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Thoughtful Tuesdays: Change

By Eithne Cullen

Welcome to my Thoughtful Tuesday page for July. I’m going to be sharing a lot of writing about change, our current theme here at Write On!

I’d like to start with some writing about a massive change: the change of moving from one country to another, one culture to another, one way of life to another. And my focus to begin with is the Anniversary of the arrival of the HMT Empire Windrush in June 1948.

Last month, we marked the anniversary, celebrating Windrush Day. I learned from the BBC website:

Windrush Day has been held on 22 June since 2018, to celebrate the contribution Caribbean migrants and their families have made to the UK. HMT Empire Windrush docked in Tilbury, Essex, in 1948, bringing hundreds of passengers from the Caribbean to the UK. HMT Empire Windrush became a symbol of a wider mass-migration movement. People in the Caribbean were invited to the UK to help rebuild post-war Britain.

Many had served in the British armed forces in World War Two. Several hundred passengers were Jamaican, but others arrived from islands including Trinidad, St Lucia, Grenada and Barbados.

And, of course, this migration affected not only people from the Caribbean, but from many other countries, too.

These travellers – and those on other ships which came to the UK until 1971 – became known as the Windrush generation.

Many of the families of this migration came to rebuild the economy (and the buildings) after the Second World War. In my school, in Hackney, we had many nationalities represented and a common theme was the work our parents did: NHS workers – lots of nurses – construction workers, postal workers, British Rail employees and people who worked on the tubes and buses, like my dad.

I can never think about Windrush without thinking about the people I mixed with at school, and a fabulous musical celebrating the lives and aspirations of new arrivals from that great journey, including the voices and songs and colour they brought with them. The show I’m thinking about is The Big Life a British ska musical with book and lyrics by Paul Sirett and music by Paul Joseph, originally produced by the Theatre Royal Stratford East in 2004. I was lucky enough to see it when it transferred to the West End’s Apollo Theatre in 2005. It was nominated for Best New Musical at the 2006 Olivier Awards. It came back to Stratford East earlier this year and we booked to see it as soon as tickets went on sale.

The Theatre Royal (thanks Rhys Williams) has kindly let me use their publicity picture to give you a flavour of the vibrant show.


My friend, artist Pauline Cushnie, has shared some of her thoughts and images, starting with this fabulous watercolour of her dad.

Pauline says: My dad was a carpenter and a keen family photographer. He came to England in August 1962.

Studio Photography in the 1960s was popular amongst families who documented their new home with formal images. My dad had a box camera and used to take photos at family occasions, and for friends at family events and gatherings.

Years later, after he passed away, I have used various family images taken by him and my uncle to form a vintage series of paintings and sculptures. I rework these memories and historical documents to form new stories from my perspective as first generation children of parents coming to England on the Windrush. A generation arriving in England to help rebuild the British economy and also to fulfil their personal dreams of a new lifestyle.

 My dad passed when I was in the sixth form. My uncle (Dads brother) passed two weeks ago. He lived in Florida, was 91 and was also a keen photographer.  I have used his images of me with my eldest sister, Sharon, to create family art.

Thank you for the opportunity to re-focus and write about the wonderful stories that the Cushnie brothers started.

 © Pauline Cushnie, 2024


Connect: @pauline_cushnie_art


The next pieces I’m sharing represent another kind of change.

I asked some Pen to Print Writers if they’d experienced revisiting an old neighbourhood or meeting someone from the past and the changes they’d noticed. The following pieces, from Vrushali, Jilly and Lisa, came from that conversation.

About Herself:

My school friends, those who saw me after a decade, were flabbergasted to see how I’ve changed. They say I’ve become more bold and bubbly with time.

About Her Neighbourhood:

Whenever I go back to the old neighbourhood I used to live in, there is a vibe that simmers through that makes it all delightful. That feeling takes me back in time and I cherish those memories and relive some in my mind as I stroll through. Now, many apartments are being renovated and not many people live there any more. The feelings feel very familiar but the buildings do not.

© Vrushali Khadilkar, 2024


One Of Life’s Mysteries

There must have been times in your life when someone you don’t recognise has come up to you and said hello. It has happened to me many times. It may take a few moments for me to recall who they are. Sometimes there may be a clue in something they say, such as: “And how is your knee now?” which reminds me (even if I can’t remember their name) that they were also at the hospital on the day I was getting treatment on a bad knee. I may exchange a few pleasantries with them and still walk away thinking,Who on Earth?’ And then realise several hours later who they were – or even several days!

Some years ago, I found myself in that exact situation, only this time, even 30 years or so on, I still don’t know who the lady was. So, picture the scene: I’m standing in the queue at a bus stop, lost in my own little world, when someone comes up to me, exclaiming, “Jilly! I thought it was you from back there!” Arms wrap around my shoulders and a brief hug follows, and then I get a good look, as she steps back, at the beaming face before me, clearly glowing with recognition and sweet surprise at seeing me. But who is she? I don’t know the face, or the voice, but she launches forth with a whole load of verbal clues.  The conversation goes something like this:

She: “So, how are you keeping? It’s been ages since I saw you!”

Me: “I’m OK thank you, and… er… how are you?”

She: “Couldn’t be better. The children often ask about you!”

Me: “Oh… do they? And… er… how are they?”

She: “Doing really well. And how are your two girls? I expect they’re all grown up now!”

Me: “Oh yes, one’s married, the other’s at Uni.”

*Of course, while this is all going on, I’m wracking my brain about who this person is. She asks me how the writing is coming on. How is my husband: “Steve, isn’t it? Yes, of course, Steve! And what about your old mum? How is she?”

It soon becomes very clear indeed that this person, whoever she is, not only knows me, but knows me well.

She: “And your job? Still happy there?”

I nod an affirmative. Does she know me from work, then? At such times, it’s amazing how quickly the mind can react. In the space of a few seconds, I calculate every job I’ve had in the last decade or so, where they were, what I did there and the people I’d met. But this exuberant woman did not feature anywhere.

As she chats away, I make all the appropriate replies, nods, facial expressions. I ask open-ended questions, which only need one-word replies. This goes on for some time* and I miss two buses during the exchange.

Finally, she gives me a hug, kisses my cheek and says, “It’s been so nice catching up with you, Jilly! But I have to go now. I hope we bump into each other again. Give my love to Steve and the girls!” And she is gone, leaving me totally baffled.

Ever since then, I’ve wondered who that lady was. I obviously hadn’t changed that much because she seemed to know me so well. She must have changed, though, or surely I’d have recognised her and the penny would have eventually dropped. We never did bump into each other again, and I’m still none the wiser!

© Jilly Henderson-Long, 2024


The Back Stairs

A few years ago, over coffee and cake, I reconnected with an old friend who showed me some photos recently taken at our old school. It was closing down and she and a few others took up the open invitation to visit. The instant I glanced at them, a flood of memories engulfed me. The back stairs, the smell it evoked, seemed so real.

Early on, we arranged and attended our very own midnight feast, just like in the Malory Towers and St Clare’s books by Enid Blyton. Yuck – when expectations collide with the very unglamorous reality!

We continued it annually, thinking we’d have a different experience.

In the third year, we all decided to do it again; not knowing this would be the last time.

Lights out, we sneaked out of the dorm room heading towards the back stairs, the one we always went to thinking we’d never get caught. Surprisingly, we didn’t this time, despite the racket we made; a gaggle of teenagers unable to be quiet to save our lives.

We sat down on the dusty steps in the dry windowless stairwell. I still remember the smell of the dust, a particular kind of musty smell that comes from bare wooden floors, trodden on a daily basis by dirty shoes, wet shoes, shiny new shoes. It was both earthy and synthetic.

As we sat, we attempted to eat the sugary gummy sweets we’d bought and put into brown paper bags so we’d each share and have the same ones.

We’d only just eaten one or two sweets when we all went quiet for a few seconds*, although it felt like an eternity at the time.

It was as though we’d all had a collective thought at that moment. Yes. That’s what it was: we were ‘having a moment’, although we’d not hear of that phrase until years later, when, thanks to social media and Hollywood dramas, it would become ubiquitous.

During our collective moment, call it an ‘aha moment,’ we knew deep down, without ever expressing it in words, that we would never again have a midnight feast together.

My friend, who would years later show me the photos, announced that we should all go back to bed and try to brush our teeth without raising the suspicion of Matron. Yes, we had one – just like in the books. She was firm but fair; so fair, in fact, that everyone in our form would be punished equally, whether they were in attendance at this feast or not.

That story * seemed * a lifetime* ago, until I looked at the photo and all the memories came flooding back, like it was only yesterday.

The teenage girl I was has faded into history but I’d like to tell her she’ll go through very dark times and also the best of times. Through it all, the only constant will be change and I’ll advise her to get used to it, not to hold on too tightly to anything and, mostly, to avoid the back stairs.

© Lisa Scully-O’Grady, 2024

Connect: X @Lisascullyo


Many thanks to all who have contributed to this month’s page.

I wish you all a happy summer; you’ll have some adventures and face some changes, too. But maybe keep Lisa’s advice in mind and, from me, my little reminder that change is good for us, so embrace and enjoy it!


Issue 21 of Write On! is available to read online here.

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