Single parenting; a musical perspective

How are single parent families looked upon in your country? I suppose it depends on how liberal your society is. In western societies, single parent families are an increasing phenomenon and no one bats so much as an eyelid when someone claims to be a single parent. In more traditional societies such as those in Asian societies, families with parents who have separated are still looked upon as a social stigma, as if the parents are deficient in some way, and failed in their own relationship. And it can’t be easy growing up in these kind of families. There is of course the logistical problem of making sure children spend alternate amounts of time with both parents. But it is difficult not just for the parents. Children end up often spending different weekends with different parents. It may be awkward if both parents have partners, and the child ends up having to refer to mum’s boyfriend and dad’s girlfriend to other friend’s parents.

In Japan, a single mother spoke of how her daughter suffered anxiety as the result of being a child with no father around. The child was ostracised by her classmates and as a result, did not want to go to school and suffered from social anxiety. Gradually as the girl showed signs of going on a downward spiral as an emotional response to her parents breakup, her mother took drastic action. She had never heard from her husband, the child’s father, and had no intention of reconciling with him. Instead she made contact with an escort agency and enquired if there would be actors willing to play the role of a father who had left the family but sought some form of reconciliation. Now, this is a strange sort of request – most escort agencies only hire actors to play boyfriends or partners for an event or a day, but this was a long term job, so to speak. And it was a long-term attempt at a white lie in order to boost the child’s confidence.

The pianist and composer Camille Saint-Saens never knew his father; Victor died two months after his son was baptised, on the anniversary of his first marriage. Camille did not display much anxiety with the lack of a father figure, and went to achieve great heights in his music career. The lesson here to learn is perhaps not to let circumstances in life defeat you!

Health dilemma

Katherine H. is now a twenty-seven year old woman but in her late teens and during her University life, she suffered from mysterious, unexplained symptoms that affected her daily life. These included stomach pains, which were discomforting, but then progressed on to ailments such as fainting spells and tiredness, or her hair falling out, and severe joint pains which made it not only difficult to get out of bed but to go about daily life.

Can you imagine waking up first thing in the morning and that before you have even got ready for work the first part of your life is a struggle? Now we don’t mean the “I don’t feel like going to work” thoughts. Most of us will commonly have those, because there simply are days when our energy levels are low, we don’t feel like going to work, we feel unfulfilled because there may have been things we have been thinking of doing but can’t fit them all in. Or maybe even things such as lousy weather outside may lead us to reconsider our commute to work. We don’t mean all those kinds of thoughts in Katherine’s case. We are talking about having to run through debilitating pain just to be able to walk out the front door. The type where getting to arrive to the hard part of the day (i.e. work) is difficult enough – these are thoughts that people with daily long commutes, or disabled wheelchair users hammvemm to deal with.

Katherine’s pains worsened and finally she decided to visit her GP to seek a solution.

Obviously we are faced with dilemmas from time to time. To go in to work or not to go in to work? To see a doctor or not see a doctor? Perhaps the thing to remember is to go with your head. If you have been unwell for long periods, something probably needs checking out. Don’t put it off by saying “I feel okay today”. Likewise if you don’t feel like going to work, just because you feel that way doesn’t mean you should act on your impulses. Go with what you know – if you are healthy, you can do it. The Romantic movement in music may have taught you to go with how you feel, and to be led by your impulses and feelings as if it were the human thing to do, but act on such advice with caution!

On Diet and Music

What would flicker through your mind if you encountered someone holding a grasshopper between their fingers and offering it to you? Your mind might be running through all the various possibilities, such as “Is he trying to show it to me?” Or maybe you might be thinking “That must be a special breed of grasshopper that is interesting to him”. And one thought that you might encounter, but quickly discount, is “Surely he’s not expecting me to eat that! Or is he?” And your fears might come to fruition if the person holding the grasshopper then uses his other hand to reach for a small bowl of soy sauce. It would take a remarkably naive mind to think at that stage “These grasshoppers drink strange things”. The grasshoppers are for eating!

We are accustomed to our burgers, chips and all other things that make our cuisine typically British. Think British food and what else do you think? Perhaps immigration may have altered the typical flavour of the country. For example, if you go to a city like Birmingham, where the population is largely Asian, you may think Chicken Tikka Masala is typically representative of the British cuisine. Over the last few decades cuisine has been a bit more diversified and even exotic, as snails egg porridge may attest. But grasshopper kebab? Surely you would think no way!
There are those that advocate an insect diet because insects are plentiful, reproduce faster than crops grow and livestock reproduce, and have less of a carbon footprint. The population growth we highlighted in the previous post means we have to be a bit more creative with food, because the existing levels of meat consumption is unsustainable.

We may not be always to produce enough food to feed an increasing world population but we will always be able to produce enough ways of entertaining it, especially now that storage for entertainment such as videos, music and all other media have increased exponentially. Those of us old enough to remember 1.44mb floppy disks will wonder how we got by on those storage. And if you are looking for more traditional forms of entertainment, think of how people used to amuse themselves, with skills such as learning an instrument. According to the Piano Teacher Crouch End website, it is a skill that will enriches you for life. Maybe form your own band like the Drifters! Just don’t call it The Grasshoppers!

The value of patience

Often you will hear people decry that they are no good with numbers, as if it excuses a lack of effort by confusing it with predetermined inability. Is there really an inborn inability to deal with numbers? We also hear misguided generalisms such as one being better with words than with numbers, as if the skills of language and mathematics cannot exist together side by side. But there really is no lack of understanding, it is more a lack of effort. And when I state a lack of effort, I don’t mean a lack of effort at working hard, I mean the lack of effort at patience and understanding.

When we attempt a new skill, we are more than likely not going to get it right the first time. If we do, then that skill was probably not that difficult in the first place and we would have actually not even considered it a new skill to begin with. After all, a skill implies something that requires some form of sustained effort to master. It is unlike you could play the piano to a good standard without even having touched it before.
Piano playing is a skill. But you could play the piano because you have mastered another instrument like the flute, and the crossover in musical knowledge allows you to attain a good entry level at the piano in a short attempt.

When we try something new without any previous overlap, we will make mistakes and not get it right. And this is where the patience comes in. We need to focus less on the end product and think about how we can achieve it. Often the realisation that one has to devote time and effort to get to that stage puts people off, because they realise they don’t have the patience to work at it, or the patience to try slowly. They are willing to do repetitions of an activity, but not patient enough to analyse if the activity is of value to warrant the time in it.

Learning a musical instrument can be a good way of teaching this kind of patience. With a keyboard instrument, you get the instant gratification of multiple sounds, and the realisation that if you are patient enough to work at it you can produce something quite good. And if you live in the Harringay area, why not get in touch with a piano teacher in N15? You learn songs you like, while developing the patience at getting better!

Sarah Forbes Bonetta

In 1850, anti-slavery advocate Captain Frederick Forbes of the HMS Bonetta, visited King Gezo of Dahomia, West Africa. During his visit, Forbes saw that a young girl, aged about eight years old, was to be ritually murdered in a ceremony called ‘the watering of the graves’. Forbes ascertained that the girl was a princess from a neighbouring tribe and that her parents had been massacred in a Dahomian attack at Egbado, during the Okeadon war. He later wrote, ‘It is usual to reserve the best born for the high behest of royalty and the immolation on the tombs of the diseased nobility. For one of these ends she has been detained at court for two years, proving, by her not having been sold to slave dealers, that she was of good family’.

At Forbes’ behest, King Gezo agreed to give the girl to Queen Victoria, as a ‘gift’: he explained that ‘She would be a present from the King of the blacks to the Queen of the Whites’. For a year, Sarah (sometimes ‘Sara’) Forbes Bonetta — as she was subsequently christened — lived with Forbes and his wife; she was presented to the Royal Family in November 1850 and her education and upkeep were paid for by Queen Victoria.

Both the monarch and her foster father were impressed with their young charge, of whom Forbes wrote, ‘She is a perfect genius; she now speaks English well, and has a great talent for music. She has won the affections, but with few exceptions, of all who have known her. She is far in advance of any white child of her age, in aptness of learning, and strength of mind and affection’.

In 1851, Sarah returned to Sierra Leone, but returned to England in 1855 and lived with the Rev. James Schoen and his family in Gillingham. She was invited to the royal wedding of Princess Victoria and Prince Frederick William of Prussia (the future Kaiser and father of Kaiser Wilhelm II) in January 1858.

During her stay in Sierra Leone, she had come to the attention of James Pinson Labulo Davies, a widowed former slave who, after being educated in Sierra Leone and coming under the patronage of the Royal Navy, became a prosperous merchant in Lagos. After his first wife’s death, he wrote to Sarah, proposing marriage; he was then living at 9 Victoria Rd.

After a series of discussions between the Palace and Mrs Schoen, it was decided in spring 1862 that Sarah should accept the proposal and, in preparation for her marriage, be sent to live with a Mr and Mrs Welsh in Brighton. Sarah was unhappy to leave her adoptive family and friends in Kent; she knew no-one in Brighton and felt increasingly isolated. She described, the Welsh’s home, 17 Clifton Hill, as a ‘desolate little pigsty’.

On August 16 1862, she and Davies were married at St Nicholas’s Church. According to the Brighton Gazette, the guests included ‘white ladies with African gentlemen, and African ladies with white gentlemen until all the space was filled. The bridesmaids [Davies’s sisters] were 16 in number’. Captain Forbes’s brother gave her away and the service was conducted by the Lord Bishop of Sierra Leone.

The party had a wedding breakfast at West Hill Lodge, Montpelier Rd, before the bride and groom left for London, en route to Sierra Leone. They had three children; the eldest child, Victoria, became the Queen’s goddaughter, of whom she was particularly fond. When she passed her music examination, the teachers and children were granted a day’s holiday and often visited the Queen at Windsor Castle.

It was during one of these visits, in August 1880, that news came from abroad: the Queen wrote ‘Saw poor Victoria Davis, my black godchild, who learnt this morning of the death of her dear mother. The poor child was dreadfully upset & distressed…her father has failed in business, which aggravated her poor mother’s illness’. Sarah had died at the age of 37 in Madeira 1880, of tuberculosis. She had asked to be buried at sea, like her rescuer Captain Forbes; instead, she was buried in Funchal, Madeira.