Archive | June 2016

Flash, bang, wallop, what a picture!

Every picture tells a story, so they say and this one certainly does. We had a family party at my house on Saturday and it was great from start to finish, so I thought I’d like to share it with you.

There were cakes, naturally, we could hardly celebrate three such landmark birthdays without cake.

There were flowers and lots of drink and lots of family, lots of old friends and neighbours, lots of laughter. You can’t get better than that.



There was even a bit of spontaneous musical entertainment provided by the three great-grandchildren, who were the youngest guests.


Cutting the cake was a happy ceremony and meant that we had to have a splosh more wine to wash it down.

And afterwards we three old girls posed for pictures.

Now everybody wants to know if we can celebrate 81, 86 and 86 in the same way next year! Well why not?

This entry was posted on June 29, 2016. 6 Comments

Nil desperandum

Or don’t let the buggers grind you down. We are in a very Black Friday indeed after yesterday’s referendum and many of us are feeling more cast down than we have in years. The Brexiteers are already out on the streets with their flags singing ‘Rule Britannia’, Farage is gloating and triumphant and the pound is already falling. It reminds me hideously of Germany in the 30’s.

But all the more reason for us to organise and plan for what can and must be done next, even if we have to do it surreptitiously. We are in for a very hard time and we must do what we can to help and support one another and to oppose the now inevitable outbreak of xenophobia and misogyny. There is still hope not hate. Jo Cox’s courageous words and brave example still echo in our minds for us to remember and follow. We have to hang on to the fact that nearly half of us are still decent human beings.

It will be a long struggle but we still have Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nye Bevan and William Beveridge to guide us. And Keats, and Shelley and William Blake. We are not alone.




This entry was posted on June 24, 2016. 3 Comments

Where did yer get that ‘at?

Let’s have a bit of fun today and consider hats, which, like cats, have to be taken extremely seriously.

I’ve been a devotee of hats ever since I can remember, and was quite happy about wearing a hat like a petalled plate at a wedding or as part of a stage show. I thought I looked quite the style. You can be vain at four.

But now I come to think of it, you can be vain about your headgear at forty-four, or sixty-four or eighty-five. Dear, dear!

Here I am at forty-four showing off my finery before heading off to give a talk. By this time I was an author and a well paid one and could indulge my taste for hats whenever I wanted to, summer or winter. I could pretend that some of the summer hats were just to keep the sun out of my eyes and the winter ones were to keep my head warm of course, hence the fur.

The giggling picture taken in the church was at a book launch but any excuse will do. The ones below are on a cruise, posing for a publicity shot and at the wedding of my second granddaughter and amanuensis, Charlotte who writes these blogs with me and without whom they wouldn’t exist at all.









But perhaps my favourite hat of all is the one I’m wearing in this line up. It was made of cardboard and so were the gauntlets, painted blue to match our romper suits. We thought we were absolute dogs, I’m not sure what kind of song we sang when we were dressed up like this but it should have been:

‘Where did you get that hat? Where did you get that tile?
Isn’t it a nobby one and just the proper style.
I should like to have one just the same as that.’
Wherever I go they shout ‘Hello, where did you get that hat?’


This entry was posted on June 22, 2016. 3 Comments

Ave Atque Vale Jo

There must be thousands, if not millions, up and down this country who were moved to tears by the news of Jo Cox’s murder and wept again when we read her husband’s tweet about her. It’s a dreadful, dreadful thing to see a principled, courageous, outspoken, young politician die in such a brutal way. They’re going to miss her in Westminster. Politicians like her are rare and precious. And we shall miss her too.

But perhaps something of her positive approach to life can be rescued from the horror. We must hope so. Perhaps now we might begin to understand that killers and the politicians who stir them up and egg them on, need to be dealt with. Perhaps we shall find some way of doing it.

This kind of dreadful cruelty pours out of an uncontrollable hatred, the same terrible emotion that drives child abusers, paedophiles and all those who hurt, torture and kill any available target no matter how innocent they might be. Nobody in any position of authority who is possessed with even a modicum of sense should now think it in order to whip such people up. It is much too dangerous. Maybe as a society we should be trying to find a way to restrict inflammatory, political speeches and to encourage compassion and kindness. We all need to think very deeply about this and about what is to happen next. We owe it to Jo.


This entry was posted on June 17, 2016. 9 Comments

What is happening to Blake’s cottage?

I’ve written this blog for Blake lovers and admirers everywhere, but particularly those who contributed to the fund set up to buy his cottage  and want to know what is happening to it, and, even more particularly, to those who contributed to the fund and live in Felpham.

Take a look at this picture. It’s a summertime shot of the cottage where Blake lived between 1800 and 1803 and it still stands in Felpham in West Sussex, right in the heart of the village. When this shot was taken, the cottage was owned and lived in by a lovely, friendly lady called Heather Howell. She welcomed visitors, saying she considered herself more the guardian of the cottage than its owner, and as I quickly discovered, she is a very considerable Blake scholar, one of the very few people I’ve met who has read Blake’s entire oeuvre and understood it. I grew very fond of her, very quickly.

The cottage has changed a lot over the years, this is how Blake’s living room looked when Heather was living in it.




This is Blake’s tiny drawing of it as it was when he lived there, with a single storey lean to of some kind to one side of it, a pump in the garden and an angel floating over the roof.

By the 19th Century it had acquired a two-storey extension and thatching over the windows and the front door. There’s no road alongside it and it still looked out over farm land.

By the turn of the 20th Century it had become famous enough to merit a postcard and by that time there was a single storey building extending all along the front of the house.

Lots of changes as you can see but it’s a tough old house and it’s weathered them all. Until now when it’s facing the most profound change of all. And that’s what I’m going to tell you about in this blog. But first I must bore you a bit -not too much I hope – by giving you a potted history of the most recent events.

In September 2013, when Mrs Howell was no longer well enough to live there and look after herself, the cottage was put on the market. A fund was set up by the Blake Society in London to raise the money to buy it ‘for the nation’.

Thirteen months after this, on 30th October 2014, a new company was set up by Broadway Directors Ltd in London and one Mr Simon Weil who described himself as the director. Nobody in the Blake Society was told about it and nor was anyone else. So you might well be asking, What has this got to do with Blake’s cottage? Bear with me. It had and has a very great deal to do with it.

At the local level, Felpham’s Big Blake Project, to which I belong and which is run by a local teacher and Blake addict called Rachel Searle, raised funds for the cottage in every imaginable and imaginative way and persuaded West Sussex Council to give a £10,000 grant towards it. But there was still a shortfall and, as time went by, we began to lose heart and to fear that we would never be able to raise the full asking price. But then, out of the blue, a mystery donor appeared who put up the necessary £400,000 and on September 21st 2015 the house was bought for £495,000. But not by the Blake Society, which had been gathering and banking the many donations. No. Remember that secret company set up a year before by Broadway Directors Limited? Well,  lo and behold, that had become a new company called the Blake Cottage Trust and they were the ones who paid over the money, which had been handed to them by the Blake Society, and they were the ones who became the new owners of the cottage.

The Blake Cottage Trust has three members, Tim Heath, the Chairman of the Blake Society, pictured here, Peter Johns, a business and management consultant who lives in Lavant (coincidentally in the very house where Blake and his patron William Haley used to take breakfast with a redoubtable lady called Miss Poole) and Dr Michael Phillips, a Blake scholar and academic who lives in Edinburgh and has discovered how Blake’s printing press was made and used, and has had a replica of it built.

 Now and at last, we thought In Felpham, and just in good time to start work on the restoration of the cottage before the winter storms begin.

We were wrong. Nine months passed and absolutely nothing was done. Except that on 23rd September 2015 Tim Heath told the Daily Telegraph what his plans for the cottage were.

One idea is to let it out to people who would love to stay in Blake’s cottage, to sleep in Blake’s bed… People who would pay a premium and that would subsidise others like artists and musicians looking for respite and refuge. And finally the cottage would have an element of public access.  ‘AN ELEMENT’ you’ll notice. Bit of a disappointment that. We’d expected him to say that it would be open to the public, which is what we’d been working for.

So we waited and time passed and still nothing was done. And then an invitation was sent out to all members of the Blake Society through their Newsletter. It was vaguely worded but seemed to indicate that there might be some movement at last. ‘You are invited to look round the cottage and talk over tea about the challenges yet to be faced and, with your help, surmounted.’

So Rachel and I went.

It was really quite alarming to see how badly the cottage had degenerated since it was ‘bought for the nation’ in September last year. Some of the roof timbers are so rotten they have broken in two and the thatch is protruding through the now bulging ceiling. But I walked around the cottage and the garden, discovered that most of the people there were members of the Blake Society and that there were only three of us there from Felpham and listened and made notes.

I needn’t have bothered taking notes because yesterday there was an article about the cottage and the plans that the Blake Cottage Trust has for it in our local paper. It is very outspoken and begs a lot of questions. 

The plan, Peter Johns said, is to restore as much of the original building as we can so that it’s as close to what it was when Blake lived there.  The Trust hopes to have permission to carry out urgent repair work to the roof within days. 

We will keep the main cottage and the Victorian part but the modern extension is an EYESORE and coupled with the garage has made 
quite a large FOOTPRINT
 (what a curious word to use). We want to use that footprint to create a building which would act as a study, library and meeting place. Since buying the cottage last year work has been going on BEHIND THE SCENES for the hugely significant property. 

Reading this you might think that the ‘hugely significant property is Blake’s cottage. But no. He is talking about a new building that will cost half a million pounds and which  they will build in the garden of Blake’s cottage when they’ve pulled down the footprint. Read on.

Around £50,000 will be spent on producing architectural plans and drawings to show to potential sponsors to attract the half a million in grants they need for the main project.

Is this really what the people who donated to the Blake’s cottage fund really want? I would be interested to know especially from people who’ve made donations and especially from people who’ve made donations and live in Felpham.

This entry was posted on June 17, 2016. 6 Comments

These things shall be

In the heady summer of 1945, when a Labour Government had just been elected with a huge majority and the power to make life affirming changes, like establishing our NHS and organising our society so that we could care for one another and finally defeat the five giants that had been plaguing our communities for so long, and that William Beveridge listed in his famous plan: Unemployment, Want, Disease, Squalor and Ignorance. It was a mighty task but we were sure that this new Government of ours could do it. We sang the most optimistic of hymns in our school assembly to celebrate. We felt the future it predicted was just ahead of us.

These things shall be: a loftier race
Than e’er the world hath known shall rise
With flame of freedom in their souls
And light of knowledge in their eyes.

They shall be gentle, brave, and strong,
To spill no drop of blood, but dare
All that may plant man’s lordship firm
On earth, and fire, and sea, and air.

Nation with nation, land with land,
Unarmed shall live as comrades free;
In every heart and brain shall throb
The pulse of one fraternity.

New arts shall bloom of loftier mold,
And mightier music thrill the skies,
And every life shall be a song,
When all the earth is paradise. Amen.

Take a deep breath, all of you who love our NHS and hope it will survive. The ultimate plan for its destruction is already in place and will soon be up and running. It has been put there secretly, under cover of propaganda aimed to make us think it is something helpful and admirable. It is called STP (The Sustainability and Transformation Plan), and is an integral part of Simon Stevens’ and the government’s Five Year Forward View. The blurb about them basically states that STPs are a major reorganisation in healthcare starting this year, 2016, and carrying on over the next five years.

Our dear, hardworking Nye must be turning in his grave.

In reality STP and the 5 year forward plan will take all budgetary control away from the Secretary of State and the Department of Health and give it to these new STPs (who of course have no statutory powers). Having abrogated all financial responsibility for the NHS by

  1. having made nearly all hospital trusts independently run foundation trusts, and
  2. having devolved all commissioning of healthcare to the STP footprints and the CCGs within them

the government has laid down nine ‘must do’targets for each STP to deliver in 2016/17. Of course they aren’t really targets as they are mandatory requirements. These must dos have not only got to be delivered, they have got to be delivered at the same time as abolishing the financial deficit. “Deficit reduction in providers will require a forensic examination of every pound spent on delivering healthcare and embedding a culture of relentless cost containment. Trusts need to focus on cost reduction not income growth.”

Take note all you lovers of the NHS this is all about RELENTLESS COST CONTAINMENT. They couldn’t have put it more clearly than that. When we established the NHS and the welfare state, the means of paying for them were built into the system. All people at work paid National Insurance Contributions (NICs) and we all paid income tax, the job of the Minister of Health was to ensure that the taxes we paid which as you know are continually adjusted was sufficient to cover the service. Now the whole structure has been turned arse about face. Because the Government have always been set on privatising it and have been giving away huge, profitable chunks of it to their rich friends plus the taxes and NICs that should have gone into our NHS. The consequence of this is that that our NHS is miserably and deliberately starved of cash. Beds and wards are closed, doctors and nurses dispensed with. We really shouldn’t have been surprised that the junior doctors went on strike and came out on the streets with their banners.


Dear Nye, how much we need you now. We have the most terrible struggle ahead of us if we are to prevent our NHS from being totally destroyed in the name of profit and greed.



This entry was posted on June 8, 2016. 7 Comments

The Artist as Insect

I’ve been writing, secretly and very necessarily, since I was seven, which is now seventy eight years ago – no, I don’t believe it either – and I’ve been around as a published author for forty years, which seems even more unlikely. But it encourages me to feel that I might have earned the right to say that it’s my convinced belief that artists are insects. We have a life cycle that corresponds in almost every particular – egg, grub/caterpillar/larva, pupa, imago. A lovely word, imago, it sounds so right, so perfect. Almost worth being a lowly grub if you can get to be an imago. The imago of the imagination. The ultimate imago. Could be a book title. Or a patent medicine. Or a new Ford hatchback.

I can remember being a caterpillar very clearly. Not an attractive stage of one’s existence, the grub, very self-centred, with a voracious appetite, deplorable taste and a tendency to wear loud colours. But it’s where we start as novelists, providing we have an adequate supply of literary fodder – which in this country, thanks to our public libraries, we do.

I was much evacuated as a caterpillar, being a war-time grub. But I gorged my way through every available library in London, Sussex and Hertfordshire – chomp, chomp, chomp. Dickens and Just William, Harrison Ainsworth, Louisa M Alcott, the Brontes and E Nesbit, H G Wells, J B Priestley, A A Milne, Mrs Gaskell, Austen, Hardy, Kipling, Defoe, the brothers Grimm. Wonderful, sustaining, energising stuff. So I owe a great deal to the public library service. It was and still is a great institution and long may it continue. For it is dangerously true that man cannot live by bread alone. If we fail to nurture the spirit of our young we will breed a generation that is self-serving, self-centred and destructively materialistic.

Some would say we have reached that unhappy point already. We’re certainly badly on the way. Our public libraries are under threat as they have never been before, and at the very time when our need for them is greatest.

During the last world war, the local authorities not only provided reams of invaluable information at every public library but also a nationwide, artistic feast of concerts, plays and exhibitions. Most of them were free because they were designed to lift us out of our misery and anxiety for a treasured hour or two and give us the strength to go on with the fight. I can remember hearing the Ritual Fire Dance for the first time in St Albans Abbey in my school lunch hour. What food for a grub!

But let us return to our artistic insects and the third phase of our existence, which is the pupa or chrysalis. (I prefer chrysalis. It sounds prettier.) This is the point at which we grow out of our obsession with ourselves and our appetites, learn to empathise and therefore become creative. Woven into our silken shells, sitting behind our eyes, we look out at the world and weave our stories, patterning what we see and hear into tales to entertain, shock, delight, or provoke. I think this is probably the calmest stage of our existence, and in my experience at least, a very enjoyable one. For there we are free to choose any character we are fond of, or fear, or admire, or wish we could have met, and we can enter into their lives, as often and as long as we like. It’s positively God-like. And if on top of all that, we get our stories published and earn a living from them and they appear in the shops and on the library shelves…! Can’t you hear the insect mind boggling?





This entry was posted on June 3, 2016. 4 Comments

A great new take on MND

I have to admit I started viewing the BBC’s new production of A Midsummer Nights Dream with some misgivings. I can be a purist sometimes over Shakespeare plays and find myself a bit put out to see actors in modern dress settling their differences with swords. But this is a new take on an old classic which had me hooked from the opening sequence. For here is Theseus striding towards us with armed guards in formidable hooded helmets behind him and fascist flags all around him emblazoned as an implacable, fascist dictator. There is no doubt that this man could tell Hermia that her father should be as a God to her, she is either to obey him or be put to death and who at the opening of the play admits to Hippolyta that he wooed her with his sword and won her love by doing her injuries, but is going to give her a wonderful wedding to make up for it. Umm!

The first shock of this new production is when Hippolyta is wheeled on a trolley into Theseus’ public presence bound with terrible, leather thongs and with her mouth covered with a leather gag, which is removed so that she can speak “public” lines from a cue card. It gives a new and terrible interpretation to the flowery words she is being required to say. And then the moon, like to a silver bow, New bent in heaven, shall behold the night, Of our solemnities. Especially when she has a terrible, shuddering fit afterwards. Now that is something new.

From then on this version of the story uses every modern device to point up the tale. The wood is not the pretty, pretty place we so often see on stage thanks to Mendelssohn, but a wild wood full of frightening creatures and in the throes of a fearful storm in which an oak is struck by lightening and split in two. It might be midsummer but the seasons are changed and unpredictable, as Titania tells Oberon in their first heated quarrel, which has been changed by Russell T Davies, from a rather petty spat about who should own a little changeling boy to full-on sexual jealously, which makes better sense. Oberon is a formidable, horned figure, Titania beautiful but outlandish and both of them can appear and disappear in a flash of trailing light which is splendidly dramatic in such a dark place. You really do feel that Puck could put a girdle round the Earth in 40 minutes. Anything is possible with these fairies and you know it will be spiteful and possibly cruel. How’s that for tension? I loved it.

The rude mechanicals meet in a pub of that name. Bottom is splendidly played by Matt Lucas, as a man plainly held in some affection by the locals who enjoy his buffoonery. The casting here is masterly and uses actors of every colour. Hurray, hurray! and about time too. And the interplay between the characters which we see with nods and winks and baffled expressions in close up, makes something a great deal more subtle than we usually get from a gang of clumsy amateurs. Bottom translated is funny throughout his entire scene with Titania and here too is a wonderful mix of colour for the fairies are in every shade you could imagine. And what an inspiration it was to decide to cast the quartet of lovers with a black, earnest Demetrius and a black, frightened Hermia, with the wonderfully lanky Helena and the bespectacled but affectionate nerd, Lysander as white. Love it. And how about newcomer Hiran Abeysekera as Puck who calls himself that merry wanderer of the night and is a joy to the eye.

But it’s the conclusion of the play that has caused the most feathers to fly. After a wonderfully hilarious version of the lamentable tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe, Theseus leaves the revellers and staggers off into the labyrinth of corridors to endure a heart-attack which kills him. Given what a ugly character he has become in this version, I have to say, I was cheering. Isn’t that exactly what we want to happen to all fascist dictators? And don’t people dance when it does? Just as they are dancing at the end of this play, when the rigid rules of a dictatorship are removed before our eyes, helmets and guns are thrown away, a gay couple embrace and dance off together and our poor, trembling Hippolyta is at last released from her bonds and rises happily into the air with Titania as they kiss one another happily and grow magical and beautiful wings.

Congratulations Russell T Davies, take no notice of all those ruffled feathers. You’ve created a tale for our time.








This entry was posted on June 1, 2016. 2 Comments