Stepney or Knightsbridge ? What’s the difference?
Today is the anniversary of my mother’s birth, Monday, April 3rd, 1916. If by some miracle she was alive she would be 103.
‘Mondays’ child is fair of face : my mother and her red hair was the inspiration for the beautiful, vulnerable , spirited heroine, Maeve, in ‘Mi Dei Pa’am.’
Born on the day when Patrick Pearse mobilised the Irish Rising, her red hair courtesy of her Irish heritage said it all. She, like Maeve was a fighter too.
Mam was born mid- First World War into poverty, in a disease-stricken suburb of Manchester, when men were dispensable political fodder in a devastating war, and women did not have the vote.
Mam, born in one war, endured a second. Hardship taught her resilience, humour, immense
appreciation for simple things; a vase of Spring flowers, chocolates at Christmas, and in response
to the rags she was forced to wear in childhood, like Maeve, a love of fashion.
My mother, the fashionista and ex-cotton mill worker, influenced by Manchester’s love affair with
cotton, sashayed though my childhood in shimmering satin and broderie anglaise, in colours she
was starved of during war years. Like Maeve, shades of blue were her passion.
Me, dressed in Dutch-capped sleeved creations, lilac-panelled silk frocks delicately embellished with
pale purple flowers, lemon brocade picot-edged designs, polka- dot pinafores; I felt the colour
against the olive tones of my skin; calm in blue, delicate in apple green, vibrant in red.
My childhood was full of colour, fun and fragrances of fresh cotton; trips to the seaside, new
clothes at Whitsun, but above all joy born from the relief of wars’ end, inspiring hope, health,
education and opportunity.
In a rapidly changing world Mam found it challenging to have a meal outside the home even in the
simplest café; speaking to professionals , doctors, teachers were an anathema to her. Mam’s
modesty sprang from the paucity of her early life, allowing her to look only from the outside in at her ‘betters’. Maeve, unlike Mam ,responded to her experiences flexibly. Maeve is Mam with
opportunity and ‘attitude ’.
I benefited from the post- war ‘love’ culture. In the sixties it was more than acceptable for a
miner’s son to be invited to a party by an Earl ‘s daughter. Wasn’t Mick Jagger’s ‘Play with Fire’ a
song about social equality? His rising rock star contrasting with an heiress now getting ‘her kicks
in Stepney not in Knightsbridge anymore’.
However, what we gained in social equality we lost in social cohesiveness often leaving ‘ghost’ towns and a new poverty . As for the likes of me, I am bequeathed a precarious uncertainty, which often feels like walking a tight rope without a net. Mam and Maeve were a product of their generation as I am of mine.
Maeve escapes one culture’s prejudice moving from a ‘Stepney’ to a ‘Knightsbridge’ . So, Stepney to Knightsbridge what’s the difference ? There is none.