Monthly Archives: April 2016

“Looked-after children” – Yesterday and Today. Illustrations in literature.

During 2015 I turned on the radio and heard the following startling statement. I jotted it down

“Every 20 minutes a child enters the care system. There are currently 63,000 children in Care.” That figure surprised me.

Somewhere else I jotted down “Famous adoptees” that I knew of. I wrote:

  • Steve Jobs ( of Apple fame),
  • David Dickinson (Antiques programmes and “Who do you think you Are?”),
  • Michael Gove (Government Minister),
  • Jackie Kay (author and poet), Lemn Sissay (poet – former Writer in Residence at the South Bank).

Of course there are many more famous adoptees.

A few years ago I visited the Foundling Museum in London – the foundation that Thomas Coram set up in 18th Century with backing and support from Handel and Hogarth and other famous artists who were concerned about the fate of the many extremely poor and abandoned children.

Foundling Museum

I had seen the cabinet holding the tokens that mothers left when they left their children – The following matter-of-fact explanation taken from Wikipedia does not attempt to convey how moving it is to see these tiny, simple tokens.

EXTRACT from WIKIPEDIA: “Foundling tokens (coins, a button, jewellery, a poem) were given by mothers leaving their babies, allowing the Foundling Hospital to match a mother with her child should she ever come back to claim it. Sadly, the overwhelming majority of the children never saw their mothers again and their tokens are still in the care of the museum.”

Illustration – “Drawing on Childhood”

In February 2016 a friend drew my attention to an exhibition entitled “Drawing on Childhood”. It was an exhibition that featured the work of major illustrators from the eighteenth century to the present day, who have created powerful images of characters in fiction who are orphaned, adopted, fostered or found.

The exhibition was most interesting. It showed a variety of illustrations, sometimes by different illustrators of famous books, such as ‘Peter Pan’. For example Mabel Lucy Atwell’s illustrations were quite different in tone from earlier artists.

Here is the original book cover.

170px-Peter_Pan_1915_cover

And here is Mabel Lucy Atwell’s illustration of the scene where Wendy reads to the Lost Boys.

Mabel-Lucie-Atwell-from-Peter-Pan-and-Wendy-by-JM-Barrie-1921-c-©-Lucie-Attwell-Ltd-www.mabellucieatwell.com_1-e1449485484439-848x400

 

 

 

 

 

I was interested to discover that in 2015 a graphic novel version of Peter Pan by Stref was published. Here is his picture of the grand house the Darlings lived in. The children can just be seen flying high above the house.

Stref-from-JM-Barries-Peter-Pan-The-Graphic-Novel-2015-published-by-BC-Books-400x400

I imagine that most readers of this blog will be able to think of many stories about orphans. In fact, where would one begin?! Here are some authors and their illustrators that I think of first:

Charles Dickens (Oliver Twist, David Copperfield and many other characters, illustrated by many different artists – George Cruikshank being one of the most well-known)

Madeline

Ludwig Bertelmans who wrote and illustrated the Madeline stories (1939).

In all these cases, the artists/illustrators added greatly to the story.

Later there were many stories by Noel Streatfeild featuring motherless children. A book I always enjoyed is “Heidi” by Johanna Spiri, illustrated here by Janet Johnston.

Heidi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the more modern era one can think of. Roald Dahl (James and the Giant Peach, Charlie – “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”… “Matilda” illustrated by Quentin Blake)

CHARLIE

Harry Potter! By J.K. Rowling.

“Tracy Beaker” and “Hettie Feather” by Jacqueline Wilson, who is famously illustrated by Nick Sharratt.

Tracy Beaker

 

This is by no means an exhaustive list.

 

After the exhibition I had a cup of tea with my friend in the Museum’s café. I rather wish it had been there when our boys were young. The walls are covered with clearly printed names of people who were either adopted or fostered – ‘Looked After’. Their achievements are varied and impressive and often realised against great odds. It was most interesting and enlightening. I think if I were an adopted person I would have liked sitting there and I think I would have just soaked up the general atmosphere and the effect of all those names.

There is far more interest and I have heard that there is more help for adopted and looked-after children nowadays. I am glad about that.

Our boys – Born in London. Back to London in 1983.

When we moved to London, I was overwhelmed by all the amazing things one could see and do in the capital. In earlier days I thought that I would not like to live there, but by 1983 I was truly ready to settle in (and hopefully never to move away.) We were both brought up in Surrey, but up until then, in our married life we had lived in SIX different homes, including one in Western Malaysia.

As I have probably said elsewhere, the moment Sam arrived in London, he felt at ease. I think he relaxed because he saw so many people of different colours, including people who looked just like him. Within three days, he had worked out which bus to take. Actually his school was within walking distance and after the first day he wanted to walk there alone.

D. often travelled abroad for his new post for the church denomination and therefore I had to do quite a lot of exploration myself. Jah was still young, so he had to come along. We saw many wonderful things.

I very much doubt whether Jah will remember two cheerful sculptures that we discovered at Somerset House, but they are joyful artistic expressions that I will never forget. The sculptor/artist was Keith Haring. Sadly he died very young, as a victim of the Aids epidemic that was rampant in the 1980s.

Keith Haring

Haring Somerset Ho

 

 

 

 

I know that we took both boys to Science and Natural History Museums, although I am pretty sure we had to pay in those days. It is much better now that children and families are able to enjoy all the national treasures free of charge and can therefore return again and again – as indeed people do, judging by the huge queues, especially at Half Term.

Entrance_to_Natural_History_Museum,_Cromwell_Road,_London_SW7_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1034304

The Natural History Museum, South Kensington

We went to the Tower of London. Being boys they spent a long time staring at various coats of armour. They also enjoyed the humorous commentary by the guides.

North Italian armour

 

 

 

 

 

 

We went to see the Lord Mayor’s Show and visited the Museum of London where we were able to gaze at this magnificent carriage.

Lord Mayor's carriage

Once, when we had walked through the whole length of the Burlington Arcade, we saw a notice that said “It is forbidden to whistle or sing in the Arcade”. Jah had walked right through the Arcade singing a merry song before we reached the notice. When he saw the notice he was very worried. He kept looking over his shoulder, but calmed down when no “policeman” came to arrest him!

I remember also that Jah had been very impressed by the severity of a notice that threatened all sorts of dire punishments if anybody dared to chain their bicycle to railings in “posh” sreets.

After-school clubs were only just beginning to start when we moved to London, but since we were living in the Borough of Camden, Jah was entitled to attend two weeks’ summer play scheme at Coram’s fields. This was a really good experience.

I’m not sure whether we took the boys to the Notting Hill Carnival, but Sam went every year with his friends as he grew older. (The picture below was taken at Carnival in Tobago.)

06 Tob. more Rox. carnivalThe inventiveness of costumes that are made around the world is so impressive.

 

 

 

 

These are just a few memories of our early days in London – the city that both Sam and Jah were born in.

Since I have covered most of Sam’s and Jah’s childhood, from now on I’ll write blogposts once a month – usually on the first Monday of the month. There is plenty more to say on the theme of Adoption Reflections and a Multiracial family. . .