Archive | November 2018

An unexpected reward

stitch

I’ve spent so much of my time during the last two and a half months in and out of hospital that I haven’t paid any attention to what’s happening to my books. So it was a very pleasant surprise to open my Twitter account and find that the book my agent had just sold to Agora Books was out, with a lovely bold cover and a glowing review. It took what little breath I had left quite away. So here I am feeling a bit stunned and sharing my good news with you.

When it was originally published in 1995, it was called ‘Alive and Kicking’ so some of you may have read it many years ago under that title, but others might never have heard of it and might enjoy it now.

You can find it on Amazon here.

Agora

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This entry was posted on November 30, 2018. 3 Comments

What was the war really like?

That’s a question I was asked by kids at school when they were learning about WW2 and realised that I had been in it. And it’s the same question that I asked to a relative who served in WW1. It taught me quite a lot. For a start, that when you’re talking about war you mustn’t overplay the answers you give. You must be factual and truthful and you should never, ever, romanticise. The Russian poet, Yevgeny Yevtushenko was right, ‘telling lies to the young is wrong’. 

trenchesww1

It irritates me beyond words when politicians say crass things, calling the war dead ‘the fallen’ and proclaiming ‘they laid down their lives, that we might live.’ They didn’t. They were killed. Brutally and painfully. And when the first starry-eyed voluntary recruits had been massacred and the Generals were running out of cannon fodder, the politicians brought in ‘recruitment’ to replace the first victims. It was universally hated, as I know from the things one of my relations told me, but there was nothing that any of the young men could do about it.

His name was Jessie Garnsworthy and he had spent three years in the trenches in WW1 and emerged miraculously unscathed. I lived with him and his wife in London during the buzz-bombs and the rockets and learnt more from him about life in the trenches than I did from any textbook. He told me about the obscene stink of the mud, the way the rats ate the faces of the dead, about the terror of going over the top and about the ‘morning hate’. I made notes about it at the time in my diary and used those notes when I was writing book 29 which I called ‘Everybody’s Somebody’. That terrible picture above is the truth of war and I knew it and tried to be accurate.

The second world war was rather easier for me to write about in one way, although more difficult in another. For I was in London from the start of the blitz until I was bombed out and came back to the city in 1944 neatly in time for the onslaught of the buzz-bombs and the rockets. And once again I kept notes of the things I’d seen in my diary, which I used in book 30.

ww2 bomb sight

I saw so many bomb sites I became almost blasé about them. Piles of rubble like those in the picture above were everywhere you went in London. And during the raids those funny little ram-shackled WVS vans arrived to dispense tea at very nearly every incident. Take a look at the map below, every red dot is where a bomb fell. The statistics for the Blitz make very sober reading. 61,000 people were killed and many more seriously injured. The Germans dropped 50,000 tons of High Explosive bombs and 110,000 tons of Incendiaries. It is not something anybody who was in London during that time will ever forget.

bombsights

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And now it is the centenary of the anniversary of the end of WW1 and next year it will be the 80th anniversary of the start of WW2.

And on a personal note, in January 2019 I shall be 88! I should live so long!!

And here is a picture of me in 1940 in London aged 9, writing an excruciatingly bad poem to school friends whom I’d left behind in Felpham where I was evacuated on the day before the war broke out. Looking at it now, it feels unreal, but I know the truth of it.

This entry was posted on November 29, 2018. 2 Comments

Armistice Day 100 years on

ww1front

I can’t let this anniversary go by without saluting it.

ARMISTICE DAY

Poppies that once bled pity in the Flanders fields
Are ritualised today to paper prettiness.
It’s the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month
The exact poetic time when the war that was to end all wars
That should never, in all conscience, have begun
Dragged its ravaged, shell-shocked, blood-soaked length
To a stunned stop
In the dumb, dead darkness of a corpse-gorged year.

Now it is men and rivers that are gorged
In the greed and thoughtless muddle of our time.
And only winter stirs long-hidden truth,
When furrows fill with water
Whitely reflecting an impassive sky.
Bare branches darken in a north-east wind
And the old cold shrinks a sullen earth,
Smites the caked hides of shivering cattle
Soon to be killed to feed our appetites.
And touches our too sentimental skin.

Yet Folly still stands proud with its paper flower,
To parrot out the politicians’ lie.
‘They died that we might live’.
Not so. Not so. Oh, it was never so.
They died like cattle, herded, scared and young
Because, like cattle, they were sent to die.

This entry was posted on November 11, 2018. 3 Comments

Lost: One folder full of P60s!

HMRC_Self_Assessment_tax_return

Lottie and I have reached our favourite time of year! When I moan and groan and do nothing, and Lottie fills in my tax rtaxreturneturn! It takes her a very long time, poor girl and she takes it philosophically and works through it thoroughly.  So it came as quite a shock to us, when we couldn’t find the relevant P60s. We hunted everywhere we could think of and in the end we despaired of ever finding them and Lottie set to and phoned all four pension providers to ask if they would send us replacement copies. It took her the entire morning and her patience was impressive. But at least the job was done! 

The next morning when we started checking through letters and files for work that had to be done that day. Lottie made a discovery, there was an unlabelled folder full of stuff that needed attention and down at the bottom – lurking – were all the P60s! Screams of horror and disbelief.

P60-blog-header

We had to rush off and have some coffee to cheer ourselves up!

Next year, I shall make my own personal folder and hang it round my neck until all the P60s are gathered. And a right banana I shall look!

This entry was posted on November 7, 2018. 1 Comment