We were in London long enough to visit the 1951 ‘Festival of Britain’, which was a brave attempt to lift the nation’s spirits, and to showcase new architecture, manufacturing and the Arts.
I have a photograph of my father and I taken on the river walk on the South Bank, both of us smiling in to the camera, wearing beautiful clothes made in Germany. Here we were pretending almost to participate optimistically, in this staged, fabricated post-war Zeitgeist. Willing it to be real, when we both knew our own lives were utterly drab. Everything here looked brand-spanking new, but felt brittle and transient. Somehow it was too soon to celebrate. People were still licking their war wounds. They were exhausted.
Symbols such as the ‘Skylon’, which was eventually dismantled, toppled in to the Thames, and sold for scrap metal, the ‘Dome of Discovery’, and the sculpture of ‘The Islanders’ felt impermanent. The recent 2012 London Olympic Games were reminiscent of the ethos of ’51 – with its celebration of Britain ( and the redundancy of its Millennium Dome). Eerily Deja-vu – ish for me.
Life felt hard. I became a ‘latch-key’ kid, aged six, with my door key on the end of a piece of itchy string, I would stand on tip-toes to unlock the door in to our cold, empty flat, nearly garotting myself . I’d then wait for hours in the dark, after school, for my father to come home. There was nothing to do, to eat, or to READ. I would talk to the operator on the black bakelite telephone for company; and run the gauntlet of the ginger-haired delivery boy, who would scare me to death,by trapping me in the lifts and putting his hands inside my knickers. I was a very frightened child. Terrified of the nuns at school, and the horror that awaited me every afternoon after school. I stopped eating. I hid slices of toast round the flat in the plants. I was sick at school, unable to eat the lunches of cold lamb, lumpy potatoes and sliced beetroot. My hair started to fall out.