My Experience: Memories in Mind: Women of the Windrush
Sandra Rennie writes about her experiences seeing Memories in Mind, part of the Bernie Grant Arts Centre Windrush Festival. Sandra lived and worked in Tottenham as a young woman and is from Grenada.
Shirley Thompson’s Memories in Mind created an opportunity to celebrate the women of the Windrush generation. Through the use of a range of mediums; films and songs, music and spoken word tribute is paid and voice given to their experiences. I felt privileged being present at this celebration of their endurance and resilience, their perseverance and sheer exuberance for life.
Memories reminds us of our everyday ability to adapt and integrate into what was and in parts remain a hostile environment.
The opening song “England Here I Come” was beautifully sung by Rachael Duckett; clearly a very accomplished opera singer. She went on to sing another three numbers at various points during the performance, amplifying the women’s stories. She was accompanied by Shirley Thompson on violin and Connie Luk; a Pianist of exquisite skill, the trio providing a recurring theme, accompanying Rachael in different combinations throughout the performance.
The beloved cultural icon Ms Louise Bennett (aka Miss Lou) gave a rendition on film of “Colonisation in Reverse” which had me chuckling at the vivid images she evoked of hordes of Jamaicans descending on an unsuspecting England; arriving by boat and by plane to make the Motherland home. Indeed, her rich tones spouting Jamaican patois made me feel like I was home.
A number of sub-headings were used to narrate the women’s experiences. “Sorry Love” referenced the signs “No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs” met by many trying to find accommodation.
In “That’s my Trade” the women spoke of discovering that they were expected to take the most menial of jobs regardless of the skills, qualifications or experiences they had. They arrived full of excitement but were mostly excluded from the economic and social life of the country.
In Zena Edwards spoken word piece “Your Grand-daughter Sees You” she uses her voice as an instrument along with the Mbira and Kalimba to create a narrative which was in turn playful, engaging, emotional and captivating. She reached back into our history of slavery, colonisation, the economic struggle to survive in post-colonial Caribbean; acknowledged those who came when England called for soldiers during the second world war.
She shares her grandfather’s story; from his time as a virile young man, who hails from St. Kitts and with ambitions for a better life he makes the journey to England. Now aged 96, he lives in a nursing home in Walthamstow and suffers with dementia. Still glimpses of his former self can be seen when he instructs “Look after your Mother, you hear?” each time they visit him. She lovingly informs us that he is known and valued for his contribution.
Carroll Thompson performed “Hope in Her Eyes” in a style different to that which we know her for, evoking the hopes and dreams of generations of women going all the way back to when we were still slaves. The hope each generation has that the next will have a life better than themselves.
Over time the women’s resilience paid off and they were able to carve out fulfilling lives for themselves, eventually becoming an integral part of British society. Their initial lives of hardship contrast sharply with our current experiences and that we have them to thank for the lives we experience today.