Shalom Jackie

Shalom Jackie, is a phrase used by Jim when Jackie answers the door to his knocking, in the comedy Friday Night Dinner. If you have never seen it, you are in for a hilarious treat (in my opinion anyway, for what it’s worth). Truly funny! Well it has had me and my daughter (more of her in bit) rolling up.  A really good ‘Brit Com’ (British Comedy).  Talking of comedies, I  am actually living in a real life comedy or maybe soap opera is more appropriate or maybe a melodrama. Yes, I know, we all say that but I mean it!

Let’s see what the weekend has been like so far in my totally dysfunctional household here in The Mews.  People always say that, or not always but quite a lot, in that their families are not quite ‘normal’. By people I mean ladies and gentlemen, girls and boys of all ages, and anyone not mentioned who would like to be included. Well, first of all let me roll back to yesterday. The husband or rather the handsome fisherman who stays with me sometimes went off, you guessed it to play with the cats, I mean fishes or more aptly Catfish. He took his tent, he took his trolley, and his brolly; in fact I watched almost the entire contents of the garage get packed into the van. Long gone are the days when he used to take his rod, and a hand held tackle box and just pop to the local lake for a couple of hours. These days he embarks on a full blown expedition with his merry men in tow, though not really in tow as he meets them at the venue/lake where they all set up their camps and then get down to some beer, I mean fishing. And merry men may be a slight exaggeration as from what I am told some of them or actually one particular person so far was not really merry but a total ‘something’ but I will refrain from using the terminology I was privy to. Anyway, let us  just say that they did not shake hands and make up. Anyway, these are what I call the FF brigade, which stands for fishing friends and facebook friends. Whether they are friends in the real sense I cannot say. After all, it is not for me to say as I am not there. I am of course here, stuck indoors looking after the dogs (one of which is poorly as per previously written post), the cat and the hedgehog. So we have ascertained that the man of the house is away with the fishes.

I am setting the scene here, so bear with me. The house is in a real mess and muddle throughout. It’s dusty, dirty, full of clutter and what’s worse the whole entire house is painted in tired,  not fresh magnolia. Just for the record we rent our place here (note I said place and not home) at the Mews, so called because of the sort of regency style town houses which are not really regency style at all. In truth they sort of look like erect boxes which someone has likened  to the Tardis in Doctor Who, though I suspect that the Tardis had more space. To be honest everything in the house is tired from the bottom floor up, including me, especially today as I only got five hours restless sleep last night. You’ll be getting the idea that I am none too keen on this box of a house, and you would be correct.  I/we moved here just over five and a half years ago. If I say that quickly, it still sounds just as long.  I/we planned on staying for a couple of years, and then moving on somewhere else. As you can surmise that has not happened. Here, we are, still living in a dust dungeon. Oh, and we (my daughter and I think it may be haunted, at least on the top floor as that is where all sorts of  strange things have happened. The ghost story is for another post and another time maybe. Because the house is not ours, and the tenancy agreement states that we have to ask for permission to pretty much do anything, motivation and enthusiasm has been lacking to say the least. That said, on a good point the Landlord has left us alone, and we in turn have not bothered him.

Getting back to this weekend. I hope I have not lost you, and that you are managing to keep up with the ramblings of a reluctant fishing widow (though probably reluctant just now because I have not been able to see my horse much recently because of Dog duty). So let’s now think about my daughter who went off to work yesterday on a late shift. Really proud of her actually. Though last night, I did not have a proud mummy moment, I had a mad mummy moment instead. The story is now starting to unfold. The evening started off well. I had bought lovely fresh ingredients earlier in the day, as I thought to make myself a lovely vegan curry. I started to prep the veg, and poured myself a glass, a large glass actually of Rioja (which came courtesy of the handsome fisherman from earlier)  to imbibe while cooking the meal. Or in plain English to drink while standing in the kitchen happily dicing onions, and pepper before moving onto slicing the courgettes, and peeling the aubergine. Oh yes, this was going to be a delicious curry. I had it all planned out beautifully. I had the onions and spices, and garlic all sizzling in the pot. In went the chopped tomatoes, then the yellow pepper. I cooked these up some more, and then the sauce would be ready to blend until smooth and then the other veg could be added. Oh yes, I was going to to enjoy my Friday night dinner. The dogs were settled and snoring, the lavender oil was burning with it;’s beautiful calm aroma, and classical lullabies playing on the CD player. A tranquil and peaceful evening underway.  What more could I ask for with my Friday night dinner. So we know the curry is underway, and the ambience is really chilled. Pour another wine while waiting for the sauce to simmer. Point of reference here, probably not a great idea to have wine before dinner when you have not eaten anything during the day.

Okay, so what next? Ah yes, I remember, with the sauce slowly simmering away on the stove, I thought now would be a good time to catch up on my social networking. WhatsApp checked; Facebook checked, and now for instagram, that wonderful platform for picture sharing. Quick flick through mine, and then thought have not looked at my daughter’s instagram for a while. Just have a quick look. So, I look, I saw, I did not like and I was not happy. Definitely not happy! There was a picture of my beautiful daughter wearing not very much at all actually. My daughter is lovely but she really does not need to reveal so much, too much but then I am her Mum so maybe that’s why I started to see a  ‘red rag’ coming down (I am a Taurean, and like the Bull I go charging in). All this while drinking another Rioja, and still no dinner.  The next thing is, I message my daughter and we get into a long heated text session over this damn picture of my scantily clad daughter. Initially her and her colleague were laughing as they thought it was funny. However, I was not laughing, and I think my daughter started to realise that. The tone of the messaging was not a pleasant one shall we say. I had my thoughts and she had her opinions and vice versa. The bottom line was that I felt she had just gone a step too far, she did not. I felt it was demeaning and she felt its was empowering. I told her that she was intelligent as well as beautiful, and did not need to be an object. Loads more was said but that is a private matter between mother and daughter. By the end of this lengthy and on going text tennis, the sauce had stuck to the pot, the curry was ruined, and I was not going to enjoy a delicious home cooked meal. I was fed up, cross or in my daughter’s terms hangry, and  had drunk too much wine. I forgot to mention that in the middle of this my daughter sent me a picture of her at work with a caption likening her to her boss that was quite funny but I was still angry and sent her a reply back that said

“better than taking your clothes off for dirty old men and pubescent boys”

of course I was referring to her possible virtual audience on instagram.  We do not always know who we may really be talking to. Not always. The thing is I did not send this reply to my daughter, it went off to a friend. It must have seemed like a really random thing. My daughter would have understood but my poor unsuspecting friend who is also young enough to be my daughter must have been a little puzzled to say the least. Later in the evening I realised what I had done and apologised, and told my friend to ignore the previous message which had not been for her. Like a good friend, she asked if I was okay, and then confirmed that she would ignore said message but not without laughing. So now I had sent out a random message to the wrong person. At this stage I decided to call it quits for the night and just go to bed, hungry, miserable and a bit the worse for wear.  On a good note the dogs were really good all evening!

Needless to say, I did not sleep well, I was restless. I tossed, I turned, I huffed and I puffed. Morning came and I got up with a bit of a headache. So not a great start to the day! I went downstairs and asked my daughter if she would like a cup of tea. She said yes (not sure if she said please) but definitely yes. See, look at me being the grown up. Tea made, coffee for me and then about that picture. Oh no, not that again Mum! This time we chatted, we laughed too but but we were both standing our ground. The discussion went on for a little bit longer but not really getting anywhere. I was told that I had no problem with the Dove advert on the TV where women of various ages, shapes and sizes are the models in their underwear. No of course I did not have a problem with that. It was an excellent advert. My response was that I would not have got so upset if she had been wearing oversized Bridget Jones knickers and a huge bra and wobbling about a bit. There was no comparison but still my daughter stands her ground. She gets her stubborn streak from me. On a serious note I feel that so many young girls feel they need to be seen in a certain way. They look for likes, adoration and a fan base but when does the line get crossed?  Anyway, I had my rant and said I would say no more apart from every now and then when something else came to mind. I’m a mum, that’s part of my job. Many people will see this from one side or the other or maybe both sides. It’s a modern dilemma I think.

Moving on to the weather of the day. It has been blowing a gale here. Big branches have crashed to the ground in the garden. The lime flower tree has been tossing, turning, and twisting. The tree is higher than the houses, stretches out over the road beyond the fence which is pretty busy with traffic, dog walkers, runners and the like. The tree is protected. I love the tree! It is magnificent and park worthy but today I decided it may also be dangerous, and in need of a little management though I am no expert. I contacted the Landlord, and he has said he will have to get approval from the Council before he can get anyone in. I just wanted him to be aware of my concerns. The wind has been fierce all day with no let up. What else could happen? Oh yes, something else had to happen, and happen it did. The fence has also blown down, not completely down but certainly on it’s way down and just being held up by the ivy which has attached itself to the wood. I never realised Ivy was so strong. So this too, I decided to report to the Landlord. After all in for a penny, in for a pound,  Big mistake, as now, said Landlord wants to come round and have a look. What’s so bad about that you may say, but think back to the beginning where I mentioned the dust, the dirt, the clutter and did I mention the dog that he does not actually know about, Oops, we have to come up with a plan now to stall him, deter him or at least delay him while we do a mammoth tidy up before he comes and hide one of  the dogs. Perhaps he’ll evict us. Could we be that lucky! Then we would have to move. We did want to move after all, and the Universe does work in mysterious ways so perhaps something good is on its’ way.

So, apart from the upset with my daughter, the falling branches, and the broken fence, not to mention the impending visit from the Landlord; the weekend is going well so far

A few notes to self here. Do not drink wine on an empty stomach. Definitely do not drink wine when getting angry. Do not look at daughter’s saucy instagram picture, and then drink wine. Do not contact Landlord if you do not want him to visit. And one other thing, tonight I could not be asked to cook a lovely home made veggie curry, so I bought myself a microwave curry. A chicken Korma to be precise. I ate it, and then came the reaction. I have a Cow’s milk allergy, and of course Korma has milk in it. Important note to self here, do what the Doctor tells you and stay away from. milk and anything with milk in it.  Sometimes I just like to check and see, just in case the allergy disappears but so far, not yet.

In the words of Jackie in Friday Night Dinner I bid you Shalom. ( I am not Jewish but I like the word Shalom as much as I like the Hawaiian word Aloha.

© Liola Lee 2019

 

 

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Little Women Revisited…

With her arms wrapped tightly around his waist, off he cycled towards home with her riding pinion. Home, back then to both was in the Lane at Kent House. It was always a blast when Laurie met her outside the school gates and took her home on his shiny metallic blue Chopper bike. Chopper bikes were right on trend in the early to mid 70s. The other girls always looked a little envious, either because she got a lift or maybe because it was on a Chopper. If her Mum had known, she would have had her guts for garters, and most likely Jo would have been grounded indefinitely, or at least until she got round her Mum with a nice warming cup of tea or some other such bribe. Chopper bikes were decidedly dangerous contraptions, some would say death traps but they looked good, and were fun to ride but the handle bars were lethal, a visit to casualty in the waiting. He, Laurie lived at number 4 with the mustard yellow door with his Dad John, Mum Doreen and younger sister Sarah. She, Jo lived a little further along the lane, on the same side of the road five doors up at number 14, where the front door was a sort of muted red, not quite scarlet but lighter than crimson. At Jo’s house were Dad Hew, Mum Mary, and her three sisters Meg, Beth and Amy. Jo and Laurie were friends, childhood friends, and had been since 1974 or thereabouts when Jo and Laurie were heading towards puberty. Between 1970 and 1974 they saw each other but that was all.  Their friendship when it started was platonic, nothing more, nothing less, and if it was more than that they never said a word. Sometimes words can spoil a friendship, sometimes words can spoil a marriage. Words have been known to bring down governments and make complete fuck-ups of families. Can boys and girls ever have a platonic friendship? Some, maybe many would say no but who are others to judge? Sometimes things are left unsaid, and one day everything changes because kids become adults and childhood gets lost somewhere in the archives of time. It was the early 1970s, and they were just children learning how to live, learning how to love and trying to fathom things out as they muddled along the road that is life. There was a crowd of boys and girls who lived in the Lane who sometimes hung out and sometimes did not, each with stories to come and histories to make. These were the kids of Kent House Lane.

Jo was actually Joanne Mary Huett, the Mary being named after her mum. Being somewhat of a tom boy she liked to dispel with the ‘anne’ bit and just be called Jo. Short and to the point, just like Jo who was petite in stature, and down to earth in character, always saying what she thought, often without thinking but never meaning any harm. Her rosy cheeks demonstrated a love of the outdoors. She had a mass of wild unruly raven curls, and preferred to wear washed out jeans and tee shirt given the choice.. She had no airs or graces, loved being out in the fresh air, and sometimes wished she had been born a boy as they seemed to have all the fun, or at least more fun than their female counterparts.They never got stuck with girl stuff  like washing up, sweeping and tidying, though in truth when there were any chores to do Jo  somehow  always managed to sneak out of the house and back to play. Meg, the eldest also always managed to evade household chores. Amy was still too young to be expected to do much around the house, so poor Beth, who was always so helpful and  so responsible got stuck with being the helping hand of the family. Beth was the second eldest. There were just eleven months between Meg and Beth. Then came Jo, three years after Beth, and then two years later came dear little Amy, the baby of the family. They were the Huett girls;  four little women of the 20th century.  Jo was just seven when she moved to the Lane. Before the Lane she had lived with the family in Sydenham in a rather large caricature of a ground floor flat in a large red brick Victorian House but that’s another story. 

This is Jo’s story as seen through her eyes. 

1970 The Move

“Come on girls…it’s time to leave” Daddy called out with that beautiful precise diction that was Daddy’s . It’s what my Mum, Mummy had initially fallen in love with!

We were all enormously excited because we were moving house. It was a big new adventure! Up until now we had lived in a flat, a big flat but still a flat. We were moving to our new house, and we would be occupying all of it, not just one floor. Just us and nobody else. The new house was in Beckenham which was considered so lardy da!  Just a couple of miles away,  so not too far to go.  Mummy and daddy had got a GLC Mortgage in order to buy it, though at the time we did not even know what a mortgage was, let alone a GLC Mortgage.  We just knew we were moving to a brand new house. Well, not a brand new house as it had been built during the 1930s, another thing we were not really aware of at the time, as children do not tend to dwell on such things too much when they are very young but to us it was brand new. We had never lived there before, so it was to all intents and purposes as new as they came. We were to have our very own front door, a front garden and a back garden,  just for us. I do not really recall being sad when we left the old house in Hillcrest but children look at things differently to adults. Looking back, I am sure leaving Hillcrest must have been sad to some degree for mummy and daddy as they had history there, and it had been their first home without Nana, and Aunties May and Connie. It had been a compulsory order for us to leave the old house, as the remaining old victorian houses in Hillcrest were to be demolished to give way to new flats to extend the nearly new  Hillcrest Estate which was full of high rise flats, all granite grey and concrete.

When we arrived at Kent House we all piled out of the car, crashing unceremoniously through the garden gate, down the short path, and all but stumbling into the house, all trying to be first in, and not quite managing it. Meg and Beth were to have the back bedroom that overlooked the back garden and and an expanse of land beyond the garage and back alley. Me and Amy were to have the small box room at the front of the house which looked out into the lane so we would be able to see the comings and goings on. We were the little ones so it was the little bedroom for us. They were the big ones and got the big room. Of course Amy and me had bunk beds. Me on the top and Amy on the bottom, though sometimes Amy  would join me in the top bunk as siblings often do, at least until she fell out and really hurt herself, and then she stopped coming in to my bed.  Mummy and daddy took the front bedroom with the bay window which I guess was the master bedroom. There were no ensuites in those days. There was a compact, some may say tiny bathroom with a toilet next to Meg and Beth’s room, and there was no downstairs toilet as there are in many of today’s houses. So if someone was having a bath you had to check to see if they needed to go to the loo first, or they would just have to wait but you never really thought anything of it as it was just the way it was. It was just lovely having a new house. We were all going to be very happy here. When you go into a house or any building you can often feel if it is a happy home or an unhappy one. Kent House was the former. We were home now and you know what they say. Home is where the heart is and all that mushy stuff that us sentimental types tend to fall for, hook, line and sinker whatever that may mean. So what’s the story behind the girl? 

Jo

Sometimes you have to go back to before the beginning of the story.  It’s a lie or maybe not a lie but a fib,  when they say a story has a beginning, a middle and an end. Most stories have lots of beginning, lots of middles and many endings. It just depends on who is telling the story.  The Storyteller gets to pick and choose, and tell or not tell but the Author gets to show.  Jo wanted to write, did write and wanted more than anything to become a published Writer. She wrote poems, stories, snippets and anything else that ignited her rather overactive imagination. At the age of 5 or not quite 5 but nearly, Jo had started primary school and could already write her full name which was considered an achievement for a child at Kelvin Grove. Furthermore, she knew the alphabet off by heart. Yes, Jo loved to write, loved the language with all her being and wanted to get what was inside her out onto the page. 

Jo was the third daughter to be born to Hew and Mary. 

©. Liola Lee 2019

One of my favourite novels/books  as child/teenager/adult was ‘Little Women’ by Louisa May Alcott. Being one of four sisters, I was able to identify with the characters in the story to varying degrees. My plan is to revise/combine the story with my own, so a mixture of fact and fiction. Whether I complete the project or not is another matter but it is an idea in my head just now….and I mean just an idea but maybe it could lead somewhere or maybe not…would love to know your comments on my idea!

. 

Dick and Jane

Jane’s discharge was absolute. She was better now, healed, a beacon of light to the other residents who still had time to serve. No longer on section, Jane was free to go. No more visits by the psychiatric team. No more case reviews, no more anything in connection with the white coat brigade. She was released without ceremony, to go on her way wherever she saw fit. She was no longer their concern. Jane walked away from the centre. She did not turn and look back. She had things to do, places to go and people to see. Time spent incarcerated delays living. As the doors closed behind her she walked forward with an air of quietude . She knew that she would catch up with everything in the end, and that all would be okay or at least okay in her world.

In contrast to her exit, Jane had not arrived at the centre quite so quietly,  which was more a hospital really, and the residents in truth patients. On arrival at the centre some 24 months or so ago or something like that, she had screamed like a barking mad banshee, and struggled with the nurses who were just guards in disguise with a bit of nurse training thrown in for good measure.  She would not make it easy for them, her captors but would fight them with all the fight within her until they were willing to listen. Days, weeks, months, and finally two years passed.  Jane learnt how to play the game, and now she was free to go. 

Dick had dropped Ella at Nursery, and had returned home. Work could wait. He had more important things to do today, rather than go to the office to work on the new accounts. The accounts could wait, there was something else that could n’t. Arriving home, he noted that the gate was closed. Knowing he had left it open earlier, and also knowing that the Postman also always left it open, he was a little on his guard, though not afraid. After all this was Jane, his Jane. He had been expecting her, though he had thought he may be home before her. 

He opened the door slowly, and as quietly as he could. Walking into the hall he could smell the unmistakeable heavy scent of Yves Saint Laurent’s Opium, Jane’s signature scent; it was heady just like her. The door to the kitchen was open, not wide open, just open a few inches, and not quite enough to see into the room. He hesitated for a moment, then went into the kitchen but there was no-one there. He was a little surprised as he was sure she would be sitting at the table waiting for him. It was what she did or at least what she used to do when she wanted to confront him with something, nothing and anything. It was just her way. He wondered if she had learned her lesson. After all, that had been the point of this last two years.

He walked back out into the hall, stood at the bottom of the stairs, and called out ‘Jane’ .

No reply. Nothing. Just silence, and that perfume. That smell took him back to that first meeting with Jane, back to the beginning.

Where was Jane? She had clearly been here. There was no mistaking that but where was she now? He was both puzzled and even a little perturbed, annoyed even. Predictable Jane was being unpredictable. Dick hated unpredictability. Jane would have to answer for that. Just wait until he caught up with her. He knew he should have gone to collect her and bring her home himself. She could never be trusted to get things right. Back in the kitchen Dick clenched his fists, and punched both down hard on the table. Being solid Oak the table withstood the attack. Dick’s knuckles did not. Dick sat down at the table, looked down at his bloodied throbbing hands. This was not quite the reunion he had imagined for so many months.

Dick looked up at the large clock which hung on the wall on the other side of the table. It was coming up to 2.30pm. Had he really been sitting there for all this time. Taking a deep breath, Dick stood up, he stretched out his fingers. The blood had dried. His hands hurt but nothing broken, not any bones anyway. He needed to pull himself together. Ella finished Nursery in half an hour and he must be on time. He was always on time. Turning the tap on, the water ran cold as he rubbed the blood from his hands. He watched as the now diluted blood washed away down the plug hole. He dried his hands, checked them once more for stains and getting his things together, he went out the front door to get in his car to go fetch Ella. Had he locked the front door. He was unsure, so went back and checked again, and again, and again, his OCD resurfacing from somewhere past,  until he had satisfied himself that the door was indeed locked. 

© Liola Lee 2018

This was a writing exercise set by Stephen King in his book ‘On Writing’. Whether he would think I had hit the mark or not is not up for debate. I have still to finish his book. This I plan to do this year along with the others I have started but not yet completed. That said, this could be the start of a story maybe?

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

Memoirs ~ Head Sore

Class six proved as ineffectual educationally as class four. I don’t really remember learning that much in either class, as most of the time the teacher was shouting at the class trying to gain control. It was a losing battle for the teacher most of the time. She was soft, and the kids knew it! Miss Lawrie mentioned previously, was far too nice to be teaching at Kelvin Grove. She might have been safer teaching the infants! What her memories of Kelvin Grove Junior School must be, can only be guessed at but it is my guess that when she left, it was like being set free from a horrible period of punishment.  

At this time in educational establishments boys were still given the cane if they were really naughty. I often remember taking the register up to the Head Teacher’s office, and seeing a queue of boys sitting outside waiting to be caned. It was just accepted as the norm. I was glad I was a girl at such times as boys really did seem to have a much harder time at school. Mind you, I always felt that they shouldn’t be naughty then. Whether the punishment fitted the crimes committed is debateable. 

One day, a day like any other at Kelvin Grove but not like any day I had ever had Miss Lawrie left the classroom, a common occurrence, to fetch assistance from another teacher to help calm the class down as it was beyond her skills to achieve this. While she was away from the classroom a boy named Paul took a ball of hardened plastacine and hurled it hard at the windows between the classrooms; a good throw if he had been playing cricket. One of the windows smashed. There’d be trouble now. Paul hurriedly went round the classroom threatening that anyone who told on him would get it. By that he meant he would hurt them. Even in class six Paul was the best fighter in the school and not someone you upset intentionally, at least not if you had any common sense. He was a volatile and unpredictable boy who could be charming one day and a monster the next. Paul was blond, blue eyed and athletically built. He had a nice voice that gave little indication of the stormy nature that brewed within but he was a troubled boy who was just dismissed as naughty. That was the thing if you misbehaved you were quickly labelled and the label would stick and over time you lived up to the label as if you had decided to give people what they expected.

My mistake that day was being little Miss Goody Two Shoes. Rather than say I knew nothing about the window I told the truth and told the teacher that it was Paul who broke the window. I am sure he got the cane for that, not something that I had given any thought to at the time. I found out later that Paul used to get beaten by his dad at home not because his dad was necessarily a bad man but because that was how he viewed fatherhood and had probably had a similar upbringing himself by his own father. I think if I had known that about Paul I might not have said anything but as it was I thought it was the right thing to do.  With hindsight I know that I was more scared of getting in trouble from lying than I was of anything Paul could do to me. I had been brought up to tell the truth and shame the devil. It was better to admit to a lie than to prolong the lie and get found out that you were lying. I paid the price for informing on Paul. He waited until dinner play when there was the minimum of staff supervision. It didn’t matter that I was a girl. At that age boys rarely think that they mustn’t hit girls. Paul took my bag off me which I recall quite clearly was a dark maroon colour with a white rim or edging that I took off my toy shopping trolley. He roughly snatched that bag, swung it high above his head and then brought it down hard on mine with forceful anger. The pain was excruciating. How my neck didn’t break I don’t know. No one did anything to protect me as they were all too afraid to stand up against him. They could only help and support me in the aftermath when I cried my eyes out. It seems that very few people stand up to bullies, not because they are cowards necessarily but just because they are trying to survive in a tough world and let’s face it they are scared of getting hurt themselves.  At these times you don’t always think about standing together and uniting against the bullies not when you’re children anyway; not always even when you’re an adult.  

I only ever remember one person standing up to Paul. The girl’s name was Sharon. I don’t remember why they fought, just that they did. As the fight started, cheers of “FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!” could be heard chanted across the playground. The children descended on the fight as vultures to a rotting carcass, surrounding the two figures in the middle. No child present tried to stop the fight; it was n’t the done thing. Paul repeatedly punched Sharon with precision to the head while Sharon’s flailing fists tried to fight back. She did n’t, would n’t back down. Never before have I seen such determination to stand one’s ground. Whether she was brave or stupid depends on where you are standing but on that day in my opinion that girl was the bravest person that I had ever seen. She had no way of beating him; her tear stained face was red with crying but she kept going. She was the first person I ever saw stand up to a bully even though she was scared. Whether he ever felt any remorse for hurting me, Sharon or anyone else I have no idea or whether he felt he was justified in punishing me for telling, again I have no idea. I had been caught between the devil and the deep blue sea and either way I would lose. I didn’t ever tell on Paul again. That was the first time anyone had really hurt me physically. It wasn’t to be the last. I got over it and Paul  forgot about it, even being kind to me when he kicked a football against my head.  He was a strange boy who puzzled me. 

Paul was one of those boys always in trouble for fighting, and losing his temper, yet it was unheard of to involve Educational Psychologists back then. The boy would get in trouble, possibly get the cane, maybe a letter home. At home he would probably get a smack from his mum, even worse from his dad. Parents knew that kids could do wrong, and invariably did do wrong. If the child was in trouble it was a case of “What did you do. You must have done something”. Parents did not go in, and accuse the teachers of unreasonable behaviour. Parents let the teachers do the teaching, and the teachers left parents to do the parenting. There was no overlap. Parents didn’t crowd the playground at the beginning or end of the school day. The minute children entered the school gate ,the kids became the school’s responsibility. Each understood their role in the development of the child, and neither interfered with the other. That’s just how it was.

In Kelvin Grove it was better to just flow and fit in with the main crowd, if you didn’t want trouble. Back then it didn’t do to be too different. The kids that were different were the ones that tended to get picked on. I remember some of the kids that were given a hard time. Among them I remember a boy by the name of Sinclair Hart. What were his parents thinking giving him a name like that, then sending him to a like school like Kelvin Grove.  Personally I think it is a beautiful name! A film star’s name! His name was different, and he himself was a little eccentric to our rather limited life experience. In fourth year juniors he was still wearing grey knee length shorts, another no-no. On top he would wear a tank top over his shirt and sport a bow tie; no kidding, a bow tie. He wore his hair short and smart unlike the other boys who had longer, messier hair that was typical of the 1970’s.  Sinclair looked out of place, and his appearance along with his name made him stand out as did his beautifully pronounced diction. I do not know what became of him but think that maybe his parents eventually withdrew him from the school and sent him elsewhere. With retrospect I now think he was a real character but never attempted to be friendly as it would have brought trouble on me. Yet earlier on in the school my younger sister and I had been among only a few pupils who bothered to wear school uniform. So maybe we were not that different after all. That didn’t last long when we saw that wearing uniform didn’t fit in with the other kids. As I grew up I decided that I did n’t want to be the same as everyone else and tried my best to be different. Sometimes I succeeded, and sometimes I did n’t. It would get me into trouble from time to time but by the time I was an adult, I had learned that it is okay to be different, although to be honest there were plenty of times when I chose to be different just to be awkward, and not because it was the right thing to do for me. Mostly it was because I did n’t like being told what to do.

Another pupil who was treated with disrespect was a young South East Asian boy by the name of Barrett. I think he too was friendly and decent, and never remember him doing anything to hurt anyone else. Yet he was berated at times, which looking back was not only unfair but pretty dehumanising. Children can be heartless at times, and demonstrate a ruthlessness one would not usually associate with childhood. It is often not until we are adults that we realise how cruel, and thoughtless we have been and even though we have been so thoughtless ,we brush it aside as just part of growing up. 

For the most part I managed well enough, just every now and then would I do something that landed me in trouble with those kids, I would have rather steered clear of. Even the nicer kids could sometimes be cruel. Maybe they didn’t realise it at the time. I know that in Secondary School I was guilty of being inadvertently cruel in a secondary sort of way. That in a way is even worse than the ones being overtly nasty. 

I look back, and know that I could have made a difference to the likes of Elaine and Kay  who at secondary school were often the butt of cruel and snide remarks. Both girls acted like they did n’t realise it but I am sure they knew it and felt hurt. Elaine was a skinny girl with blond hair and freckles who reminded me of a pop star called Clodagh Rodgers, a winner of the Eurovision song contest with a song titled  I’ll be your Jack in the Box.  She used to be picked on, and called skinny ribs but it’s Elaine who’s had the last laugh now as I am sure that many of those who made these remarks are overweight with middle-aged spread, and would now die for a figure like Elaine’s.  Then Kay who was very short and busty was given a hard time for being big chested. Some of the girls used to taunt her about having greasy hair as they did Elaine, and yet don’t the majority of teenage girls suffer with greasy hair from time to time. What was the big deal? Kay actually looked to me like a young Liza Minelli, although her hair wasn’t as dark. I never told her or anyone that but had I let her know that she was like the famous caberet star then it may have helped her self- esteem. Instead I watched in silence from the sidelines minding my own business. As an adult I know now what I ought to have done but growing up is difficult. No one tells us how to do it. We just do it the only way we know how.