Maya Series Cenote IV. Aubrey Williams, Copyright Aubrey Williams Estate

Maya Series Cenote IV. Aubrey Williams, Copyright Aubrey Williams Estate


Brown Girl In The Ring

Charting parallels between childhood and motherhood by Lou Mensah.  

My mother, English and late father, Ghanaian. My partner is Irish and my nieces and nephews, Jamaican and Turkish.

Summer 2009. It was 5.30am as we were packing up the car at the stairwell of our flat to emigrate from Hackney to Ireland, when a local Zimbabwean Indian man, Jack, offered help with the baby as we loaded the car. I could have cried at his kindness. As I handed her over, he said in the most gentle tone “come here, my little joy of bundle” and that was it, I wanted to stay in the place we called home, in the flat where my only child was born, by the flower market where I walked during labour, where the stall holders kissed me and wished me luck with the birth. 

I grew up in suburban England during the 70’s, when the National Front lads would chase family members for a, “fucking kicking in”; a time when my parents marriage and my very existence as a mixed race child would have been illegal in South Africa under the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act, under the apartheid regime later to be supported by the British Government. 

None the wiser, I lived pretty happily, my world was small: Aesop’s Fables, Mr Ben on the TV, NF logos scribbled onto my school books, no one had told me that they weren’t tag initials, but had a darker significance. I played football in the hot streets of the summer holidays, with the local boys, I scored goals, they called me coon, we made dens and walked for miles of adventures by the river, through the alleyways, going home for only my tea. It was innocence as bliss. Until I came to ask what Coon was. 

It was primarily Jamaican culture that informed my life over and above the Coronation Street and Mr. Whippy ice cream vans. My sister’s partner was was a Rastafarian, and so from an early age I’d be brought along to dub sound clashes, and it was his mates who’d inform me about politics, and why I’d been called a Coon. This led me to attend regular Rastafarian meetings, praise Jah and listen into to their planning for the Brixton riots. A life of two halves. 

I had a baby. We emigrated to Ireland. I left behind these stories of my youth, and yet nothing takes you right back to it like having a baby. I had a renewed energy for setting straight the untruths about race peddled to us as kids. Now I’m taking yet another new road, with my daughter, into home education. Her identity is already firmly intact - independent, critical, self assured. Through the endless trips to A&E we all have with kids, the strength we muster up through their surgeries, their questions, their confusion and joy at the world, we will always have a bright light shining, on our coming home. My little joy of bundle. 


Untitled, 2018. Deborah Roberts, Courtesy of the Stephen Friedman Gallery

Untitled, 2018. Deborah Roberts, Courtesy of the Stephen Friedman Gallery

You think you’re at a threshold, when 

You hold in your hands more

In this little joy of bundle 

Than you can imagine

And your life is coming before your mind

Open wide


But you know how to do it, you can do it

Brown Girl In The Ring 

Of fire


Coronation Street

Rice and peas


Peas and chips

Not so much

Sesame Street


But even still

Playing football, a backdrop of tunes

Til the sun goes down





‘I promise that I will do my best’

Police and Thieves

Sirens and Riots

Eyes wide


For, condensed milk 

School milk

I’m dairy free



One Love

National Front

Blondie Mum

Brown Eyed Girl


You think you’re at a threshold, and 

You’ve more in your hands 

In this little bundle 

Than you can imagine

And her life is coming before your mind


Green green grass of home

Is where the heart is



Dublin Bay to Rosslare

Are we nearly there 



We’re going 


Plaster casts

Blue light

A half-caste slight

Shall never pass 

On our coming




Mr Tumble, into




Rote aliteration

You’re just another brick in the





Madonna, child

Like a prayer

Already there, solid as a rock


Holding you


A half-cast light

Shall never pass 

On the bright sight

On our coming


Lou Mensah is a writer, photographer and co-founder of Shade

Artworks featured appear in Get Up, Stand Up Now, an exhibition representing 50 years of black creativity at Somerset House, London, from June 12 – September 15, 2019