Thursday, June 28, 2018

Guest Blog ~ Growing Up in England in the 60's by Dr. Nat Tanoh, Author of The Day of the Orphan ~ #Fiction ~ #Excerpt @drnattanoh

Growing up as a child in exile in England in the 1960s was an enriching and alienating experience all at once. As a child with very underdeveloped perspectives on life, the initial result of such contrasting yet simultaneous experience is often confusion. 

The backdrop for me was a very exciting London of the Sixties, when you would wake up to the radio blaring uplifting, energetic and assured Beatles songs such as ‘Yellow Submarine’ and ‘All You Need is Love.’ These were interspersed with equally wonderful and energising hits from groups like the Monkees with ‘Daydream Believer’ and ‘I Am A Believer.’

It was a London struggling to find itself and hesitantly dipping its toes in the unfamiliar waters of what was then the birthing of a cosmopolitan, multi-racial society. The Windrush migrants had landed. The Asians and Africans were landing. Vietnam was raging and on TV. And so you had your other big hits, such as Procol Harum’s ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’ or Marmalade’s ‘Reflections of My Life,’ which blasted more sombre, confusing and less energising tunes out of the radio, as though representing the other end of a less-assured spectrum.

Imagine being a child growing up in a sea of black faces and suddenly being uprooted and catapulted into a sea of white faces for reasons that were quite incomprehensible at the time. Children can be adaptive and resilient, so I somehow managed to gingerly meander my way through such uncharted territory with the instinctive aim to acclimatise.

School was fun and I loved it. I loved morning assembly and the songs we sang. As other cultures and religions were yet to assert themselves, England was then unapologetically Christian and was quite happy to instruct school children in some of the ways of the Bible. ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ was a favourite of mine as a child because it gave one hope that ultimately all would indeed become bright and beautiful in merry England. ‘When a Knight Won His Spurs’ which waxed – “…And let me set free with the sword of my youth, from the castle of darkness, the power of truth…” – was another favourite. It also reassured that, eventually, good would triumph over the not-so-good in my then youthful meanderings through life.

And I needed such assurances; since some experiences at the time were quite harrowing. My first school was Anson Primary in Willesden in north-west London and my first impressionable memory was my elder brother being sent home from school. And what was his ‘nefarious’ crime to warrant such punishment? One of the boys in my brother’s senior class found it impossible to desist from mercilessly harassing my older sister with racial slurs. This went on for some time. The staff at the time, of course, did naught about it. He would single her out on the playground and studiously assault her racially, often ending up with my sister in a flurry of tears, throughout the day. One day he assembled a group of kids to take turns to physically poke at my sister’s beleaguered head in an effort to confirm that her threaded hair strands were indeed comparable to train tracks. For my brother that was the last straw. His efforts to defend my sister from the boy’s train tracks-ascertaining mission ended up in a fight, hence his being sent home.

One does not require an unduly sophisticated mind to be able to imagine how such incidents can impact the young mind. Whether you liked it or not you were made to know, at some level, that you were different and that you didn’t really belong. 

Much later, another memorable occurrence, which could have proved harrowing, was when I was at Hogarth Primary in Chiswick, London (incidentally Hugh Grant was there with me around the same time). I had a friend called Mark whose dad was headmaster of Acton High School. His dad would often pick me up to go over to Acton High to play. And that was when I would unwittingly provide some of the High School boys with the high point of their day. They would mount this wall and start their frenzied screaming at me, “Golliwog,” “black Sambo” and of course, the universal and not very nice ‘n’ word. 

What strikes me with hindsight is that by that stage, even as a child, I was more amused than offended. Mark’s dad, the headmaster, would go livid, chase the boys away, screaming blue murder, apologise endlessly to me and then drown us in sweets, as probably what he perceived to be some form of compensation. 

But overall there was a lot more fun and happiness than some of these harrowing incidents might suggest. So, the questions I would later ask myself include: how did I get to a point where direct racial attacks on me generated some sense of wry amusement rather than rendering me alarmed, angry and petrified? How was my very young mind able to process and view such decided unpleasantness with childlike equanimity? Was it not the kind of experiences that tend to generate destructive alienation and debilitating hostility towards society?

Our experiences in life and how we react to them are oftentimes unique. In this light I can think of a few answers, also in the form of questions. Was it a situation in which I had actually believed the underlying promises that songs such as - “All Things Bright and Beautiful” and “When a Knight Won His Spurs” - made? Did such beliefs give me a backbone that made such assaults appear to me as mere water off a duck’s back? Or was I already a product of a tolerant, multicultural upbringing in which I was becoming sufficiently knowledgeable to understand that such attacks simply sprang from some people simply not knowing any better? Or was it an amalgamation of both?

At the tail end of it all, my conclusion is that growing up as a child exile in England was wonderfully beneficial. The good outweighed the not-so-good. I love that the experience made me into a tolerant person. I love that it makes me feel at ease everywhere and with everyone. I love that it gave me broad and embracing perspectives in life in a discerning manner. Above all, I love that it made me into a person who always wishes to help cure injustices and to come to the fundamental understanding that given the proper, nurturing circumstances, most people have huge reserves of goodness in them. 

In my novel ‘The Day Of The Orphan,’ a privileged youngster, Saga, sets out with the help of friends and family to right so many wrongs at great risk to themselves and without any thought of material or personal gain. He was raised not to be a friend of injustice, intolerance, discrimination or any form of oppression. I developed this Saga character as a reflection of some of the good things I have tried to accomplish in my life and some of which I can attribute to growing up in England.

It is perspectives, as those instilled in me as a child growing up in England, which ultimately generate occurrences in society such as the amazing and absolutely glorious marriage of the wonderful Prince Harry to the resplendent Duchess of Sussex, Her Royal Highness Meghan Markle. What a sight and what a people to so loving and warmly embrace it all! 

All I can say is, Long Live the British People and long live ALL People. And given the chance, I would re-grow up in England all over again. And for the record, I thoroughly enjoyed playing the black king in the Christmas Nativity plays at school.

~Dr.  Nat Tanoh 

The Day of the Orphan
Dr Nat Tanoh

Genre: Fiction, General Fiction

Publisher: Acorn

Publication Date: May 25 2018

ISBN: 9781912145560

About the Book:

Like many eighteen-year-old boys, Saga’s prime concerns are: listening to music his mum calls “hop-hip”, learning about girls from his suave best mate Ibrahim, and making sure his considerable tummy is well-fed. In his affluent, liberal and relatively protected suburb life is pretty good, especially when his mum’s special peanut soup is on the table.

However, in Africa, childhoods can be snatched in an instant, especially when you live in a dictatorship. When his friends and family are dragged into the conflict, he is given no choice. Chubby Saga becomes an unlikely revolutionary, but these are very dangerous times. Their violent President Brewman has built their country on fear and even he, himself, is terrified. Spies, traps and double-dealings lie everywhere. Can one happy-go-lucky schoolboy really stand up to a murderous regime? How long can he stay one step ahead of the Zombie soldiers that will do anything to stop him?

This thought-provoking coming of age story touches on many of Africa’s biggest problems today.

Watch the Book Trailer:

Available at Amazon

Read an Excerpt:

After the quasi-formal welcome, the headmaster and form master hastily stood aside, moving backwards towards the blackboard so the Deputy Minister could take over by posing his questions directly to the students as part of his verification process. The bodyguards also placed themselves at the two front corners of the classroom behind the Minister, and commenced an inexplicable process of touching their earpieces with equally inexplicable regularity.
Mr Com, who now had the floor, asked if anyone would volunteer to go first, and a still very annoyed Saga impulsively raised his hand before any of the others could. The New Patriotism issue was indeed a very sore point with Saga. He was still plagued with guilt that he had not been present to defend his bosom friend, Ibrahim, when he was beaten up badly by New Patriotism fanatics who happened to be students in their own school. Subconsciously, it was as though he thus felt the urge to be the one to face any New Patriotism ‘onslaught’ from officialdom within their school. As to how he would deflect such an onslaught, he had absolutely no idea. It was a subconsciously inspired impulsiveness so he simply had to wing it.
‘Well, well – I see we have an eager beaver in our midst,’ he smiled at Saga, who did not return the smile. The headmaster, and the form master, and all the five men and one woman who made up the Minister’s entourage, however, giggled rather obsequiously at this sally. They truly understood the meaning of grovelling to those on high. The Deputy Minister turned and rewarded them all with an openly condescending smile.
‘Okay mister serious young man, let’s start. So, tell me, who is your mother under our New Patriotism?’ Mr Com boomed out his question.
Saga knew the answer he was to give and did so correctly. ‘My mother is the Great South Party of President Brewman!’
Mr Com was pleased. ‘Not bad, not bad,’ he said, and nodded happily towards the headmaster, who gave an equally satisfied beam in response.
‘And who is your father?’ Mr Com boomed yet again.
Saga again answered correctly. ‘My father is the Great Leader of our nation, His Supreme Excellency and President-For-Life-Until-Further-Notice Field Marshal Brewman.’
Both Messrs Com and Money now beamed in unison. The entourage and form master were not far behind in this beaming effort.
‘Well done my boy, well done.’ Mr Com smiled a vastly complacent smile at Saga.
‘Tell me, my bright, young friend – so what would you like to be when you grow up?’
This was far from being a question about future careers such as wanting to be a doctor or lawyer or pilot. Saga knew he should answer something along the lines of wanting to grow up to be a dedicated follower of the President or the Party. However, Saga inhaled and dropped his bombshell. ‘I would like to be an ORPHAN when I grow up,’ he said with utmost seriousness.

About the Author:

Dr Nat Tanoh comes from Ghana but grew up in exile, as a child, in England due to his parents’ opposition to the installation of a one-party state. Today he divides his time between England (London) and Ghana. He has a rich history of involvement in student and workers movements, which originally emerged from struggles against the institutionalisation of military rule in Ghana. Dr Nat has since worked as a consultant on development projects in Ghana and elsewhere in Africa. He also continues to uphold a passion for democratic social development.

The Day of the Orphan is Dr Nat Tanoh’s debut novel.

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