Let us now praise famous men, and our Fathers that begat us. Leaders of the people, by their counsels and by their knowledge. Such as found out musical tunes, and recited verses in writing: All these were honoured in their generations, and were the glory of their times.
I first came upon these words in 1946 when children all over London including me, were preparing for the victory celebrations in the Albert Hall. They were the words to a hymn that the great Vaughn Williams, who was one of my heroes, had set to music. The words stuck in my head and have been there ever since. I used to think how wonderful it would be to recite verses in writing MYSELF and be honoured in MY generation. Not that I thought it was ever likely to happen, but it was a dazzling dream.
And now here I am, 31 books down the line, not exactly reciting verses in writing but telling tales by way of the printed word, which I kid myself is much the same thing!
So this is by way of a greeting to all the other artists who have found out musical tunes and have written plays, novels, poetry, songs or produced works of art by painting, drawing, sculpture. I hope all these will be honoured in their generation, because art of all kinds brings pleasure and comfort in hard times.
I’m going to leave our lovely Shakespeare to sign off for me and to remind us that we should treasure our artists.
‘The evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with bones.’
And my last word on this is an echo of the motto of the final school I went to. It was in Latin, naturally. ‘Honesta obtinete’ or to put it in our own language. Hold on to the things that are good.
This is a repeat performance of a blog I wrote in November 2019, just before the General Election that put Boris Johnson in power. I had forgotten all about it but among my visitors to the blog somebody else found it and as I couldn’t remember what it was I checked on it. I thought it would be even more revealing now then it was when I wrote it.
I belong to several local groups on Facebook serving Bognor, Felpham, Tooting and Streatham all of them places where I’ve lived and worked for a considerable time. It is interesting to see how much they vary.
Tooting takes pride in the variety of its inhabitants and the way they usually gel and work together. It’s a cosmopolitan place and always has been. When I was a child the newcomers were predominately German, Italian and Jewish. My grandfather – a Parodi who kept a wine store – lived two doors up from Mr Jung who ran the bakers at Tooting Broadway. A very nice man. A few years before their arrival the men in the local chamber of commerce all had very English names with the occasional Irish one for there were lots of Irish labourers who had dug up the road and laid the tram lines and settled in Tooting, in a road call Kellino Street. As I said, a mixed community. Now it is even more mixed with newcomers from Pakistan, Syria, India many of whom run stalls and cafes in Tooting market and sell delicious food there.
Felpham on the other hand has had very few immigrants other than Londoners who have come here to retire. Bognor has always been a favourite watering place for day-trippers from South London. But the Bognorians answer to the mixture of races that Tooting accepts and glories in, is to close ranks.
Not long ago, one of the moderators of a Felpham group put up a notice to say that people who use the group should not say anything that was ‘political’ or ‘about religion’ because according to her, people were finding that very uncomfortable. So ‘religion’ and ‘politics’ were banned, but that sent me thinking. Politics is a wide term and covers a whole range of beliefs, so does religion and if you stand back and think about what the moderator has said it becomes very clear that what she is actually saying is ‘don’t mention anything left-wing, it upsets people who live here.’ ‘Don’t say anything about religion unless it is about the local church and people who attend it.’ What she is asking us to avoid is a variety of outlook and opinions. I haven’t met many socialists in Felpham although they are here and very sensible, valuable people, but I’m pretty sure the majority of people are ingrained Tories – you only have to look at the voting figures to see that – and comfortable middle of the road people who would call themselves CofE.
And the more I think about all this the more I think how curious it is that in my part of south London, variety is accepted and celebrated and in my part of West Sussex, it is retreated from in horror or at least it is according to what the moderator of that particular group has said.
Curiouser and curiouser as Alice said when she was in Wonderland.
And yet political and religious opinions are changed over the years and what once was unthinkable – like votes for women – becomes established and acceptable. The chartists ensured that all men over 21 got the vote, no matter what class they belonged to. It took blood as those of us who know the story of the Peterloo massacre could tell you. The Suffragettes ensured that women were given the vote to, although they had to endure forced feeding in prison and it took the death of Emily Davison to finally begin to achieve it.
After a couple of years of Christmases messed up by this wretched Covid, I had an absolutely wonderful one last year, spending Christmas Eve with my daughter Caroline and the rest of the family and Christmas Day with my elder daughter Mary and her family. What could have been better then that?
And during the course of it, I had seven of my great-grandchildren cuddled up together with me on a sofa built for three!
Delicious beyond words! What more needs to be said!
The publishing industry can sometimes be unexpectedly odd. I have discovered over the last couple of weeks that there doesn’t seem to be a book category called ‘love’, which struck me as very extraordinary, ‘romance’ turns up in all manner of shapes and sizes and always with the same sort of cover, a spectacularly beautiful ‘poor’ girl gazing into the eyes of an impossibly handsome prince/hero/rich man. So you can have a book classified as ‘true romance’, ‘eighteenth century romance’, ‘a romance in the Tudor court’, ‘historical romance’, ‘wartime romance’ and so on and so on.
So what happened to love? Which as my old darling told me very early on in our relationship was a totally different thing to romance, which was in his eyes shallow, corny and usually a fantasy and totally untrue. In those early days, I was still at school and used to spend a lot of my time when I wasn’t in lessons, studying in the school hall which was used for exactly that purpose and was always quiet and studious. He used to send me a message most days, which was delivered by one or other of his two sisters, who were both at the same school, and found me when I was in the hall. On one occasion when I was having rather a rough time at home and was feeling very down, his message simply contained three words ‘Read sonnet 116’. I left the work I was supposed to be doing, went to the library at once and found the sonnet. I have loved it ever since because it says so much about the complicated trustworthiness of real affection. I know it by heart and here it is:
Sonnet 116 – William Shakespeare
Let me not to the marriage of true minds Admit impediments. Love is not love Which alters when it alteration finds, Or bends with the remover to remove. O no! it is an ever-fixed mark That looks on tempests and is never shaken; It is the star to every wand’ring bark, Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken. Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks Within his bending sickle’s compass come; Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, But bears it out even to the edge of doom. If this be error and upon me prov’d, I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.
You can’t be bettered William – and neither could my old darling. His entire life with me was an example of how love pervades everything you do. Precious beyond words.
And it only took three years! I’ve never taken so long over a book in my entire career. But now I’m delighted to say that ‘The Great I Am’ is published. To say I’m thrilled about it is putting it mildly.
But I feel I should add a health warning. I know my fans will enjoy it. They’re already telling me so. But it isn’t a book for everybody. If you are an ardent Brexiteer and you think ‘Bo-jo’ is a wonderful man and ‘doing his best’ and that his team are all equally wonderful, you would hate it.
Because this is about a fictional politician who has built his entire life on a lie and lies as easily as he breathes, a womaniser who treats his woman abominably, a man who beats his son and has never paid any taxes on his enormous wealth. There were plenty of role models for me to study before I created him. But he IS a work of fiction.
And the rules of fiction being what they are I have given him a well deserved comeuppance in the final pages of the book. But on the way, I’ve also taken a close and detailed look at the way the Brexit campaign was planned and won, at the political use of propaganda and the ethos of an increasingly Fascist government. And all that is factual.
This long, painful saga about what is to be done (or not done) with Blake’s Cottage is still ongoing. Tim Heath is still chopping and changing in what he says about the place. There seems to be no end to it, despite people like me trying to sound a much-needed warning.
There is an article in the current edition of the ‘Private Eye’ which among other useful things, reports that Mr Heath now ‘refuses to talk to the media about plans for the building,’ but adds that a new trustee, one Jonathan Mullard, who the Private Eye say has a ‘civil service background’ has now become the spokesman. What he says is interesting because it is yet another twist and turn. ‘He reckons refurbishment of the cottage, demolition of an adjoining modern extension and a new build for a gallery and activity space, will cost around £3m.’ This new building is what Tim Heath is really interested in, this is the wool he’s been pulling over everybody’s eyes since the cottage was bought in 2015. It has been described by Tim Heath in such a variety of ways over the years, that it’s difficult to keep pace with what’s being said.
To start with Peter Johns, another BCT trustee, said it was going to be a study centre and visitor centre, later it was described as a ‘retreat for those who want space to ask important questions about their lives.’ Later still it was described as ‘multifunctional, having a secure space for small but important exhibitions, spaces for conferences and ALTERNATE SPACE FOR A SECOND RESIDENCE’. Later on still in January 2017 I had a meeting with Peter Johns and asked him why the half a million pound building that Tim Heath wants to build in Blake’s garden is now being called a ‘residence’ and who is going to live there? His answer revealed yet another use for the building. Tim was not going to live in Blake’s Cottage. He could assure me about that. It was Tim’s dream to purchase Blake’s part of the property at 17 Molton Street and if the cottage could be repaired and/or the second residence built, it could earn sufficient money for Tim’s dream to be realised. I remembered then that right at the start Tim Heath had declared that he wanted to join the two houses in a single creative project. Or to put it another way, he wants to be the man who owns both Blake’s surviving houses and it looked very possible to me at that point that he would use the cottage to earn the money to buy the house.
By February 2017, one of the people who had been working with me to push for the repair and restoration of the cottage, said he was beginning to despair of ever getting through to Tim Heath. ‘I simply don’t understand him,’ he said. ‘He says one thing and does another.’
This in essence is the key to understanding the man. We must judge him not by what he says, either to the press or on the Blake Cottage Trust website, but by what he does, or even more destructively doesn’t do. His words are mostly airy fairy dreams. Take a look at this revealing little offering.
‘Lets skip over the tedious business of raising funds to repair the cottage and consider our glorious future and the scores of geniuses that will come streaming out of the door in a thousand years time.’
It takes considerable study to disentangle all the things he says because they are so much at variance with one another and that is the key to why the cottage has never been repaired in all the years it has belonged to the Blake Cottage Trust.
Muddle, prevarication and plenty of wool to pull over people’s eyes. And God alone knows how we are supposed to deal with that. I have done what little I can by producing a booklet called ‘If Blake’s Cottage had a voice it would cry help!’ and selling as many copies as I can with the help of the Post Office in Felpham. I have very little hope that Jonathan Mullard – the new kid on the block in the Blake Cottage Trust and the Blake Society – will be able to deal with it either.
All I can do is spread the word and disseminate the facts.
Only this time with a difference, because the blaze is so intense it can be seen the length and breadth of this island and pretty well everywhere else you can think of, has caused an answering storm of furious anger, I’ve never seen so many people on social media, so torn with anger as I’ve seen this morning. This time the Prime Mendacitor has gone a step too far. To throw a party when you’ve just given instructions to the electorate that they are to do no such thing but are to obey the rules, is arrogant and cruel. It mocks all the people who obeyed the rules and had to leave their loved ones to die on their own and have been grieving about it ever since.’
And now to make matters even worse, he is trying to deny it, even though his senior officials were joking about it in a leaked video of a mock televised press briefing and it isn’t just one source that have given evidence that there really was a huge staff party in Downing Street on the 18th of December last year, but several. According to the Guardian the video ‘shows Stratton, the prime minister’s advisor, Ed Oldfield and other staff making a series of jokes about the party, including references to “cheese and wine”, lack of social distancing and making the excuse that it was a business meeting’.
Even Starmer is publicly calling Johnson a liar. The Guardian reports him as saying ‘”To lie and to laugh about those lies is shameful. The prime minister now needs to come clean and apologise.”‘
And then he has the gall to put on a police uniform and pose for pictures with a group of police. They should have been arresting him, not posing with him. But he is so sure he may do whatever he wants with no consequences that he just continues to dress up and ponce about in public and expect us all to love him for it.
I’ve got news for you Prime Mendacitor, WE DON’T. And more and more of us are now hating you with a passion. On an entirely personal note I’m currently waiting for my 31st book to see the light of day and groaning because it is so pertinent to what’s going on in the political world at the moment that I can’t wait to see it up and out there. It is called ‘The Great I Am’ and is about a fictional politician who tells lies as easily as he breathes and is foul to the women in his life and the children he has fathered. And because I hate him and politicians like him so much, he gets a cruel comeuppance in the final chapter. The people who are currently livid with fury at the party will enjoy it very much and many are already saying so.
Strength to your arms all you who oppose this appalling man. ‘We shall overcome.’
As my grandmother used to say. Let me explain what I mean.
As you may know if you follow my blog, a gentleman called Jonathan Mullard joined the triumvirate of the Blake Cottage Trust early last year as a fourth trustee. He has been their mouth piece ever since, so I think we need to keep a careful eye out for press releases and pay great attention to whatever he has to say. He has recently announced that he has a new press release ready, but I can’t find any record of it anywhere and no-one has reported that it has appeared in the press as far as I know. I hope you will tell me if it has. But I think I know what it will be about.
On the 18th of November ‘The Architectural Heritage Fund awarded a Project Viability Grant to The Blake Cottage Trust to KICKSTART THE PROCESS OF CONSERVING THE COTTAGE, and transforming the site into a heritage and arts centre dedicated to Blake and his circle. This grant was funded through Historic Assets moving into Community Ownership, a programme supported by Historic England.’
It sounds wonderful doesn’t it. Until you read on and discover that ‘The grant is among 12 awards the AHF made this month, with projects ranging geographically from Surrey to Orkney and funding totalling £112,220.’ It doesn’t take much maths to work out that if you divide £112,220 by twelve you get the rather paltry sum of £9,351.66. The BCT won’t butter many parsnips with that, if we bear in mind that even the fourth and most optimistic of their number is now saying that they’re seeking ‘£450,000 for repairs’ and even that is a conservative estimate. It might repair half the thatch but that’s about all and the decay in the cottage is profound and increasing.
And now take a look at this choice little piece. I think this might interest you too.
‘The AHF grant will fund fees for a CONSERVATION PLAN‘ In other words, it won’t pay for any restoration work, it will just go to another company to provide yet ANOTHER plan like the architects MICA produced in 2018 and this is THEIR idea of what the cottage would look like when it is finally repaired. God save the mark. Haven’t they seen any pictures of what it was like in Blake’s time or don’t they care?
Meantime we also hear that the Mr Mullard, ‘supreme optimist’, Secretary of The Blake Society and Trustee of Blake Cottage Trust is seeking £450,000 for repairs to the cottage. If he can get that it would be a start, but it wouldn’t be nearly enough. The cottage has been neglected for far too long and the longer a thatch and roof timbers are left to rot the more expensive they will be to repair.
Here is detail about this neglect, which I’ve taken from Adriana Diaz-Enciso’s blog with her permission. ‘In early April 2016, five years and eight months ago. The firm The Morton Partnership gave the BlakeCottage Trust a worrying report of the damage in the property and the work that needed to be done. You can see that document in the BCT’s website: https://blakecottage.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/Morton-Partnership-Survey.pdf‘
In the Bognor Regis Observer there was a report on the 4th of November in which Mr Mullard said ‘they had used the opportunity to launch a fundraising bid, initially for £8,000 for a conservation report. Then the trust plans to make bids for funding for the work itself.’ So that’s what he’s going to do with that £8,000 from the Architectural Heritage fund. It is another £8,000 tossed carelessly at another business organisation and still not a penny gathered for all those much needed repairs. I call that a wicked waste of money. There are thatchers and carpenters in the village who could tell him exactly what needs to be done to the roof and the cottage and how much it would cost and would be prepared to do what is necessary if he paid them an adequate fee. They don’t need a ‘conservation report’ or the report from the Morton Partnership to tell them what to do. They are skilled artisans.
We have to say this over and over again, in block capitals, on petitions, (given to Mr Mullard in public so nobody can say the BCT haven’t seen it.) Even, dare I suggest it, large public demonstrations.
And while we’re at it, we should also say that nothing at all should be done to erect Tim ‘Kubla Khan’ Heath’s ‘stately pleasure dome.’ We all know he wants to build it so that he can preside over scores of wannabe musicians, poets, artists, who will come there to ‘sleep in Blake’s bed’ and ‘find themselves’ and become ‘geniuses’ under his instruction and encouragement – if you ever heard such balderdash in all your life. He won’t get any parsnips buttered that way, but then he doesn’t understand that genius is in-born, that geniuses work all hours and every day and would no more think about sitting around examining their navels then they would contemplate jumping off the roof.
Strength to our arms. Flashy fine words are all very well and I’m sure they make the speakers feel splendid about themselves, but they won’t achieve anything. They are window dressing that’s all. They will butter NO parsnips.
Yesterday morning, thanks to the offices of my lovely amanuensis I took part in a radio broadcast to talk about the lack of food during the war with a German lady called Ingeborg who had lived in Berlin at the end of the war. I think we were chosen because we were both old enough to remember, but she was a mere child compared to me as I told her, she being 85 to my 90! But our memories of the food or lack of it, were very similar and I think our interviewer was a little surprised to hear how very little food there was available for us.
Lottie and I had looked it up because I still have a ration book, identity card and a list of food that was available to us during the war and the prices, butter for example was one shilling and seven pence a lb, our ration was 4 ounces a week. Sugar was 5p a lb, eggs were two shillings for a dozen, margarine was 10 pence a lb. We had 4oz of bacon a week, 2oz of tea, 1oz of cheese and a whole variety of food on ‘points’, so I had to explain the points system and how it worked and also the black market system and how that worked. Ingeborg had similar memories, but the prices didn’t really mean much to me as I didn’t really know what the German coins were worth in those days.
But the thing that surprised our two interviewers, one in the UK and the other in Germany, is that both of us made light of having very little to eat and tried to explain that living in a city like London that was bombed every night for ten months at the beginning of the war, or a city like Berlin that was bombed incessantly and towards the end of the war, was waiting to be invaded by the Russian, British and American armies who were rapidly encircling them, was actually much, much worse then being hungry. By the end of the programme, Ingeborg and I had made friends with one another, for we both understood what it was like to have been mortally afraid and in very real danger. But it came as a surprise to the organisers of the programme who had expected it to be simply an examination of how difficult it was to get hold of enough to eat. That, as both of us explained, was the least of our worries.
I have made a friend and so has Ingeborg, which is a very good thing to have come out of such a programme. It will be broadcast by the BBC next Thursday, sorry those are all the details I’ve got.
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