Welcome 2020: Again, I’m late!!

As always, I’m late with my greetings. But before anything, I wish to wish you all a belated Happy New Year and hope that 2020 will be just as fulfilling and even more so, than the previous year.

I don’t know where to begin with 2019. The year moved quickly but it was eventful, busy, enlightening and for once my usual ongoing negativity turned its head and decided to be positive. If there was a downside, it was leaving the family home, which was in our possession for 38 years. A grand home in North London my late parents bought just as I was leaving for university. It welcomed me in between term times, it accommodated me here and there when my own family lived in numerous cities and countries, it took us in again, just before we moved into our home in South London and this was repeated again when we rented out our home and stayed at this house before emigrating to South Africa.

It’s also uncanny that I spent just a year living in this home before starting university and then I spent a final year (2019) in it, before putting the property up for sale.

It housed all the items – whether they belonged to my parents or us – we had from year dot until present. And most of the items I felt, were so sentimental, I could not throw them away so instead, they were either donated to charity shops or, items concerning our parents which I felt had ‘historical’ value were gifted or loaned to the local museum.  Such as receipts belonging to my father for payment of rent, when he rented a room in 1955; my mother’s certificate received from the Home Office in 1958, granting her legal right of stay in the UK (this would show that not all those from the Windrush generation misplaced their documents) and also a 1957 diary belonging to my father showing the entry date my mother went to hospital to deliver me!

I discovered my primary and secondary school exercise books, a program of when my parents went to see the Broadway musical hit, Sweet Charity; a black and white photo taken during the 70s of myself and a classmate on a school trip to Amsterdam. The weird thing is prior to finding this photo, l learned from another classmate just a week ago, that the other girl in the photo had passed away! I found other similar belongings to my siblings as well my own children (there was a time, where we used to live in South London when my son’s nursery had abruptly closed for some months, so my son was sent to his grandparent’s home and they took him to a local nursery until I was able to find another nursery for him). It is by going through my parent’s wardrobes and drawers (the last time I did this, I had to be about ten years old – they never changed their bedroom suite – where I got a good hiding!) that besides keeping their own things, they also kept items belonging to their children and grandchildren.

My father had a number of books to do with his profession, carpentry. There were no first editions but there were other editions dated from the turn of the 20th Century which he had in his possession. I got in touch with an apprentice Trades College, who agreed to ‘adopt’ the books and put them in their library but also, they want me to write a short biography of my father, focusing on his connection to carpentry. I told them I’d be happy to do this.

The last three months of remaining in the house were spent removing, delivering, transporting, visiting neighbours and friends in the street to collect email addresses. When I finally closed the front door for the last time, I went to spend a few nights with a friend who lived on a road (in the same area), where our family also used to live. Her house was five houses away from our former house. Isn’t life strange? The plan was that as there were still things to do, in the area, my friend was happy for me to stay as long as I wanted before on to stay with my daughter, outside of London.

But whilst all this was happening, I felt I should not give up on my writing, so I went to a weekly writing group in the area. Looking back at my ‘Welcome 2019’ I wrote about attending this class. I was just two weeks into it but I’m happy to say that I went to each class – for ten weeks! The group was mainly a feedback group, where we would read an extract from something a body of work we are working on, or something we’ve specifically prepared. The piece would be read out before everyone else and in return, we would receive feedback. I found this helpful and supportive. I was hesitant initially, taking issues about racism to an all-white group but instead, I was surprised that the topics aired, were discussed and debated, with not too much friction or irritation. I was left with the feeling that the members felt they had gained more understanding of race issues than they did before. I was so happy I attended; it was one of the best decisions I had made.

Continuing with the writing theme, the other major thing I did was to attend a creative writing retreat for women. It was held outside of London, at a University where the students were on break, so accommodation was available. It was for three days where there were numerous workshops and short courses for you to attend. In addition, there were surgery slots, giving you the opportunity to meet literary agents, book doctors, authors, tutors, personal experience talks, panel discussions, an expert to show you how to talk in front of the microphone and to an audience and also, when the sessions were over, there was always the opportunity of meeting other ‘writer’s and just having conversations, well…about writing! Again, I was so glad I went.

I was away from my immediate family and it did place a strain on my marriage but as the probate was coming to an end and the sale of the property was the final thing which had to take place, as one of the administrators, it was something I had to do. This meant leaving my own home to stay with my siblings in my parent’s home. My parent’s home is some distance from my house. There was lots of running around and every day was a busy day. This went on for a year but the end came quickly and I’m happy to say that I’m reinstated back in my own home with my family, relieved

For 2020, I hope to continue with my writing, and if possible, publish my book. I also hope to lose weight, be more prayerful and meditate. I also really hope that as Britain is now single, she’s able to handle her divorce with dignity and not lose sight of all her children, as well as her step-children.

A Happy late New Year!

Here’s hoping that 2020 will be fulfilling, prosperous, bright, healthy and may a light guide you all to a positive destination.

Rest in perfect peace dear Toni: Toni Morrison 1931 -2019

Just goes to show how it’s important to keep up with the news here in the UK. Fed up with politicians’ indecisiveness over Brexit or/and Trump’s refusal to accept how he is responsible for stoking up right-wing hatred towards people of colour and different faiths, so I find myself these days reading books and watching too much TV. But today I decided I should check out The Guardian online to read the cultural section and I see a photo of Toni Morrison. It was just her face I saw but I was unable to see the caption under the photo. I repeatedly press the keys to scroll down but my laptop is so stupidly slow but eventually I get there and my worst suspicions are confirmed.  

I discovered Toni’s books some thirty-odd years ago, in a popular black book shop in Tottenham. The first one I bought was Tar Baby. I must have been fourteen when I got this book; I have to be honest and say that I didn’t understand the deeper meanings but I felt it spoke to me in a way other literature did not such as, hair straightening, skin colour (being light skin or dark-skinned) and the ‘friendships’ between black and whites – whether they could ever be real? Issues which I experienced and wondered about, in my life. 

But what was strange – Toni was writing about African Americans in America and yet some of the themes in the book I bought, resonated even though I was of West Indian parentage, born in London.  I thought from the little I understood, how audacious and brave of Toni to write about our issues. Some years later I picked up the book Tar Baby again and just opened to a page to where the narrator explains the protagonist Jardine’s love for Son;

Gradually she came to feel unorphaned. He cherished and safeguarded her.

Reading this is similar to drinking my favourite drink, then pausing to savour every moment.

The second book I read was The Bluest Eye.  Now, this book, I was able to understand. It was so beautiful in its brutal honesty; making it clear to me it was not my fault I had an inferiority complex and that as a result, I disassociated myself from me. I understood clearly it had been imposed on me with neither my consent or permission! I found the book very moving and disturbing in how she was able to say, what was considered, the unthinkable, with ease.

Four years ago, I bought my daughter God Help the Child and she loved it, as she felt it was so pertinent to Black women and in particular to young Black women.

So, thank you, Toni, for all that you have done and helping to put the struggle out there and thanks, for being unapologetic because you have dedicated your talent and commitment to writing about Black people.  I know your soul will rest in perfect peace.  

The King’s New Clothes: Couldn’t the King’s robes be a little more regal?

Sometime in February, my husband and I went to see Black Panther at the Jabi Shopping Mall in Abuja, Nigeria. And what a turn out it was. Even when the film came to an end and we left, the waiting area also was jammed, overflowing to the car park area. It was interesting that the crowd were dressed in casual European clothing yet later at home watching the news, I was really surprised how the UK/US crowds turned out in Nigerian/African clothing.

But whilst watching the film, I have to say that as I am constantly surrounded by people wearing traditional attire, I was disappointed in how the protagonist, King T’Challa was dressed. I couldn’t help but think that what he was wearing was no different to what my boss’s driver would wear. No disrespect to my boss’s driver but the point is, the clothing of the King was simple, with the exception of his superhero suit.

If you take the outfit he is wearing in the above photo, yes, it fits his fine frame, but it seemed as if a simple fabric was used. I was even tempted to write to whoever was in charge of wardrobe department to send ideas of what the Chiefs (such as my husband) wear so that they can see how absolutely gorgeous and beautiful the fabrics and designs are. The inventiveness and creativity that has manifested plus the level of tailoring has greatly improved in the twenty odd years that I have lived here. I am always amazed when hubby brings home yet another outfit his tailor has made. As it bound to be so unique, so creative and tailored.

I did enjoy the film; I loved Chadwick Boseman, Daniel Kaluuya (as I totally loved him in Get Out) and the rest of the cast but I would have liked the King’s clothing to be a little more luxuriant, liberal and more padding which would have certainly given him the right amount of pomp. Remember when the Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall characters in Coming to America, arrived at the airport were wearing those killer coatsExaggerated, yes they were but the coats were so appropriate.

And talking about Coming to America, I have just learnt that a sequel is likely to be made. I very much look forward to seeing this. Can’t wait to see the costumes in this!

 

Can a book forecast a dream?

October 2015 was a strange month for me. The staff I had working in my house had played me up during the year but it became too much so I said they had to go! It was dramatic but my husband handled it so I was glad it was over.  But while this was going on, in the background I had thought of a title of a particular book I had read.  I couldn’t remember its name nor the author.

After quickly washing up the dishes and tidying up the living room, I went upstairs to our fully stocked library and searched. I couldn’t find it.  Was it at one of the other houses or did I take it with me to London?  No I thought, it’s definitely here…somewhere.  I searched high and low, pulled out a book thinking I had found it due to the cover design.  So what was it about this book that preoccupied my mind? It was about a young girl’s experiences of living with her mother who had dementia.  Throughout the mother’s struggles, she never forgot about her children and her responsibility towards them. Even while fighting the authorities, or being in the mental institution, she tried as hard as she could to be there for them. But for me what was striking about this book was its ending.  The young girl’s recollection of a dream she had about her mother when her mother had already passed away. The girl dreamt of her mother visiting her and how she was so prettily dressed and wearing a bright smile.  She sat with her daughter in the warmth of the sun and the two smiled constantly at each other.  They spoke of nothing in particular but the daughter felt they were the only two in world, and for the daughter, this was an everlasting feeling. Eventually, the mother told the daughter it was time for her to go, and how everything would be fine, and that there was nothing for her to worry about.  As she spoke, she was moving closer and closer to the light until she became a tiny speck in the sky.  The little girl cried.  When I had read the book for the first time some years ago, I remember then being impressed with the book’s ending.

The following day I checked my emails for the first time in the week.  There were so many things to do in the house now that the staff had gone plus, I had just began the beginner’s class in Iyengar Yoga, forcing me to completely forget my mails.  Anyway, there was an email from the residential home where my mother resided, saying that my mother had been admitted into the local hospital on Monday. (I should add at this point that I live abroad but I travel to London twice per year).  The day I checked my email was Wednesday. I was surprised and annoyed.  Why should it take them over a day to contact me? I was about to call them when I changed my mind and decided to call my brother David instead.  David, who lives in London, also said that he only just found out and was annoyed how they delayed with the information.  He said I shouldn’t worry as he would quickly go to the home. But I called the home and spoke to the sister in charge for the evening. She said my mother had not eaten or urinated in 24 hours so they sent her to the hospital.  The hospital put her on a drip but found it to be ineffective so the consultant had decided as my mother was not responding to treatment they would discharge her. The other key thing the sister told me was the reason also for my mother’s discharge was there was not anything else the hospital could do for her.

The following day I called the home to find out what ward she was in.  They did not know so I called the hospital.  It was only after the fifth attempt that I managed to find out the name of the ward and was put through.  The Ward Sister said that my mother was in a poor state and that the intravenous feeding was not having an effect.  There would be a meeting with the consultant and they would decide what to do.  I then called my brother and we talked. Later that evening my husband and I agreed that this coming Friday, I would go to London.

The following morning, it occurred to me that one of the words of the title of the book which had escaped me was ‘Pilgrim’. After an hour or so on the internet, I managed to find the title: Pilgrim State and the author was Jacqueline Walker.  And would you know when I went to the library, there it was!  I searched for the last pages and found what had been on my mind.  Now that I had read it, I was still wondering what was the big deal: why was I compelled to read this.

Friday had crept up quickly as before I knew it, I was in my seat, on a British Airways flight to London.  When I had arrived to my mother’s house in Tottenham, I rushed up to what used to be my bedroom, grabbed the car keys and went to the garage.  The weather I would say was in-between warm and cold. Lots of leaves on the ground and yet, still lots of leaves to fall from the trees.  I warmed up the car for some minutes before leaving to see my mother. When I arrived it was a relief to see her, and to see that well, she was no different from when I had left her on the same day I was leaving for Nigeria, which was exactly one month ago.  Perhaps she was a little gaunt but still had the same glazed expression and jerking to every sound she heard. When I called her name, she jumped, looked about herself but she could not see me due to glaucoma.

Every day I would go to see her and spend most of the time with her. But as the week drew to an end, her breathing had become shallow and short, her mouth was permanently open and her eyelids never seem to close. Each time she paused before taking another breath, my heart would skip a beat. There was a day I fed her some soup, and it surprised the staff as it was the first time in ages that she had taken something to eat. It uplifted me but the following morning, her beautiful unlined face was shaped into the famous visage in the painting The Scream by Edvard Munch.  Not a flattering description I know but it was the image that came to mind upon seeing her. But I was depressed as it was clear that her situation was not going to improve. I believe I spent the rest of that day waiting to exhale.

On the last day of the month my mother passed away just as I was about to leave to go home. It’s a strange experience witnessing death take over as life makes its exit. I remained with her alone in her bedroom for another five hours before the suited undertakers came and removed her body.

Weeks after the cremation, I thought about the book Pilgrim State. I now understood why I was preoccupied with locating the book; it was a sort of preparation of what was to come. Since I quickly forgot my dreams after waking, perhaps it was for me to know, through the ending of Pilgrim State, that Mummy wanted to let me know that there was no need for worry, fear or upset as everything would be alright.

I was happy that I arrived to the UK in time to spend one last week with my mother. I had time to tell her I was sorry for my misunderstanding, that I forgave her when I felt that her support was not enough, to thank her for sacrificing her time and needs, that I loved her, and to say good-bye.  May she rest in perfect peace.