Sambo The Bricklayer of Ledbury

Last night I slept in a four poster bed in a room older than America at The Feathers Hotel  built in 1560. Ledbury  is  a satisfied  town.  It pleasures itself with Christianity and The British Flag – four of them, hang indelicately flaccid outside  the hotel. The Ledbury citizen is living the English dream attainable only through  the anabolic state. 

No need for cultural self examination here .The penultimate performance  on tour last night at  Market Theatre was  satisfactory and the question and answer session that followed was mildly stimulating  like cloves.    This   morning I decided against better judgement to get a coffee at the Deli.  As I sat outside with a latte a country   gentleman in a trilby sat next to me “enjoyed   the performance last night”  he  said conspiratorially.

 “Didn’t say…” he  said “but  quite a few of us were thinking  the same…  of…. Sam.” I had no idea  where this was going  “ He is from Ghana…  was in a childrens home.. here.  Left …Ledbury when he left the children’s home.  He returned  and he’s lived here ever since…  a  bricklayer..” said the man “lovely chap” he  leaned forward and said   “he’s known as Sam. It’s a nickname we gave him as children” He looked slightly hesitant and feigned shame and came to the reason for the tale.  “But this week  I found out his real name.   It’s Derek.   He’s a great example of integration”   

Sam  is short for Sambo    a  common slave name found as far back as the 18th Century  in Thackary’s novel   Vanity  Fair.   It is the name of a slave buried at Morcambe Bay.  It is an offensive, backward term used  to denigrate and dehumanise.  To take the name from a grown man on the basis of the colour of his skin is  disgusting.    It says everything a visitor need know about the  “historic town of Ledbury”.  I fled Ledbury for Liverpool and the final performance of the tour .

23 thoughts on “Sambo The Bricklayer of Ledbury

  1. I guess the first test is “feigned shame”. Was it really feigned, or sincerely meant, but clumsily expressed? After all he can't go back in time and make amends for what was considered generally acceptable for children to behave decades ago, but he can feel shame now and change his ways in the future.
    Did he stop calling him Sam and start calling him Derek? That's the second test…
    And will he keep on doing it when the rest of the pub start blathering on about “political correctness gone mad,” Helen Bannerman and “traditional English tales,” and “multiculturalist good intentions on the road to hell”. That's the third…

  2. I was trying to register while commenting for the first time; i should have done the former first, then commented, I guess. Anyway, if this now comes up 'anonymous', I'm still doing it wrong.

  3. There you go. By the way I wasn't questioning the story. I live in a place where this sort thing fairly regularly happens, so I was just curious for more details…

  4. Damn it Lemn! Not every guy finds it easy to express himself! This man had the courage to approach you, having seen your show and been moved by it, to share with you something he felt awkward about and feelings he's probably seldom had an opportunity to share with anyone else. He clearly felt regret for his past, whether he was fully aware of the meaning behind “Sam” as a child or not. It takes guts just to approach a complete stranger, let alone someone he thought enough of to go see perform. Was he really 'conspiratorial' Lemn, was he really 'feigning shame'? How should a person look when he feels compelled to share that kind of information with a stranger? When, while he's speaking, he may also be wondering, should he share this with you, how will you react and simultaneously, recalling his past and how he must've felt when it dawned on him just how offensive he'd been towards his friend. Honestly, you can't tell people that it would be a better world if everyone were more open with their feelings and then mock and condemn a man who dared to open up his heart.
    Very likely, his story was the last thing you wanted to hear while you were sat there with your latte but Lemn, if you are going to offer people thought provoking material, then guess what!!!
    At least he seems to have overcome his prejudices, when are you going to quit slating people for coming from the wrong place? Writing off one town is bad enough but, earlier this month, you attacked a sizeable chunk of England, with comments as ridiculously vitriolic as “The fear of London is such that the Northerner has become the most aggressive defensive and ignorant element of it.” Isn't being offensive about people because of where they come from just a little, er….. ?

  5. I don't agree, I like Lemn's vitriolic! It's always good writing, bloody incisive, often funny and always thought provoking, and good writers happen to express themselves strongly! That's not comfortable for some people, but personally I could do with a bit more discomfort if it allows me to hear someone else thinking outside of a claustrophobic politically correct safety zone.

  6. Well, his blog certainly presents us with a certain irony, I'll give him that! When I read,
    “Most of the Northern inhabitants will trample over their grandmothers to get get the right seat on the train back to their respective cities where they can moan – no doubt to their hospitalised northern grandmothers – about how horribly selfish London is. Meanwhile stingily they stuff their pockets with the gold they’ve taken from it.”
    in the “North South Divides” post, it didn't seem that much different from the kind of anti-immigrant ravings of the gutter press but, fortunately I was wrong. Thanks for pointing out that it was only “someone else thinking outside of a claustrophobic politically correct safety zone”. I feel I can sleep soundly now….

  7. I agree with you, Rae. A little more compassion, a little less vitriol. What's more, Ledbury is not some cultural/intellectual backwater. It has established an excellent poetry festival held annually where some of our best writers have appeared. Too easy to dismiss in such a cliqued way.
    Incidentally I am not a resident of Ledbury but on Friday I did watch Lemn's Why I Don't Hate White People, where I also detected too much vitriol, too little compassion.

  8. Holding an excellent poetry festival may be a saving grace but that doesn't mean that a visitor's encounters and experiences are there are not valid or true.
    As for vitriol it's real, but how much nicer to be nice.

  9. Derek came back to live in Ledbury. Lemn, are we dismissing his judgement. Of course we can. But really we should search out Derek first….mmm. I pass into the small english town that nurtured both vitriol and compassion in me, by choice from time to time. and god I would NEVER live there again! But Vitriol and compassion are bedfellows , I allow both, dependant on mood, weather, other driver's attitudes, recent sexual encounters, my bank balance. Make me wonder what it would be like to live with just the one, (confessing to having not seen this piece, I dont know if the judgment thats its full of vitriol is true or not) for weeks on end…. Quite clearly you don't get to leave it all on the stage….also I have fond memories of Herefordshire and knew some very lovely people there. You know I have white friends and am learning to know that I should want their children to marry mine….LOl. God I do hope this comes up anonymous!!

  10. It didn't, Ekua!
    Perhaps it is the nature of bloggers to write spontaneously and freely, to offload whatever inspires, bewilders or enrages them and not worry about how it might read to others. Is it more about catharsis than about creativity? I don't really know because I don't blog. What drew me to Lemn's blog was because I think the guy is an amazing wordsmith and a perceptive, compassionate individual. I expected to find well considered, finely tuned words and actually, that's not really what blogging is about, is it? So maybe this is a sort of diary of emotions? Possibly, after having dismissed the man in Ledbury as insincere and ranting outrageous about Northerners (God knows what event sparked that blog but I strongly suspect that it either began or ended in Euston and I would pity any poor bugger who had the misfortune to be seated next to a seething poet for any length of time) Lemn can let go of those feelings and move on but, whether his comments were well-aimed or lashing out blindly, their anger will continue to hurt more than the people they were intended for.

  11. ah Rae, I am a blogger too and much as we'd like to imagine our words ring on long and loud after each post, they really dont. If Lemn's do attract more attention than others, more than likely for he's like er famous, well then people are reaching him as an artist and his anger is an important part of what they should find and if hurt perhaps use that pain to reach into his expereinces all the more closely. Racism is shit and I for one nolonger don't mind if more people get the idea and feel the truth of that. I spent my life protecting my family from the day to day torment a childhood spent in rural England bought me, because I couldn't think why I would want the people I loved to feel the pain I was going through. I was 5, or 7 or 10 or 13. But now I'm saying, if you can read this, man up and feel the pain!!

  12. Hey, Guys (gender-free term) do you realize all this angst has emanated from one blameless latte in Ledbury? I am new to blogging and only got involved because I happened to attend The Market Theatre in Ledbury last week. Where is Sam/Derek and the conspiritorial gentleman? And for that matter, where is Lemn? I guess he just chucks a rock, makes waves, muddies the water and clears off!!

  13. O…K…….. If you're still in the vicinity of your blog, Lemn, can I ask, what compelled you to write “North South Divides”?

  14. The answer is in the blog but it occured to me that Euston station is one of the most aggressive places in London. Like JB Priestley I am a Northerner living in London and travel by train.

  15. Thanks. While “English Journey” may still be lurking somewhere on my mental list of books that I think I should read but probably never will, I understand that, even Priestley wasn't beyond making a non-pc gaff and he wouldn't have realised it at the time either.
    Have you ever considered travelling by coach, Lemn?

  16. Presumably after the train has pulled out of the station… I just read and enjoyed “The Unspoken Time Zone”. I would have left a comment there but I'm a lazy thing so I'll just add it here. Sometimes it seems to me almost like we are living several lifetimes within the space of one, if that makes sense.

  17. Hello Lemn, I am that conspiratorial country gentleman.
    “O wad some power the giftie gie us, tae see oorselves as ithers see us.”
    Though in fact, outside the imagination of gifted poets, I'm just a local carpenter.
    What I offered you was a simple curio of English life: not good, not bad, but with many lessons to be drawn from it. Your correspondent Rae has divined my feelings with uncanny insight, except that, as I only came to this town twenty years ago, I never knew Sam (who introduced himself to me under that name) as a child.
    I'm glad that, before you fled Ledbury, you parted from me with such a warm smile and such a firm handshake. That must have taken some effort.
    I look forward to seeing you at the Poetry Festival some time.
    With good wishes, John Burns.

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