Archive | March 2019

One last hope for Blake’s Cottage.

Yesterday afternoon I gave a talk to the local Probus group in the Inglenook at Pagham  and a happy occasion it was. They’re a lovely friendly group and made me very welcome. and listened with great attention while I told them the story of Blake’s trial for sedition and how the villagers perjured themselves to get him off.

During the course of it I showed them pictures of the cottage as it was, and Blake’s little drawing of it and one of the pictures that were taken of the inside of the place the last time we were allowed to visit it. They were shocked by the state it is in and some of them came up to talk to me afterwards to ask what could be done about it, suggesting that the English Heritage might step in – Oh how I wish they would! – and wondering whether there was a local  organisation that would stand up for the place.

So  I told them about the Felpham Village Conservation Society and how their leader wouldn’t allow me to meet up with the members and tell them what was going on – or not going on – and  how consequently none of them were taking any action about it, even tough they are the only ones who could. They  thought that was terrible and I had to agree wit them that it was. And that made me think  that I ought to make one more attempt to stir them into action.

When I got home I looked up their website again. And there they were, still proclaiming that their motto is ”Preserve, Protect, Promote” and describing themselves in these splendidly philanthropic terms.

”The Felpham Village Conservation Society exists to conserve the historical, cultural and aesthetic significance of our built and natural environment. We are nonpolitical and inclusive, having an open membership to every householder living within the Parish and those from without who use and value our facilities and environment. We seek to protect what is good, to improve those things that fall short and to enhance our community wherever possible.”

It made me grieve. They are such well meaning, excellent people and they’re having the wool pulled over their eyes by one powerful man who wants to believe that everything in the garden is rosy

So now here I am making one last attempt to get help for our special cottage before it is condemned and pulled down.

This is an appeal to anyone in the FVCS who follows my blog., particularly  if you take  your motto seriously. Please could  you contact me. Time is running out for our historical cottage and you are the only people with enough clout to do something about it. One old woman like me can be pushed to one side, belittled and ignored. A prestigious local organisation could not.

Please give this thought and get in touch.

My fingers are crossed.

This entry was posted on March 21, 2019. 3 Comments

‘I’m going to write my war novel.’

says the young writer in her twenties or thirties. And I hear what she says and cringe, because I know from having read, or dipped into, quite a lot of ‘my war novels’ that, even if it’s competently written, ten to one it will disappoint me. And the reasons for my disappointment are always the same. It  is because the writers present their characters as though they are living in the 21st Century. They speak in the same way as we do now, think in the same way and act in the same way, our thoughts, speech and actions being very closely linked. I don’t correct any of them because I can see what a lot of work has gone into their creation but it upsets me because it belittles the courage of most ordinary people who were involved in the horrors of the Second World War – and the four year carnage of WW1.

In the late 30s. when the members of the newly emerging ARP were being prepared and trained for the jobs they all knew they would soon be doing when the air raids began, they were given clear instructions. ‘Always stay calm,’ was the first and most important. ‘No matter what you are seeing or what you might be feeling, don’t let your casualties know it. Tell them ‘We’re here. We’ve got you. You’re going to be all right.’ If you cry or panic you will put them them into even deeper shock than they’re in already. Stay calm.’

And through the ten terrible months of the London Blitz and the bombing of ports and cities all over the country, and all through the attacks by doodle-bugs and rockets, that’s what they did. I saw it at first hand.

Let me tell you a true story about what the war was really like.  I found it in the Mass Observation diaries, the first-hand day-to-day accounts that ordinary people kept all through the war and sent to the Mass Observation team, and it was written by a young woman in the ARP. She had been on duty all night long rescuing people from the wreckage of their homes and shelters, as the bombs continued to fall and she was cycling home ‘feeling very tired’ when she was hailed by a rescue team who were still working on yet another bomb site. They told her she would do because she was skinny. They explained that they had an injured man at the bottom of a pit. They’d managed to dig down to him but they couldn’t get him out until the heavy lifting gear arrived or they would bring the rest of house down on top of him, and he was in pain and needed morphine. Would she go down to  him?

She stripped off her uniform so that it would be easier to squeeze down and was lowered into the stink, darkness and danger of the pit. When she reached the bottom she found that the man was horribly injured. Most of  his face had been blown away. There were black holes where his eyes , nose and lips had been and he was plainly in agony. ‘But,’ she reported, ‘I remembered my training and kept calm. I told him he was going to be all right and that we would get him out and I gave him the morphine.’ She stayed with him until the drug had taken effect and the heavy lifting gear had arrived and then she was hauled out. She wrote about it so calmly, it made me weep. ‘I put my clothes on,’ she wrote. ‘Then I was sick.’ I’ll bet she was. ‘Then I went home.’

Now that’s courage and compassion of a very high order and that’s how most people were. I hope when my 30th book is published later this year, my readers will find it equally revealing and honest. It is called ‘Citizen Armies’, and is about a Warden, an Ambulance Driver and their two daughters who are nurses. It starts on the day the war was declared and is written from diaries I kept at the time, so the speech, thoughts and actions are as accurate as I could get them. Respec’, fellow citizens! I honour you.

I’m going to end this blog with a poem I wrote more than half a lifetime ago, because it shows how our language changed when we were at war and what it was like to spend our nights in the cellar waiting for a bomb to fall on us.

Under Fire

My childhood stopped abruptly when I was nine
Bitten off by war, in whose foul maw
My generation lost our innocence.

Everything changed after the first blitz.
The days descended into dark and dust,
Clogged with alerting, soon-familiar smells.
Old brick, damp wood, escaping gas and shit.
Even our words were changed.
Scrimping became a virtue, light a crime,
Food became “rations”, fire “incendiaries”,
Bombing, an “incident” producing “casualties”
We needed euphemism to deflect
Too much, too sudden, raw reality.
A “raid” could sound quite thrilling
“Down in the drink” disguised a sea-killing
“Missing” postponed the mallet shock of “dead”.

The sirens’ fear-inducing wail
In the first frightened week could drain us pale,
But by the third alarm we’d learned to counter panic by routine.
Boots on your feet and blanket on your arm
Down to the cellar, in a coal-damp dream, settle the baby, find the cat, pour tea
Thread grandma’s darning needle, make a bed.
Ignore the laboured droning overhead, the enemy above us in the air.

Under the stair and crouched by coal,
We heard another reassuring sound
Of night trains rumbling in the Underground.
And meters gave their old familiar cluck,
Though every shift disturbed the dust, which stuck
Like black snow on the cards we held and played, to show we weren’t afraid.
The ear-high light bulb flicked and flickered and swayed
To the rhythmic thump of railway line ack-ack
And we were all together in that foetid black,
Our nightly vigil staunchly automatic.

The adults round me, stolid and phlegmatic
Revealed the value of control and calm,
That cowardly hysteria does the most harm
And should be feared and shunned, and rightly hated,
That bravery is quiet and under-rated
And constantly contained,
That the responsible are self-restrained.
We learned that terror carries you past grace,
Past hope, past fear, past feeling to a space
Beyond sensation.
Learned too, no matter how you pray or cry,
That “if your number’s on it”, you will die.

Our resignation was a comfort to me in our cellared nights
And holds and guides me still,
Do what I will.

Citizen Armies will be published on September 2nd 2019 by Endeavour. How’s that for timing?

I’ve suddenly acquired a social calendar!

And I have to say I feel quite dizzy. After months of never ending hospital, clinic and doctor’s appointments, to have my eyes examined,  bloods taken, medicines  dispensed, to take part in cardiac rehab – which I have to admit is was quite fun although a tad painful – with appointments pending to have my hearing tested and my feet cared for by two sweeties who have become an old friends over the years – as has my cardiac nurse, I certainly knew I was being cared for but I was beginning to feel more like a package of troublesome symptoms than a person.

And then suddenly, out of the blue, came three social invitations that had nothing to do with my creaking bones, diseased arteries, stents, poor hearing, limited eyesight and all the other elderly conditions that have been turning me into an impatient patient. There were three doors opening, labelled FUN.

The first is this Friday, as ever is, and it’s been arranged so that I can meet up with the team at my newest publishers, Agora. My sister is coming with me at their welcoming invitation, because she is better at finding her way around London than I am, and afterwards I’m going home with her so that we can scoot off to Guildford together the next day to do a bit more research for this new book. Yippedy-do-da!

The second is the following Tuesday when I’m invited to drinks by my other publisher Endeavour Media at the London Book Fair. Yippedy-hick-do-da! That one will be interesting as well as sozzled because they are inviting a lot of their writers I’ve already ‘met’ quite a lot of them on Facebook and Twitter but this will be a chance to meet them in person.

The third is an event  that I’d agreed to and had almost forgotten about, a meeting with the local Probus group, whom I’ve met before and who are always welcoming and great fun to be with, at which I am scheduled to give a talk about my local hero, William Blake.

And then, as if all they weren’t goodies enough, I had an email from Endeavour to say that they are going to publish ‘Citizen Armies’ on the most appropriate date, the second of of September this year. The next day will be the 80th anniversary of the day WW2 was declared and that is the day on which novel 30 begins. I’m usually not very good at timing – except when I’m giving a talk – so this is news to cheer about.

I feel as though I’m back in the world.

This entry was posted on March 4, 2019. 3 Comments