Nocturnal is a youth-led interactive magazine and showcase platform using the arts to discuss social and cultural issues. To celebrate its Issue IV release event and website launch, I reflect back on my feature for the upcoming issue and how I interpreted the Heirloom theme. Specifically looking into what has been passed on to me, I interviewed my Grandma Gogo with my younger sister.
I had been wanting to capture Gogo’s voice, memories and personality for some time. My mum tried many times to record Gogo’s voice as it is so different from her own, but Gogo had always refused. Working on the Heirloom theme for Issue IV of Nocturnal, I have been able to reflect on what my Grandma has passed on to my sister and I, and create a lifelong memory. I feel privileged that she finally allowed me to do this and share it with others.
I was only allowed to interview her in the intervals between bringing in and hanging out washing, which she does religiously. I felt that another obstacle to this process was that Gogo is emotionally inarticulate; it’s sometimes difficult for her to say more than ‘this happened, that was sad’. But for this Nocturnal feature, Gogo was expansive about her experiences, and was able to give me and my family more insight into how it felt to arrive in the start of an English winter in 1958.
Gogo can talk for England or Barbados, or both, and is more likely to tell her life story to someone at the bus stop than to her family. But sometimes I’ll go into her room for a comb and she will tell me something interesting and profound about her life which she has never mentioned before. Gogo likes sharing songs and stories so I made her a CD of her favourite tunes as a thank-you for her involvement.
Since writing the article I have thought more about Lizzie and Joe – The Broken English Stories. In the 1930’s the Caribbean was cut off from the wider world except through trade. The Islands had different variations of English, mixed with a dialect from their native country, which are now just accents. When I was younger Gogo used to tell us stories in the broken English dialect, such as The Tales of Lizzie and Joe. These rhymes are fun and silly but tell stories of the time. One describes Joe’s friend as having ‘two nostril holes me two fists could fit in!’. This is the language that Gogo grew up with, but sadly it’s a dying dialect as it is mainly preserved with her generation. So Gogo is literally speaking history!
I have the option to learn sign language, the language of coding and any other tongue spoken across the world – they are all at my fingertips, but these stories will be lost if they are not documented. I have always half-wished Gogo were one of the older person who could Skype or email their grandchildren. This sadly won’t happen – Gogo has little idea of what the internet is and what it can do! Her sisters and relatives use Facebook so she has heard of it but that is as close as she has come. Gogo has a mobile phone but when she’s in England I probably have to remind her once a week how to use her brick phone to text and call. Realistically, Gogo will never grasp modern technology, whereas it will be a given for the next generation.
I’m highlighting this because it’s interesting to me – the skill sets of different generations. It is an expectation for my generation that you need at least a basic skill set of modern technology, whereas for her generation it was cooking and sewing. Gogo has many skills I admire and hope to attain; her sewing skills are phenomenal, she can make the family dresses, jumpsuits – you name it! Gogo also has incredibly green fingers – she once got her photo on the cover of a Barbados newspaper for having the biggest pumpkin on record grown on the island. Gogo cooks recipes I wouldn’t otherwise know and makes the best Jerk chicken, rice and peas I’ve ever had. Attitudes have changed and so have expectations. Sewing was a necessity; without it you wouldn’t have had clothes or certainly wouldn’t be able to repair them. In the modern first world, these skills would be considered as recreational and come under the creative umbrella of fashion and textiles. Our experiences of life, and therefore our expectations of our lives, are so different.
Gogo never got to live her dreams or even have the opportunity to try. It is definitely a factor when I think about my future, through the hard work of my immediate family, I am able to have choices, a luxury Gogo never knew.
– Nocturnal ‘Heirloom’ Issue IV
This is my first time writing an article, which made it easier as well as harder because the story I shared through Nocturnal is so personal to me and my family. I was half worried about putting people to sleep with an ‘essay’ on my Grandma and half worried I wouldn’t be able to capture the warmth of Gogo whilst also doing justice in sharing the difficulties she has faced. I also think this article means a lot to me now but will mean so much more when Gogo is no longer with us, which is the sad, honest truth. I’m lucky enough to have this new memory and experience with her to share with the wider world and future generations. An enormous thank you to Emma Blake Morsi and Nocturnal magazine for getting me involved and giving me the chance to do a project that I have been meaning to do for years!
Nocturnal is a youth-led interactive magazine and showcase platform using the arts as a medium to discuss social and cultural issues. Follow it on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Read the latest issue here. Find out more about the event marking the website launch and issue release here.
Yelena Gregg Weekes is a mixed heritage British / Barbadian young woman living in and loving Bristol. For her, being a Nocturnal Creative means engaging with her community, and having a place to discuss openly and intelligently cultural issues and topics, as well as celebrating the incredible creative work of the young people of Bristol and giving her a voice in the wider world.