Springfield Road by Salena Godden
This unlike most of the books I read was not only non-fiction but also a memoir/autobiography written not by someone famous, or at least not very famous even though they do perform. In most ways this was a memoir about the childhood of what appears at first instance to be an ordinary girl. It is based largely around her memories of a house she lived in – in Springfield Road – hence the title.
She is the daughter of a quite famous white jazz musician who played with most of the bands and stars of his era and a black dancer – a go-go dancer at the time of their marriage.
She therefore has a mixed heritage, although it was her mother’s family who had most impact on her.
Her father deserted her mother when she was quite small – he was fairly typical I suppose of musicians of that time who were promiscuous and in many ways it is more surprising that he actually married her mother than that he left and had many affairs.
Salena now has a career as a poet and musician herself and her poetry often came through in this book as much of the text was quite lyrical. However, as this book was published by Unbound publishers – a sort of cloud-funding site for publication there was insufficient editing and this book needed a stronger line of story. It jumped around rather too much and was confusing. The first chapters were also off-putting and you needed to read well into the book to want to continue. Once you did, you got fascinated by, what for me, was not reminiscent of my childhood and foreign to me as I lived in a very different area of the country – a ‘safe’ London suburb where we ran riot in our cul-de-sac and each other’s houses. Another difference is that she was always looking for her father, and believed as a child, he would come home to her soon. As a child I lost my mother to an illness and so knew she never come home to me.
Memory of childhood is often patchy and yet Salena’s seemed very strong indeed and you just wonder how much was filled in by guess or desire when memory missed. Certainly her family helped her a lot, but again our memories are skewed by what we want to believe. Can we really remember everything? Especially what it was like to be a child? The racial issues that she would have encountered then must have been ones that remained strong in her memory though as such a mixed marriage was rather uncommon in the 1970s though it was becoming more common it’s true.
I was given the opportunity to read this book through the website for women called forbookssake which specialises in encouraging female authors.
Salena says about her book:
Springfield Road is a journey into childhood. My childhood, maybe your childhood too. I set out to capture a snapshot of the seventies, a world without health and safety, a time of halfpenny sweets, fish and chips in newspaper, cassette tapes of the Sunday night top ten, scrumping apples and foraging for conkers, through the eyes of my child self.
It is the memoir of our family home on Springfield Road in Hastings, but it is also a memoir of the journey I took writing this book. These are my memories of my attempts to understand the beauty, the brutality and the contradictions of the adult world; why my Irish jazz musician father mysteriously disappeared from our lives; how my mother’s transitions from her Jamaican girlhood to her teenage dreams to represent Britain in the Olympics, to her life as a go-go dancer and then single-parenthood affected us all. It’s about discovering that life is unfair and that parents die. Its also about seeking the good in the world, the humour and the tenderness, this book is not a misery memoir.
Springfield Road is peppered with daydreams, a poetic and universal child’s eye view from the cracks in the pavement to the faces in the clouds. This book is a salute to every curly-top, scabby knee’d, mixed-up, half-crazy kid out there. We had afros, we had free school dinners and hand-me-downs.