Apposite. A shoe story.

When you have lived in different places it is almost as if you can never unlive those experiences and you become almost spiritually homeless. It isn’t so much about not belonging as belonging to more than one place. When we went to New Zealand we suffered huge culture shock at the beginning but then became assimilated and the reverse culture shock when we returned to the UK more than 10 years later which was just as punishing. What was suddenly glaringly apparent was that anyone who had never lived in another country with another culture had no real concept that in other places there might be other ways of doing things that are almost opposite and yet apposite and make perfect sense if you are in the other persons place and shoes.

In fact shoes are a prime example.

We arrived in Whanagrei in the early summer of 2006, and the first thing I noticed as we drove through the centre of town and along the main street was that the children were barefoot, they weren’t wearing any shoes. You have to remember that we had never visited NZ, and I had engineered all of our migration from the living room of our detached house in the Isle of Man with the aid of my trusty computer. All my assumptions about Whangerei were based on what I knew of towns of that size based on my exisitng experience of the UK, US and Europe and a little bit of applied logic. Shoes had never entered my head, I had never studied shoes. My first thought and reaction was- Oh no they must be poor. I have brought my family to a poor place where they can’t afford shoes.

My knowledge of shoe habits was entirely linked to my own poor range of experience and my very working class roots where shoes were actually a symbol of security wealth and status. The wearing of shoes indicated that your family could afford them and they were worn with pride and tended only to come off your feet at bedtime. There were also cultural overtones to shoe wearing, there were new shoes or special shoes for special occasions, in childhood the Whit walks always guaranteed a new pair of shoes, generally white (so very different to school shoes) and obviously the start of a new year at school was always a new pair of appropriate footwear. I also got into very big trouble one year when I was sent out with money to buy my own shoes and came back with an aquarium and two terrapins from the market- no shoes.

In the early 1970’s some family friends of ours emigrated to South Africa, we helped them pack and saw them off and when they came to visit in 1983, they regaled stories of barefoot children, and even though they said they strolled barefoot, to my mind it conjured up images of sand and dirt roads and I wondered how their feet were not cut to ribbons on glass and debris. The stories did little to challenge my clealrly poor understanding of culture geography or shoes.

So here we were in a hire car, all our wordly goods in the car-boot, two children aged 6 in the back, and we had moved half way round the world on a whim to wonderful Whangarei and despite the drizzle and the umbrellas, there was no mistaking that these people were roaming the streets with no footwear. So I had resigned myself to the fact that our new home was a place where there was abject poverty. The truth was and still is, that to some extent Northland and Whangarei could be described as of lower soio-ecomomic status compared to other parts of New Zealand, but what it lacked in economic wealth it more than made up for in culture, compassion and collaboration and the shoe issue was absolutely nothing to do with the economics of the place.

It soon became apparent that in this new place it was more respectful and appropriate to be barefoot and in fact in virtually every Northland place and home there was a cultural expectation that you would remove your shoes and leave them at the entrance/doorway. We learned this very quickly as even when viewing houses this expectation was a non negotiable. We quickly learned that the best and most appropriate footwear was footwear that could be removed quickly and easily and not mourned and grieved for if it was forgotten or left behind.

We soon adopted so many of these unwritten and previously unknown cultural customs and practices. It was apparent that all children under the age of 12 seemed to go everywhere barefoot. The girls would go to school with shoes on and somehow come home without them. Endless visits to the school on Friday afternoons to try to retrieve shoes were largely frutless, there just seemed to be a bagful of totally unrelated shoes in every cloakroom. You would take shoed children to Mcdonalds for a treat and arrive home to find they were shoeless. On May 3rd 2006, shortly after we moved into our own home in Kamo, my husband called me from work before I had taken the children to school, to alert me to the fact that we were on a Tsunami alert following a significant earthquake at sea. My snarling response was related to shoes not impending doom. I have two children to get to school and I can only find one size 8 left shoe and one size 9 right shoe and how am I supposed to get them to school. I gave in, and my children went to school barefoot like everyone elses children. We were officially done with shoes.

© Alison Jean Hankinson

Latch-Key Kids

The Summer Olympics of 1972- Munich

In those days it really did take a village to raise a child.

The 1970’s is a decade often forgotten and often undersold, a decade where the post-war affluence bubble burst with a bang and successive governments were plagued with political and economic unrest. The decade began with promise but Ted heath faced early challenges by strikes financial crash and energy crisis, and some of us went hungry. Callaghan famously told colleagues in 1974 “If I were a young man, I should emigrate.” For some of us the backbone of our extended family had already emigrated in the late 60’s  as £10 POMS and were already seeking a future promising fame and fortune in new and exotic lands.

Not surprising that it was often called the lost decade and growing up perhaps that is what we were too, the lost generation, generation X, a generation of latch-key kids who brought ourselves up because nobody knew any different. Nobody even realised we were doing it on our own. We had it all, freedom and then some and yet we had nothing, no prospects but kind hearts, glam rock and big dreams.

Our parent’s generation were the first generation of latch key kids, born towards the end of World War two against a backdrop of poverty, harsh winters and a changing workforce, there was food poverty and many families were living in urban slums and the housing stock was in dire need of upgrading and repair. At the outset of the forties the menfolk were away at war and women were required to fulfil working roles in factories, munitions works, and even on the land and the docks, it meant that an entire generation of working-class kids was forced to get itself up and ready and off to school and fend for themselves at the end of school, it meant that older siblings carried the responsibility of caring for younger siblings and often completing the household chores.

The mothers were responding to the needs of the war effort and had little choice, and it was this generation of children that found themselves with a world of opportunities in the later fifties and early sixties but as new parents themselves in the late sixties and early seventies due to the economic downturn and the increasing phenomena of the working mum were to become the parents of the next generation of latchkey kids, our generation, the latchkey generation of the seventies, generation X.

My parents both worked and so in the holidays we really were home alone. Dad was working for the Post Office and mum worked as a machinist at the Isle of Man Mill, where Mr Harold Dugdale had an active workforce of about twenty working at the Rossendale Quilting Company, they made ironing board covers and continental quilts (a forerunner to the Duvet) and they were all exposed to asbestos and cotton fibres in a harsh hot noisy mill. The village was home to at least three working mills, across the river from our house and across from the Isle of Man mill was Wood-eel, it had a great timber yard to play and explore in and all the local kids would collect bags of sawdust from the mill for their pet rabbits, surprisingly it made wooden heels that were used up and down the valley in the still proseprous and busy boot and shoe factories.

Mum left us under the watchful eye of our next-door neighbour Rosina Giddens, known to us as Nana, even though we were not related. She would make us lunch, and we would wake her up to call for help in the event of breakages, windows, arms, and legs, or toys that were broken in our sibling squabbles. The older folk did that, watched out for the youngsters and we paid the kindness back and in later years when we had moved to the Post Office we went back to Nanas every evening to make her tea and make sure she was well for the evening ahead. She looked out for us and made us lunches and we looked out for her, and the day when she slumped into her sausage and mash and her gnashers fell off the table and onto the floor, we looked after her, quickly raising the alarm that Nana had fallen asleep and wouldn’t wake up. She had suffered a stroke but our speed at raising the alarm meant that she was on the mend in a matter of weeks.

If it was dry- we were outdoors, we met up with whoever came to call, who ever knocked on the door to see if you were playing out, and everyone did that. There was an unwritten rule that no-one came in the house and you didn’t go in their houses unless they were invited but you could pretty much do what you like outside the house. And we did. If it was climable- we climbed it, if you could make a game out of it, you made a game, if it needed exploring we explored.

We were very young that first summer we spent home alone, it was 1972, and I know this because we loved to watch the gymnastics that were on. It was the Olympics in Munich and we were enraptured by our favourite gymnast Olga Korbut. We thought she was amazing. Tracey loved her work on the beam, I loved to watch her floor routines. She was so small but so incredibly athletic. I was 5 and Tracey was 7.

Tracey preferred Olga, who was small and petite and in some respects the underdog, to a very womanly Ludmilla Tourishiva. I thought she was the most graceful swan I had ever seen on a gymnastics floor and at nineteen she no longer had the angular bones of the minute Olga. Tourishiva won Gold, but Olga won hearts and inspired an entire generation of young girls to take to the gym floor.

Nana would pop in and out and would get us lunch and we would sometimes go out with her in the afternoon, she would walk us to the stream at the back of Crawshawbooth and she would sit I the sun and she taught us how to wash stones from the river bed. Sometimes we would play in the garden in front of her house and make dens from sheets, and she would show us how to make clothes for our dolls with old stockings. So we weren’t officially abandoned, it was just that we were really latch key kids.

It isn’t something that you would do now, but in those days I suspect it was the same story up and down the valley. We were all home alone. When we were old enough to go to the park alone, it was obvious that this was what all the kids did all summer, the park was our meeting place and there were never any adults around and even when Lesley Stansfield broke her leg and the bone came through the skin, after she got dragged under the roundabout after falling off because it was spinning too fast when we were playing pick up sticks- it seemed to be ages before any adults arrived.

©Alison Jean Hankinson

Past One O’Clock…

SO I am doing my own version of poetry month and this is a poem that will always have meaning for me and when she was younger this was my Ellen’s favourite….don’t want to break any copyright so here is just a snapshot:

“Night wraps the sky in tribute from the stars.
In hours like these, one rises to address
The ages, history, and all creation.”

Taken from Vladimir Mayakovsky– Past One O’Clock.

We love the whole poem and everything it represents, it is a very tragic story and the poem was found amongst his papers following his suicide and also formed part of the epilogue of his suicide note.

Mayakovsky was a leading poet during the Russian revolution and was jailed several times and reputedly began to write poetry during a spell in solitary confinement.

Past One O’Clock

Big Sister.

Shared stories of woe,

broken hearts, stubbed toe, family first

Bond beyond breaking.

It is national poetry month, and this is dedicated to my own sister but also to a dear friend who had to say goodbye to her sister today.

©Alison Jean Hankinson.

Missing School……..

Many around me are worried about the impact of national lockdown on the education of their children. Our education system is merely a vehicle or system to encourage and support the acquisition of knowledge and understanding, ultimately to empower and enable our young people to stand up and be counted. It is not the only vehicle. Knowledge is important because ultimately it provides empowerment. It gives us the voice and confidence to stand up for ourselves and the others around us.

Undoubtedly there are and have been significant impacts from the three periods of lockdown over the last year that have taken their toll on the education and also on the physical and emotional development of our younger generations. It is impossible to quantify or label realistically what these impacts are or will be. We have a duty to recognise and acknowledge that the human race has always shown remarkable adaptability and resilience in the face of crisis, trauma and adversity. Perhaps we should focus on what can strengthen the resiliency of our younger generations and their families at this juncture in time instead of ruminating on that which we cannot change.

We already have much wisdom and knowledge in this field. We know what is successful and we know the value of strengthening protective factors. For many of our young, our old and probably across society as a whole it is the deprivation of quality social interaction that is causing more immediate harm than the lack of schooling. Our schools were hubs of meaningful and sometimes less meaningful interaction. It is the words that have become so much a part of our 2020’s vocabulary that are the most damaging in the long run, social distancing and isolation. Our children are probably grieving the loss of their social interactions more than the curriculum and education itself.

Hopefully we will return to some state of normalcy soon and we can begin the complex task of rebuilding and I suspect the curriculum in our schools will need significant remodelling to support the development of a strong and resilient society for our new future.

We cannot alter what has happened in the past year and we are unable to determine what the next twelve months will look like for our families, our education system our society or the world. We can focus on the strengths of our responses so far, the amazing job being done by so many families in very unexpected circumstances and give them the positive feedback and support that they deserve and need. Teachers and school support staff all over the UK are keeping regular contact with their families and doing everything they can to this end. When the dust has settled and we can see the way forward then we can look at what needs to be out in place to futureproof education system, and what needs to be done to support this current school-age generation to thrive and survive in spite of the challenges that the pandemic has brought.

© Alison Jean Hankinson

Te here tangata

It is fragile this thing called life but we are one.

All part of one tapestry in life. The warp is our connection to the past and the future, and the weft is that which connects us now. The present.

There is a Maori whakatauki, Ka mua Ka muri, walking backwards into the future. It reminds us that we can learn from the past and it will help us deal with what lies ahead.

I guess the difficulty is that we often don’t see the relevance, meaning and importance of moments- until they have gone. This is why, however difficult it might be we have to accept the current moment for what it is- and to value it regardless. And whilst singularly our life might seem insignificant or unimportant, that it is part of something bigger, that we are part of something bigger.

Perhaps we are like firefly’s. Perhaps we light the way for others.

©Alison Jean Hankinson

Whalebone and lace

I wanted you to know I had worth

Beyond the kitchen sink and the classroom

I was shaped in whalebone and lace

 

My dreams fashioned and woven

Delicate structures faded from regret and loss

Unheard songs and stories stitched in unseen seams.

 

Hidden from view by what you all chose to see in the lines on my face

A smile here, a kindess there, eau de cologne on a summer breeze

Handbag, lipstick, loose change. Sad eyes, tears shed, loves lost, hearts bled.

 

But I was shaped in whalebone and lace

Beyond the confines and drudgery of my miserable life

I wanted you to know I was beautiful and had worth.

 

Alison Jean Hankinson

This was for Toads, and it was about Bang-You’re dead… I kind of went off at a tangent at first and thought I was supposed to kill someone, so wrote a poem about killing someone with a cricket bat… it had a touch of dark humour about it, and then I thought maybe that wasn’t what it was supposed to be…this was actually attempt 3….

The image was portrait of Dona Isabel de Porcel by Goya. creative commons.

 

 

Beyond the horizon…

It had been a long journey, her feet bore the bruised hallmarks of a difficult life, but still she walked on.

She knew that even if she could not reach the rich promises of the future on the horizon she could leave footprints for those who mattered to follow.

©Alison Jean Hankinson

Safe anchor…

It is easy to feel adrift when the world is so full of uncertainty.

Hold on to the treasured moments, the significant people, the precious memories and the valued places that have provided you with shelter through life’s storm. Let them be your anchor.

© Alison Jean Hankinson

That which drives us

I look around me as winter reaches its finale and I am mindful of the fragility of our current existence.

It should be what we have that drives us, not what we have not.

©Alison Jean Hankinson