DAY 97: Thurs 18 June

Racists wreck a slave’s grave, and I am reminded of a responsibility to an old friend.

It has been raining steadily for most of the night, and will continue to do so for the rest of the day, if the sky is anything to go by. The chickens are standing stock still looking up at the grey sky as the water dripped down the steps towards them.

The kitchen is a mess with pots and pans everywhere and the cooker in the middle of the room. We have stemmed the ‘leak’ but a cap will be needed to ensure we don’t get flooded again. I take pictures and see if the local plumbers’ supplies firm has the right item. They say they have, but seem to have the wrong measurements. I am still working out how to proceed. To call a plumber would almost certainly be prohibitive and anyway I can’t have people in the house. I am not supposed to go out or to shops, So the kitchen can stay as it is for now. The cooker is still useable.

The horrid local news story of the day is that some pathetic racists have vandalised the grave of Scipio Africanus, a teenage slave in the service of the Duke of Suffolk, whose headstone in St Mary’s churchyard in Henbury has been tended with care since 1729. It was almost a place of pilgrimage for my family when we went for a weekend walk down the gorge at Blaise Castle emerging into the church yard. 

The plaintive inscription on his grave never failed to shock. 

I who was Born a PAGAN and a SLAVE Now sweetly sleep a CHRISTIAN in my Grave What tho’ my hue was dark my SAVIOR’S sight Shall Change this darkness into radiant Light Such grace to me my Lord on earth has given To recommend me to my Lord in heaven Whose glorious second coming here I wait With saints and Angels him to celebrate

We cannot be sure who composed that verse but I wonder if those who desecrated the grave bothered to read it and recognise the racist trope that prefigured their own contorted view of humanity. Nor do we know, yet, who scrawled on the flagstones beside the grave the ominous warning: ‘Now look at what you made me do. Stop protesting. Leave Elliott’s grave alone. Put Colston’s statue back or things will really heat up.’

The reference is to a music hall performer G.H. Elliott who appeared on stage as the ‘Chocolate Coloured Coon’ almost a century ago He was one of many who ‘blacked up’ to perform in the days. Indeed The Black and White Minstrel Show was a popular feature of Saturday night entertainment on British TV until the last 1970s. The Rottingdene parish where Elliott is buried have covered up his gravestone which contains the offensive word. Meanwhile Bristol City Council have lifted Colston’s statue from the dock and it will eventually be seen in a very different context as a reminder of Bristol’s slave trade history.

Yesterday I heard from friends in France who are doing well, apparently able to traverse the country and finding the time and energy to take part in demonstrations in support of the heath service.

Today President Macron comes to London to celebrate General de Gaulle’s call to resistance after the Nazis overran France. This is an easy and much need PR event for Britain’s Prime Minister. The death of Vera Lynn gives added poignancy to the occasion. It remind’s me that I have not worked on my translation from the French of Mihran Mavian’s autobiography of his years in the Resistance. One of many Armenian heroes he was a humble cobbler with a shoe shop when I first met him through his daughter whom I had been teaching English. She has entrusted her translation from the Armenian to me. I need to get on with it.

Meanwhile it sounds like Michael (Hawky McHawkface) Bolton’s book about his days in the White House is pretty devastating, even after it has been approved for publication by the security services. But if he is so convinced the man he worked with for 18 months is such a dangerous incompetent why didn’t he agree to give evidence at the impeachment hearings, especially as he now says they didn’t go far enough? Surely it couldn’t be because he needs the money from sales of a sensational memoire? Or maybe, heaven forfend, he wants a job with Joe Biden (no thank you very much). Inevitably Trump, why slavered at the chops when Bolton agreed to work for him, now calls his a ‘wacko’.

An unexpected delivery today – two parasols I ordered when the sun was at full strength. I had one old one which is torn and needed to go, and another more recent purchase which was part of a cheap garden set. Cheap being the operative word, and it has fallen apart! Another lesson in you get what you pay for.

My son’s partner delivered some fresh vegetables my son had bought for me, nut he rings to say I must wash everything as he has gone down with what he thinks may be COVID19 symptoms. He has ordered a test. A worrying call. His whole family will now go into lockdown.

On a brighter note one of my nieces is 40 today! We held a great family gathering on Zoom that went on for hours. Much wine was taken. So much so that my house guest ended up cooking the dinner I had intended to make. I must admit his version of roast chicken was far tastier than the one I had planned.

After a good meal and pepper vodka I fell asleep watching TV, hence the late appearance of this entry! 

Mike J

Journalist, trainer, editor; storyteller; amateur historian.

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