Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Sunday 12 April 2009

Ah, Easter... the season of redemption and renewal, and in this secular age, of tinkering, pottering, DIY and home improvement - or, in my case, a bit of spring-cleaning. I'm about to do another home exchange with someone in Paris, and there's nothing like looking at your own home with a stranger's eye to spot all those things that one has left undone (so to speak).

Not, I suspect, that many actually would bother most exchange partners. I don't go round their places running a finger along for dust (though there can be the odd pleasurable moment of working out how I might have chosen to organise and decorate it if I lived there), and I would hope they would mostly be out and about rather than rootling through my drawers (so to speak). Though, to be fair, I did find on my return from Paris last August that what I had taken to be scratches in the enamel of my hob had been replaced by gleaming, pristine whiteness: and I was rather proud of having left their shower screen distinctly less limescaled than I found it.

Which is how I come to have spent most of this Saturday with a carpet-washing machine, and, seeing how the plants in my window-boxes were looking more than a bit browned off (indeed, mostly brown, being dead), this Sunday morning I found myself caught up in instant gardening madness at Columbia Road.

But before this feast of self-indulgence, I took advantage of a half-day off on Maundy Thursday to visit a local institution, the Ragged School Museum, a reminder of the charitable theme of the day.

A converted warehouse on the Regent's Canal, still with the original bars on the windows (the school never having had the funds to remove them), the interior walls simply painted over bare brick, school desks crammed together on bare floorboards, the building now serves to give mostly visiting school parties demonstrations of life in a Victorian schoolroom and kitchen. There are also a couple rooms of static display panels about the social history that necessitated the school in the first place.

It's perhaps bowdlerised for the children, a fairly gentle introduction to the joys of pounds, shillings and pence, Victorian games and dressing up. Some of what it shows is not unfamiliar to present-day oldies. My primary school still had pens with steel nibs and inkwells in the desk: I have distinct memories of occasional inky pellets of paper flicked from said nibs, and discovering that some bright spark had stuck a nib into the fish-oil capsules the London County Council used to issue in those days, making neat handwriting even less likely.

Some of the pictures on display tell a grimmer tale. Here are the children gathered to celebrate their benefactors, all outdoors in the street on a December day, some barefoot and many clearly underdressed for the weather; and as one of the enthusiastic volunteer guides was only too keen to tell me, many would have lived with the rest of their family in one room, possibly even with a dead child in one corner until they could raise the money to bury it. This was an industrial environment, with none of the parkland that surrounds the building now. The canal outside would have been crammed with boats serving the purposes of the modern lorries thundering along the main road: but now the only movement on the water was a wagtail dancing along the towpath edge.

No comments:

Post a Comment