I was reading someone else’s blog yesterday. It was an American writer who had experienced living in various places as a child. Her father was in the services. She thought it gave her a more rounded experience and it got me thinking. I don’t remember my childhood in Egypt; I was too young but I do remember Singapore. I lived there for a year when I was 8/9 and I think that age was ideal because 60 years later it remains vivid in my memory.
Apart from the joy of living in a tropical environment, which at that age, was fantastic, I don’t remember it being too hot or sticky. Having returned within the last decade, the climate did bother me. But I loved being outside so much; the constant trips to the swimming pool and playing badminton. It sounds like I’m sporty but I’m not. We roamed where we could and it didn’t seem dangerous. I remember nasty insects but not snakes, although I knew they were there.
But the most important lesson for me was that we whites had an altogether better life than the Chinese/ Malayans/Indians, who were there to serve us. The amah and the gardener lived in concrete huts, I don’t remember windows.Our first amah was old and cranky and we exchanged her for a much younger woman. Where did the first one go? Did she have somewhere to go. It troubles me now.
On the sea trip home, we stopped off in Cochin, India. The poverty was utterly shocking. Naked children, thick, glutinous, red mud, dead dogs, flies, beggars. How can I not be embarrassed about our Western wealth when faced with that?
Accompanying us on our voyage where plenty of Dutch, who had been kicked out of Indonesia. One delightful old lady taught me how to crochet. She was going ‘home’ to a country that she had never visited. I felt vaguely sorry for her. Later, having read how the Indonesians were treated by the Dutch, I still felt sorry for her, but was not surprised that they were kicked out.
What does all this mean? I developed a social conscience very early on. I don’t accept the status quo. Was age important? Is that why I write about the nineteenth century, when poverty abounded among conspicuous wealth and the poor were blamed for their own situation?
I remember the day at primary school when I decided that history was my subject and somehow it blends with writing about what I saw in India. They are intertwined in my memory. Is it why I am drawn to unhappy endings in my own writing.
In my new book Ranter’s Wharf I am struggling with the ending. Should it be happy or sad?
I welcome your views.