Despite our marital difficulties, we put our differences aside last Friday and attended the Windrush 70-Year Commemoration Service at Westminster Abbey. And a fine occasion it was too, with Floella Beanjamin making a glamourous entrance, Sadiq Khan clearly enjoying working the crowds and some very moving testimonies about ‘No Irish No Blacks No Dogs’ being delivered from the pulpit.
There were some weird moments too, with Theresa May looking straight down at the floor as she entered like a frightened child. There was also the Ricky Gervais-like awkwardness of hundreds of people sitting still in uncomfortable silence, trying to hear the great gospel music being sung about three hundred yards away in the choir stalls.
I then went from one extreme to the other. By evening time I was in the West of Ireland to visit my Old Man on Westport’s Atlantic coast. As it had been in London earlier, the weather was glorious, and the daylight lasted easily until eleven at night. On my evening walk, the sun was casting shadows of me at least fifty yards long over the Mayo hills, the silence broken only by a few sheep. J and I had spent many an hour walking these hills together in happier times, and I lamented that we we would probably never do so again.
Although the West of Ireland was in so many ways different from London and the Windrush diaspora that I had been among earlier that day, I reflected on how similar they also were in time and place. So many people from the Caribbean as well as from Ireland must have had similar experiences of migration to England, both in the youthful excitement of travel and discovery, as well as the disappointment of discrimination and family separation that followed. It hurts to think about the pain suffered by black people in England, but it also made me proud to think about the irresistible impact made by both peoples on the life of this country. I feel sorry for anyone who has only ever grown up in a monocultural environment.