I Love London ~ A peer into the past

With the sun shining and a refreshing breeze to keep us cool, we decided to take ourselves up to London by train yesterday, Saturday 9th July 2011, and what a fabulous time we had. We are very lucky, inasmuch as we are just twenty minutes away from   the West End and the City. Although many people travel about London by tube, there really is no need. It is quite possible to walk around London taking in all the sights, sounds and smells of this wonderfully vibrant city. Being so close to it, and enjoying such easy access to it ,often results in us taking what is right on our doorstep for granted. We do not visit the city centre as often as we should, and it is all too easy to forget that we live in one of the world’s most beautiful and historic cities. There is just so much to see and do.

We decided to travel to Cannon Street which takes you into the heart of the City. From Monday to Friday, this area is bustling with bankers, moneymen, and office workers; all suited and booted, ready for yet another day of dealing on the London Stock Exchange. On Saturday however, the City takes on the air of a ghost town. It’s a stark contrast from the weekly buzz of boardroom banter and corporate clutter. Saturday sees a state of quietude in place, and far removed from the manic mayhem of the working week.

On leaving the almost deserted station, we noticed close by, the College of Arms. The building as it is now, is not the original, though what can be seen can be dated back to the late 17th century. The original site on which stood a medieval house called Derby Place, was given to the Heralds in 1555. The building was subjected to various alterations over the years. However, the building was burnt down in the  Great Fire of London in 1666, and then later rebuilt. Again, alterations were made but it is now much the same as it was in the late 1600s. London really tends to be like this all the time. You walk a few steps, and then stop again to marvel at the architecture that rises up in front of you.

We continued to walk on towards St Paul’s Cathedral, which was a little further on but within sight. It simply takes your breath away. You cannot help but stand in awe of this work of art, for art it is. It is beautiful, with its leaded dome, its gilt work and its many statues. The craftsmanship has to be seen to be believed. This magnificent monument has truly stood the test of time. One wonders how a building of this size could have survived the blitz but survive it did. During the Blitz, buildings around the cathedral were hit hard during the bombing raids, but the cathedral, this huge white building with its mighty dome remained safe. Perhaps there were higher powers at play? Close by is a sculpture commemorating the fire-fighters of London; a fitting memorial honouring the courage and bravery of true heroes.

Moving on towards the Southbank, we were stopped by a group of American Tourists who were participating in a treasure hunt. They needed to locate various landmarks, and items both old and new, and to take photographs as evidence of their finds. As part of the task, they needed to request members of the public to be in the photograph. The item to be photographed was a colourful piano, which is chained to the ground but stands in place, to be played by whoever cares to take a seat and stroke the keys or perhaps to pound them. It is one of 29 pianos set up all over London as part of the ‘Piano Street Scheme’. My husband happily obliged. Contrary to belief most Londoners are only too happy to help when help is needed.

We crossed over the River Thames by way of walking over the Millennium Bridge. We stopped to take in the view from both sides of the Bridge. We also marvelled at this modern structure, that stands still and strong across the width of the Thames. It was not always like this though, as when the bridge was initially built it swung from side to side. This was soon put right and now it sways no more. This is just one of the many bridges that connect the two banks. Each bridge is an accolade to the genius of the engineers that built them. One cannot help but be impressed by the bridge builders of today and yesteryear.

Tourists were everywhere. I was happy to share my city on what can only be described as a fine summer’s day. For a few hours, I too was a tourist in my own city. I looked at it again for what seemed the first time, through the eyes of my inner child, and yet I have been here many times before. Each time I come, I am never disappointed. Walking on the Southbank, along the riverside, is an enjoyable way to spend a few hours. The Southbank is a lively place to be. In addition to the many tourists from overseas were other visiting groups. Huge numbers of Girl Guides and Brownies were out in force, chattering with the excitement that a day out in London incites. There were pensioners on a day out, couples holding hands, families, some laughing and others arguing but all playing their part. Occasionally one passes a street beggar. They do not talk to you but simply display a card displaying their plight in the hope that passers by take pity and may spare some loose change. One beggar caught our eye with his card held securely in his hand. He looked positively wizened with age. His card read, ‘Homeless….and my mother’s ill as well’. His humour made me smile as did the many street entertainers. Some of the entertainers are highly talented; others are not but deserve credit for at least trying to earn a living in these hard times. The Southbank is also home to a replica of the Golden Hind, the ship of   Sir Francis Drake.  Queen Elizabeth I ordered that the Golden Hind be preserved and in effect it became the very first maritime museum. Families are able to book sleepovers on the vessel…what fun!

We passed   the Globe Theatre now fully restored, and nearby stands an old house in which Sir Christopher Wren resided, while working on St Paul’s. London is full of cobbled side streets and quirky corners untouched by the passing of time, just waiting to be stumbled upon. As I said, you cannot walk around London and fail to be impressed. There are plenty of places to eat and drink. London is awash with restaurants and bars to cater for all palates. Many places charge what I call tourist prices, which is to be expected in a major capital city, but there are also many places that offer a good plate of food for a reasonable price. It is certainly worth looking around. London is relatively expensive but for those who would seek out a bargain, there are bargains to be had. The fun is in the exploring!

Coming to the end of the Southbank we approached the West End at a leisurely pace. The West End was crowded as one would expect on the busiest shopping day of the week. For a change we chose not go to Covent Garden Market, which boasts some of the best street entertainment in Europe. This was for no other reason than we took ourselves off in the opposite direction, ending up in Piccadilly and Leicester Square, which just a few days earlier had been full of Harry Potter enthusiasts, camping out to hail the premiere of the final Harry Potter movie. This is a very noisy and colourful part of London, which is bursting with life throughout the day, and well into the night. It is not unlike Times Square in Manhattan.

Wandering back past the National Gallery, which incidentally has free admission, and houses some of the most celebrated paintings in the world, we found ourselves to be hungry. Where we should go to dine, and satiate our hunger was now uppermost in our minds. Blood sugar levels were plummeting and the desire for food took over. We had already passed through Little Italy and China Town but had not had the urge to graze on either an Italian feast or a Chinese buffet. The likes of Planet Hollywood, TGI Friday and MacDonalds did not on this occasion appeal to our ever increasing appetite as we trundled by Trafalgar Square. Even seeing the flowing fountains, and the ever lazing lions that surround the Lord Admiral Nelson himself, standing on top of his column, could not stop us from thinking about food. Even the Olympic clock set up in the square, with its countdown to  the 2012 games, reminded us that it was lunchtime. We kept walking and decided we would go back to the Southbank, and find somewhere there to rest and eat.

Back at the Southbank we passed various eateries, and yet still we remained undecided. Sometimes it is hard to decide when there is such an abundance of choice. Eventually we could wait no longer and went into the nearest Prêt a Manger (we clearly just needed to eat something! Anything lol!). The food was fresh, reasonably priced and satisfying. The only things missing were a china plate and a metal knife and fork. Feeling fed and watered we continued on our walk. As we turned the next corner we were faced with restaurant after restaurant. It was good to know that they were there. On our next visit, perhaps we could choose to sit down in one of these, looking out to the river while we ate.

No longer hungry, and now quite rested, we walked on absorbing the many sights, sounds and smells that the Southbank had to offer. There was a free photographic exhibition set up for public viewing, celebrating the changing phases of life experienced by different cultures. It was a visually enriching and educational experience. Elsewhere near, in an open air theatre space, young dancers performed for pleasure to an appreciative audience made up of parents, friends and passers by. Along the walkway by the mighty Thames, jugglers juggled, dancers danced, mime artists mimed. Everywhere and all around were people entertaining, and people being entertained. A good time was to be had by all, and all this for free.

It would soon be time to go home but not before we walked to Borough Market. It is truly worthwhile visiting the market just to see the amazing assortment of food on display, and maybe taste some of the treats on offer. We had already eaten but seeing this rainbow of food all around us, was enough to make the mouth water. In addition to the food, just the atmosphere of this wonderfully vibrant marketplace is an experience not to be missed. Coming out of the market, and walking back past the London Dungeons, we made our way to London Bridge Station and home.

There are of course many attractions that we passed by on our day out in London including the London Eye, the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Tower Bridge, the Tower of London to name but a few. We could have stopped and visited any number of these famous landmarks but just for this one day we were content to walk through our city, not in any hurry, proud in the knowledge that our city gives so much pleasure to so many peoples from all over the world.

For all this I love London!

© Liola Lee 2011

This was just one day out in London. I have visited my City many, many times over the years. It never ceases to amaze me and take me to that childlike stage of wonder as if seeing something for the first time! The image captured here of St Paul’s Cathedral was taken by me from the Millennium Bridge.

Nameless Souls on Sepia

They were just nameless souls on sepia, staring out seemingly into space:  a peer into a time long since past and now, not often remembered with any degree of regularity. With its jagged edges, it was evident that part of the photograph had been torn away, why is a mystery. Someone in the family, though I cannot recall who, had once mentioned that there had been a rift within the family back in the days when they used to gather at the beautiful hill station of Mussoorie, when escaping the harrowing heat of the city. That was as much as was known. There was no accompanying documentation and nothing written down to suggest who the people in the picture may have been. That they were ancestors seemed a little more than likely. The photograph depicted a wedding scene. Three people remained in the frame. Two seated and one standing or rather two standing but as one had been unceremoniously decapitated he could not be counted. He could have been anyone. The bride wore a lavish wedding gown of lace with what appeared to be a full layered veil laid lightly and carefully, so as not to interfere with her elegant upswept hair which was so fashionable in the early 1900s. Seated beside her was an older man with a head of thick snow white wavy hair, and sporting a long white beard: a little like Santa Claus in a suit. Beneath the hairy façade was a man not unlike my father. In fact, but for the beard it could have been my father sitting beside the bride.  It was the eyes that gave it away. They were the same eyes that had watched over me all my life. Only my father’s eyes had seen different things to those of the apparently stoic figure of the man pictured here. Their worlds were far apart but their narrative of origin was one and the same.

Aunty Paddy had been a gifted and animated storyteller who had a penchant for making colourless characters come to life. She would captivate us with stories of heroes, heroines and travellers tales. “Children….are you listening carefully?” would be our queue to gather round to hear how our ancestors had sailed across oceans in search of fame and fortune. The story told so eloquently and consistently by Aunty Paddy, revealed that long ago when great vessels with billowing sails ruled the waves, travelling the trade routes carrying spices, silks and other luxury commodities, and when George III was King; two or possibly three brothers had set sail from bonny Scotland for the far off and exotic land of India. One of them or maybe all of them had been seduced by what the East had to offer, fallen madly in love with and married an Indian princess, and lived out his days happily ever after in India. This was perhaps a rather romanticised account but this was how the story had been told and retold. One brother had perhaps been a doctor, one a sea captain and the third, if indeed there was a third could have been anything Paddy decided him to be. Such is the power of the narrator. The stories were most likely a mixture of myth and reality but to us as children they were fact rather than fiction, impressing upon our imagination that we were indelibly connected to this mysterious and mystical other world, where gods were more than one, and princes were one and many; a world that had captured the hearts and souls of our forefathers and that was forever in our blood.

Shared experiences, cultures, customs and habits all go some way to forging our identities. What we are told as children often stays with us as adults. However, there are other commonalities that can engender an inherent sense of identity and belonging, such as the idea of shared stories and myths. There is no hard definition of myth. Myth is sometimes seen as being synonymous with fantasy and fairy stories, and little to do with fact. The notion of myth often conjures up images of superheroes and superhuman beings that create an idealised view of where we come from, therefore adding to our sense of worth. To us, these pioneers were real life superheroes; they represented the true to life fodder of fairy tales and fiction, that filled our minds with the machinations of an ‘Other’ world. 

Linking myth to the narrative form is relevant, especially when considering Anglo-Indian narratives of origin because their change in circumstances, and the transitions they underwent in adapting to a colonial and a post colonial era both in Indian and in British society is shrouded with princesses both real and imagined. Of particular interest is what has become known as the princess myth which seems to circulate in many Anglo-Indian families. The myth suggests the presence of a noble ancestral connection and more specifically an Indian princess. What is of importance is why this myth has been created and the reason why some families lay claim to a princess in their midst.

Aunty Paddy’s version of events is echoed in a letter dated 19th December 2004 written by Marjorie Williams to her niece;

     …thank you so much for sending me a copy of the family tree…It’s very interesting that so many Howatsons lived in India. Where does the Scottish side come in? I suppose Thomas Howatson who was originally married to (an Indian Princess)? So I heard. My story was that two brothers, Thomas and George set sail from Scotland – one a doctor and the other a sailor or captain of a ship. I can’t tell you where I got this story from – maybe Paddy…

The letter demonstrates firstly, that we find our narratives of origin appealing at any age. Marjorie Williams was 81 when she wrote the letter. She is unable to remember where she got the story from, ‘…maybe Paddy’ she asserts. Paddy was her elder sister who had died some years earlier and who it is purported knew more about the history of the family than anyone else. When Paddy past away, so too did much of the family narrative.

In addition the letter typifies the element of the ‘Indian princess’ myth that circulates in many Anglo-Indian families. Marjorie Williams is Anglo-Indian. Her father was Hugh William Howatson born in Calcutta, India, in 1886, habitually resident in India until about 1900 when he was sent to Britain to finish his education and later to follow a successful career in medicine. It was in Scotland that he met, fell in love with and married his own princess. His princess was Annie. It was close to one hundred years earlier, when Hugh William’s great grandfather Thomas Howatson had set sail for India. What Thomas would have thought of the Britain that his great grandson Hugh returned to can only be guessed at. It is known that following an irregular marriage in Glasgow, Hugh and Annie journeyed to India and travelled about with their young family for a few years, only to return permanently to Britain later. The reasons for their movements between these two great lands, is unknown. The Diaspora to other lands following partition and independence is well documented but what of those who returned to the fatherland beforehand. What are their stories? Our sense of ‘self’ is governed by what is going on the world and is in a constant state of flux. 

It is only by telling our stories and passing them on to our children that we can preserve the memories and myths of past lives. Many stories are passed down between one generation and another, while other stories remain untold and are lost forever. So next time, when you are gathered cosily around the dining table after a sumptuous Sunday lunch as is quite common among families, laughing at the crazy antics of dad’s schooldays,  finding out about grandma’s culinary gifts or hearing of an aunt’s penchant for telling tales, take note and listen very carefully to the snippets and anecdotes of your elders for these are your stories, your narratives of origin: savour every word and share!

© Liola Lee 2010

This was a piece I wrote a few years back. I was lucky enough to have its included in a lovely Anthology titled ‘More Voices on the Verandah’ which was the final in a series of works by Anglo-Indians and those of Anglo-Indian descent. The Anthology is available still and is edited by Lionel Lumb

Hugh’s Story

Hugh Montgomery Howatson 11/04/1923 – 29/12/2013 ‘ A man who inspired…’

Hugh was a truly amazing Man, and a beautiful human being! He was good, he was kind, he was patient, he was intelligent, and he always offered encouragement even when the odds were stacked against you! He epitomised Strength and Gentility! At the beginning of World War II he played his part by becoming an ARP Warden (Air Raid Patrol). Then as soon as he reached 18 he enlisted and joined the RAF, and was attached to 294 Squadron as a WAG (Wireless Operator Air Gunner) in Air Sea Rescue. He was just a boy at the start of the War but had strong values and believed in doing his duty by his country and his family, and fought for the continued freedom of his fellow countrymen and women. Joining the War Effort was just par for the course. While serving King and Country Hugh demonstrated a skill for languages, and during the war years mastered fluent French, German and Arabic. He was a very talented man. He attained a Degree in Chemistry with the University of London as an external student, and later became a Research Chemist by Profession, a job which he stayed in until he retired. He was a devoted family man being a wonderful Husband, brilliant Dad, loving Brother, Uncle, Grandfather, Great Grandfather and friend! He worked hard all his life and always paid his dues. He had always been a healthy man, and always looked much younger than his years. He never ever complained about anything, least of all his health, and just got on with Life. He believed that if a job was worth doing it was worth doing well and to the best of your ability. He had many hobbies and interests. He was a brilliant Photographer, an avid reader, an exceptional craftsman with wood, making his own beautiful items and restoring antiques. He used to enjoy making his own wine. He would always tell us to follow our heart and our dreams!  He passed on his love of learning and his many gifts to all of us. We are all better human beings for having had the honour and privilege of being a part of him. Getting mixed dementia was not on the agenda. You always think things like Dementia and Alzheimers happen to other people, and other families! When it comes, it can be a gradual process, and even go unnoticed for a long time. But when it takes a grip it does n’t let go! Each day bit by bit the person you love is taken from you until they no longer know who you are or even who they are. There are drugs that are currently used but in all honesty they fall far short of doing anything that really helps. Resources are limited to say the least! Much more Research is needed to explore this soul destroying illness in its many guises. 

This story is Hugh’s story but it could be anybody’s story. Alzheimers/Dementia does not discriminate. It can happen to anyone, male or female and not always when elderly. It’s a cruel, unforgiving and soul destroying illness which lays claim to an individual bit by bit chipping away relentlessly until a person is just a shadow of their former and vital self. Families are heartbroken as they watch their loved ones die, and then when physical death occurs they lose their loved one all over again. When Hugh was in hospital he shared his part of the ward with Bertie, Terence and Tony. All had Alzheimers/Dementia in one form or another. This illness is on the increase! A former Global Summit said we need to do something! So let’s do something  and raise awareness to find a way forward.  No one knows what the future holds until it happens. Let’s make it a future free from Alzheimers/Dementia!

© Liola Lee 2014

It is five years today since our beautiful Daddy passed away from this World to the next. I originally wrote this piece in 2014 when I set up a charity page in his memory. It was about raising much needed funds for research, the message remains relative and of course to raise awareness. The page is no longer running but the message remains as important today as back then I am posting this article here in his memory and in memory of all those who have suffered from Alzheimer’s/Dementia and of course for all their loved ones…

Today is the day ~ Glad

Today is the day when I shall focus on being glad. This is easier said than done as I am sitting here in my dining room, organising the wage run for our subcontractors, which if I am to be honest does not make me glad. The recent recession has meant that each Friday I have to practice my circus skills as a juggler, and rob Peter to pay Paul so for that reason I am not glad but if I am to practice being glad about other things I am sure I can manage that.

I am glad I have a roof over my head, and I am glad that I am in good health which is always something that one should be glad about. I am trying to think what else I can be glad about today. Well, the sun is shining and I have managed to pay everyone, and so far nobody has annoyed me. Mind you it is still early, and my daughter has yet to arise from her bed, and as on most mornings she is likely to get up on the wrong side of the bed and be grumpy. It is 8.30 on a beautifully sunny morning on the 21st May 2010, and by now you will most likely have come to the conclusion that my daughter is not an early bird who catches the worm, although on the subject of worms, the wriggly ones which can be found in the garden, and not the type that you catch from animals where you need to be wormed, I can recall a time when my daughter was four, and used to subject me to worm patrol on the way to nursery. You may by now be wondering what exactly is worm patrol? Let me explain. 

In order for worm patrol to take place, there had to be wet conditions. It had to have been raining overnight so that next morning worms would be out and about, worming along on their daily business which tended to be winding along the pathway through the park. The walk to nursery was always an eventful time as four year olds tend to be curious little things, and for most of the time rather sweet. Back then my daughter was a morning person, still in awe of the world around her and saving worms from hungry birds was the order of the day. At that time I was temping for Lewisham Council as a cashier. I would drop my daughter off at nursery, and then run to catch the number 75 bus. I was late most days, only by minutes but nevertheless late, and the head cashier would let me know it by looking up at the clock as I walked in, and then at his watch. He never said a word but the look on his face said it all. I always just said that the bus was late again. After all how could I explain that I was assisting on worm patrol. The things we do for our children, and the trouble we get in to for them!  Back then there was not even the slightest inkling that my darling daughter, saviour of worms would evolve into a tempestuous teenager as most children eventually do. That said, I am glad that we shared such times, so yes today I shall focus on being glad for the times I shared with my daughter when we were on worm patrol and be proud that I too was instrumental in the saving of worms. 

What else shall I be glad about today? 

Today is the day’ …was a collection of musings I wrote during the Peri menopause years. It’s spoken in the first person, and was based largely on my journal entries written around that time. Journalling is a wonderful way to express this, that and whatever else needs to be said whether aloud or silently…

© Liola Lee 2010

Today is the day ~ 1970s…

The 1970s were crazy and colourful! Chopper bikes, curly perms and clackers were all the rage. For those of you who were not around in the 1970s, clackers were a toy that was on trend, basically two small balls on the end of strings which made a sort of clacking noise. We certainly had some strange toys! Hem lengths were confused with the mini, the midi and the maxi all vying for top position. The hippies of Woodstock back in 1969 left us confused and unsure as to which way now, not that I went to Woodstock as I was only 7, although I bet it would have been fun! In 1969 I was just 7 years old, a little kid just starting out on the journey of life, no real life experience as yet, just the enthusiasm and innocence of childhood. Glam Rock, Punk, Rock ‘n’ Roll, pop…all taking the stage. The 60s may have been swinging but the 70s were electrifying! My idol was David Cassidy, brown eyes, husky voice and a smile to die for. Here just thinking about him makes me sigh like a teenager. It did n’t even matter that he was in the Partridge Family who to be honest were a bit square, and not in the least bit funky but David sang to my soul with Could it be forever and How can I be sure?  This guy, who was 12 years older than me, somehow knew how I felt, knew who I was, and somehow spoke to me in a way that no one else could. My relationship with David was deep and meaningful. Then years later Robbie Williams came along who incidentally is 12 years younger. I wonder, if like me they are Tigers in Chinese astrology which moves in 12 year cycles. Umm that’s an interesting thought. I’ll have to check that out. Robbie took me through my adulteens and dare I say it my adulthood. Oh yes, Robbie went through everything with me, through his music of course. I am probably dwelling on the 70s just now as this was the timeframe in which I was 16 and in all honesty my daughter is now 16 and I am feeling at a crossroads. It really does not seem that long ago that I was the same age and going through the same experiences that she is just now. I am sure that she would be horrified at the very thought that I may have been as she is now. I am sure to her it does not seem descent that a woman of my 48 years should have ever experienced the first flush of youth. To my daughter, all I can say is just you wait until you have a daughter or son of your own.

© Liola Lee 2010

‘Today is the day’ …was a collection of musings I wrote during the Peri menopause years. It’s spoken in the first person, and was based largely on my journal entries written around that time. Journalling is a wonderful way to express this, that and whatever else needs to be said whether aloud or silently…