism? Or was it his constant desire to prove himself as a man?

Either way, there he was, a flimsy tin hat sitting uncomfortably atop his head, a Bible concealed beneath the ragged khaki- the uniform of his doom- and a bayonet bouncing up and down repeatedly between his anxious hands. He was nothing more than a heroic coward. A scared soldier.

Then, he saw it: the scene of a group of men he once knew, lying dead, scattered like unwanted clothes outside a charity shop, with pained, distant expressions strewn permanently across their faces, their blood flowing copiously into the welcoming vessels of the ground. Rest in peace, comrades. Rest in pain. Rest in power.

The scene of his dead, mutilated friends was almost too much to bear. Tom broke down and cried tears of dread and desperation. It was absolutely terrifying, because, in that moment, he had caught a glimpse of his inevitable future.