Archive | August 2019

Bertie’s best man speech

This is the final taster for Citizen Armies that I’m going to put up. And as there’s been a lot of stupid talk from our politicians about the ‘Spirit of Dunkirk’ and how wonderful it was, I thought I might counter it a little by letting one of my characters who was there, tell it as it was.

Jim and Rosie’s first daughter Gracie who has worked as a nurse since the war began, is getting married to her wounded soldier Sam and as you would expect it is a loving occasion. 

Then they stood with their arms round each other until Bertie rose to his feet and interrupted them, saying, ‘Come on, Mooch. Cut it short. I got a speech to make.’

He was such an affable looking bloke with his chubby face, his broken nose, his wide spaced brown eyes and his mop of untidy brown hair that the room hushed for him and waited.

‘I asked my Mum what I was supposed to say at this wedding,’ he began, ‘and she said, ‘Tell ‘em a story. Everyone likes a story. Only make it a good un.’ So that’s what I’m gonna do or try to do.  It can’t be a story about what Sam here was like as a boy on account of I didn’t know him then. We met in the army. So it’ll have to be a wCA FINAL COVER AUGUSTar story.’ And when Sam winced, ‘Don’t make that face. Truth will out you know. Well then, it goes like this. We was on a beach in France, not sunning ourselves an’ whatnot, but being strafed by Stukas, shelled an’ bombed an’ I don’ know what else. Thousands of us there was an’ we’d been waiting to be took off for so many days we’d lost count. And me an’ Sam  an’ a bloke called Les, kept each other company an’ swapped ciggies when they was running low and huddled up together at night when it was bleedin’ cold. Pardon my French. An’ finally, it was our turn to wade into the sea and be picked up by one a’ the little boats. And then wouldn’t you know it, just as we was standing in line ready for the off, the Stukas came over, an’ we was machine gunned.’

‘Les took a hit, poor sod. We could see the blood spurting out of his leg. So he says, ‘You two go on,’ he says. ‘They won’t take me, not like this.’ And Sam says ‘Bugger that for a lark. You’re coming with us. Just hop on your good leg an’ lean on my arm. Don’t worry. I’ll take your weight.’

‘And that’s what he did. Must ha’ been nearly half a mile struggling forward with the water getting deeper with every step. But we got there and we was hauled aboard a fishing boat. And it wasn’t till then that we saw Sam had been wounded as well. Hadn’t said a word to either of us an’ his leg was bloody as Les’s.’ Then he turned to look at Gracie and spoke directly to her. ‘You married a hero, Gracie,’ he said.

A third taster from Citizen Armies

In this novel I have tried to be as realistic and as close to the real facts of being at war as I could. My first taster showed Jim the air-raid warden dealing with his first casualty but of course air-raid wardens, ambulance drivers and all the other services who worked all through the night when the bombs were falling, took their share of death and injury, even a tin hat wouldn’t save you from a direct hit.

So here is my Rosie coming a little too close to a serious explosion, she had just met up with an old friend of hers who was working with the WVS handing out tea to rescuers and casualties and the extract starts as they were remembering one another.

‘We worked together when we was girls,’ the woman said, as two more firemen arrived. ‘In Arundel Castle. I’m Maisie.’

Memories pushed the chaos of the raid aside and crowded into Rosie’s brain; she could see them walking the babies in the grounds, cleaning their nappies and feeding them those horrid bottles, strolling up and down the High Street in Arundel on their afternoon off, feeling like swells in their Sunday best.CA FINAL COVER AUGUST

‘D’you remember our tea shop an’ the sticky buns?’ Maisie asked and turned to her next customer to ask, ‘What can I do for you sir?’

But she didn’t get an answer to either of her questions because at that moment there was a blinding flash of light and a deafening roar and Rosie and the three firemen were punched off their feet by a force that felt like a blast from a furnace. It was so powerful it pushed the air out of their lungs and left them gasping for breath. Rosie landed painfully and stayed where she was, huddled on the ground with her face away from the blast, stunned and still, while the debris fell all round her. It had happened too quickly for her to feel afraid and, as far as she could tell, she was still in one piece but she was too numb to know whether she was hurt or not. When there was no more debris falling, and the air had settled a little, and her breathing had righted itself, she tried to sit up and found she couldn’t do it. But she managed to raise her head and saw that the mobile canteen was lying on its side and was badly damaged, that the tea urn had been blown right out of the canteen and was lying yards away, crushed under a pile of bricks and leaking tea, that her ambulance had vanished and that there were five dark shapes lying higgledy-piggledy on the ground a few feet away from her, half hidden by the dust cloud.

Then she heard a voice calling to her. ‘We’re on our way, Rosie. Stay where you are!’ And she tried to answer it and couldn’t do it. A face loomed into her line of vision and she recognised it but couldn’t remember who it was.

‘You’re all right,’ it said. ‘We’re here. Don’t try to move.’

‘I can’t,’ she said, and was annoyed to hear how croaky her voice was. It was a struggle to focus her eyes too, but she knew her rescuer was one of her fellow ambulance drivers even though she couldn’t see him properly. ‘John,’ she said.

‘That’s me,’ he agreed. ‘I’m just going to check you over. OK? Have you got any pain anywhere?’

She was struggling to say no when the pain suddenly began, almost as if he’d given her permission to feel it by asking about it. It was so overwhelming it made her pant. ‘Right arm,’ she managed to say, and then there was blackness.

Another taster from Citizen Armies

This one is a snapshot of my hero Jim who is an air-raid warden, coping with his first raid. It is his first experience of what a full scale aerial bombardment was like, as it is ours, the readers.

Jim and Mrs Baker

His present call was to a rather cantankerous neighbour called Mrs Baker, who, if she’d taken his advice, ought to be sheltering in her Anderson in the garden. When he arrived, he found that the bomb had blown the back off the house, roof, chimney and all, so that it was sliced open like a piece of pie and stood exposed to anyone who looked up at it, the kitchen table still covered in dirty cups and messy saucepans, a grubby tea towel hanging on a hook by the door, two down-at-heel shoes on a chair, while in the room above it, an unmade bed balanced precariously on three legs while the fourth hung in the air over the gap, luridly lit by the glare from the fires raging on the banks of the river. He felt like a peeping Tom glancing up at it, as though he was poking his nose into other people’s private lives. But there wasn’t time to think about it. There was work to be done and it was his business to get on aCA FINAL COVER AUGUSTnd do it. The chimney was still in one piece, leaning drunkenly against what remained of the fence, but the shelter was smothered by the rest of the debris, piles of broken bricks, torn curtains, smashed beams, vicious shards of glass, and the air was full of dust, the way it always was after a bomb. While he’d been in the street he’d noticed a strong smell of gas, so he knew there was a gas main broken somewhere, and, now that he was in the garden, he could see at once that the shelter would have to be dug out. He sent a message to the A.R.P. Post reporting back and asking for assistance and then climbed over the debris to where the door to the shelter should be to see if he could make contact with Mrs Baker.

It took him a little while to lift away as much of the debris as he thought safe so that he could call to her through the gap at the top of the door but to his relief she answered him at once.

‘Bleedin’ Hitler,’ she said, crossly. ‘I knew this bleedin’ shelter was a rotten idea.’

‘Are you OK?’ he called back.

‘Don’t ask me, mate,’ she said. ‘How should I know? I can’t bleedin’ move.’

Not short of breath though, Jim thought, noting how firm her voice was. It was a hopeful sign but not a dependable one. ‘We’re gonna have to dig you out,’ he explained. ‘The rescue team on its way. Is Gladys with you?’

‘No she ain’t,’ the cross voice came back. ‘Don’t talk to me about Gladys. I’ve ‘ad jest about enough of her for one day.’

‘D’you know where she is?’

‘Street raking wiv her mates I shouldn’t wonder. She’s always off out somewhere or other. I’m sick a’ telling her.’

Jim’s fatigue tipped him into momentary irritation. Poor kid, he thought. She can’t be more than seven or eight an’ she’s been out in these streets with all this going on. She must be scared stiff. Why couldn’t the stupid fool woman go an’ look for her? I can just imagine my Rosie letting one of ours play out in an air raid.

‘Mr Jackson,’ Mrs Baker called.

He remembered his duties with a palpable effort and adjusted the chin strap on his helmet. ‘Still here,’ he called back.

Her voice was plaintive. ‘Put a jerk on will you? I can’t breave in ‘ere.’

This entry was posted on August 26, 2019. 2 Comments

A much rarer phenomenon

I’ve taken my title today from an article in The Guardian by Aditya Chakrabortty. It seems so apposite to what so many of us are thinking that I want to share it with you. A lot of us have been campaigning – quietly because no one on the right will allow us to raise our voices – to express our concern that nearly half the electorate have been rendered powerless by the remorseless drive towards a Brexit we certainly never wanted or voted for. I suspect that if we were to be allowed a second referendum the remainers would be more than half of the electorate. For lots of people are now waking up to the fact that they were conned into voting ‘out’ by some very heavy, very expensive and insistent LIES.

But first let’s consider this ‘rarer phenomenon’.

‘Between these two extremes lies a much rarer phenomenon, which blights Britain today. We are right in the middle of an infrastructure breakdown – we just haven’t named it yet. You’ll know what I mean when we list the component parts. More than 760 youth clubs have shut since 2012. A pub closes every 12 hours. Nearly 130 libraries were scrapped last year, and those that survive in England have lopped of 230,000 opening hours.

Each is a news story. Each stings a different group : the books trade, the real-ale aficionados, the trade unions. But knit them together and a far darker picture emerges. Britain is being stripped of its social infrastructure: the institutions that make up it’s daily life, the buildings and spaces that host friends and gently push strangers together. Public parks are disappearing. Playgrounds are being sold off. High Streets are turning to desert. These trends are national, but their greatest force is felt in the poorest towns and suburbs, the most remote parts of the countryside, where there isn’t the footfall to lure in businesses or household wealth to save the local boozer.’

And it is all being done deliberately. I’ve been using the hashtag #keeptheplebsintheirplace ever since this all began and now and at last BBC News has reported that the Head of News at Channel 4 an admirable lady called Dorothy Byrne: “gave a keynote speech at the Edinburgh TV Festival on Wednesday, in which she called Prime Minister Boris Johnson a “coward” for not granting news interviews.  She also said he was “a known liar”.

Byrne told the BBC: “If someone has deliberately spoken an untruth and we have evidence, we have to consider saying that what is said is a lie.” Shock horror and three rousing cheers!!!

In her MacTaggart Lecture, she said: “What we all need to decide: what do we do when a known liar becomes our Prime Minister? I’ve talked to journalists from several television organisations about this issue. They said they would be loath to use that word ‘liar’.

“Remember when Andrew Marr told [former defence secretary] Penny Mordaunt her claim that the UK couldn’t stop Turkey from joining the EU was ‘strange’?

“It was strange, but it was also untrue – a lie. Is it time for us to start using the L-word? I believe that we need to start calling politicians out as liars when they lie. If we continue to be so polite, how will our viewers know that politicians are lying?”

She added that it “isn’t necessarily obvious” to the audience when politicians are untruthful in interviews.

“They are not journalists, they don’t have all day to research stories,” she said on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Thursday. “Journalists have a purpose. We go away and study and research whether what politicians say is true and then we ask them informed questions and make them accountable.”

How very necessary this is. I can hear remainers up and down the country cheering.

We have been lied to long enough, our infrastructure has been damaged to breaking point, we loathe lies and despise liars. It really is high time they were all publicly called out. The Augean stables need a thorough cleansing. Roll on that river!


This entry was posted on August 23, 2019. 4 Comments

I’m still hoping to achieve a first and I’m still trying not to brag! But it’s getting harder and harder!

There are now, believe it or not, three books coming out, the two books about the Jackson family and a book of short stories printed by a local writers group called CHINDI which contains one of my short stories. If you live in the area of Chichester and Bognor and can hear an odd buzzing noise, do not be alarmed, it’s just my head spinning!

And as a reward for being patient with me in my crazy mood, here is a taster from the new book Citizen Armies, it is the story of my heroine’s first night on the London streets during the Blitz. I chose it for two reasons, because it was as accurate as I could get it and because it gave me the chance to give the official figures about the very first raid, they make chilling reading, be warned, but they are true.

“A Major Incident”

Theirs was the third ambulance to arrive on site and more came soon after they did, and, even in the darkness, she could see that a quarter of the block had been blown away and that the debris had fallen into a huge mound almost as high as the flats. The heavy lifting team were already at work along with more wardens and helpers than Rosie had ever seen together in one place, and there were electricians there too, setting up spotlights, and gas men standing beside their vans. A major incident. The first casualty was eased gently out of the wreckage as she watched and carried off at once to the nearest ambulance. It was going to be a long job.

‘I shall be more use out there than sitting in here, so I shall,’ Sister Maloney said, and she wrapped her cloak warmly round her and was gone.

More helpers were arriving by the minute and, watching them, Rosie was full of admiration for them. They were all so calm and careful, doing what had to be done, but standing quite still and perfectly silent whenever the team leader held up his hand for quiet. There was no panic, no excitability, no fuss, just a group of hard working people doing what they could to rescue the injured. We’re a sturdy lot we British, she thought. Hitler can rant and roar all he likes but he needn’t think he can beat us. The thought sustained her through the rest of the night, even though it was full of suffering and revealed more grief than she cared to see. We do what we can, she told herself, as she carried the injured into her ambulance; we do what we can, as she cleaned and serviced her vehicle when the all clear finally sounded.

She and Jim didn’t get home until after half past five that morning and by then they were both totally exhausted. Jim arrived five minutes after she did and bought a copy of yesterday’s evening paper with him.

‘They had it hot off the press last night,’ he said. ‘After all that. You gotta hand it to ‘em.’

The headline was huge as befitted the news. ‘350 bombers in daylight raid in London,’ it said and went on to give the details. ‘It is estimated that 300 tonnes of bombs were dropped on the docks and the streets of the East End of London. There was considerable damage and many casualties. The RAF shot down 99 planes and lost 22 of their own.’

I’m going to achieve a first and I’m trying not to brag!

But I have to say, having two books published on the same day, feels like an achievement. And they will come out together in eighteen days time.

They are a novel and its sequel, so it’s fitting that they’re being published together. Between them they cover the life and times of my heroine from 1908 – when my she was twelve years old and heading off for her first job as a skivvy, miles away from her family whom she will only see from then on, on Mothering Sunday – to 1945 when she and her husband have worked through the London Blitz, the buzz-bombs and the rockets in the Borough in London, she driving an ambulance, he as an air-raid warden. They were tough times and in a way I feel honoured to be describing them. And it is apposite that the two books are being published on the day before the anniversary of the day the war broke out.

Everybody’s Somebody will be available to pre-order tomorrow and Citizen Armies is already available to pre-order on Amazon now and I know it’s had one sale already, because a very old friend of mine and an extremely good writer has mailed me to tell me so. Despite my attempts to keep calm, it’s actually quite exciting!

This entry was posted on August 15, 2019. 2 Comments