Swenglish – a contribution from Sweden by Louise Halvardsson

When I was 19 I left my hometown Nässjö in Sweden and moved to Brighton, U.K. I wanted to get away from the tall oppressive pine trees, the silent forests and – in my opinion – the narrow-minded people. As soon as I got off the coach at Pool Valley, and saw the sea and the hippified punks, I knew I’d found my home, my Paradise City.

I was convinced I’d stay in Brighton for the rest of my life. But when I was about to turn 30 something changed inside of me. I’d sit on the beach and cry, not knowing why. I no longer knew if I wanted to stay in Britain forever. I was also unsure about what do with my life in general. So I embarked on a 30 week long journey, staying with 30 people, half of them in England, half of them in Sweden. I asked each person 30 questions about their lives, hoping they would inspire me to find new dreams. I would also compare the two countries, making a final decision whether to live in England or Sweden.

The project turned into a book and a documentary film called Swenglish. And that title kind of sums up how I feel – split between two countries, two nationalities and two languages even though I was born in Sweden to Swedish parents. Ten years in another country will change you forever. I’m in Sweden at the moment and when I think of home the first image that crosses my mind is tall pine trees, the second image is the pebbled beach in Brighton.

Louise Halvardsson, www.swenglish2012.blogspot.com

No Place Like Home UK workshops conclude

The day was marked by a mixture of pleasure and sadness – it was lovely meeting another great bunch of people who took part in the workshop, but also it also meant saying goodbye to collaborators David Blandy and Larry Achiampong once the workshop had finished.

In total, we ran four workshops this autumn helping local people in the South East of England remember and explore their memories of childhood home.

Brighton 

We started with Brighton as part of Brighton Digital Festival in September, at the historic Brighton Dome.

Working with visual artist Aikaterini Gegisian, who interviewed participants for a film about spaces in childhood home, we had an informal session with a wonderful group people, some who hailed from Sussex and London but others who originally came from Jamaica, Germany, Turkey, and South Africa.

Participants tried a variety of art forms to explore and bring to light memories, feelings and ideas about their childhood including writing, film and multimedia, as well as oral history storytelling and sharing photographs. We also sampled fresh Caribbean food from Benjie’s Caribbean Kitchen, one of my preferred caterers in Sussex – again, a hit!

Bristol

We then travelled to Bristol in October and held a workshop at The Station, formerly a fire station turned into a youth and community centre right in the heart of Bristol.

We explored memories of childhood and childhood home with a small but perfectly formed group who hailed from different parts of the UK, but had rich memories that conveyed the diversity of this small island.

Memories of London, Ireland, Yorkshire and beyond. Joined by the Ujima FM Radio team, we enjoyed a Caribbean feast prepared by a mum of one of our partners – made with love!

Crawley

In November we visited Crawley Library and met people who grew up or lived all over the world before making Crawley their home:as far as Tanzania, Iraq, British New Guinea, India (before it became Pakistan), Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, Zimbabwe, and Barbados, and as near as South Yorkshire, Scotland and Crawley itself!

Benjie provided the catering once again and stayed for part of the workshop – participants loved meeting him.

Milton Keynes

Milton Keynes was our final stop, and once again, we were astounded by the memories and stories from all over the globe: Istanbul, USA, Jamaica, Hungary, and Congo  and across the UK including Yorkshire, Birmingham, Luton and Bletchley. This time we enjoyed an Indian banquet provided by Saf’s Kitchen, a local caterer who prides herself on fresh quality, Halal cuisine. Perfect!

A moving final session, with many of the themes echoed in previous workshops prevalent: travel and unrest, political movements, having more than one home or being torn between different countries or continents, and questions of identity and belonging, not just for ourselves but also future generations.

And finally one conclusion, drawn on a sheet of paper: ‘Home is where the heart is’.

What’s next? 

We will be organising screenings and sharings in each of the venues in the coming months. This will be a chance to share your completed ‘film memory’, share any writing or thoughts, plus watch the completed film by Aikaterini Gegisian and watch my own artist film based on the gentrification of my childhood home in Austin, Texas.

Thank you to all our participants, host venues, partner organisations, artists, caterers, photographers and supporters of the No Place Like Home project. It’s been an incredible autumn and we’re glad you could be part of it!

 

Brighton, Then & Now – Peter Chrisp

I recently came across a treasure trove of old photos of Brighton taken by photographer and historian Peter Chrisp. Peter has kindly allowed me to share some of these images on the No Place Like Home website.

These images capture the Brighton of yesteryear: the 1980s. That apparently mystical time and place for this seaside coastal city, when it was still a town and not part of Hove or Portslade. A time people used to refer to as ‘when Brighton was still good’ and ‘before all the yuppies came in and ruined it’. (they were saying this in 2000 and they still saying it today.)

As you’ll soon see, many of Brighton’s classic pubs are all still with us. Shops come and go. A few places lose out to residential housing and commercial offices. Like-for-like changes the look but not the function of many shops and establishments, as the older Brighton is replaced – or erased – by the shiny new facades, the boutique, the gastro, the up-market swing.

And then in certain places, character, age, grime and sometimes a seediness pervades. The foundations of the city cannot yet be demolished or diminished, only beautified. The last bastion of the old Brighton, unwilling sell out to the forces of gentrification.

Brighton has so many facades and edges, like an old glittering diamond offset, not brought down, by its urbane pebbly beach and cosmopolitan and diverse citizens. Its complexity is what make this tiny city so interesting. But all around us, with the new condos, luxury flats and other urban developments around the city, is it only a matter of time before we see the whole of Brighton’s character pulled down? Jury’s out, but I say no.

Photographs and commentary by Peter Chrisp

Feeling inspired? Contribute your photograph and memory of home via our website: nowherelikehome.co.uk/contribute/

Can’t get enough? Check out Peter’s contribution of photos and memories of Brighton in the 1980s on Vintage Brighton: vintagebrighton.com/2010/11/1980s-brighton-people-and-places/ & vintagebrighton.com/2010/10/1980s-brighton-shopfronts/

Memories of a Jamaican Childhood Home

Responding to the call out for photographs and memories of childhood home from around the world, Cuthbert William MBE, otherwise known in the Brighton community as ‘Bert’, sent us a few photographs of images that remind him of home.

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He says: I was was born in Coleyville, Manchester, Jamaica, British West Indies. This is the house I was born and brought up in until I left Jamaica in 1960. The house is still the same, same everything. Much respect, Bert.”

 

 

 

Interview extract with Jorge Guerra, owner of El Azteca Restaurant

I had the great pleasure of interviewing Jorge Guerra, community activist and owner of one of Austin’s original Mexican restaurants, El Azteca. Established in 1963, the restaurant continues to serve authentic Mexican food.

The restaurant is still at its original site on 2600 E. 7th Street.

Until three years ago, Jorge and his wife were involved in running of the business. Now their son manages the popular establishment, keeping the business in the family.

I visited Jorge twice at his home in early June 2015 while I was doing research in Austin. I was fortunate to track him down and spend a few hours with him. He was someone I wanted to talk to, especially as his grandson Nick also got in touch to suggest an interview. By chance, I went to El Azteca to talk to Carlos Vasquez  (Roy’s Taxi) over breakfast and we bumped into one of Jorge’s son, who said he would pass on my number. Talk about a lucky break! 

For my research in Austin, it was important to me to preserve the memories of the older generation. To capture a sense of what Austin used to be like in the 1930s, 40s and 50s, during my grandparents’ time. And to document the hard work they contributed to help pave the way for Austin’s success. 

Jorge Guerra was born in 1932 in Montemorelos, Mexico. At age 13, he moved to Monterrey to go to college. He met his American-born wife Ninfa in Linares, Mexico, then they moved to Austin in 1958. Their first house was on Francisco Street, near Parque Zaragoza in the Govalle area. The Guerra family then moved to a house on Linden Street in 1964.

As I work on the film and short stories for the No Place Like Home (Austin) project, I’m revisiting the film, audio interviews, old photographs and memories we captured. Of course I want to use all of it. As it will be a few months before I’m finished, I thought I would share with you an extract of some of the interviews. 

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This transcript is from a film interview we did with Jorge on 10 June 2015. For the interview, we had him sitting on his front porch in the shade, looking out at his neighbour’s houses and remembering the past.

What are your first memories of this area?

Coming to an atmosphere that was familiar to the areas in which I grew up and stayed for 21 years (Mexico). The food, the culture, the music. The acceptance, without limitations, of being one of their own, okay? Because the experiences in this city is that someone like me, even in the military uniform, was not wanted to be around in their homes. Rejected, you know, because that neighbourhood was meant for not for Hispanics or Latins. It took some time for me to accept.

That I wanted to live for the rest of my days comfortable, having good neighbours, being wanted and and being able to participate and do something for community. The other things I had experienced were not going to be something constructive for me because I was going to be prohibited. To be afraid, to be hiding. Thank god I found it. It was not too far from my assignment that I had from the Department of Defence.

I have lived since 1958 two blocks from here and here since 1964. But there were some things that I knew everybody in the neighbourhood needed. Safety and not being afraid of heavy rains. Not being afraid that the waters would come run you out any time it rains too much. So we corrected that through time.

If we had not found a few people interested in the community, this would be a lake. All the low area, from the hills up, down, to the tracks, it would have become a lake. We had already invested in whatever to put into our properties to which we lived and it was not easy to be moving if someone wants to have a lake or whatever. Now when you knew it didn’t have to be flooded, we corrected that situation, it took about 20 years to get it corrected but everything we started for, no water came into the house anymore. It wasn’t that hard. It was just a matter of communicating to the appropriate authorities. But it wasn’t up to us to do that. They as a government were supposed to look after our safety and begin to activate the appropriate situations to accomplish that. And that has happened!

And that is how come I choose to live here – like a family, not expensive, affordable. It was not easy for us to get a few thousand dollars to buy a home, not in those years. But it was affordable. Affordable why? Because it was created to be affordable for the minorities. The people in the majorities didn’t want to live in a minority neighbourhood.

But once there reach a point that it was too far from downtown, way up in the hills, then it was ripe for this community to begin to grow, because there was lots of empty land. And land that people here had to go away to find a better way of living. Right now we are still…. you can see…a home right across the street has about three floors. That’s the way they want to go. They don’t want to have single homes like this, they would like to get rid of them and have complexes like in Manhattan New York. Some neighbourhoods already look like this, Manhattan, New York-like on 6th Street.

I don’t know what’s going to happen next. I’m not gathering anymore information. I expect things to get higher.

Send us your memory or story of home, along with a photograph: nowherelikehome.co.uk/contribute/ Join our mailing list and find out about film screenings for No Place Like Home (Austin) or workshops and screenings for No Place Like Home (UK): nowherelikehome.co.uk/contact/

YELLAYAH: Memories of a childhood in India by Umi Sinha

Today we received memories of a childhood growing up in India from author Umi Sinha in Brighton, England entitled “Yellayah”. Enjoy the read.

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Darkness, noise, clatter of metal, windows rattling, feeling the country go by… My first taste of homesickness – a sweetly sad feeling. The train rattles on through the dark, ‘dumpety-dump, dumpety-dump…’ My thoughts fall into rhythm with it, ‘…dumpety-dump, dumpety-dump, do as I say, do as I say, I’ll do as I like, I’ll do as I like, never again, never again, we’re going away, we’re going away, goodbye to Bombay, goodbye to Bombay…’ My body relaxes into the jolting of the train; the dim yellow roof-light in the carriage flickers with each movement and threatens to go out.

Outside it is dark. I see trees and villages moving past, silhouetted against the flooded fields, and sense the unexpected vastness of the world into which we are moving. The open countryside, so different from the enclosed streets of the city where everything has its boundary – walls. hedges, railings.

Outside the train window there is nothing but one giant paddy field reflecting the stars all the way to the horizon. Water drowns the boundaries of fields and farms, a silver sheet unbroken except by wallowing buffaloes, trees and the twinkling lights of the occasional village.

The world lies unlidded, exposed to distant galaxies.

All I have to hold onto is Yellayah. My home, parents, and ayah, Mary Ann, have been left behind in the city. I have not seen and cannot imagine the new home we are travelling to. Yellayah is the gardener from the block of flats where we lived in Bombay. I have never taken much notice of him. In sunlight, in the garden, he always seemed old to me: his almost black skin webbed with tiny white cracks, his big feet flattened with splayed toes and cracked heels, his yellowy brown toenails shrivelled like dried mushrooms. I don’t remember him ever speaking to us. But in the dim, flickering light of the carriage he seems different – younger. His skin looks smoother, finely pored. He is wearing a red kurta and a loosely wound turban of yellow, instead of his usual dusty white. His skin smells of earth, spicy sweat and bidi-smoke. I find it comforting.

There is another smell in the carriage: the smell of rain, of damp earth; a smell we have learnt to love because of my mother’s nostalgia for England. It comes from the mudka – an earthenware pot full of drinking water – which stands in the corner. The side of the mudka is damp and cool and the water inside tastes, not unpleasantly, of powdered clay. I watch Yellayah drink from the little clay pot which usually stands inverted on the top, forming a lid. He holds the pot at arm’s length above him and arches his head back so that a long stream of clear water pours down his throat.

When I drink I try to hold the pot away from my mouth but the water trickles down my chin. I move it closer and taste the dusty clay on my lips. I look guiltily at Yellayah, knowing he will not want to drink from a pot which has touched someone else’s lips, but he laughs – his white teeth dazzling against his purple-black skin – and shows me again how to do it. The long sinews in his arm and throat stand out in the dim light. I want to touch him and this frightens me and makes me feel sick.

Lying in my berth later, feeling the train rock me upwards so my head bumps the cold, hard glass – that transparent barrier which separates me from the black emptiness outside – I snuggle into my bedroll in a comfortable world of rhythmic, predictable noises, golden reflections in dirty windows and the pungent smell of Yellayah’s bidi, and as I fall asleep I want this journey to go on forever.

I don’t want daylight, the new house and the new ayah, who I know already will not like me, who will make my sister her favourite as all the others have done. I do not think of my parents. I want to go on rattling through the dark with Yellayah forever.

Umi Sinha

You can contribute your story, memories or photos of ‘home’ on our website: http://nowherelikehome.co.uk/contribute/

Manuel “Cowboy” Donley

On Wednesday I went to visit Tejano music pioneer Manuel “Cowboy” Donley, who kindly invited me to his house in East Austin.

Señor Donley was born in 1927 in Durango, Mexico and grew up in Austin’s East Side from the age of 7. A self-taught musician, he performed extensively in bands from the 1940s. In 1955 he established six-piece big band Las Estrellas, performing across Texas and around the US for several decades. He recorded 150 songs, by his count, on 5 different labels. He still performs today. 

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I’ve landed in Austin

My flight got into Austin-Bergstrom International Airport last night at 9pm after an epic 15-hour journey from London Heathrow.

Austin is hotter and more humid than I remember, the air everywhere rich with the smell of barbecue, the highways dark, mysterious, and in parts potholed. Palm trees, a snaking river, people walking in shadows.

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