by Eulinda Antonette Clarke-Akalanne
Composed on 20th March 2023
Performed at “The Legends Lunch”, 8th December 2023
At school, I was taught British literature and history,
And learnt about Oliver Cornwall, Henry the VIII,
Queen Victoria, and Shakespeare.
I acted as Mark Anthony in Julius Caesar,
and recited English rhymes from my school reader.
I performed poems by Robert Southey and Wordsworth.
and gustily sung traditional British songs with great mirth
Songs like, Rule Britannia, Britannia Rule the Waves, and John Peel.
Oooh! how British I did feel.
My bedtime stories were by Charles Dickens and Enid Blyton.
I thought I was well prepared for my Motherland, sweet England.
I dreamt of daffodils and visualized soft snow on my skin
I believed that I was ready to meet my English kith and kin.
From childhood I wanted to be a nun, A nursing one,
So, at 18 when Enoch Powel invited me to come to England,
to train as a Registered General Nurse and work in Britain.
I left Barbados and came to the Motherland.
The land I’d learnt about, Glorious England.
Coming here was an exciting adventure for me
because I wanted to travel, and the world to see.
On the day of arrival, the sun shone brightly,
and I disembarked the plane swift and spritely
but what a shock! It was freezing cold and frosty.
my nose nor ears I could no longer feel, I thought I had lost them,
they were still there, but now stiff and frozen,
and my fingers and my toes had chilblains on them.
I saw long houses with smoking chimneys
I thought these buildings were bakeries,
But they are houses joined together in terraces.
unlike Bajan houses that are detached structures,
and the only chimneyed edifices there were bakeries.
I saw black buildings like those in Charles Dickens stories.
I later learnt that the colour was caused by Smog,
a mixture of smoke and fog.
Clean air zones were introduced, these buildings have been cleaned,
And their true colours are now seen.
As a first-year student nurse in the hospital, named Derby City,
my monthly pay was ten shillings and pounds, forty.
That may sound miserly, but it was enough for me
as I lived in the nurse’s home, and all my meals were free.
So was water, heating, and lighting,
and the laundering of my uniform and mufti were also free to me.
Sister Burns, the Home Sister, looked after me,
and the other student nurses who were Irish girls, were friendly,
especially like them, I belonged to the Catholic sorority.
Things are not always what they seem to be,
I knew about England, but the English knew nothing about Barbados nor folk like me.
I was asked if Barbados was in South Africa or part of Jamaica.
A patient asked me if I lived in a tree, and I replied
“In 1955 Princess Margaret visited Barbados, she stayed in a coconut tree”.
The patient was not at all pleased with me
and reported to the ward sister that I insulted royalty,
the sister reported me to the matron, and she punished me,
by insisting that I worked until 5.30 instead of finishing my shift at half pass three
Another patient asked, where my tail was hiding,
I told her if she looked carefully, she would see it wagging
I moved my derriere into a little jiggling
all the patients craned their necks expecting to see a tail wiggling,
and looked disappointed when they saw nothing moving.
In the street, some people grinned at me, instead of smiling
I thought this was how Derby locals smiled, although it wasn’t charming,
but I practiced in my mirror and perfected grinning
and grinned back at anyone who grinned at me,
the grinners responded with a look of shock,
and eventually, the grinning stopped.
On the bus, people refused to sit beside me.
At first this made me very unhappy
but eventually, I felt like a princess, sitting separately
with a spare seat for my shopping right beside me,
while others crammed into a two-seater
or stood up and fell when the bus turned a sharp corner.
It was later that people begun to demand,
‘WILL YOU MOVE YOUR SHOPPING SO I COULD SIT DOWN?
I did not like this, not one little bit,
because I had got used to being a princess
and resented putting the shopping on my mini skirt dress.
A shop keeper dropped the change into my hand,
and a shilling rolled away and somewhere on the floor did land
We searched for the coin but could not find it.
So, he refunded the coin, but this time, in the palm of my hand he placed it.
Some old ladies grabbed their handbags when I neared them,
so, I did the same to them and this stunned many of them.
The nurses’ canteen menu board featured
‘Toad in the hole’ or ‘Hot dogs’
I went to bed hungry and missed many dinners.
Because I could not face dining on such critters.
One day, it was Bubble and squeak, I listened with great expectation
but no sound came from this fried-up combination.
I soon learnt not to take things literally
And dined on ‘Pigs in Blankets’ merrily
and for afters, ate ‘Spotted dick’ happily.
I was invited by a friend to her mother’s house
and dined on spaghetti Bolognese.
When I had finished the dish and was about to reminisce
The mother filled it up with more of the stuff
I was too polite to tell her that I had had enough,
So slowly, and painfully I finished that up
but she filled my dish again right up to the top.
I was taught to close my fork and knife when I finished eating
I looked for a knife, but only a fork and spoon were at the seating.
By now I was bursting and felt as though I would swoon
I must have turned green or really looked bad
Because the mother said ‘you look terribly sad’
I could hardly wait to get home to regurgitate
And still dislike Bolognaise till today’s date.
For fifty years I worked in the NHS
I started as a student nurse training in PTS.
And qualified as a Registered General Nurse, worked as Midwifery sister,
Senior Psychiatric Charge Nurse, and Health Visitor,
and Community Practitioner Nurse Prescriber.
In addition, I qualified and worked as a Social Worker,
and retired in 2010 as a Community Nursing Sister
I have had much fulfilment and happiness,
and I’ve turned racism, and prejudices,
into strengths, achievements, and successes.
Now retired, I am happy as can be,
I share life’s experiences in my poetry,
I have got good friends and a loving family.
I believe learning is a lifelong necessity,
and that life should be lived each day, to its full capacity.