Which reminds me, it’s time for Paul Boakye. Paul is a playwright and the editor of Drum magazine and is apparently a seriously natty dresser. Alas, Paul’s mother died last year, and last year, he also got to visit his father’s grave in Jamaica for the first time. These things left him feeling, understandably, alone.
Interestingly, as you’ll hear, Paul speaks to himself in the third person, a characteristic he shares with Dick Dale, the guitarist behind our oft-discussed signature tune. How you doing, Dick, I’ll ask. “Dick Dale is fine,” he’ll reply. “Don’t I remember you from The Old Grey Whistle Test?” Let’s join Paul. – John Peel.
He was never one to think of his childhood; he wanted to free himself from the past. Hohn Peele wanted to get rid of the hurt—to be born again. Now, as he prepared to bury his mother and to start a new career of which she would have been proud, floods of emotions from a childhood past came rushing back at him.
“Mum, why’s he crying?” “I don’t know, sweetheart. Maybe he just don’t like Airports. Why don’t you ask him? He’s your brother.”
“Do you think he’d like a doughnut, Mum?”
“Well, he don’t know doughnuts like we know doughnuts, Jacque. Ask him.”
“Why is he so small and dark?”
“Don’t be mean!”
You see, his dad had run off with their housekeeper in 1966 and took the boy with them to Jamaica when he was only 3-years old. Mum was left to fend for herself and his baby sister here in England. Living the life of Riley on the island, the boy is chauffeur-driven to and from school. He spends weekends idling on daddy’s new farm presided over by an evil stepmother. That is until his father is arrested for possession of marijuana and the boy is shipped off back to England to a mother of whom he has no memory.
So, in the nine-hour flight from Kingston’s Michael Manley Airport to London’s Heathrow, his social-status had dropped from privileged middle-class to stigmatised under-class. Neither English nor Jamaican, he was simply “Black, Wog, Coon, Nigger,” or any one of the other insults children and adults spat out back in the 1970s. Like “Oi, you! Jungle-Bunny! Why don’t you go back home to the tree-top where you come from?”
But how does a ten-year-old boy tell ignorant parents and their children that just for fun, he rode his cousin’s helicopters to water the cash-rich crops on their Banana Breeding Station? Should he have to reveal that his family bred racehorses? Naw! – They could not conceive of it, and so he kept silent.
Then to make matters worse, his beloved father died within three months of his arrival at a new school in Peckham. He couldn’t even cry. He had cried throughout the entire plane journey from Kingston to London and almost non-stop for two weeks. There were no more tears left to cry. And as the young boy sought a way to release his pent-up grief and anger, teachers were pulled off chairs, books flung across classrooms, and no one dared laugh at him anymore after he beat the school bully red-raw with a bicycle pump.
The man today has a melancholic weakness for taxi rides, autumn colours, fathers and their sons, the comforting whisper of crickets and frogs, tropical rain against zinc roofs, and nights turning to rivers. He has finally had a chance to examine his father’s grave, deep down among the wild Banana trees on the family plot in the parish of Saint Mary, with the desire not for a sign but a familiar sensation. But nothing, except for an overwhelming sense of his mother’s continued love and her everlasting presence.
As he thought about it all now, entering through London’s Heathrow, Immigration laid eyes on him:
“Where are you travelling from today, sir?”
“Why have you landed at Heathrow?”
“What do you mean?”
“What is the purpose of your visit today?”
“Excuse me? I am carrying a British Passport.”
“Do you live here, sir?”
“Am I speaking English?”
“We get all sorts speaking English, these days.”
“Well, I live here, okay? Is that all right by you? Is this your welcome home?”
“You can go through now – sir.”
“Thanks a lot – mate.”
As he glided his bags and thoughts through customs, he spoke out aloud to himself – “I must tell that one to Mum, she’ll love it!” And that’s when it finally hit him. “But Mum is died! Mum is dead! My God!” And standing there in the middle of Heathrow Airport, he started to cry like a child.
- Darker Than Blue was written and recorded by Paul Boakye for Home Truths introduced by John Peel for BBC Radio 4 with animation developed by the author.
- You may also like The Ugly Sisters: My First Writing Success.
Home Truths, mum died, father’s grave