The Untangling is the ninth anthology of new writing from poets, playwrights and fiction writers who had taken part in the Jerwood Arvon mentoring scheme. I was lucky enough to be part of the 2019-20 group of fiction mentees.
During the mentoring year which was extended due to the pandemic, I spent a week at Arvon’s idyllic Totleigh Barton with the other mentees, taking part in masterclasses, talking and learning from each other. We gained insights from industry professionals and received support while working on our own projects.
In November 2020 Jerwood Arts and Arvon organised an online showcase event at which the mentees read their work (and the playwrights had theirs performed by actors). I read The One-Day Diary Project: Going Home, a short-short piece inspired by the diary-keeping of the Mass Observation Archive project, and taken from Archive Stories, a sequence of four stories which explore the personal and political repercussions of colonialism, migration, and identity through portraiture. The stories were written with an awareness of the personal histories and sacrifices made by my parents and grandparents, and of the achievements of Caribbean travellers, adventurers and change makers in general. I salute their courage, bravery and hard work.
The Untangling is available to order here.
You can read The One-Day Diary Project: Going Home, below.
Thanks to Joe Bibby and Sophie Lloyd-Catchpole at Arvon for ensuring that, despite Covid-19, the mentoring year stayed on course.
Thanks also to Nicholas Royle for mentoring, and to Jerwood Arts for supporting such a fantastic scheme.
iv) The One-Day Diary Project: Going Home
I volunteered to write this as part of the One-Day Diary Project, which asks ordinary members of the public to write about what is happening to them on a specific day of the year: 22 May. My entry will be stored in the archive with all the others.
My husband was the clever one. He had an idea of what was coming way back, when that Maggie woman became prime minister. My husband – Makepeace, I call him, though his first name is Ellward – said, You see her? What she is saying? She will have us back on a boat to Trinidad faster than you can say Enoch Powell. So when the rules changed yet again, we paid our money to get new passports and become British – as if we weren’t already.
I’ve had a good enough life here. I worked as a secretary when it was rare to find black women in offices unless they were cleaning them. I had a wardrobe full of smart skirt suits, pussy bow blouses and high heel shoes. I straightened my hair with a hot comb so that it hung in a bob and wouldn’t frighten my boss.
That was thirty-odd years ago. Now I’m ready to go home. Not because they told me to, but because I want to. I promised myself I wouldn’t die in this country and be buried in this cold soil.
I have one sister left. Her name is Birdie. When we were young we used to go to school, sew and cook together. We talk on the telephone now, but it will be so much better face to face, none of this, I’m very well, thank you. I will know how she is and she will know how I am.
When I arrive at Piarco airport, Birdie will be there, waiting for me. I’ll move back into the family home with her. Birdie never left, you see. She taught at the local school in Arima, never married, and looked after mother and father until they died. She didn’t rush to marry the first man to ask her and then run away to England – though that didn’t turn out so bad for me.
I was going to do what some my friends have done: pack everything I own into crates and ship it home, where it will wait for me in Port of Spain. But I changed my mind. I sold or gave away all my furniture, ornaments, kitchenware, winter clothes and boots. Like shedding my English skin.
I shed my husband first.
I had loved Makepeace. We married young, grew up, grew old and grew apart. We ended up with nothing in common. It was so sad that no children came along. I didn’t want to know whether it was Makepeace or me, didn’t want either of us to carry the blame. So we will never know. He is happy here, just fine, going to his dominoes club and British Telecom retirees’ afternoons. When I go home we will write to each other and speak on the phone, as always. I might even try that thing where you can see the person and speak to them through a computer.
I’m ready to leave this country. I’m glad I’m going. Nearly all my friends are dead, or not far off.
What am I waiting for?