Amy Sings the Blues


Asif Kapadia’s documentary about the life and death of Amy Winehouse has been a fixture in the London top ten since its release. It has been praised for its sensitivity and dedication to a ‘true’ picture of Winehouse. But does it just follow a standard narrative for jazz musicians in the movies? Sarah and Martin Slade compare and contrast with the biopic of another jazz legend, Billie Holiday.


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Chartishm project

Every time I think of the Chartists, I get the late Tony Benn’s voice in my head, talking about the achievements of the “Chartishts and the Shuffragettes and the Levellersh who battled for the rights of ordinary people…etc”

This may get annoying because I’ve started pondering what to do about my MA again. I finished the taught half of it last year, which apparently qualifies me for for Post Graduate Diploma in History Stuff. To get my full MA I have to sign back on with the Open University and complete a 15,000 word research project on a subject of my choice. The only rule is that the subject should be an event or subject confined to an area of Britain or Ireland.

The final essay for the first half of the MA was an outline project proposal for the second half, so I do have a topic that I have researched and presented and had accepted by my tutor.

Except that I didn’t really like it then, and I don’t like it now.

It was a study of the Peckham Experiment, a community health project that ran from 1925 to 1950. The Experiment is a bit of a local legend; there was a purpose-built centre, participants were encouraged to initiate their own activities, there was a creche, a farm that produced food for the community cafe, and there was a swimming pool in the roof.  But the  project wasn’t ultimately a success and I wanted to examine why that was. The founders blamed the newly-formed NHS (they were anti-socialised healthcare), but some historians have blamed the founders…so there was a lot to look at.  BUT, I didn’t think that there was much in the way of a contribution to historical research.


Then I pondered doing something about the Asylum in Asylum Road.  It was built in the early 19th century and was meant to provide sheltered accommodation for elderly licensed victuallers who had fallen on hard times. My project would compare the provision of care for the elderly in the Asylum with elder care at the nearby Camberwell Workhouse.

This one would involve a lot (and I mean a lot) of stats and analysing original source material.

Then I read this article on Chartism in Camberwell and it piqued my interest. The Chartists had large meetings down the road in Kennington Park. One meeting ended in a riot which resulted in houses and shops being looted in Bowyer Place. I had ancestors (market gardeners) in Bowyer Place. In addition to that, the ‘ringleaders’ who were convicted were two young black men local to the area. And one of the leaders of the Chartist was a black British-born tailor called William Cuffay. So it ticks the family box, the local box, black people in London before 1960, the yes-I’m-a-leftie box…

The Chartist thing also requires lots and lots of reading and notes. I’ll have to read The Making of the English Working Class again (yawn) and I’ve found Dorothy Thompson’s essays on Chartism. That and a few overall histories of early 19th century London should be enough to get started…


Charlotte Smith’s story

More family history stuff. Dad recently helped my uncle move most of his worldly goods up from Texas to Toronto. While packing something like 20 years’ worth of stuff, they found this document from their cousin, Vivian Dawson.

Uncle Vivian was the son of my grandfather’s sister, Queenie. He several years older than Dad and Uncle Clive and worked as a teacher and head teacher at schools in South Africa and Australia. He and his family moved to Australia in the 1960s and have been living there ever since.

This is his account of his grandparents (my great grandparents), Wong Fi Yen and Charlotte Smith. It differs a little from my grandmother’s oral history, but I’ve no reason to believe that it isn’t true.

I’ve left out the preamble where Vivian talks about his home in Emmanuel Street, Port Elizabeth, and we’ll start with Charlotte.

Continue reading “Charlotte Smith’s story”

Days like these?

I got invited to review “We Are Many” a documentary about the anti-war demos of 2003, though looking back to my blog posts at the time, I think I was more concerned about the death of my cat. Anyway, this is what I thought of the documentary…


Sarah Slade watches We Are Many – a new documentary about popular opposition to the Iraq war – and she can’t help noticing what gets left out.


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Been a bit busy…

… honest.

So, I had my last day. Decided not to have a leaving do because…I’m not very good at leaving dos, and there is a possibility that I might (one day) be back as an associate.

There were a couple of days left to that last week, so I spent them developing an idea for interactive textbooks (still technically in development, but…hmmm). Then on the following Monday I started a three-month contract working with a virtual team for an e-learning agency. Its a bit odd, this working at home lark. It took a couple of attempts to rearrange my work area (in the back living room) and it still isn’t quite right. But after two months I’ve worked out a daily routine and all I’ve got to do now is build a little more time in for exercise and fitness.

Pepe We all did a house swap in Cornwall for Easter, looking after the lovely Pepe for Lone, who looked after the guinea pigs, cats and goldfish in Nunhead. Our usual approach to Cornwall is to load up with the wet weather gear and plenty of reading matter for rainy days but the climate decided to pull a fast one on us and give us more than two warm sunny days in a row! We actually got out for plenty of walks (minus Pepe, who is feeling his age a bit and just about manages a toddle around Loe Bar before getting homesick).

Our trips included a walk around the Lizard Peninsula, which was busy but absolutely gorgeous. We did our usual thing of getting lost on the way back, but I really didn’t fancy chancing my dodgy hip on the cliff path again. But it was fun and we ate pasties and took photos and muttered at the prices charged by the National Trust cafe.

Funnily enough, I was expecting to see more UKIP posters, like the last time we were in Cornwall, but they weren’t much in evidence. One estate we drove through had a street-full of Labour posters, but there were fields of Conservative posters and a couple of LibDems. Think Cornwall feels abandoned by all the main political parties. There were a lot of Independent councillors and a few Kernow-style nationalists. Still, it was good to get away from London for a few days.

When we got back, it was back to work in the study and a visit from my baby cousin Chanelle. She needed to get some shopping out of her system after a month in the middle of nowhere.

Charlie also got into her first choice school: Deptford Green. It’s a modern comprehensive with fantastic facilities, nice teachers and umm…improving…exam results. I think she’ll flourish there and the school will give her plenty of options. She’s pretty clever but she’s also got a real head for business that I’m not sure would be encouraged at a more academic school.

Hey diddley dee…

Remember I told you about that job where I worked on a tiny team, doing lots of projects? Well, as of 25 February, I will be working there no more. I won’t go into the messy detail, but after a lot of soul-searching, I decided that the time had come for me to cut loose and try contracting/freelancing again.

I’ve set up the portfolio and my LinkedIn profile is up to date. I’ve registered with some agencies and I’ve got a couple of applications in progress. On top of that, a contact has an idea about iBooks which could prove very interesting indeed.

Thinkstock ref 515071361
Arsing about with Thinkstock again. I hate these backwards writing pics.

I suspect that a number of factors will make work slow to begin with, but I’m fairly confident that my skills and experience will net me a set of interesting, intriguing jobs in the future. I’ll have to be more careful about budgeting and get my admin organised, but I think the payoff will be worth it: more time with Martin and Charlie, and maybe even a chance at finishing my MA .

In other news, Charlie sprained her knee while we were  rearranging her bedroom a couple of days ago. It meant a trip to A&E in an ambulance, but by the time the doctor got around to seeing us (two hours…not bad, considering) the swelling had gone down and she could almost walk normally. She’s still got a swollen knee but she’s not in much pain.

And…I am now a committee member of Nunhead WI. We had our inaugural meeting last night. We expected around 20 people to turn up, but to our surprise nearly 80 women squeezed into the upstairs room at the Old Nun’s Head. I was very cold-ridden and trying not to die but we were all bowled over by the wealth of talent and enthusiasm of all the new members. We’ve got a political lobbyist turned artist, several fundraisers, teachers, civil servants, researchers and marketeers, not to mention lawyers, project managers and crafters. Our next meeting is Monday 16 March and I have no idea what’s going to happen, but it’ll be fun finding out.

Still haven’t blogged

Still haven’t blogged

There have been a number of reasons for this. One is that the new job turned out to be very full-on and intense (it still is, but at least I’m not crying with exhaustion at the end of each week). That led to me dropping most of the things that interest me in life, apart from the family, the cats and the odd knitting project. I even gave up the choir, though there were other reasons for that (let’s just say “musical differences”).

So, a brief summary.

  1. I work in a tiny team, doing more projects than I care to mention (though it’s relatively quiet right now) for a big training company.
  2. I dropped out of my MA for a year or two because I didn’t have time to devote to the study. Since then I’ve been looking at the Allotment movement and pondering a change in subject. There’s a lot in there about land rights, working class organisation/agitation and the management of leisure time.
  3. We acquired a rabbit called Smokey.
  4. We lost a rabbit called Smokey to our friendly local fox. Charlie found a small mammal’s digestive system neatly arranged on the lawn and we worked out that that was what he left of Smokey. She was a lovely rabbit.
  5. Charlie is in Year 6. This means looking at SECONDARY SCHOOLS. So, here are our choices:
    1. Deptford Green
    2. Harris Girls Dulwich
    3. Haberdashers Aske’s Hatcham
    4. Addey & Stanhope
  6. Martin is still playing with Konni Deppe, and he has a new trio called The Neighbours Trio, made up of a couple of excellent young local musicians (they have beards) and a grumpy balding guitar player. They’re playing at the Ivy House in March sometime.
  7. Errr…
  8. That’s it.