14 Aug 2009

Coming to England - excerpts

The following are several excerpts from a book recently given to Punks as a present – Coming to England by Floella Benjamin.

I soon began to notice people staring at us. I thought it was because we were wearing brightly coloured clothes, our very best clothes. They all had on such dull, drab colours: black, navy and grey, as if they were going to a funeral. What I didn’t realize [sic] was that staring was something I was going to have to get used to.

Page 61

When I first arrived at school, many of the children rushed over and touched me then ran away giggling. I thought they were being nice to me. At that time I didn’t realize [sic] it was because I was different, a novelty, something to be made a fool of and to be laughed at.

Page 64

School food was also a huge culture shock. The only time I didn’t eat spicy food was when I had school dinners. I would line up in the noisy hall with the rest of the girls wondering what would was going to be be spooned on to my plate. The food always seem to taste and smell the same, whether it was steak and kidney pudding or Irish stew, and every dish was served with overcooked cabbage, lumpy mashed potatoes, and soggy carrots.

Page 80

I always knew it was Friday because fish and chips were served up with mushy peas. I soon learned that fish and chips were a part of British culture. Fish and chips shops always seemed to come alive at dusk when a welcoming orange glow and overwhelming frying smell would lure customers into the greasy white-tiled shrines. we very rarely ventured into them although they were a great talking point with most West Indians – not because of the thick batter coating that covered the fish or the greasy chips which were smothered in salt, but because we found it so amazing that the fish and chips were served in newspapers! Surely newspaper was for wrapping rubbish in, not from eating food from.

Pages 80-81

The book is very interesting, not only because it corroborates almost everything I was told by the older West Indians who came up here in the 60s and 70s, but because it gives the viewpoint of a child moving to a country that she knew (at least by reputation) better than the natives knew of her own country. The culture clash is immense but aptly described. Good reading for Punks.