Wednesday, 29 October 2014
Shoot me down on this one but here goes: I very much enjoyed the Guardian's page on diversity in children's books. We need as much information circulating about these. I also think there is an urgency about this with a resurgent right focussing as it does on what they call 'immigration' linked to a general xenophobia. So what is 'diversity'? This is where I think there is a serious discussion to be had. Diversity must mean more than 'black' or more than 'black and Asian'. This is to do favours to everyone. Of course 'people of colour' have experienced (and are still experiencing) in the most recent period serious prejudice, discrimination, violence, intentional and institutional racism.
However, 'diversity' as a term should not be a 'cover' or an alternative for dealing with these issues of racism. If we (or anyone else) is going to use the term 'diversity' then that's what it should be: a reflection on how in a given space (let's say 'UK" for the moment) we are diverse. Diversity has to encompass every possible sense of the ways in which we are diverse.
Now to the egocentric part of that. I am what, (I gather from my own children from what they've been told at school), is being termed 'ethnically Jewish or jewish'. I can live with that. So how is that part of diversity being reflected in lists of 'diversity'. I find that inevitably, 'ethnic jewishness' mostly gets to be defined in terms of the Holocaust. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm very much in favour of the Holocaust being treated in children's books. But the Holocaust is ultimately not a 'Jewish question' it's a humanity question. It wasn't actually caused by Jews. Admittedly, it has become a matter of enormous concern to Jews - of course - but apart from experts, it isn't necessarily how we lead our lives. So, yes, a big welcome to books about the Holocaust but in terms of diversity, it's a bit offbeam to say that that is a 'sufficient' description.
So, what in terms of 'diversity' am I talking about? Well, for several centuries Jews have lived in Britain being diverse themselves, arriving from very different parts of the world, speaking different languages, eating different foods etc etc….and in terms of children's daily lives, doing a wide variety of things. I know of one tiny part of that - i.e. a way of going on of highly politicised 'Ostjuden' (Jews from Eastern Europe) who arrived in Britain at the end of the 19th century retaining, as my children tell me, some ethnic markers, whilst participating in many of the institutions of the locality or country - in my case London. Though I'm touched by the Holocaust through my father's side of the family and have indeed written about it a good few times, particularly when thinking about racism, resistance and persecution, this hasn't been the only or the main definer of my life.
So this is a very longwinded way of saying that 'diversity' should reflect ways in which people lead their lives. I didn't mean this to apply just to a reflection on 'ethnic Jews' but to all members of all communities. That's to say, it's the "normality of difference" that needs to be celebrated and not just a people's moments of injustice and persecution, no matter how powerful and necessary these are too.
Again, of course, many people of African origin have said this in relation to the slave trade. I hear, for example, that of course this has to be recorded, documented, marked, but in terms of lives lived now, it's not what is going on. As I say, diversity is a slightly different matter, it is about the 'normality of difference'.
I suspect that in the coming months and years we will have to struggle as much for this 'normality of difference' as we do for the reminders about persecution and injustice. Not 'instead of' or 'more than' or 'less than' - but 'as well as'.
We were on a road between two towns and a sign
came up by the side of the road. `It was a picture
of a stag. I’ve always understood that this means
that as you’re driving along a stag could jump out
on to the road. You could hit a stag. Or a stag could
hit you. And maybe the stag would be with other
deer. They could all hit your car. First the stag would
hit it - voom. And then the others - voom voom voom.
We looked into the woods to see if we could see
any. It was raining, so we reckoned that they would
be sheltering under the trees. Or lying under the
bracken. It was autumn so everything was turning
yellow, brown and dark green. If the stag and deer
were in there, they’d be hard to see. If they came
out and did that voom voom voom thing, you wouldn’t
get much notice. In between the woods, there were
open parts, clearings. There was gorse. Again, no
deer. A few cows. A few ponies. Then it was back to
woods: silver birch, oak, beech. As we came round a
corner, I looked again into the woods and saw
something which for a moment looked like a group
or herd of something - a bit grey, a bit brown. Not
deer though. It was jackets. They were hanging from
the trees. Maybe twenty or thirty of them. Damp from
the rain, so they were still. Not that there was any
Sunday, 26 October 2014
Sometime after my father died, my step-mother came
over with a small plastic pot. One of the things in it was
a brass brooch of a miner’s lamp. I had never seen it
before. I went online to see what it was. I found out
that they were sold by the miners’ union during and
after the General Strike of 1926. It was to help the
miners’ families who were starving. I remembered from
when I was a boy, my father saying that he could
remember the General Strike from when he was 7.
Something about a type-writer being thrown over a wall.
He hadn’t ever mentioned the brooch. It must have
been his mother’s. He didn’t know his father. He was
in the US. He, his sister and his mother didn’t live
near any pits and coalfields. They lived in Whitechapel,
in east London. In a house with 6 or 7 others. He said
he shared a bedroom with his Uncle Sam. They didn’t
talk to each other he said. Sam had spoiled a cap my father
had been bought on Petticoat Lane. I asked him who
turned the bedroom light out? Neither of us, he said. They
had candles, not lights. I remember his mother. He called
her ‘Ma’. I didn’t know then that she had had a baby who
died. Or that her father and mother came from Poland. I
don’t know if anyone in the house knew any miners. My
father said that sometimes sailors used to come to the
house. He remembered a sailor who came from Jamaica.
Saturday, 25 October 2014
I was in the barber. When the barber had finished
cutting my hair, I got up and looked down at the
metal plate where my feet were, it was the metal
plate joined to the chair I had been sitting in. The
writing on the plate, said, ‘UTOPIA’. I put my jacket
on and stood at the bus stop. I wondered if I had
just been sitting in Utopia. Was that where I was?
Had I just had a moment in part of a perfect
society? I thought about what it had just been like.
Someone was cutting my hair. He comes from
Turkey. He used scissors. He also cut my beard.
He did that with an electric beard-trimmer. He
also blew some hot wet air into my face. It came
from a hot wet air machine. When it was all over
I gave him some money. Then I saw the sign on
the chair. So far, this didn’t sound like Utopia. Not
like a whole vision of the best possible society. I
was just sitting in a chair and someone was cutting
bits of hair off my head. Unless that’s what Utopia
is: people sitting in chairs having their hair cut.
And their face steamed. Then getting up and
standing at the bus stop. Actually, there were
some other things. They gave me a cup of coffee.
The young man who made it was learning
English. And learning how to cut hair. And there
were some newspapers on the table before I had
my haircut. I read them. And there were some other
people there. We talked a bit. That was before the
haircut. And, like I said, after the haircut, I waited
at the bus stop. Not for long. A bus came along
Friday, 24 October 2014
I opened up a packet of bread the other day,
took out a slice and as I put the butter on I
noticed that there was a hair in the bread. Not
on the slice. It was in the bread. It wasn’t
very long. I didn’t fancy eating it, so I put the
slice back in the packet and put the packet
in the bin. In the morning, I was looking around
for something to eat for breakfast, and I didn’t
have anything in, so I thought, ah, maybe I
could fish that loaf out of the bin, pull the
slice with the hair in it out of the packet and
maybe eat one of the other slices. So I got
it out the bin, opened up the packet and the slice
that had the hair in was on the top. Now
it had several hairs. I looked closely at it and
I could see that the hair was growing out of the
bread. This wasn’t mould. I know what that hairy
mould looks like. This was hair. It was a browny
colour with little blonde touches. I put it back in
the bin and went off to work. When I came back
from work, I got the packet out again and
sure enough, it had grown more hair. Now there
was enough hair to make it look like it was the top
of someone’s head. All growing out of one slice.
It even had a parting. Then, without knowing
why, I picked up this slice with the hair on it
and started to eat it. I was right about the hair.
It was hair. The bread had changed though. It
didn’t really taste like bread. More like something
made out of walnut. I ate it and pulled the hair out
of my mouth. It wasn’t really hairy. More furry than
Thursday, 23 October 2014
I noticed that there have been some improvements
at the station I use: streamlining of services.
A couple of years ago they figured out that we don’t
need indicator boards which tell you of every single
station the trains go to. All they needed to do was
put up the names of the last station on the line. This
meant that getting a train became an interesting kind
of guesswork. Would the train to Bigtown stop at
Littletown? Or would the train to Redtown be the
right one for Littletown? It was great. You could stand
on the wrong platform at the right time. Or the right
platform at the wrong time. Or the wrong platform at
the wrong time.
Then, they figured out that the indicator board thing
was a luxury. So they did away with them. Now, You
arrive at the station and guess which train might be
yours. Sometimes, you can wait on one platform, a
train comes in on another. You think it might be yours.
You dash along your platform, down the stairs, along
a tunnel, up some stairs on to the other platform, the
train is leaving. You dash back down the stairs, along
the tunnel, up the stairs, back to the platform you were
on in the first place.
Other people get up in the morning and think, I wonder
where I’ll go today? They head to the station and just get
on any train that looks like a train they might want to get
There was a cucumber in the lost property office.
It was found near the ticket barrier at the station.
No one came in to say it was theirs. The cucumber
sat on the shelf. It started to go soft. But still no
one came. Then it started to flatten out and go
mushy. The skin stayed more or less the same.
A bit wrinkly but still like a cucumber skin.Inside
the cucumber became goo. It was smelling quite
strong. A fruity earthy smell. After a bit more time,
it started going dark grey. And fruit flies flew around it.
Then, about six months after the cucumber was
put in the lost property office, a man came in and
said, ‘Have you got a cucumber?’
The lost property office assistant said, ‘I’ll have
a look in the book.’
He got the book out and it said, ‘Cucumber.’
‘Can I ask you where you think you lost the
cucumber?’ he said.
The man said, ‘No, I’m sorry. I got on the train,
got off the train and went home. When I got home
I looked in my bag and the cucumber was gone.’
‘Can you tell me which station you got on at, and
which station you got off at?’
‘Well, my problem is that I got on and off at quite
a few stations that day,’ said the man, ‘and I can’t
remember them all. You see I deliver stuff for
‘Do you deliver cucumbers?’ said the assistant.
‘No,’ said the man, ‘the cucumber was for me
‘Can you describe the cucumber?’ said the
‘It was green,’ said the man.
‘If I said to you,’ said the assistant, ‘that this
cucumber was found at a ticket barrier, do you
think you could tell me which ticket barrier that
might have been? You see we have to make sure
that people don’t come in here and claim things
that don’t belong to them. You might come in
here and say that you lost a gold watch. I can’t
hand you a gold watch, just because you say
you lost one.’
‘I haven’t lost a gold watch,’ said the man.
‘I didn’t say that you did,’ said the assistant.
‘I lost a cucumber,’ said the man.
‘So you say,’ said the assistant.
‘Can I ask you if anyone has come in here and
handed in a cucumber?’ said the man.
‘I can tell you that someone has indeed come in
here and handed in a cucumber.’
‘That’ll be mine,’ said the man.
‘No,’ said the assistant, ‘what you don’t know is
whether many people have come in here
and handed in cucumbers, in which case we
would have the problem of finding out which of
the many cucumbers belongs to you.’
‘Have many people come in here and handed
in cucumbers?’ said the man.
‘No,’ said the assistant.
‘Well, that one lone cucumber must be mine,’
said the man.
‘Not necessarily,’ said the assistant, ‘someone
else could have lost a cucumber and it’s their
cucumber that was handed in.’
‘Oh, yes,’ said the man, ‘I didn’t think of that.’
‘Well,’ said the assistant, ‘if you can’t think
where you might have left the cucumber, I’m
afraid I can’t give you the cucumber that we’ve
got here in the lost property office.’
‘OK, fair enough,’ said the man, ‘thanks very
much for your help.’