Chi-Chi was a well-fed, contented tabby. His face was huge that he had the effect of looking like an owl. He was the first cat I had love affair with. But it didn’t start that way. In the beginning I was petrified of him. He was a little bully. But in the end, I guess his predatory instincts won me over. In the flat that lived I in, he was the first owner of the room that I had. He had colonised it by default and for weeks he refused to accept that he had been evicted. His much smaller brain could not process the idea that I paid rent and he didn’t. Every night he would push open my door and saunter in as if it was his right. Me, being new to the domestic cat scene was not having it. These animal-loving first world democracies did not impress me. In the Caribbean we are naturally pre-disposed to be wary of them and their animals. Besides, we had enough local ‘Nancy stories’ about cats … like if you wronged them in any way, they would come into your room whilst you were asleep and stuff their snake-like tales down your nose to stifle you to death! You know how many cats in the Caribbean get run over by motor cars just for the fun of it. Horrible. Now I’m not that way inclined but still… Maybe I could put him in a box and take him on the train, leave him somewhere and that would be that! What is wrong with this animal? But within a few weeks, we kissed and made up, and the Gaza strip stand-off was no more. It was a perfect Mills and Boon love story, hate at first, then love and passion in the end. We became inseparable.
I lived in a place called Forest Hill, south east London. There was no tube, instead it was a fifteen-minute overhead train ride into Charing Cross station. We were all students, well not really proper students, but living in that flat-sharing way that students did back in the early 80’s. K was of some distant French and more recent Welsh heritage…. she was happy not to be ‘English’ in that way. A was half-Japanese and half-American with a most posh British public school accent. His father was an American journalist during the Second World War, his mother was from a wealthy Japanese family but they had a bad divorce and A and his sister were carted off to public school, a little country town not far from Windsor, where they grew up alone. This sad state of affairs, made him a hurt and angry child by the time I met him he was shy, hesitant, reserved … and still angry.
At the time, new to London…I could not understand that desire that many young people I met had this tendency to disassociate themselves from being seen as ‘British’. When I think back now I perhaps can understand better that disconnect. It was during an economic downturn… socio-economic and civic breakdown. Politicians were looking crappier than ever. There was debilitating industrial unrest. England was on its knees. That can’t be an easy thing for a society to have to deal with. Doom and gloom. I think the idea of it being self-inflicted is why there was so much angst, but that surface angst belied a deeper problem. All the ‘problems’ or challenges that never went away. The wrong-doings, collective psychosis. Passed on from generation to generation. They morph into something else and like anything you try to hide or avoid, it pops up. I always say in mischievous glee, skeletons-in-your-cupboard or secrets or denials are like the rolls of fats you try to hide on your body, you can dress to camouflage it, you can even highlight your better assets to detract attention away from it – and that’s okay, but at some point, the only way to get rid of it is to deal with it. Otherwise it will remind you in some untimely, inconvenient way that it’s there! And even if you do deal with it that in itself is an achievement. I should know. I have been actively pursuing the body-brain-beautiful for more decades than I remember and it has still eluded me…. but that is not the point.. on my epitaph will be the words ‘she tried… So I remember landing in London on a cold November morning and being blown away by the greyness of everything and everyone. Even people of colour looked ashen under layers and layers of drab man-made, hard-to-breathe-in fabrics, garments they wore as shields for the weather but also, I thought, to protect themselves from each other or whatever it is that was invading them. Oh, it was unfriendly. I almost cried as I made my way from the airport all the way down, on those rumbling, dirty trains, looking at people, wondering why no-one looked anyone in the eye. And when you did make eye contact it was like looking at the dead fishes eyes, that you see lying on the makeshift concrete slabs in fishing towns like Carenage at home, where over-talkative fishermen, would be cleaning and gutting and filleting for you … everyone’s eyes looked like that, glazed and unseeing.
Now too, I could see why ‘Queen Lizzie’s portrait, hanging in faded grandeur in my shabby, elementary school classroom, looked out of place. She would fare much better in this subdued, sad lighting here in this town. I could see too, how for centuries the people here might need this kind of affirmation by holding on to this fairy story of crown jewels and castles and gentrified pastimes like hunting and fishing and horses with ornate carriages that belonged to some far away time. Being ordinary and common was not celebrated. Blue blood and privilege was the aspiration except you couldn’t go to university to get it! But the idea of greatness and grandeur is seductive. In the England of my early encounter, I felt they developed the knack for selling it. All wrapped up, an affordable luxury item that anyone can buy… like good hand-made chocolates. The point is that what you’re really buying into is the ‘feel-good-factor’ that denotes comfort. But it seems to me, as I began to immerse myself in the culture, that many people were not buying the idea of that brand of fairy tale anymore. How could they? Something as mundane as going to the grocery became an assault on your senses. Tables and tables of out-of-work miners and their families and supporters confronted you, asking for you to buy them cans of cheap brand staples, baked beans, steak and kidney pie (in a tin?!), anything you could give them. They had no jobs, no money, they had families, they looked poor, they looked miserable. Most of all it seemed to me that they felt they had no hope. The old fairy tale was not working. It became untenable. It got messy and violent and everyone began reviving old hatred and resentments. Europe was like a miserable, aging parent that was throwing its hands up in the air, not knowing what to do, in the face of a motley collection of badly behaved, neglected children. Children that they had sole custodial care of and made it seems, a pig’s ear of it. It did feel like doom and gloom and what was I, a little island girl, two months short of my twentieth birthday, with a mental age of 10, thin as pin, awkward looking, thinking, that she could make a living here. Never laid down with a man yet..(yes..one of the country folk way of saying you’re a virgin😁) but ‘woman’ enough to feel that I could traverse these foreign waters here and make my name. So with a few pounds in my pocket, living at the top floor of a council flat in Brixton, that same Brixton that erupted in violence a few weeks after I got there, brick and stones flying, hand-made explosives, looting, and God alone knows what else, what bacchanal did I find myself in? Yet I was determined that I was going to ride this out and see where it took me.