The Importance of Michelle Obama – By Black Women in London

Michelle Obama speaking at the launch of Campaign to Change Direction in March 2015. Image by EJ Hersom

The almost mile-long queue outside of the Southbank Centre on the chilly morning of November 8 was a mere representation of the amount of people interested in purchasing tickets to the ‘hottest event in London’ – former first lady Michelle Obama’s talk about her memoir ‘Becoming‘, at the Royal Festival Hall.

Dozens anxiously waiting in hopes of grabbing a seat were proud black women, who were more than happy to share stories to each other of their lives; and how Michelle Obama has spent the last nine years inspiring them.

Esther Godwins, an employment lawyer and advocate living in the city, had queued up from 5:30AM just for a chance to see the former FLOTUS in the flesh. On what Mrs. Obama means to her, Godwins said that she ’embodies inspiration, and all women aspire to achieve success in their careers, whilst also finding love and raising children. Michelle Obama has done all of that’.

Rosemarie Davidson-Gotobed, a National Minority Ethnics Vocation Officer through the Church of England, explained that she feels a connection to Michelle. Being close in age, they have faced similar struggles throughout their lives. ‘Michelle Obama represents a journey and narrative taken by so many, who have not had her profile or opportunities. Her appeal is that she has utilised her platform to say, do and be her particular version of a significant number of black women in the world – past, present and future’.

Michelle Obama’s highly-anticipated conversation with Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie takes place tonight (December 3). Tickets are completely sold out, however there will be likely several videos of the event posted on social media throughout the evening by attendees.

Black Cab Protest on London Bridge

Cab protest, as seen from Monument station. Image via mightybarnski/Twitter

‘Cabbies’ in central London have been slammed after wreaking havoc on the roads surrounding London Bridge on Monday night (November 26), as the ongoing war between licensed taxi drivers and Transport for London (TfL) raged on. Drivers are protesting their right to operate on a nearby street.

The first of five wide-scale protests lasted three hours, from 4-7PM, and took place across the entirety of London Bridge, causing huge traffic jams and long delays around the area; this comes from TfL’s proposal of banning any black cabs from entering the bus lanes in Tooley Street, which is situated near the Shard.

Ben Plowden, the director of strategy and network development for TfL, said in a statement to the London Evening Standard newspaper that the reasoning behind their pledge is that they want to improve conditions for the people ‘walking and cycling around the area’.

Five consecutive days of non-stop traffic jams on London Bridge is ‘extremely annoying’ for those who commute via the bridge, like sales assistant Megan Wingfield, who lives near Borough Station and uses the number 48 bus to get to her workplace in Liverpool Street. She said that it she can ‘understand the cab drivers frustration’ at feeling like their voices aren’t being heard, but it is ‘extremely childish that they aren’t considering the impact their daily protests are having on London’s emergency services’.

A final decision on Tooley Street’s taxi-ban is expected to be made in January. In the meantime, local bus routes will continue to avoid London Bridge during rush-hour until Friday (November 30), when the protests are expected to end. More information about this and travel updates can be found here.

 

Ice Skating @ Winter Wonderland – Review

Winter Wonderland’s ice rink in Hyde Park. Image taken by Craig Fergus

Several things come to ones mind when they think of London at Christmas – overzealous shoppers reigning over Oxford Street, Love Actually, and of course, Winter Wonderland.

One thing Hyde Park’s winter extravaganza boasts is the ‘UK’s largest open-air ice rink‘. It may be the biggest, but it certainly lacks the charisma needed for it to be the best. Although its expansive grounds are full of thrill-seekers at any given time, the skating experience itself leaves a lot to be desired. For instance, the ice is unusually watery for a supposed premium rink, and makes it a lot easier for visitors to slip up (and get soaking in the meantime)!

No phones are allowed on the ice rink; the only pictures able to capture the memory of a fun (and rather pricey) family day out are the ones taken by a professional photographer at a further expense. The allure of Winter Wonderland’s skating experience falls short the moment a guest steps on it – from afar, it appears white (as standard), but the closer you get you discover the sad reality that it’s a musky-grey colour, and a slushy slip-and-slide that’s littered with frozen leaves and centered around a Victorian bandstand that never seems to have band members present.

Worlds away from the luxurious ice-y opportunities of Somerset House or the Natural History Museum, ‘overused’ springs to mind when you think of Winter Wonderland’s ice rink; it is open twelve hours every day of the week, there’s never enough time for the rink to re-cooperate after a battering by enthusiastic children and adults alike.

Plus, it’s located in an odd location of the theme park, with the only sights of Hyde Park to see are the LED’s from bigger, better attractions through twigs and bushes that lurk over the ice rink – not exactly giving it a ‘festive feel’.

Admission is free to Winter Wonderland, however if you get through security and expect any form of ‘freebie’ on the other side, you’ll certainly be shocked. Of course, if you have the money to spare on all the attractions, then do as you please. But if your budget is tighter and you’re planning on only visiting one experience in Hyde Park, turn away from the ice rink – great fun can be found in areas like Backyard Cinema, the Magical Ice Kingdom and the Giant Wheel.

However, if you’re still intent on getting that ‘skating in Hyde Park’ Christmas experience, Winter Wonderland is open from 10AM-10PM everyday besides December 25 until January 6 2019. During peak time, an adult ticket is £14.50 for fifty minutes on ice, whereas early or late skates are a subtle £9.50 a head. Concessions are available for students, children and over-sixties. Tickets can be purchased at the box office or online at hydeparkwinterwonderland.com .

Florence + the Machine, Live in London – Review

Florence Welch performing ‘Cosmic Love’ in London. Image taken by Craig Fergus

Hot off the heels of her critically acclaimed fourth album ‘High as Hope’, indie pop icons Florence and the Machine are currently in the midst of a sold out worldwide tour.

‘This is my hometown!’ Florence Welch triumphantly exclaimed to the 3000 strong crowd at the capitals Royal Festival Hall. This wasn’t the songbirds first performance at the iconic venue, and it certainly won’t be her last.

Florence opened the show with ‘June’, a relatively slow song which did little to boost spectators spirits, but all was forgiven within the opening bars of her second track ‘Hunger‘, as the crowd began to warm up for what turned out to be a spectacular show.

As Welch ran through her repertoire of classics (particular crowd-pleasers included ‘Between Two Lungs’ and ‘Dog Days Are Over), many bystanders on the floor were disheartened to realise how little energy the majority of her audience had, almost as if they’d been forced to attend her concert. One woman even shouted ‘lighten up!’ to a group of Londoners that remained immobile during ‘Ship to Wreck’, one of the bands most dance-inspired tracks.

When the groups main set was drawing to a close, Florence knew exactly what to do to ensure her band went out with a bang. She must have asked herself, ‘what can I do to really get the crowd moving?’.

Her answer? Get in it.

Mid-way through ‘Delilah‘, Florence spontaneously jumped off stage barefoot (as always) and proceeded to run to the back of the venue and greet attendees by jumping from the sound desk into the audience, dancing with and embracing her fans as if they were old friends. Bold moves like this set Florence aside from other pop forces like Mariah Carey and Britney Spears, who wouldn’t dare pull such exciting stunts in a non-controlled environment.

Katy Evans, a student at Sheffield University who travelled to London just to attend Welch’s concert, said that the front-woman exceeded all her expectations and that it was one of the best live shows she had ever seen. She said, ‘Florence has a star quality that doesn’t exist in any other artist as big as her in modern music. Everyone refers to her as underrated, but considering she has sold out every UK show on this tour proves she must be doing something right!’.

Finishing the night with an encore of the 2012 mega-hit ‘Shake It Out‘, Florence and the Machine proved once again they have still got it – and they’re going to ‘have it’ for a very long time.

BFI IMAX’s Potential Closure – Reaction

Locals and film students alike were left seething on Wednesday morning (November 21) after it was revealed that Waterloo’s beloved BFI IMAX cinema is being considered for demolition… in order for another skyscraper to be built in its place on London’s Southbank.

Discussions took place on the afternoon at the Waterloo Action Centre, where the Waterloo Community Development Group, with Lambeth Council, updated their planning policy regarding eight suitable areas that skyscrapers can be built upon. According to Lambeth news blog SE1, areas that are considered ‘worthy’ for tall buildings to take their place include the IMAX, Becket House on Lambeth Palace Road and Elizabeth House.

A decision like this could make or break the livelihood of the BFI IMAX and its employees, which has stood proudly opposite Waterloo Station since it opened in May 1999.

Lambeth Council’s idea wouldn’t just affect the local community; film student at London Metropolitan University, Aidan Matthew, said that if the film institute was replaced with ‘yet another skyscraper’ in the borough, it would be like taking ‘one more thing’ from the creative youth of London.

Speaking to cinema-goers as they left the complex, many weren’t even aware that council bosses were contemplating closing down Britain’s largest cinema screen. Sharon Watson, who had just seen the new ‘Fantastic Beasts’ film at the IMAX, raged, ‘why are they shutting down one of London’s best cinemas?’. ‘The more interesting places they continue closing in favour of flashy money-making offices, the less exciting central London is going to get’.

Whilst no plans are set in stone and the council aren’t likely to confirm their proposal for several months, the BFI IMAX is open for movie geeks to enjoy the best new films on the (very) big screen seven days a week – subject to showtimes.

The Knight Foundation – ‘Facing Bias’

As social media has become increasingly significant in our day to day lives over the past decade, we as a society have gotten used to being introduced to exciting new ways of storytelling. Because of this, new platforms like virtual reality and phone applications have shown us different kinds of articles in ways we haven’t seen them before.

One of ‘The Knight Foundations’ eleven sponsored projects, ‘Facing Bias’, was created by ‘The Washington Post’ and is based in D.C. – the project aims to develop a smartphone tool that will ‘use augmented reality to analyse a reader’s facial expression whilst they view images’. A possible bad editorial opportunity for such an ambitious project is that if your device is storing such a vast amount of your personal data on a device, you can never be too sure what it is they’re using that data for. Some may find the process unappealing. A pitfall of the project is that how expensive it would be to produce – for instance, it would cost thirty thousand dollars, making it the most expensive project on the list of The Knight Foundations list of eleven.

Engineering Work Overruns, Bringing Waterloo to a Halt

Travellers at London’s Waterloo Station were brought to a standstill this morning (November 19) as engineers working on South Western Railway tracks announced that there would be severe delays throughout the entire day on all trains coming into the station.

Most commuters were aware that there was overnight work planned on the tracks in Surbiton, however the intended completion time was 4:30 AM, but this has now been extended to the ‘end of the day’.

Kaitlyn George, a student at Imperial College London, was unable to commute to get to Waterloo from Winchester and therefore was unable to make it to her lecture. She expressed her anger to me via Twitter, saying ‘this type of thing is becoming a daily occurrence for me, making it almost impossible to get the best out of my degree because I can never make it into university’.

 

Highbury Corner Magistrates Court – Visit

Stock image of Rochdale Magistrates Court, similar to Highbury Corners.

During my first visit to a Magistrates Court (Highbury Corner), I was particularly fascinated by the case of one twenty-five year old female who clearly had an extremely high opinion of herself.

She entered the court with an immediate attitude and swagger in her walk, hood up and all, which I found ironic considering she had only been recently released from prison after spending four years inside for GBH. The young lady about to spend another eight weeks for assaulting her mother twice in the space of two days.

Sat in the public gallery, I pondered, ‘what has she got to be proud of’?

The first offence, which occurred on Tuesday (November 13), consisted of the defendants mother asking her to stop leaving the door on latch, which caused the young female to flick a cigarette down her mother’s bra; the second was caused by her mother allegedly kicking the defendant in the back, causing the female in question to ‘spill’ tea all down her mother’s chest. Although the defendant pleaded guilty to both charges, it signified to me that some people – several not much older than myself – already seem to have given up on their lives.

For instance, when the magistrates were reading out her punishment, I noticed the female’s face didn’t express any emotion; it was as if she had already accepted that this was how she would live out her days, hopping in and out of a prison cell bed.

Overall, I found my visit to the Highbury Corner Magistrates Court to be very interesting and certainly eye-opening, and I look forward to the forthcoming trip to the Blackfriars Crown Court.

Ellie Youll: Knock Her Down Nine Times, But She’ll Get Up Ten

Ellie Youll in Newcastle Upon Tyne, July 2018. Image taken by Craig Fergus

Ellie Youll is an eighteen year old student and waitress who lives in Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK. In May 2017, she was involved in the Manchester Arena bombing. This is her story.

‘When you’re involved in a terror attack, something inside you instantly switches and your life changes forever’.

Around half ten on the night of May 22 2017, I was on the receiving end of a phone call regarding a situation that, in a matter of hours, would be the most talked-about news story on the planet. The call was from my friend of seven years, Ellie Youll, and she was ringing me as she left Manchester Arena. She had just been to an Ariana Grande concert, unaware that the starlets set was about to dramatically alter her life. 

Speaking in the comfort of her bedroom, she recounts the night that twenty-two innocent civilians lost their lives inside a concert venue typically deemed a safe environment. 

‘I was heading towards the (Hunts Bank) exit steps on the opposite side of the arena with my sister Lucy when the bomb was detonated – we knew something strange had happened from the vibrations we felt through the floor, but just put it down to overzealous pre-teen girls leaving their first concert. That was when I rang you (me).’

When Ellie initially rang (me) that night, she laughed as she told me how everyone was dramatising a speaker exploding on stage after Grande had performed her encore (the song ‘Dangerous Woman’), and we agreed that the youth of today weren’t as cool as we thought we used to be. Then, she mentioned that there was a woman that needed to use her phone to contact her daughter, and that she’d call again in five minutes.

At this point, my personal Twitter timeline was suddenly flooded with tweets regarding an incident at Manchester Arena, and during the following conversation with Ellie I got a push notification from BBC News, alerting me (and passing the message on) that some serious stuff was going down in Manchester.

Full of adrenaline, she wasn’t as panicked as she would soon become; it wasn’t until she turned the corner, still on the phone to me, where she would see a girl with a hole in her leg that the reality hit her. Ellie immediately hung up the phone and no one heard from her until the following afternoon. Recounting the morning after, Ellie recalled that the amount of people she hadn’t spoken to in years made her feel somewhat embarrassed that she had been involved in the explosion.

Over one hundred people had responded to the videos uploaded to her Snapchat account of the terror attacks aftermath before she knew the severity of the incident, and she said that the amount of people who hadn’t bothered speaking to her in years made her feel extremely uncomfortable.

Her mother Ciara said that even though she’s watched Ellie struggle with several issues throughout the years, this was the ‘worst she had ever seen her’. However, she said that watching her daughter ‘power through the pain and turn a negative situation into a new outlook on the world’ was one of the ‘proudest moments of her life’. 

‘You can knock her down nine times, but she’ll get up ten‘.

‘When someone dies, you always see dozens of posts about the person from people you never realised knew them, and it’s because they probably didn’t; if I had died, I dread to think how many people would have posted old photos with me, and they would have been the same people that haven’t messaged me since the day after the incident’.

 

Southbank Visitors Flock to Festive Market

Overview of Southbank’s Winter Market from the steps of Embankment Bridge. Image taken by Craig Fergus

The opening of the Southbank’s Winter Market on Friday (November 9) proved to be a tremendous success, with hundreds gathering to celebrate the upcoming festive season along the River Thames.

Lined along the Southbank are dozens of stalls selling a range of goods, including vintage scarves and hand-crafted crockery; the market itself is a stone’s throw away from the Christmas Festival, which is sponsored by Swedish Cider company Rekorderlig and is home to the famous London Starflyer swing ride.

Sharon Donovan, who is visiting the capital with her husband Mark from Winchester, confesses that she feels London is the sole place in the country where Christmas is ‘done properly’. She said that being in the city during winter is like ‘living inside a romantic-comedy film’, and the way London goes over-the-top with street lights and decorations gives her a ‘true sense of Christmas’.

The Southbank Winter Market, just left of the Southbank Centre’s ‘Royal Festival Hall’, is open until January 6 2019 – entry to both the Christmas Festival and walk-through Winter Market is free, but visitors may be subject to bag searches prior to entry.