Jane Daniel has lived in Bideford all her life. She is actively involved with the BAME community because she wants to help create a:
“better understanding of differences in culture and colour now and for the future.”
By telling her story, Jane hopes to influence her community.
This is her story in her own words:
One of my earliest memories is playing in the garage at home and the smell of wood in the garage. Dad made me a homemade swing there that I used to play on all the time. Apparently I used to hit the garage roof with my feet. I had lots of toys like Lego and a red tractor with a trailer and then later went on to go fishing with Dad. I was a tomboy!
I also remember Mum and Dad putting me in the car telling me “We are going to pick up your sister” and the long drive. We would go on other trips in the car to have picnics and to see the ponies on Dartmoor, Tarr Steps and Hunter’s Inn to have chips in a basket which I always thought tasted and felt very special.
A Little History
East of the Water or Shamwickshire then, as far as I can remember Bideford in general, was not that culturally diverse in the 1970s and my sister and I were the only black faces for miles apart from one exception.* Mum and Dad were both white and Mum had long blonde hair as well!
*There was one black girl that was quite well known in the town but I think she went to Kingsley School, I would see her around but she was a lot older than me. Later on there were more multi-cultural faces that I saw but again they were connected with Kingsley School and were from out of the area.
I always knew that I was adopted and from an early age knew there was something different about me as well as this; but could never put my finger on what it was. Living in the Sham, our family and I was very well known and Mum and Dad were highly thought of. We knew all the neighbours and had the local family run corner shop, grocers and ice-cream makers. The house was always full of friends and was a loving, protective, encouraging and warm place to grow up.
I remember coming home from school and having to be quiet as Dad was often in bed and Mum was busy making house. Dad was a self-employed fisherman and would also work at the Quarry. Mum was very involved with the primary school and would be the witch at Halloween and help out at the yearly disco or school sports day. I remember Dad making a broom for her to be the witch and Mum making sure we had all the latest clothes and fashions.
This is important information when in my later life Dad spoke about how they both had to do a lot of things to become adoptive parents and Dad later told me there was a question over their suitability as Dad was self-employed. They had a full background check and neighbours were asked about their lifestyle. This must have been a huge undertaking and then add to the mix the fact that I was “mixed race!”
The first time I had a bad experience was at school and I remember being in the playground and the sun was shining and I was standing by one of the classroom doors in the small playground at East–The-Water School.
A young girl walked up to me and she had a look of anger and disgust on her face and came right up in my face and said the N word. I do not remember but was later told that I went home and asked what the word meant and still not really being aware of the impact this moment would have on my life.
The government had brought out a new reading system called I.T.A *(Initial Teaching Alphabet: see left) and I began to really struggle with what was called the three R’s; books were colour coded so everyone knew if you were a good/bad reader. Mum, and Dad were called to the school to be told how I was never going to read and then the system went away as quickly as it came and I then enjoyed books again (with the help of Mr. Evans)
I always struggled with Maths and in those days you had to recite the times table by doing tests (written and out loud with the rest of the class) and this was always demoralising.
We used to have Pancake Race Day and assembly once a week where we would have to sit crossed legged on the floor and sing hymns and songs. There was a netball and football team and house teams; Saxons (blue); Celts (yellow); Normans (red); Danes (green). Apparently on one particular School Sports Day I punched a young girl and her glasses flew off and Dad would always retell this story through my life along with other tales.
The school had a break-in and most if not all of the animals were hurt or killed. I remember the goldfish being killed. The food at the school was fantastic mostly and I loved all the home-made pies and puddings but there was also semolina and tapioca which was disgusting. We also had free school milk which was delivered in crates and left outside in all weathers.
At lunch time any child wasn’t allowed to go out to play until the food was eaten and I even now still hate the taste of warm milk! I also vividly remember the milk being partly frozen though too. It was still the time of corporal punishment and the Head Teacher was a fiercesome man who used the cane and wore shoes that you could hear coming up the corridor.
I did have a new friend by then and we used to play Hey Presto and this was in the bigger back playground on the grass. This friend will be the person I walk to school with everyday once I moved to Bideford College. Hey Presto is a game where you do a hand stand and hold it for as long as possible and we would play leap frog and the boys collected toys and football cards to swap. Leap frog is where one person bends down and touches their ankles and the other person leaps over their back (a bit like doing the splits on the pommel horse) and over to the other side. I remember ra-ra skirts and bob apple and Penny for the Guy. November 5th was always big up the Sham with a huge bonfire and fireworks and I was also one of the attendances on the float for East the Water Carnival Queen. I was also a shepherd at one of the Christmas plays held every year.
I would walk to school every day with my aforementioned friend and I was in the S-band; I was mostly based in Abbotsham for my form room of S2. The first few years I remember trying to navigate the large campus as the timetable often had me walking from one side of the school to the other. Having a cool pencil case was vital and the uniform was quite loose; black/grey skirt, white shirt and black jumper. Showers were compulsory after P.E and girls and boys had separate lessons and sports. I had a fairly quiet few years and remember fondly the school pizza, pitta bread, chips, lardy cake, and iced fingers from the school canteen.
It all changed the day I found a coat in the toilets in Abbotsham and I think I must have told some of my friends that I had left it there in the hope the owner would find it. What happened though was that one of the popular girls took it and told everyone that it was now hers and if we told we would be in trouble.
I recall thinking how upset and angry my Mum would be if I had lost a coat at school and how that I would be sad if it was mine and people had not told me about what had happened to it. I am not sure how but I did manage to find out who’s coat it was and told them and then the popular girl found out! From that day the next year was awful as by then we were in options and everyone was milling around going to different classes and there was no escape from the bullying. I was called all sorts of horrible names like w#g, co#n and of course the N word.
I went to the Head of Year and begged her to move me from the main trouble but she said to just get on with it or words to that effect and I remember feeling so hurt and angry. I had a really painful, upsetting and awful time and it affected my life greatly. As time passed the situation did ease and some of my friends did return but I never got over it.
In 1985/1986 another mixed race family moved to the town and we were all getting older and there was more people of colour on the T.V. My friends and I would go to Roof Tops (an arcade room of Space Invaders, Donky Kong and Pac-man) or the Wimpy and also go out to the local pubs (even though we were underage).
Post Teenage Years
I did not have a clue what I wanted to do when I left school and back then the Careers Advice was very 1990s style (girls were often offered nursing, bank, secretarial or shop work) and I knew that none of these would suit me and it was by accident that I started to work with children.
I ended up on the Government’s Youth Training Scheme which was £35 a week and started in local nurseries and schools that allowed me learn on the job. I then went back to College and did some Higher Education and since then have worked for over 24 years with children and young people. I specialise in children/young people with autism, as my first major job was at a local residential school in East The Water. I then worked at the local college and some other local schools. I think it is ironic that I ended up in school again, but feel that I was driven to stop anyone else going through what I did.
I could never find make up to suit me in the shops and struggled to find lady hairdressers who can manage Afro hair. I have managed by using the local barbers or gent’s hairdressers and still do not wear make-up today!
Dad was always fit and well when I was younger and so it was a shock in my early 20s for him to have major heart surgery. Unfortunately my early 20s was also marked by Mum passing away at a very early age and Dad then stayed on his own, building boats, fishing and making things. I still had close family ties to Bideford though, with Mum and Dad’s extended family living in the area. I did go away to live for 11 months but soon came back home to live and work.
It was still a time of everyone knowing the family as Dad was retired now but still very well acquainted with the local fishing fraternity. There were myriad times I would get stopped in the street and asked if I was Johnny Daniel’s maid? I used to hate the fact that I couldn’t just go around and get up to the same things as other young people without Dad finding out!
I met my husband Mike who is white and also from Bideford when I was 20 and Mike’s family and friends were also here and so although we did look at living further afield we never left Bideford and have both got very strong roots here.
I had a son who then went to local schools and then to Bideford College and Dad and him would go fishing and had a very strong bond. Mike and I were struggling with brining up a mixed race child and my son was very well known and could be picked out in a crowd if something went down.
We had a good life and travelled on holiday to a variety of countries and would swap houses so we had a home from home which was very useful when my son was younger. This is where I managed to see and have contact with other cultures and colours and found that places we went were always problem free except for one.
Coming home was always good although it was sporadically marred by some very nasty racism. This was directed to me and my son and Mike and the peripheral family were all indirectly sensitive to our difference.
I am now coming up to 50 and I would NEVER think of living anywhere else even though it has been tough and there are still days when I am minding my own business and I get called a name or followed in a shop.
There are more and more visible people of culture now in Bideford and through the TOSFOR programme I have relearned the old adage “Never judge a book by its cover”. I would describe myself as Black British and have a very strong British cultural background. I see myself first and foremost though as a Bidefordian!
If asked, I am not sure if things are better, as I feel racism is just so unacceptable that if people are [racist] they are more likely to hide it and it is only when you start to talk about the news or current affairs that people sometimes slip up and say something about foreigners going back to where they came from!
I hope this story helps people in Bideford see that being multi-cultural is nothing to be frightened of and that we all can love living in such a stunning part of the country. I hope my story highlights the cultural history of the town and that future generations will look back on some of the things I went through and think: “How was it possible for people to be so narrow minded?”