Send Me A Parcel with a Hundred Lovely Things. By Carry Gorney

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Send Me A Parcel with a Hundred Lovely Things. By Carry Gorney

Published:

Thu, 12/02/2015 - 12:53

By:

paul
Carry Gorney
Carry Gorney
Published: 
12 February, 2015
by DAN CARRIER

A COLLECTION of letters written between two émigrés who fled Nazi Germany is the starting point for a memoir by community arts activist and teacher Carry Gorney.

Carry, who lives in Dartmouth Park, covers her parents’ escape from Berlin, a 1950s childhood where the unspoken horror of the war lingered in a family’s collective imagination, through to her work in community arts movement Interchange in Kentish Town in the 1970s.

She was part of the group who set up and worked for the Interchange project – part of Ed Berman’s Inter Action – and her far-reaching memoir, Send Me a Parcel with a Hundred Lovely Things, takes the reader from pre-war Berlin to the squats of Prince of Wales Road during the three-day week.

Following her mother’s death in 2010, she says, there was a sense of urgency to get both her parents’ lives and her own thoughts committed to paper.

“There has not yet been a lot written about the artistic and cultural community movements of the 1970s,” she says.

She adds that there were aspects of the work she did for groups such as Interchange that has resonance today.

“Younger people who feel disenfranchised, who feel there is a lack of opportunities, are going through something similar to what we experi­enced,” she adds. 

“I thought it was time to look at what we did and how we did it. I didn’t have something to sell, I had something to say. I see that happening again.”

The story starts with her parents leaving a Berlin wrecked by the Nazi regime and settling in Leeds. For her German-Jewish parents, Manfred and Thea, the beacon of freedom that Britain represented was temporarily extinguished as her father was interred on the Isle of Man during the war. 

This world is chronicled by a series of 104 letters Carry read after her mother’s death. 

The “brown, flimsy envelopes”, sent between her father’s internment and her Leeds home between May 1940 and January 1941, set a scene for her childhood.

The daily grind of being locked up, of food shortages and of separation give a glimpse into what her parents experienced.

Carry’s childhood in Leeds was a mixture of trying to be as British as possible mixed with her father’s aching for a lost world.

From the culture and learning that was destroyed by the Nazis, to forging a new life in Britain, her own rebellion against a suburban life meant she was drawn towards London and a movement that celebrated music, theatre and art performance.

“I came from a family whose heads were still in the Weimar Republic,” she says. 

“There was always this idea of ‘if only we lived in Berlin...’ London represented the nearest I could get to the dream of Berlin. My father would drive us down for a concert on Saturday night and drive us straight back again afterwards.”

Her parents also craved stability, being part of the generation for whom Kristallnacht was a real experience. She describes how they wanted to block out the war years and were “desperate to prevent us knowing about the death camps, the lives cut short by the falling bombs. 

“Our parents had been young adults in the war, fighting overseas, having babies in the Blitz, food rationing. They lived in fear every night...” and later were “relieved to sit in the suburbs and think only about a new twin-tub washing machine and a quiet afternoon playing cricket”. It meant “we were to become a generation simmering with an unspent energy underneath the predictable childhoods. We would stride to our destiny in Doc Martens, not mince in kitten heels.”

In the 1970s she met Inter Action founder Ed Berman. “Ed challenged the establishment and influenced social and artistic thinking,” she says. She speaks of an “urban kibbutz”, collective living and working together.

“Inter-Action became a proactive social action and community arts organisation, which breathed new life into derelict sites and estates. Feral arts and wild ideas created new communities,” she writes.

Her stories talk of working at Inter Action late on Saturday night and rushing to catch the last post with a mail shot for a new production, of eating at a Greek restaurant in Camden Town, and of getting stoned in a Covent Garden flat while listening to someone strum a guitar.

“I turn into the Prince of Wales Road,” she recalls. “The aroma of cannabis drifts through the car window. The back streets are lined with squats. Fabrics purchased in the souks of Morocco, bright colours faded by the sun are pinned with drawing pins across windows, opaque with dirt.

“The smell of sour milk from unwashed bottles, women with kerchiefs on their heads and many rows of beads, men with shoulder-length hair and beards of varying lengths from bushy to straggly, grey babies in rickety buggies.”

The book’s title is taken from a request sent by her father to her mother, speaks of how one generation’s experience influences the next. Written with heart

 Send Me A Parcel with a Hundred Lovely Things. By Carry Gorney, Ragged Clown Publishing, £11.99. It is available online at
www.carry-gorney.co.uk and at the Owl Bookshop, Kentish Town, and Daunt Books. 

• There is a launch and an exhibition of Carry’s artwork at the Amberden Gallery, 6 South Hill Park, NW3 on Saturday, February 28.

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