I recently spent an enjoyable hour with a Year 6 class at Millfields school talking about what I do for a living. I told them about the very first articles I had published and was paid for way back in 1981, when things like blogs had yet to be invented and dinosaurs roamed the Earth. We then had an interesting discussion about how journalism works and why it sometimes - well, quite often actually - doesn't tell the whole truth and tends to exaggerate things (there's been an example of exaggeration in this article already. A big tick to any reader who's spotted it).
The Kingsmead estate and its neighbouring primary school attracted an unfair share of bad publicity for a time some years ago. But Claptonite Gideon Mendel, a photographer of great renown, has conveyed a much more truthful image of these places: many images, in fact. He worked with 28 of the school's children over a six month period in which they photographed their own homes and community, family and friends, lives and times. He's also completed his own parallel project in the school and on the estate, which includes individually snapping every one of the school's pupils. The results of Gideon's and the children's endeavours, Kingsmead Eyes, can be appreciated at the Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green until 7 February next year. They include this beautiful video. Kingsmead has played a special part in my Hackney life as my eldest child, now aged 25, was a pupil at the school when I lived in Homerton before I become a Pond-dweller.
That nice lady at the top end of Thistlewaite Road topped even her own very high standards this year with this fantastic Hallowe'en creation. The house was constructed from the packaging of someone's new bed, by the way. Genius. And it attracted small ghouls by the horde.
I love it that our neighbourhood embraces Hallowe'en with such enthusiasm. As well as being a lot of fun for the kids there's something valuable and satisfying about families occupying the darkened autumn streets. True, a did feel a cold shiver each time I bumped into a pint-sized and resolutely silent Grim Reaper, but in general the evening bore out the adage that a place feels - and probably is - safer when there are plenty of friendly people out and about.
I'm also grateful to Clapton's Hallowe'en - perhaps particularly the Millfields end of Mildenhall Road, where there seemed to be hideous jack 'o lanterns everywhere - for massively reducing my household's outgoings on confectionary for the foreseeable future.
Here is the news. Last week, a local blogger and alleged Guardian journalist went to Millfields school in Hackney with his eyelids propped open and goodwill in his heart to speak to a class of Year 1 pupils about whatever it is he thinks he does for a living. In his stylish reporter's shoulder bag (£8 from the Narroway, circa 1998) he carried his usual array of gadgetry - pens, notepads, digicam, camera, recording device - most of which he can't use properly.
He took his place in the classroom "hot seat" sustained only by bravado and a desire to keep his promise to Inspire! Watched closely by some 30 endearing infants, their teacher Miss Bukie and assistant Paulina he told tales of a funny man called Boris whose activities he monitors closely at all times and tries to tell the world about, principally by means of his Guardian London blog. Then he sought to establish some facts. Initial reports that the class contained 32 pupils proved to be incorrect after intensive head counting revealed there to be only 30 in the room. However, a spokesperson - believed to be Miss Bukie herself - explained that that was because two children were off sick. Having jotted all this down, the blogger-hack pressed the assembled to reveal their unhealthy food preferences. How many liked ice cream best, how many preferred jelly and how many would choose chocolate milk? Of the respondents, some of whom declined to be named, eleven went for ice cream, 17 for chocolate milk and all 30 for ice cream. This proved that the supposed reporter hadn't asked a very intelligent question. He left quietly, but not before taking the exclusive photograph you see here. Despite his deep incompetence he hopes to be invited back next year. And now, the weather forecast.
To recap, Vivian Gamor who is mentally unwell, was convicted of the manslaughter of her two children last August. A report has been published into Hackney Social Services conduct of the case. As the BBC reports, the children's father Jimi Ogunkoya is very unhappy with its conclusions:
"It doesn't take a genius to work out that that there needs to be some sort of risk assessment done, you can't just throw the children in there and hope for the best. My children were living with me, they were taken out of a safe environment and... placed in to an unsafe one. If someone's been sectioned for violence - brandishing a knife - I don't see how that person can't pose a risk."
The Today programme this morning carried an interview with Jimi's solicitor Bali Gill and Fran Pearson, of the City and Hackney Safeguarding Children Board. Listen again from 7.25.
"We love living in Hackney because of the many cultural activities going on in the borough. After the success of the first Discover Young Hackney festival last year, which many young Hackney residents took part in and enjoyed, we were looking forward to getting inspired again at this year’s event.
This year, Discover Young Hackney ’08 provided more chances for Hackney’s young people to get involved in different leisure, art, music, dance and media activities – giving them the opportunities to express themselves in different ways, make new friends and share experiences. There were projects on everything from fashion to film and live performance to project management, with young people working alongside their peers as well as professionals to showcase the best of the borough in events such as the talent contest at the Hackney Empire."
"Figures published today show the biggest drop for five years in teenage conception rates, confirmation that the Government’s Teenage Pregnancy Strategy is working. The Office of National Statistics figures show teenage pregnancy rates continuing to fall with a reduction in both the under 18 and the under 16 rates during 2006."
Apparently, the change is particularly marked in Hackney. Now read on.
Last week, Mr Locker of Stamford Hill was walking past Millfields swings and took this photograph of what he saw - a man using a high-powered jet-spray device to clear the moss that had made the surfaces so treacherous. This morning, I had a quick look for myself and saw that the lush, green coating featured in the photographs I had previously taken had gone. Now all they have to do is clear off the graffiti. I can't claim that my blogging - here and here - is responsible for the work being done. Perhaps it would have happened anyway. But I'm sure it helped concentrate minds, including that of the mayor who left a comment on my first post. Holding local authorities to account is one of the things that "hyperlocal" blogging can achieve. We need more such bloggers in Hackney. Why don't you become one?