In 1950, 1,700 people emigrated from Jamaica to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Twenty years later, in 1970, the number of emigrants had reached an alarming 23,000. The total number of immigrants in the UK in the year 1970 constituted, nonetheless, less than 5%.
On the topic of immigration, Enoch Powell (Conservative Party) delivered a controversial speech in Birmingham -1968 – after which he fell into disfavour and was dismissed from the shadow cabinet.
Edward Heath: elected Prime Minister, 1970. The 68th Prime Minister in the history of the British parliament, the conservative Edward Heath replaced Harold Wilson, the only labour Prime Minister in the last twenty years. Enoch Powell, dismissed, disgraced, was most saddened by the fact that his participation in the party’s victory could only take the form of his rather vocal support in front of the television set in the lounge of his comfortably furbished detached house.
What a naughty boy was that
To try to drown poor pussy cat
Who never did him any harm
And killed the mice
He winds his way through the estate; past the first two low-rise blocks, past the newsagent’s, the fish-n-chip shop, the launderette, the post office, the betting office and the off-licence. A short queue had formed in the chippy, and through the fluttering multicoloured strips of a plastic curtain hanging in the entrance to the betting office, men’s voices joke, shout, hope, swear. Post office being next to the betting office and the off -licence, a fair amount of welfare probably never made it through a man’s front door, thought Jack, such is life. He turns another corner:
A couple of houses in the block are boarded up. Amazing, how quickly a place can run down. It hadn’t been that bad when they’d moved in. If everyone were to plant a few flowers on their balcony in the summer and make sure their kids went to school, he didn’t want his kids turning teenagers in this environment but what could he do? His feet smack the concrete floor. The sound carries far, far enough for gangs lurking behind pillars yards ahead to know you were on your way but he lives there and isn’t afraid of boys trying to be men, he’d smack their bloody heads together if they ever tried to mug him or anyone in his family. In a parallel house an old lady’s sitting by her window, her curtains pushed aside. Elsewhere, a mother, fraught, fed up; “Daniel! Come ’ere before I give you one! Come ’ere right now… you fink I’m joking?” Silence for a while, then, “Daniel!” Impatience brewing. “Right that’s it, you’ve had ya warning.” Whack! A toddler’s wet, gargling scream. Father storms into the room, starts effing and blinding, but Daniel’s mum gives as good as she gets. Maybe it will come to blows. The old woman shakes her head as she withdraws from the window. From the profanity. Jack takes a shortcut past the playground; two car-tyre swings mope from the branches like carcinogenic fruit, a metal slide, a see-saw and a sandpit, or at least it had been, before the sand’d been pinched. Another left turn, and Jack is home. Lift’s not working again. He begins to climb the stairs to the seventh floor.
“S’at you, Jack?” She was in the kitchen.
“No, it’s Father bloody Christmas.”
A peck on the cheek, “Nice day?” She wipes her hands on her apron. Pushes her hair into place. She had been beautiful once.
“Same as usual.”
Jack sits down at the kitchen table in the hot, small, cluttered place so hard to air on cold days such as these. The paint blistered on the wall around the cooker.
“What’s for dinner, love?” He picks up a crayon. Colours, absent-mindedly, with daughter, Nina.
Jack’s wife stands over the sink peeling potatoes. “Police were round. Door-to-door questioning. Some old lady in Havelock was mugged coming back from the post office this morning, I dunno… Ben got a gold star for a story he wrote at school, didn’tya, darling? Go’n show daddy your gold star…” she dunks the peeled potato into the sink of cold water then plops it into the pot on the cooker. Leaning against the cupboard, she begins to clean the juice, the mud of the potatoes from her fingernails, looking, every now and then, out the window. Nothing ever happened out there, but you look just the same, like a fish in its bowl doing the rounds.
Jack looks at his wife. How many times had he told her it drove him up the wall the way she kept fiddling around with her fingernails like that.
“What’s for dinner, love?” he asks once more.
“Oh! Sausage n mash. Got a little baked beans left over from yesterday. You can ’ave those.”
‘Setting the book in Jamaica and England allows me to represent the communality of experience in addition to the effects and rewards of rupture. There are no losers in Long Time Walk on Water. Not even the most brutal of my characters. I see the vulnerability caused by need and I honour those who seek a way out. Harsh at times, Long Time Walk on Water is ultimately uplifting and life-affirming.’
(Joan Barbara Simon, interviewed by Lucy Walton for Female First)