Category Archives: Sundry reflections

Thinking about children’s books around Christmas time (continued). Some Mistaken Memories. Some well-remembered memories.

I thought that I had an excellent recall of our children’s activities (those that I ever heard about!), their likes etc. However, Lucy tells me that I got it wrong about the children’s stories I mentioned in my last blog post.

I thought that they did not like reading books such as “Ballet Shoes”, “Swallows and Amazons” etc, but Lucy tells me that SHE did. She thinks I have got mixed up with the likes and dislikes of her other siblings. Sorry Lucy!

Maybe, when I think of books liked by an earlier generation, I’m on safer ground if I try and remember more books that I was encouraged to read by my mother and grandmother. My mother loved the E. Nesbitt stories, like “Five Children and It” etc. However, even though this may not please many writers and lovers of these books, I did NOT like them. I took exception to the fact that the big brothers always seemed to lord it over the sisters. I was NOT into male superiority. Maybe because I have a younger brother. . .

I really loved the many stories in the “Dimsie” series. Probably nobody today has heard of them. They were basically boarding-school stories, written in the 1920s. Dimsie was a really kind, interesting girl, whose mother died when she was young.

Dimsie  1920!

My mother absorbed a strange notion of the day, that Enid Blyton books were not “well-written” and she would not let me read them. However, naturally I was intrigued and borrowed them from friends whenever I could and I LOVED them. I had to stay in a cold lavatory to read them and then hide them under the mattress in case they were discovered! I think it is excellent that Enid Blyton stories are still popular today in 2015. Children can graduate from them to “better-written” stories and the enjoyment they derive from her stories is excellent. I have seen children totally engrossed in Enid Blyton stories on the underground, so engrossed that they are almost still reading them as they step off the train.

Our family was partly French and I was encouraged to read French from an early age There was a wonderful picture book about the life of a duck entitled “Plouf le Canard”. This enabled me as I enjoyed the pictures and simple story, to learn about the life story of a duck. It was very vivid and a good lesson in nature study. Then there was a story about a town in France that was flooded – maybe in order to make a dam. I can’t remember the actual details. The book was entitled “La Catherale Engloutie”. It was very dramatic. (Debussy wrote music inspired by this true story.)

I was also encouraged to read longer stories in French. One was “Les Malheures de Sophie”. Sophie was a naughty girl, who went to stay with her too-good-to-be-true- cousins. I liked Sophie!

Also there was an interesting story called “Memoirs d’Un Elephant Blanc”. This story took me to a fascinating country where my uncle lived for over 20 years – India. (Finally we get to something from another culture.)

cover Elephant Blanc  1923    Illustration Elephant Blanc

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I felt sorry for my father when I discovered a pile of his children’s books. They were all ‘morality’ tales of the “Good Dan”, “Bad Jack” variety. On the other hand, I believe he was young when many archaeological discoveries were made in Egypt and he had some comics describing all these incredible artefacts. I pored over those comics, as I am sure he did. Those discoveries about a long-hidden culture must have excited people enormously.

A non-book related memory: I remember visiting my great-grandfather when I was a child and being introduced to his grey parrot. Then, some 50 years later I saw the same parrot in a cousin’s house. Obviously he had inherited this interesting bird. There ought to be a story in there somewhere. “What the parrot saw”. . . However I don’t think I’ll be writing that.

grey parrot

Stories about Adoption and Looked-after children. Random Musings. Long live Stories and Art!

I love it when I get feedback from people about the blog. Recently one reader asked whether I have seen the recent list published in The Guardian of 10 best books about adoption? Yes. I have, but as with most people, I can come up with my own favourite books.

My best friend at school was adopted and maybe that is why I was always attracted to stories about children who were looked after by adoptive or foster families.

One thing so amazing about life today in the internet age, is that one can discover so many things and learn so many things. If ONLY we had had this resource long ago, I think we could have found more books on adoption, or indeed more help of any other kind when we were bringing up our children. Today I entered “10 best books on Adoption” into the search engine and several lists came up – very informative.

I am just casting my mind back to some of the stories dealing with looked-after children (adopted/ fostered) that I loved as a child. Here are some:

“Ballet Shoes” by Noel Streatfeild – all 3 ‘Fossil’ children were adopted.

Ballet Shoes         The 3 Fossils

“The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett – Mary’s parents both died

My grandmother used to read me the old story “Little Lord Fauntleroy” and we enjoyed reading it together.   I felt so sorry for little Cedric, as he was not allowed to see his beloved mother.

I enjoyed the stories about the spirited adopted girl “Anne of Green Gables” by Lee Montgomery

 “Heidi” by Johanna Spyri. I felt so sad for her when she had to leave the mountain, her kind grandfather and go and stay in the strange big city.

Heidi

Not all stories interest the next generation. None of the above stories interested our children particularly, although I am sure they would have enjoyed watching some of the modern day films made of the stories e.g. The Secret Garden and Heidi. I have loved watching those with our grandchildren.

The Secret Garden dvd

 

 

 

 

 

Fortunately for this small blog entry, I do remember reading one story about an adopted child to Sam, our older son. He really liked “Thursday’s Child” by Noel Streatfeild. The heroine was another feisty, brave adopted child.

“Nothing is going to stop Margaret Thursday from making her own way in the world – not a horrible orphanage, a cruel matron, or even the fact she was named after the day she was found!” quotation from Amazon.

Dear blog-reader – if you are still reading. Here is a further reflection on stories/books. During my own childhood I so loved a story entitled “Jam Tomorrow” by Monica Redlich. It was published by Thomas Nelson and Sons   and later published in paperback. Two young Canadian cousins had to come over and live in a vicarage with their English cousins because their parents had died. I have never met anyone who read this book. I suppose it must have been reasonably successful to be published in paperback as well as hardback, but I am simply musing over the fact that a work of art can have great value even if it does not hit “the big time”. And certainly it is quite irrelevant whether it “hits big money”.  It is very likely that it will strike a chord with  somebody somewhere.

An author or an artist never really knows all the people who have been touched by their book or their work of art.

This reflection tunes in with something I am reading at present – a collection of letters written by an excellent artist Jan Daum. The letters are dated 1952 – 1957. He thought he had ‘failed’ as he never made much money from his art. However, he was a good friend of my great-aunt and many branches of our family have some of his paintings and they continue to bring great delight to all who look at them.

Jan Daum was born in Indonesia in 1892 and studied in Haarlem and the Royal College of Art in London. I found information about him via Google. He was born well before the Facebook and self-promotion age, but someone somewhere has taken the time to put out information about him on the world wide web. I have always loved his picture below.

Jan Daum's drawing

Long live stories! Long live art!

When something or someone strikes a chord with you and you can feel “proud” + Black History Month.

In today’s blog post I have jumped forward to thinking about today – 2015. I have been reflecting on the various interesting events during Black History Month and wondered what to write.

I know that some people think Black History Month is a bit artificial and it would be better if we could celebrate achievements of black people all the year round. However, I think many of the events planned will be informative, inspirational and enjoyable for all. A specific month ensures that talented black people can be celebrated at least once a year – clearly not enough but better than not at all.

When we were bringing up our boys we tried to expose them to all kinds of literature and artistic events. When they were very young we were delighted to find “Mother Goose Comes to Cable Street”. It was a book of Nursery Rhymes chosen by Rosemary Stones and Andrew Mann and illustrated by Dan Jones. It featured children with a variety of skin tones – something quite rare in those days.

Mother Goose Cable St.

 

 

Tommy T

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We also read to our boys poems by John Agard and James Berry.   We felt that they would be interested in the fact that they are black poets. I think they were, although as black British boys they were not familiar with patois, or settings that were 100% Caribbean.

I was certainly impressed when Sam’s school invited Benjamin Zephaniah to talk to the students. He was already a big star and a great success with the teenagers and staff.

Wicked World

Jah’s favourite book for many years was about Black Footballers. Fair enough! Football is one of his great interests.

Black Footballers

I was interested today when the grown-up Jah sounded so pleased that the Jamaican writer Marlon James has won the Man Booker Prize. Something evidently struck a chord with him.

Marlon James     (from Wikipedia)      Novelist

Marlon James is a Jamaican novelist. He has published three novels: The Book of Night Women, John Crow’s Devil and A Brief History of Seven Killings, winner of the 2015 Man Booker Prize.

 Jamaican author Marlon James has won the Man Booker Prize for his novel inspired by the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in the 1970s.

Michael Wood, chair of the judges, described A Brief History of Seven Killings as the “most exciting” book on the shortlist.

The 680-page epic was “full of surprises” as well as being “very violent” and “full of swearing”.

James was announced as the winner of the £50,000 prize in London on Tuesday.

He is the first Jamaican author to win the Man Booker Prize. Receiving the award, he said a huge part of the novel had been inspired by reggae music.

Even if they don’t read the book “A Brief History of Seven Killings” by Marlon James, I imagine that many people will feel “proud” that a Jamaican writer has won such a prestigious prize.

 

Camping abroad. Meeting people from different countries.

Camping was the only way we could afford to take our children abroad. But camping can be wonderful! You wake up and walk straight onto grass. You might hear birds sing in the early morning and you feel that you are right in the middle of the beauty of nature.

Our first tent

We have relatives in the south of Brittanny and we camped near them.

lookout            on beach

On one occasion they joined us and I remember the amazing clarity of the stars on one particular night – a sight that I shall never forget.

In France children often take their bikes onto campsites. We did not have room to carry bikes, but usually within a matter of a few moments, we would look up and see little Sam cycling round on someone’s bike and he would be in the midst of much jollity and the centre of attention. The response was much less friendly on a Cornish campsite but maybe we were just unlucky on that one occasion.

In France we visited the castles of the Loire,

Rog at Sully  Silhouette of Sam looking out from a window in a castle at Sully overlooking the river Loire.

 

 

 

 

 

We went down caves, went to the South and bathed in the warm waters of the Mediterranean. When Jah joined us he took part in running races around the campsites. He was a good runner and enjoyed winning!

He also enjoyed fishing and Sam joined in.

boys 2

I remember that once we visited friends in Finland and he was able to fish really late into the night, as it was still light.

Jah ready for fishing

In Northern Italy we visited an ecumenical centre high in the Alps. We also camped on the shore of Lake Garda. That was a much more international site and Sam took part in a winning basketball team – a moment of great triumph!

Once, when the boys were a bit older, on our way back home we camped in Northern France and met many young Muslims. They lived in a crowded Paris suburb and had been brought to the countryside by youth leaders. Interestingly they felt drawn to our boys and even though there was a language problem, they spent a long time together.

I am pleased that on our holidays we met people from many different countries and cultures.

Feeling under-represented – black people, minority groups and myself as a woman

As a white British person living in Britain I should not feel under-represented in my daily life. But as a white British WOMAN this sometimes happens.

I am sure that our black sons must have often felt “different” as they grew up – perhaps on campsites when we were on holiday? In a forthcoming post I intend to write more about camping abroad, but today I want to talk about “feeling under-represented” generally.

We hear how black British actors frequently find that they have to go to the United States in order to get acting roles. This should not be necessary. We have many talented black actors in Britain. Our films and television programmes should reflect our multicultural society. I remember hearing Malorie Blackman saying how excited she and her black friends were in their childhood when black characters first started appearing on television programmes. They passed the news round to all their friends up and down her street and great was the rejoicing!

Malorie

I have only once felt animosity against myself as a white person and that was in swimming baths in Singapore. I had taken our two very young daughters swimming while D. was at a meeting. Perhaps white people did not often go to those swimming baths. I do not know. Anyway, we were soon mobbed and splashed by a whole crowd of unfriendly people. The splashing frightened the girls, who were only aged about 5 and 3. I complained to the swimming bath attendants, but they simply smirked. We got out of the water and tried to make our retreat as dignified as possible under the circumstances. This was not particularly traumatic for me and to be honest I wondered whether I had made a mistake in thinking that we could swim there. Perhaps this episode was partly my fault?  But the jeering faces had upset our little  girls and I felt guilty about that.

Feeling underrepresented as a woman is altogether of a different order. As far as I knew, there was parity of salary for male and female members of staff at most of the offices I worked in. Of course I was never privy to salaries, but that is what I imagined. I am so shocked to find that this is often not so in organisations today. How can it be that women are paid less for the same work? This appals me.

When we visited Rome and had a trip to the Vatican, I felt extremely under-represented. Male nudes can be beautiful but I began to wonder why the female body was not equally celebrated. I had this overwhelming feeling again when we visited Florence. I am sure that people who know much more about Art than I do, will be able to cite many famous statues of women. Of course I know of The Three Graces and have enjoyed seeing them at Tate Britain. There are also many famous statues of Diana around the world.

I was very interested recently to hear that a 19th century sculpture of two young women dancing has been saved for the Nation. Individuals and organisations had to raise a large sum of money to prevent it going to the United States of America. I saw a photograph of the statue in the Evening Standard and resolved to go and see it before it goes back to its home in the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh.

The sixth Duke of Argyll commissioned this sculpture. The work is by Italian artist Lorenzo Bartolini, called “The Campbell Sisters Dancing a Waltz”.   It dates from 1821 and is on view at the Victoria & Albert Museum until 20th November. Here is my photo, together with another beautiful sculpture of a young peasant woman nursing her baby. A photographer would take a better photo, but this reminds me perfectly of the statue. I recommend going to see it in real life.

Lorenzo Bartolini - The Campbell Sisters

 

nursing mother - peasant girl

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I believe this is ‘Peasant woman nursing her baby’, by Jules Dalou 1873.  I think that one day soon I shall have to go back to the V&A to check that I have attributed this delightful sculpture correctly.

Extra note:  As someone who is currently suffering from a painful heel, I so appreciate the V&A’s plentiful supply of  wheelchairs that enable disabled people to get round the  Museum. This is clearly stretching my theme somewhat, but it is a good example of including of all kinds of people. 

Thinking of these two sculptures makes me as a woman  feel better-represented.  It would be good if all kinds of people  could be better-represented. 

Memories of childhood – artefacts continued. . . (2 – Lucy and Anna)

When I asked our four “children” whether there were any unusual or interesting things that reminded them of growing up in our family home, LUCY mentioned night storage heaters. (!!)

storage heater

I remember crouching before the one in our room, trying to get warm enough to dress for the day ahead. Lucy is remembering Gateshead in the days of no central heating in the Manse. Actually, the storage heaters of those days were not slim-line like in the picture. D. said he had to move one once and it was full of heavy bricks and electric wiring.

She also mentioned mosquito nets. We always slept under them in Malaysia

800px-Mosquito_Netting

Anna remembered a copper kettle that my grandfather handed on to us.

kettle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also the clock that has stood in all our halls.

clock

It was given to us in our first home by the family of the church organist. Interestingly the organist was a young boy who suffered from Cerebral Palsy but he had a gift for music and enjoyed playing the organ now and again when the regular organist had a Sunday “off”. We, the congregation, were very happy with the arrangement.

The organist’s father said that their house was a bit small for such a fine, large clock. Actually each time we moved house, the next house was smaller until we are now in a pretty small house, but it looks great in the hall.

Anna also mentioned something that I myself had chosen to mention one day.

(See next time I post a “Memory” blogpost)

Recycled shopping list

 

Carnival time

 As I contemplate writing a blog post, I am looking out of the window and it is raining/pouring and all the leaves are dripping. This is especially unfortunate as it is the main day for Notting Hill Carnival. I am sure that people will still be singing and dancing, but a sunny day would be better.

Fortunately the weather was reasonable yesterday. Sunday is traditionally the day for the children. (Strangely I don’t have many pictures of Notting Hill Carnival, but here are two little girls at the Carnival in Tobago.)

06 Tob. 2 little girls

And a joyful participant

06 Tob. more Rox. carnival

A year ago a meeting was set up by our church and a church in Amersham. It was the turn of the Amersham folk to come to us in Harlesden. We arranged a walking tour around Harlesden. The kind of shops were rather different from those in Amersham. The Amersham folk were very interested to see so many hair and beauty shops.

cornrow plaits

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The most exciting visit was when we were invited into a shop where costumes for the Notting Hill Carnival are made. As I remember, I think planning takes a whole year. We were taken aback to witness the creativity, the colour, textures and inventiveness of the costumes. Costumes from previous years were on display throughout the shop. We lingered there a long time and met some of the people who work painstakingly with a variety of interesting materials.

carnival costume

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

“Keep Follow My Dance Steps”

I am thinking of the participants at today’s Carnival.

 

 

Black, British and Beautiful

We last left the story of Jah, when we woke up with a sudden realisation that we needed to get on quickly with our dream of adopting another boy – as Sam said “A little brother the same colour as me”.

I have previously described the many hoops we had to go through – the interviews, the visits, the references etc. As you will know by now, if you have been following this blog, we succeeded in the end.

D and I are now retired and the summer is an excellent time to go on holidays. We have just returned from a holiday in Scotland. D. is now off to Berlin with a drama group and I am going back to Scotland, near Edinburgh where Anna currently lives. I leave in the early morning tomorrow. How will I have time to prepare a Monday blog post?

The problem is solved because there is something I would like to impart to as many people as possible.

Last week we heard about an interesting project. It is the production of a calendar of photos featuring black British children. I’ll attach the flyer describing this project.

bbbflyer3-small

In case the text does not come out clearly, I’ll quote a few lines.

“Introducing our first calendar for 2016, we seek to build platforms that recognise and commemorate the pioneers, the role models, influential individuals and firsts from our Black British History – musicians, actors, producers, designers, writers, sportsmen, politicians and civil rights activists, using young black British youth to depict and portray our innovators and the significant people from our history  . . . . . 

If you would like more information, like to purchase a calendar or to get involved in future projects, please contact us”

Email:  blackbritishandbeautiful@gmail.com

P.S. Sam’s older daughter features on the calendar. Just thought I slip that piece of information in !

The need for a “Little brother the same colour as me”.

This summer – 2015 – when D and I were enjoying a holiday in the Highlands of Scotland, I thought of the times we took all our children to Scotland. This year, D and I stayed in houses but in those long ago days we always camped. I don’t think we ever met any other mixed-race families, although we certainly met many families with lovely red hair.

We enjoyed local Highland Games a few times

Highland dancing           and on one occasion, enjoyed watching a rumbustious raft-race. I remember the great atmosphere of excitement and competition in both kinds of events.

The children usually made friends on the campsites. They were wonderful holidays – as indeed was ours this year.

Our first tent

This is a picture of our first tent. Five of us slept in it. My father lent it to us, although we thought that he had GIVEN it to us. We realised our mistake when we told him we had sold it and bought a bigger tent. Fortunately he was OK about it. Phew!

Sam was always a happy even-tempered little boy. He was adored by his big sisters. I don’t remember any arguments between the three children, but evidently – being normal children – they were quite capable of teasing and annoying each other at times. I suppose D and I had simply not been present at such times.

It was at the end of a holiday in Scotland that we heard Sam utter a heartfelt wish that jet-propelled us into seeking another child to join our family.

As I remember, Lucy and Anna had been paddling and playing in a sparkling brook. Maybe Sam had been trying to build a dam – or a separate activity. Anyway there must have been an argument and we suddenly heard him exclaim.

“When we get our little brother-the-same-colour-as-me, you’ll SEE!”

D and I both sat up. This was a shock. It didn’t sound like our even-tempered Sam. However, he had a point.

We had always intended to get a little brother the same colour as Sam. We both wondered where time had gone. Sam was now aged six. Why had we left this so late?

Three children

We knew that the climate of opinion about interracial adoption had been changing over the intervening years. Many people were against such adoptions, which made us feel a bit strange. We could understand many of the arguments against inter-racial adoption and yet Sam had always seemed happy, had been such an integral part of our family and when he was born, he definitely needed a loving family to adopt him. We also were fully committed to bringing him up to feel proud of who he was, a Black British person.

We did not know whether we had left operation ‘little brother’ too late. We did not know whether we would be approved once again as would-be adoptive parents.  We resolved to look into the situation as a matter of urgency as soon as we returned home.

Jah and Sam make new friends in London

Both boys made good friends in their new schools. As I have said, one of Sam’s friends Dee is still his friend. By now 30 years have elapsed since they met as eleven-year-olds. When Dee and Sam were teenagers, Dee had a new baby sister and he and Sam often looked after her. I remember one day when Sam said to me with a tone of horror in his voice.

“We’ve got to take her to the park and see ducks”. I think he felt that as a teenager he had grown away from such childish activities. However, they all three survived the experience. I based my book “My Big Brother JJ” on Dee and his little sister.

JJ cover for Buzz

As I have indicated before, the social mix in the area was great. As well as having a friend whose father worked in the music industry and another whose mother worked in the film industry, Jah also had a friend whose father was a successful architect. The architect was very friendly with members of one branch of the Royal family.

This was the kind of social and housing mix. Some of the children lived in temporary housing. Some lived in mansions. . . .

One little girl lived with her delightful mother in a religious community. She would sometimes arrive in school half asleep, still wearing slippers and often several hours after the start of the school day. (When the child grew up, she became a Norland Nanny, so I would guess that she had had enough of casual hippy-type living.)

Although the Primary school had a racially mixed population, there was only one other black child in Jah’s class. This boy obligingly fell into the stereotype roll of class clown – and even on occasion – the ‘naughty’ clown. Jah did not copy him. Fortunately he did not dare to be naughty. Sometimes he was invited to that boy’s house to play after school and he had a great time. We never discovered what they did that was so great, but when the boy came to our house they mostly did break-dancing on the pavement in front of our house. Sam joined in as well. They were very dedicated to improving their skills and they were most impressive to watch.

2 dancing silhouettes

 

Hip Hop boy small copy

The picture below is of Jah and Savo, a friend from his Leicester days who came down to London to spend a day with us.

Jah and friends

Savo’s family were Serbs who settled in Britain. This was quite a while before the big problems of the break up of the former Yugoslavia. Savo and Jah formed a warm friendship at their Primary School. Perhaps they were the only children in their class from a different/exotic background?  Leicester already had a large Indian population but there were not many Indian children in our children’s Primary School. Leicester was quite segregated between different communities.  The Indian families mostly lived in other areas of the city.

Savo was very shy in public of his interesting background. He was terrified that his mother would speak to him in his Mother-tongue in front of other children when she came to pick him up after school. He very clearly did not want to appear ‘different’. Jah was obvously ‘different’ because of the colour of his skin. I don’t know whether that had any effect on their initial bonding, but it remained a good friendship.

In our family we were quite used to the children having to move towns and to start new friendships, as D. served as a minister of churches in various new areas/towns. Fortunately both Lucy and Anna still have friends they met aged five and seven. They have been able to keep in touch into adulthood.

Although there were only two non-white children in Jah’s class, interestingly there were many children from other European backgrounds. There was a Swedish boy, a Swiss boy, a Greek-Cypriot boy and some Irish children. There were also one or two American children, who were over in the UK for a few years.

And then came news of a group of very special visitors.

(See next blogpost.)