Ch13 Epilogue and poetry.

This is not the end of the history of the Foxon Family. Hopefully it is only the beginning of our story in Australia. The rest lies in the future, and is unknowable to me. All I can do is to wish those future generations good luck.

I am pleased about one important thing. Although our ancestors, through no fault of their own, knew hard times, we have escaped. We have escaped from the back-breaking toil, the telltale blue scars, the lifelong slavery of Yorkshire company coal mines. We have escaped from the squalor of the East End of London and from the contemptible isolation of the European ghetto. We have escaped from the physical poverty engendered by lack of money. And we have escaped from the spiritual poverty of ignorance. In Australia, the slate has been wiped clean. What we now write on that slate is up to us. If we go back to poverty or regress to ignorance, the fault is our own.          

The next generation, provided we can be blessed with peace, has the opportunity of a better life than any before it. What they make of that opportunity lies within their hands.

Progress depends partly on ability, partly on work, and partly on luck. But luck, after all, is when opportunity meets preparation and preparation involves perseverance. So above all, one’s success depends on perseverance and preparation.

The world becomes ever more crowded and complex. How can one make sense of the pullulating human ant-heap?

Once I had a goldfish pond in the front garden. The algae, nourished by sunlight, provided ample food, and the happy fishy residents bred up from half a dozen to over a hundred. It was interesting to see how the awkward, exotic fantails decreased in number and reverted to more basic forms – survival of the fittest! There must be a lesson in that!                             

One day, fifty yards down the road, a Council workman sprayed some weeds with poison. A zephyr of wind deposited a few droplets of hormone spray in the pond. Over a period of a week the fish slowly succumbed and floated white and lifeless to the surface. 

So it is with humankind. A nuclear holocaust, a melting of the ice caps, a tilting of the earth’s axis, a collision with a lump of matter from outer space, the explosion, or the collapse of the sun ………..One day our planet Earth will become the communal “Vernichtungslager” of us all, and it won’t matter a rap whether we are Christian, Jew or Muslim, white, black or brindle, fish, fowl or reptile. As more of us realise this, the Theatre of the Absurd gains added significance. But it does not supply any of the answers.

Actually, nothing has changed. All men are cousins. That is biologically demonstrable. We all live, and we all die. We must survive as long as we can because that is our inborn nature. And we must live together and seek happiness, for happiness is the ultimate goal.

But first we must have sufficient food and shelter ………For who can be happy in the cold with an empty belly? These things we must obtain for ourselves and our families. And that means continuous effort and the acceptance of responsibility.

My Yorkshire father and my Cockney mother believed that all should work and do the right thing by each other as far as possible, remembering that in the last analysis one has a sacred and primal duty to look after one’s own family. 

In this connection my father said to me many times, “If a man has children with a woman, he should never leave her, or them.” I believed him, and I still believe him. I might add that in my view the same strictures apply to a woman, and the only possible excuse to break the union in her case might be extreme and unbearable cruelty. Many of the modern generation would disagree, I know. It is easy for articulate moderns to juggle with words and show that licence and self-indulgence are permissible and even intelligent, while duty and responsibility are unnecessary. It only worries me that in sowing the wind, they may in later years reap a whirlwind in a delinquent and unstable society.

Did I say that we should seek happiness? Of course we should. But true happiness and an integrated society can only come from the acceptance of duty and responsibility by all of us.

One could now enter into a lengthy and extremely boring dissertation on religious morals and political philosophies and hypocrisies, but enough is enough. My descendants will decide of their own accord whether they wish to be socialists, Marxists, capitalists or opportunists, Catholics, Shmatholics, Protestants, Jews or Callathumpians. All that has no importance, provided they are good people.

I have one regret in my life. I wish I had spent more time with my children when they were young. But, too often, I was working overtime, or was too upset or worried to be able to give more generously of my time. Children are our greatest treasure, and we have them for such a short while. I hope that my own children learn from my mistakes. 

Oscar Wilde said somewhere: “As they grow older, children judge their parents. Sometimes they forgive them.”

I wish this for my grandchildren and great grandchildren all down the years – that each one of them may become what Irene’s mother, in Yiddish, would have called a “Mensch”!  A Mensch is a courageous, well-balanced person, able to control every situation with intelligence and strength of character.

If I were ever elevated to the English House of Lords (a very remote possibility!) and had to look for a family motto, I would have emblazoned on a scroll the words of Edith Piaf, the French nightclub singer. She had known great poverty, being literally born on a Parisian sidewalk. 

With typical Gallic economy of phrase, she said: “C’est pas une honte d’etre pauvre, mais c’en est une de vouloir rester dans la crasse!” – It is not a disgrace to be poor…But it certainly becomes one if you are prepared to remain in the shit!”. 

…Now there was a Mensch!!!

When Irene and I came to Australia in 1949, I looked from Caringbah towards Sydney one night, and was inspired to make one of my rare, mostly disastrous, and always incautious incursions into verse.

I might finish off this memoir with those lines.

Before doing so, I should explain that in those days “Displaced Persons” was a euphemism for a refugee from a camp in war-torn Europe. “New Australian” was a term coined by the Department of Immigration to distinguish those Pommies and Reffos who had only recently arrived from the other Pommies and Reffos, (now dinky-di Aussies), who had been in this country for at least one generation. The term “New Australian” had an honoured currency for many years, and in some fashion might even have helped to weld together those of different ethnic origins into one Australian amalgam.

Well ……………here comes the poetry.

                          Silent suburban Sydney, softly folded in the star-shot fog of night…

                          What other being of some far-off time gazed upon a similar sight?

                          Perhaps some dark-skinned hunter on his nocturnal way,

                          Perhaps some exiled convict stared as I across the black of Botany Bay.

                          I too am exiled from the land where I was born,

                          And my heart too is by a sweet nostalgia torn.

                          Yet this is pure illusion, I suspect…

                          Because all things – the good and bad – are good…in retrospect.

                          The squalor, slums and class distinction one forgets.

                          Time heals the festering wounds…then one regrets.

                          Yet this Australia – just another land for me – 

                          Shall for my children and their children “Homeland” be.

                          Here Displaced Persons, once denied the right to live,

                          Their strength, their talents and their sons, shall to Australia give.

                          The dreaming, red-tipped bushland gums shall start

                          Then to the muted thunder of a nation’s heart.

                          And we will build within this southern space —

                          We Britons, Greeks, Italians, Poles – a new Australian race.

To survive, my children, that is the object, to survive without hurting the other fellow any more than you have to. Perhaps, with luck, in this new country, we may do a little better than survive.

So good luck to you all – family, friends and readers of my tale – and very much love.

Ch 2 p 4 Mum and School.

My mother’s maiden name was Eleanor Alice Hunt. She was born at London Fields, Hackney.  On the birth certificate her father was shown as Arthur Hunt and her mother as “Ellen” Hunt. This should have been “Eleanor”, and was an example of my grandfather’s airy disregard for detail in official matters. He always called my grandmother “Ellen”, and if it was good enough for him, it should be good enough for the Registrar. My grandfather’s profession was shown as “Butcher”.

My mother spent most of her life up to the Second World War in Frampton Park Road, Hackney, she and my father taking possession of the two top rooms in the house after their marriage in 1921. As a boy, I used to climb a sycamore tree in the back garden that had been planted by my mother as a seed when she was a child. 

My mother did well at school scholastically, but with money needed to help with the household expenses, she left at the age of fourteen and started work as a machinist at a local shirt factory. She pursued this occupation until her marriage to my father, after which she devoted herself to looking after the household and her children.

My earliest recollections of my mother are of a fair haired, very attractive, bluish-green eyed woman who loved me probably above all else in the world. To my father, she was “his girl”, and he cherished her and remained scrupulously faithful to her until the end of his life. My mother had long, naturally wavy hair that she subsequently had bobbed in the fashion of the time, and used to curl with hot tongs. She never wore make-up, which for some reason she disliked. Many women eschewed make-up in those days. I think it may have had something to do with the Victorian concept that only “fast” women wore that sort of stuff.

My mother had a true Cockney sense of humour and like my grandmother, she worked hard. She kept our two rooms scrupulously clean at Frampton Park Road, and I have a whole range of memories of her kneeling on a piece of sacking and scrubbing the lino flooring (we used to call it “oil cloth” in those days in London). I also remember her and my grandmother stoking up the copper in the Wash House to do the weekly wash, manipulating the heavy mangle amidst clouds of steam, scrubbing on the scrubbing board, and hanging out interminable rows of sheets and clothes in the back yard.

Having lived all her life in the east end of London, and drawing the conclusion that any sensible person would arrive at, my mother’s ambition was for her children to lift themselves out of the ignorance and poverty of our environment, and to this end she always tried to direct us.

When I first went to Infant School, in Paragon Road, Hackney, opposite the Public Library and the big Telephone Exchange, my mother used to take me there in the morning. Every afternoon she would bring with her an old tin can that we would place on the tram lines running along adjoining Mare Street. When a tram came along I would shout with laughter as it rattled past and squashed the tin flat in a most satisfying manner. 

After the Infant School, I received my education at three other schools. These were, the Hackney Free and Parochial School, which was the elementary school and stands to this day in St. John’s Churchyard, Hackney. Then by the grace of scholarships and my parents’ scheming to finance me, I progressed to Upton House Central School, and one step higher to Parmiter’s Foundation Secondary School.

However, the Hackney Free and Parochial School will always be My School, for there I spent my happiest childhood days. There the teachers seemed to have a real interest in their pupils. 

Of all my teachers I remember best Mr Bowles, a small man with large horn rimmed spectacles, but how well he knew his job of handling boys. Tragedy struck him during my later years at the school when he lost his wife. I wonder if Mr Bowles ever knew how my childish heart overflowed with sympathy for him then? I remember too fierce, bald headed Mr Atkins, the history master. He stirred my imagination with tales (delivered with fine histrionics) of the sabre toothed tiger, prehistoric man, and the first Roman invaders of Britain. On one occasion also, when I was standing in front of the class he gave me the biggest clout I had ever received from anyone for turning away when he was speaking to me. I suppose I deserved it. The next year Mr Atkins offered a book as a prize for the best historical essay and I won it. Mr James, too, springs into my vision, the kindly, grey moustached headmaster who called all his pupils by their Christian names and always had time to listen to any one of them. We all rather looked up to Mr James. Apart from his kindness and obvious ability, he was the only member of the staff who had a university degree.

And, of course, no Hackney Parochial boy who was there with him could ever forget “Jimmy” Hollick, a veritable Mr Chips. Jimmy had himself been a pupil at the school in the eighteen seventies, subsequently becoming a student teacher, and then being promoted to the full status of master. He was tall, hoarse voiced and very short sighted. His suits were always impeccably tailored and sat well on his broad boned but spare frame. He wore pebble glasses with extraordinarily thick lenses, and had to hold papers within a couple of inches of his wrinkled face in order to read them. He was the deputy headmaster, a Hackney local boy who had made good.          

After Mr James’ retirement, Jimmy Hollick became head until, in the early days of the war, a piece of shrapnel received during an air raid put out the sight of one of his failing eyes and ended his teaching days for ever. He was a good man with a fine understanding of children. Jimmy specialised in the teaching of geography. It was he who slung a map across the blackboard one day and first said to me the magic name “Australia”.     

Jimmy Hollick and Mr Bowles used to take the swimming classes together at the local (indoor) baths. At different times during the day, classes of boys would form up in a row in the school playground, “quick march” through the little gate into the silent, tree-filled Hackney Churchyard, then up and across to busy Mare Street. We used to get about half an hour of actual swimming, two boys sharing a small “box” with an inadequate wooden seat to dress and undress. Leaning precariously over the edge of the pool, and generally getting themselves soaked in the process, Jimmy and Mr Bowles would encourage breathless boys to hang on to the bar and make appropriate leg movements, yelling to make themselves heard above the din. Or else they would induce some intrepid young man who had almost mastered the art to allow his arms to be fitted into a couple of loops hanging from an overhead wire and then be lugged up to the deep end, puffing and blowing and madly waving his arms and legs.     

I never saw Jimmy Hollick actually swim, but Mr Bowles once donned a bright blue costume and volunteered to take part in a race. However, he gave up half way, informing us that he was unable to see where he was going without his glasses. We all readily accepted the explanation at the time; indeed it rather tickled our boyish sense of humour. However, in the light of adult experience, I look upon it with some scepticism, believing that Old Bowlsiefound the exertion of the race too much for him and decided to give it away.

Every Christmas, partitions which divided three classrooms at the school would be folded back so that one large hall was formed. A wooden platform was erected at one end, curtains were rigged up, and each class set about devising a sketch or short play. I remember that I took the part of the heroine in a cowboy melodrama at one of these Christmas shows. I can’t remember the plot. But I know that all rules of chivalry went by the board, because I had a tremendous life and death struggle with the villain of the piece, falling over and severely bumping my head on one of the iron desks in the process. The villain was well and truly plugged by the hero’s six guns, and the curtain fell as I swooned (very nearly literally) in his arms. The gun reports, horses’ hoof beats, and so on were provided by our effects man who stood hidden behind a small curtain, knocking the usual coconuts together and striking the blackboard with a hammer. We looked forward to Christmas at that school, and thoroughly enjoyed our annual show.

I left eventually and went to other schools, but I never enjoyed them half as much, except when a very fine linguist by the name of Algernon Montgomery taught me the first elements of French at the Upton House Central School. I learnt the elements of algebra, geometry, trigonometry and mechanics and promptly forgot them. I gained some knowledge of biology, physics and chemistry. At Parmiter’s Foundation, history meant mostly learning long strings of dates and any understanding of this subject I may possess was picked up mostly from reading books after I left school. The best thing that I retained from my education was an excellent knowledge of French phonetics and later of the language itself. I liked this and had a bent for it. I was then spewed out into the world equipped with a School Certificate and good for little else but pushing a pen.

I had failed to matriculate because in changing from one school to another I had missed out on some basic mathematics, and had never been able to pick them up. Mathematics was a compulsory subject in matriculation in those days, and if you failed in that it mattered not at all how good you might be in other subjects. After the war I found that every worthwhile avenue of study was barred to me unless I went back to the beginning and matriculated all over again. This I was unwilling to do, and the absence of any concession in this regard was one of many reasons why I finally left England and went to Australia. 

I mentioned at my last school that I would like to go in for journalism. I personally wrote to some forty or fifty newspapers, but was unable to get a traineeship with any of them. Thankfully, my school found me a job on The Hairdressers Journal, a trade paper run by Messrs. Osborne and Garrett, known as “Ogee’s”. This was a Soho firm that made hairdressers’ equipment and ran a large department store for the public and the trade. It was at this office that I started work at the age of sixteen some months before the outbreak of the 1939 – 1945 World War 2.

What is Jim’s Book?

Jim loved writing. At nineteen his goal in life was to be a top notch journalist. His first step on the ladder was for a hairdressing magazine in Soho, London. Despite WW2 intervening, changing his career, and moving across the world to Australia, Jim continued to write stories, poetry and his diaries.

A lifetime later, he compiled his notes and recounted his life on typewritten pages, which he then bound and presented to his daughter Trish.