A Sense of Proportion

The events on Westminster Bridge and in the grounds of Parliament that we witnessed on TV on Wednesday were indisputably shocking. We felt deeply sorry for the people who had been injured and full of pity for those who were killed and for the anguish that their families would now be suffering, but we were also full of admiration for the way the police, the ambulance crews, and ordinary men and women in the street took action at once and rushed to help the injured. Yes, we were aware that all this had probably been caused by one man in a frenzy of hatred but we were also witnessing scores of other people at their very best, skilled, compassionate, immediately helpful, calm and kindly.

But – and it’s a very big but- it was not a terrorist attack, despite what the pundits and some of the reporters were saying. It was one frenzied 52 year old man determined to kill and injure.  A terrorist attack is a very different matter and a much more destructive one. A terrorist attack is the deliberate use of guns, high explosives and incendiary devices to destroy houses and kill hundreds and thousands of people in order to subdue them. It’s what we’re seeing in various places all over the world. And we’ve been seeing it for most of my lifetime. Although we didn’t call it a terrorist attack when I was a child, we called it Guernica when it happened in Spain, and the Blitz when it happened in London

I hope you’ll forgive me if I quote some figures at you but I think it will help you to see what I mean when I say that what we need now is a sense of proportion.

Between September 7th and November 14th 1940 London was bombed every night bar one by hundreds of German bombers.  On that first night more than 400 people were killed and 1,600 seriously injured. After that the raids didn’t come every single night but they went on hideously steadily until May 10th 1941. By that time 28,556 Londoners had been killed, 25,578 had been seriously injured and more than a third of the houses had either been destroyed or were uninhabitable. But – and this is another big but – there were no reporters striding about in the ruins enjoying the vicarious drama, nobody panicked, people were remarkably and admirably calm. They joined the ARP, the Auxiliary Fire Brigade, the WVS, and thousands of them came out in the streets every time there was a raid, to fight the fires, which were formidable, to gather up the bodies and bits of bodies, to dig their neighbours out of the wreckage and comfort them through the shock they were in, to serve tea from temporary canteens, to find temporary shelter for the homeless, and all of it while the bombs were falling all around them and they knew they could be killed at any moment – as many of them were. There were thousands of them. J.B.Priestly called them the Citizen’s Army explaining that ‘this war, whether those in authority like it  or no, has to be fought as a citizen’s war.’ The Lord Mayor declared that every single one of them should be given a medal. They had worked calmly through the longest terrorist attack in history.

So what is the point of my story? It is this. It isn’t reporters and pundits bigging up the event and talking wildly about it being a terrorist attack who are important. It’s time to  ignore them. It’s the ordinary and admirable men and woman who immediately came out to help who have earned our attention. It’s our quiet citizen army. Respec’!

This entry was posted on March 24, 2017. 4 Comments

How do you cope with a deformed character?

No, it’s not a typo. I don’t mean a reformed character. I mean a DEformed one. What I’m going to try to write about today are characters who have been emotionally and psychologically deformed by the appalling and often cruel way they’ve been treated as children. Child abuse is no longer taboo nowadays, so it is possible for the subject to be  discussed and that means we’re beginning to understand that abuse varies from family to family and affects abused children in different ways. I’m going to concentrate on one particular example, which I call the spoilt brat – hence the picture of Violet Elizabeth Bott.

I’ve been inspired by an excellent and revealing article in the Family section of yesterday’s Observer. Do get hold of a copy if you can. Written by Joanna Moorhead, it examines the work being done by two pioneering women, a psychologist called Alyson Corner and Angela Levin who is a journalist, who have set up a website http://www.myhorridparent.com  to help the victims of childhood abuse to survive. In it, they offer seven practical suggestions that might help teenagers and adults to come to terms with what has been done to them and move on. Stay calm: learn to accept your situation: don’t retaliate: look to your future with hope: believe in yourself: talk to someone you trust; look after yourself. All very sensible but no use at all to a small child stuck at home with an abuser. They have to accept their situations. There’s nothing else they can do. The can’t retaliate, their adversary is too big and too strong. They can’t look after themselves. Often they’re not allowed to talk to anyone about what’s being done to them. They are stuck.

So I’m sticking my oar in on their behalf.

I spent the first nineteen years of my life with a ‘spoilt brat’ physical abuser and, as there was nothing I could do except accept the situation I was in, and wasn’t allowed to speak to anyone about it, I tried to make sense of it by keeping a diary which I began when I was seven. Years later, when I read it as an adult I could see the patterns. So what had I learnt? Let me list it.

  1. Spoilt brat abusers  – like all abusers – are full of ugly negative emotions, like hatred, jealousy and a sense of grievance, which boil up into cruelty at hideously regular intervals. The psychologists are spot on about that.
  2. They belittle their victims and blame them for what is being done to them.
  3. They live in a fantasy world in which they are perfect and believe in it so thoroughly that it is easy for them to convince other people that it is true.
  4. Because they are so firmly locked into their fantasy, they have no ability to relate to or understand other people.
  5. They lie effortlessly because they have convinced themselves that what they say must be true because they are perfect.
  6. They are lazy. Other people exist to wait on them and look after them.
  7. If they don’t get their own way they throw temper tantrums or – even better – make themselves ill.

I have no idea how you can turn such a personality round so that they can face the sort of people they really are. But it is becoming increasingly clear that there are a lot of spoilt brats out there  and that some of them are not jokes like Violet Elizabeth but are men and women in powerful positions who are capable of doing an enormous amount of damage. Are there any psychologists out there who can advise us?

And for those of you who would like to read what I made of those diaries the link is amzn.to/1fMDLt4



This entry was posted on March 13, 2017. 5 Comments

A Box of Liquorice Allsorts at the V & A

I’m not sure whether this blog will be fun or serious. A bit of both probably. Like a box of liquorice allsorts. But to begin at the beginning.

I spent last Thursday morning in the hallowed halls of the Victoria and Albert Museum, not as a visitor, which would have been usual and familiar, but as a judge in a competition and not the sort of competition I usually get myself involved with. I’m well used to poetry competitions and find it relatively easy because I know exactly what I’m looking for when I start reading the entries but on this occasion I had been asked to judge book covers and illustrations and I was doing it without knowing what the criteria  were, which I have to admit was a trifle – shall we say – foolhardy.

But there I was, sitting in a small, well lit room, which is the office belonging to Martin Flynn, who not only runs and cares for the museum’s enormous library but also organises this annual competition. He is the sort of man anyone would like at once, gentle, learned, hospitable and with a trace of a lovely Dublin accent in his voice, and he had led me most carefully through the maze of back stairs and along a balcony overlooking a vast library full of quiet books and readers until we reached his office. It turned out to be a small cosy place, with a high window filling one wall and all three remaining walls ranged with ancient books. I’d have liked to have stayed there for days and just picked and read. But there was a small table set about with four chairs and stacked with the books whose covers and illustrations we had come to judge and it wasn’t long before the two other judges arrived and we began our work.

(Pause while I adjust my wig and hoist my red robe more comfortably over my shoulders!)

My two fellow judges were Lloyd Grossman, whom I recognised from the TV and Jane Scherbaum, the Head of Design at the V&A, who was both stylish and pretty with a very warm smile and made me feel almost at once that I was in good hands. As I was.

At first I simply listened hard to what the other two were saying. It quickly became obvious to me that my opinion of covers and what they were for didn’t fit this occasion at all. I’d always seen them as a sales adjunct to the book and judged them accordingly. These two were looking at them as works of art, which of course they were, and although the nature of the book came into their consideration, it was the quality of the art which was most important. So we progressed, each of us saying what we had liked about our particular favourite choice and listening to what the others had to say. I was quite gratified by how smoothly it all went.

We chose a delightful, eye-catching children’s book cover about a crocodile, which had been my second choice, so I was already halfway to liking it: a cartoon from the Daily Telegraph which showed Donald Trump as a witty and pointed version of Hokusai’s wave: and a set of reprints of Virginia Woolf’s novels, which I had rejected out of hand when I first saw them because there was no point of reference between the cover and the novel. But as Jane pointed out in her gentle way, the design was superb, unusual, unexpected and eye-catching.

So the deed was done and very satisfactorily. But then, I’ve always enjoyed liquorice allsorts.

This entry was posted on February 28, 2017. 2 Comments

Some cheeky ideas about Blake’s cottage.

I had some very interesting answers after my last blog about Blake’s cottage and made a list of them all, because they set me thinking.

One writer asked whether all three members of the triumvirate have the right to invite their friends to the cottage, now that Tim Heath has started extending his invitation to his friends. I have to admit, I don’t know the answer. But if it’s a rule for one, it should be a rule for all three. Perhaps the other two might like to tell us, or even better perhaps the local member of the trio would like to invite some of the locals in to visit the place. After all, the locals raised quite a lot of money to buy it in the first place and our local member of the triumvirate is a fair, friendly and honest man. How about it Mr Johns? I know the vice chairman of the Big Blake Project would very much like to see the place and has asked for permission and been refused, or to be strictly accurate has been told he will have to wait until Mr Heath decides to have an open day. Hmm.

A second writer wondered whether we could find a well known Blake scholar who would weigh in and help us. I only wish they would but Blake scholars are rather rare. If there’s anyone out there who could and would help us, do get in touch. We need your help very much.

Another writer said in her opinion, she thought only legal powers plus the money to access them could lead to any effective change, which is inescapably true. Those of us who are campaigning to get  the cottage repaired are, by and large, extremely short of cash, but her observation set me thinking in a different direction. There is another organisation that might give the lead to effective change too and that’s the Charities Commission which is a government watch dog set up to see that charities organise their affairs legally and properly. So I have written to them, pointing out what a parlous condition the cottage is in, stressing that nothing is being done about it and asking whether it is legal and proper for the trustees of a charity to make money on the property they are supposed to be looking after and running for the nation, in order to raise money purchase another property. I have had a reply, saying they have noted my complaint and will get back to me if they want to know any more.

Any help that any of you can give at this point would be welcome. If you know any renowned Blake scholars who would help, for example, or have other questions you would like to put to the charities commission or have any other suggestions, my door and my ears are always open. For sadly the cottage is still in the same desperate need of repair.

This entry was posted on February 15, 2017. 4 Comments

Of mice and – no not men – but rather annoyed birds.

My lovely amanuensis and I were enjoying our coffee this morning when she noticed a small brown furry shape happily eating the suet cake inside its plastic container. It was certainly not a bird, so we went to the window for a closer look and were highly surprised to see that what we were watching was a field mouse. Charlotte took a picture of it because we could barely believe our eyes. We couldn’t get a very clear one, but there the little thing is to the left of the little hill of suet, happily feeding. What on earth would our birds have to say about that?

They’ve been saying it ever since, sitting in the hedges protesting. After all it is their suet cake. So now we have gremlins rampaging all over the house spilling coffee and gravy and removing the edges of all the furniture, a field mouse helping itself to bird food and a hawk plucking a young seagull on the lawn, as bold as brass and spooking every small bird in the area. Whatever next?!

But of course, bird watching is full of surprises. That’s the joy of it and I rather like field mice, although of course that’s possibly because they don’t eat my breakfast.

This entry was posted on February 15, 2017. 2 Comments

For the nation or for the elite?

One of the people who’s been working with me to push for the repair and restoration of our Blake’s cottage is 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.’ That 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 – “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 time and study to disentangle all the things he says because they are so much at variance with one another. When the cottage was first bought he trumpeted loudly in the local and national press that it had been bought for the nation. ‘Once the cottage is purchased, the society intends that it will be put into a charitable trust to be held in perpetuity for the benefit of the nation.’ If only. Now he is more openly admitting that the important thing to him is to be able to pull down half the cottage and build his half a million pound second residence on the site. It seems to me, that those are two very different and conflicting aims and in the meantime the cottage is in desperate need of repair which it isn’t getting.

So what on earth can those of us who very much want it to belong to the nation and to be repaired and kept in good order, do in this current situation? I fear it may be very little. He is already going his own way, refusing to allow locals into the cottage but inviting personal friends there for an escorted visit. The change has already begun.

I discovered, quite by accident, that one of the ex-trustees of the Blake Society,  Naomi Billingsley, was given a personal invitation from Tim Heath to visit the cottage last November. Which she did on November the 25th 2016 and afterwards wrote on social media about what a beautiful place the cottage was and how much she’d enjoyed her visit. What is more, she published pictures of the interior. The news made me sit up with surprise. She’d visited??!!! That’s unheard of. She’d been allowed to publish pictures??!!! That’s more than any of the Felpham supporters of the cottage, who raised funds to buy it, have ever been allowed to do – with the single exception of Rachel Searle.

Then I read a newspaper article about the British Pilgrimage Trust who had walked from London to the cottage and had had their photographs taken outside the place, so I chased up all the newspaper articles about that. And, as one of the papers had reported that the group spent Halloween there, I’ve been trying to contact them ever since, without luck so far, to find out whether that was true.

I will go on playing detective and doing whatever I can and reporting back to you, but there is actually very little that one old woman can do. Taht would require the power of a public body like the West Sussex County Council or the ADC or even better concerted action being taken by the local Felpham Village Preservation Society who are a large, amiable local group whose motto and reason for being is contained in three powerful words. PRESERVE, PROTECT, PROMOTE. Oh if only they would! It would make such a difference.






This entry was posted on February 10, 2017. 3 Comments

An infestation of gremlins

This one is a grim and gremlin dominated story. Fasten your seat belts.

Ever since I fractured my left wrist and broke a bone in my right hand, my orderly (?) house has been overrun by gremlins. They’re so quick I don’t even see them but my, they’re cunning and they have quite extraordinary powers. They can move the edge of a table or a worktop inches away from me in seconds, so that I set a full cup of coffee down on empty air or drop it on the floor before I’ve even realised what they’re doing. And they’re demons with full saucepans. I’ve lost count of the number of pans I’ve emptied into the sink instead of onto the plate or even worse onto the floor instead of the sink. Their piece de resistance was moving an entire cooker out of range so that I tipped half a pint of milk into the hob and all over the floor. I never realised half a pint of milk could spread so far. My nice blue floor was a white pond, although I have to admit I turned the air blue to compensate. It took far too long to mop all the the milk up with with my remaining more or less useful hand. And to add insult to injury, the milk dripped off the sides of the hob onto my head while I was doing it. I felt I was drowning in milk.

Since then, they’ve interfered with every aspect of my life, reducing my piles of notes to a disorderly heap: spinning the soap out of my hand into the corner of the wet-room where I couldn’t reach it, couldn’t pick it up and couldn’t even kick it into touch, and turning the shower head into a wilful snake that coiled and twisted and showered everything with hot water except me. My innocent forks are bewitched and have now developed a trick of tossing the food away from them into the air or down my clothes or onto the carpet. The washing machine cringes every time I come towards it with another armful of food spattered clothing.





But I’ll get even. You have my word for it. Gremlins beware! I shan’t be in plasters and splints forever. And ‘Deep in my heart, I do believe we shall overcome someday.’

This entry was posted on January 26, 2017. 6 Comments