Wednesday, 24 August 2016

The Toe-Rags - Daphne Anderson

I have read every one of Diana Athill's Memoirs.

So why would I mention her at the beginning of a post about a book by a different author?  I would, because she mentions the book I am going to tell you about in one of her memoirs, as a book that stuck in her mind for a very long time (one of two books actually).  If  Diana Athill liked it and I liked the reason she gave for liking it, then I feel I should also tell you about it because I liked it very much, not least for the insights into colonial Africa it gave me.

The Toe-Rags* were three small children - Daphne in the middle, Stella her older sister and Tom the youngest. With a ne'r do well father and and an exhausted and dirt poor mother they were brought up in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in the 1920s.  He was always off to seek work and promising to send money home, when it seems that all he ever did was visit his well-off sister for a month or so, and them come home with no money, telling his wife it was all her fault.  When the girls were tiny, they lived with their maternal grandparents but were returned to their mother (and occasional father) when the grandparents' own circumstances changed.  Despite the family's absolute poverty (Daphne and Stella wore dresses stitched from flour and sugar sacks) their young lives were happy, and they were overseen by the houseboy (even the poorest whites had "boys" who did the work) who did much of the caring for the children.    When their mother eventually left, taking a new baby with her and running off with the children's uncle, she supposed that her husband would "have to take care of the children now";  but of course he didn't.......

If you think you have been poor; if you think you are poor now;  don't even think that way.  The poverty and treatment endured by these children is a shocker.   And if you think these whites were poor then that is nothing to what the blacks suffered during times of draught, or loss of employment.   Daphne Anderson describes her life from age four up until her twenties, and everything she achieved, she achieved herself.  She also describes the white hierarchy prevalent at that time, and you know, nothing much has changed if you compare families in the UK (or any other country in the world) being paid benefits,  to the Nouveau Riche who look down upon those who cannot rise to their dizzy heights.  Plus la change?  Yes indeed.

This book is out of print, but there are copies available on places like Amazon at rather inflated prices..... perhaps your library can find you a copy?

* Toe Rag:  British slang, not much used now.  Contemptible or despicable person - originally a beggar or tramp:  from the peices of rag they wrapped around their feet.