Back when Noah was a lad and I was around 4 foot tall, I learned some valuable lessons.
I learnt how to ‘visualise’ large numbers by counting out 169 at a time of my aunt’s long discarded jet beads into neat piles, and that they don’t have tigers in Africa.
My Grand-Mother had set me the task of reading ’Little Black Sambo’ to her whilst she baked, and when I reached the passage where Sambo consumes 169 pancakes, she had asked ‘how high would a pile of 169 pancakes be’? I knew how thick one pancake was, but visualising 169 of anything was a task beyond me – hence the box of unstrung beads she gave me. It was an early lesson in the art of unpicking skills that seem beyond you into smaller segments comprising those you can comprehend. Half a century later I have not forgotten those beads, nor that it was precisely 169 pancakes that Sambo consumed.
Thirty years later I sat in a smokey meeting room in Brixton, virtually the only white face apart from the young woman speaking on the rostrum. There were banners round the walls – ‘Thatcher, Thatcher, Milk Snatcher’……….the nasal twang of this young woman had droned on for so long explaining how the Hon. Margaret was single-handedly responsible for ensuring that their children all got rickets that it was only the occasional murmur of ‘yeah, man’ that was keeping me awake. God knows why I was there. Suddenly she changed tack and started on a spirited denunciation of Helen Bannerman, who had apparently written ‘Little Black Sambo’ in a sinister attempt to ensure that all Black Africans were seen as grotesque buffoons, characterised as stupid, and thus unemployable, destined to starve, courtesy of the combined evils of Helen Bannerman and Margaret thatcher.
I didn’t know anything about Thatcherism, but I knew my ‘Sambo’ – he’d beaten off all the Tigers, and they didn’t have tigers in Africa. I stood up and told her so. Discontent broke out over the whole room, I may have been the only person there who had actually read Bannerman’s book; they didn’t know their ‘Sambo’ but the rest of the room knew their collective lack of Tigers……..it was the end of her attempt at indoctrination, every time she tried to speak after that she was drowned by a chorus of ‘we ain’t got no Tigers’.
That afternoon in Brixton made me look into the ‘Socialist Worker’s Party’, for t’was they giving the lecture, and the way in which they twisted facts for their own political ends; and also search out a copy of ‘Little Black Sambo’ for a new found African friend who had never read it. I couldn’t buy a copy for love or money, it had disappeared from every respectable book sellers shelves in an hysterical fit of political correctness. Those who had never read it would never know that Sambo was bright, sassy, a ‘winner’ in every titanic struggle, an excellent role model – and couldn’t possibly have lived in Africa………they would only know it by reputation, that it was ‘grotesque, racist rubbish’ that had been condemned by all right minded people – on their behalf.
I was reminded of all this by the recent ‘Gollywog Wars’, during which Carol Thatcher, every inch her Mother’s daughter, refused to prostrate herself before the finger jabbing multitude, for uttering the banned word ‘Gollywog’. Actually she did apologise, but she was judged not sufficiently prostrate at the time. So heated did the atmosphere become that the Queen was forced to issue an abject apology for having a ‘Gollywog on the premises’ in her shop at Sandringham.
Look, dolls were originally an offering to the Gods, a substitute for the servant who was supposed to go with his Master to the ‘other world’. They go back some 30,000 years. People gave them to their children, that they could learn to love something other than themselves. When they were adults, they were supposed to consign the doll to the Gods, and, in a cruel twist, substitute for it a similar, but real, live, squalling, smelly, ungrateful brat that would grow up to be a pale imitation of the comforting doll they knew as a child. It is a cruel world.
What could be more racist than ensuring that they would only welcome into their lives a white, squalling, smelly, ungrateful brat? What could be more racist than having them grow up believing that cuddling up to a soft Gollywog is a terrible thing and shouldn’t be allowed?
I took some time this afternoon to find out how long golliwogs had been around, and discovered something interesting; the original Gollywog, actually Gollywogg, but don’t lets quibble over a single extra ‘g’, was invented in 1895. You know what? He’s still alive and well, he lives in a glass cage……..at Chequers, the Prime Mentalist’s country home.
There he is, Florence Upton’s original Gollywogg.
So, come on then Gordon, you hypocrite, lets be having you, prostrate on the ground.
I’ll have an abject apology out of you for harbouring a Gollywog on the premises, if nothing else.
The Queen’s done it, Carol Thatcher’s done it – now your turn.