Monthly Archives: April 2019

Troubled waters by Ella Jukwey

One of a series of blog posts written by Brunel’s creative writing students, inspired by the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies.

Louise believed Wilfred was sent to her from heaven. But he did not look like the angels with blonde hair and halos above their heads, she had been taught about. Wilfred was an angel who had dreadlocks that reached his shoulder, he smoked, he drank, and he fornicated. 

He was Louise’s personal angel because he had been there to save her when she nearly gave up hope.

It was terrible finding somewhere to live back in those days. A house will say ‘Room for Let’ and as soon as they see my black face they think of some excuse. I remember knocking on a door in East Ham, and the lady tell me there are no rooms left. I know it was just her and her dog, but she’d be damned if she let a black person sleep under her roof. I then went to Camden, and a fat man saw me and slammed the door in my face.

I’d been in London for six months now, and I was starting to wonder what was the point? I left my son Errol for this. I left my twin brother Louis for this.  I would look at the building signs that said, ‘No Blacks No Dogs No Irish’ and it made sense to me why the sun never shone here. 

After months of looking for a place to stay, finally someone had space for me; it was a one-bedroom house in Tottenham, and I knocked on the door. The first thing he did when he see me was smile.

‘My name is Wilfred,’ he said.

‘I’m looking for a room? My name is Louise, I’ve got a good job and I can pay the bills.’

‘Even if you couldn’t pay, I would let you stay,’ he said to me.

He was tall, his head brushed past the door. I didn’t reply when he spoke to me, I just looked into his eyes for a few minutes. I hadn’t felt like this since I met Benjamin – Errol’s papi. He reached out his hand and I clasped onto it tight. I followed him into the house.

‘You drink Louise?’ he asked me.

‘I don’t drink, but I cook. I can make English food, I can make yard food.’

‘I don’t need a maid,’ he chuckled and passed me a glass.

I took a sip of the drink, and it was rum. We went to sit on the sofa in the living room. It felt like we talked about everything in a few minutes. He came to England as a child, and he didn’t remember Dominica where his parents were from. He wanted to go back, he was sick of being treated like an animal here. Wilfred had a job as a bus driver and told me I could stay with him here forever. I told him I was tired and had work early in the morning and asked him to show me where I would be sleeping. He took me to the bedroom and there was a bed which was the only thing in the room.

‘Where you going to sleep?’ I asked him.

‘That’s the only bed here. I won’t do anything you don’t want,’ he said to me.

I went into the bathroom and changed into some looser clothes. When I came back, Wilfred was on the bed but firmly facing the wall. I went to lie down on the bed and looked the other way. Our backs were touching and after five minutes I tapped his back.

‘Can you hold me please?’ I asked him. ‘Can you keep me warm in this cold country?’ He then faced me and held me tight.

‘You’ve got a letter,’ Wilfred told me, and he passed me a brown envelope. I had just gotten home from a ten-hour shift. I was working a different job every day. On Mondays and Wednesdays I was a waitress. On Thursdays and Tuesdays I was a cleaner, and on Fridays I worked in a factory. The waitress job was the worst but it paid the best.  The customers were so rude to me: I had been threatened, people asking for someone else to serve them and been called a monkey. Today had been a particularly horrible day, when a customer spat in my face. When I opened the envelope addressed to me, it reminded me why I did not break that skinny woman in two and why I still do the job.

It was a picture of Errol, my baby boy. He was smiling, and I could see his milk teeth were coming out. My pickney looked so handsome in his school uniform. He was now attending Kingston School for Boys, one of the best schools in Jamaica. My three jobs were paying for his education and seeing a picture of his face made it all worth it. I will take all the rubbish they throw at me in order to give my baby boy the best future in the world.

‘That Errol?’ Wilfred asked me.

I nodded in reply.

‘He got your eyes, look just like you.’

‘I don’t know if he should come here or stay there. The people in this country so rude and the weather is so cold. But Errol could go to university here, he could become a doctor or a lawyer,’ I said to Wilfred.

‘I thought you hated it here. Surprised you wanna bring your son to a country you hate’ Wilfred said.

‘I don’t hate it here completely. Errol being taken care of makes being here worth it – and you,’ I said to him and looked into his eyes.

He kissed me, and we went to the bedroom. We did this a lot. I knew I shouldn’t be doing it, as he never called me his woman but it felt good. He felt good. Wilfred worked nights as a bus driver, so after he held me he then went on to work. I hated when he left me, I just wanted to sleep in his arms and wake up to his face.

The next day was Tuesday when I did the cleaning. I did not mind the cleaning job because I did not have to talk to people. I just cleaned an office in East London, and the people did not bother me. I think they liked that I was cleaning and they could ignore me. I liked being invisible, it made the day go faster.

When I came back to the house, I see a suitcase in front of the door. I knock on the door cause I am confused. As I wait for Wilfred to open the door, I open the suitcase and I see it’s my stuff that been packed away. He finally opens the door, before he can speak a woman runs toward with me.

‘Yolanda, stop it,’ Wilfred said and he pulls the woman away from me as she lunges towards me with a rolling pin. Her skin is a golden colour, and her face is dotted with freckles.

‘You the woman that been sleeping with my husband!’ she yells at me.

‘I never touch her,’ Wilfred tells Yolanda. He looks at me to say something.

‘He never touch me,’ I say.

‘I don’t believe you, but I don’t want you here. It not right, you sleeping in the same bed as a married man,’ Yolanda says to me.

‘Where have you been?’ I ask her.

‘Wilfred never mention me? I went to Birmingham, my mother here too and she sick.’

‘He mention you, I must’ve forgotten the reason you left,’ I said to her.

Yolanda gives one more look to me and then to Wilfred. She believed our lie and went back into the house.

‘I’m sorry Louise,’ Wilfred said to me.

He was just like Errol’s papi. I thought Wilfred was different. I was silly to think that.      

I turned back and never saw him again. I went back to looking for a room to stay in, but this time it wasn’t just for me it was for my baby girl.

© Ella Jukwey, 2019. All rights reserved.

‘Troubled Waters’ is inspired by Pure Running – a Life Story by Louise Shore, in the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, Special Collections, Brunel Library, Brunel University London.

Author’s note:

I found Louise Shore’s biography Pure Running inspiring because of the current political climate and the human story at the heart of it. With the outrage surrounding the treatment of Windrush generation, I thought my own interpretation of Louise’s story would be poignant. In my short story, the racism Louise faces is addressed but I also wanted to show a deeply personal side to her. What inspired my depiction of her relationship with Wilfred, is the fifth chapter entitled ‘Trouble’. I gave my short story the title ‘Troubled Waters’ due to the title of this chapter and Louise’s surname being Shore.

Ella Jukwey was born in Fulham, London, to Nigerian parents. She attended London College of Communication, where she graduated in BA Journalism. Ella is currently studying for an MA in Creative Writing at Brunel University London. Ella has worked as a music journalist since September 2011. She has written album and event reviews for the Independent and the MOBO Awards editorial website. Ella has interviewed British rapper and writer Akala for American publication Revolt TV. Ella is also a member of the MOBO Awards voting academy.
Ella began her creative writing career in 2012, with short stories that she published on document sharing website Scribd. She released her first novel Crossroads in 2013. Her second novel Dirty Diamonds (2015) follows the scandalous life of journalist Harley-Jade Diamond. Ella released her third novel Mimi Memoirs in December 2015. Ella has been nominated for a BEFFTA award for Best Author three times. In November 2015, Ella was one of the nominees in the Female Writer category for the Amor Lifestyle Awards.


Preservation Week 2019

A major part of our work in Special Collections is to ensure that our materials will still be available to future generations of scholars and visitors. Many of the objects we hold are made of sturdy stuff, our rare 18th century books will probably outlast us all, but other items such as our photographic collections are more fragile, and even stable materials can become vulnerable over decades. To this end we spend a lot of time making sure materials are stored in optimal conditions to extend their life and usefulness. This week we are participating in the ALA Preservation Week by celebrating all things preservation and giving you an insight into the activities we undertake. On Monday 29 April you can even come along to our free lunchtime workshop to find out more about preserving your own family history (places are free but limited, please book in advance).

Pencil sketches added by a former owner to our copy of The poems of Sir Walter Raleigh (1814). Find out more about this book.

Where and how you store different materials can have a big impact on their lifespan. We try to store collections in a space that has a consistent temperature and humidity all year round. This is because extremes of temperature and the presence of moisture in the air can induce a harmful reaction in different materials. For instance, paper can be vulnerable to mould in hot and wet conditions or older colour photographs can decay in high temperatures.

Special Collections is equipped with snazzy blue blinds to prevent sunlight artificially warming our facility, with the addition of ultraviolet filters to prevent yellowing of paper and fading of inks. We also monitor the temperature and humidity of our collections with some basic digital indicators to give us a warning of problems.

Additionally, we keep our eyes peeled for any pests such as silverfish that might take a fancy to our materials for food or accommodation. We use pest traps to monitor any nuisance visitors, and if we find any try to modify the environment to discourage their visits.

Other environmental factors should also be considered. This might include dust, or pollution if you live in a built up area. One way to mitigate these is to store materials in an enclosure like a box that will prevent light and particles from accessing the item. This is a simple way to preserve heirlooms or keepsakes, although you do have to check on them occasionally to make sure there is nothing happening inside the box itself.

Interestingly, a common way materials become damaged is just through poor handling. To try and minimise handling and stress we use book supports to cradle our printed materials when they are being viewed. We also add a protective layer of Melinex to items like photographs or paper to prevent them from being damaged by constant use. At home, something as simple as washing your hands before handling rare materials can limit environmental pollutants.

With these safeguards in place we hope our collections will be available for years to come.If you would like more information about Preservation week visit the ALA webpages for advice and insights.

1920 by Alisha Mor

One of a series of blog posts written by Brunel’s creative writing students, inspired by the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies.

Being a Muslim and walking in a Hindu area was never a problem. But, being a Muslim and walking in a Hindu Temple was a sin. And Karim knew that. But he hadn’t had anything to eat for the past five days and he was on the verge of giving up. That’s when he saw that there’s Prasad bhojan (1) in the temple of Shri Krishna on the account of Janmashtami(2). He saw this as an opportunity but being a conservative Muslim, he was quite apprehensive about going into a temple. What if he got caught? What if they beat him? He was afraid of all the possible consequences. Right then, he heard a huge growl from his stomach and it was decided. He was going to masquerade as a Hindu.

Walking inside the temple, he saw two idols, one of a man and the other of a woman. They were dressed quite elaborately. Having never stepped inside a temple before, he had no knowledge of how Hindu Gods looked. Since everyone was gathered around the two idols, he assumed that the idols were God. Hindu gods looked quite different from what he was used to seeing. Muslims don’t have idols, they have prayer rooms and minarets and domes. It was a completely new experience for Karim. He instinctively raised his hands in front of his face as if he were praying in the usual way. Just before the priest could see him do that, he recognized his error and looked at the couple before him. They had their palms joined in front of them in Namaste position. He mimicked them.

When he moved forward with the line, he saw that the priest was offering sweets and everyone presented their right hand forward with the left one supporting it from below. He kept his hands in that position when his turn came.

But what he wasn’t expecting was the priest to ask his name. Again, his instincts had him saying, ‘Karim’. The priest smiled but then stopped. He asked him to repeat his name. Karim realized his blunder. But he didn’t have any Hindu friends and whatever he knew about them was already limited. Something came in his memory from a long time ago, when he was a kid and used to play outside with his friends. There used to be a group of Hindu boys who used to play sitoliya (3).

Remembering one of the names he heard when the guys used to call each other, he blurted out, ‘Karan'(4). The priest smiled again and murmured something about his old age and how he has trouble hearing these days. When he got the sweet, he swiftly moved away before he causes any more mistakes. After coming to the side of the temple, he breathed a sigh of relief. Opening his palm, he hurriedly gobbled up the sweet.

Now all he had to do was to go the pandaal (5) behind the temple and have food. But there was one more barrier. There was a man in front of the gate asking people to recite a mantra from the Hindu’s holy book Bhagvad Gita. Now, he truly had no option left. He had zero knowledge regarding Hindus, forget about knowing anything from the Bhagvad Gita. Dejectedly, he turned to go away when he heard two women talking about the event. He tried to eavesdrop on their conversation without making it look too obvious. But the looks he was getting from other people made him realise he was quite unsuccessful in that case.

Having no other way to go inside, he left. He had to satisfy himself with that piece of sweet. At least he’d got that. He was about to leave the temple when he crashed into an older man. The one thing he knew about Hindus was that they can start a conversation anywhere and with anyone. And that’s what happened. The man whom he had never met before started talking to him as if they were long lost best friends. Karim tried very hard to shorten the conversation so that his identity wouldn’t get leaked, but the man seemed in no mood to stop. While talking, Karim found out that the man’s name was Kishore and he was going to a tailor’s shop from here. His daughter wanted a salwar kameez (6) for her birthday so he was going to ask the tailor to take her measurements.

Once again, Karim couldn’t stop himself and said, ‘I’m a tailor as well.’ And then instantly, kept his hand on his mouth. He just couldn’t shut up. He regretted saying that. What if this man asks him to come home with him? At least here, he had the option of running away if he got caught. But there wouldn’t be any escape at this man’s house.

As soon as the words had left Karim’s mouth, Kishore smiled a wide enough smile to break his cheekbones.

‘Oh thank God! I am so lucky to have met you. It’s true that everything turns out well in God’s home. Will you please come to my home to take my daughter’s measurements for the dress? I would be so grateful if you would do that,’ said Kishore exactly as Karim had feared.

‘But, but what about the other tailor? Don’t you have a permanent tailor from where you get all your clothes done? He might feel offended if he comes to know that you went to someone else.’ Karim tried pushing the man in the direction of his original tailor.

Kishore wasn’t going to let him win though. ‘No no, he is not permanent. Our permanent tailor has gone to his village and the one I’m going to is so far that I really didn’t want to go. So, no one would feel bad and we both could gain something from it. Plus, my wife has made Aaloo Puri(7) today, I’m sure you’ll like it. Come, my friend, let’s help each other.’

If Karim wanted he could have just said no but Kishore was so friendly to him that he didn’t want to upset him. Also, he was getting free food. Wasn’t getting free food the whole point of him being here? If he could have a nice meal, it would all be worth it.

When they reached Kishore’s house, Karim saw that the house was two-storeyed and quite simple. No elaborate paintings or showpieces. And it felt at home. Karim was still in doubt but since he was already here, he wanted to make the best out if it.

Kishore called for his wife and a woman dressed in a sari came out with a glass of water. Seeing Karim, she went back inside and brought two glasses of water. Karim eagerly gulped even the last drop. He was about to thank her when he heard Kishore telling her to prepare the food. Hearing that, Karim kept quite and waited for his first meal in days.

Soon, the steaming plate of food was in front of him and he ate heartily. He, for the first time, thanked his stupid mouth. Kishore wasn’t lying about the food and everything was so delicious that he just couldn’t stop himself from having refills. Even though there was no meat, since Hindus don’t eat meat, the food was still quite delicious.

After everything was polished off, Kishore called for his daughter, Aarti. Out came running a young girl who looked no older than twenty. She had long hair which was tied in a braid and she was wearing chaniya choli. Karim had never seen a girl who could look so pure and beautiful at the same time. He quickly averted his eyes. Even he knew that staring at a girl wasn’t appreciated and it is the same in every religion. There was a tinge of red on his cheeks which he quickly tried to hide.

Kishore told Aarti that Karim will take his measurements and left the room. Now, normally a parent wouldn’t leave their daughter alone in a room with a strange man. But, Kishore had to check on something and his wife had already begun the preparations for the dinner.

He looked at Aarti to find her looking at him softly. He got up and with shaky hands, picked up the measurement tape. He was able to relax when he saw that she was looking at him with a kind smile, rather than as someone who was ready to charge him with assault.

He began taking her measurements. He first took of both her hands, her neck and her waist. When he came to take the measurements of her chest, his hands once again grew shaky and he looked up when he heard her speak.

‘Wait, I’ll raise my hands so that you can take it easily,’ she said.

He took the measurements of her chest and noted down all his markings. He then went down on his knee to take the measurements for her legs. He didn’t want to ask her to raise up her dress, but he didn’t have to. She did it herself. His hand went inside her dress and he carefully took the measurements of her ankles and then his hand went up.

By now, he was sweating profusely and he just wanted to run away. But he knew if he did that, it would only make him more suspicious. Shaky hands travelled up her legs and stopped when they reached her thighs. Very slowly and making sure he didn’t move his hand upward or anywhere else, he took the measurement. Then he hurriedly removed his hand from her dress, breathing heavily.

Quickly, jotting down the measurements he blurted something like that he’d come back to show her the fabric and everything and to thank her father for the meal. Then he rushed out of the house knowing that he’d never come back, and with only one thought in his mind: Was he still a virgin?

© Alisha Mor, 2019. All rights reserved.

‘1920’ was Inspired by Faizur Raul’s book Bengal to Birmingham, in the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, Special Collections, Brunel Library, Brunel University London.

Author’s note:

I was particularly inspired by Bengal to Birmingham because being an Indian, the title intrigued me and I was quite curious to know more about it. Also, when I first started reading, I didn’t think I’d make it to the end but as the story progressed, I felt like I was taking that journey alongside the author. And I am glad I made it till the end because it was simply an unearthly journey.

Alisha Mor is a part-time share market analyst, choreographer and an avid reader of fiction. She is the author of ‘Mine’ and several other short stories. She initially started writing on Wattpad, where she posted her very first story. In just a month she had gained thousands of readers which gave her the confidence to write more stories. Now, she’s the author of five novels and goes by the name of ‘alishamayamor’.  She’s currently doing her Masters of Arts in Creative Writing from Brunel University London.

  • (1) Food given as an offering
  • (2) The celebration of the birth of Lord Krishna
  • (3) A game of stones “Times New
  • (4) A Hindu name
  • (5) The place where food was served
  • (6) An Indian dress which consists of a long top and loose pants
  • (7) A dish made of potatoes and bread

Working class stories

Author Tony White introduces a series of new works by Brunel creative writing students inspired by the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies. We’ll be posting a story or poem per week for the next 8 weeks.

This spring I’ve once again been a visiting lecturer at Brunel University London, where I’ve been privileged to teach two groups of postgraduate students from Brunel’s Creative Writing masters courses on an MA module called ‘Writers at Work’ that explores creative writing projects in education and in the community, giving postgraduates the skills and tools needed to design, run and evaluate writing workshops and other activities, including residencies and live literature events. Part of the module has involved the students undertaking archival research in the Special Collections section of Brunel Library.

Students taking part in one of the ‘Writers at work’ module workshops using the Burnett Archive in Special Collections

Brunel Library’s Special Collections is located on Level 3 of the library, and is home to a varied range of collections, used by students and visiting researchers, and to support teaching. The collections cover a wide range of subject areas, including transport history, the Channel Tunnel, poetry and dialect, equality and advocacy. You can read descriptions of them on the Collections page.

For ‘Writers at Work’, the creative writing postgraduates focused on the Burnett Archive of Working-Class Autobiographies, which contains more than 230 memoirs of working class life, some dating back to the late 18th century.

The Burnett Archive is a fascinating resource, and the texts are rich in day-to-day detail of family lives and relationships, politics and work, expressive language and dialects, and the realities of poverty and working class life in the UK during the 19th and 20th centuries. These memoirs make for fascinating reading. There are stories of orphanage and school life, migration, of running away to the circus or to sea, of town and country, and of forgotten customs and folklore. There are wounding encounters with two world wars and a merciless class system, as well as truly heartbreaking stories of extreme poverty, homelessness and domestic violence.

Dr Nick Hubble of Brunel’s English Department – and author of the recent The Proletarian Answer to the Modernist Question (Edinburgh University Press, 2017) – has been undertaking British Academy-funded research on the Burnett Archive, exploring the relationship between working-class autobiography, proletarian autobiografiction and social change. For Hubble the Burnett Archive is:

a window on to the relationship between self and the world as understood by ordinary people in often extraordinary times, which sheds light on how structures of feeling evolve and new socio-cultural values emerge.

For me, it has been really heartening to see a new generation of emerging writers responding to, and gaining confidence from these rare documents from the past: voices that but for the work in the early 1970s of John Burnett, David Vincent and David Mayall, might otherwise have been lost. Working with the Burnett Archive gives the creative writing students a working introduction to archival research, learning transferable skills and protocols that they may take up in their own professional lives as writers, but it is primarily an invaluable reminder that working class and other marginalised voices are often excluded from literature and mainstream culture; and an opportunity to address and counter such exclusions.

Brunel creative writing postgraduates have used the historical texts as the inspiration for new pieces of writing, which in turn may create new kinds of insights and focus into the worlds held within the Burnett Archive, as well as finding new ways to relate these historical accounts to contemporary life. For the next 8 weeks, as part of the ‘Writers at Work’ module, we’ll be sharing a selection of these new works here on the Special Collections blog: stories, autobiographical accounts, and poetry by Brunel postgraduates Caren Duhig, Kathryn Gynn, Marie-Teresa Hanna, Katie Higgins, Ella Jukwey, Josa Keyes, Iris Mauricio, Alisha Mor, and Anna Tan.

Tony White’s latest novel The Fountain in the Forest is published by Faber and Faber. He is the author of five previous novels including Foxy-T and Shackleton’s Man Goes South, several novellas and numerous short stories. White has been creative entrepreneur in residence in the French department at King’s College London, and writer in residence at London’s Science Museum and at the UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies. White has worked in the national office of Arts Council England, and in 1994 he founded the artists’ book series Piece of Paper Press. From 2010–2018 Tony White chaired the board of London’s award-winning arts radio station Resonance 104.4fm.