Winter & Sunshine

Matthew Collins - 03 05 10

It’s not often I hear on a Sunday morning from my Yorkshire colleague Paul Meszaros, but I received an early good luck message this morning, wishing my team, Crystal Palace, all the best against Sheffield Wednesday in their do or die relegation battle today. Paul’s a Sheffield United fan you see.

So perhaps it was rather apt or even an omen, that today of all days began with a visit to church. The Victorious Pentecostal Assembly of all places. The African community in Barking and Dagenham have borne the brunt of most of the BNP’s vile bile, accused of being, among other things, spongers, thieves and even of eating off the floor. Yes, there has been a real element of class to the BNP’s few years of campaigning here.

The VPA is a largely black African church. And this Sunday, as they do every Sunday, they raised the roof with gospel singing, loud and energetic with thumping drums and clapping, as they worshipped. I and Sam Tarry stood at the back tapping our feet, but despite the fact that we’re not particularly rhythmic we didn’t feel unwelcome. We were in fact most welcome, people shook our hands and welcomed us to their church warmly while they danced in the aisles and rejoiced in prayer.

Our star was Caroline Alabi, the HOPE not hate faith coordinator, who took to the stage in front of 2,000 people and spoke passionately about Thursday’s elections. You may have seen her previously on the video with Billy Bragg, when she too took issue with some of the things Dicky Barnbrook and the bores of the BNP say about the people of B&D. She doesn’t hold back!

From there, it was across London to Camden. I’ve always liked Camden, it’s rough, punky, bohemian, noisy and occasionally confronting. It was there a few years ago that I stole my first copy of Searchlight.

By the time Mercury Prize winning singer-songwriter Speech Debelle was at the bus, Palace and Sheffield Wednesday were at 2-2 and Wednesday were pushing for a winner with three minutes to go. I didn’t burden Speech with my near trauma, but she is so very cool, I’m sure she would have taken it all quite easily in her stride.

She was strolling though Camden swigging a cup of water towards the Electric Ballroom, bespectacled and wearing Adidas in the rain. The Mirror’s photographer Chris Grieve got an excellent picture of her screwing her face right up to his lense. His day ended after a few seconds. "One of the easiest people I have ever worked with," he said. "She even remembered me from the last time I met her." In their mutual games, I guess that would make all the difference.

Debelle is a poet, rapper and singer. Her debut album Speech Therapy, released last year, even had The Times sit up and take notice. For a period she had been flitting between hostels and friends’ couches for somewhere to sleep. She doesn’t lose hope. "We don’t get much summer here," she said, indicating that it was still raining, "but under the BNP it would be like winter all year round. Everyone can learn from each other."

Palace held on for their draw and we remain in the Championship. Debelle sauntered off picking her away among the liggers, drinkers and fans doing the Camden Crawl. It seems to have rained non-stop since this tour started, except for one brief moment at the cricket. But today was still full of sunshine.


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