Raph and Britishness
The boundless intellect and radical curiosity of the historian Raph Samuel , the founder of the History Workshop movement, turned towards the end of his life to issues of patriotism, Britishness and the heritage industry. He was affectionate, even commending, of aspects - aspects, mind you - of all these seams in our national life and culture. Raph died in 1996, but David Edgar has written a wise and considerable article for the Guardian on Raph's engagement with patriotism and national identity.
I had missed the article, but it's been brought to my attention - and now I hope yours - by Felix Driver, a fellow editor of History Workshop Journal. A 'surprising and heartwarming piece to find even in the Guardian', Felix comments, 'when memories have become so short.'
The Facebook Generation
The pursuit of the modern has been a sub-theme of my household for, well, quite a while. You see, there's a suggestion that I am not entirely contemporary. That my dress sense comes from the Fifties, my politics from the Sixties, my music from the Seventies, and ...well, that's it really. Even when late in life I grew a ponytail, it made me look like Fairport Convention's roadie rather than the latest in radical chic, it's alleged.
There is a grudging admiration from my partner on life's journey that I am not fareing too bad for someone who remembers when Huddersfied Town were in the old First Division. Christ, I was in my mid-teens when Town were playing host to the likes of Manchester United.
But talk about current and cutting edge - I read Courttia Newland, Iain Banks and Diana Evans (as well as Gissing and Macinnes and Baron), have CDs by The Streets and Kathryn Williams (jostling alongside Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell). And I've been on Facebook since year zero, accumulating more than a hundred friends (some of whom I know).
I won't detail the reasons why my wife is - in her devotion to forms of cultural expression such as the qawwali - a touch retrograde. Or classic, shall we say. But she has now, with the crusading enthusiasm of a convert, discovered social media. She's been on Facebook for barely 24-hours, has accumulated 53 friends, has joined groups of a nature too salacious to set down here, and has spiced it all up with a photo which was taken, well, when Town were probably a division or more higher up than they are now.
While we pioneers of the Facebook generation are now passed off as archaic and anachronistic, the newcomers believe they alone are the arbiters of what is 'new'.
Now, let me just settle down to watch 'Eastenders'. Anyone for an advocaat?
'Peeli Wali' has re-entered my life - bringing back a keen and warm memory of my mother and my daughter together. Let me explain. 'Peeli wali' in colloquial Hindi means the yellow one. When my daughter was a baby, and we were all living in Nizamuddin East in Delhi, Hindi was her language. On one occasion, when my parents were over visiting, I told Samira to look at the yellow ball, the 'peeli wali' ball.
'Andrew, surely that's not Hindi', my mother said. 'Peeli wali, I haven't heard that since I was growing up in Glasgow'. And she told the remarkable story of how in the working class corner of Glasgow where she lived until she was about nine, 'peeli wali' meant someone who was off colour. As I recall, she told me it also had a second meaning - a very weak cup of tea (which was also known as 'Jenny PC', or 'Jenny pee clear', though my mother would not wish to be associated with such vulgarity, at least not in print).
This sense of connect between popular Glaswegian dialect and my daughter's very basic Hindi fascinated and delighted me. I wrote about it at the time in an Indian news magazine. And in the past week I recounted the story to a friend, and Indian-born US academic, when we met for a drink. His wife is a student of language, and a specialist on the collision between English and India. And that's how the issue has all come to life again.
There is a fantastic book from the Victorian era, a dictionary of sorts, which captures Hindi and other Indian language loan words which became used in Indian English. It's got the unforgettable title of Hobson Jobson. But 'peeli wali' isn't there - I suspect too informal and plebeian for this rather grand project.
What I probably said to Samira all those years ago was: 'Peeli wali ball dekko!' Look at the yellow ball. Dekko, of course, is another Hindi word which has found a place in vernacular, but not formal, English. 'Have a dekko', meaning 'have a peek', was a phrase I grew up with in Yorkshire, without having any sense of the word's origins.
This is in Hobson Jobson, after a fashion. Not 'dekko', but the much more stylised 'deck' - from the same root and with the same meaning. It makes me wonder, though, how much of the Hindi that (I imagine) British soldiers and seafarers brought back with them from India still has to be find a chronicler.
And thinking back to the 'peeli wali' incident, it makes me realise just how inter-connected the world was long before the current era of globalisation.
Alexander Baron's London
Foulden Road stands where Stoke Newington edges into Dalston. A little anonymous - especially on a wet winter Sunday afternoon. I wanted to walk along it because this was where the novelist Alexander Baron (known to his friends as Alec Bernstein) grew up. It was the place he had in mind when he wrote his most famous work, The Lowlife, an affectionate account of a none-too-successful Jewish gambler living in a boarding house, and caught between the disappearing Jewish East End and the suburban aspirational culture his sister has married into.
The road has not changed much since The Lowlife appeared half-a-century ago. The late Victorian houses are neat and well kept, with occasionally a three- or four-storey house giving a little variety to the skyline. As you approach Amhurst Road, some of the houses are double fronted. They must have bene rather grand when first constructed.
At its western end, Foulden Road runs into Stoke Newington Road. From the garage, you can seen some remnants of light industrial buildings - a chimney and a two storey factory.
Across the main road, the unassuming Stoke Newington Baptist Church is entirely eclipsed by the Turkish mosque next door, with its eye-catching blue tiles. (There's a wonderful Flickr photo of the building here). As I approach, the mosque appears to be something more modest - the Aziziye halal butchers and restaurant. Surely the most ornate such meat shop in the city.
I pop in and buy some garlic sausage. What a marvellous building, I say. Yes, the manager replies - it used to be a cinema, now its a mosque. I look puzzled. There's an entrance at the back, he explains, you can go and have a look if you like. I do. It's a cavernous, serene first floor prayer hall in a building probably built to show the early talkies.
Walking past the Baptist Church I notice the door is ajar and so I peek in. The preacher - if that's what he is - is black, and the mike in his hand can hardly be necessary for his congregation, or audience, barely numbers a dozen.
Alexander Baron's The Lowlife captures, very humanely, the early waves of Caribbean settlement in this corner of London. The Turkish migrants, now much more numerous here, are more recent. But there is at least a spiritual continuity. The Turkish cafes, clubs and snooker halls are - I'm sure - a setting for much the sort of gambling that The Lowlife's hero, Harryboy Boas practised so unsuccessfully.
Colin Ward and John Rety
Sone sad news: the writer and libertarian thinker Colin Ward died on Thursday night. There's an obituary on the blog of the publishers Five Leaves ... http://www.fiveleavespublications.blogspot.com/
And if you dig down a little deeper into the Five Leaves blog, you will see an obituary of John Rety, the poet and rebel, who died a couple of weeks ago.
It feels a little like the passing of the last of their generation
The No. 4
Of all London's bus routes, the No. 4 must be the most maverick. It passes my door. It goes within fifty yards of my central London workplace. But I would no more hop aboard for my daily commute than skateboard, cycle, pogo or resort to any other eccentricity as my daily means of travel.
The route takes you past more north London landmarks than any other: Archway, the Nag's Head, Finsbury Park, Highbury Corner, The Angel, the Barbican, St Paul's, Fleet Street, Aldwych. The only trouble, as the more topographically aware among my blog readers will have realised, is that these resonant locations do not lie in a straight line, nor in a simple dog leg, but in a zig-zag which looks more like the FTSE index during a recession than something linear and functional.
Even off peak, it would be as quick for me to walk to work - it takes a good hour, and I do it a few times a year just for the moral glow - than catch the No. 4. Which is why, when an old friend suggested meeting up after work at a Turkish restaurant in Highbury Barn - "just jump on the 4, it will take you straight there", she said - warning signs should have started flashing.
So all this is by way of an apology to Liz. If I had walked the three miles or so, I might have been on time. Waiting twenty minutes for a 4 (I was puzzled why after such a delay the bus was so empty - but puzzled no longer) and then suffering its diverting but circuitous route, made me seriously late.
But if any out-of-town friend wants an upper deck view of the city without paying silly tourist bus fares, the No. 4 is just what they need. So I suppose it serves a sort of purpose - just not the one it was designed 4.
The religion of humanism
To my daughter's school for a parents' evening. A decision on GCSE options is imminent. She wants to do RPE, that's religion, philosophy and ethics. I'm not convinced at all - not just about the subject, but about religion and ethics being natural partners.
So we queue up to see the religious studies teacher. She's a hot ticket. The longest queue in the place. Plenty of time to read the posters on the walls. Many of them are decidedly anti-religious - Richard Dawkins, someone called George Carlin, and indeed a one word comment on religion and faith from Salvador Dali ("Fish") with which I feel some sympathy.
The course is largely about Christianity and Islam. Is there are any underlying religious or faith ethos, I ask? Not at all, the teacher replies - 'Myself, I'm a humanist'. Does humanism feature in the GCSE curriculum? No, but she has mentioned 'the Association' in the current year's syllabus. This, it transpires, is the British Humanist Association - which I sometimes think is determined to give humanism the trappings of a religion. But I'm kind of won over.
I tell my daughter I'm going to blog about the parents' evening. She's horrified. I'm under injunction not to mention her name - or her teacher's name - or her school's name. 'Do you think you're some kind of Tim Dowling' she scowls. 'Except people read what he writes!'
I'm put in my place. But, dear daughter, if you are reading this ... gotcha!!
A good place to start
What better for a debut blog than to say something up setting up a website. Not this site - but a prospective new and very exciting site for History Workshop. It's taken a while, but by the summer History Workshop - the Journal and the various strands that coalesce round it - is likely to have an interactive site which will allow and encourage historians and those engaged with history to share thoughts, ideas and content.
I got to the meeting of the web committee by taking the train from Gospel Oak just three stops to Harringay/Green Lanes. I am ashamed to say that it's the first time I have taken the overground in that direction - it was rather a thrill to get a new take from the train windows on a very familiar landscape. The station at the other end is close to what was the site of the Harringay Stadium. When I lived nearby on the 'ladder' in the early 1980s ('the ladder' is the local name for the parallel roads that run between Wightman Road and Green Lanes) the stadium dog track was still going. I went there a few times - a fairly decrepid place, but fun
Andrew Whitehead's blog
Welcome - read - comment - throw stones - pick up threads - and tell me how to do this better!