Make Way for The Elephant Parade

In a few days, central London will be transformed into an urban jungle with 250 life-size baby elephants standing on street corners, parks and buildings around the capital. Each elephant is a unique creation by an artist, fashion designer, organisation or celebrity, including painter Mythili Thevendrampillai who was featured for London Art Spot at the end of February.

Mythili and ElephantI took this shot of Mythili with her painted baby elephant at her show in March.

Some other artists to look out for include Alice Temperley, Baroness Carrie von Reichardt (who I just mentioned here the other day), Diane von Furstenberg, Lulu Guinness, Matthew Williamson, Tommy Hilfiger and lots more.

The Elephant Parade has been called London’s biggest outdoor art event on record with an estimated audience of an impressive 25 million. Not only is it creative, but it’s for a good cause: conservation of the Asian elephant. In the last 100 years, the population of these wild guys has shrunk by over 90%. Where there were once 250,000 elephants roaming about, now there’s only 25,000 which means they could be extinct by in about 40 years. The Elephant Parade was founded by father and son Mike and Marc Spits in Holland. The parade supports a charity called The Elephant Family founded by trustee Mark Shand after travelling around India on his elephant, Tara.

The jungle beasts are in the city until the end of July when they will be auctioned off by Sotheby’s. The campaign is aiming to raise £2 million for the Asian elephant and benefit 20 UK conservation charities.

There’s a map here. If you find an elephant, snap a photo, stick it in the Flickr pool if you like and I’ll put ’em up on the blog.

More info on everything here!

Londonstani, innit.

I’m always attracted to books set in London (White Teeth by Zadie Smith, Geoff Ryman’s 253, etc). London is a familiar place but because of the incredible diversity, there are still many unfamiliar aspects. I’m also very interested in British Asian culture, so when I came across Londonstani by Gautam Malkani, I knew it would either love it or hate it. I loved it. Seeing as this blog is about anything London, thought I’d share.
Gautam is a journalist for the Financial Times (one of those lucky ones who stuck his foot in their door as a graduate trainee and weaselled his way to full time staff status ever since). Londonstani is his first novel (published 3-4 years ago now), and quite an accomplishment at that because it leaves your mind churning at the end with a sly little twist that changes the way you think about the entire story. (No worries – I won’t give that away!)
It’s set in Hounslow and follows the Brit-Asian rudeboy scene through the eyes of the slightly-awkward Jas who tries to fit in with the hardcore bad boys but doesn’t quite cut it. The entire book is written in rudeboy slang – not an easy task, but it certainly sets it apart. Gautam even wrote a style guide to keep it straight while he was writing.
He explains the title on his website: “’Londonstani’ was a self-referential term that basically meant I’m proud to be a Londoner because it’s a place where I can be both British and Asian and still feel 100 per cent like I belong – like I’m a native. It’s like desi slang for the word “Londoner”; it means the same thing.”
Overall, it’s a brilliant exploration of identity, primarily, also religion, cross-cultural relationships, subcultures, family life, machismo and the pressure to either fit in or rebel against mainstream society. It hits a lot of discussion-worthy points – What is mainstream culture anyway? What does it mean to be a second or third generation Asian in London? What happens when you mix cultures to create new relationships or a new identity?
Gautam wrote Londonstani after researching the subject of Brit-Asian culture for his university dissertation and found himself with a lot more material and interest than he originally expected. He said it began with thinking “about the Brit-Asian rudeboy scene and the rejection of our parents’ efforts to integrate with mainstream Britain – leading to the development of our own brand of Britishness.”
It’s a look at one way to define “Britishness” and more proof that the definition is constantly evolving and expanding.

If you have any other recommendations for London-based fiction, pass em on in the comments…

Vibrant, Vivacious Southall

Gill and I decided on an adventure yesterday. We took the train five minutes south to a different world.

Southall is one of regions in London most famous for its large Asian population. 55% of the population is Indian or Pakistani but there is also a large community of Somalis who live there. The result: a colourful, vibrant area with cultural differences woven intricately throughout. The signs at the train station are even bilingual in English and Gurmukhi.

As Gill pointed out, being blond and American, I was overwhelmingly outnumbered, but it wasn’t a place that makes you feel like you stand out.

It was quite a fascinating little venture. The McDonalds is halal. There is a pub called the Glassy Junction which accepts rupees as payment (300 = 1 pint of beer). It has churches, temples and mosques. You can buy little cups of “magical corn” along the roads set up in front of rows and rows of shops. Bend It Like Beckham was filmed there.

We went into a little jumble of a shop that sells everything from rolls to bubble wrap to states of Ganesh, to Jesus and Mary dinner trays to sex toys to children’s toys to kitchen ware and hardware. The goods were dirty and tumbling off the shelves. It was an array of treasures that required some digging, but if you needed a light bulb, an old cassette a giant stuffed tiger or a spin-the-wheel-strip-tease game, that’s the place to go.

There were gorgeously vivid fabric shops, sari shops and jewellery shops, lots of phones and DVDs, loads of curry restaurants and market food lining the streets, vegetables and fruits I’ve never seen before in my life. We bought some lychees and some sweet noodles called Noogdi to munch on.

We poked and prodded various bags of spices and rice and lentils, examined sauces and unfamiliar snacks. And then, with a craving for Asian food after all the spices wafting through the Southall air, we went home and cooked a giant pot of chicken biryani.

Dynamics of a Ride on the 452 to Kensal Rise

452 to Kensal Rise.

  • Back seats, top deck. For 12 stops, four middle-aged men sit in a row, shouting in Arabic, laughing, singing and clapping along to their song. They point to pedestrians and mix their own language with “woo, blondie, there!” and wolf whistles abound.
  • Near Ladbroke Grove station, at a bus stop, three people sit on the red bench: one tiny woman wearing a headscarf, one large white man with ginger hair, freckles splattered like paint up his arms, one heavyset black woman wearing a business suit and smart heels. They share a snack among themselves, passing around a white paper bag and munching quietly.
  • A man walking over a zebra crossing. When he turns to check for traffic, he exposes the other side of his face which is covered in large sanguine scabs.
  • Five seats ahead of me, a woman sits with a small child. He jabbers away in Spanish, gesturing excitedly the entire journey. She has her nose in The Sun and nods occasionally in his direction. She barely says two words. When they get off, she says, “Vamos!”
  • A few stops from mine, a man with dirty-blond, waist-length rocker hair and a prominently featured plumber’s bum gets on. He sits diagonally across from me. The man next to me, a black man twice my age with a white beard and long dreads wrapped up in a hat turned and giggled quietly with me.