Friends have been urging me for some time to write a book, most likely a novel. My wife liked a recent post so much, she had me pencilled in for a Booker Prize 😂 I’ve started a few times to write something biographical because it’s often said that life experiences are the easiest to retell.
My father’s death triggered a number of thoughts about my retelling life stories, his mainly, at the moment.
Whenever I started on my own life I’d reach a blockage when I recalled parts of my father’s experience in the first few years of our time in England. For context, note that my parents left Jamaica in 1961, before Independence. I never heard my parents utter a bad word about the British or life under colonial rule. I don’t think they went to England expecting to find milk and honey. But, I am absolutely certain that they did not expect the barriers they found.
First, the fact that my father’s Jamaican qualification as a mental nurse, which he had gained under the British system, were not accepted in Britain was a great source of pain for my father. Instead of continuing his career he had to choose alternative work so that he could add to the family’s income. In Jamaica, he had reached the level of a senior mental nurse at Bellevue Hospital. But, in England he had to look for work, first with London Transport as a bus conductor and then later as a driver. He later became a driver and mail man for the Royal Mail, the Postal Service. Thereafter, he worked on administrative and organizational aspects of mail delivery.
As a young boy, I did not appreciate the sacrifice that my father had made so that we could continue a normal life in England. Later, when I discussed his time in England with my father, the pain he had gone through by having to give up his nursing career was always evident on his face. What sticks with me is his inability to understand how or why he was supposed to relearn a subject he felt he could teach. Also, I may never know why my mother’s Jamaican nursing qualifications were acceptable but my father’s were not.
The second barrier comes from my knowing that my father soon realized that he did not want to stay in England, but sadly was unable to find money to pay for his fare to return to Jamaica. I think this is the right telling of the story, as opposed to another possibility which was that my father might have lost face had he returned to Jamaica so soon after going to England.
A third barrier was my father’s relationship with the Masonic Lodge. What I recall is that he never found welcoming arms from The Brotherhood in England. I don’t know why that was, but know that he attended only a few meetings. As far as I know, he never associated with the Masons after his return to Jamaica. So, the vaunted ‘bonds of friendship, compassion, and brotherly love‘ seemed missing for a significant portion of my father’s life. Technically, the Masonic regalia should be returned to them, and that is something I may explore in the new year.
Growing up in England, our house always had medical books, many of which were my father’s, and it was always interesting that he would give my mother advice on medical matters as she developed her career as a young nurse. Early in my life, it was natural to accept the idea that I would enter the medical field; after all, anatomy and things to do with the body and mind were the literature that surrounded me more than anything else.
Thinking back over my father’s life before he returned to Jamaica in the mid-1980s, it’s a great shame that I have no photographs of him showing his working life. In fact, the only photograph I have of my father in Jamaica before 1961 is his passport picture. Nowadays, with the arrival of digital devices that can take pictures better than many of the old cameras, we are accustomed to seeing pictures of almost any moment and every moment we choose. My daughters are not short of photographs of their father, and of themselves with their father and their mothers. For that reason, it’s important to try to give an image of my father based on my memory, rather than any images that shows clearly who or what he was. From 1962 onwards, there are some pictures of my parents in England, mainly at social events. I became a keen photographer in my mid-teens so it’s surprising that I do not have pictures of my parents from the late 1960s onwards. The reality is that my photographic interest was in other people and places in England and when I traveled abroad, taking the typical tourist pictures of things that were really new to me. I took a lot of candid photographs with a school friend, who like me was interested in photography, and we spent many hours developing pictures in his dark room.
I’m urging family members to dig around to see if they have pictures lurking around, so I may get lucky and discover some pre-1960s snaps. I recall seeing some pictures, including my father with his beloved BSA 250 motorcycle, before he had an accident and broke his leg. I remember riding on it with my parents to Palisadoes and the drive-in movie theatre at Harbour. View. But after a lifetime of moving around, I’ve no idea who has them.