The Circus

The Circus

Pp 223-225

21st C

On my first trip to UK from Australia in 1966 I stayed with my brother and his wife in Mile End in London. They were both teaching in the East End on their first visit to England. She was employed in the school at Victoria Docks which featured in the film BLACKBOARD JUNGLE. At the time the school, with an all-white studentship , was rough, dirty and grungy, offering a tough experience for a young Tasmanian woman.

My brother , on the other hand, taught at a comprehensive school in Dagenham, where the children of newly-arrived West Indian employees of Dagenham's car industry made up a large proportion of the pupils. This school was well-run and the West Indian children were described by my brother as being "lovely kids", well-behaved and a joy to teach. He must have been quite popular with them too. The day he left the post to return to Australia the staff gave him lunch at the historic LORD NELSON pub on the banks of The Thames. When he returned to school in a somewhat merry mood that afternoon all the school kids grabbed hold of him, lined up behind him and ordered him to lead a conga line, dancing right around the school before they let him go.

I was reminded of my visit to Mile End today because when I was there I had my hair cut by a lass at the local hairdresser. She was about nineteen or twenty and amazed me by telling me she had never been to London, meaning the centre of the city. She had lived all her life in the East End but had never travelled out of the immediate area.

Yesterday another twenty year old, a carer who lives in Bath, told me she had had a lovely time the previous day.

"What did you do?" I asked.

"I went to London for the first time!"

I could hardly believe it. A modern young woman with silver studs adorning her nose had driven herself to London with a couple of female friends as passengers. She had once been taken there briefly as a baby. The train jouney takes one and a half hours and the drive by car takes about two hours. But in all those years she had never been back .

"Did you like it?" I asked.

"It was a wonderful experience," she replied. She had had her first ride on the underground ("overcrowded and too hot for comfort") and saw her first performance of a musical comedy in the capital.

I am left wondering just how many people are not curious enough to make the effort to visit one of the great cities in the world when they live within its shadow.