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.

Welcoming 2019

A Happy New Year! Yes, I am late, but it is better late than never. 2018 was an interesting year which happened very quickly, which I would like to reflect on.

My mother passed away three years ago, and sorting out the estate has finally come to an end. Due to inheritance tax, no Will provided by my parents and other accumulated expenses, me and my siblings have no choice but to sell the family property which has been with us for the past 38 years. It makes my heart drop each time I think about it, but I must accept this.

Whilst working with the solicitor, I decided to attend a writing course in my area to provide me with some distractions. There are seven of us which includes the tutor, and each would read out about six hundred words from our writings and give feedback.

The environment was totally outside my comfort zone and yet it felt safe and supportive. But what was more helpful, the group liked my work and were keen to hear more. Just before Christmas, all members of the group plus other members attending the classes in the college put on a performance evening which I attended. Unfortunately, I chickened out and did not want to read my work but after the readings, I met someone who was planning to hold a masterclass on appropriation and writing i.e., whether writers have the right to write or imagine experiences of people who are not of the same race or the same class as themselves.

I decided to sign up as what I was writing about involved race and included some aspects of class-ism. I also attended another writers’ group in Hackney which was just for women.

The point of attending this group was to still get out of my comfort zone and to listen to different points of views with regards to my writing. I guess when you are writing, it is a good feeling when someone says that your work is ‘nice’ but most times you want constructive criticisms, which I am always free to accept or reject. I have decided now to discontinue attending these groups as I want to get back to writing the remaining of my memoir and perhaps, I might return when the work is complete.

I celebrated my 60th birthday in 2018; my husband not only put on a surprise birthday party at a restaurant but also included a power point presentation to talk about my life! The weird thing is that I have spent most of my time supporting my family, (with no regret) but I feel the time has come, especially as the ‘kids’ have grown, for me to pursue my interests. And one of those interests is writing.

A week ago, I saw a documentary on the Black British writer Andrea Levy. I have four of her novels. I have also watched the drama Small Island and recently shown on the BBC, The Long Song. But towards the end of the documentary, I was saddened to learn that Andrea is undergoing cancer treatment. She has had cancer for some time and managed to chase it away but this time around, it has returned and is ‘incurable’.  Hence why she has not written since The Long Song was published in 2004.

She had been rightfully focusing on her health and accepted her fate. She courageously stated on camera her outcome and did not want to elaborate any further.

Andrea and I are the same age, the same generation, of West Indian descent and we are Black Britons. I felt Small Island, although applicable to my parents’ generation, spoke to me along with her other early novels, especially Never Far from Nowhere.  She told ‘our’ stories with such beauty and dignity, but they are also stories which ‘speaks’ to those who feel that the term ‘British’ can only apply to the English population.

But the other thing which really hit me whilst watching the documentary is how life can be annoyingly short when you least expect it; that life, may not start at the beginning but can begin in the ‘middle’ or what some people may consider the ‘end’ (‘Oh! You don’t want to do that now…aren’t you too old for that!!).

So, although I don’t usually carry out my resolutions, my plan for this new year is to finish writing my memoir, take up some physical activity and improve my cooking skills. I want to continue with my prayers and constantly ask for guidance and support, but I’ve now merged my prayers with meditation. I hope to increase my sense of peace and understanding of myself.

If I am to summarize 2018 with two words, it would be change and acceptance:

  • Having to sell off the property that has been with the family, since – but learning to accept the inevitable.
  • Continuing with prayers but now including meditation. Embracing who I am and know I still have a long way to go!
  • Learning that age really is a number and life is too short.
  • Even if my writing will never be a good as my favorite writers, that it does not mean I do not have the ability to write. I should be more accepting of my abilities and have belief in myself.
  • That I am responsible for my health and well-being.

I am sure there is more.  But this is what I will focus on for the time being. This new year will ‘move’ just as quickly as the previous year, but I intend to be more conscious of time, my health, my writing, and my life.

I will continue to ask for support and peace in my prayers. I also pray that for you, this year will be successful, peaceful, healthy and good.

 

Happy New Year Everyone!

Rest in Peace: Joe Jackson, Father to the Jackson 5

I have just finished reading an obituary of Joe Jackson, father of The Jackson Five in The Guardian newspaper. But it is expected that such a monstrous article would focus on Joe’s lack of compassion and concentrate instead, on the cruelties he inflicted upon his ten children. Of course it would ignore that Joe had to feed his family on a paltry wage he received from working as a crane worker at a steel plant in Gary, Indiana; it would also ignore the everlasting poverty, the racism that was always there ready to inflict its hatred on anything which tried to be successful.

I guess what is probably frustrating for the author is how Joe was totally unapologetic and neither ashamed of his parenting methods. He was hard and unrelenting but as crude as he might have been, he basically did what he had to do.

I can understand Joe Jackson. If MJ were still alive, he would have been the same age as myself. My parents, in particular my father, was incredibly ambitious and persistent. He refused to accept that as he left the sugar plantation estate in the West Indies cutting cane, he did not leave for the UK so that I could become a typist or my brothers would be bus drivers. To him, education was the be-all and end-all. I was not allowed to go to parties, have boyfriends, my head had to be buried in books at all times. I can remember, gazing at my father with astonishment as he declared that he wanted me to go to University.  Go to University?  Was he for real?

Unfortunately, myself and my brothers experienced either lashings via the leather belt or had a copy of The Yellow Pages crashing down on our skulls! This happened several times to me and I decided that it was not going to happen again so I did what he wanted.

Yes, at the time I considered my father to be an unforgiving brute! He was aggressive towards my mother and his sisters. He did not suffer fools, whether they were as dark as he or any other colour.  He was not scared. When the infamous Notting Hill riots took place some months after I was born, he participated. Clearly, depending on one’s point of view or politics, my Dad was far from perfect.

As a result of failing my exams and being really fed up of the whole thing, I mustered up the courage to confront my father and tell him that I wanted to go to work. My father was angry but accepted if I wanted this, then so be it but…whilst I lived under his roof and worked, he never gave up in continuously reminding me of the mistake I was making.

After a year of working at a job I found locally, I remember feeling bored, feeling how mundane and repetitive the job was. It was then, it occurred to me that if this was work or my future with regards to work, I did not want this. It was then, that my father’s ambition became my own. So while I worked I went to three evening classes per week. I did this for a year before applying as a mature student to a University. I never heard a whisper from my father again, instead I received his blessings and respect while I lived at the family house. And as for my mother, she played the ‘good cop’ to my father’s ‘bad cop’; she supported and loved his ambition and respected him as a good caretaker.

For those who want to crucify Joe Jackson for how he brought up his family, one thing that cannot be ignored, if Joe Jackson was not the parent he was, no matter how bad (Bad – such a great track) we most certainly would not have had the Jackson 5, we couldn’t have known Michael Jackson, and the latest Janet Jackson CD, the fantastic Unbreakable simply would not have existed.

I doff my cap to Mr Jackson, for his strength, his endurance, for his determination and ambition. It is clear that if he did not possess these qualities, the world would never have witnessed such a phenomenon as the Jackson Five which was and still is, the first of a kind.

The Spear has fallen

There is nothing the apartheid government has not done to me. There isn’t any pain I haven’t known ~ Winnie Madikizela-Mandela

I was talking to my husband this morning when I saw the banner running under the program on the TV.  It said Winnie Mandela had passed away. This strong, defiant beautiful incredible activist is no longer with us. Her struggle had to be the toughest, fighting the oppressive apartheid system, immured in a jail cell and separated for years from her dearly beloved, the great Madiba – Nelson Mandela.

My slight contact with the Mother of the Nation was during the time I lived in Johannesburg in 1994. My husband and I owned a boutique in the Sandton area of Jo’berg and at some point Mrs Mandela visited the shop. Unfortunately I was not there but my manager was present.  Another time when I almost was near is when we participated in a fashion show. The clothes from our boutique were used by the organisers to promote African wear and fashions. In fact, clothes were loaned from a number of shops.

Taking the clothes back stage to help with the models, I remember walking across the stage and someone calling out to me that Winnie is taking her place in the audience. I stopped to look. I could see in the distance, a woman wearing a long gown, her hair was a curly Afro and she was talking, smiling. When the lights went out and the show began, I took my seat in one of the front rows. It was a great show and I was pleased with the way our clothes were displayed and looked on the models. When the show had to come to an end, my manager went back stage to collect the clothes and I went to greet Mrs Mandela but when I got to where she sat, she had left.

Dear Winnie, you did what you came to do and made long-lasting achievements. You were truly a blessing to South Africans and will remain in their hearts forever. I offer my condolences to loved ones and know that your gentle soul now quietly rests.

Why was I crying?: Princess Diana, August 1997.

In August 1997 I was in London visiting my parents, on holiday from Nigeria with my family. Prior to Diana’s death I had signed up for my son, who was nine at the time, to attend a summer activity and the location was not too far from Diana’s home. The day following her death was the day my son’s course began.

I remember there were lots of people in the Kensington area; flower shops were bare of flowers but fortunately we found a flower shop and bought a mixed bunch. We joined a number of people holding flowers, walking in unison to Diana’s home. A solitary gold coloured balloon was tied to the Kensington Palace gates, and on the ground were more flowers. We placed our own flowers on the ground and along with others, we bowed our heads. I believe we were there for fifteen minutes in silence. When we left and headed for the tube station, we met more people coming out of buses, more climbing out of the underground station and more on foot — all heading to the same place. It was as if they were attending a concert except their pace was slow and their mood, sombre.

I took my son to his activity and then we arrived to our home in the early evening. When I sat down to watch the TV, I was shocked at the volume of flowers that were now outside the gates. The balloon was still there except it was so far away from the public due to the sea of flowers. Like so many other people who were in deep shock, tears, strangely streaked my cheeks. Was I really crying for someone I did not know, or was I crying for myself? Crying for the all hurts I had experienced, for the mistakes I had made and worst of all, crying because I still had not made good the life which had been given to me.

My father who owned a news shop in Islington brought newspapers to the house. My mother volunteered to cook the children’s meals whilst I poured into every single article that was about Diana. Although I cried previously, I was now crying more. I did not realise she was so vulnerable, exposed, misunderstood and used. Her wealth and lineage was unimportant. The fact she was so open about her unhappiness was touching and relatable, that it forced me to forget her privileges. I was forced to see her stripped of any adornments, clearing the way to see her for what she was: a sensitive and caring human being. Her suffering and death humanised the Royal Family; it also made them to be vulnerable and to realise they cannot take the British public for granted. All of a sudden the whiff of revolution was in the air and smelling quite strong.

Next week I will be making my annual trip to London. I expect that as the country draws close to commemorate the day Diana died, they will be countless documentaries, articles, opinion pieces and so forth. I trust that as the country remembers Diana, we would have learnt during the last twenty years, there is nothing wrong in being vulnerable or sensitive. Diana’s death suddenly opened up and released a taut and reserved nation. I, for one, am happy about this change and hope that in next twenty years, we will realise more.