Welcome

Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.

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Sunday, June 01, 2008

A walk down memory lane.

I had arranged to hang out in London with my first born for a day on my way to France. The blessed child had just spent a few days with her maternal grandparents in Lancashire, had also visited old grand cousins on the west coast of Cumberland, and had headed back to university on the train. She had almost immediately got onto another train from Nottingham to arrive in London late in the evening. I had no specific plans, other than my usual cheese-buying trip to Covent Garden. We talked about treating me to some Penhaligon cologne. Add to that some thinking about what she wanted as a nice 21st birthday present, as that day is fast approaching: right now, it looks like an iPhone has the edge, but it's a woman's right to change her mind. After a short conflab, we agreed to go and visit some old boyhood haunts of mine .

I had arrived in England from Jamaica with my parents as a six year old in the early 1960s, and we lived first in the west London area of Shepherd's Bush. All of my early impressions of English life were formed there. The house was centrally located. I lived less than five minutes from my primary school, and walked to and from it every school day. I lived qbout five minutes from the library. My first home was five minutes walk from Queen's Park Rangers (QPR) football ground, and most of what I developed as a love for that sport was nurtured there. Many of my track successes were at the White City Stadium, then the premier track in England, and it was a 20 minute walk from my house.

Even after moving to other west London districts in the mid-1960s and going to a grammar school in Westminster and later university, my link with The Bush remained strong: I was a football fan so went back to support my team for most home matches. QPR were an unfashionable London team that found a flashy star in Rodney Marsh--a Brazilian style artist, who loved trickery and the unexpected. They soared from the then-Third Division as champions in 1966-67, becoming the first Third Division club to win the League Cup in the same season, coming from 0-2 at half time at Wembley to beat First Division side West Bromwich Albion 3-2. They soared to the First Division (now Premier League) in 1968, but were relegated after just one season. Five years later they were back in the top division and were pipped to the championship by Liverpool on the last day of the 1975-76 season.

So, I went back to "my town" with my daughter. Although her mother is English and she was born in London, and is now having a year at university in Nottingham, she does not know England well. She's building up her Englishness, though.

We visited my old home in a street that now has a solid yuppy feel.We visited the library where I would spend many hours reading. We visited "The Green", where I played football and strangely baseball--my best friend had an uncle in the US Air Force--and noticed the tennis courts still there and still barely used. Back then we thought tennis was for "toffs".We visited the market, which is still lively and full of much the same merchandise: cheap clothes, fresh fruit and vegetables, fresh meat, a lot of foods from Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. I have a friend from primary school whose Italian parents had a clothes stall and he now runs it; his uncle used to have a café nearby where we would eat salmon and cucumber sandwiches and drink tea some afternoons--it's now a kebab house. The merchants have changed a lot; back in the 1960s they were white "Lonnoners", now they are mainly turbaned Sikhs (Indians). The stores I used to venture into for magazines and model kits are gone.

We took a look at my Victorian era primary school and the church associated with it, where we found a good Anglican congregation: to this day I have never come across another church that regularly offers a hot served breakfast after the main Sunday service.

We took a stroll to public baths, built in 1905, where my father and I would go at the weekends: our flat had no bath so that visit became a necessary ritual. It was a bizarre and socially difficult shift from customs in the Caribbean. It was strange at the time to go to find the room with our individual bath and wash with my Dad. It was not like visiting the mineral baths in Jamaica, with their deep, warm plunge baths, with healing water for well being. But those weekly visits to the public baths became accepted as much as needing to take bags of dirty clothes to wash at the laundromat--we had nowhere to wash or hang clothes at home even if the weather permitted it. I remember thinking that too was a far cry from my father's Jamaican boyhood when people would take clothes to wash and beat by the river, which is still done where he grew up in St. Mary.

We then went for a culninary experience that is unique to London: we went to a pie and mash shop (see link). You really have to eat it to understand the meal; you love it or loathe it. I love the pie and mash, and eating them with vinegar and salt; I never liked eating eels. There are very few of these places left in London, and most are in the East End. Though living in west London most of my childhood, I happened to live close to both of two in the district. Like us, there were several people who had made a trek back to the area to have lunch; one lady had come 20 miles and was loading up to take a dozen lunches home: "Where I live now dey neva 'eard o' pie 'n' mash", she lamented. My daughter, whose culinary horizons are now widening, took one look at the "liqour" (a greenish sauce that takes its colour from parsley) and said "Don't let that stuff touch my food!". I launched with relish into my "double pie and double mash" (two helpings of each; titans can try for the triple) with "liqour". She timidly tested her single pie and mash; the pie filling is minced beef like a Jamaican patty's but not spicy, and she loves those; her liqour stood separately in a bowl, and she put a little on her tongue..."Argh...". I added my vinegar and salt, and broke my pie so that it would cool and the vinegar would penetrate better. She spooned pie and mash into a half-welcoming mouth. She loves Lancashire's hearty meat pies; she loves mashed pototoes. Could she deal with this new combination? A fellow lady luncher grinned and giggled as my neophyte daughter went where she had never gone before: "Eat up, darlin'." she encouraged. My meal disappeared without any sense of disappointment; it had been about 10 years since I last ate this dish, I recalled. Her meal was done too. Bravo. "I think I will have a second plate, but none of that liquor." I heard her say, and she presented herself again at the counter. "Did you like it, luvvie?" the Irish lady asked. Back came my daughter with the works. "I'm just going to eat the inside of the pie, and nothing that has touched the liqour..." Whatever, I thought. And 15 minutes later?
One plate devoid of mash, no signs of pie crust evident, and only a little liqour remaining. "I guess you liked it all." I smirked. Moments later, two Cheshire cat-like people strolled back onto the street. I just told her that she needs to give her children a chance to have the experience; she smiled.

I commented how the district had changed very little in a physical sense; of course there were new buildings but not really so many. The old BBC studios in Lime Grove had been sold off and apartments now took its place; new meaning for "studio aprtments". Like a lot of London, its Victorian character was very much in tact. The old baths were now also an apartment block. The old pub next to my school was now an Internet shop. What I had noticed was that the people had changed: I saw few black Caribbean and African people; I saw white people but they mainly sounded Irish; I saw lots of veiled women dressed in black shadours with children in tow; I saw lots of Indians; read lots of signs that were in Arabic. I remembered my school class, with one Indian face, two west Indians, and a dozen white children.

We took the Tube back across town to deal with Apple and cheese.

2 comments:

BarbadosInFocus / PictureInFocus said...

This is a wonderful recollection. I felt as though I was back in London with you some years ago.

Enjoy your travels.

Salmon Street Studio said...

Thanks for sharing this story! (Found it via a Google Alter for our business which is Salmon Street Studio, but your article was better than most other blogs with those words in them : )