Last year I went to Blackpool for the first time (loved it), and even though I am scared of extreme fairground rides, I did go on The Big One/Pepsi Max ( I tried to do mindfulness breathing exercises to stop myself from screaming; lesson: screaming is better in some situations.)
The whole of 2016 felt like the The Big One/Pepsi Max, the world seemed turned upside down several times over, whilst I tried not to die of fright, and the air filled with people swearing or laughing or doing both at the same time.
But now we have a new year. I’m looking forward to loads of exciting new projects (writing a new book with Orion, working on The Death Show in Birmingham with Antonia Beck and Lucy Nicholls, doing a regular radio slot on Wandsworth Community Radio, plus my new show later this year, just for starters)
Since 2012 I’ve been writing what I like to call my New Year’s Revolutions, after failing the previous years to keep any of my resolutions because they were self punishing and boring. January is no time to be quitting anything, at least not any of your props or comforts that get you going through the dark days, because THESE ARE THE DARK DAYS. 2016 seemed like one of those leeches that I imagine sadistic victorian quacks used, bloated with blood and hope, so big and self important it spilled over into 2017. It’s only now that I am ready to make my pledges.
Here are the promises I am making myself which I am making public as I am more likely to keep them if I know people know. I also put them on the back of my door.
- Spend time with people who make me feel better, braver, brighter. Work with those people too.
this means not hanging out with people who leave me feel drained, upset, or depressed. there are some. we all have some. it’s just… life is short. move quietly away. they won’t even notice.
- Don’t buy anything.
because looking after stuff is boring (you have to tidy it or dust it or wash it) and uses time that could be better spent (in my case) writing, having fun, or swimming. I’ve got everything I need. I’m going to just look after what I’ve got. and save.
- Go to New Orleans. Go and find the northern lights. Stop putting it off.
using the money saved from not buying stuff, but also, selling stuff.
- Keep thinking the best of people always. Forgive them.
- Slow down
not fashionable yet, not always possible, but better, in all ways
- Be careful
for some people the opposite advice would be best, for me, this is absolutely right. I’m clumsy, in all sorts of ways. I’m going to get into being careful
- Pay attention
- Muck about
always on the list
- Keep being kind
- Be kind to yourself
This one is hard. But important
- Swim every day.
- Take your own advice.
most of the time I already know the answer
That’s it. The other stuff, the trying my best to doing anything I can think of to make stuff not so awful, that, I hope, is taken for granted.
I hope you have a great year. It won’t be boring, that’s for sure. On Monday 16th, which is supposed to be the most depressing day of the year, I did some storytelling in a school in Edmonton. It took me 2 1/2 hours to get there, I got soaking wet, the tube stopped working (twice) I saw a queue that must have been 1/2 mile long outside the station, but on the plus side the school and teachers and kids were great when I finally made it.
here is the conversation I heard in the staffroom at lunchtime. It made me smile:
teacher “today is the most depressing day of the year”
pause. everyone looks out the window and the rain
teacher “why am I eating quinoa? has anyone got cake?”
a few people dash about and there are several types of cake offered.
teacher “that’s better. if this is the worst day of the year, the year is going to be easy.”
2nd teacher “that’s the spirit”
2nd teacher “nobody mention Trump. Tea?”
I took that home with me. Nobody mention Trump (we’ll be hearing enough about him, for sure). Don’t eat quinoa if there is cake, and it’s a day when you need comfort. Drink tea, and offer to make other people tea. Always a winner.
On Friday 2nd December I hosted my last live event for the year-long project Hothouse, which has been looking at ideas of the future of Deptford in various creative and madcap ways. I was
quite extremely I-might-actually-have-a- heart-attack busy in the lead up, but I was keen to pull together all the wonderful and seemingly disparate worlds I am lucky enough to work in, to celebrate the possibility of a utopian future. Which in the light of events of 2016 seems stubbornly optimistic. But, you know, it’s my party, so I’ll be stubbornly optimistic if I want to, as the song doesn’t go.
The event exceeded my wildest expectations, and even topped the time when London Dreamtime’s Vanessa Woolf Hoyle, George Hoyle and I set fire to the library roof whilst storytelling during our show London’s Burning. The line up included pals of mine: Dr Galliano (physicist, talking about fusion energy) , Bentley Crudgington (biologist, talking about human longevity and the possibility of immortality), Mariposa Bop (magical and hilarious hula hooping burlesquer), Midi Music Creative Choir) (singing Starman and other treats), the aforementioned George Hoyle of Cunning Folk (folk musician extraordinaire, who for this night only specialised in sci-fi songs played on his banjo), and seniors from Meet Me At The Albany (with poems they wrote and recorded inspired by the Voyager Golden Record, with poet Simon Mole, edited by Tricia Jenkins) It was great to include some new friends too: Nancy Hynes (poet, robot enthusiast) and for the after show podcast writer Hector Dyer (with fab sci-fi story) plus 5-year-old pop star Clementine (with a self penned song called Dark Dark Space).I’ve included the programme notes and details at the end of you’d like to know more, and to hear the FREE podcast with Hector’s story and Clem’s song go here
All photos ©Andrew Mohammed
The audience was warm and friendly and fun, and we had a little competition writing wishes for 2016 on stars (which were later hung from the Albany’s Christmas tree).
On paper it is perhaps unlikely that a variety night that includes such an eclectic bunch of people couldn’t work, but it did, and magnificently, united as we were by a wish to enjoy ourselves, feel hopeful about the future, have fun and eat pickled onion space raiders.
It’s been a lot of fun thinking about the future and uncovering on the way much trepidation and doubt about both the future happiness and diversity of Deptford, but also the actual survival of humans on earth. This has been a shocking year. But we have to look to the future, work out what we want from it, work out how to get there and set off. A week after this show I went to see Owen Jones talk about optimism at the School of Life. In an unlikely turn of events I ended up sitting next to him and singing “It’s A Hard Knock Life” with him. (not just us, I hasten to add, other people in the audience joined in, otherwise it would go down in history as the strangest musical duo ever). His talk was in part a potted history of British struggle against injustice, taking in the English Civil Wars, the Jarrow March, the suffragettes and many more events and people, and he was saying about how it seems bad now but it has been far,far worse before, and we just have to get on with it. it was a great talk. But the best thing I took away with it was what he said about stories: about how to change people’s hearts and minds, statistics and “facts” don’t work, but stories do, and we have to share stories to let each other know the truth of each other lives and the world out there, to increase compassion, empathy, kindness, hope. Music to my ears. Which is more than can be said for our singing.
See you next year, and take heart. I’ve never known so many people engaged with ideas, with discussion, with politics, with activism, with each other. There is (still) more hope than fear
and a raucous pagan bacchanalia to All
Live Long and Prosper
P.S. Santa’s Sci Fi Salon programme notes as promised
Welcome to the future. Tonight we treat you to a smorgasbord of superstars, plus a UTOPIAN competition with prizes, all wrapping up around 9.30pm. Please help yourself to spacedust.
Bernadette Russell (host and curator)
Bernadette is co-director of arts organisation White Rabbit, who create theatre, live lit/spoken word events, cabaret, podcasts, and salons (of which this is the latest.) They have created work for National Theatre, Southbank Centre, LIFT festival, Duckies and Birmingham Rep amongst many others.
www.thewhiterabbit.org.uk twitter @betterussell @yeswhiterabbit
Bentley Crudgington (speaker)
Bentley is a biomedical scientist and number one monster fan. He has an unhealthy interest in infectious diseases, animal/human interactions and the ecology of lab-derived life forms. Bentley will frantically gesticulate through the casual topics of life, death and things he is just not that sure about.
www. silentsignal.org twitter @Incidentallyb
The Meet Me At the Albany (poets)
Meet Me at the Albany is an all day arts club for the over 60s based at the Albany. This poem, Golden Voyager, was created in collaboration with poet Simon Mole and recorded and edited by Tricia Jenkins. It’s inspired by The Voyager Golden Records, phonograph records that were included aboard both Voyager spacecraft launched in 1977. They contain sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth, and are intended for any intelligent extraterrestrial life form, or for future humans, who may find them.
Cunning Folk (musician)
George Hoyle AKA Cunning Folk sings songs about ritual landscape, old magic, and for one night only, science fiction movies.
www. cunningfolkmusic.co.uk twitter @folk_cunning
Dr. Dominic Galliano (speaker)
(School of Physics and Astronomy Queen Mary, University of London). Dr. Galliano is director of outreach for SEPnet and loves talking about all things physics. Throughout 2016, he worked with Bernadette and local primary school children, creating radio shows with stories written by them, imaging the future of Deptford. Tonight he will be talking about the future of fuel.
Mariposa Bop (performer)
Beautifully bonkers, delightfully daft, hopefully hilarious…Mariposa Bop is a hoop wielding, face making, comedic force of nature. Producer of The Apothecary Cabaret in Dalston, London, multi-coloured pin-up and globe trotting burlesquer! Mariposa will be presenting “Dawn of Man” her unique homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey featuring a hoop monolith and a dancing ape!
www. missbop.co.uk twitter @mariposabop
Midi Music Creative Choir
Midi Music Creative Choir are a community choir who blend joy, harmony and the feel good factor with a fusion of soul, pop and a little bit of jazz …
Meet Me At The Albany (poet)
Created with poet Simon Mole, the background track to this poem “The Perfect Astronaut” is “Tsuru No Sugomori” by Goro Yamaguchi. (One of the pieces of music included on the Voyager Golden Record.) The poet wishes to remain anonymous.
Nancy Hynes (poet)
NJ Hynes has lived in south London for over 20 years, but was born in the American Midwest (and is proud that her home state did not vote for Trump!) Her first book, The Department of Emotional Projections, was published in 2014, after she won the Live Canon first collection competition. Many of her poems explore a future where space travel is normal and technology advances, but humans remain the same. Almost.
Cunning Folk (musician)
George is back to finish the night off in his charming and inimitable style!
Announcement of competition winner! Prizes! THE END. (approx. 9.30pm)
EXTRA! Post show we have created for you a beautiful podcast, it’s FREE to listen to and download, is called SANTAS SCI FI SALON and can be found here: http://whiterabbitpresents.podbean.com
Featuring fab sci-fi story “This Is Not A Place of Honour” by writer Hector Dyer
PLUS a fabulous song “Dark Space” written by our youngest artist, 5 year old Clementine.
Clem is 5 and is in the first term of Year 1 at school, where they are doing a project about Space. At home, she wrote a poem and asked Daddy to help her make it into a song – this was all her idea! Daddy (Ben) used Garageband to put together the track, and Clem sang her lines. She had a bit of a cold but did really well, enjoyed herself at the time and then that evening told her mum and dad she was finished with recording. She is now in the process of writing out Neil Armstrong’s life story.
I love Halloween, misty autumnal days, kicking through leaves, ghost stories, day of the dead, all of that stuff. Below is a kids ghost story I’ve written which you could read to kids tonight (or maybe to yourself!). It is one of the around 100 stories I have written inspired by other people’s dreams, all slowly, slowly coming together to eventually become my next show. This particular story I wrote for a family storytelling session I did with London Dreamtime at Farmopolis.
To skip straight to the story, please scroll down. (Most of the rest of this post is photos! I hope they speak for themselves….)
I’ve had a very busy five weeks, up the creek in Deptford with Creekside Discovery (collecting stories of Victorian Deptford)…
…up the river on a boat with the good folk of Meet Me At The Albany (collecting stories of holidays and river trips) revisiting Marlowe’s grave in St Nicks (collecting urban legends), kicking through the leaves in Deptford Park, Greenwich Park, Folkstone Gardens, Oxleas Woods (visiting the foxes)… basically trying to make the very most of this the best and most beautiful season of all.
I’ve been to a ghost story event at The Last Tuesday Society conducted over a sarcophagus
and tonight I am going to see Horatio Blood’s toy theatre production of The Vampire.Horatio lives in Deptford and works in Greenwich and is a well-known and loved local historian.
Every year I make a big deal of decorating the house so that trick or treaters know that they are welcome.But this year I am going to be out so I made this sign. I wonder how long the sweets and oranges will last….
Anyway, Happy Halloween all, here’s the story (I imagined for 5/6 year olds).
The Visa Versa
There was once a girl called Natalie. She had bright green eyes and straight black hair and a cat called Miffy. Natalie loved stories about ghosts and witches and unexplained mysteries, so her favourite day of the year was, of course, Halloween. However Natalie did NOT take after her mum and dad. Her mum and dad were scared of EVERYTHING. If they saw a spider they would both jump up onto the settee and stay there, until Natalie carefully caught the spider under a glass and let it out into the garden. If they saw a mouse they would shriek and run in circles until Natalie and Miffy chased the mouse out of the house. They slept with a nightlight on, because although they were grown ups and really very old, they were still afraid of the dark, and any talk of ghosts was not allowed as Natalie’s dad said “ Oo no Nat, they give me the heebeegeebies*.”
Because of this Natalie was totally forbidden from going to Hallowe’en parties OR trick or treating. Her mum said, “Everyone’s costumes are so scary, last year I saw a man dressed as Donald Trump, I didn’t sleep a wink for a week”.
Natalie took after her grandmother, Nana Bean. Nana Bean also had bright green eyes and loved stories about unexplained mysteries . Nana Bean said not to worry, even though neither of them were allowed out trick or treating, they could still have fun.
Halloween arrived at last. Natalie and Nana Bean made a pumpkin costume for Miffy to wear, and they each dressed as witches, with home-made black pointy hats and black painted fingernails. They played a version of trick or treat with Miffy by giving him bits of cheese and a sardine. But it wasn’t quite the same… Natalie could hear kids laughing outside as they traipsed from house to house shouting “TRICK OR TREAT!”, and when she peeked through the curtain she could see them dressed as zombies and ghosts and monsters. Nana Bean said “Don’t worry Nat, come on, drink this,” and handed Natalie a lovely mug of hot chocolate with marshmallows on top. Natalie snuggled into bed. Nana Bean said “I found this old magic book in a charity shop in Deptford, so maybe I could read to you from that? What do you think?”
Natalie said she thought that was a very good idea. They opened the book, and on the inside cover in black spidery handwriting it said:
“Dear Reader, so glad you have found this book, and visa versa. Enjoy”
They turned the page.
“Listen to this Nat,” said Nana Bean, “this sounds good:
Hee hee, ho ho, it’s Halloween night,
When ghoulies abound to give us fright,
And skeletons tap dance on their own graves,
And monsters creep from out their caves,
The sky is full of vampire bats,
It is no time for scaredy cats,
And if you like to trick or treat,
And you’re not afraid of who you’ll meet,
Repeat three times before midnight strikes,
belladonna fandango macaroni zazazike….
“Shall we say it?”asked Nana Bean
And just for fun and because they were both feeling naughty, Natalie and Nana Bean said “belladonna fandango macaroni zazazike….belladonna fandango macaroni zazazike….belladonna fandango macaroni zazazike….”
and after that last time there was a big flash of light then….. the next thing Natalie knew she woke up to Miffy licking her face. She must’ve fallen asleep. Nana Bean was nowhere to be seen, and the room was freezing and quiet. At the bottom of her bed stood the twins who lived next door. They were both wearing matching blue dresses with white aprons and their hair was plaited and their eyes were perfectly round and shiny and black and unblinking, like liquorice. They never wore matching clothes and they were always on skateboards and normally their eyes were brown so they looked odd. Natalie was very surprised, and just as she was about to say “How did you get here?” and “why do you look so wierd?”- they began to speak in unison, something else they had never done before.
They said “Come with us, we’re going trick or treating”
Natalie watched as the twins walked over to her bedroom window. Then she watched as they jumped straight out. Natalie thought “Oo, that is going to hurt!” but then she saw that they didn’t fall but they floated, then she knew she must be dreaming. Natalie remembered Nana Bean had always told her : once you’re absolutely sure you’re having a dream you might as well enjoy yourself. So with Miffy held tightly under one arm, Natalie followed the twins and jumped out of the window.
The four of them flew and flew and flew and flew and flew. Past scudding dark clouds, through an inky night sky full of glittering stars, past a bone white full moon, until they reached the furthest darkest part of the galaxy, when they were sucked like water down a plughole…. and landed with a soft bump… somewhere. But where?
The twins got up, dusted themselves down, and said
“Welcome to the Visa Versa “
and she looked around and everything looked the same except… . Everything was black and white, like those old films you see on the telly. Everyone’s eyes were perfectly black and round, all the people and the animals too. But everyone was really friendly and every single person said “Happy Halloween!” even the cats and dogs. Natalie and Miffy followed the twins, and they knocked on the door of a very old house whose windows were lit with lanterns, and shouted “TRICK OR TREAT”. The door opened very slowly and a woman who looked very much like Frankenstein but also looked very much like Nana Bean with a bolt through her head and stitches everywhere said “We’re having a party! Do come in” and in they went. Inside there was the best Halloween party ever seen. There was a cauldron containing a chocolate fountain, and there were cats like Miffy, but bigger and walking on their hind legs and wearing top hats, there was a zombie family including the cutest zombie baby with its tiny sharp teeth, there were swarms of bats and the carpet was alive with spiders and mice and rats, there was a witch and a magician zapping wands at each other out of which popped tiny bolts of lightning, a giant so tall his head was in the clouds, puppets and clowns, gnomes and warlocks, ghosts and mummies, vampires and werewolves, all enjoying themselves and eating delicious food and dancing in their own very strange ways.
After a few hours Natalie settled down in front of the fire with the Frankenstein creature that sort of looked like Nana Bean and they ate roast chestnuts and told each other scary stories until Natalie fell asleep.
As she woke to daylight streaming in through the chink in her curtains, through sleepy eyes she saw the back-to-normal Nana Bean in the doorway smiling…
“Good morning Natalie” said Nana Bean.
“ Nana!” Said Natalie “I had the weirdest dream ever…”.
“Well,” said Nana Bean, “You can tell me all about it downstairs. What is that?” she asked and pointed at the bottom of Natalie’s bed, where there was a trick or treat bag, filled to the brim with chocolate, fudge, popcorn, lollipops, and sugared almonds. On the side was written in spiky black handwriting
“SWEET DREAMS from The Visa Versa”
Out of the window Natalie saw the twins next door, back in their normal skater clothes, and they saw her, and winked, and waved.
“I don’t even want to know how you got hold of that, so don’t tell me.” said Nana Bean, “Come to think of it, I must have slept funny myself,” she continued “my head feels like…”
“There’s a bolt through it?”
“Yes something like that,” said Nana Bean
“That’s the Visa Versa,” said Natalie
“The what the what the?” said Nana Bean
“Nothing” said Natalie “Can we have sweets for breakfast?”
“No I don’t think…. well just this once. “said Nana Bean, who loved sweets just as much as Natalie.
So they went downstairs to share the sweets, and the magic book, lying face down and forgotten in the middle of Natalie’s floor, closed itself and leapt out of the still-open window, to look for the next reader who needed some help on Halloween.
*heebeegeebies= the feeling of adrenalin rushing up your spine when scared.
Thanks for reading, if you’d like some grown up scary stories, there’s also a FREE podcast here. Next month it’s all about Give Me Back My Broken Night….
2016 is the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London, and this gave me the opportunity to work with the wonderful Vanessa Wolf Hoyle (London Dreamtime) and George Hoyle (Cunning Folk) on a storytelling music extravaganza. (Vanessa and George are fabulous storytellers/musicians and they do loads of amazing walks and story/music events all over London so do check them out). Our show “London’s Burning” (presented as part of Hothouse) sold out immediately, so we hope to repeat it soon.
There is loads of interesting stuff happening all over the city to mark this anniversary: I went to see Stan’s Cafes beautiful installation Of All The People in All The World, and joined the thousands on Blackfriars Bridge to watch a replica of 17th century London go up in flames. As I was watching the group of kids behind me started singing London’s Burning, and then loads of people joined in, it was a great night.
I did lots of my own research, and tried to find a way to connect to the story in a personal way. (It turns out that Samuel Pepys buried his parmesan somewhere near Lower Thames Street, but never went back for it, and also that the oft repeated “only 6 or 8 people died in the fire” is a load of clobbers. For more facts check out the exhibition at the Museum of London. )
One of my first jobs in London (there have been many) was working in kitchens in pubs in Covent Garden and Islington, which is how I learnt to cook, next to chefs who could conjure an amazing dinner out of a packet of frozen peas, a bit of rice, a few spices and a pinch of optimism. There were a few occasions, for example when I stood on a rickety ladder in a baking hot kitchen to put the finishing touches to a French wedding cake by sprinkling it with sugared rose petals, when it truly seemed magical. (I also burnt my arm with caramel that day, I still have the scar, and I’ve not made caramel since.)
I’m fascinated by the fact that a baker started the fire. I read about the ingredients that “made the switch from spell to recipe, from cauldron to mixing bowl” about the superstitions and fears of those times, the songs and nursery rhymes, and who got the blame for the plague of 1665 that killed 100 000 people and the fire of 1666 that reduced ¼ of London to ashes.
We decided to take the audience on a journey to the top of the library and that we really ought to have an actual fire. Having a real fire on the roof of a public library is a bit of health and safety nightmare, so Annette Butler (operations manager) and I tested it, and all seemed well. No worries…
I’d got my story written, complete with bells and nursery rhymes and old plague songs and recipes that were sort of spells and a big bottle of rum. It also concluded with a nod to the future, and to what is constant about being human, and our enduring fascination with flames.
Vanessa told a wonderful Mayan story about fire and George sang some beautiful songs about trees and memories and South East London. The fire was going ok. I was listening to Vanessa telling her tale, when I saw Annette creeping around the edge of the chimera, BECAUSE THE ROOF WAS ON FIRE! Oops. She put it out, so we managed not to start the next Fire of London. Which would have been ironic. And dangerous.
As well as telling and listening to stories and songs, we all wrote what we would like to be rid of in our lives on bit of paper and burnt them, and we shared a bottle of rum, and we wrote our wishes in sparklers outside the front of the library.
© Photos by Andrew Mohammed
For those who are curious: here is the recipe from my story, which was handed to the audience on a piece of parchment (if you want to read or hear the whole story do get in touch):
This recipe from Thomas Farriner, via Ursula Southeil (Mother Shipton), soothsayer and prophetess, who predicted the Great Fire. It is said these cakes led indirectly to the near destruction of London, 2nd September 1666.
Firekins (or London’s Burnings)
Take one pound of very fine flour, and put to it half a pound of sugar. Turn widdershins* thrice.
Then, add one pound of currants well washed in moon-water. (for moon-water leave a bowl of water in your window for one whole month from full month, through wane and wax, to fulsome once more. This will make you moon water)
When your flower is well mixed with the sugar and currants, put in it a half a pound of melted butter, three spoonful’s of milk, with the yolks of three new-laid eggs beat with it, some nutmeg; and if you please, three spoonful’s of sack**
When you have mixed your paste well, you must put it in a dish by the fire, till it be warm. (If you do not have a fire, stare at the pot with unbridled rage for long enough, imagining those who have wronged you)
Then make them up in little cakes, and prick them full of holes. With each prick make a wish aloud, for everything you would be rid of. Do not be afeared.
Bake them in a quick oven (for 15 minutes at 200C) with the door shut. Be sure there is no cat in the room.
Afterwards sprinkle them with sugar.
The Cakes should be about the bigness of a handbreadth and thin.
Share them, or else eat them all yourself in one sitting, till you are cake-drunk and sleepy. Dream.
*widdershins- anti clockwise
** sack- sherry
1 pound self-raising flour.
Half pound caster sugar
1 pound currants washed in moon-water
Half pound butter
3 tablespoons milk
3 egg yolks
Pinch of nutmeg
3 tablespoons Sack
Icing sugar (to sprinkle on top)
Bake with caution. Many ingredients make the leap from spell to recipe, from cauldron to mixing bowl. Never doubt the every day magic of cooking. Blessed Be.
The next Hothouse event from us will be looking to the future again, and will include a cosmologist, a physicist, time travelling storytellers, a bit of a mystery tour of the library, some futuristic poetry from the good folk of Meet Me At The Albany-and a futuristic Santa, but if you would like to get involved – please do get in touch! There’s more info about the show here and loads of other fantastic events going on at Deptford Lounge so check it out and support your library!
Thanks for reading x
A couple of weeks I met an amazing young woman as part of the Albany’s Summer Arts programme. She tried to explain how even though there is loads of bad stuff in the news and in the world it was alright because we had hope. She told us all the story of Pandora’s Box and I was so glad to be reminded, that after all that bad smoke came out, hope still nestled. And I was grateful to her for telling us all.
This was fortnight ago, when Mira Dovreni (of Penny Dreadful Theatre Company fame) and I worked with young people from the Albany’s Summer Arts programme in Deptford Lounge to explore what the world might be like “100 Years From Now”. This week was part of the on-going Hothouse project with Uninvited Guests, Sam Steer and Trikhon Theatre. Mira and I were looking forward to what the young people had to say, but also to finding out how we could use a working public library to perform in.
So pretty early on as well as loads of game playing, we started to try to think about ideas of utopia and dystopia, and creating physical pictures of what they might look like:
It turns out that utopia is much harder to imagine or even talk about than dystopia!
One of the young people said :
Utopia would be nice, but it’s not interesting as a story, because nothing happens, there is no conflict or action. With dystopia there is a story, and you are trying to make things better
We chatted about how there are loads more films and books and stories about Dystopia than Utopia, and why that might be.
During the week we had two main missions: to work out how we could use the library in an interesting way, and to find an innovative way of making a short piece of theatre about the future. We played loads of games, invited future names, created news flashes from the future, tried lots of chorus and ensemble work, and came up with a twenty minute taster of our week.
Our audience were gathered in the middle of the library. There were signs up around the library- what did they mean?
There were strange go-ings on. Two silent people were leaving cryptic messages on post it notes around the library, all messages were from the future. Another group of strange silent beings moved in unison, and beckoned us to follow, so with our trusty guide we did follow the, sometimes even imitating their eccentric movements. Suddenly a sombre pair announced they had travelled from the future to tell us what the world (and Deptford) would be like “100 Years From Now”. The audience followed them as they lined up in the library, introduced themselves and peeled off through a side door to lead us elsewhere…..
These visitors from the future were: (from top row, l-r) QQ3000, Luna, Big Bang Man, Solar Flare, Solar Kryptonite, Wilson 4 Tango, Solar Infinity, Shu Shang Walla and Moana.
Upstairs we sat in a circle surrounded by the time travellers. We heard a series of news bulletins about weather, technology, holidays, and breaking news items, from multiple different versions of the future. We saw and heard a space rocket take off. We heard and saw what people in the future are like. We were then offered a challenge: would we accept it? To find a book (the title of which we were given by a time traveller) which contained a message from the time travellers with a mission for us to complete? The missions were written down:
There are still some messages from the future left inside books in Deptford Lounge- let us know if you find them….but just in case you didn’t see it I’m giving the last word over to Lunar (AKA Jordan.)
to ensure the future’s bright and a wonderful utopia, I need you to be the best you can be, to never give up on your dreams or ambitions. Spread positivity, you have the power inside of you to help make the world a better place, for all of us and for future generations.
Hello. Since I last posted it feels as though our world has changed. So much has been said and shouted and written about the EU referendum result, so many petitions and marches and resignations and face palming and raging and crying and smashed windows and racism…..it has been an intense and challenging few weeks.
It feels stupid writing that, and dishonest. Actually, it felt for a few days like the worst thing that had ever happened ever. I cried on and off for four days afterwards. Everyone I knew was crying or ranting. Everyone was marching with hand made placards.
Then tragedy after tragedy from Nice, and Turkey and Syria etc, till we all feel bruised and exhausted. Most people I know tell me they’re not watching the news anymore, or they can’t stop watching it, they can’t sleep or they sleep all the time, and how it is hard in the midst of all this to think any good of us, us human beings. In this I have been considering the future and projects thinking about the future, as part of my work with Hothouse at Deptford Lounge. Thinking about the future. Considering a positive future, and how we might make it there. In the Waiting Room in Deptford this aapeared
and on the buses for a few days everyone wore safety pins so we could reassure people we weren’t racists. Pinning our hopes on that. Everyone saying “What’s going to happen now?”. Everyone talking about politics, everyone.
My friend Horatio and I talked a while ago about his relationship to Deptford and we meandered (as all the best chats do)- briefly discussing English nationalism. I will be posting Horatio’s interview soon, but just wanted to post a few pictures of what I and a few friends put up in response to the EU ref and the aftermath.
Five years ago, in the wake of the U.K riots of that summer, overwhelmed and disheartened by that and just about everything else, I responded by attempting to do a very small kind thing every day for a stranger, some you know this story, the results of which can be found here
I had exactly the same feeling after the E.U, in that I felt absolutely powerless to do anything of any use to counter the despair, rage, hopelessness etc. But then I remembered a couple useful lessons from that time: 1. doing something, however small,is better than doing nothing and 2. doing that small something is much, much better than complaining about stuff on social media/down the shop/pub.
So I made these posters and put then around Deptford (maybe you’ve seen one?). I made and posted others to friends in other parts of London and eventually further afield: the posters and their messages travelled to Brighton, York, Stroud, Stockton, Margate, and elsewhere. it’s not much true, but it is not nothing.
It seems very important to consider the future right now, to be optimistic and hopeful but also to try and map out a journey of how we might get to this positive future and what we need to do that. It seems to me that the most valuable thing we can do is listen. Back in 2011 when people were trying to make sense of the riots it was said that a riot is the roar of the unheard. Now there are conversations about those who voted to leave Europe because they feel unheard also. It’s not pleasant to witness and be part of such a dis-United kingdom and it is overwhelming sometimes, but an important lesson, I think, is we need to listen to each other more carefully. We need to stop calling each other names, be cautious when apportioning blame, and we need to nuture, encourage and tend to hope. We can do this by seeking out hope and hopeful stories and sharing those. We can do this by taking action, even in the smallest of ways, rather than uploading another doom laden Facebook update to add to the already toxic timelines we all scroll through, we can choose to express something else.
There’s a little orange shed in Deptford Lounge and from Saturday 23rd there will be a map and some postcards inside, and if you’d like you can tell us what you love about Deptford past, present or future. So we can hopefully keep the best of the past and the present and create what we all need in the future.
Previous visitors have told us
“I miss The Anchor, I wish it could come back. But bigger and gold!” Anita
“I would like a slide to be made which goes from the roof of Deptford
Lounge and shoots you into the future” Nafeesa
“I love Well Beloved Butchers and I hope it is around 100 years from now,
and so does my dog” Mo
Take a look in our shed and help us imagine the future. Things are definitely going to improve. We have to imagine first…..
PS I have a robot dog. Found on Deptford Market. Not as good as my real dog, Lola, but you know, very future-y…..
Sorry for the delay between blogs- most of my time has been taken up with editing the childrens’ podcasts and making or finding sound effects (great fun), and getting everything ready for the Tea Party event last Saturday. Before I go on- want to say a massive thanks to Kathy and Gill at NXL, all their amazing volunteers, Raidene Carter who ended up being quiz mistress! Joe Gibson, Cathy Myers, (techies and photographers as well as amazing librarians), Vicky Foxcroft our MP who ended up making tea,and my friends and family who painstakingly picked up the paper “snow” I had thrown all over the floor! all the primary school teachers and pupils who came, and a big thanks to Deptford and New Cross residents who made the afternoon such messy fun….sorry in advance to anyone I have inevitably forgotten…
The stories the children wrote were fantastic, and were enjoyed by the 220 visitors we had during the event at New Cross Learning.
Next we will be burning CDs so that each of the children has a copy of all of the stories themselves- plus there will be more opportunities to listen if you didn’t make it along on Saturday. We also had the Deptford Quiz (with plant prizes from Brett on Deptford Market) , urban myths and legends from Deptford, and guest spots from Lydia, Freya and Issac.
Here’s the prep!
Here’s the room all ready for action
It all looks quite civilised eh? We even had scones and jam and cream dontcha know? The pop up museum was also set up, for people to look at during the event…
But then things got messy…. I always think it is a measure of how good a party is by how much mess there is left.. well there was a lot. Cathy Myers thankfully took all of the pictures in this blog, hence the amazing quality! Here are some to give you an idea of the afternoon:
This is officially the end of my time as Writer In Deptford.. but we still have loads of stuff coming: there will be a tour of each of the libraries of the work created this year so far, plus there are lots more interviews to come with local people, which I have been doing during the year, and now will have a bit more of a chance to edit, polish and post… plus there is loads more stuff coming from Hothouse, which is the longer term project that this was part of. To find out more about Hothouse go here
Lastly, just for today, below is one of the stories I wrote to perform at the Tea Party, hope you enjoy
The Secret of the Deptford Gold
This story is from a long time ago in Deptford, 1663 to be precise, when a man called John Evelyn had a great big house in Sayes Court with a beautiful garden. The hero of our story, Mr Magpie, loved to visit the garden that Mr Evelyn had made.
The magpie loved the summer days
He loved the sun and its warm rays
He dreaded feeling winters’ chill
It made him shiver and feel quite ill
Then one day when magpie was speshly cold
He peeked through a window and spied some gold
Solid gold coins locked in an old wooden chest
At the lady of the house’s behest
The gold coins gleamed and twinkled in his eye
At the sight of them he began to cry
“Those golden discs will replace the sun
and keep me warm till winters done”
So when the people in the house weren’t looking, Magpie snuck in by hopping through the open window, and he snapped the gold coins up in his strong beak and took them home
The magpies nest was soon a-glow
He paid no notice to the snow
And other birds gathered from afar
And sang by the moon and under the stars
But the people noticed the coins were gone
And fought and argued for so long
Blaming each other for the missing gold
Till no one was speaking so I’m told
The magpie knew that Christmas was near
But instead of the usual yuletide cheer
There were people sulking and angry with each other
And arguments between sisters and brothers
And he realised that he was to blame
And considered putting it back again
But then realised the gold had caused nothing but trouble
So he came up with another plan at the double
You see the magpie was a very clever fellow.
It was the gold made everyone argue and bellow,
Even though they just counted it and hid it in a chest.
So he let them see him carrying one golden coin away to his nest
“It’s the magpie what has the gold!” cried John Evelyn, quickly scribbling it down in his diary “DO NOT TRUST MAGPIES THEY ARE THIEVES”- and everyone gathered around the bottom of the magpie’s tree, and they saw the nest glowing with gold.
“I knew it wasn’t you cook” says the head gardener even though just the day before he’d shouted “no one should trust a person who mashes potatoes so furiously!”
And all the people stopped blaming each other for the missing gold and they dashed off to fetch a ladder to rescue the gold from the magpie’s nest, leaving the magpie to hatch the next part of his plan.
Now there is one creature in Deptford so clever and fast that no human being can ever catch up with her. And this creature is the fox. With this in mind, one at a time, the magpie transported the golden coins to the fox for safekeeping.
The fox hatched the perfect plan. Blink blink, she hid the gold coins behind her eyes, blink blink, and they’re gone. As if by magic.
Poor Mr Magpie took all the blame for this of course. People never trust magpies again, they say things like “the magpie has stolen my pants!” “The magpie has stolen my socks! My biro! My engagement ring” when really they have just been forgetful, and the magpie doesn’t really mind, he can be heard to say: “caw caw course it wasn’t me you nincompoops!”
And from that day on, all foxes, but especially Deptford foxes, carry gold in their eyes, sometimes the gold coins behind the eyes of the fox can be seen on clear cold winter nights, shining in the dark, safe and precious.
And some of the wisest people see that, and know that that’s the best place for gold, just out of reach, not to be spent but to be enjoyed as a beautiful thing, like sunshine, or the eyes of a magical fox, flickering like so many candles, or like a tiny piece of the sun in the deepest wintertime.
And to this day when you see a magpie you hear people say: One for sorrow two for joy three for a girl and four for a boy, five for silver, six for gold, seven for a secret never to be told!
And this is the secret the magpie never told-
The secret of the Deptford Gold
I’ve now done two of the three creative writing workshops for the libraries, and the ideas for a guidebook for Deptford are building up, as are the ideas for what shape it will take: a map which can be displayed on the wall? a fold up map like you get from a tourist information place? an actual guide-book? We’re still deciding, and it will depend on the gathered material and what suits it best. It is such an interesting time to be having these conversations in Deptford (sorry that the blogs have slowed down a little! I have been doing lots of interviews but it is hard to keep up with it all at the moment, so I promise they will all come in a flurry, there’s been some fabulous chats and stories )
My main recurring thoughts over the last few weeks have been connected to kindness and listening.
For the last five years since my project 366 Days Of Kindness I have thought about kindness more than any other subject, and in a wonderful and beneficial way it has influenced all of my work, and the outcomes of my work (and my life) But I have been glad to be reminded the last few weeks of the power and the kindness of taking time to listen to people, to actively listen rather than to just wait until they stop talking so that it is your turn to speak again! This has happened to me, because when you ask strangers what their favourite thing is about Deptford, as I have been doing, in all honesty their first answer isn’t usually the interesting one. The real magic happens when you stick with each other and have a conversation, a cuppa, share a piece of cake maybe. Then a generic “I like the market” turns into great story about the discovery of a new vegetable that happened one rainy Saturday morning when you spent time asking the stall holder what something was and how on earth you cook it, then you get the story of the cooking the recipe and the dinner party too. If you listen, you get a story, a real human connection.
We are all so busy. And when you say you’re busy people say “that’s good” like it is a marker of success or happiness, but I am not sure that it is. This last Saturday I spend one blissful hour speaking just one fantastic woman, and we wrote story each, sitting quietly side by side. When we parted we gave each other a hug. I would rather that any day than 100 rushed interactions. I truly felt like I had made a new friend
In the afternoon lots of folk in Deptford Lounge told me about the 999 club, and how much of a safety net it is for people in need, people spoke about the anchor and how it was missed as a place to meet friends and drink. I asked one woman where she drinks now and she said “outside the library now. but no one likes it”.
My friend said these people are the dispossessed and it’s an indication of our true compassion, how well we treat them. They can’t just disappear, if you “move them on” where will they go?
Other people said to me they don’t miss the anchor because of the drinkers but having spent plenty time with “the drinkers” they have stories to tell and they share them happily and easily if you listen and share yours too, happy and funny and wierd and crazy stories, just like we all have.
I’d just finished reading George Orwell’s “The Clergyman’s Daughter”and I was struck by the excerpt about how homeless people wait for the libraries to open and then shelter there, for warmth and safety, and also to read and look for jobs, and how this is an unspoken service of libraries, and not just homeless people take shelter there, but people whose homes aren’t warm or welcoming or safe. This was written in 1935 but the same could apply now, and with the closure of libraries, we are in danger of losing another communal public space that provides sanctuary. Kids doing their homework. Mums meeting other mums for tea and company. People doing research. People keeping warm. People trying to get a bit of peace and quiet.
Whilst I was having these conversations and thinking this, the campaigners, including children and pensioners, fighting to keep Carnegie Library in Lambeth open are due to be evicted by the council. You can read about them here .
Anyway, back to this Saturday just gone.So I met Stephen Thompson, he with a twinkle in his eye and his beautiful crinkly face.
This is one of the many stories he told me during the Saturday afternoon we spent together in the sunshine eating custard creams and talking about Deptford
“My Only Piece of Luck”
When he was a kid Stephen went swimming in Ladywell. He said his stepdad was a “vicious nasty cad who should’ve been in a psycho ward” who “beat me every day”.
It was a sunny day and his mum and step dad were out. They told him to stay put but he wanted to go swimming and he knew if they caught him swimming his stepdad would beat him, but he went anyway.
By accident a girl he was swimming with hit him in the back as she dove in, just mucking about, and he remembered “trying to reach the glass shelf after that, just trying to get my head above the water”
Then he was drowning. He saw a freeze frame in black and white of “everything what my life could’ve been, should’ve been or had been, projected from my third eye”
Next thing Stephen knew he woke up with worried attendants worried standing over him, asking him if he knew who he was. He was terrified about getting in trouble from his step dad so he didn’t tell anyone.
I have held that secret all my life, of what I saw. And that secret has changed the way I view life, because I have died and survived. which has been the only luck in my life so far. I couldn’t read or write, I had a stammer after that, caused by the drowning, but I knew I was lucky because I had died and come back to life
All afternoon with Stephen and others, we spoke about what is lost, what is gained, about good luck and bad luck and kindness, and Deptford. Stephen told that the expression “chip on your shoulder” originates in Deptford: they would leave chips of wood on the floor in the Dockyard and you’d take them if you were skint, for fires, and they’d say you’ve left with a chip on your shoulder.
I was very grateful to be reminded of the simplicity of just listening and letting people speak. Some people speak because it is unusual for anyone to give them any time to speak. Last week my friend, who is also homeless, told me that since she had left school that no one had asked her opinion anything, until I asked her what she thought of the changes in Deptford.
I hope we will come back to this: a realisation that it isn’t always “brilliant” to be busy, that if we’re always looking at screens we can miss the sunset, or a flock of birds, or a friend passing by, that if we are always in a rush we might miss a really good story. That it is a kindness just to listen, to the person talking and to yourself, because you might be missing something wonderful.
Once again I remember this quote by the brilliant writer Ben Okri, about the connection between empathy and stories.
Stories can conquer fear you know. They can make the heart bigger.
Next Saturday 23rd I will be at New Cross Learning all day collecting and listening to stories about Deptford, things we love, things we have lost, things we hope for. But I’m sure this is just the beginning and I am definitely going to keep listening and talking and telling stories for as long as I am here.
This week I have been preparing for the coming workshops at Pepys Library, New Cross Library and Deptford Lounge. I’m really looking forward to drinking tea and eating cake and meeting people, and if you are able to come, there’s lots of stuff to look at, photos and memorabilia from Deptford (a sort-of, very mini museum), plus music to listen to from 80s record label Deptford Fun City (Squeeze etc) and the more recent Deptford Goth (there will be a “We Are Deptford” playlist on Spotify from the end of April). Oh, and we’ll be making a start on our stories.
Here are dates venues and times:
10.30-12 midday- short story writing workshop with tea and cake (16+)
1pm-5pm- drop in sessions to create a guide-book for Deptford see your words and images in print (all ages)
Dates and locations:
Sat 9th April : Pepys Community Library, Deptford Strand, SE8 3BA
Sat 16th April: Deptford Lounge, 9 Giffin Street, SE8 4RJ
Sat 23rd April: New Cross Library, 283 285 New Cross Road, SE14 6AS
In the afternoon as it says above, there’s a more casual drop in workshop, making a guide-book for Deptford written by participants and also creating a map charting how we all made our journeys here whether it be the 47 bus from Catford or all the way from the other side of the world
If you’d like to join in but can’t make the dates or times, you can email me at WeAreDeptford@hotmail.com, answering these questions:
What do you love about Deptford? (what would you recommend to someone just getting here)
How did you get here? (all the places, if any, you lived before you got to Deptford and what brought you here?)
In the spirit of story telling, and urban myths, and fact mixed with fiction, below is a short story I wrote about the now sadly departed Paradise Bar. It is in part about Elvis, and I’d like to give a nod here to Paul Elvis Chan, no doubt still alive and kicking somewhere else, but I believe his Elvis Graceland Palace on the Old Kent Road closed around 2006. He sang to me on my birthday years ago and it was fantastic.
Anyway, a story. To my old drinking buddies, and Elvi (is that the plural?) everywhere. See you all at the weekend I hope….
The Paradise Bar was on New Cross Road in South East London. I think next door there was a place called the Hot Chicken Shack; the other side was the Golden Dragon Chinese takeaway, but I can’t be sure. I paid more attention to the Paradise Bar itself and had some great times there. It was close enough so I could walk home, and the drinks were cheap.
Anyway, on the twentieth anniversary of his tragi-comic death, the Paradise Bar had an Elvis night. I had been brought up on Elvis, my mum had a mirror with his faced etched over in her hallway, she had drinks coasters with his face on and an Elvis CD collection she’d ordered from Reader’s Digest years ago. I had a snow globe with Elvis in it playing a ukulele. I’d never even been to Hawaii, but I had seen Elvis in the film Blue Hawaii twelve times.
I went to Elvis night with my friend Karen. I went as “leather-clad-come-back” Elvis, Karen came as “gold-suit-but-still-sexy” Elvis. She had made a foot long ham, chocolate and banana baguette. I had made her sideboards out of fake fur with double-sided sticky tape, we had quiffs, and we curled our lips. We started drinking two- for-one-cocktails called Rockahulas. We had three rounds of these, then Karen said “I feel sick” and she went to the toilet. I thought wouldn’t it be ironic if she died on the toilet in her Elvis costume, but I wasn’t really worried about her, I knew she’d be ok.
I stayed at the bar because I loved watching the different Elvis “dancing with his pelvis” impressions, and I liked thinking about how I was going to get discovered any moment now for being a genius. This is how I passed my time back then, daydreaming I’d get famous just by hanging around, somehow. I hadn’t worked out the details.This thought comforted me and prevented me from doing anything constructive, like working or having ideas. But it was ok because I was happy.
Whilst I was watching and thinking about being famous, the DJ was playing Jailhouse Rock. Next to me was this old fella, singing along but getting the words wrong. He sang to me: “You’re sure the cutest jail-bird I ever did see, come on and do the jail house rock with me” and I said: Let’s rock!” and we both laughed. He had a yellow dress shirt on and beige slacks. It wasn’t really an Elvisy look. He said “How you doing?” I said, “I love Elvis” which was a bit obvious but I didn’t know what else to say. “What’s your name?” he asked, in a southern drawl. “Elvis” I said “That’s a man’s name” he said “Elvisina” I said, then I asked him: “What’s yours?”
“Can you keep a secret?” he asked. He looked over his shoulder conspiratorially; looked back at me, winked.
“Yes. I love secrets,” I said
“I am Elvis.”
I started backing away from him a little.
“No I am, I really am. I faked it: the toilet, the choking, the cocktail of drugs, and the premature death. I was sick of Vegas, sick of the same old songs, I couldn’t see a way out. Then Marilyn got in touch with me and told me what she did, how she dyed her hair red and opened a bakery in Amsterdam. I still see her sometimes. We get together at lookalike events, tribute nights, that kind of thing. It’s great to be anonymous. I got a dog; I got a flat on the Old Kent Road. I teach ukulele to kids in Spitalfields. “
“You are brilliant.” I grinned, pleased to meet a good old-fashioned British eccentric.
“Anyhow, gotta go. I’m meeting Kurt Cobain at the Colony room. Everyone’s so wasted in there they never notice us. Oh, by the way. You need to start living. Do something creative. You’ve got a great imagination.” He slid the remainder of his ‘Wooden Heart Whiskey’ cocktail over to me. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Karen staggering out of the ladies. “Tell her Elvis has left the building”. he said, and then he dashed off. I jumped up to run after him, I didn’t want him to get away, I wanted to know what he meant, what should I do, how could I start? As I got up I tripped over something.
“What’s that?” slurred Karen, appearing at my elbow.
“It’s a blue suede shoe.” I gasped.
“I won’t step on it” she smiled.
That night I persuaded her to leave early, as I decided it was about time I got out of bed before noon.
I still have the shoe, and I’ve looked out for Elvis every day since then, but I’ve never seen him. I learned to play the ukulele in Spitalfields but to my great disappointment, it wasn’t Elvis that taught the lessons, but a nice man called Matthew with a massive beard. I asked him if he was Bob Dylan but he said he wasn’t and gave me a wierd look.
Last year Karen and I made it to Hawaii, and whilst we were away, the Paradise Bar closed down. I miss it. I say to people “do you remember the Paradise Bar?” and then I say “I wish I went more, when it was there”.
Just before Easter I finished a month of workshops at local schools. We imagined creating a time machine and visiting Deptford in Victorian times, seeing what life was like for local children then, playing games like they did, finding out what food they ate, singing songs they sang, and discovering our Victorian names. (We played “Hunt The Slipper” with my great-grandma’s shoe, which weirdly smelled of coffee.)
We also travelled to 100 years in the future and imagined the same.
We looked at lots of Thankfull Sturdee photographs (a local Deptford photographer) but settled on this one of a classroom as inspiration for the Victorian part of our stories:
The future, it turns out, is much easier to write about than the past.
Without exception the children imagined Utopian futures, where no one had to work and there was no war, but there were talking animals, round houses that clean themselves and flying trainers.All of them were looking forward to and hopeful about the future.
They even managed to make the best of a SE London past filled with workhouses and orphanages and “yucky soup made out of bones and cabbages”. Their optimism and their endless imagined schemes to escape prison was an inspiration (often, in their stories, Queen Victoria put them in prison, the meanie)
We talked about how many people lived in small spaces, sharing beds and going hungry.
We talked about chimney sweeps, and match girls and gut girls, the schools in Deptford where children were prepared for a life in service and discussed whether that was preferable to the other available jobs, in factories and in sewers. We discussed the hours worked and duties expected of parlourmaids and other servants, we talked about how maybe poor parents wouldn’t want their children to go to school, either because they couldn’t afford it (most schools charged a fee) or even if the schools were free, wouldn’t want them to go as it was one less person bringing a wage in. We talked about how dangerous some of the jobs were, especially for girls down the docks, and how the Deptford Fund was founded to help them secure employment away from the dangerous local trades in the slaughterhouses.
The Deptford Fund- a very short introduction
A few points for those who don’t know: there were many neglected children on the streets of Deptford in those times, and a lot of poverty and hardship in general. On the 8th June 1894, a public meeting was held in a church hall nearby to found The Deptford Fund, by a group of philanthropically minded people, who wanted to improve the plight of Deptford’s community, many of whom suffered from poverty,deprivation and the adverse effects of unemployment as a result of the closure of the docks in 1869.The fund provided food to the sick and poor (serving 30 000 people by 1910) and in 1899 a permanent home was found for the fund: The Albany Institute, opened by the Duchess of Albany, Queen Victoria’s daughter-in-law.
The Deptford Fund provided financial support for local charitable enterprises, and supported the poor in the community. It eventually became the Albany Theatre, and I will write more about that later on, as well as the revolutionary spirit of this part of London that runs like a scarlet thread throughout it’s history.
There are criticisms too of the work of the Deptford Fund, as it aimed to remove girls from the fun they had working in the docks to retrain them as passive servants for the gentlefolk of Kent; and of the questionable intentions of some of those behind this charitable enterprise (seeking to squash the rebellious spirits of striking dockers and the rumbling malcontent of the working classes, perhaps?)
After all, lawks, there was a lot going on back then:
..in the Jubilee Year, the Scottish Labour activist James Keir Hardie dismissed Victoria and her large family as parasites; and waves of industrial unrest rippled across London’s docklands. Deptford was particularly prone to extreme Godlessness and political passions… tens of thousands attend no place of worship..Atheism, secularism and socialism abound…
Quote from the wonderful “The Secret History of Our Streets” which you can buy here
Whilst I was discovering Deptford’s revolutionary spirit (more of that in later blogs) I continued to discuss with the children the lives of their predecessors.They were fairly certain they didn’t like Queen Victoria much, although I did try to point out some of her good points (she was only 18 when she became Queen so she probably wasn’t sure what she was doing, her husband died when he was only 42 and she was sad for a long time afterwards….erm… she liked curry…probably?)
I’d shown them a picture of Queen Victoria pretty early on and asked what they thought she looked like: they said “Queenly”, “grumpy”, “greedy”, “sad”, “sulky” and “mean”. Once we explored a bit more about the sort of work Victorian children often had to do she became even less popular.
They wrote their stories. We recorded them and they chose and created sound effects including:the sound of a cupboard travelling faster than the speed of light, horses running away from workhouse bosses, a busy market at which everyone is selling apples or cows, someone landing in a sewer, Queen Victoria laughing, rats singing, and what it sounds like in outer space. I am editing them slowly now, and I think the podcasts I post will speak for themselves. But as a taster, and as a reminder of the rebellious spirit still present in Deptford, here is an excerpt of one of the stories,and here are some of the authors:
The Mysterious Janitors Closet
the story so far… after travelling back in time via a time machine disguised as a janitor’s closet, four friends get the chance to ask Queen Victoria a few questions. To protect the anonymity of the writers, in case any of her relatives read this and get angry, I have replaced names with initials.
I: “How did you become Queen?”
Queen Victoria: “ I was born royal, due to my parents past”
G: Do you think it is appropriate for children under age to be working for at least 10 hours?”
Queen Victoria: “I do care a lot about the poor children but there is nothing I can do about it”
V: “How much do you like England?”
Queen Victoria: “I love England because it is my home”
L: “What do you think you could do for our country?”
Queen Victoria: “ Oh nothing much”
V: “You fat lazy pathetic beast of a Queen, at this rate nothing will get done”
G: “Why are you so lazy and putting labour on children?”
L: “Think about the poor. You selfish Queen”
Queen Victoria’s guard: “You deserve to be locked up!”
All the children: “NOOOOOO!”
The children get put in prison….
…but don’t worry, thanks to Thankfull Sturdee and time travel, there is a happy ending. But you’ll have to wait to listen to the podcast to hear the full story…
Many great things happened during my time in the schools, but a few stuck with me: a girl telling me she had given her dad ” all my savings” as “if I didn’t we’d be hungry, and that is what a family has to do, to stick together” and the little boy who didn’t speak all month who on the last day wished me a “Happy Easter” and of the girl who spent two weeks writing a whole book and then gave it to me as a present. Plus I got a spiderman Easter Egg on the last day, so I was made up. I’m looking forward to seeing them all again so much.
In the meantime, I would say, a utopian future seems much more likely to me, now I know these children aren’t scared of standing up to Queens, when the Queens are mean and “get fat whilst children get thin”.
I’m glad that this lot are our future.I am mindful of how close in some ways we are to those times now, with the gap between the poorest and the richest getting bigger and bigger. And yet, from those dark days came much good. So there’s hope. There’s always hope.
Coming up: oral history from Alloa and Trundleys Road…..