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Creative Writing at the Museum of London


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Creative Writing at the Museum of London

  1. 1. Creative Writing at the Museum of LondonA collection of learners’ work from the WEA Writing London course
  2. 2. PrefaceWEA Tutor  ElizabethSarkany One of the learners on the Writing London course noticed very early on that there were always excited groups of schoolchildren in the galleries at the museum. She liked this, she said, because it made things feel so alive. To do with now and the future as well as with the past. It’s this energy, running through the place like a heartbeat, that makes the Museum of London such a unique setting for creativity. We worked together in various ways: sometimes, our group of nine allowed their imaginations to take flight in direct response to the exhibits. They very quickly began to make stories out of, say, the poignancy of a shoe lost during the scuffle of an arrest, a chilling newspaper account of an execution, or the possibilities represented by the bag of a wartime bus conductress. Objects could be the starting point for linking in to personal experience too: an immigrant’s suitcase the focus for a powerful description of traumatic dislocation, wartime tins of food for a quirky account of life under rationing. And sometimes we used the exhibits to facilitate the seeing of the world in a new way, as a writer sometimes does: a watchman’s box, for example, becoming a beautifully drawn metaphor for loneliness. Inspiration was often to be found in surprising places: overheard conversations in the café, a chance meeting in a lift, found fragments of willow pattern china under glass in the floor beneath our feet. Nine adults from completely different places experience the same thing in nine completely different ways. That’s the other thing that gave this course its special texture. The generosity and curiosity within our increasingly cohesive group allowed nine very distinctive voices to emerge. These can be heard in the following pages. 2
  3. 3. IntroductionWriting London is a Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) creativewriting course held at the Museum of London in partnership with theMuseum.This collection of writing represents work done by the first ever group ofparticipants on this excellent course.Registration for the 2012/2013 course opens on the website on 1st July 2012.The WEA is the UK’s largest voluntary-sector provider of adult education.E-mail website: of London website: ............................................................................................................2Introduction ......................................................................................................3Contents ..........................................................................................................3Prologue: A wet day at the Museum ................................................................5Aldgate Pump by Patricia Gibson ....................................................................6Vacant Overalls by Maxine Garcia...................................................................7Fares, please! by Patricia Gibson ....................................................................9Tea with Skeletons by Maxine Garcia............................................................10The Horn dance by Wendy Le Ber.................................................................13The missing bit of the jigsaw by Sozen Ismail................................................14Maudie, the Regular by Patricia Gibson.........................................................16Night of the incendiaries by Barbara Gilmore ................................................18Ribbons of Hope by Maxine Garcia ...............................................................19My silver shoes by Barbara Gilmore ..............................................................20Incendiaries by Marilyn Hawes ......................................................................21“Arrested 15th November, 1911.” by Barbara Gilmore....................................22Batch by KG Lester........................................................................................23Dionysus (excerpt) by Musaret Siddiqi...........................................................25 3
  4. 4. Fragments of Blue and White by Wendy Le Ber ............................................26Hunter Gatherers in the 1940s by Marilyn Hawes..........................................32Risks with heart (excerpt) by Sozen Ismail ....................................................33The Visitation - Act I Scene 1 by KG Lester...................................................34War and Peace in Berkshire by Caroline Ffrench Blake ................................37A Story by Wendy Le Ber...............................................................................40The Craftsman’s Tale by Patricia Gibson.......................................................42Inheritance Tracks by Caroline French-Blake ................................................43Margaret Waters by Musaret Siddiqi..............................................................44Poetry ............................................................................................................45‘Fish Trap’ by Musaret Siddiqi........................................................................45Lusala’s Lament by KG Lester .......................................................................45Loneliness by Caroline Ffrench Blake............................................................46Motherhood by Musaret Siddiqi .....................................................................46My Dancing Partner by Musaret Siddiqi.........................................................47Magic Lantern by Maxine Garcia ...................................................................47Wild moon dancing by Wendy Le Ber ............................................................48Bleached by Barbara Gilmore ........................................................................48Courage by Caroline Ffrench Blake ...............................................................49Shepperton Woman by Marilyn Hawes..........................................................49Sadness by KG Lester ...................................................................................49Adult male skull by Maxine Garcia .................................................................50Fear by Barbara Gilmore ...............................................................................50Teeth in skulls by Sozen Ismail......................................................................50The Hijab by Musaret Siddiqi .........................................................................51The Music of Time by Wendy Le Ber .............................................................52Flaming Heck, London’s A Wreck by KG Lester ............................................53The Writers ....................................................................................................55© 2012 Copyright InformationThe work contained in this collection may not be copied, distributed, modified orreproduced in any way without the express permission of the original authors. 4
  5. 5.         Prologue: A wet day at the Museum Group poem by the members of Writing London  Dreary, dreary, dreary falls the rain. Squirrel-coloured ostrich feathers, A flying horse Amid the maddening rush of traffic below. Hordes of children suddenly appear – noisy, excited chatter. The cheerful sound of bubbling children. The hissing of car tyres on the wet road. I hear rain beating, beating, beating on the ground. Little girls in pink wellingtons. Cars driving through the relentless rain. The warmth removed by a cold chill. Toasty coffee smell, calm space, refugees from the rain filter in. A pile of chocolate muffins sprinkled with nuts. Children lining up, talking excitedly. Mystical music in an enchanting world. Silhouettes of passing figures on the wall. Dizzyingly ringed by Bloomberg time and random London information. Pictures of: large pots, geometric designs, antlered deer. Wet traffic hisses outside. 5
  6. 6. Aldgate Pump by Patricia GibsonThere has been one of us standing on this spot inLondon’s East End since medieval times. ‘Meet you by the Aldgate Pump, people say.That’s how important we are as working landmarks. I’m made of cast iron and date from 1880. I don’tsupply the whole neighbourhood with their only sourceof water anymore, because some people have got theirown tap now, which brings it from the mains. But oldhabits die hard, so the locals still gather round me for achat and a gossip just as they’ve done for centuries. Youwouldn’t believe the things I hear! Once there were dozens of us pumps all over London. The water came from one ofthe many streams which flow under the city and out to the Thames. Engineers just bored ahole in the ground and up came the water by hydraulics. Magic! Unfortunately, it wasn’t just liquid that came out of the spout in the old days. I’veheard that everything from eels to crabs plopped into women’s buckets. And the colour of thewater! Thick with that claggy, grey mud that London’s built on and smelling like old shoes,rotten cabbage and rat droppings. As well as lugging the heavy buckets back home,housewives had to boil it up before it was fit for use. Even then it was pretty disgusting. For those of us nearer the Thames, the river used to overflow at the equinox - Springand Autumn. Londoners would be wading knee deep in the same awful greasy, muddy scumthat we pumped out, as well as all the household waste that ended up in the Thames. That doesn’t happen very often now because a civil engineer called JosephBazalgette designed a revolutionary sewer system and by 1865 the nasty bits were flowingaway into special drains. He also built the Victoria Embankment between 1864 and 1870to hold the flood waters back. That meant that there were no nasty smells near the Houses ofParliament – the members had complained about The Great Stink – but still left other parts ofthe city unprotected. So why did many of us lose our pumping arms? It’s all due to Dr.John Snow, whowas Queen Victoria’s obstetrician. There was an outbreak of cholera – which gives you arash and the most awful trots and mostly kills you – in Soho in the West End of London.Around 500 people died and doctors said that it was because cholera was airborne and whatcould you do? London air was pretty unhealthy, what with all those chimneys belching outsmoke from people’s fires and the mucky streets full of mud and horse droppings, nevermind the rats which everyone knows carry the plague. The medical men recommendedburning chloride of lime in any area which had cases of the disease. All that did was producechoking – and useless – smoke. Dr. Snow didn’t believe any of that. He was convinced that it was because the filthywater supply carried the cholera germ. To prove it, in 1854, he removed the handle of theBroadwick Street Pump and, would you believe it, there were no more cases of cholera! Ihope someone put a plaque up to him. He saved hundreds of lives. It wasn’t until 1899 that all the London doctors admitted that he was right and pumphandles were removed. So I still had one when they made me, the Aldgate Pump, in 1880.But you can be certain that there were no nasties in my water by then or the City Fatherswouldn’t have let me work. And I do have my pride.’Inspired by the Aldgate pump (People’s City: health and water). 6
  7. 7. Vacant Overalls by Maxine GarciaIt rolls from my temple, down the side of my face and along my jaw to my chin. It pausesbefore dropping its corrosive saltiness into the engine. I wish I was dead. ‘This is madness, Reg,’ I say. ‘What now?’ I take off the makeshift headband and squeeze until it’s less damp. It deposits apuddle on the floor, replacing the one I made ten minutes earlier. ‘I can’t even grip the spanner.’ ‘Look, Neil, everyone’s in the same boat.’ ‘I know. I was just saying.’ ‘Well, you can stop saying and do some bloody work for a change. A big strong ladlike you moaning like a …’ As he rants I hear the agitated rustle of the pages of the Daily Mirror. ‘…don’t know you’ve been born, you lot…’ I look over my shoulder and see the thick rubber soles of a clean pair of small blackboots. They’re elevated on a chair and pointing straight at me, crossed at the ankle. ‘…in the war. If it wasn’t for people like me…’ From the bottom of the newspaper protrudes a naked ten-month pregnant lump withdewy beads emerging from the open pores. The arms of Reg’s overalls hang vacant eitherside of him. He shifts his weight to the other buttock as per his half-hourly routine. Metal hitsthe concrete and skids across the floor. ‘Oi! What’re you doing?’ Reg shouts. ‘It slipped. Sorry.’ ‘Just watch it, you. Anything broken comes out of your wages. In the war…’ At the end of the day I take my overall to give it a rinse at home. Reg says that I can’thave another one. He says I should consider myself lucky having an overall at all becausethey didn’t have them in the war. Every day he arrives wearing the sweet smell of freshlaundry. I walk at a pace that conserves what little energy I have and stop off at the pub. ‘That Reg Bailey get off his fat arse and do some work today?’ says Darren. ‘No, Dar.’ ‘Tell him you didn’t go there to slave for him.’ ‘You know what he’s like. He says he’ll get rid of me if I make a fuss.’ ‘You need to stand up to him. Stick up for yourself, mate.’ ‘He said he fought in the war so that I could have this job.’ ‘Don’t forget to tell your Mum.’ When I get home Mum says that Reg never fought any war; he’s never even been in afight in the pub. They wouldn’t have him in the army because of his bad eyes and bad feet.She says that he spent the war hiding in an Anderson shelter in his sister’s garden and shedoesn’t know why she married him, but he took us in after Dad left and it was the best shecould do at the time. I’ve heard it all before. Reg found my application to Art College. He brought it to the garage, chucked it in ametal bin and set fire to it. Every day he watches me work and tells me about how he won thewar. Every evening I watch him argue with Mum. By December I know that this is thepattern for the rest of my life. There’s no future in this. After tea, Mum wants to watch that Today show. She likes Bill Grundy’s ‘turn ofphrase’. He always looks half-cut to me. Mum and Reg sit at opposite sides of the roomfacing the black and white telly we inherited from Granddad. Mum said his death was welltimed as we’ll have the telly for the Jubilee. I walk in the room and see a group of rascals onthe screen. 7
  8. 8. ‘Who’s that, Mum?’ She stares at the television. ‘Mum, who’s that?’ ‘Mr Grundy said something like the, the, the Pistols.’ ‘The Sex Pistols? I’ve heard of them…’ ‘Oi! Mind your language in this house,’ Reg says, and gets up and switches off theset. The next day after work I meet some mates in the pub. They’ve already had a fewbeers when I arrive. ‘And then he said, ‘What a fucking rotter’.’ ‘My old man went berserk.’ ‘Mine too.’ ‘Said he’d rather chuck the telly out the window than listen to that filth.’ ‘Very rock’n’roll.’ Everyone’s laughing and there’s a real buzz of excitement that I’ve never felt before.Darren hands me a copy of the Daily Mirror. They’re talking about the band that was on lastnight. They were swearing. Can you believe that? On TV! ‘We’re starting a band,’ Darren says, ‘and you’re in it.’ ‘Am I? I can’t play anything,’ I say. ‘None of us can, can we lads? Find yourself an instrument and wait for us at thegarage tomorrow.’ ‘The garage?’ ‘Yeah. We’re going to rehearse there.’ ‘But Reg’ll go mental.’ ‘Reg doesn’t need to know.’ I squeeze through the crowd to get to the front where the equipment is. We only soldfifteen tickets, but there are at least a hundred people here. Someone elbows me in the face ashe hurtles back to earth from pogoing. ‘Sorry, mate,’ he says and continues bouncing. It’s the only way you get to see theband here. As I work my way slowly towards the stage I see fists flying. A girl joins in and soonthere’s a bit of a bundle. We asked them to do that so no one listens to the music. ‘Where’ve you been,’ Darren asks. ‘Couldn’t get in; no room.’ ‘Brilliant isn’t it.’ A layer of steam rises from the tightly packed audience. My bass guitar is barelyaudible over the shouts of the crowd. A chair flies through the air hitting Darren who’syelling himself hoarse at the microphone. He rolls around on the floor, still yelling, thenpicks himself up and kicks the chair to pieces. There’s a ferocious hail of glass as a bottlesmashes into the side of my face. From the raw wound I feel a drop rolling from my temple,down the side of my face and along my jaw to my chin. It pauses before dropping itsincarnadine wetness on my torn overalls emblazoned with the message of our generation:‘Destroy’. Finally, I feel alive.Inspired by the ‘Pretty Vacant’ single, 1977. 8
  9. 9. Fares, please! by Patricia GibsonIt’s terrible to think that this dreadful war against the Germans could bring me the one thingI really wanted: the chance to earn my own living. But with so many men under 40 gone toFrance now, employers don’t have any option but to take on us girls. I did hear that the National Provincial and Union Bank employed a woman teller inSeptember 1914. Imagine that! Perhaps they could see which way the wind was blowing andthat the war wasn’t going to be “over by Christmas”, like the politicians and the papers said. I’d seen advertisements in The Islington Globe for lady clerks and typists but I didn’twant to be in some stuffy old office or, worse, in a factory. I know the pay would have beengood, but I wanted something more interesting, where I’d meet people, but still be doing mybit. So I said to myself: “Liza Petty, you can do better than that.” And I have. As fromtoday, July 8 1916, I’ve done my training and I’m a bus conductress on the number 38 fromStoke Newington to Piccadilly and Victoria station. Mother and Pa are quite pleased and I hope George – he’s my young man – will be,too. Eventually. He doesn’t like the idea of women going out to work. Thinks the manshould provide. But that’s going to have to change, especially after what’s happened to himand thousands of others in France. But I’ll tell you about that later. You’ve only got to look at the awful casualty Lists from France and Belgium to seethat if they don’t employ us girls, firms will go bust. There won’t be enough staff otherwise. So, when I saw in February that the London General Omnibus Company would belooking for 21 year old girls who were presentable, healthy and good at maths, I was first inthe queue at Islington bus garage. They only took 100 of us to begin with in the whole ofLondon, so I was really lucky. Pa’s always wanted his girls to have a good education. I didn’t leave school until Iwas 16, which is very unusual in this street. And when Mother doesn’t need me to help withJosie and Elena, my twin sisters, who are ten years younger than me, I’ve got my head stuckin a book. I’m quite tall – five foot seven without heels – have dark blonde curly hair, like allPa’s side of the family, and Mother’s brown eyes. I had to cut my plait off, which I used towear in a bun at the back, for the job. George won’t like that. He loves my long hair, not thathe’s seen it down. All my friends are cutting their hair now. Shampoo is getting difficult tofind. Pa says I can look quite stern – which might be useful if there are difficult passengers,I suppose. But I like to think I’m going to be one of those helpful “clippies”. The public callus that because that’s what we do to the tickets. It works like this: They pay for however far they’re going on the route and then I getout my special metal clippers (a bit like Pa’s pliers, but with a knob on one blade to make thehole through the thick paper to show they’ve paid). The tickets are all kinds of pretty colours:pink, blue, green, orange, depending on the fare, with a number in the right hand corner. Theinspector made us learn the route, so we can call out the stops and passengers will know whento get off. I do like ringing the bell! The uniform is awfully dreary and it’s hot for the summer. It’s made of dark bluewool serge. There’s a long jacket with two white stripes down the back, a stripe on each cuffand calf-length fluted skirt. We wear low heeled boots because the curved outside stairs to thetop deck are steep and you have to cling on like billy-ho if the bus is going round a corner. The hat is horrible! A blue pudding basin with a white, ribbon- edged brim and thickleather chin strap, like you see on coppers’ helmets. The drivers told me that the bus isfreezing in winter, because the back and top deck are open and I’ll be grateful for the woollenuniform then. Some of the old drivers are a bit short with us. They don’t think conductressingis a nice job for a woman. But they can’t drive and sell tickets can they?Inspired by the bus conductresss bag (Peoples City War). 9
  10. 10. Tea with Skeletons by Maxine Garcia That skirt’s too tight. I can see the bulges around her hips. The fabric’s nice, though.It has that sturdy texture of wool. Her heels are too high and too red and too shiny. She’sstriding percussively across the oak flooring that she made us get. The house has been chillysince we lost the carpets. ‘What are we today?’ I ask. ‘Eighteenth? Hang on. Yes, eighteenth,’ she says. ‘It’s one of those ink ones.’ ‘I don’t know where that came from. I think it’s one you gave me years ago.’ I used to buy her a new one every month when she was at school. She wasalways breaking the nibs. When I was at school we had inkwells in the desk. ‘It’s an ink,’ I say. ‘Oh, look Mum, you’re getting it all over your fingers. I’ve probably gotanother one.’ She’s wearing that harassed look that she fashions at work. She digs around inher bag, moving things this way and that. Why are handbags so big these days? It’s anice one, though. Chocolate coloured leather, like the one she bought for my birthday. I neveruse it. ‘Biro?’ I ask. ‘Here you go. Mind you don’t get that ink on the tablecloth. You’re the onlyone I know who still has those. That’s a perfectly good table, you shouldn’t hide itwith that.’ She waves her hand in the direction of the tablecloth. It’s nice one. Cotton,white with red flowers embroidered around the edge. I think it’s pretty. ‘Jeff likes it.’ ‘Since when did Dad know anything about interior design?’ ‘It’s only a tablecloth, love.’ She was annoyed at me last week because I got the wrong kind of tea. But Ican’t keep up with all her ginsengs and what have you. ‘‘Do you stay at another address for more than 30 days a year?’ No. ‘Are youa schoolchild or student in full-time education?’ No. This is easy. You just tick theboxes.’ ‘That’s what I said on the phone. You don’t need me to help you.’ ‘It’s nice that you’re here, though, love.’ ‘Fancy a cup of tea? I might as well make myself useful while you’re finishingthat.’ ‘Thanks, love.’ I lean back and listen to the symphony of the slamming of cupboard doors.She’ll break one of those cups if she’s not careful. ‘Here you go,’ she says. ‘Thanks, love.’ I look through the caramel coloured water straight to the bottom of the cup. Iwanted a proper cup of tea. I take a sip of the insipid liquid then put it down. The cup tipsover, but I catch it just in time and look sideways. She’s flicking through the copy of BooksDo Furnish a Room that she bought us for Christmas. It’s one of those coffee table books thatno one ever reads, but it looks nice. She’s holding her tea close to her mouth as she starestowards the pages on her lap without seeing them. ‘Are you all right?’ she says. ‘What?’ ‘I heard the cup.’ ‘I’m fine. How are you, love? She rolls her eyes towards the ceiling, sighs and shakes her head. ‘You asked me that earlier. Are you sure you’re all right? You seem, I don’t 10
  11. 11. know, distracted.’ Now. I’ll do it now. ‘Of course I’m all right. This is nice, isn’t it?’ I say. ‘What? Filling in forms?’ ‘No, us, like this, having a chat.’ Her jaw is tightening. She starts to speak through clenched teeth. ‘We chat all the time, Mum.’ ‘Not like this. You know, just us, here, together.’ ‘Mum, what are you going on about. See, your hands are shaking.’ ‘No, they’re not.’ ‘The cup’s rattling against the saucer.’ I don’t remember picking them up. I try to put them down, but my finger stayshooked around cold bone china. ‘What’s wrong, Mum? You’re not ill, are you?’ ‘Course not.’ This isn’t what I meant to happen. She’s leaning towards me from the sofa.She’s pulling her eyebrows together and creating a furrow across her brow that makesher look so much older. ‘You’d tell me wouldn’t you. If there was something wrong,’ she says. ‘I’m fine. Jeff’s fine. The cats are fine. Filling this in has reminded me ofsomething. How’s the family search going?’ There. It’s done. ‘Don’t change the subject, Mum.’ ‘I’m not.’ ‘Like I said before,’ she says, ‘I can’t do much without the certificates. It’sbeen ages since you said you’d find them. They’re not lost are they?’ I tried to lose them, but Jeff said she’d be able to get copies and all this stuff’sonline now anyway; I wouldn’t know. I tell her that I misplaced them after the loftextension she arranged; that I found them in a box. ‘All of them? Mine, yours and Dad’s? Where are they?’ ‘There, but I…’ In one stride she’s off the sofa, her cup is placed on the table and the mattblack display folder is in her hands. She looks at me in the way that she used to beforeopening a present decorated in ribbons and bows. She rubs her fingers over the coverbefore flicking it over. ‘Millicent Cooper. I always loved your name.’ She’s seen it. ‘It’s blank.’ She looks down at me then back at the yellowing page that’s starting to tearalong the folds. ‘‘Name and surname of father’. It’s blank.’ ‘Jeff’s name isn’t on your birth certificate.’ I’ve said it just as I’ve practised itday after day. ‘I can see that,’ she says. The heavy dining chair scrapes along the floor. As her legs buckle she slumps downinto the seat, dropping the folder on her cup. The tea spreads in an arc across the tableclothand the papers fall to the floor, scattering in all directions. I didn’t think I’d ever need to tellher. It shouldn’t matter. It doesn’t change anything. I’ve carried it around her whole life. I’vebeen so ashamed. After all these years no one thinks about it. No one remembers. She’slooking at me with that face that she often had as a child. The one that said that her wholeworld had been destroyed. ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ she asks. Tears are forming in the inner corners of her eyes. ‘Dad’s not my dad.’ 11
  12. 12. ‘Don’t be silly, love. Of course your Dad’s your dad.’ ‘But his name… It’s blank.’ ‘That’s what I need to tell you.’ I walk over to her side of the table, pick up the papers and find my marriagecertificate. A small whine emerges as the tears begin to flow. Her body is convulsing. ‘You’re married. So what?’ I point to the date. 5 September 1954. I wait until she realises: it was fourmonths after she was born. I explain to her that it was her dad’s fault. I didn’t want everyoneto think I was getting married just because of the baby. I went to stay with my aunt inBrighton and I couldn’t put Jeff as the father because we weren’t married. I tell her that shewas at the wedding and I held her the whole time, except when I made the vows and when thepictures were taken. I tell her that I wanted her in the pictures, but her gran didn’t think it wasappropriate. Neither did the registrar. I tell her that we were going to do something to fix herbirth certificate, but we never got round to it. No matter how hard I try I always make her cry.I squeeze her shoulders. They are shaking, but there’s the sound of laughter. As she turns tolook up at me I’m rewarded with the rare sight of her beautiful smile. ‘So, you and Dad weren’t married when I was born. Is that all?’ She jumps up and throws her arms around me. I breathe in the subtle fragranceof vanilla in the scent that I made for her in one of my evening classes. ‘Any more skeletons in the family cupboard?’ she says. There. It’s done.Inspired by overheard dialogue in the Museum of London 12
  13. 13. The Horn dance by Wendy Le BerFrom St Michael’s repository, hung on firm brass hooks, ancient horn of twelve point, ten and nine. Guarded by the cross and book. Least elder spirit freed too soon, Brings more than pale shadows of a former time.  The great door opens. Dancers move, feet guided by familial bonds, with ribbons, sticks and bells.  Released from church’s clutch, the great horns sound a silent cry of forests, tracks and midnight sky To urban streets of concrete, steel and glass.  With horned heads and garbed in coloured cloth drum beats, heart beats, figured steps process on this appointed day. A pale reminder joined with taxis, cars and bus.  But in a quieter moment, as the traffic’s roar fades by Starbuck’s great glass door, A young girl sees reflected more than Topshop’s glitz. Glammoured by a pagan horn,  a former majick’s dangerous call. Inspired by the bison skeleton in London before London 13
  14. 14. The missing bit of the jigsaw by Sozen IsmailHe opened it to reveal a multi-coloured, multi-textured, multi-dimensional jigsawpuzzle. A couple of woollens, hurriedly knitted to provide home warmth for alienwinters, showered him with their bright greens and cheerful yellows, yet still lifeless,folded tightly and tucked neatly in in-between spaces. His interview shoes stared backat him out of empty sockets. A few photographs, especially taken to brand his newlife-in-the-making peeped out of a folder whose spine was challenged by the sheermultitude of a short life’s academic achievements. A used-up bullet, dull greyish-bronze, reminding him of the transiency and vulnerability of life, had no intention ofbeing overlooked. He unwittingly touched the dent in his shoulder that the bullet hadbeen taken out of, but he did not remember to feel lucky. He did not notice the small window. The smell of mothballs mingled with that of herbs, picked by the hands ofthose who had let him go, from the mountain tops, where the sun gave chase. Theherbs were in a transparent bag like people with no need to hide and nothing to fear.He looked at the many different coloured plastic shopping bags bulging into as manydifferent shapes. His mouth started waking up in anticipation and his nose was game.He could smell the tempting smells of the kitchen, where he had spent much of hisspare time. He had sat on the divan, made of a child’s mattress on three wooden citruscrates and covered with re-used cotton embroidered proudly, elegantly, by his sisters. He moved his hands across, touching this and that, hoping there had been noleakage. But there would not have been. His suitcase had been packed by experthands. His own hands stopped over a blue carrier bag, one of its corners stretched outtowards him like a pair of joined arms. He tried to remember what was inside. Had hebeen there when this was prepared, stuffed full and knotted together? He picked it upand heard water gushing out of an open tap. Was the noise made by plastic bagspacked into one another a few times over? Or was it coming from the nearbybathroom? The package felt hard in its centre and teasingly bouncy on the outside. Hesqueezed it a little, trying to guess its contents. He could feel irregular rectangles withbulging insides: Boreks! He remembered them being fried in that kitchen, in a sac, afrying-pan like a wok. The pastry filled with hellim, onions and mint or minced meat,parsley and onions, even perhaps with sweet nor, a soft cheese. He would indulgelater, making them last. After all, once these were finished he did not know when hewould have them again. As he placed the plump parcel on the table he felt theyearning in his mouth travel to his heart. The next parcel was rounded and big, like a mis-shapen football. It remindedhim of his last friendly match in the toasted fields of Gonyeli. He could almost feel hisfeet pounding the hard ground and sweat pouring out of him. He chuckled and felt thepackage. This one had less plastic padding. Inside the large bag he could feel a fewseparate bags, all filled with differently shaped roundnesses. He knew straight awaythat they were cerez: almonds, hazlenuts, walnuts; pumpkin seeds (basadembo) androasted chickpeas (leblebi). He knew that there would be white, hard leblebi, hintingat saltiness, as well as yellow mesleki ones. (Mezleki is a tree resin, used as chewinggum and flavouring, also in natural medicine to treat stomach ulcers). He shivered. He was so wrapped up in putting the package on the table that he did not hearthe wind shaking the window panes. He saw the large cubical shape next, also wrapped in layers of plastic bags.The outermost layer was semi-transparent white with the baker’s name, Minnosun 14
  15. 15. Firini, written in black. Underneath that one was a green and white bag. He picked itup but didn’t need to open it to know that inside was kolakas. Of course, he didn’tknow yet that, many years later, he would have a daughter who would call it ‘melt inyour mouth potatoes’. For now, he knew that it had to be cut in a special way for thebest cooking results and that he was very partial to it himself. He could already feelthe melt-in-your-mouth, slightly slippery texture on his tongue. He could savour thecelery, onion and tomato sauce it had been cooked in. Kolokas was put onto the table,next to the others. He did not see the water seeping in through the window. He looked at the large pillowcase that he had brought alongside his suitcase. Itwas full to bursting with dried molohiya: the wrinkled mint-like leaves, althoughfragile with their dryness, pushed their outline onto the creamy white muslin. Hecould smell their unmistakeable aroma. He wondered how others, in this strange, newland, would take to their even richer aroma when he cooked them. ‘What if they don’tlike it and complain about the smell?’ he suddenly worried, mumbling to himself.‘What if …?’ He looked out of the bare window into a maddened sky and felt very cold. He remembered the shimmering cockerel that waited for his return fromschool, each afternoon by the garden gates. The majestic bird had bestowed on him anunlikely friendship that never faltered. Like the screaming aggression that he pouredonto anyone outside the immediate family who dared to open the same gates. In his mind’s eye he saw basins and basins of fried chicken pieces in that otherkitchen he’d left behind long before. Pieces of animals slaughtered in a hurry to takewith them at least, for a while, to delay hunger during the forced, clandestinepilgrimage to safer places, under the protective eiderdown of a moonless night.Through a landscape so familiar and so achingly loved that it felt like anamalgamation of their own bodies. Refugees who scattered their own pieces along theway. Who could not even rely on the present, let alone predict the future. Who couldonly be sure of the inevitability of loss. He smelled burning human flesh, like the most delicious of kebabs. He looked out of the window but saw nothing. He retched.Inspired by Yasar Ismailoglu’s suitcase (Londoners 1950s-1970s). 15
  16. 16. Maudie, the Regular by Patricia Gibson Ted had only just opened upwhen I strolled into The Prince ofWales in Camden High Street.I’d got my best black coat on andthat felt pot hat with the redfeather. The coat’s a bit frayednow, but if I pull my black cardiesleeves over the cuffs, it doesn’tshow. ‘By ’eck, Maudie,’ he roared.‘It’s a bit early, even for you!’ ‘Ai beg your pudden,’ I said inmy posh voice. ‘Can’t a ladyhave a little drinkie on herbirthday without someonecasting nasturtiums?’ He poured me my ‘usual’ – Dutch gin with a splash- and put it on the bar. Hiseyebrows shot right up when he saw the ten bob note I was holding out. ‘It was a present,’ I said. I wasn’t going to tell him that I’d found it at the busstop. A City gent in a bowler dropped it as he was running for the number 24. I couldhave called out, but my need…etcetera. Ted pushed it away. ‘Happy birthday, chuck,’ he said. He comes from Leeds and used to be a boxer.You can tell by his crumply ears! He pointed a knobbly finger at his cheek. ‘Give usa kiss then.’ I obliged. He was a bit raspy. Then I took the gin over to my favourite cornerand sat on the wooden bench by the window. It’s a bit hard on the bum after a while,but I can see who’s coming in and out and I like looking at the fancy glass with theforeign birds on it behind the bar. When Ted rings up on the big brass till, a noticepops up saying This Registers the Amount to Your Purchase. I like that. It soundshonest. Not that Ted would cheat anyone. He’s cheeky, but he’s got a good heart. He’softenslipped me a port and lemon when I haven’t had a job. Now that Charlie, my oldman’s gone, I’m a bit short by the end of the month. He was a lovely man. Agardener. We never had two halfpennies to rub together, but laugh. He was kind, too.Always a bunch of flowers on a Friday. I miss that. Where was I? Oh yes. Ted gets down one of the Codd’s Patent Lemonade bottlesfrom the shelf for the port. They’ve got little glass balls inside instead of stoppers. Istill can’t work out why the lemonade comes out when you tip them up but the ballsdon’t. Clever. What do I do for a crust? I’m an artists’ model, mostly at the Slade School ofArt in Gower Street. My Mum got me my first job there. I was only 14, but I havethese high cheekbones. Artists like them. ‘Good planes,’ they call them. Yes, I havesat in the nuddy, but it’s jolly cold in winter and the Slade doesn’t believe in radiators.Says they make the students sleepy. I suppose they’ve got to get used to freezingcold studios. Not many of them are going to make enough to feed the gas meter! 16
  17. 17. Famous ones? Oh, I don’t know. I don’t remember names when I’m working.Mum did sit for Walter Sickert when he was in his Camden Town period. Shealways said that she was his inspiration for that painting of the bored couple, but Idon’t know if that was true. The woman doesn’t look much like Mum. But she alsosaid that his wife and his mistress lived two doors away from each other inMornington Crescent and that was true! Saucy ha’porth. Anyway, to get back to my birthday. Ted and I were sitting playing dominoes.He keeps a set behind the bar for when business is slow. When the door crashed openand this funny looking bloke came in. Ted stood up, all aggressive, but the blokecame over with his hand held out. He was wearing a black beret, striped blue andwhite jersey, black trousers with bicycle clips and old worn plimsolls. He wasn’t bad looking, either. Sunburnt. Lots of black curly hair, big browneyes. Sexy?I’ll say! Anyhow, he grabs hold of Ted’s hand and starts gabbling away in what Ithought sounded like French. There was a lot of Bonjouring about. Ted pumps his hand up and down and laughs and blow me, replies in Frog. He’sa dark horse. He must have asked what he’d have to drink and the French bloke,who’s name was Johnee said “a whisky pleeze’. Then he noticed me goggling at him. “And something for the jolee madame,”he said,giving me a wink. “I’ll have a small port and lemon, kind sir,” I said. I think I blushed! Ted put it down on my table and suddenly this Johnee went out side the pub andcame back with a long string of onions. He knelt down at the side of me and took myhand. Then he kissed it and gave me the onions. “Blimey,” I said. “It’s Charles Boyer on a bike!” Then we all fell about laughing. You know, it was the best birthday I’ve had since my Charlie went. And I’vegot enough onions to last me till Christmas!Inspired by the Victorian pub in the Victorian Walk. 17
  18. 18. Night of the incendiaries by Barbara GilmoreWe were woken late one night by theawful whining of the air raid siren and werose from our beds, half asleep, and put onour heavy winter coats and shoes. Goingout into the cold, frosty air, we looked upinto the dark sky. A brilliant moon shoneeerily and hundreds of stars sparkled likecrystals. We quickly made our way to theshelter, a big hole dug in the damp earthcovered with a half-circle of corrugatediron. We jumped in and huddled together,shivering.Suddenly, we heard the ominous sound of hundreds of aircraft overhead and thebombing started. The ground all around us was pounded. It shook and quivered. Thedoor to the shelter was closed but we could hear the crash of falling masonry and wesmelled the smoke which seemed to envelope us. The bombing was the worst we’dexperienced. It sounded as if a hundred volcanoes were erupting at the same time.Mother was praying. Father said they must be bombing the docks.‘Are we going to die?’ my sister asked.At about four o’clock came a lull and Father and I nervously ventured outside. Abovewas an awesome red glow. Smoke rose and blinded us: it came from all directions andgot into our throats, making us cough. Flames were everywhere, crackling andspluttering and vomiting showers of sparks. We stood confused, as if rooted to thespot and surveyed the ruins of our neighbours’ houses. Out of nowhere came theplanes again and we dashed for cover.Next morning, all was still and calm and once it was light we emerged from ourcocoon. Father and I walked towards the river, but we couldn’t get there for the streetswere full of rubble. We were told that hundreds of warehouses had been destroyed.They were still burning. Shops and offices were no longer shops and offices butsmouldering heaps of masonry. They looked as though they had been picked up by agiant hand and thrown down again. Dogs whined and barked and we could hear thecries of people that we couldn’t see. Ambulance men hurried past us, carrying peopleon stretchers. One woman was badly burned, her hair smoking and her face blackenedand she uttered strange moaning sounds. Beside her was the small corpse of a child,still clutching a teddy bear. Firemen were dousing down flames. Dazed-lookingpeople staggered about, their clothes covered in dust, their faces grimy. There was anawful fetid smell and the blinding black smoke almost choking us.‘Twenty three years ago Harry and Alfred died in another terrible war,’ said Father.‘You never even knew your own father’s brothers.’ He raised his arms and let themdrop again to his sides. ‘And now this.’ He bowed his head and shook it and two tearssilently fell into the dust.Inspired by the incendiary bombs (People’s City). 18
  19. 19. Ribbons of Hope by Maxine Garcia ‘She must never have hope,’ I said, ‘for it is hope that destroyed me. The wax seal on thisribbon will remain unbroken. She must know that no one will come for her.’ After that, I did not speak another word.There was a woman who loved the child. Between that woman and me laid the still hearts of twelveheaven-abiding siblings. That woman, that – sister – rained her fists upon me each day to avenge theangel that I killed as she bore me. Like a fierce cloud, Martha threw a shadow over me as I grew intoa cordial beauty. My much longed for liberation was secured by John Potero, but not in the way that I hadhoped. John’s famed devotion to me was easily undone by money. The dowry allowed him to pursuehis dream of setting up a solicitor’s practice in Chancery Lane. Father said that good men were moreloyal to the wishes of their patrons than to those of their ladies. After Martha and John’s wedding, Ilay on the cold, wet stones in the courtyard, willing my mortal body to join my dead soul. Three dayslater, Father bade the housekeeper to drag me to my room. As the years passed, I observed Martha and John’s childlessness and hastened Father to hisgrave; God have mercy on his thoughtless soul. John made swift work of executing Father’s will.Father decreed that should I remain unmarried at his death, I be sent to live with Martha and John. Martha assigned me to a windowless cell, further than a scream’s distance from the rest ofthe household. The cell was a hand’s width broader than the bed. Once a day I would hear therattling of a heavy key and the door would swing violently into the passageway. From the darknessMartha would toss in a bowl of assorted remains from the dinner table. John visited me frequently inthe early morning or at the dead of night.Martha noticed it first. She filled a pillowcase with flock and bound it around her middle. Sheincreased the contents as each month passed. Martha was the only midwife present when Mary Annentered the world. She said that she had made sure that I would have no more babes. Martha appeared at intervals throughout the day and night. She would wait in the doorwaywith tightly folded arms and would remove the child from my sight immediately after nursing. Onenight, when Mary Ann was three weeks old, Martha said that she would not return until the morning.She and John wanted to sleep peacefully. They stood side-by-side, John’s hand on Martha’sshoulder. They smiled as they left. In all my life I had never seen my sister smile. Martha left thedoor open so that Mary Ann could benefit from the movement of the air. I tried to remember how the items of clothing were ordered as I removed the soiled clout. Ifumbled with the pitch and roller. Satisfied that all was still in the house, I donned my cape, notunlike that of a poor girl, and crossed the city to Bloomsbury Fields where I waited at the gates ofthe Foundling Hospital. By the time the gates were opened thirty girls had gathered with theirbundles. I drew a rough white ball from a bag. Mary Ann was admitted.Martha’s primeval scream was deeper and darker than I had hoped. As she tore at my hair andscratched my face, I did not defend myself. John watched from the doorway with red-rimmed eyes.He chanted, ‘she belonged to me’. My spark of hope faded as I realised that he was referring to thechild. Martha ran from the house with her clothes in disarray. The vicar brought her home somehours later. She had been found kneeling in the street cradling a dead baby. The mother of that childwas screaming that a mad woman had stolen her lifeless boy. Martha took to her bed and remained there for the rest of her long life. John visited me in myunlocked cell, more frequently than before. He did not know that there would be no more babes.Inspired by the Foundling Hospital admission form, 1756. 19
  20. 20. My silver shoes by Barbara GilmoreOn top of my wardrobe, standing on anembroidered piece of soft felt, stands apair of high-heeled silver sandals.They have stood there for thirty-fiveyears. Sometimes, when I sit on mybed and look at them, I think againabout the sunlit summer of 1973, whenmy husband and I won the gold trophyfor dancing at the Lyceum ballroom.I was wearing a white chiffon dresswith a flared skirt and, as we dancedand whirled round and round andround, I felt like a ballerina that danceson top of a musical box when youopen the lid.Suddenly, my bedroom fills withmusic, my heart misses a beat. I see again the dresses of the other dancers and hear the clamorousapplause of a happy audience.My handsome husband has left me now and gone to what I hope is a happier place, but perhaps wewill dance again one day under a starlit sky, while a heavenly orchestra plays and a heavenly audiencewatches.Meanwhile, I have my silver shoes and my memories.Inspired by the gold leather evening shoes made in 1925 (People’s City). 20
  21. 21. Incendiaries by Marilyn HawesAnn is putting her doll to bed. The bed has been made by her mum from an old shoe boxcovered in a pink, flowered piece of material left over from making her summer dress. Otherwool and cotton scraps make the bedclothes. She sings a lullaby, “Rockabye baby,” the wayher mum sings to her baby brother, David.Her mum comes in to read a bedtime story. Little Red Riding Hood is a favourite with Annand she likes to join in when the big bad wolf, disguised as Grandma, answers, “All the betterto eat you with.”At the deafening sound of the air raid siren Ann jumps out of bed into her sandals and grabsher coat and doll whilst her mum picks up David and they both race down to the cupboardunder the stairs.This is the safest place to be during an air-raid. When dad comes home next on leave he isgoing to finish making the Anderson shelter in the garden. This will give them more protectionagainst bomb blasts.Usually bombs make a tremendous crash when they land, but tonight the crashes are followedby a roaring sound. David doesn’t like it and begins to cry. His screams of fear can be heardover this growling roar.Ann hates this. “I can’t hear you ,” she shouts in her mum’s ear, as Mum tries to finish thestory.“I feel so hot, mum. Can I take my coat off?”“Keep it on for now while we go further down into the coal cellar. Hold onto my skirt, wemustn’t put any light on during a raid. It is suffocatingly hot. I’m glad I put a bottle of tea anda bottle for David down here earlier. I think we could all do with a cold drink.” Comforted,Ann falls asleep, leaning against her mother.The sound of the All Clear wakes them. Stiffness makes the climb up the cellar steps slowand painful. Mum opens the front door to get some fresh air and looks bewildered.“Where are we, Mum? The houses opposite us have gone. They’ve all fallen into the street.”Columns of smoke, black and thick, dry their throats and sting their eyes.”“They must have been using incendiaries. They cause fires to burn down buildings. That’s whywe felt so hot.”They start to walk along the road but the cobbles are hot and they can smell the rubber onthe bottom of their sandals burning. They try the pavement but that is hot and sticky.“I’m frightened, Mum, of getting stuck. My feet hurt so much.” Tears run down Ann’s cheeks,making clean trickles through the coal dust.Inspired by the incendiaries in People’s City: war. 21
  22. 22. “Arrested 15th November, 1911.” by Barbara GilmorePolly Parsons’ statement.   I am a suffragette and today I have been arrested for the first time. My name is Polly Parsons and I come from Mile End, in the East End of London. I am one of six children and, although my father is a very hardworking man, we have a very hard life. I have seen my father working on the roads up to his knees in filthy, muddy water and my mother is old beyond her years, her face pinched with poverty. Although she goes out scrubbing floors, my brothers and sisters are almost in rags with no shoes on their feet and sometimes I seethe with anger at the plight of my family. When I heard Silvia Pankhurst speak I understood that she knew about these injustices and that is why I joined the cause.  I break the windows of banks and large department stores for the cause and I set fire to pillar boxes in the City of London so as to delay and disrupt the correspondence of city companies. This morning I picked up a big stone and smashed the large window of the Globe Insurance company. I was running away, my truncheon in my hand, when a large ugly brute of a policeman barred my way.  ‘Excuse me,’ I said politely, but he grabbed me viciously and twisted my arm. ‘You bitch!’ he cried and pushed me up against the railings. I was almost sick and gasped for air.  ‘So this is how you treat a lady!’ I cried.  ‘I don’t see no lady anywhere. You’re arrested in the name of the law. I saw you break that window. That’s wilful damage.’  He pulled me by the hair and tried to drag me along the street but I resisted. I hit him with my truncheon.  ‘You mangy bitch!’ he cried. His eyes blazed with eveil intent as he punched me right in the mouth and broke one of my teeth. I was stunned and hurt and my mouth was bleeding. That was why he was able to overpower me and take me away.  PC John O’Brien’s statement.  I am City of London policeman number 704, John O’Brien. Today I arrested one of the most troublesome and vulgar women it has been my misfortune to meet. I caught her red‐handed throwing a brick through the window of the Globe Insurance company in King William Street. Not content with that she was pounding on the broken pane with her truncheon to make the damage worse.  ‘Stop that, Madame!’ I cried.  I never before heard anything like the foul language that came out of her mouth. She began running. I went after her and tried to grab her arm to put on handcuffs but she spat in my  22
  23. 23. face and muttered something about the Old Bill always being ready to take a backhander if the price was right. She violently resisted arrest and hit me full in the face with her truncheon. Then she ran on, determined to escape. I followed and she tripped on an uneven kerbstone and took a nasty fall which cut her mouth and bruised her face.  ‘I have her,’ I thought, but she still resisted and tried to bite my hand as I put handcuffs on her.  At the station she verbally abused my colleagues, who had quickly summoned the doctor to her. She was ungrateful and insulted the doctor too, calling him a ponse.  ‘You are all bastards!’ she cried. We were glad when we got her safely locked up in a cell.Inspired by the photograph of Emmeline Pankhurst’s arrest (People’s City: suffragettes).Batch by KG Lester As I stand here in this polluted house of detention, the heavy stench of death permeates the stale, musty air. I was led in with four other men; broken, dishevelled, bruised and disoriented. The pungent smell of the other men attacked my sensitive nostrils without mercy. Stale sweat and bad breath, the devil himself would have disowned it.The odour of urine and faeces wafts every time the men part theirlegs to walk. The smell sticks in my throat like a vice. What fresh newhell is this? I am shackled from the waist down and my movementsare limited. Rusty, cold, wet, thick iron restraints have already mademe a prisoner. A bird caught in flight. My waist is bloodied andtender.My hands and ankles bear the wounds of a war lost to hard metal.Release the restraints and let me stretch one last blessed time I begthee in my mind. I dare not speak it! We are the new batch of soon-to-be ghosts, a parade of prisoners soon to suffer the same deadlyfate as our predecessors. In this city of devils they want to purgeher from the pitiful parasites of the poor. But I am peerless and mylife is already predestined.As the other men huddle together, comforting and reassuring in falsehope, I begin to peruse my new solemn surroundings and immediatelyfeel grim. The other men beckon me to join them, but I shake my headdeliberately and remain on the periphery. As more men shuffle their 23
  24. 24. way into this tiny wooden box of fear, my ears are suddenly assaultedwith the demented screams and yells from the weak and vulnerable.The moans, the gasps and the constant crying leave me feeling bitterand cold. A twisted, dark, cursed cacophony seeps through the walls,the cracks and the holes until this entire space is filled with menacingmusic. I detest the noise from this opprobrious orchestra. I have noempathy for this symphony. What fresh new hell is this?I see names etched out on the wooden walls: Edward Burk, EdwardRay. Should I follow in their final footsteps and make this my lastinglegacy too? The walls to the cell are thick and unforgiving; they havewitnessed pain and death so great that even the devil would deny it.A faceless prison worker with what looks like a painful limp brings inthe broth much to the other men’s delight.I turn away in disgust and wrestle with my conscience and my hunger. Imust eat or I fear I will pass out. Even my last meal has been cursed. Thesoup is thin with a few suspicious looking strips of blackened hairy meatand raw unwashed pieces of vegetables. Dead bugs and flies float aroundand form their own circular skin on the surface. It is cold and watery, but Iam hungry and must swallow something.As I pick out the flies along with the bugs and toss them to the ground, twomen start to vomit after having guzzled their bowls of broth. The action, thesound, the terrible smell and the sight of their regurgitated food mixed withblood makes me retch violently. I place my unfinished bowl on the groundand within seconds a group of greedy men grab it and start fighting over theremains like wild rats.If there is to be no penal servitude for me in this godforsaken place then Iam willing to meet my maker and I am ready to die. And what of penance,surely I should receive it? My name is called out from a list; I look aroundthese sombre, foreboding walls and its wretched occupants pejoratively witha slow sinking feeling of pessimism. What fresh new hell is this I must nowface? Yes, I am ready to die, sweet peace. Die and stay dead. Long dead!Inspired by the Wellclose prison cell in Expanding City: life chances. ©KG Lester 2012                      24
  25. 25. Dionysus (excerpt) by Musaret Siddiqi ‘You? How can you know what it is like to be born of two mothers, yet grow up motherless?’ Dionysus wrung his hands in anguish. Apollo was taken aback at this and said in an appeasing tone, ‘Dionysus, you don’t really mean it. Your father has always loved you and protected you, more than all the others.’He hesitated for a moment, as ‘My father Zeus, thethough his steps failed him. He Almighty God, who also happens toeased himself onto the trunk of a be my second mother! As hefallen tree and shut his eyes. He stitched me to the inside of hiscould clearly hear his cousin thigh upon my Mother’s death,Apollo’s voice, taunting him. before I was even born.’ Dionysus ‘Why so blue? The merry shouted as he paced around wildly.making will soon begin. Let’s be on ‘He is the one who sent meour way.’ faraway to grow up in a Dionysus shook his head. mountainous cave. In the care of‘Nay,’ he said. He smiled his cousins, away from his wife,apologetically. ‘There are too many Hera’s, wrath.’things on my mind. You carry on.’ ‘Well,’ said Apollo, Apollo, seeing his troubled placatingly, ‘what more could youlook, gently laid his hand on wish for?’Dionysus’ shoulder and said, ‘You Dionysus faced himknow we don’t have any secrets. squarely.Tell me what ails you. Maybe I can ‘I want my mother,’ he’Inspired by the marble statue of Dionysus from the Temple of Mithra in the Roman gallery. 25
  26. 26. Fragments of Blue and White by Wendy Le BerRose’s slender fingers delicately held the squirrel hairbrush, her head bent. The old stains on the woodenbench matched the stains on her drab factory clothes.Her mouth tightened in concentration and her eyessquinted in the gloom. The winter light was dim butthere would be no gas light switched on yet. Theforeman prided himself on cutting costs; painterswere cheaper than gas she’d heard him say one day.That was why it was so cold in the workshop too.Rose gazed at the bottle kilns out of the windows,they were only a stone’s throw away but their heatonly spilled out into the sky along with the smokefrom a thousand chimneys in the city. Rose turnedback to her willow patterned dish and began to tracethe blue underpainting again.Chang’s fingers closed around the dragon seal of the Fourth Emperor, symbol of the Mandarin’sauthority in the Fourth Precinct. He lifted the heavy gold seal by its carved handle, the sleeves ofhis silk robe falling softly and pressed the design into the cooling wax on the parchment.The sound of laughter drew his gaze to the window, opened to let the winter sunshine into the stateoffice. As if drawn by invisible cords, Chang felt his eyes searching for the owner of the laughterhe knew so well. Koon-se a graceful figure clothed in a jade green kimono stood near the oldwillow tree at the edge of the palace gardens. Two of her younger cousins carrying woven ballsand bird whistles were running around her in circles.As the sun slid behind the tops of the factories Bowen the foreman finally lit the gas lights,grumbling loudly. The soft hiss of the gas could be heard in the silence, nobody spoke whenBowen walked round. He was not above knocking a piece of china to the floor if you’d annoyedhim,’ little accidents’ he called them, No one could afford that dock in pay. It was going to be alate night Rose thought, the factory had won a large order to supply Waterman’s hotels and Bowenhad a tight schedule running. Everyone wanted their blue and white china it seemed.Rose sighed as she tried to stretch her back without catching Bowen’s attention. I expect Tom isworking late too she thought, a small smile catching her lips as she thought of him.She’d yet to tell her parents about Tom, they’d only been speaking for a few weeks, catching a fewwords as his shift changed with the firing of the kilns. Tom was part of the crew making thesaggers from fire clay in another workshop nearby. The saggers held the china and protected itfrom the flames and gases in the kilns. Tom had told her they stacked them up dozens highenabling the kilns to fire thousands of plates. Rose was more worried about the accidents she’dheard about. When the company had a rush on they kept the kilns burning continually and still sentthe workmen into the kilns to load and unload. It was easy to be overcome in the heat or catch toomany lungfulls of the poisonous fumes.Chang sighed deeply, the Mandarin’s daughter had been promised to Ta-jin, a warrior andwealthy duke, since her birth. He picked up the small piece of parchment decorated with peachblossom on the sandalwood desk and wondered how many of his poems Koon-se had found orread. He had left them in the garden, in her favourite spot by the lotus pool. Had her shy smiles 26
  27. 27. been for him when she had dropped by the office to bring messages for her distant relatives? Howmuch time did he have?Five hundred invitations had been sent out by the time Chang had finished for the day. His backached and his fingers were cramping from holding the brush so tightly. It had been that or riskblotting the finely decorated invitations. Chang knew better than to risk the wrath of the OverSecretary. He dipped the brush in clean water watching the ink dissolve in fine swirls and thencarefully cleaned the porcelain mixing dish and stone grinder. Despair touched his soft grey eyes,presents had already been exchanged. A casket of fine Emperor Jade with pearls and rubies hadarrived only yesterday and had been sent to Koon-se’s rooms for her personal use.A bell sounded in the workshop; finally Rose thought as twenty other tired eyes looked up fromthe benches. Shaking her fingers to relieve the cramps, Rose sucked on the end of her fine brushes,cobalt blue staining her mouth. Rose knew it was important to keep the fine tip on the brushes andto protect them well. She wrapped them carefully in fine calico before putting them away in thedeep pockets of her skirt. Taking down her coat and scarf Rose glanced at the tall stack of bowlsnext to her bench noticing more details in the blue pattern again. When she worked the closedetails on the china it was with attention to tracing and filling in the transferred shapes and lines.The overall design was attractive she thought. There were trees, water, figures on a bridge, strangebuildings and the two birds in the sky. Some sort of Chinese landscape, she thought, thinking backto one or two of Bowen’s comments when the order first came in. She’d been painting this designfor months but never thought what it meant, if it meant anything at all.The only water near the pottery was the canal, where the barges were unloaded exchanging thingslike bone ash, kaolin and Cornish stone for fine china teapots and porcelain bowls. Rose liked thebusyness of the waterways and the painted barges where some of the watermen lived with theirwives and children. Once she’d exchanged a couple of plates for one of their painted kettles,knowing her mother needed a new kettle and would love the pattern of stylized roses. They’d beenin the crushing pile, but stealing waste was still a criminal offence she knew. She bit her lip stillsurprised by her actions back then. But poverty could do that sometimes she thought, bring out thebest and worst in people.A bit like love too she thought, remembering the jealous rages of their neighbour, easy to hearthrough the thin walls of the cottages.The sky had turned to crimson and gold as Chang walked down the stone steps into the cool of thegarden. His last poem tied with green ribbon clasped in his hands. Birds called from the willowtrees in the approaching twilight and fireflies were beginning their dance under the gloom of thetrees.Chang shivered from more than the winter breeze as he turned towards the lotus pool. As hereached the marble balustrade he could hear footsteps behind him. Begging the gods not to lethim be discovered, Chang started to run.“Wait Chang” Koon-se called “Please wait”. Chang turned surprise and hope flaring in his eyeswhen he saw Koon-se taking out a bundle of poems from her wide kimono sleeves.Holding her close and taking in the delicate perfumed of her hair, Chang hardly daring to believein his good fortune, he silently vowed that he would find a way for them to be together. As thewinter sickle moon rose above the palace they walked back towards the servant’s door. Stoppingat the garden shrine they lit cones of incense declaring their own betrothal before the ancestorsand ancient gods. 27
  28. 28. “Rose?” Tom called from the buildings dark shadow startling her from her memories. Rose’s facelit with a smile as Tom walked towards her his hands behind her back. “ We shouldn’t be meetinglike this” she whispered But seeing Tom’s bright smile she glanced at his hands “What have yougot there?” she said as he held a closed fist in front of him. Tom glanced at her shyly and slowlyuncurled his fingers. Inside lay a china rose dark pink blushing its petals. Its lovely Rose said asTom placed it in her hands. She didn’t ask him where it had come from. A rose for my Rose Tomsaid questioningly. Rose was still admiring the rose though and didn’t seem to hear him, in hermind already placing it by her bedside. Do you think we can go to the Winter Fair together hesaid?“I haven’t spoken to Ma and Pa yet” she said sadly.” Ma will love you I’m sure” she addedhurriedly “But Pa” her voice trailed off as she remembered some of her father’s recent words. “Justbecause you’re a painter now you think you have the right to question me under my roof. Let metell you my girl, You obey me still or you’ll be out on the streets with no family”. She’d onlywanted to go out with some of the girls from the painting workshop; they’d been planning a daytrip to the city centre. What he’d think about a trip with a boy she hardly dared think. “We’ve gota few more days before the fair” she said not hopeful at all.” I ‘m sure I’ll get chance to catch Pa ina good mood”. Tom squeezed her hand reassuringly; he longed to kiss her but held back, he didn’twant to scare her away.The Mandarin’s eyes were cold and empty as he ordered the guards to remove Chang from theoffice. Chang waited for the executioner to be called, already feeling the cold kiss of the sword onhis neck, or maybe the Mandarin would think beheading too quick a death for him he thoughtwildly.” Escort him from the palace” the Mandarin continued, “he is to be stripped of his rankand letters” “You are to be banished from the Fourth Precinct “The Mandarin continued lookingat Chang his face full of menace.”If you are ever seen here again you will be flogged within aninch of your life and your four limbs will be tied to four horses your head to a fifth and each horsewill be ridden in opposite directions” The deadly intent in the Mandarins quiet voice turnedChang’s blood to ice and his face as white as snow as he listened to the ancient form of death theMandarin described. But some small part of his mind flared with hope. The Mandarin must only besuspicious he thought, he doesn’t have any proof.Clutching that fragile hope as if it were as delicate as a swallow’s egg, Chang turned to gaze onelast time at the palace as the guards dragged him roughly to the gates. His last view was of a highfence being constructed around the grounds right down to the water’s edge.Rose left Tom’s side when they reached the tow bridge over the canal, her home was in sight. Tomwatched her walk down the path towards the line of small cottages, their chimneys smoking in thechill air. He felt a tug on his heart as she vanished from sight. Does she feel the same about me hewondered, could he tell her how he felt?The Winter Fair marked the high point of the year for Tom; he’d been taken there since a youngboy. He remembered his excitement at seeing all the striped tents on the field, the smell of roastingmeat and chestnuts and the penny skittle games. Taking Rose would mark the high point of his lifeso far he thought. Smiling a little sadly now he turned round to walk back along the canal to hisown home.Rose took off her coat and scarf and hung them on the hooks by the back door. Her mother calledout from the kitchen, “Is that you Rose?” “Who else?” Rose replied “Are we expecting anyone?”Her mother was smiling as she came out of the kitchen carrying an enamel dish which she placed 28
  29. 29. on the old wooden table. “Can you get the bread dear?” she said “your father will be home shortly”Rose walked over to the pantry and fetched the loaf bringing a pat of butter at the same time. While they waited for her father Rose plucked up her courage. “Ma” she said “how old were youwhen you met my Pa?” “Well now”, her mother said “I’d be a smidgen younger than you are now,I was fifteen that March” her mother smiled raising an eyebrow and Rose blushed under herscrutiny.“Do you think you could talk to Pa about growing up?” she asked hesitatingly. Her motherdrew a deep breath. “Your father really cares for you Rose, he’s only trying to protect you “.“Protect me from life and love” she added quietly, surprising herself with her sudden depth offeeling for Tom.The sounds of raucous voices, drunken laughter and music died away as Koon-se escaped to herrooms not altogether lying about her headache. She wouldn’t be missed by Ta-jin for a while; hehad been entranced by the Geishas specially selected by her father for his pleasure. They would beleaving at sunset for a tour of his estates and more ceremonies. She stood pale and pensive inheavy outer robes embroidered with peonies and pomegranates symbols her of her beauty andrank. Her kimono was encrusted with a thousand crystals shining brilliantly in the winter light.Her heart though was as cold as the east wind blowing waves on the sea outside.With a quiet knock her door opened and a servant slid inside quickly closing the door behind him.“Is it time to leave already?” Koon-se whispered. “It is time for us to leave” came the soft reply.Koon-se spun clutching her hand to her mouth to stifle her cry of delight at seeing Chang again.Moments later clad in thick woollen cloaks and carrying the jade casket, Chang and Koon-seslipped through the kitchens towards the servant’s staircase and the outer doors. Serving staffdrunk on peach brandy sang bawdy folk songs, the sound mingling with the loud conversationsand clapping from the reception as they finally cleared the stairs and ran for the West Bridge.A quiet rebellion was growing in Rose’s heart as she cleared upafter another gruelling day in the workshop. Two of her friendshad been ill and the Bowen’s schedule was slipping. He’ddemanded an extra unpaid hour from them all and there had beenseveral of his ‘little accidents’ that day. Rose had nearlyanswered him back when he pointed to an imaginary mistake onher plates. Catching herself last minute she bit back her words. Ineed this job she thought angrily.The Winter Fair was the next evening and Tom had stopped asking her about going. Her heart hadfelt torn as he looked sadly over the field where the tents had been going up for the last few days.She wanted to take away his sad expression and see that bright smile on his face again. She wantedto be with him she realized, not just to go to the fair with him. The thought startled her at first, didTom feel the same way she wondered. What could they do if he did?Seeing Tom leaning into the warmth of the kiln’s brick walls, one of his favourite spots at the endof the day, a quiet determination stole into her mind, “I can go the Fair with you” she said “ if youstill want to go with me that is?” Tom’s expression of delight answered her question. “We canmeet after the shift ends” she said. “We finish early tomorrow remember” Tom answered “I canmeet you at four” 29
  30. 30. “You can do what?” came an angry voice from behind Rose. She turned in horror as her father’sfigure came into view. “Pa” she begged as she saw him bunch his fists “Please don’t hurt him!”“What, you know this boy?” he cried his face turning red with anger. “It’s not like that, Pa “Roseshouted desperately. “We’re only talking”. “Well I’ll put a stop to that right here” he growled,taking a few steps closer to Tom. “If I ever catch you so much as looking at my daughter again”he threatened,” I’ll make sure it’s more than your job you’ll lose!” Grabbing Rose roughly by herarm he dragged her away from the kilns, she turned to catch a last glimpse of Tom, who lookedshaken but determined.“Don’t think your too old for a thrashing either” her father said grimly. “Getting familiar with anunskilled sagger maker, I didn’t bring you up to talk to the likes of him”. He headed in thedirection of the canal path “You’re coming home right now where you belong young lady”In her bedroom Rose rubbed her arms where her father had held her all the way home; there wouldbe a set of bruises there tomorrow she thought. Despair clouded her mind and she sank down onher bed. She could hear her parents arguing downstairs. “Be reasonable” her mother was saying,“she has to go back to work tomorrow, they have to finish the order” “I don’t care” her fathershouted. “She won’t get the bonus John” her mother replied. That seemed to make him pause.Rose closed her eyes, her heart and mind in turmoil. She’d get no supper tonight but that was asmall price to pay not to be the target of her father’s anger.Caught in their own world Koon-se and Chang failed to notice the figure leaving the main gatesclose behind them. Breathing hard Chang glanced at Koon-se her dark hair flying in the wind. Hiseyes shone with hope. Koon-se slowed to catch her breath at the top of the bridge and as sheturned slightly she gasped in horror. Her father was on the bridge brandishing his whip. Behindhim running across the gardens a troop of guards was following. Seeing the cold fury in theMandarin’s face, Chang grabbed Koon-se’s arm and urged her forward down the steps of thebridge. At the water’s edge one of the Mandarin’s boats was moored waiting for its guests toreturn. Fear lending wings to their flight Chang and Koon-se leapt for the boat and cast off, thewild cries of her father echoing in their ears.Rose waited until her father had left for work the next morning before she came downstairs. Hermother gave her a sympathetic smile before she left on some errands. Alone in the house Rosegazed at the old fireplace with the cracked terracotta tiles, the wooden table and chairs hergrandfather had made and her mother’s rag rug on the floor. It all seemed too familiar now. Theseeds of rebellion planted a few days ago were growing into a new sense of purpose. She would bewith Tom she thought and her father would not stop her.Packing a small battered case Rose put on her best coat and scarf, they’d all think she was dressingfor the fair she thought nothing unusual in that. She didn’t see Tom as she made her way to theworkshop; the talk was all about the fair.” There’s a steam roundabout” someone was saying “anda fortune teller called Rose”. “Is that you Rose? “ Jenny asked catching sight of her. “Can you tellour fortunes?” “I wish I knew mine” Rose said quietly to herself, but she gave Jenny a weaksmile.The day went quickly as Rose finished the last of her bowls; she hardly looked at them, her fingersand brush tracing the now familiar patterns. She slipped one of small willow pattern dishes into herbag as she passed the stacks near the doorway.Tom was waiting for her as she left the workshop; the kilns had stopped firing after the last of thelarge order of willow pattern. That left the sagger makers with a couple of days of free time. Hewas anxious he wasn’t sure if Rose would even stop for him as she left. But when he caught sight 30
  31. 31. of among the crowd of painters, she turned and her smile took all his fears away. Then he noticedher case. She put her fingers to her lips, “Not now” she mouthed, and Tom walked out of the gatesdown towards the canal.Catching him up out of sight of the workshops, Rose ran and threw her arms around him, delightedTom hugged her close, hardly daring to think what this could mean. “Would you come away withme if I asked?” said Rose her heart in her mouth. “ In a flash” Tom replied, “Oh Rose you don’tknow how I have been worrying, I thought I’d never see you again” Rose glanced at her case,“I’ll get a few things” Tom said “I’ve got some savings Rose we won’t starve” “I’ve got mygrandma’s necklace” Rose said it’s gold and pretty heavy. There’s plenty of potteries in the nextfew towns they’ll need painters and sagger makers” she added.The island lay perfect in the chill spring air. Pine trees clad the upper slopes, willows lined thewater’s edge and the early peach trees were beginning to bloom. There were many islands in thispart of the sea, a few inhabited only by turtles and birds. Chang was glad of their isolation, thesilence lending itself to his poetry, Koon-se to his inspiration. Chang laid a few of the delicatepeach blossoms on the garden shrine; the others in his hand were for Koon-se. He smiledanticipating her pleasure at his gift a symbol of intense love.Walking slowly back to the small wooden house they shared, Chang heard harsh voices comingfrom the water’s edge. His heart beating wildly Chang was torn between quietly making his waytoward the water or running for the house. Hearing a cry from the house Chang raced towards thedoor. “Koon-se” he cried desperation cracking his voice. Black feathered arrows flew in perfect formation as Koon-se appeared in the doorway. They both fell as the peach petals flew from Chang’s fingers. The guards stopped in amazement as their bodies burned with blinding golden light. Eyes closed in agony they failed to see the black feathered arrows turn into the wings of two blue swallows flying up above the island, joined forever in the freedom of the sky as the gods looked down. Wrapped in Tom’s thicker scarf and gloves and holding his arm tightly Rose turned to look at the pottery one last time before heading down to the Winter Fair with him. Tom wanted to share the magic of the Fair with her and maybe if they were lucky they could take the magic of the fair with them.Inspired by found pieces of china displayed in London: Empire 31
  32. 32. Hunter Gatherers in the 1940s by Marilyn HawesThe  tins  of  dried  milk  and  egg  and  whale  steaks  in  the  Museum  of  London  display  brought  back  many  memories  of  what  it  was  like  for  housewives  trying   to  obtain  enough  food  during  the  war  years.  My  father  ran  a  grocery  shop  and  I  used  to  help  him  sort  the  food  coupons  cut  from  customers’  ration  books.  Everybody  was  issued  with  a  ration  book  entitling  them  to small weekly  amounts  of  butter , margarine , cheese , lard , tea  and  sugar.  I  remember  one  old  lady  collecting  her  rations,  which  cost  one shilling and  eleven pence,  and  that  included  a  small  bottle  of  Camp  coffee,  greatly  prized  because  it  was sweet.  It  was  considered  polite  in  those  days  to  say  you  didn’t  take  sugar  or  only  a  small  spoonful. Sugar spoons shrank to accommodate the small rations.  Apples were plentiful in Somerset, but oranges only appeared at Christmas. The Merchant Navy had to transport the wooden crates, holding the oranges, across the Atlantic Ocean, braving  ferocious winter storms and equally ferocious attacks from U‐Boats and German planes. One year, only three oranges were fit to eat. Sea water had drenched the fruit, turning it green, with the smell of the salt sea water still clinging to the tissue paper wrappings.   There  were  also  coupons  for  tins  of  pork  luncheon  meat,  or  Spam,  which  we  children  loved  as  there  were  no  lumps  of  fat  or  gristle, large  lumps  of  which  always  seemed  to  be  present  in  the  weekly  joint.  Acquiring   cuts  of  meat  previously  not  so  popular  such  as  pigs’  trotters and  chitterlings (small intestines),  bones  and  a  pig’s  head  to  make  brawn   could  lead  to  fierce  arguments  if  it  was  felt  the  butcher  was  showing  favouritism.  Queuing  became  a  way  of  life  for  housewives  and  so  there  was  always  a  large  audience  to  see  who  was  having  what  and,  equally  important ,  how  much.  Exchanging  goods  was  a  useful  way  of  enjoying  some  variety.  One  of  the  customers  was  a  vegetarian  but   had  no  qualms  about  shooting  rabbits.  We  swopped  our  cheese  ration  (1oz  per  person  per  week)  for  a  rabbit.  Judging  by  the  amount  of  shot  we  had  to  remove  from  the  rabbit, death  had come  quickly.  Rabbit  stew  became  our  favourite  dinner  especially  as  there  was  no  fat . I  enjoyed  it  so  much  I  learnt  how  to  skin  and  joint  one  ready  for  the  pot.  Exact  records  of  the  number  of  animals  were  supposed  to  be  kept  for  tax  purposes.  I  remember  being  taken  to  see  this  small  calf  as  a  treat  but  threatened  with  terrible  consequences  if  I  spoke  about  it  to  anyone  else.  By  not  declaring  it,  our  friends  could  use  the  milk  themselves  or  barter  it  for  something  they  did  need.   Free  range  chickens  frolicked  in  many  people’s  gardens,  especially  when  the  egg  ration  was  one  egg  a  fortnight.  Everything  was   recycled: the  butter  came  from  New  Zealand  in  wooden  boxes,  and  my  mother  made  me  my  first  dressing  table  using  two  boxes  placed  upright  with  half  of  a  bagatelle  polished  top  laid  across  them.   A mirror  hung  from  the  gas  light  wall  fitting  completed  the  practical,  if  not  elegant,  effect.  Sometimes  the  wood  was  used  for  kindling . Anything  to  help  the  awful  nutty  slack  catch  alight.  There  were  always  groups  of  people  of  all  ages  searching  the  woods  and  countryside   32
  33. 33. for  firewood , wild  blackberries,  nuts  and  mushrooms.  Farmers  needed  to  keep  careful  lookout  for  sheep  rustlers  and  any  kind  of  poultry  thief.  Nowadays,  the  main  problem  seems  to  be  boredom.  Plenty  of  everything  and  plenty  for  all.  No  hiding  the  evidence  of  the  grocer’s  generosity,  such  as  when  my  great  aunt  Eliza  found  a  banana  skin  in  my  uncle’s  dustbin  and  she  hadn’t  had  one.  Even  my  father  quailed  beneath  her  fury.    Inspired by tins of food in People’s City: war. Risks with heart (excerpt) by Sozen Ismail The nineteen year old blonde with metallic blue eyes that danced, was doing a one-woman sit-in at the entrance to the admissions department of the Medical Faculty at Bristol University. She smelt strongly of Chanel number five. She wore a flimsy, sleeveless, knee-length, psychedelic dress with concentric circles of yellow, lime-green and orange. Her arms were toned and her fingers long and delicate with perfectly-shaped, well-manicured, short, clean, pink nails. On one wrist, she sported a red and blue tartan watch strapwithout the watch, which was pinned onto her dress, over her left breast. She was wearing yellowknee-high socks with lime-green polka dots and a pair of Doc Martens, whose bulkiness, at the endof her very long legs, made one think of pendulums. She was lanky with flowing movementscomplemented by her long, loose hair and she had an unusually wide smile, looking for the slightestopportunity to display her perfect teeth. No necklace or earrings but a small pink stone winked fromher right nostril. She looked clean. Polished. With freckles that would have put Pippi Longstockingto shame. She was holding a placard that she had made herself the night before. It was a detailed paintingof a human heart, with blood pouring out of the adjoining aorta. At the top she had written, in red,‘LET ME IN.’ Underneath the heart, tiny pictures of girls in different coloured inks were stretchingtheir arms, like sticks, towards the heart. To the right of it, a patient in a hospital bed lookeddesperate, connected to machines and struggling underneath the blood that came from the aorta. She was protesting that the higher-prestige branches of medicine, such as cardiology, seemed tohave been reserved for male doctors. She and her female colleagues, she was suggesting, had tomake do with the less lucrative specialities, that may not have been their first choice or their realtalent…Inspired by Dr Marten boot in Modern London: 1950s-today. 33