Today it’s one year, 12 months, 52 weeks, 365 days since we parted. I can truly say, hand on heart, that there has not been a single day I have not thought about you. I have, on many occasions, parked the car I was driving at the side of the road, unable to go on because I couldn’t stop my tears. I have gone shopping, picked up garlic cheese you so loved and then remembered that I can’t give it to you now. I have seen something in the news and thought I must ring you and tell you about it and then remembered I can’t. All of these moments are like a punch in the solar plexus.
It’s not only news on television that I have wanted to talk to you about. I so badly want to tell you that Sara graduated with a first in her intercalation degree, that her report got published online and, the biggest news of all, she’s decided to do her elective in Aga Khan in March. You would’ve been proud as punch! You would’ve dropped and picked her each day, every day.
I so badly want to tell you that Roann is now in her second year and doing very well. You knew she got into uni and you would’ve been so pleased at her progress.
I so badly want to tell you that my baby, Maha, is on the verge of leaving home too to go to uni. You would have been so happy that she’s studying maths, economics and Spanish and doing so well.
I so badly want to tell you about your other grandchildren; about how hard Fasih is working at his residency in Houston, about Rida who’s grown into such an elegant young lady, about how well Shafi is doing in uni studying Computer Science, about Hiba who’s as cute as ever and as hardworking, about Abu Bakr and how he, upon returning from school, still runs into your room to greet his grandmother and about Fatima whose smile melts everyone’s heart.
I so badly want to tell you about Afshan and Irfan. Afshan is getting on with making a new home for her family in Canada. She has more resilience and determination than anyone I know. And Irfan. There’s so much I want to tell you about Irfan. He’s the youngest of us three but he’s taken on the responsibilities of being the man of the house. We would be totally lost without him. He’s a mini you and we love him to bits!
And then there’s mummy. There’s nothing I can say about her that you wouldn’t know already. It’s knowing that you would have wanted us to be strong for her that’s kept us going this past year.
I so badly want to tell you I’ve been speaking at conferences. You were always interested in my governance career. You were so happy when I told you I became chair. I had heard you speak at conferences when you were working for UNESCO/UNDP in Sri Lanka. You were a great speaker. You spoke with great ease and with humour. You never failed to connect with the audience. I wish I could ask you for tips. I wish I could rehearse in front of you.
Why don’t we do things while we still have time? One of my biggest regrets is not asking to speak to you when you first went into hospital and were conscious and responsive. Irfan called me on Saturday 27th Oct and said you’d had a fall but you were speaking and responding. Then couple of hours later he called again that you were slipping into a coma. I flew out few hours later. That journey was the worst journey of my life. I kept wondering if I was going to get to Karachi on time. I was so worried that I was physically sick. On landing I went straight to the hospital. You were in ICU on a ventilator. Afshan arrived from Canada. The doctors told us the outlook was bleak and that there was almost zero chance of any sort of recovery. We went for a second opinion and were devastated when that was the same as the first. I still can’t bring myself to write about the next few days. On 31st Oct, four days after being admitted, at 10:07 am you left your earthly abode and went to heaven.
إِنَّا لِلّهِ وَإِنَّـا إِلَيْهِ رَاجِعون
As you know according to Islamic custom we had to arrange the funeral quickly. Irfan made all the arrangements, helped by his friend Ali Manzoor. The cortège left from home. I ran outside the house wanting to keep it in sight for as long as I could. I hadn’t had time to put shoes on. The road was hot. My feet were burning but I didn’t care. Then you turned the corner and were gone. I came back inside, went to your room and lay down on your bed. That made me feel you were still close to me.
Only those who’ve lost a dearly beloved father can understand how devastated I was. The wonderful man who had once said to me, “As long as I’m alive your problems are not your problems. Your problems are my problems” was no longer with me. You had made me feel loved and made me feel safe. I knew that you’d move heaven and earth for me, that you’d never let anyone hurt me, that although my own baby is old enough to be doing A Levels I was your baby, one you loved totally and unconditionally. There are so many instances which remind me of the kind of father you were. There was that time when I was 4,5 years old and running a temperature. I was sitting by the window and saw a donkey cart go by and I wanted one too. You went out and returned with a toy one for me. There was the time when there was severe flooding in Karachi and you told me not to drive back home. You drove all the way to the university where I was teaching and picked me up. When I applied for a scholarship to go to Norwich, you were behind me 100% and came to Norwich to help me settle in. You went back to Karachi and said you were uncomfortable at the thought of me walking back to my digs late at night. You sent me money and told me to buy a car. I can go on and on and on and fill pages and pages and still there’ll be much, much more to say, to write.
I will love you till my dying day. I pray that Allah grants you the highest station in Jannat ul Firdaus and unites us all there one day. Aameen.
I love twitter! I use it all the time! I’ve made friends through twitter and I’ve developed a very good network for my professional development. I’m also a conference junkie and try to attend as many conferences as I can. I try and make sure I tweet from these events and also use them to meet up with people in real life who I’ve got to know through twitter. This is one of the reasons why I have my own picture as my twitter avi. It makes it easier for people who only know me through twitter to recognise me.
During the summer holidays (when there were no conferences taking place) I decided to replace my own picture with pictures of some remarkable women. In case you missed these or don’t follow me on twitter (seriously, why don’t you?!) the ten women I chose were as below:
Tina Turner rose to prominence with Ike Turner’s Kings of Rhythm before recording hit singles both with Ike and as a solo performer. She has been referred to as The Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll and has sold more than 200 million records worldwide.
Fatima Sughra was an activist. In 1946, aged just 14, she took down the Union Jack from the Civil Secretariat Lahore & hoisted up a Muslim League flag made from a dupatta. This was the first time the Pakistani flag was flown.
Sojourner Truth was born into slavery in New York State. She gained freedom after running away with her infant daughter. She became a well known anti-slavery speaker and a women’s rights activist.
Wangari Maathai was a renowned Kenyan social, environmental and political activist. She was awarded the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize for her “contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace” becoming the first African woman to win the prize.
Fatima Jinnah was the younger sister of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah. She was a strong advocate for the two nation theory. She was affectionately known as Madar-e-Millat (mother of the nation). She qualified as a dentist but devoted her life to the Pakistan movement.
Moira Stuart OBE was the first black female newsreader on British television.
Begum Ra’ana Liaqat Ali Khan was a leading figure in the Pakistan Movement working closely with Quaid-e-Azam. She became First Lady when her husband, Liaqat Ali Khan became Pakistan’s first prime minister. She worked tirelessly for women welfare.
Begum Shaista Suhrawardy Ikramullah was a Pakistani politician and diplomat. She was the first Muslim woman to earn a PhD from the University of London. She was Pakistan’s ambassador to Morocco from 1964 to 1967, and was also a delegate to the United Nations.
Nichelle Nichols played Lieutenant (later, Commander) Uhura aboard the USS Enterprise in the Star Trek. Ground breaking role for a black female artist.
Razia Sultan was the empress regent of the Delhi Sultanate and was the first sovereign female ruler in both Islamic and Indian history. She was the daughter of Shams-ud-din Iltutmish, who had begun life as a Turk slave.
These remarkable women belonged to different countries, were of different ages, lived at different times and were known for their contributions in different fields. What’s really amazing about them is that they just went ahead and did what they needed to do. Fatima Sughra, for example, didn’t wait for someone to show her what to do. Aged just 14 she hoisted the Pakistani flag and became the first person to do so. Begum Ikramullah didn’t say she can’t do a PhD at University of London because she couldn’t see another Muslim, Indian woman doing so. How poor would our world have been if each and everyone of these women had thought, “I can’t be what I can’t see”? Why is that these women didn’t think that way but we, in the 21st century, do? You would, I think, agree with me when I say that the periods of history these women lived during were no less racist, paternalistic etc than today. In fact, I’d say these women faced much greater hardships than we do. And yet. And yet it’s we who tell our daughters, our BAME students that they can’t be what they can’t see. Few years ago I was at a conference and during a conversation I remarked that there weren’t that many BAME attendees and someone (I’ve forgotten who) replied that it may be because there were very few BAME speakers! That really surprised me! If a BAME teacher can’t get up the courage to attend a conference where there are few BAME speakers then how will he/she inspire their students to go forth and conquer the world?!
While I was mulling over this I came across this tweet which made me really uncomfortable.
The portraits were removed because of the colour and gender of the subjects of the portraits! This is where identity politics eventually leads us. I can understand people wanting women and BAME scientists to be represented but I cannot agree that removing the existing portraits is a sensible way to solve the lack of diversity problem.
Identity politics is rearing it’s ugly head on edu-twitter too. If one disagrees with someone then just call them white supremacist. If someone says they aren’t racist then jump down their throat and tell them that unless they say they’re anti-racist you’ll consider them racist. The latest example was the infamous #ListGate. Tom Rogers made a personal list of people he thought were worth following and tweeted it and all hell broke lose! First it was that there aren’t any BAME on it, then that there were only 2 (there were more than two) then that there wasn’t any indigenous representation (this was a list of UK educators!) and then that there weren’t any uncompromisingly black people on it. White supremacy, racism, appalling and hurtful list are examples of what was said. Some of the extreme reactions were met with derision and it was thought that people were making fun of calls for increasing diversity. They absolutely were not! The extreme reaction to the list resulted in a typical British reaction; mocking the silliness! People who objected to the list didn’t stop to think that what they were asking Tom to do was to assign ethnic groups to people by looking at their avis. They were asking him to look at photographs and decide if people are white or BAME. Think about that for a moment.
Then when you’ve done that, think how you’d feel if you were mixed race and that wasn’t evident from your avi and Tom was expected to place you somewhere on a colour spectrum.
Lastly, think of the fact that if you happen to be BAME then some parts of edu-twitter will not engage with you, unfollow/block you if don’t think that
People who say they are not racist (rather than saying they are anti-racist) should be considered racist
Everyone you disagree with who isn’t BAME should be assigned the white supremacist label
It seems to me that people demanding diversity cannot deal with diverse points of view. This is something we need to explore more deeply into. The danger is that if diverse points of view are not given the chance to be aired then it will be assumed that every BAME person has the same thoughts on diversity.
Lastly, yes, we need more BAME in every field of life. Yes, we need to work to remove barriers. Removing portraits of eminent white scientists or arguing over a personal twitter follow list isn’t the way to do that. In fact, I would say that’s the lazy way to improve diversity! As educators equip your pupils to be the best they can be, to be the first one to do what they want to (someone has to be first, the ladies above have proved it can be done) and not wait around for someone to lead the way. And stop seeing racism everywhere, especially where it doesn’t exist. If everyone is a racist, then no one is!
I’ll end by quoting something I saw the other day. “Racism is not dead, but it is on life support — kept alive by politicians, race hustlers and people who get a sense of superiority by denouncing others as “racists.” Thomas Sowell.
During February 2020 half term the people I featured in my profile pictures were:
Henrietta Lacks was an African-American woman whose cancer cells are the source of the HeLa cell line the first immortalized human cell line and one of the most important cell lines in medical research.
Abadi Begum was one of the first Muslim women to actively take part in politics and was part of the movement to free India. She pawned her personal jewelry to educate her children including her famous sons, Maulana Mohammad Ali Jouhar and Maulana Shaukat Ali.
Dina Asher-Smith, the British sprinter, is the fastest British woman in recorded history. She is the 2019 World Champion at 200 metres, the 2016 & 2018 European champion at 200 metres & the 2018 European champion at 100 metres. And she’s a Newstead Wood girl!
Muhammad Ali Jinnah, barrister, politician and the founder of Pakistan. Led All-India Muslim League from 1913 until Pakistan’s creation on 14 August 1947. Pakistan’s first Governor-General until his death. He is revered in Pakistan as Quaid-i-Azam.
Noor Jahan, a Pakistani singer and actress. Her career spanned more than six decades (1930s–1990s). She was renowned as one of the greatest and most influential singers of all time especially in S Asia and was given the honorific title of Malika-e-Tarannum (queen of melody).
I recently wrote about the significance of the last ten days of the Islamic month of Ramadan. There is another set of ten days which are of huge religious significance for us. These are the first ten days of the current Islamic month, Dhul-Hijjah which is the last month of the Islamic calendar.
Dhul-Hijjah is month when Hajj is performed. The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam, the others being the Shahadah (declaration of the oneness of Allah and the fact that Muhammad (peace be upon him) is Allah’s last prophet, Salat (the five daily parayers), Zakat (Islamic tax) and Sawm (fasting during Ramadan).
Hajj is performed during the 8th to 12th days of Dhul-Hijja. It is an obligation on every Muslim adult, who is financially and physically able to perform Hajj, to do so at least once in their lifetime.
Importance of Hajj
Hajj demonstrates the solidarity and unity of Muslims as everyone is dressed similarly and performs the same rites. During Hajj pilgrims feel the importance of life here on earth and that of afterlife. It is also a chance to atone for previous sins and start afresh. Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) said, “One who comes to this House for Hajj and avoids all lewdness and sins, he returns as he was on the day his mother gave birth to him.” The reward of Hajj is paradise. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “From one ‘Umrah to another is the expiation for what is between them and Hajj Mabrur has no reward except Paradise” and “Pilgrims and those performing Umrah are ALLAH’s guests; their prayers are answered and their supplications for forgiveness are granted.”
What about those who are not performing Hajj
These days are also of great importance for people who aren’t performing Hajj. It is customary for them to fast; some fast for nine days and others just for the last one or two days. They too spend more time in prayers during these days than normal. There is huge reward for fasting and prayers performed during this period. The benefits of fasting on 9th Dhul-Hijjah are immense. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “Fasting on the day of Arafah expiates the sins of two years, the past one and the coming one.” Allah, in His benevolence, made sure that those who could not perform Hajj would not miss out.
Getting ready for Hajj
Hundreds and thousands of pilgrims travel from all over the world to Mecca to perform Hajj.
First day of Hajj: 8th Dhu al-Hijjah
The pilgrims make the intention to perform Hajj. Men wear two unstitched pieces of cloth, one wrapped around the waist and the other draped over the left shoulder leaving the other shoulder bare. The women wear a jilbab, leaving the face and hands uncovered. This is called putting on the ihram. They will not cut nails or hair now till the end of the Hajj.
Each person walks counter clockwise around the Kaaba seven times. This is called the tawaaf. The Kaaba is the cube-shaped building in Mecca which was constructed by the Prophet Adam and restored by the Prophet Ibrahim. Muslims all over the world face towards the Kaaba during their five daily prayers. Upon completion of the tawaaf, pilgrims pray two rakaat (“unit” of salat) prayers and drink the Zamam water.
Tawaaf is followed by sa’ay during which the pilgrims run seven times between the hills of Safa and Marwah, located near the Kaaba. This commemorates the time when the mother of Prophet Ismael ran between these two hills, looking for water for her infant son. When she returned for the last time she saw water springing up from near the feet of her son. This is the Zamzam well.
After the morning prayers, the pilgrims move to Mina and spend the day there and offer the noon, afternoon, evening and night prayers.
Second day: 9th Dhu al-Hijjah
Pilgrims arrive at Arafah before noon. This is barren land about 20 kilometres from Mecca. Pilgrims use the time to reflect, offer prayers to atone for past sins and listen to the Hajj sermon. Lasting from noon through sunset pilgrims are in wuquf, (standing before Allah). This is one of the most significant rites of Hajj. At Masjid al-Namirah, pilgrims offer noon and afternoon prayers together. A pilgrim’s Hajj is considered invalid if they do not spend the afternoon on Arafah.
Pilgrims must leave Arafah for Muzdalifah after sunset without praying maghrib (evening) prayer. Muzdalifah is an area between Arafah and Mina. Upon reaching there, pilgrims perform Maghrib and Isha prayer jointly, spend the night praying and sleeping on the ground with open sky, and gather pebbles for the next day’s ritual of the stoning of the Devil (Shaitan).
Third day: 10th Dhu al-Hijjah
Pilgrims leave Muzdalifah and spend the night at Mina.
Back at Mina, the pilgrims carry out stoning of the devil (Ramy al-Jamarat) by throwing seven stones from sunrise to sunset. There are three pillars (jamarah). These pillars are said to represent Satan. On this day only the largest of the three pillars (Jamrat al-Aqabah) is stoned.
After the casting of stones, animals are slaughtered to commemorate the story of the Prophets Ibrahim and Ismael. At the same time as the sacrifices occur at Mecca, Muslims worldwide perform similar sacrifices, in a three-day global festival called Eid al-Adha. The meat of the sacrificed animal has to be divided into three portions; one is for family and friends, one is for the poor and the needy and the third one is for the person doing the sacrifice.
The pilgrims now carry out another important rite of Hajj which is removal of hair (Halak). All male pilgrims shave their head or trim their hair and women pilgrims cut the tips of their hair.
On the same or the following day, the pilgrims re-visit the Kaaba for another tawaf, known as Tawaf al-Ifadah, an essential part of Hajj. The night of the 10th is spent back at Mina.
Fourth day: 11th Dhu al-Hijjah
Starting from noon to sunset on the 11th Dhu al-Hijjah (and again the following day), the pilgrims again throw seven pebbles at each of the three pillars in Mina.
Fifth day: 12th Dhu al-Hijjah
On 12 Dhu al-Hijjah, pilgrims carry out stoning of the pillars again, stoning all three pillars. Pilgrims may leave Mina for Mecca before sunset on the 12th.
Last day at Mina: 13th Dhu al-Hijjah
If pilgrims did not leave Mina on the 12th, they must perform the stoning ritual again on the 13th before returning to Mecca.
Finally, before leaving Mecca, pilgrims perform a farewell tawaf called the Tawaf al-Wadaa. ‘Wadaa’ means ‘to bid farewell’. The pilgrims circle the Kaaba seven times counter-clockwise.
May Allah accept the prayers of the pilgrims and all those who marked these days at home and may He make it easy for those who want to perform Hajj but have not been ableto do so yet. Aameen
The Muslims of the world are about to reach the end of the month of Ramadan. Those who are able to would have fasted and made special efforts to pray and read the Quran.
As the month draws to a close, Muslims feel a sense of sadness. This month they’ve made special efforts not only to fast and pray but to refrain from anything which, in effect, would’ve “broken” their fast. We are supposed to take care not to lie, cheat, fight etc. If we do any of these then the fast is in effect starvation; it’s not a fast anymore.
As the month draws to a close, Muslims make even greater efforts to pray during the last ten days. One of the nights in these last ten days is the Laylat al-Qadr (لیلةالقدر, Night of Power). This is the night the Quran was first revealed to the Holy Prophet Mohammed (pbuh). The Quran in Surah 97 (Al-Qadr), āyāt 1–5 tells us
1 We have indeed revealed this (Message) in the Night of Power:
2 And what will explain to thee what the Night of Power is?
3 The Night of Power is better than a thousand months.
4 Therein come down the angels and the Spirit by Allah’s permission, on every errand:
5 Peace!… This until the rise of dawn.
No one knows the exact night on which Laylat al-Qadr falls (though it’s believed to fall on one of the following 21st, 23rd, 25th, 27th and 29th night). Hence Muslims make an effort to pray on all ten nights as much as they can. You may wonder why we haven’t been told the exact night on which it falls. To me, keeping this a secret is a sign of Allah’s benevolence. If we knew the exact night then
1. We may have neglected to pray thinking we canmake it up in that one night
2. If, for some reason, we were unable to pray on that night we wouldhave been devastated
3. As we don’tknowwhich night it falls on, we pray every night and therebymaking Allah happy with us on every such night
4. If we knew which night was Laylat al-Qadr and we still indulged in some sin or the other, then we would have had sinned twice; one the sin we committed and the other of disrespecting the special night.
Laylat al-Qadr is the night of forgiveness. The Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) said, “Whoever establishes the prayers on the night of Qadr out of sincere faith and hoping to attain Allah’s rewards (not to show off) then all his past sins will be forgiven.”
Hadith, Bukhari Vol 1, Book 2:34
To all Muslims who’ve fasted andprayedduring this blessed month, may Allah acceptyour prayers and reward you. To all non-Muslims who’vejoined us in fasting and in iftar (meal in the evening), who have made allowances for the fact that wecan’teatordrink and who’ve engaged with usgiving us an opportunity to explainthe significance of this month, a heart feltthank you.
As we draw to the end of Ramadan, my thoughts turn towards Eid-al-Fitr, the day which marks the end of the fasting period. This is one day in the Islamic calendar where it’s forbidden for Muslims to fast.
Pakistani families have a pudding, seviyan, or vermicelli noodles for breakfast and then leave to go to the mosque for special Eid prayers. They give money to charity and then return home. The rest of the day is spent visiting family and friends. Older people give presents (usually cash, called Eidee) to younger family members. It’s a joyful day with laughter and happiness. For me, this year, Eid will be different. I will make seviyan and go to the mosque to offer Eid prayers but this year will be the first year my father won’t ring me and say Eid Mubarak, baitay (Eid greetings, my child) and that’s hard to bear.
My father, my loving Daddy, passed away on 31st October 2018. I still haven’t come to terms with the fact that I can’t see him, I can’t pick up the phone and hear his voice, I can never have the sense of security again which he gave me. I have now lost two important persons who used to make Eid special, my grandmother and my father.
My grandmother lived about 100 miles away from us. We used to spend all our holidays at my grand parents’ house and obviously that included Eid. A few days before Eid, my grandfather used to withdraw cash from the bank and give it to my grandmother. She would use this to give Eidee to her grand children and to people who worked in their house and on the farm and who would come to visit her on Eid. One day I saw my grandmother putting the money away which she’d just been given by my grandfather. As he used to get out a significant amount, it came in bundles like one below.
In those days we used to have a one rupee note too (now replaced by a coin). I picked up a bundle of one rupee notes and asked my grandmother how much money was that. She said Rs 100. Now hundred seemed like a really big number to me (remember I was very little then) and I couldn’t believe that a small bundle could actually have a hundred notes. I asked her if I could count them. She said yes. So I sat down and carefully counted them and was amazed that there really were hundred notes in that bundle. I stood up and held it towards my grandmother. She told me that as I had counted it I could keep it. I was so happy; it seemed all my Eids has come together! From that day onwards, she would always give me a bundle of freshly minted, 100 one rupee notes as Eidee. This was a secret between us (it’s only recently that I told my mother about the story behind my getting Rs 100 on each Eid day). I also got what other grandchildren got but I got this additional 100 too. So, when I think of Eid and Eidee I always think back to the little girl looking in wonderment at the riches before her, made to feel special by her grandmother who handed her that bundle to count so she could satisfy herself that it actually was 100 and then rewarded her curiosity by gifting her the same bundle of 100 crisp, one rupee notes.
The night of the last fast, the night before Eid is called chand raat (night of the moon) in Urdu. The Islamic calendar is a lunar one and the sighting of the new moon signals the start of the new month. A lunar month is of 29 or 30 days. If the moon is sighted on the night of the 29th Ramadan then that night is chand raat and the next day is Eid. If it’s not sighted on the 29th then chand raat will be be night of the 30th. When I was living at home with mum and dad we had a tradition to go shopping on chand raat. Our new clothes, which we would wear on Eid, would already have been stitched and hanging ready in our cupboards. Shoes would’ve been bought. Matching bags too if we needed one but we would leave one item till chand raat, matching glass bangles like the ones below.
Once the announcement was made that the moon had been sighted and Eid would be tomorrow, we’d eat dinner and then Daddy would take us out. Karachi is a huge metropolitan city; it’s among the top most populated cities in the world. Traffic on chand raat is chaotic, cars are bumper to bumper on the roads, there’s no parking to be found for miles, the pavements are heaving with people but Daddy didn’t mind. He would drive us where we wanted to go and then patiently go shop from shop while my sister and I tried to find the perfect set of bangles. He would never hurry us along, he’d never say make up your mind now, I’m not taking you to yet another shop. But that was Daddy all over. Nothing was too much trouble for him where his family was concerned. I know he would’ve walked over hot coals for us if he had to.
As I said, there were literally thousands of people out shopping too. Daddy would hold our hands and we loved having this tall, handsome man hold us close to him protectively. We knew as long as he was around we were safe.
That warm feeling of being loved more than anything else in the world and being protected from anything and everything is what Daddy gave us and it’s going to take a long time to come to terms with the fact that I don’t have that anymore. In fact I don’t think I’ll ever come to terms with it. It may get easier to bear the loss but that loss now defines who I am and the person I am now is different to who I was before 31st October. It took me years before my grandmother’s loss became a bit easier to bear but it’s still there in the background. She used to pickle mangoes and other fruits and send us jars and jars of the stuff. She passed away in 1980 and I have not eaten pickles since then. With Daddy I suspect it’ll take even longer for the loss to feel a little lighter. Maybe even my whole life won’t be enough and the big, gaping hole will always be there.
On Sunday, I made my way to Tate Britain to see The EY Exhibition, “VAN GOGH AND BRITAIN”. To say I was blown away would be an understatement! I can’t do justice to the exhibition, but I will give it a go and try and capture why I found this to be an amazing experience. I’m really grateful to the Tate for allowing people to take photographs. I have relied very heavily on the exhibition leaflet and the information about the paintings in the rooms for which I’m very grateful too.
Vincent van Gogh in London
Vincent van Gogh spent nearly three years in England (1873-1876). London, at that time, was a technologically very advanced city but also had slums where people lived in extreme poverty. van Gogh worked for two years at the Covent Garden offices of the art dealers Goupil. He lived at Stockwell and Oval. He used to travel by boat and underground and loved walking in the city. Each day he would walk across Westminster Bridge to Goupil, wearing his top hat. “Always continue walking a lot and loving nature, for that’s the real way to learn to understand art better and better. Painters understand nature and love it, and teach us to see.” Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh, London, 1874
van Gogh loved Victorian novels, describing them as “reality more real than reality.” He read Bunyan and Eliot and re-read Dickens’s Christmas stories every year. Of Dickens he said, “My whole life is aimed at making the things from everyday life that Dickens describes.”
In a letter to his brother, Theo, van Gogh wrote, “Reading books is like looking at paintings…..one must find beautiful that which is beautiful.”
The Arlésienne, Van Gogh, Jan-Feb 1890. French translations of Dickens’s Christmas Books and Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin can be seen
Two of van Gogh’s favourite books feature weavers, Dickens’s Hard Times and George Eliot’s Silas Marner. He made a series of paintings and drawings of weavers when he was living in Nuenen. He described his work as, “weaver who must control and interweave many threads…so absorbed in his work that he doesn’t think but acts.”
Vincent van Gogh,Loom with weaver, Nuenen, April-May 1884. Oil on canvas
van Gogh liked the poem, Song of the Shirl about a seamstress by English poet Thomas Hood.
Vincent van Gogh, Woman sewing and cat, Etten, October-November 1881. Chalk, wash and watercolour on paper
During his time in London he visited various galleries. Among the works he admired he listed John Everett Millais’s Ophelia, George Henry Boughton’s Pilgrims Going to Church and John Constable’s landscapes. van Gogh liked the briskly brushed “stormy skies” for which the British artist Richard Bonington was known for.
Vincent Van Gogh, Bleachery at Scheveningen (recto), The Hague, July 1882 Watercolour and gouache on paper
Giuseppe de Nittis. The Victoria Embankment, London. 1875. Oil on panel
van Gogh saw the above painting in the Paris office of Goupil. He wrote to Theo, including a sketch of the painting, saying, “A couple of days ago we got a painting by De Nittis, a view of London on a rainy day, Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament. I crossed Westminster Bridge every morning and evening and know what it looks like when the sun’s setting behind Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament, and what’s it like early in the morning, and in winter with snow and fog. When I saw this painting, I felt how much I love London.”
van Gogh was homesick and also suffered the pain of unrequited love for his landlady’s daughter. His letters home from this time are depressed and religious. After being dismissed from his job he tried teaching and preaching in Ramsgate (in Kent) and Isleworth (west London). Later he would write, “I often felt low in England…but the Black and White and Dickens, are things that make up for it all.” Vincent van Gogh, 1883.
Hoping a change in scenery would help van Gogh, his uncle arranged for him to move to the Paris office of Goupil. Van Gogh left London in December, 1876 but his love for British art and culture influenced his style and subject matter. “When I was in London, how often I would stand on the Thames Embankment and draw as I made my way home from Southhampton Street in the evening.” Vincent van Gogh, 1883.
van Gogh painted three night scenes after moving to Provence in 1888 including Starry Night below which he described as “the town under gaslight and reflected in the blue river with the starry sky above.” His night scenes remind one of the views of the Thames but without the fog.
Vincent van Gogh,Starry Night, Arles, August 1888 Oil on canvas
Vincent van Gogh’s love for autumnal scenes
van Gogh saw Meindert Hobbema’s The Avenue at Middleharnis (1689) at the National Gallery and admired the perspective.
Meindert Hobbema, The Avenue at Middleharnis, 1689
van Gogh drew avenues of trees in his letters and pictures. Road in Etten (below) was his first important experiment with a figure on the road in autumn.
Vincent van Gogh,Road in Etten, 1881. Chalk, graphite, pastel, water collier and ink on paper
The woman in mourning dress and the autumnal scene makes this a picture of sadness. van Gogh would later write, “How perfectly simple death and burial happen, coolly as the falling of an autumn leaf.”
van Gogh had been reading about colour and this is reflected in the contrasting blues and oranges used in this landscape which shows a side-on view of the avenue.
Vincent van Gogh Autumn Landscape, Nuenen, October 1885 Oil on canvas
van Gogh had met John Everett Millais and had seen his Chill October (probably at Christie’s). He mentioned it often in his letters.
John Everett Millais Chill October, 1870 Oil on canvas
His Autumn Landscape at Dusk has a “personally intimate” effect that he admired in Chill October.
Vincent van Gogh, Autumn Landscape at Dusk, Nuenen, October-November 1885 Oil on canvas on panel
van Gogh copied out Keats’ poem “To Autumn”. He said Keats was“the favourite of painters here, and that’s how I came to be reading him.”
van Gogh had seen John Constable’s “The Valley Farm” (below) in the South Kensington Museum.
John Constable, The Valley Farm, 1835 Oil on canva
Years later, he would write to his brother,“I….always keep thinking about some English paintings- for instance, Chill October by Millais…the Hobema in the national Gallery, a couple of very fine Constables.”
van Gogh continued to love autumnal scenes. He painted The Bois de Bouligne with People Walking in Paris. He had adopted the bright colours and brushstrokes of the impressionists.
Vincent van Gogh, The Bois de Bouligne with People Walking, Paris, 1886. Oil on canvas
van Gogh spent his last autumn in hospital in Saint-Paul.
Vincent van Gogh Path in the Garden of the Asylum Saint-Remy, 1889 Oil on canvas
Vincent van Gogh The Stone Bench in the Asylum at Saint-Remy, Autumn 1889 Oil on canvas
Vincent van Gogh and the British newspaper, The Graphic
van Gogh admired the community of artists at the British social reforming newspaper, The Graphic, calling them, “the great portrayers of the people.” He collected a series of prints called “Heads of the People Drawn From Life” by various artists at The Graphic. He learned from these prints and used light and dark shadings to emphasise the shapes of his figures as seen below.
Vincent van Gogh Paul Ferdinand Gachet. Auvers-sur-Oise, June 1890. Etching on pper
Vincent van Gogh, Old man with umbrella and watch. The Hague September-December 1882. Graphite on paper
Vincent van Gogh. Old man drinking coffee. The Hague November 1882. Graphite and lithographic crayon on paper
van Gogh collected most of the illustrations of Hubert von Herkomer, a leading illustrator at The Graphic.van Gogh had an engraving of Herkomer’s famous church scene. He produced his own (see below) by assembling his “heads” to represent a congregation.
Vincent van Gogh. In church. The Hague, late September-October 1882. Graphite, ink and watercolour on paper.
While living in Paris van Gogh started a series of self-portraits, using some of the principles of his British-inspired”Heads of the People”. In these he is seen as a dignified, modern man of depth.
Vincent van Gogh. Self-Portrait with Felt Hat. December 1886-January 1887. Oil on canvas
van Gogh painted the self-portrait below during his last months in Paris. The eyes are emphasised, strokes are bold and colours have been combined. This was featured in the first solo exhibition of his art in Britain at the Leicester Galleries in 1923. The Tate tried unsuccessfully to buy it for the nation.
Vincent van Gogh Self-Portrait. Paris Autumn, 1887 Oil on canvas
Vincent van Gogh and Black and Whites
van Gogh learned about British “Black and Whites” while working at Goupil. British print makers wee portraying modern subjects using light and shade. van Gogh’s study of these prints helped him develop his drawing style.
“I often felt low in England…but the Black and White and Dickens, are things that make up for it all. Vincent van Gogh, 1883.”
van Gogh’s first known drawing from the time he took up art in 1880 was a drawing of men and women miners from the mining area of Belgium.
Vincent van Gogh, Miners in the Snow, Cuesmes, September, 1880 Graphite,chalk and watrcolour on paper
The cityscape below, commissioned by van Gogh’s uncle but was not to his taste.
Vincent van Gogh, Carpenter’s yard and Laundry,The Hague, LateMay 1882 Graphite, chalk, ink and watercolour on paper
Vincent van Gogh’s influence on others
Francis Bacon said, “van Gogh is one of my great heroes…[He] speaks of the need to make changes in reality…This is the only possible way the painter can bring back the intensity of the reality.” Bacon’s brushwork shows van Gogh’s influence.
Francis Bacon. Study for Portrait of van Gogh VI 1957 Oil on canvas
Francis Bacon van Gogh in Landscape. 1957 Oil on canvas
Francis Bacon Study for Portrait of van Gogh IV 1957. Oil on canvas
Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers and British flower painting
Alexander Reid, the Scottish art dealer, gave van Gogh the still life below. It influenced him greatly. He hoped that his paintings would be of commercial value as were Monticelli’s. He wrote to Theo, “If our Monticelli bouquet is worth 500 francs to an art lover … then I dare assure you that my sunflowers are also worth 500 francs to one of those Scots or Americans.”
Adolphe Monticelli. Vase With Flowers. c. 1875. Oil on panel
“Modern European art has always mistreated flowers, dealing with them at best as aids to sentimentality until van Gogh saw… the arrogant spirit the inhabits the sunflower.” Roger Fry, Art critic 1910
Christopher Wood Yellow Chrysanthemums 1925. Oil on canvas
William Nicholson.Sunflowers c 1933. Oilon panel
Frank Brangwyn Sunflowers. Early 20th century. Oil on board
Jacob Epstein Sunflowers 1933 Watercolour and gouache on paper
Samuel John Peploe. Tulips in a Pottery vase. c.1912. Oil on canvas
Matthew Smith. Yellow Dahlias. 1940s. Oil on canvas
The van Gogh below isn’t of flowers but I’ve included it here as I absolutely love it! van Gogh was out walking with the Scottish art dealer Alexander Reid and was struck by the beauty of these apples. Reid bought them for van Gogh who rushed home and painted two versions; the one below he gave to Reid and the second was given to Lucien Pissarro. Reid and Pissarro brought these back home to Britain and they became one of the first van Goghs to come to Britain.
Vincent van Gogh. Still Life, Basket of Apples. Paris, Autumn 1887. Oil on canvas
A Toi, van Gogh!
Artists such as Walter Richard Sickert, Harold Gilman, Spencer Gore and Matthew Smith adapted van Gogh’s brilliant colours and brush strokes. Gilman had a print of a van Gogh’s self-portrait on the wallof hisstudio. Before he started to paint, he would wave his brush at the print and say, “A toi, van Gogh!” (Cheers, van Gogh).
Vincent van Gogh. Horse Chestnut Tree in Blossom.Paris, 1887. Oil on canvas
Harold Gilman had seen the above painting in Paris. Later, he would paint “nothing but trees” many of them with van Gogh’s brushstrokes.
Harold Gilman In Gloucestershire 1916. Oil on canvas
Vincent van Gogh. Olive Trees. Saint-remy, June 1889. Oil on canvas
Vanessa Bell’s The Vineyard reminds one of van Gogh’s Olive Trees. Bell, too,suffered from mental illness and found comfort in painting the Provence countryside.
Vanessa Bell. The Vineyard c. 1930. Oil on board
Matthew Smith. Winter in Provence. c. 1937. Oil on canvas
Walter Richard Sickert was a British art critic who supported van Gogh. The self portrait (below) was exhibited in 1907 during the Paris exhibition, Portraits of Men, with four van Gogh’s.
Walter Richard Sickert The Juvenile Lead 1908. Oil on canvas
Vincent van Gogh. Shoes. Paris September-November 1886. Oil on canvas
In 1920 William Nicholson was commissioned to paint a portrait of Gertrude Jekyll, a garden designer and writer. She refused to stop her work to sit for him so he, taking inspiration from van Gogh, painted her boots.
Vincent van Gogh’s use of prints of other artists as inspiration
van Gogh used printed images as inspiration. He said,“It’s not copying…It is rather translating into another language, the one of colours.” van Gogh knew about London’s prisons from the time he loved there as well as from Dickens’ “A visit to Newgate”. van Gogh had over 30 prints of prisons and prisoners, including two Gustave Dore’s illustrations of Newgate.
van Gogh’s personal copy after Gustave Dore Exercise yard at Newgate Prison.1872
The “translation” below was made while van Gogh was in Saint-Paul hospital. He described the hospital as, “The prison was crushing me, and pere Peyron didn’t pay the slightest attention to it.” pere Peyron was his doctor.
Vincent van Gogh The Prison Courtyard. Saint-Remy, February 1890. Oil on canvas
Vincent van Gogh and Lucien Pissarro
Pissarro was part of a group of artists experimenting with painting in dots and dabs of contrasting colours. van Gogh saw Pissarro’s La Maison de laSourde, Eragny in an exhibition.
Lucien Pissarro.LaMaison de la Sourde, Eragny. 1886. Oil on canvas
van Gogh started experimenting with neo-impressionism. Path in the Woods is one of a series of paintings he made during this time.
Vincent vanGogh. Path in the Woods. Paris, May-July 1887. Oil on canvas
Shortly after attending van Gogh’s funeral, Pissaro moved to Britain and shared his knowledge of van Gogh with British artists. His The Garden Gate, Epping, shows van Gogh’s influence.
Lucien Pissarro. The Garden Gate, Epping. 1894. Oil on canvas
“You may not always be able to say what it is that confines and yet you feel I know not what bars…and then you ask yourself, Dear God, is this for long, is this for ever, is this for eternity?” Vincent van Gogh, 1880
The following van Gogh’s really touched me.
In London, van Gogh had seen a print, Worn out” by the Scottish artist, Thomas Faed. He gave this English title to his work below. He wrote that he was also thinking of a scene in the novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Vincent van Gogh. Worn out. Etten, September-October 1881. Watercolour on paper
The war veteran, Cornelis Schuitemaker (below). Images of thoughtful people facing the end of the year and the end of their lives had along history in British and European art.
Vincent van Gogh Man Reading at the Fireside. October-November 1881. Black chalk, charcoal, grey wash, opaque watercolour, on laid paper
Vincent van Gogh. Woman Seated. The Hague April-May 1882. Graphite and ink on paper
van Gogh made drawings and lithographs of another war veteran, Adrians Zuyderland (below). He wrote that this was “to express the special mood of Christmas and new Year. At that time, in both the Netherlands and England, there’s still always a religious element.”
Vincent van Gogh. At Eternity’s Gate.The Hague, November 1882. Lithograph on paper
“I met a woman…who roamed the streets in winter – who had to earn her bread, you can imagine how. I took that woman as a model and worked with her the entire winter. Vincent van Gogh,1882. The model was the prostitute and seamstress Clasina (Sien) Maria Hoornik. van Gogh met her in a soup kitchen. She lived with van Gogh from 1881-1883. Their relationship was not accepted by his family, though Theo did not stop supporting him. At Theo’s urging,van Gogh left Sien in 1883 to paint in Drenthe, ending the only domestic relationship he would ever have. On 12th November 1904 she threw herself into the Schelde river and drowned as she had predicted to van Gogh in 1883, saying, “what the bad moods are is still more desperate…it’s bound to end up with me jumping into the water.” She was 54.
Vincent van Gogh Mourning Woman Seated On A Basket. The Hague, February-march 1883. Lithographic crayon and watercolour on paper
The painting, “Sorrowing Old Man (At Eternity’s Gate) seen below was done while van Gogh was at the Saint-Paul hospital. It is based on his lithograph made eight years earlier (see above). When he was not well enough to go outside, he used to make “translations”from prints. When van Gogh was unwell, his doctor said, “he usually sits with his head in his hands, and if someone speaks to him, it is as though it hurts him, and he gestures for them to leave him alone.”
Vincent van Gogh. Sorrowing Old man (‘At Eternity’s Gate’).Saint-Remy, May 1890. Oil on canvas
On 2nd March 2019 I did a session on governance at researchED Birmingham. I’m very thankful to Claire Stoneman and Tom Bennett for giving me the chance to talk about governance to teachers. My slides from the session are below. I’m also adding a few lines of explanation so the slides make sense to those who weren’t there in person.
For teachers who haven’t worked as or with governors, governance may appear to be something mysterious that happens behind closed doors in the evening when all the teachers have gone home. You may hear your head say governors want data on X or governors are coming in to monitor Y. And that’s about it. So today I’m going to try and lift the veil on who we are and what we do and hopefully by the end of the session you will know…