Friday, June 11, 2010

Small Island by Andrea Levy

It is 1948 and a newly-married Hortense Joseph has just arrived, from Jamaica, with high expectations of life of in London. But London has suffered many years of war and does not measure up to her storybook notions. Along with her irrepressible husband, Gilbert, Hortense rents a room in the home of Queenie Bligh, whose husband still hasn’t returned from the war. Queenie’s neighbours are unhappy that she taken in Jamaican lodgers but she has other things on her mind.

Small island is a real treat of a book. Levy draws strong, complicated women – wicked and wonderful in turn. She winds an intricate tale of love and loss, tells the tale of immigration from several perspectives and a unravels the mystery of the missing Bernard, the origins of Hortense’s marriage and bond that draws them all together.

"I thought I’d been to Africa. Told all my class I had. Early Bird, our teacher, stood me in front of the British flag – she would let no one call it the common Union Jack: ‘It’s the flag of Empire not a musical turn.’ And I stood there as bold as brass and said, ‘I went to Africa when it came to Wembly.’ It was then that Early Bird informed me that Africa was a country. ‘You’re not usually a silly girl, Queenie Buxton,’ she went on, ‘but you did not go to Africa, you merely went to the British Empire Exhibition, as thousands of others did.’ It was a Butchers’ Association trips. Every year there was an outing organised for the butchers, the butchers’ wives and children and even the butchers’ favourite workers. A day out. Mother liked to go. ‘It’s like a holiday,’ she would say to Father. ‘Bloody waste of time,’ he’d grumble. But he went all the same. Some years nearly everyone from our farm went. The inside girls who helped Mother with the pies. The outside girls who fed the pigs and poultry. Even the stupid boys, who helped Father in the shed, changed out of their splattered aprons and into their ill-fitting, fraying best suits for the trip. We always got dressed in our best to paddle in the sea at Blackpool or ride a red bus around Piccadilly Circus or laugh at the monkeys in the zoo. Then it was time to go home again. The men would be dozing from too much beer and the children would be snivelling after being whacked for dirtying their clothes or getting a piece of rock stuck in their hair. As often as not one of the farm girls would go missing with one of the farm boys only to turn up later, looking sheepish and dishevelled."

Aine Lynch

Friday, June 4, 2010

The story of stuff

We all love our stuff! But where does it come from? And where does it end up? The Story of Stuff is an interesting look at the price we pay for all that stuff...

1901 census records available

The 1901 census records are now available for all 32 counties, via the National Archives. This is a great opportunity to delve into the lives lived by your family 2-3 generations ago.

You can search here - just include as much information as you know:

  • Census year: you can search 1901 or 1911

  • Surname & forename

  • County

  • Townland & DED: leave blank unless you are sure

  • Age +/- 5 years: if you enter 30, it will search for ages 25-35

  • Sex
The records will tell you the names and ages of your ancestors on the date of the census; they will tell you their occupations, their levels of literacy, their religion and so on. You can also find details of the house in which they lived such as the number of rooms, whether the roof was perishable and so on.

A genuinely fascinating snapshot of history.