When I was 15 I bought a book of poetry from my local second hand shop for five dollars. The book was covered with a layer of clear plastic, strained by poor application against the dust. On the inside read the following messages: “To dear Bron with our love Nan and Pop” and “Huntingdale Technical School: Cancelled”. The Huntingdale Technical School ran between 1972 and 1990, before it was closed down and became a golf club. I took the book home, flipped through it a few times then stuck it on a shelf and forgot about it for ten years. Last year (2014) when moving house I rediscovered the book, and read it through properly. I was fascinated by the quality of writing and life that the young writers had put into the book. I loved that the authors were all children and teenagers, and that they appreciated the world and were frustrated with the environmental problems that they saw around them. I wanted to know more.
The stories written by the children reminded me of some of the things that I had said as a child. When I was five, my sister, my house and I were chosen to be on the cover of ReNew, the magazine of the Renewable Technology Association. I wore my best woollen jumper that my parents had made from our own sheep! In the interview for the magazine, I had said that I “hated the city because it was a smelly place.” It is still a talking point of mine: that time that I was a front page magazine model.
As a child I’d been raised on a diet of fresh air, nature and open space. 20 years later I live in the suburbs of a larger city, and the smell no longer bothers me. I’m not bothered if I have to drive for half an hour through the city to get to work, something that I would have been surprised by as a child. I am bothered now, if the half an hour drive becomes longer than half an hour. I know that I have changed in my ideas since I was young. I suppose people have the great capacity of getting used to situations over time, even if they aren’t positive ones.
After reading through the book a few times, I wondered what had happened to all the children that had contributed to the book. Had they become environmental activists who chained themselves to logging machinery? Had they studied finance and become CEO’s of large banks and mining companies? I assumed that the authors were probably on some kind of bell curve between these two suggestions; I wondered whether the truth was more interesting than any stereotypes I could suggest.
The introduction to the book said that five thousand essays and poems were submitted to a competition, organised by the book’s editor Helen Exley (a writer and editor who runs a gift book company in London). A total of 316 authors and artists from 70 countries were included in the final book. I decided then and there that I should try to get into contact with some of these adults, 30 years after the book had been produced.
The next step for someone who has not the budget for a year long worldwide expedition (I wish) was to head to the internet! The book published the names of those who had contributed, so I started by searching for those people. This process was much easier for people from English speaking countries. For a few countries I asked friends who spoke the necessary language to search for them for me. They didn’t end up having any better success. Another problem was that many of the women may have changed their last names when they were married.
After several weeks of searching, I found the first person. A scientist from the U.K, who seemed surprised to hear about such a blast from the past, and was interested in being interviewed. This small success gave me so much adrenalin that I told all my nearby work colleagues, as well as my boyfriend and my mum, and then couldn’t sit still for another hour.
A little while into researching this project, I had come to the conclusion that I had gained about 100% more internet stalking abilities compared to previous levels. A few authors that I managed to find had personal blogs that contained their names. In these instances, I felt like I’d stumbled on someone’s personal diary, which was meant for people other than me.
The list grew until I had 10 names. I hastily emailed this list, and sat by the computer waiting. Return to Cry for Our Beautiful World: Part 2 coming soon!
All book quotes and images are from ‘Cry for our beautiful world’ (1985), (Ed. Helen Exley), (Heinemann Publishers, Richmond)