It's funny how some things recur across the generations. Like mangoes. OK - bear with me ...
Fully twenty-five years ago, when I was new as a BBC correspondent in Delhi and seeking to impress my colleagues with my Hindi, I declared: मैं आम हूं. The response was smirks, giggles and at least in one case derisive laughter. I had intended to say that I was an ordinary guy - not someone from a privileged background. Instead I had declared: I'm a mango!
OK, so fast forward ... my daughter, a really good linguist, has started Hindi lessons. Well, her first proper Hindi lesson was yesterday - though she is already fairly OK in the language. This evening she asked me to give her a quick run down on Indian politics as we enter what will be an election year there.
I mentioned the Aam Admi Party
आम आदमी पार्टी - the insurgent anti-corruption party which won a startling landslide victory in local elections in Delhi a few years back. Aam Admi means 'common man' - a phrase made famous by the cartoonist R.K, Laxman. But as we have discovered. Aam also has another meaning -
"Um, the 'mango man' party? Really?" my daughter enquired.
It seems we have more in common than I thought.
I've been thinking a lot about my mother this week. She would have been ninety last Saturday. Sadly, she died in August 2000. This is my parents' wedding at Gildersome Baptist Church on 18th July 1953. All four of my grandparents are present - Joseph and Ethel Whitehead are (discounting the child in arms) the fourth and fifth from the left at the back while Elizabeth and Thomas Graham are on the far right. My father's two brothers (and their wives) and my mother's three sisters (one of whom married my father's twin brother) are all there. So are my two oldest cousins. I think I can name almost everyone - but I really should have double checked with my father, who died a couple of years ago.
I've blogged about my father, Arthur Whitehead - but not so much about my mother. Time to make amends. Margaret Graham was born in Glasgow - her father was a Protestant from Belfast (his mother was a Catholic, which explains why they eventually moved out ) who served his apprenticeship in the Harland and Wolff shipyards, then moved over to Glasgow where he worked as a boilermaker in the Govan shipyards.
My mother was brought up in a close in Ibrox, a short stroll from the Rangers football ground - she and her friends used to sneak in when the gates opened and catch the last few minutes of the game.
When my mother was about nine, her father got a job as, I think, a foreman in a steel stockholding plant near Gildersome, and the Graham family all moved to West Yorkshire. Their home was on Grove View at the centre of Gildersome. My mother went to Morley Grammar School and worked as a telephonist before meeting and marrying my father. Her parents and two youngest sisters eventually emigrated to South Africa and her father (who I never met) died there.
Just by coincidence - or is it? - I have over the last few days been looking through some of the family papers and photos my father left - quite a few of which are in fact my mother's. Some of the letters feel too intimate for a third party to read. Among them is a Valentine card my father sent before they married. She also kept a lot of my letters - from college, from India when I worked there, all sorts of stuff which I never imagined might survive.
There's also a few of my mother's pocket diaries from the 1950s, including her entries at the time of my birth. It's both wonderful and slightly unsettling to read about how I came into the world. I was born on June 23rd - here's what she wrote on that day and the days either side:
'To go in Mo[rley] Hall [[maternity home]] 10am if not taken before. A[rthur] took me. Dr McNaughton came - started injections 2.15pm. Pains started about 3.30pm. Had injections. A came 7-8pm. Pains wore off + started at midnight. Went into Labour Ward 1am - nothing to eat all day. Dr Mc called twice + called to see A. A came 7-8pm the waters started to break. Baby born app 11.30pm. 8lb 2ozs. Dr McNaughton arrived about 5 mins after birth + gave 2 stitches.
Sun 24: A + Mam came 2.30-3.30pm + A at 7-8pm. Baby doing fine - Andrew. Dr McN called in morning. Nellie came to window about 6.15pm + brought flowers.'
Also among her papers I came across this portrait photo - I don't recall seeing it before. It's undated, but I imagine it may have been taken for her twenty-first birthday.
My New Year ramble has become an annual custom - this time (new camera in hand) there was a touch less serendipity about the route. I wanted to walk along Jubilee Street in Stepney, and visit one of the last surviving Jewish institutions in the old East End.
The walk began at Aldgate tube station and took me along Commercial Road, the distinctly shabby main road heading east towards Canary Wharf. There are a few old mansion blocks still lining the street, but most of the businesses are given over to wholesale garment shops - and the cheap end of the business. Almost all are South Asian-run, but it's a continuation of what was the defining industry of the Jewish East End. Coincidence perhaps, but a curious and heartwarming one.
There's still a synagogue on Commercial Road - one of, I think, only three surviving in the East End where once were were 150 or more. The Congregation of Jacob dates back to 1903 though this building was consecrated only in 1921. It has an imposing frontage and by all accounts the interior is even more splendid - but this morning it was firmly shut.
Jubilee Street runs from Commercial Road several hundred yards north to Whitechapel Road, and at the northern end is Rinkoff Bakeries. I'd never been there before. I'll certainly be going again. I had a coffee and a smoked salmon and cream cheese beigel. Excellent! And I brought back pastries for the family.
The place does good business. There are a few tables - both inside and out (and even on a nippy January morning most of the outside tables were taken) - and a steady stream of customers ... tourists, 'pilgrims', but mainly locals who want a take away cake, beigel or coffee.
That's Ray above, with a model of himself in his days as a master baker. He trades a lot on tradition, but there's quality in the mix too. I had never heard of Rinkoffs until I started thinking about this walk - if you haven't been, do go!
Jubilee Street has been knocked around a lot. There's only a short stretch towards the north end that looks a little as it would have done a century ago, when this area was overwhelmingly Jewish.
The street has a special place in the history of the East End - it was the epicentre of of the once formidable anarchist movement in this part of London.
The Jubilee Street Club was established in 1906 and for eight years was both a social and educational centre. Rudolf Rocker was closely associated with the club, and such anarchist luminaries as Kropotkin and Malatesta spoke here. I once interviewed Nellie Dick (born Naomi Ploschansky) who as a young woman was active in the Jubilee Street Club and helped to organise a 'Modern School' here.
There's a wonderful account of this and other London anarchist clubs, including a rather grainy photograph, in this research paper by the historian Jonathan Moses. It's worth a read. The old club building was demolished many decades ago and Jarman House, with its distinctive sky blue balconies, now stands on the site.
A little to the east lies Stepney Green, a wonderfully peaceful and historic spot. Rudolf Rocker and his family - including his younger son Fermin, an artist - once lived in a top floor flat here. By chance a few year ago, I had the opportunity to visit that same flat in Dunstan House when my friend Bill Schwarz was putting up here. Fermin's drawing of the building graced the cover of his memoir of his East End childhood, and you can see how little it has changed.
Just to the south is the church of St Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney - one of the few London churches which is genuinely medieval. In origin it is Anglo-Saxon and houses a tenth century rood, a representation of the crucifixion (the photo is from the church's website), which is believed to be a remnant of the church that St Dunstan himself may have founded here.
And as so often with old London churches, its memorials are testament to the human cost of Britain's Imperial ambitions.
Just east of the church and its grounds, there's the sort of street that I just love - Durham Row, tiny post-war bungalows on one side, and (at a guess) mid-nineteenth century buildings on the other, several of which seem once to have been shops. And above one of these one-time shop windows, it's just possible to make out an inscription: E, Andrews, FLORIST.
Another couple of hundred yards, and I reached the Regent's Canal - the end of my walk. Thanks for making the journey with me.
And as I looked back, there was the City looming over the East End, looking almost enticing ... from a distance.
To start the year, let's stop the war. This is a wonderful Walter Crane designed image from a handbill issued by the Stop the War Committee - the Boer War, of course - set up in 1899 by the campaigning journalist, W.T. Stead. The angel of peace is shown beseeching British soldier and armed Boer farmer to put down their weapons.
The campaign brought together prominent religious figures (John Clifford was a prominent Baptist and a pioneer of passive resistance) and popular novelists (Silas Hocking was a Liberal and Methodist who wrote dozens of novels, among which Her Benny was a bestseller). It was largely free of conventional political personalities - and indeed the language of the leaflet is much more religious and humanitarian than political.
'The Boers are the Dutch of South Africa', it asserts, 'white men, and Protestant Christians like ourselves' - a sentiment which immediately implies that the Committee does not seek to represent women, non-Protestants or people of colour. Even 120 years ago, that immediately excluded perhaps two-thirds of the British population.
The Stop the War Committee distributed millions of handbills, on trains and elsewhere - though of course vanishingly few have survived. It was regarded as pro-Boer, which was a damning epithet amid the khaki patriotism engendered by the war campaign.
'We do not want another Ireland in S. Africa', the leaflet asserts. Hallelujah!
Just once in a while, I buy an old book or pamphlet because of its cover, or a handbill used as a bookmark, something like that.
This week, I bought an item because of the promotional stamps stuck on it. A whole medley of CND-related stamps, as you can see.
The larger stamps were issued to promote the Aldermaston march of Easter 1962. The first march - to Aldermaston, a Berkshire village which was the location of the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment - was at Easter 1958. For the next five years, there were large Easter peaces marches from Aldermaston to London.
These were attached to a copy of Nicolas Walter's 1963 pamphlet Non-Violent Resistance: men against war, an essay that first appeared in the monthly Anarchy the previous year. I picked it up for a fiver at the Freedom Bookshop off Whitechapel High Street.
Gerald Holtom designed the now world-renowned nuclear disarmament logo for the first Aldermaston march. It's based on the semaphore signals for 'N' and 'D'.
I came across this exhumed shop sign today at the north end of Great Eastern Street, where Finsbury edges into Shoreditch. What a wonderfully dated business name! (Acme, if you are wondering, comes from the Greek word for peak).
The work on these premises have been progressing at a glacial pace - it seems that 'Acme Electric Co (Finsbury)' has been enjoying a public reprise for a couple of years. Another ghost sign enthusiast has discovered that the business once sold electrical calculators, transistor radios and cassette recorders.
All things that feel about as dated as the term 'Acme' - and yes, that was the name of the corporation in Looney Tunes and Wile E. Coyote!.
Here's a wonderful array of badges from the 1970s and early 1980s - a generous gift from a friend. (Thanks Ken!)
The enamel badge showing a safety lamp was issued by the Kent area of the National Union of Mineworkers for the 1972 strike. Kent was one of Britain's smallest coalfields, and also one of the most militant. Only a handful of Kent miners crossed the picket lines during the cathartic 1984-5 strike. Kent had just three collieries in the 1970s and early 1980s - the last closed in 1989, within a few years of the union's defeat.
There are some really nice Rock Against Racism badges - a movement launched in 1976 - and the 'Disband the SPG' badge is a protest against the Metropolitan Police's notorious Special Patrol Group, members of which were almost certainly responsible for the death of Blair Peach at an anti-National Front protest in Southall in April 1979.
The Fares Fair campaign was launched in the early 1980s by Labour left-wingers, led by Ken Livingstone, who ran the Greater London Council - the GLC was itself abolished by Margaret Thatcher in 1986.
There are a couple of badges relating to radical theatre - promoting the 7:84 performance group (the badge reads '7% of the population of this country own 84% of the wealth') and the Half Moon Theatre, then in the East End. And there's that curious 'Save Hackney' badge which looks as if it may have been part of a campaign to save a Lido or swimming pool. Anyone know?
And the two badges not in English - one in solidarity with Chile and the other with Cuba - are in ... what do you reckon? - Dutch? - Esperanto?? - No - they're in Swedish!
This is a wonderful ha'penny token issued by the radical London Corresponding Society in 1795 - a way of providing change and of course a form of publicity and promotion. It's about the size of an old penny - on one side there's a group of men dressed, it seems, in Roman style, and on the other the dove of peace and the slogan 'UNITED FOR A REFORM OF PARLIAMENT'.
There's a copy in the Science Museum which records that the obverse is based on the fable of the bundle of sticks - one of Aesop's fables the point of which is 'unity in strength'. Here's an abbreviated version:
An old man on the point of death summoned his sons around him to give them some parting advice. He ordered them to bring in a bundle of sticks, and said to his eldest son: “Break it.”
The son strained and strained, but with all his efforts was unable to break the bundle. The other sons also tried, but none succeeded.
“Untie the bundle,” said the father, “and each of you take a stick.” When they had done so, he told them: “Now, break,” and each stick was easily broken.
The London Corresponding Society also issued another, much rarer, ha'penny token - one of which recently came up for sale (and no, I wasn't the buyer of this one).
This is a classy piece of political ephemera - a note issued in 1833 as part of the industrialist and socialist Robert Owen's attempt to use labour as the basis for a means of exchange. As you can see, the note is to the value of ten hours.
This is what TUC History Online says about the endeavour:
Labour notes issued by the National Equitable Labour Exchange, founded in 1832 by Robert Owen (1771-1858).
The Exchange originally located in Grays Inn Road, London but from 1833 housed in Charlotte Street, operated as a depot where workers could exchange products they had made by means of labour notes representing hours of work. The Exchange was initially successful and branches opened in South London and Birmingham, but disputes over the value of products and the time taken to make them led to the failure of the experiment and all the branches closed in 1834.
Women workers at the Grays Inn Exchange mainly needlewomen and shoemakers, were initially paid at a lower rate than men and many refused to sell their goods there unless they were offered equal terms.
There's more about the Labour Exchange and its notes here.
Owen's plan for equitable exchange failed - Josiah Warren tried something similar in the US, with similar results. But as you can see. the notes were well designed and there was a lot of thought given to the scheme.
And Robert Owen of course is still remembered for his textile mill at New Lanark, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, and for his pioneering role on the co-operative movement.
This terracotta statue of Charles Bradlaugh, one of the most renowned of Victorian radicals, stands in the middle of a roundabout in the constituency he represented in Parliament: Northampton.
Bradlaugh was a proselytising atheist, a Republican, an advocate of birth control, a campaigner for social justice, political reform and a free press and an advocate of Irish and Indian nationalism. And he was at the centre of one of the all-time-great Parliamentary dramas - when he was repeatedly returned by the electors of Northampton and repeatedly denied permission to take his seat in the House of Commons.
Bradlaugh aroused strong emotions - to his followers he was the bravest of the brave, a courageous opponent of privilege (you can get a flavour of how he was viewed by the inscriptions, from a song 'Bradlaugh for Northampton', around the base of the statue); to his detractors he was a Godless, self-promoting knave. He was certainly impetuous - but he also succeeded in challenging some of the most profound injustices of his era.
I was in Northampton for a walk organised by the Bradlaugh Society to mark the 150th anniversary of his first Parliamentary candidacy in the town. And where better to gather to celebrate the life of an unbeliever and contemptuous critic of clerical privilege than the steps of the town's main church, the commanding All Saints.
The other building shown - with the boarded-up white arches (and yes that is a kilted piper playing) - was the hotel overlooking the market square which Bradlaugh repeatedly made his campaign headquarters.
We had the chance of visiting Northampton's awe-inspiring Guildhall and also the town's library where, in the Carnegie Room, there is a portrait of Bradlaugh in the closing months of his life -
Bradlaugh contested the seat of Northampton an astonishing eight times. He was not local to the area but was invited to contest by local radicals. It was in many ways a promising seat. Although Northamptonshire was a county of large landed estates, the town had a strong non-conformist tradition and the workers in its principal industry, the boot and shoe trade (which still survives in attenuated form) were decidedly radical.
On the first three occasions that Bradlaugh stood - the general elections of 1868 and 1874 and a by-election later in 1874 - he lost. That third defeat was regarded by his supporters as unjust and irregular, and there was rioting in Northampton's market square. But in 1880 - now endorsed by the local Liberal establishment - he was elected to represent this two-member constituency.
There then unfolded a turbulent and unseemly drama. Bradlaugh as an atheist asked to affirm to take his seat. This was refused. He then said he would take the oath. This too was refused on the grounds that he had made clear that the oath had no meaning to him. He was on one occasion forcibly removed from the chamber and indeed detained overnight in the Houses of Parliament.
Three times, he was either expelled as an MP or chose to resign in protest about not being allowed to take his seat. On all three occasions he won the ensuing by-election ... though on one occasion his majority was cut to the bone. It became a cause celebre. He was finally allowed to take the oath in 1886, and two years later legislation allowing members to affirm was passed. The prolonged stand-off took a toll on Bradlaugh - he died in 1891 at the age of 57. I told his story many years ago in a radio documentary for the BBC World Service.
Today's walk ended, suitably enough, in the part of town which was Bradlaugh's political stronghold: the boot-and-shoe quarter. A disused shoe factory there (I chanced across a man who once worked there - he said it was where Church's made women's shoes) has been turned into a pub and named TCB, 'The Charles Bradlaugh'. And there we toasted his memory and achievements.
The weather was kind for the walk - warm thanks to Northampton's Bradlaugh Society for organising it, and a call-out for their campaign to save the Bradlaugh Hall in Lahore. Bradlaugh became known as the 'Member for India' because of his willingness to raise India's grievances in Parliament and his links with the Indian National Congress. Lahore's Bradlaugh Hall - built from 1900 - was named in tribute to him. It was where many landmark nationalist meetings and protest gatherings were held and is part of Lahore's political as well as architectural heritage - but the hall is now in a state of acute disrepair ... as you can see -
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