Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Gateway to a potentially fascinating museum: A review of Seacity Museum, Southampton

I've been meaning to visit Seacity in my hometown of Southampton since it opened but as is often the case with these things, it was only the arrival of family from India this month which actually prompted my visit. In the two years since it opened, the "Gateway to the World" gallery has become British-Museum vast in my imagination, so excited was I, avid researcher of lascars, at the possibilities the exhibit might hold. Southampton, the city that the P&O sailed eastwards from since the 1840s, always cropped up in my archive searches for lascar material (a future research project is brewing away there) but I have never had time to explore further into the entwined histories of migration and maritime labour that characterise Southampton as a city. "Gateway to the World", well it sent a thrill through me when I first read of it.

I've come away with mixed feelings. I'm surprised at how moving and engaging the Titanic Gallery was, as someone who's always refused to watch The Film and who's always been a little bemused by the fanaticism the historical event inspires in some. But the Seacity's take on was  to read the Titanic tragedy through the lives of the local Southampton people who worked on it and on how the city was impacted so profoundly by the tragedy. One exceptionally moving feature was a large map of Southampton that spread below our feet, on which all the Southampton lives lost were marked with dots. So many dots, from my old house in Inner Avenue, to the Shirley fields then on the outskirts of the city, and beyond. The scale of the ship - so hard to comprehend - told through cutlery and food stores. And I loved that we saw the second class berths - which looked tiny - rather than the exaggerated opulence of the first.

But I did speed through the Titanic galleries, impatient to get to the Gateway of the World. With such anticipation, it was always going to disappoint. My favourite element of the "Gateway" theme ended up being the map of the naval routes that papers the walls outside the exhibit. As bits of this map are folded over cornices and the like, a full flat version - or even a large globe - would have been wonderful at the beginning of the exhibit.

Instead, the two and half room exhibit features a chaotic mixture of stories of travels to and through Southampton - Roman, military, medieval and some more recent. No direct mention of the P&O, and not, alas, a single picture or account of lascars working the Southampton ships.

I found the way in which Southampton's twentieth century diasporas have been represented in the exhibition most problematic. These little boxes of migrant history are possibly the worst way to render the rich and diverse multiculture that makes up Southampton, segregating each separate ethnic community in space and time. There's no suggestion of intersections between kinds of identity or of the experience of communities living together, of the city's annual interfaith peace walk, for example, or of the kind of neighbourly activism that has given television producers such a hard time recently when they tried to make an inflammatory ant-immigration documentary in the city. Or the fact that many of the ethnic communities featured have links to Southampton that date back further than the assigned "decade"on the box. The boxes - so slight and stereotyped in their content, so tokenistic in approach, made me feel quite sad.

I do think the curators were faced with a huge challenge - and a small space. Southampton's migration and naval history is such a long, multilayered one, like East London it resists easy chronological tellings. I can see the intention behind the way things are arranged - to view different empires, worldviews, forms of travel comparatively. But when different voices and sounds shout at you from the sides of a relatively small room, when there's no map or dates to anchor you (pardon the pun) it all gets rather overwhelming.

But it's a young museum at just two years old, and I understand that the larger portion of space has to be devoted to the city's Titanic story for pragmatic reasons alone. The space is visually exciting, and makes what could seem dull - maritime history - seem both lived and living. It's great to have such a modern, vibrant celebration of the city at the heart of it's developing new "cultural quarter". So whilst I wasn't entirely satisfied by my trip, I can also see Seacity gradually evolving, remaking itself, much like Southampton continues to do.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Nine Months of Roshan

Hello again. I am emerging from the other side of sleep deprivation, blinking in the light, after Roshu had his FIRST NIGHT OF UNBROKEN SLEEP last night. EVER. After a couple of months of sheer torture when he regressed to waking hourly which led to him sleeping next to me and drinking a sip from his bottle every hour all night, we resorted to controlled crying. As hard as it was, particularly the first night, it worked and Roshu is so much happier and more settled for it. As am I. I felt like I was going mad for a while, but that is simply what intense sleep deprivation can do. I remember a woman in Ikea telling me that she was loving being a mum to a baby the same age as Roshu, and my heart broke because I realised at that point that I couldn't say the same thing. Now I understand that I was just utterly, utterly exhausted.

Anyway, six months have passed since my last update on Roshu. He is still the brilliant, happy, sociable baby I wrote about then. If anything, he's happier and more sociable! He is simply a delight to be around and he loves and is loved by all who meet him. We are still little (we remain snugly on our 2nd centile) and at nearly 10 months, just transitioning into 6-9month clothing with some 3-6 month stuff (M&S your sizing is HUGGGE!) But he's got chubby, rosy cheeks, and is very, very strong (he was kicking on his change mat so hard that he hurt my ankle earlier). 

Roshu's weaning story goes up and down, he does get bored of food quite easily and prefers to move, play and talk rather than eat lots and lots. But in the last couple of days he's started vocalising his enjoyment of foods - particularly oranges, hot cross buns and yoghurt, which are his favourites. But mealtimes have to be accompanied by mummy singing (I have invented many, many verses for The Wheels on the Bus and Old MacDonald has branched out into zookeeping) and many toys as well as finger foods to keep his attention. When he gets a cold (which is often) he goes completely off his food which is understandable, but always stresses me out a bit. I must remember that it sucks to eat when you can't taste anything!

He is chatting away all the time now, with hand gestures and frequent raisings of his highly expressive eyebrows. We are treated to "mama", "bababa" and "da" sounds most frequently, and he definitely says "mama" when he wants something or isn't happy (I suppose I am the person who "fixes" him!). His voice has a unique, rather duck-like quality, with the odd dinosaur/monster growl and very high pitched squeal thrown in. In the last two weeks he has learnt to shake his head, but it's a proper "Indian" head shake accompanied by much smiling as though I'm attempting to haggle with him and offering a ridiculously low price. I love love LOVE the fact that sometimes he hugs me back with his tiny arms around my shoulder, nuzzling into me. We still have no teeth (I feel rather embarrassed about getting excited at the drooling and chewing at 3 months now), but crawling is imminent as he is flipping onto his stomach and pushing himself forward and backwards all the time now. He is also standing quite confidently against furniture. I'm really proud of him for his mobility given that he has spent so much of his young life with his legs braced together, flat on his back, because of the talipes.

He is so brilliantly used to his boots and bar now, though it does concern me how deeply focused he becomes when I strap his little feet into them, as if he is trying to work out how to undo them! His feet are perfect now but need the brace to stay that way, and I have built the boots into his bedtime routine so solidly that I hope he'll just think that boots = bedtime when he's older. Fingers crossed!

Roshu loves books - if you give him a bunch of toys and one book, he'll reach for the book. It's so much fun reading with him and watching him follow my mouth and expressions and eagerly turn the pages. That said, he loves interactive toys, my phone and my netbook with a passion and spends ages just opening and closing the "baby laptop" my mum got him. He loves his jumperoo too but requires an appreciative audience while bouncing in it, which rather defies the point of it. So there's much mumbling of "that's brilliant bouncing, Roshu" that goes on while I try to squeeze some work into my crazy, busy days.

He also LOVES to go out. He gets ridiculously excited when I start to put his coat on, as he knows this is the signal that An Adventure (possibly involving Trying Foods One Shouldn't Really Eat or Making New Friends or BOTH) is about to begin. I've started using the proper seat that comes with my Urbo rather than the car seat facing towards me as he is much more interested in seeing the world than his mum now. On the downside, the view is so very interesting from his buggy that it takes an absolute age to get him off to sleep in the buggy, if at all. (It's so very flattering that I was so boring in comparison!) He loves going on swings (and going alarmingly high) which suggests to me a thrillseeker daredevil type in the making which he definitely does not get from me. When out, he will do his level best to befriend EVERY person in a 10 metre radius, and gets a little irked if they resist his many, many charms. 

Over the last few days I have really found myself enjoying life so much more. I've loved Roshu and enjoyed being with him from day one, and even before, but with the alopecia (I now have no hair whatsoever), the pain and symptoms from my tear, the talipes and the sleep issues, I was finding it so unbelievably difficult to cope and get through each day.  I felt like each day was a battle, that I was just scrabbling to keep my head above water. I'm so glad I had family support and friends to get me through (thank you, grandparents and Hipp Organic formula, combined you have given me many nights of precious unbroken sleep), and a sensible health visitor who enabled me to take steps I needed to get Roshu to sleep better. Because it's sleep that we both needed to get to this happy place, and sleep we are now getting. Finally.

So nine months of Roshu. It feels a strange milestone, I was pregnant for nine months, he's been in the world for the same length of time. We've had so many challenges, and we're overcoming them one by one. He's tough and hardy, so resilient and cheerful even when ill and exhausted that he inspires me to be strong and bright too. He is a magical child who, true to his sunny name, continues to light up the lives of those around him, and I'm so glad I am his mum.