I have just read an extremely interesting book, Negroland  a memoir by Margo Jefferson.  Margo was brought up in Chicago and it reminded me that President Obama and his wife Michelle started their working lives together in that city. I wanted to discover more about Chicago.  To my chagrin I’ve recently discovered how little I know about many things, in particular about the USA.  I’ve been reading on my kindle the memoirs of people who were once slaves;  Sojourner Truth, Mary Prince, Booker T Washington and W E B Du Bois.  Their experiences have considerable differences depending on where they lived and whether they lived before the abolition of slavery in 1865 or afterwards.

    I’m very interested in the memoirs of people who grew up at roughly the same time as I did in very different places.  I must confess Margo is nine years younger than me, she was born in 1947.  She is a Pulitzer prize winning critic and a Professor and she writes elegant, vivid prose.  Reading her book in bed I only stopped when I fell asleep and knew it was time to close the book and put it and my glasses on the bedside table. (By the way I paid 60p. for this new book and my local library paid the rest, a pretty good deal I think)  She describes very clearly her family’s life as part of the professional black middle class living in a mainly white middle class area; the constraints on behaviour and the high expectations of her parents.

     I’m also reading, “Estates  An Intimate History” by the English author Lynsey  Hanley.  She is writing about family life in the 1970s and 80s in a council estate on the edge of Birmingham.  Her family she describes as working class, there is one word which looms large in her account RESPECTABLE.  Although the Working Class is frequently written about as one monolithic group she points out several sub-divisions: the skilled working class, the respectable working class in regular employment and those in intermittent employment struggling on a daily basis to get by.  this of course is an ever increasing sub-division in the twenty-first century, zero hours contracts and below the minimum rates of pay.  I too was brought up on a council estate, fortunately at a time when opportunities were in an expansive phase in the 1950s and 60s.  Estates is a combination of personal history and the wider social and economic changes taking place at that time.

    The present is a period of contraction or as the government refers to it Austerity.  Fewer jobs, increased debt and houses at fantastical prices.






Time is a very strange thing, contrary to scientific thinking it does not pass in the same regular fashion.  In the early hours of the morning the minutes pass so slowly they seem like hours, time almost seems to stop.  Yet round about breakfast time, say eight o’clock, the hours speed up and suddenly its noon and half my morning jobs; stacking the dish-washer, making the bed, throwing the laundry into the machine are still not more than half done.  If I sit for a moment with a cup of coffee I think of the years that have raced away and suddenly I’m a Pensioner, how did it happen?

Now you and I know pensioners are frail, decrepit people, who can’t take a selfie, don’t understand that emails and texts are absolutely the first thing you must look at every morning and keep on looking at every few minutes in case something should happen to someone in your class.  Pensioners don’t understand the internet, for goodness sake they still post letters with a stamp on.  They can’t stand up straight, their knees are wobbly, their hips have to be replaced by bits of metal and they have horrible dried wrinkly skin.  Some of this is very close to home but I’m not going to tell you which.  On the other hand I can still walk and talk, not exactly ‘a living doll’, no someone who is shocked at the mess we are making for our children and grandchildren.  We didn’t understand that personal satisfaction is not the whole of life and society does actually form an important part of all our lives.  The changes in everyday life arrive with astonishing speed, many adding to our enjoyment but uncontrollable greed democracies have still not learned to deal with.


I feel honoured, I watched and listened to a brilliant life-enhancing lecture by Professor David Eagleman on the brain.  I didn’t have to travel by road or rail or aeroplane, I simply switched on the television set in my living room.  Would it have been exciting to be in the same room as the young and energetic Professor, you’d better believe it.  But to see him at a distance, hear his clear explanations and follow the lecture was thrilling.  I speak as a non-scientist, he lead me very gently to a better understanding of how the brain works independently of our conscious thinking.

Isn’t it wonderful I don’t have to go to Oxford, Yale, Harvard or Houston, I can invite the greatest minds into my living room, I don’t even have to worry if the place is neat and tidy.  I think the programmes were made for Public Service Broadcasting in the USA and then shown on the BBC in Britain.  Eagleman explained how much we all need each other, we are above everything social animals. I was cheered up, the news is so full of the dreadful things we continue to do to each other but it really doesn’t have to be this way. 


This morning I listened to the Book of the Week, Margo Jefferson’s  ” Negroland”.  This book is written from two different view-points, the view of the child Margo as she lived it and the adult view of the woman who can put her understanding of a wider society and is able to step back from her own experiences and explain her parents behaviour to her younger self.  This book is elegantly written  and had a powerful impact on me.  There are significant differences as well as considerable points of similarity in our stories.

   Margo grew up in Chicago in the 1950s, I grew up in Sunderland also in the 1950s.  Margo grew up in a middle class prosperous household, I grew up in a poor working class home.  We both had parents who wanted the best for us.  Margo is black and I am white.  We had no television set as a child, we listened to the radio.  I was an early member of the library and my greatest pleasure was reading books and listening to the radio.  I lived in a modern house with a bathroom, it was equipped with hot water and electricity, I shared a bedroom with my younger sister.  Every school day I caught a bus to take me into town, then in town I got on a second bus to take me to the school. I had a free pass so my journey didn’t cost me anything.  I had a school dinner which was the part of the day I liked least.  It was a state school so my parents had nothing to pay.  I liked most of the lessons, two I didn’t like were mathematics and sewing

    At the time I didn’t realise that in fact I was a very lucky girl, many girls in other parts of the world do not get the chance to go to school and some are married off while they are still children.



The Media.

I have more time to myself these days, I think some call it ’empty nest syndrome’.  I enjoy films, books, TV and radio, sometimes I review items, programmes, articles which particularly catch my attention.  I also turn my attention to the political system in the UK, I nearly said political chaos.  That might be an exaggeration, although not much.  I am indeed one of those fortunate people, a pampered pensioner.  My views on everything are very definite, although I am open to persuasion .

    I find it surprising that parts of my life are now in the history syllabus, nonetheless I’m still a living breathing person.  You may think you have nothing in common with me and you may be absolutely right.  My aim is to; inform, educate and entertain (have I heard that expression somewhere?)


The News can be pretty depressing, war, poverty and cruelty, actually all three are pretty closely linked.  But it isn’t all gloom and doom, in the last few days I saw something which really cheered me up.  The first was programme about deaf children and sign language (BSL).  I love the sound of the human voice, lots of different voices and I have been know to get carried away by the sound of my own voice.  Communicating with others is such an important part of being human, social animals and all that.  To be unable to hear would be a terrible diminution of life.  These lively happy children were communicating with sign language, it seems sign language represents whole words, meanings can be slightly different depending on the situation they appear in.  Amazingly medical experts can discover if a new born baby is hearing or not.  Hearing aids can be fitted to babies.  We saw in the programme a team of deaf football players, they didn’t win the trophy but they were in fact all winners.

    Later I looked on Youtube and saw a young girl, funny and clever and very well organised explaining BSL very clearly.  She has made several of these videos, in one of them she explained that she is herself deaf and has had modern hearing aids fitted.  Her speech was clear with a lovely sound.  She looked I think about seventeen, a very admirable young woman.  Sorry I can’t find the actual link, there are lots of videos about American and British Sign Language on Youtube.

    Life can be wonderful when we can help each other.