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<—Olga, Nursing & a Declaration of War

Olga’s Diary (Continued) 

Life goes on:   A strange thing happened this morning, a gentleman called out.

 “Nurse”

It took a few moments before I realized he meant me.  It was a bit of a shock, but a very pleasant one. 

Sister Tutor says even in wartime there has to be a routine in hospital.  The day always starts the same with Sister re-arranging the flowers and potted plants which had been taken out of the ward the night before and put in the sluice room because Matron says they give off poisonous carbon monoxide during the night.  It’s a hospital superstition, too, that no lilies are allowed in the wards because they’re considered to be unlucky and you never have red and white flowers in the same vase either because that means death.

 I have to clean each marble-topped locker next to the patient’s bed and wipe out the fruit bowl that stands on it.   Then the beds are pulled away from the wall for a maid to sweep the floor and which Matron likes highly polished, which is fine if you are wearing rubber sole shoes, but for the patients wearing slippers it can be a difficult.

 I was helping an old man to the toilet yesterday morning and he was fairly steady on his feet to start with, but suddenly he slipped, lost his balance and ended up on his bottom and me with him.   The other patients had a good laugh at our expense and I thought it was funny too, but Sister Tutor was furious with me.

Everything and everyone has to be neat and tidy ready for Matron’s mid morning inspection.  The staff, including the doctors, have to line up in a row and woe betide us if the ward isn’t up to Matron’s standard.  She expects us to know all the patient’s names and their medical condition.

When war was first declared I was frightened, especially because normal every day things changed.  The cinema and theatres closed, and that upset me, because I’m crazy about films and I used to go every week with Joanne, but now we have to find other forms of entertainment.

 Moores discovered a pub near the hospital and she and some of the other student nurses go there quite a bit, but I don’t drink, so I haven’t been there yet.    Moores and I are working on the same ward at the moment, which is fun, and when we’re doing beds together we get the chance to talk and I hear all about what happened  in the pub the night before.

This morning we were changing the bottom sheet of a bed, with the patient still in it, and Moores was telling me about this Canadian soldier who said he can get her some French champagne and silk stockings.  Each time we moved the patient he broke a little wind and at first we ignored him and carried on chatting, but then he did it again and we started to laugh and couldn’t stop and what’s more neither could the patient, which made him break wind louder and more often and then all the other patients joined in and they didn’t even know what they were laughing about. 

But it was a wonderful moment especially as there was no one around to tell us off.   You need little moments like that because it helps to take away the tension and worry for a little bit, and it’s amazing how much better you feel afterwards.  

Moores is such fun, you know, she says to me

 “Olga, eat life or life eats you”. 

So I’ve decided to have some fun and go out with her tonight, but I won’t tell Joanne because she thinks Moores is a bad influence on me.  Joanne says the first year examination is not easy and I should be studying hard for it. 

 

 The Rose Public House:   I’ve never been inside a public house before but, apart from being very smoky, it was really quite nice.  Moores always finds someone to talk to but I was happy to sit quietly drinking my ginger beer.  For the first time since the war started I felt safe there, perhaps, because it’s used by soldiers and watching people enjoy themselves, laughing and having a good time, makes you forget about how worried you are about the war and exams.

I never go out on my own at night because it’s so dark with all the street lights turned off, but at least the lamp posts are painted white so we don’t bump into them and the edges of the pavements have been painted white too.   Moores, Ethel and I each carry a little torch which we have to shine downwards onto the pavement.  But we had a nasty shock on the way home from a night out.

We were passing a doorway when Ethel let out a  scream.  We looked up and there was a woman’s face lit up in the doorway.  She had a little torch pinned to her coat so that the light shone on her face and she was wearing a fox fur around her neck.   The  fox’s eyes were glinting in the light, its tiny teeth bared in a snarl and it had little paws and a bushy tail that hung loose.   I’m not surprised Ethel screamed, it was a frightening sight.  Moores said the woman was a prostitute waiting for clients.   Moores knows about everything, you know.

 

We’re being blitzed:   It has been difficult for me to write because we have been so busy in the hospital and to be truthful I haven’t felt like it. 

Everything has changed.  

Germany’s planes have been dropping bombs on London day and night and the devastation is awful.  Hundreds of people have been killed, thousands injured and hundreds of thousands are without homes.  The bombing raids can last for hours without any let up.  But, most of all I dread it when the Germans bomb at night, which they do frequently. Every part of London is being bombed including here in Camberwell. 

A landmine exploded nearby and several homes were blown up, many of  the casualties were brought here.  There seem to be fires burning somewhere in London day and night.  Other cities are being bombed as well but the Germans certainly seem determined to destroy London. 

I start to shake when I hear the air raid siren sound and even when the all clear is given I’m too frightened to go out.  I’ve been keeping away from Moores and Ethel, using study as an excuse to stay in, because I don’t want them to think I’m a coward, but I’m ashamed of myself too, because the people who are homeless and have lost everything still have their fighting spirit and say they won’t be beaten by Germany.   

Joanne came to see me at St Giles during a break between bombings and made me go for a long walk with her.  I felt much better afterwards, especially, when she told me that she was afraid too.

“Olga, we must do our job and put our trust in God” she said. 

We talked about our families and wondered if they knew how bad things were here in London.  The letters Joanne receives are heavily censored too and so we think the ones we write home are as well.  It’s heartbreaking; I’m desperate to receive news from Mammie and the family and when I do get a letter, line after line has been crossed out with black ink so I’m left with hardly anything to read.  And you feel as if someone is spying on you.  The censors know more about what’s going on with my family than I do.

Joanne says “We should be grateful, at least they open the letters carefully and don’t tear them.” 

  Any day now Joanne’s waiting to hear if she’s passed her final exam so that when the war’s over she can fulfil her dream and go back to Jamaica a qualified nurse.

“And, if you study hard Olga, so will you”

“Who knows, maybe we can work together in Jamaica”. she said

 I’ll tell you something Dear Diary, I struck gold when she sat down beside me that day in Regents Park. 

 

<—Olga, Nursing & a Declaration of War

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<—London 1939           Aunt Martha, Chilworth Street, Paddington—>

Even after all these years I still  struggle to understand how my grandmother, Becky,  thought it was safe to send my mother, Olga, to London in April 1939.   The  threat of war between Britain and Germany had not receded in spite of  Neville Chamberlain securing Adolf Hitler’s promise that he would not invade Europe further (Munich Agreement).  Newspapers in  Great Britain and Jamaica constantly referred to the threat of war.  Whenever any member of the Browney family travelled to England, they always stayed with Becky’s sister, Martha,  and Olga was no exception, although I think she wished she was!  My mother didn’t like  my Great Aunt Martha and described her a a bitter woman who lacked warmth and kindness - unlike her sisters Becky and Lucy.   But I suppose Becky thought she’d be safe with Martha and, after all, it was only for six months.

 the-browneys-tree

 

Olga’s Diary (continued)

Dear Diary 

Bad news:      I’m in despair.  Madame Verschaka’s School of Dance have written to me.

 “We do not have a place available for six months, at which time we will be delighted to accept you as a pupil.”

  That’s no good, I need a place now!  

I told Aunt Martha and she said she couldn’t afford to keep me if I was going to remain in London.  I don’t know what she means “she can’t afford to keep me” because I know Sydney gave her plenty of money to cover the cost of my stay, but she says there’s hardly any left because food is expensive and I eat a lot. 

Well, honestly, I don’t think I do, but I didn’t dare argue with her.   Thank goodness Sydney will be here soon, but I suppose I’ll have to go back to Jamaica with him.  So far my visit has been disappointing and I haven’t enjoyed myself the way Birdie does when she comes to London

  

Dear Diary 

Fed up:  Went to Trafalgar Square yesterday to feed the pigeons, but, I was in and out of that Square like a bullet. 

I sat down and as soon as I pulled out my bag of breadcrumbs, pigeons surrounded me and started pecking at my paper bag trying to get the bread out and there were lots of them around my feet  picking up the breadcrumbs – it felt like I was being attacked, so I dropped the breadcrumbs and ran. 

Now I prefer to sit here on a bench in Regent’s Park and feed the little birds, they’re much gentler.   Took my diary with me today so I could read again about my going away party in the Bournemouth Club, Kingston’s best night club. 

It was a wonderful night with the club decorated with streamers and balloons and hanging from the ceiling, strung across  the middle of the room was a whopping big sign.

 “Goodbye Olga. We’ll miss you”.  Wasn’t that nice?

There was a band and lots of food and all my friends and family laughing, joking, hugging and kissing me and giving me going away presents. 

But the biggest shock that night came from Michael Sales.  Michael was in the same class as me at Alpha Academy and he was a holy terror.  His favourite past time was putting a mirror under some of the girls’ skirts, including mine, so he could see what colour knickers we were wearing.  He nearly got expelled once for doing it and it was only because his mother pleaded with the Headmistress to give him one more chance, that he wasn’t.  Anyway, he must have learnt his lesson because he quietened down a lot and was much nicer because of it.  As a matter of fact he went out with one of my best friends, Elise Ferguson, for a while.

 But at my going away party he handed me a present with a card.  Inside, was a pair of beautiful pearl ear-rings.  No doubt about it, that is the nicest present I have ever received.

 “Olga, when you come back, I want you to be my proper girl friend.  I promise I will wait for you and I won’t go out with anyone else while you’re away” he said. 

I couldn’t believe it.  I didn’t think he liked me that much.  Boys, don’t really, you know.  They like to talk to me and tell me their problems with their girl friends, because they say I’m a good listener, but they never like me in a special way. 

My friend, Carmen Cadoza, has boys buzzing round her like bees in a honey pot and, honestly, sometimes she treats the boys like they don’t exist.  She says the secret of being successful with men is to play hard to get.  Michael was going to be my first boyfriend. I wanted to cry I was so happy, but instead I gave him a little kiss on the cheek and said I would love to be his girlfriend and for a few minutes, I wondered, do I really want to go to England. But I dismissed the thought immediately because it would be something to look forward to when I come home.

On the same page is the holy picture of the Sacred Heart that Father Butler gave me when he came to say goodbye.  He’d written on the back:

Dear Olga

Bon voyage and a happy stay in London.

Be a good girl and don’t forget to say your prayers.

God bless you,

Reading about that evening and how happy I was then and how miserable I am feeling now made me sad and homesick.  I felt lonely sitting on that bench in the park.  I was hugging my diary with both hands, my head buried in my chest and gently rocking back and forth and I wasn’t aware someone had sat down beside me. 

          “Are you alright”.  I heard someone say.

          When I looked up I saw a beautiful brown face smiling at me.

          “My name’s Joanne” she said, smiling at me.

 My spirits lifted immediately and we started talking.  And guess where she came from….Jamaica!!  I couldn’t believe it because there aren’t too many Jamaicans in London, I can tell you.

Joanne comes from a big family, just like me, and they live in St Ann’s Bay.  We talked about our families and home and even though she’s been in London for two years studying nursing at Paddington General Hospital, Joanne still misses her family a lot. 

I said I missed my friends and was lonely and whenever someone sits next to me on the park bench, like the nannies who push the babies in the prams, I always smile and say hello and hope that they will talk to me, but they don’t, they either pretend they haven’t heard me or get up and walk away. 

           “Thank goodness for the keepers in the zoo”.

           “They’re friendly and they tell me all about the animals like elephants or the tigers and the bears” I said 

          “I like London a lot, but it can be the loneliest place in the world” Joanne told me. 

Oh she’s really lovely.  I’m so happy we met.   Joanne has one more year’s training and then she’s going back to Jamaica to work.  When I told her why I had come to London she was surprised and said didn’t my parents realise that England could go to war any day.  I said that the Prime Minister had Hitler’s promise not to invade Europe any more, so Mammie and Sydney felt it was safe for me to come over, and, anyway, Sydney would be here soon and I’d be going back to Jamaica with him.  Two hours later, and much happier, I said goodbye to Joanne, but we arranged to meet in the park the following week.   

<—London 1939          Aunt Martha, Chilworth Street, Paddington—>

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 <—-Kingston 1938 – A Dangerous Place            A Change of Plan for Olga—->

 

Family Tree

My mother, Olga Browney, arrived in London from Kingston, Jamaica on 1st April 1939 intending to stay only a few months. The plan was that Olga would stay with her Aunt Martha in Paddington. Although in the months before there had been talk of a war between England and Germany, Olga’s mother, Becky, believed that war had been averted, thanks to the Munich Agreement. This was a Pact made between Adolph Hitler and the then British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain whereby Hitler had promised Chamberlain that he would not make any more territorial demands into Europe and so Chamberlain believed that war between the two countries had been averted.

 

Olga’s Diary (continued)

Dear Diary

            “How did you get here?” Aunt Martha asked me incredulously.

She was still in bed even though it was the middle of the afternoon.  If it had been Birdie standing at the bottom of her bed instead of me, the reply would have said something smart like “I just flew in on Aggie Burns broomstick”, but I just said lamely,

“I thought you were expecting me”. 

“Jesus Christ, what day is it”?

“April 1st” I said, shocked by her blaspheming. 

And then she started laughing “Trust you to arrive on April Fool’s Day, Olga”.

I didn’t answer not understanding what she meant, but, I knew she wasn’t paying me a compliment. I was hungry, cold, tired and this was not the welcome I had been expecting.

For a start Aunt Martha should have met me when the S.S. Jamaica Progress docked this morning in London.  The Progress is a cargo boat carrying fruit, mainly bananas, and the Royal Mail, but also has room for a few passengers.  On this trip there were 12 of us including me and, of course, my chaperone, Mrs Brodie, a friend of the family, who was going to England for a holiday and whom Sydney had asked to keep an eye on me during the trip. 

Did he think I might fall overboard?  

Anyway, it never occurred to me that Aunt Martha wouldn’t be there and I was very grateful that Mrs Brodie waited with me a for a while, but eventually she said she had to leave.  With a confidence I certainly wasn’t feeling I assured her I would be fine on my own.   Just in case Aunt Martha didn’t arrive Mrs. Brodie showed me where there was a taxi rank and, checking I had enough money to pay for it, kissed me goodbye and went on her way.   Sitting in the waiting room I felt very homesick.

After waiting for her for nearly three hours I decided to take a taxi to Aunt Martha’s home, 23 Chilworth Street, Paddington.   I knew she lived on the third floor of a block of flats because last time she was in Kingston she told us at dinner one evening how Londoners were not very friendly.  Aunt Martha likes a drink and one day she was in a pub when a lady sitting a few feet away from her became ill.  Aunt Martha offered to take her back to her home and discovered that the woman lived in the flat beneath her in Chilworth Street

As I struggled up the three flights of concrete steps to Aunt Martha’s flat with two heavy suitcases I thought, Londoners are not only unfriendly, they’re unreliable too.

 

Letter to Mammie, Mission House, Kingston 

from

Olga, 23 Chilworth Street, London

 

Dearest  Mammie

I couldn’t sleep last night.  When I closed my eyes I saw us all on Kingston docks crying.  It was hard saying goodbye, wasn’t it, and Mammie you looked so worried.  Fancy Pops coming down as well.  It was nice you were both there.  I don’t remember ever seeing you together before. And wasn’t Sydney thoughtful and kind making sure I had everything I needed. He told me to be sure to ask Aunt Martha if I need anything and he said he’d be coming to London in two or three months, so I would see him them.

Including me and Mrs Brodie, there were only twelve passengers on the boat, two widow ladies, myself and another single young lady and two married couples, three single men, two were students and the third single man was an engineer.  We all got on very well together and made up our own entertainment in the evening with little concerts which we all took part in.  I was persuaded to sing a few times and got a very nice round of applause each time.  The engineer performed some magic tricks, which sometimes went wrong, but we pretended we hadn’t noticed or else we played card games like gin rummy or canasta while the older people played bridge.  

 As a matter of fact Mammie, I was invited to sit at the Captain’s table four times during the journey; it’s a great honour, you know and I felt very important.  The crossing seemed to go quickly and it was very good until we got close to England and then it rained a lot and the sea was a bit rough.

Aunt Martha has a nice little two bedroom flat and, guess what, I have my own bedroom but you probably know that. 

On my first morning here, Aunt Martha brought me breakfast in bed and later on took me to Lyons Corner House which is huge and there are restaurants on four levels.    On the ground floor level is the food hall where you can buy different things like ham and cheese, pastries and specially made chocolates, wines, tea and, guess what, coffee and fruit from, guess where? ……Jamaica! 

And on the floors above are more restaurants with an orchestra playing in each one.  Aunt Martha and I went to the tearoom and she ordered afternoon tea which arrived on delicate china plates with some scones, dainty sandwiches and little cakes.  I only had a little bit to eat because I thought it was good manners not to eat all the food in front of us.  But I was wrong, I should have eaten more, because AM finished the whole lot.

All the waitresses wore black and white uniforms, Ruby, and AM says their called Nippies, when I asked her why ,she said “because they nip in and out of the tables quickly”.  Isn’t that funny?  I thought they looked so smart in their uniforms and said to AM that I might change my mind about going to Madame Verschaka’s School of Dance and become a Nippie for a few months. 

“I don’t think so dear,” AM said. 

“To come all this way from Jamaica and end up as a waitress doesn’t seem such a good idea to me”

  Well, at least it’s work, I thought to myself but didn’t say anything.  With so many out of work back home I bet lots of people would love a job like that.  When the bill came, Aunt Martha said,

“Oh, that’s a bit expensive, but never mind Olga, you’re worth it”.  Wasn’t that nice? 

The weather has been horrible, cold and wet.  One day smog covered the whole of London all day and you could barely see in front of your hand and bus conductors were walking in front of their buses to guide them.  I missed Jamaica a lot that day.  Aunt Martha says its smoke that comes from factory chimneys and buses.  There are signs that Londoners are preparing for war.  There are air raid shelters being built and sticky tape is stuck across windows to prevent people being cut by flying glass and splinters when the bombs come.  Aunt Martha says it’s difficult to know what to think because one minute the war’s on and the next it’s off. 

My favourite place, Mammie, is Regent’s Park Zoo.  There are all sorts of animals there, lions, tigers, elephants, monkeys, snakes, beautiful big birds and sweet little birds.   Even before I get to the zoo I can hear the lions roaring and the monkeys whooping.  I feed the monkeys but you’re not allowed to feed the wilder animals, so I watch the zoo keepers feed the elephants, lions and bears. 

And I’ve discovered a beautiful Catholic church called St James’ in Spanish Place, not far from Aunt Martha but, do you know what, I don’t think she goes to church quite so much in London as she does in Jamaica. 

I say my prayers every night Mammie and go to mass on Sundays at St James’ .  It doesn’t feel the same as the Holy Trinity Cathedral, but I still like it a lot.  

I miss you all.  Please write soon.

                                Your loving daughter and sister            Signed Olga

 

 <—-Kingston 1938 – A Dangerous Place to Live        A Change of Plan for Olga – London 1939—->

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<—- Sydney Shoots a Burglar                 Christmas in Jamaica with John Canoe —->

 

1938 was a very diffcult and dangerous time for the Browney family living in Kingston.  In May of that year workers all over Jamaica went on strike and the unemployed joined them marching and demonstrations.  The banana trade had declined drastically and unemployment was high, there was only occasional work, bad nutrition, poor housing, very little health service and a high cost of living.

The strikes started with the men working on the Kingston docks striking for better wages and the unemployed joined the strike demanding work.  It was a brutal time with strikers and demonstrators being imprisoned or beaten to death. 

In that year, Mammie (my grandmother Becky) made a decision regarding her daughter Olga (my mother) that was to have far reaching consequences for Olga that no one could have foreseen and changed her life irrevocably.

 

 

Family Tree

Click to Enlarge Image

Mammie’s (Becky) Diary

Today started with some astonishing news in the newspaper.  Several passengers on the train from Kingston to Montego Bay were seriously injured and taken to hospital when the train they were travelling on derailed at high speed.  A trackman, who witnessed the accident, said the train was going very fast, so much so that he said to the rail man next to him “that the train is moving as fast as an aeroplane.” 

Passengers reported that they had to hold on to something when the train went round bends because it was going so fast and the carriages were wobbling badly. 

What made this news so startling to me was that Olga should have been travelling on that train.  She had wanted to spend the weekend with Cissie and Dyke but because of the riots in Kingston she didn’t want to leave me and her sisters alone, even though Boysie had promised to look in on us from time to time, assuming, of course, he could get through the mobs uninjured himself.   So she didn’t make the journey.  Olga has a guardian angel, I’m sure of it. 

Strikes and Demonstrations:   The rest of the news is still very bad.  Industry is in decline and conditions are terrible.  Unemployment is high, there is irregular work, wages are low, and there is poor housing, poor nutrition and a high cost of living.  This, of course, only applies to the blacks.  We middle and the white upper classes still manage to live quite well. 

There is rioting on the streets of Kingston and I have forbidden the girls to go outside unless they are accompanied by Boysie. 

No cargo has been unloaded from the ships in the harbour for days.  The dock workers in Kingston and the sugar workers in Westmoreland and Clarendon have all gone on strike for better wages and working conditions.     Everywhere on the island, workers are asking for jobs, higher wages and better living conditions. From early in the morning, yesterday, thousands of men and women marched in procession through the streets of Kingston visiting public offices and stopping at the various wharves and forcing work to stop at Myer’s Sugar Wharf, where some labourers had broken the strike. 

The owners of the businesses have threatened that if a solution is not found soon, they will close their businesses down altogether and move off the island    By all accounts it was an ugly scene.  The security forces are everywhere eyeball to eyeball with Alexander Bustamante, who is organising the labourers now.  Mobs are forcing shops to put up their shutters and molesting people in cars, sometimes robbing them of their money.  Mobs are pulling people off the trams and buses and forcing the drivers to take the vehicles off the road.  Last night this leaflet was slipped under our front door. 

 Vengence 

Later on I stood on the veranda upstairs and watched an enormous crowd gather at the end of King Street and then march up the street headed by a large negro with a big drum which he was beating vigorously.   Right in the middle of King Street the crowd was met by a line of police all armed with batons.  Behind them were a line of police with rifles.  The mob was stopped and cleared right off the street with hardly a blow made. 

That same night dozens of cars full of “special constables” armed with any and every kind of weapon patrolled the streets of Kingston and St Andrews.  Stones and bricks were hurled at them from all sides, but they chased people off the streets and beat up those who resisted.  These are frightening times in Jamaica.   

Later that evening:   Sydney came to see me, the first time I’ve seen him since our quarrel, because he is concerned for our welfare and safety.  We talked, rather uncomfortably at first, and Sydney explained at some length what I had failed to realise.  That his business is also feeling the economic downturn,  just like most others in Kingston.   He has agreed to resume helping me financially providing I agree to move to a smaller house.   

We talked about Olga wanting to go to England and I have told Sydney I think she should have the opportunity.   He agreed that with all the unrest on the island and the bicycle  business being quieter these days, it would be good for Olga to go now, particularly, as the threat of Britain going to war has receded since Neville Chamberlain secured Adolf Hitler’s promise that he will not invade Europe further (Munich Agreement).   Sydney has agreed to pay Olga’s fare, providing she only stays six months.  We both agreed this unrest cannot continue for much longer and he is keen that Olga should continue doing his business accounts. 

As Sydney was leaving he bent down and picked up an envelope with my name on and had been slipped under the front door.  In the envelope was a note from Henry and a newspaper cutting.

 Report 3

Henry wrote that the top half of the newspaper was missing, so there was no way of knowing how old the article was.  I decided not to send it to Vivie as she is well and happy in America so why stir up bad memories.  But it demonstrates the power of suggestion. Vivie thought she was Obeahed and suffered genuinely as a result, but here is proof that the act was thwarted, so is Obeah all in the mind?   I have always thought so. 

I know my sojourns into Obeah are of great concern to Father Butler but there is a method to my madness which I have not confided in him because I know he would disapprove.   I believe that psychologically Obeah is very powerful and I learnt from Lucy and John to use Obeah to get the results I want.  I knew that once Aggie Burns heard I’d been to Annie Harvey, she would change her tune and encourage Sydney to be reconciled with us.

 

<—- Sydney Shoots a Burglar                Christmas in Jamaica with John Canoe —>

 

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<– More Spells and Obeah                 Kingston 1938 A Dangerous Place to Live—>

 

Family Tree

 Click to englarge image

Once my Mum (Olga) started to talk about her family to me and what her life was like growing up in Jamaica, she told me about the two biggest scandals in the family (and there were quite a few!).  Both were connected with Sydney, the oldest sibling.  One scandal was to do with him running off with the family cook whom everyone thought was a witch and mad as a hatter and the other scandal was about him shooting a burglar for which he was charged with manslaughter but acquitted on the grounds of self defense.   

 

Olga’s Diary (Continued) 

 

Dear Diary

Sydney and the Burglar:       It’s the middle of the afternoon and, apart from a young woman and an old man, I’m alone in the Cathedral, the only place I know that is peaceful, quiet, and cool. Half my life’s been spent in this church, going to mass, confession, benediction, the stations of the cross.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, Jesus is important to me and I come to church because I want to be close to Him, or, when I want to think, like now. I wonder just how long Sydney and Aggie’s relationship has been going on.

 

I bet you it started with the robbery that time Sydney was working late in the shop. There was a knock on the door one evening and when Sydney opened it there was a tall, black man, with a handkerchief around the lower half of his face. He pushed Sydney back and forced his way inside and put a gun to Sydney’s face threatening to shoot him if he said a word. Then another man came into the house and started to ransack the place looking for money which Sydney usually kept on the premises, but he couldn’t find any money and said so to the man holding the gun.

 

This turned the man with the gun’s attention away from Sydney momentarily, so Sydney tried to grab the gun and there was a struggle when suddenly the gun went off and the robber was shot dead. The second man immediately ran from the shop and Sydney called the police who recognised the dead man as Alphonse Williams and said the other man was probably his brother Didnot.  Didnot was soon picked up by the police and, because he wasn’t wearing a mask, Sydney easily identified him as the second man.

 

Sydney was charged with the manslaughter of Alphonse but at the end of the trial was found not guilty because the jury said it was self-defence and the law says a man is entitled to protect himself.  And that was that, thought Sydney, although to prevent any further thieving Sydney resorted to Obeah.

 

I bet that’s where Aggie Burns came in. He pinned bits of red rag and some bird feathers to the front door of the shop. If any would-be thief saw these items.  Sydney said it would be enough to deter them from going into the shop. But then strange things started happening. A fire broke out one Sunday afternoon, behind the main shop, in the workshop where bicycles are repaired. Mrs Clarkson, who lives next door, saw a small blaze in the workshop and raised the alarm. The fire brigade arrived very quickly, put out the blaze so not too much damage was done.  

And then something else happened that really scared Sydney.

 

He told us he was walking home one night when he felt warm air on the back of his neck which he described like someone’s hot breath. This happened more than once and Aggie Burns said she had found out that Didnot Williams had set a duppy on Sydney and that an Obeah man must have caught his shadow and now the shadow will do whatever the Obeah man demands. Aggie said the best way to stop the duppy from following Sydney was to carry a piece of chalk and, whenever he felt the hot breath on the back of his neck, Sydney was to make an x on the ground with the chalk, representing the figure ten.  Aggie Burns said duppies can only count up to nine and will spend the rest of the night trying to count to x.

 

Aggie said duppies are clever, but I wasn’t too sure about that if they can’t count any higher than nine. But she said they are because they can do similar things to living people, like talking, laughing, whistling and singing, even cooking. That made me wonder if Aggie Burns was a duppy too. Anyway, believe it or not, putting a cross on the ground worked for a while and Sydney stopped feeling warm air on his neck and he was more confident walking home.

 

But then one lovely clear moonlit night Sydney and Ruby were walking home together and they saw a big owl sitting in the cotton tree outside Mission House. When Aggie heard she got everybody worked up again and said that was a very bad sign because the duppy was still on Sydney. She said he had now to find a powerful Obeah man to remove the curse or he would be in serious trouble.

 

Of course, Aggie Burns knew one and Sydney agreed to go with her but made me go with him as well. I said I’d only go if Dolly could come as well. And reluctantly he and Dolly agreed.  

So off I go again to another balm yard and went into a very dark, smelly room. I remember it only had one window and the light couldn’t get through it was so dirty and grimy. Oh, Lord, was I terrified.

 

The Obeah man’s name was Ali Acquabar, an old man, with a short sharp looking face. He sat at a table in the middle of the room and beside his chair was a walking stick with the head of a serpent on the top. He told us to sit in the chairs facing him. I noticed a nail with three different size rosaries made out of bloodstained beans hanging from it and there was a mirror on a wall. On the table was a pack of cards and a dark blue piece of cloth with some sulphur, what looked like human hair, small bones and feathers.

 

By now I just wanted to get out of there but, once again, my courage failed me and I stayed. There were two other chairs and on one of these he put a glass and filled it with water and put a 1/- piece in the glass and on the other he put a candle which he had taken from a small bag nearby and asked Sydney to light it. Ali then opened a pack of cards, which he separated into four piles.

 

He selected one and said to Sydney “this is death”; then selected another and said “this is Jesus Christ”;

 

Then he selected a third and said “this is the Ghost” and with the fourth card he looked Sydney straight in the eye and said “Your life is in danger”. Then he took a bottle of rum off a shelf and threw some of it around the room.

 

“I am feeding my ghosts” he chanted and then looked in the magic mirror and turned to Sydney. “It is a pity you are not able to see, if you could, you would behold two duppies who are working on the case against you”. My brother is a tough man, you now, and I didn’t think he could scare easily. But, sitting on that chair, he looked very frightened to me. Ali looked in the glass of water on the other chair and said

 

“It is the brother that is after your life. I charge you £5 to take off the ghosts”. Sydney gave Ali his money and Ali told him they would all have to go to Mission House and “to run the duppies out”. Well, we trooped out and walked home.

 

When we got there Ali told us he would go into the house first and Dolly, Aggie and I should follow in a few minutes but Sydney was to wait outside until he was called. When we went in Ali had already lit three different colour candles in our hallway and then he took out three bottles – one containing some seeds, one with some kind of powder in it and the third with some dirty looking liquid in it. He threw some of the liquid and some of the powder into a cup which Aggie had handed him and he struck a match, lit the mixture in the cup and gave it to Aggie to take outside and bury it at the gateway to the house. Ali then asked Sydney for a further £5 as the job was now completed. The potion was buried at the gateway and this would ensure that no more duppies bothered anyone who lived in this house.

 

After that Sydney was more relaxed because one Obeah man had been knocked out by another and the more I think about it the more sure I am that was when things started to happen between our cook Aggie and Sydney.

<—- More Spells and Obeah                            Kingston 1938 A Dangerous Place to Live—>            

 

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<–A Loose Cannon & Catholic Church                           Kingston Riots —>

browney-tree-c

 

I regret I never met my Aunt Vivie but, unfortunately, she died just a couple of years before I made contact with Mum’s (Olga) family in Jamaica.  I think I would have liked her even though there was one aspect of her character I would have struggled with. It does sound as if Vivie was a bit of a loose canon – a one off.   She was tough and certainly not afraid to speak her mind, particularly to her older brother, Sydney, if she thought he was being too free with his belt when he chastised their younger siblings.   In the 1930s Jamaican society was a mirror image of Great Britain replicating its prejudices and social morals.   Women like my Aunt Vivie, who flew in the face of convention, were few and far between in an era that expected women to be seen and not heard. 

 

Vivie was married, yet quite openly having an affair with another man, Freddie Howell; she helped run an illegal gambling house with Freddie and, according to Mum, had the threat of being excommunicated from the Catholic Church hanging over her head because of her relationship with him.  If what people thought bothered her she didn’t show it.

 

What I wouldn’t have liked about my Aunt Vivie though was her racial prejudiced in spite of being coloured herself.  This is something I struggle to understand.  The colour of one’s skin was important to Vivie and, she had made it very clear to her mother, Becky, that she was angry with her for marrying a black man.  She recognised that the white Jamaicans had social prestige, status and political power.  And that they saw as inferior those whose colour ranged from almost white to pure black even though they may have been educated people with good jobs such as lawyers, doctors, business men or women, teachers, clergy, and skilled tradesmen.

 

Colour mattered and that mindset was demonstrated to me personally decades later.  When I was in Jamaica in 1996, one of my cousins offered me a job running a franchise operation in Montego Bay that she was considering investing in.  I asked her why she wanted me and didn’t do the job herself.  Her reply was “because your skin is the right colour”.   I was gobsmacked!

 

Olga’s Diary (Continued from ‘A Loose Canon and the Catholic Church’)


Carlton heard about what happened that Sunday in Church and there was a terrible row between Vivie and Carlton. She told Carlton she was leaving him.    He begged her not to go and when she said it was all over between them and she didn’t love him any more, he started to cry and pleaded with her to give him another chance.  Vivie told him that she was taking their children and going to live with Freddie.  She said he suddenly stopped crying then and there was silence, except for the sound of a clock ticking somewhere in the house.

 Carlton didn’t say anything for ages but just kept looking at her.  Then he shrugged his shoulders a little, as if to say, “ok, you win” and, without a word, left the house.  Vivie said she thought he was going to find Freddie to punch him on the nose but she wasn’t worried about Freddie because he could take care of himself.

Carlton and Vivie had a whirlwind romance.  Within weeks of meeting they went off to Montego Bay and got married without telling any of the family, except for Cissie and Dyke who were their witnesses at the wedding.  Sydney said if Vivie hadn’t been so desperate to marry a white man she’d have saved both families a lot of heart ache and realised that charm, good looks and receiving a small allowance from his parents was not enough to support a family. 

Sometime during the afternoon on the day following the big row, Carlton’s body was found by some people out walking in a valley in the Blue Mountains.  It appears his car went over a precipice just past the army post at Newcastle and his body flung from the car.  He’d been dead for hours and to this day no one ever really knew if it was suicide or an accident. 

I was grateful that I was asked to look after the children in the family so Chickie, Boysie and Cissie could go to the funeral.   Carlton’s coffin was left open for mourners to pay their last respects and I didn’t want my last sight of Carlton to be lying dead in a coffin.  I wanted to remember him how I always saw him – full of life and laughing.

If I had been married to Carlton I wouldn’t have minded Carlton being a poor white man because he had other qualities.   Tall, fair-haired, very good looking, funny, nice to talk to, always joking.  Women were very attracted to him and I think it’s easy to see why Vivie fell in love with him.  They met when he was playing tennis at the Myrtle Bank Hotel and Vivie said the first thing she noticed about him was that his legs were better than hers.  He was always invited to the best clubs, parties and social events in Kingston and he may not have had much money of his own but people liked him, because he was nice, and he was friends with all sorts of people.  What made him different from other white Jamaicans was that he wasn’t prejudice towards coloured or black people in the slightest. 

The day of Carlton’s funeral was unusually hot for that time of the year and there was a cloudless sky and not a breath of wind in the air.  A black choir sang hymns at his funeral and Dolly told me later that this  was Carlton’s “second family”. 

As a baby Carlton had a black nurse whose name was Ambrosine Williams and he spent much of his childhood with her and her thirteen children rather than his own white family.  When his coffin was being lowered into the ground Ambrosine Williams bent down and picked up a handful of earth and threw it at Vivie.  She told Vivie that she was going to set a duppy on her for causing Carlton’s death and that she would be cursed until the day she died. 

That night the wind began to pick up and get stronger and continued until well into the evening.  Then, according to a report in the paper “the lightening started building up in strength until it lit up the whole sky, dancing in fantastic forms in the night sky, whilst the thunder that followed the lightening seemed to shake the earth as if to say the end of the world is near and then finally in the early hours of the next morning the rain came down.”

 

<–A Loose Cannon & Catholic Church                                      Kingston Riots —>

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<–Pops, Aunt Martha & Marcus Garvey        Carlton —>                                 

 

Olga’s Diary (Continued)

browney-tree-cDear Diary

 

Big Scandal:    My very favourite nun, Sister Marie-Thérèse, told me one day when I was at Alpha Academy, that Jamaica has the largest number of churches per square mile in the entire world.  Many are beautiful, old, stone buildings going back to the 1800s.  Religion has always been important to Jamaicans and especially to my family.  Mammie says we are high Catholics, which I think makes us sound special, but to be honest, I don’t know what the difference is between a high Catholic and a low one.  It’s one of those questions I don’t like to ask in case people think I’m stupid.  

We always put on our best Sunday clothes when we go to mass.   Mammie says how we dress is important because clothes say a lot about you.  Ragged clothes are a sign of poverty but even the poorest person wouldn’t dream of going to church without putting their best clothes on, clean shoes and a proper hat, and not a scarf, because that doesn’t cover your head properly.  Mammie is very particular about us all looking clean and smart and when we were at school she would keep us away rather than send any of us off without clean, ironed school uniforms.  In Jamaica being well dressed is a sign of your social status and it’s important to your sense of self respect and self worth, Mammie says.

Going to church is a social occasion and after mass, standing around outside the Church, you can catch up on all the gossip.  Unfortunately, quite a lot of it has been about the Browneys lately so we haven’t hung around for too long.

 

 

Whit Sunday:   My sisters Dolly, Ruby, Pearl and I had decided to go to an early mass so that afterwards we could catch a boat to Port Royal and spend the day on the beach and swim and have a picnic.  We had just returned to our pew after receiving Holy Communion when I was aware of a click-clacking sound coming from behind me and turned round to see what it was.  It was coming from Vivie and her silver dance shoes.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.   There she was, still wearing the tight, low cut red dress she had bought to go to Freddie Howell’s birthday party the previous night.  On her head was a small scarf which didn’t quite cover her newly bleached blonde hair. 

“Is it a wig” Dolly whispered to me? 

Vivie must have been aware of the stir she was causing in the Church, but, her faith is as important to her as it is to the rest of us and she knew that even if the congregation and God judged her to be a sinner, God, at least, would forgive her.  

All eyes were on her and at the same time varying commotions erupted around the Church.  There were plenty of gasps from onlookers as she click clacked down the aisle towards the altar rail.  Some people were whispering, quite a few were muttering loudly and some distinct words could be heard…… “common, trash, looks like a whore”…… and some whose mouths were opened in astonishment. 

Vivie and her shoes click clacked their way down the aisle heading straight for the altar rail.  She knelt down and waited to receive Communion from Father Butler.   He had seen Vivie approaching and was aware of the stir she was causing in the Church. 

Father Butler told Mammie later that before he reached Vivie he had decided what he was going to do.   And he did it.  In front of hundreds of people he walked straight past her without giving her Holy Communion.

 It was a slight of monumental proportions, and by now you could have heard a pin drop because there was total silence in the cathedral.and for what seemed like forever Vivie remained on her own kneeling at the altar rail.

Then she stood up and turned to face the congregation.    She looked around at the faces in front of her, lifted her hand and slowly removed the scarf.   That one defiant gesture, or it may have been the sight of the blonde hair, caused the entire congregation to act together and they gasped. 

Vivie then calmly walked out of the Church.  

 

Father Frank Butler was a newly ordained priest when he came to Kingston from Ireland shortly after the Great Exhibition in 1891 which, apparently, was Jamaica’s way of telling the rest of the world what a lot of opportunities there were here. 

Although Father Butler’s very old now, he’s still a big man and fat.  He says he’s not fat but “well nourished” and he’s got white hair and a very weather beaten complexion from too much sun. 

He’s taken part in most of the important religious occasions to do with the Browneys – when we were baptised, our first Holy Communion, our confirmation and our confessions.  He probably knows more about all of us than either Mammie or Sydney. 

 I was never very happy when he heard my confession on a Friday evening because he and Sydney are good friends and every Sunday night Father Butler comes to Mission House to see Sydney and the pair of them would sit for hours talking and smoking smelly cigars in the upstairs drawing room every Sunday night. 

For a long time I was frightened that Father Butler would tell Sydney about the sins I’d confessed to and I’d get a whipping, but Mammie told me that a priest has to take an oath of silence and can never repeat anything to anyone else that he hears in the confessional box even if he was asked to by a judge in a court of law.

In the beginning Father Butler called on us for donations, either money or clothes which we had grown out of and he’d give to the St Vincent de Paul Society which helps the poor people of Kingston. 

Priests are important to Jamaican families because if a family has no money they will always go to their priest for help and they will always receive a few pence for food and clothes.  But things have to be really awful if you have to go to the priest and ask for money.  

Anyway, this Sunday, Mammie didn’t attend mass that particular morning and, Sydney was away up country on business, so missed the incident in Church, but Father Butler told Mammie later what had happened and said he was concerned about Vivie’s “moral welfare”.  Having an affair with a married man and committing adultery are mortal sins and were forbidden by the Catholic Church and if Vivie continued on her wayward journey to damnation, he would have to have her excommunicated from the Church.   Most Catholics I know would say that being put in front of a firing squad was better than being excommunicated from the Church.

Mammie tried to explain that Vivie was going to ask Carlton for a divorce because she wanted to marry Freddie.

“You know as well as I do Becky, the Catholic Church does not recognise divorce and will never allow Vivie to marry Freddie”.                                  But worse was to come……………………

 

<–Pops, Aunt Martha & Marcus Garvey                                     Carlton —> 

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