Expedition England: Walking From Moss Side to London

Expedition England: Walking From Moss Side to London

When you read this I have just started to walk from Moss Side, where I have lived for 9 months, heading for London. I am pushing a stroller with my daughter Dana inside, I am carrying a reasonably heavy 65 liter backpack, and I have tied on my camera rucksack on the stroller. We are quite heavy. But we have help. I have a new partner. Not Dana, I have been with her almost everyday, every hour for 9 months. Nope, its is my new expedition partner and assistant Georgia from Bolton!  She will join me for the time it takes to walk the 450 miles to northern London. Every three days, once Georgia has introduced herself, I (and hopefully on and off Georgia) will write a report from the walk.  I honestly believe this is my most important expedition I have ever made. The main reason is doing a documentary about contemporary England.

dana

This is the idea:

“I am sitting down shivering whilst writing this piece. I am dressed in my down jacket, boots, long johns and a hat. I am indoors and the cold from the floor is startling. But there is no snow on the outside. Neither below zero degrees. In reality it is 7 degrees Celsius and raining.  And this is the normal day.  The house my family and I are living in is a traditional Victorian house from 1909 that once housed cotton mill workers and their families. The walls are thin, there´s moisture and mould on most walls, insulation is missing almost entirely and the electricity and gas are expensive. We pay it with a card, which charges us more than double compared to people who have proper electricity supplied centrally, and when you most need it to work, it stops.  I have to run down and top it up at a corner store, run by a Pakistani family who also sells camel milk for 6 pounds a liter. This has been one of the coldest winters I have ever experienced. This is Moss Side, England 2014.”  

My experiences in Moss Side have changed my image of England. For better and worse. I had no idea that such poverty that I have come across here existed in England, the 6th richest country on earth. But neither did I have an idea that such a vibrant, diverse cultural society like the one in Moss Side existed on this continent. For me it has been discovering a hidden gem! That is why I have decided to do a walk from Moss Side to a suburb of London named Buckhurst Hill.

This is where I spent my first eleven summers.  Buckhurst Hill is in a pretty much all white affluent English area back then and it was a time, which turned me into an Anglophile.  The plan is to walk 450 miles from Moss Side.  This foot journey is together with a partner and my 20 months old daughter Sardana, who I will push in a stroller. I am bringing her for two reasons, first of all because I cannot, like most English people, afford paying 800 pounds a month for a daycare.  Secondly, it seems like the English are the most private people on earth.  In this case, since I need them to open their doors, and I believe my daughter will be very helpful!

I believe that I, like most people on earth, have an image of what they believe England is like. An image I have noticed many English still try to sell today. An England of an equal society dominated by polite and proud people, quite reserved and always drinking tea, dressed in bowler hats and thick coats, who loves the past, rugby, fox hunting, the royals, their gardens and who with great conviction believe they saved the world from the Nazis and that the island still has a lot of influence on the world and its future.

The England I have experienced so far is quite different. During my 10 months of living in the north of England I have realized that very few people fully understand the great changes which are taking place in England and Great Britain. For example, more than 1 million need help from Foodbanks today, and unemployment is rife and growing. Most English I come across today have a migrant background from Asia, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe or Africa. In my part of Moss Side, quite a few women are dressed in niqab and abbaya (full covered Islamic dress for women) and men and women go as much to the mosque, gurdwara (sikh temple), hindu temple as to the Anglican church. A major part of the kids in my daughter’s school are Afro-English. Some of the white neighbors I have lack healthy teeth due to no help from the government. And most of them are in their early twenties.

So, the question is, what does the ‘real’ England look like today? This is what I want to find out during my walk through the heart of the island. The main goal is to do a positive documentary about this extraordinary island, which seems stuck in between the US and Europe. So far, including the demanding winter experience, the newer England for me is a positive experience. But I also know that by 1922 the British Empire had control over about 458 million people, one-fifth of the world’s population at the time and they held sway over almost a quarter of the Earth’s total land area. As a result, its political, legal, linguistic and cultural legacy is considerable. 92 years later the Empire is all but gone, but Great Britain (especially its engine England) is still one of the global powers. For this reason, what happens in England, have major implications for the rest of the world.

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8 Comments for this entry

  1. Bruce Tamagno says:

    Mike, what a great idea! Can I meet you and walk with you for a day sometime? Actually, I will have a hire car this Friday
    Bruce in Chester

  2. mikael says:

    Of course Bruce! great idea, just give me a call when you have the time!

  3. Jason Lewis says:

    Great idea to take your daughter, Mikael. (This was the same reason I used rollerblades across the southern US, to broker interaction with the local people, a catalyst to experience the raw underbelly of small-town America.) Plus, you have the added advantage of being non-Anglo native, giving you that story-telling bird’s eye view that makes Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island and Theroux’s The Kingdom by the Sea so much more interesting than if a national had written them. Best of luck with it!

  4. mikael says:

    Thanks for those words Jason. I hope I will come out of this journey more positive in comparison to both Bryson and Theroux, whos book I at times found depressingly negative. Keep in touch! M

  5. Jeff Willner says:

    Good luck brother and may fortune smile on the expedition. Here’s to unique memories, and a scrapbook that your little girl will have when she grows up. Please let me know if you need anything along the way. You are doing important work. Life, after all, is amazing!

  6. Mark says:

    This is a very interesting idea! Good luck and I will follow with interest! (Incidentally, I married a Swede and lived there for a while and puzzle over the nature of Sweden – a similar approach in Sweden could be a walk from Tensta/Rinkeby to another destination pondering the same questions about the nature of Sweden and how it’s adapting to it’s future).

  7. mikael says:

    hi Mark, please do write and tell me what you specifically mean with the nature puzzle…I´d love to hear that! I have a couple of mates who are Brits, living with Swedes and like their feedback…which is always quick when I write an opinion about the Uk…Barry, me ole mate wrote this http://www.mikaelstrandberg.com/2013/11/07/this-is-england-and-sweden-by-barry-moss/ and your idea is in work already. Keep me updated with your opinions about Sweden! Don´t do the same mistake as this fella though….http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/05/scandinavian-miracle-denmark-finland-iceland-norway-sweden He got trashed!

  8. Mark says:

    Yes. I read that guardian article at the time – seems to have been written from a position of ignorance somewhat but a counterbalance perhaps to a slew of opinions about life in Scandinavia which perhaps paints an unrealistic rosy hue (‘we love Scandi crime drama’ ‘Stockholm/Oslo/Copenhagen/Helsinki is just so stylish!’ ‘Cheap Childcare’ etc etc).

    Now I love Sweden, I do, but like the UK there are good things about it and bad things too. I think my opinion is relatively informed, learning Swedish certainly opened everything up for me from just being able to read/listen to the media or just eavesdrop on people. I think Sweden seeks similar challenges to the UK at the moment but from a different angle if you like. Immigration is an interesting one in Sweden for example (as I hint above), the particular Swedish angle is the acceptance of people from the world’s warzones and how you assimilate them. Connected is the question of employment, if you’ve got a job your ok but if you don’t then getting one is relatively tough (and that joins up with the question of assimilation in many cases).

    I could write more! One of my favourite books if ‘Flyfishing in Paradise’, it touches upon many of my sentiments.

    Anyways, Sweden is a fine country and I am glad my children hold Swedish passports. Myself I relish the sheer physical space of it. I did my own two month walk last summer from Dalarna to Lappland and saw even more of it’s rural wilderness areas than from when I lived there. Simply there is room to breathe in!

    (I bet all your UK friends with Swedes are British males with Swedish girls … I studied Swedish at a language class in London and we were all English males with Swedish girls. Are you the exception to the rule!)

    Mark

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