Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Big day in the US, ordinary day in London

Part of a series of drawings of random domestic scenes

As I write this the good people of the United States are queuing to vote for their new president and I'm following events on BBC24 which is analysing every blessed thing just to fill up the time. I've watched, again, Barak Obama vote (for himself) and seen Sarah Palin's denim clad legs in the voting booth while she voted for herself: it seems that John McCain managed to dodge the cameras as he arrived to vote (I'm assuming for himself). I'm hoping that Barak Obama will win because I have found George Bush's presidency extremely disturbing over the last eight years and I hope for all our sakes that Obama will be a more enlightened president than the outgoing one. And of course it will also be historic to have the first black president of the US.

So what have I done today since I didn't have any good reason for getting up at 6am? Well, I stayed in bed for a start and got up at a civilised hour. I've been working at home for the last couple of weeks and that's included doing a series of pen and ink drawings of random domestic scenes around the house plus building a website. I'm not very experienced at website design yet so I get stuck trying to understand html and css and stuff fairly frequently. That happened yesterday so in the afternoon I took myself off to Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green, that great refuge from the rain and yes, it was raining again. My reason for going was that I fancied a walk so wasn't all that bothered by what I might see when I got there. On arrival I was rather tickled to spy in the foyer a modest exhibition of black and white photographs of Edwardian Outdoor Games by Andrew Pitcairn-Knowles.

Evidently the V&A own Pitcairn-Knowles glass negatives and I presume they were just stored away gathering dust in the archives so someone must have decided to haul some negatives out and make prints from them. They've been done on an ink jet printer: we have one of those at home. What I liked most about this small display, besides the charming images, was that Pitcairn-Knowles employed the latest in photographic technology in 1900 and here we are 100 years later reproducing those same images using technology which is common to us today. I also liked the way that a large national museum like the V&A thinks it is worth producing a small exhibition which will be of interest to a small number of people-it makes such a change to the big blockbuster exhibitions crammed with visitors. So that got a big commendation from me.

This afternoon I again got stuck with the website while trying to style up a form and gave up in disgust. So needing to get out of the house I mooched off to Hackney Public Library and popped into the very small museum they have there. (I would have put a link to the museum's website but it is really boring.) Apparently the Saxons were responsible for establishing Hackney way back in the dim and distant past but I was more interested in a temporary exhibition on the right hand side as you go in called Living under one roof-Windrush and beyond. It is part of Black History Month which oddly enough lasts for nearly two months! The exhibition takes its name from the ship called the Windrush that arrived at Tilbury docks on 22 June 1948 bringing with her many young men and some young women from the Caribbean who arrived in search of jobs and a better life. This was an important landmark in the history of modern Britain.

On arrival the new migrants encountered racism, conflict and discrimination in a cold, damp country that was still impoverished after WWII: not surprisingly they often felt homesick. They were frequently excluded from the social and economic life around them so in time they adjusted the institutions they brought with them, for example sitting rooms were often used for church services, and at the same time they began to participate in institutions to which they did have access like trade unions and bit by bit over the decades modern Britain emerged. The lives of some of the people who finally pitched up in Hackney, who are by now very elderly, are described in room sets. There is the kitchen, the sitting room and the bedroom and many of the items of furniture and family photos have been provided by the men and women whose lives are being described. I was born in west London in 1956 where many black people settled and I loved looking at these rooms today because they took me back to my childhood. The bent kettle looked familiar as did the gas cooker and the copy of Woman's Realm on the coffe table. The family photos and kid's school satchel lying on the floor in the bedroom, the bedspread and the rug on the floor. I know all these things, I've used all of them in my time. So today I feel I have learnt a bit more about the Windrush generation and I'm grateful to them for establishing the multicultural London I so enjoy living in 60 years later.