Archive | February 2021

Dancing with the daffodils.

Because our lives are now crunchingly complicated and often difficult, I thought it might be helpful to remind ourselves that there are beautiful and comforting things to be found in our parks and gardens at this time of year.

So here is a blog about daffodils, they were my old darlings favourite flower because they were the first of the season and in his favourite colour. When we first moved into this house, the garden was still a field where oilseed rape grew among grass that was hip-high and the first thing he did once we’d settled in, was to start planning his garden. Everything in it had to be curved and rounded. Fish pond, soft fruit garden, flowerbeds, fruit trees, it was all there in his mind and as soon as it had been turned over and the lawn laid and a cricket pitch set out – because we had to have a cricket pitch naturally! – he went out to buy his favourite flowers. Or as he put it, ‘off to get a few daffs, little wooly Bear.’ I expected him to come home with a bag full but no, he arrived with three sack loads, for a ‘nice lot of variety’ and set about planting them all over the garden, where they bloom to this day 34 years later and bring colour to my Spring year after year.

And because he and I were not the only ones to be besotted by daffodils, I will finish off with another addict.

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud by William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

Coming out within the next twenty-four hours.

Within the next twenty four hours an old book of mine, which was originally published in 2007, when I was 76, and was my 21st published novel, is going to have life breathed into it again by my current publisher Agora. They are bringing out an e-book edition and a paperback. It’s probably conceited to say this but it pleases me no end because the central character is an admirable honest woman drawn from the life, strengths and faults and all, and the perfect antidote to the political dishonesty and corruption that is going on all round us at the moment. Let me tell you more if I may.

I had a rather chequered educational childhood because of the war and went to ten different schools in all so I saw a lot of different teachers in action, some kind and understanding, some trying to be helpful, some lost, and some absolutely dire. But it wasn’t until I reached was what to be my final school that I found a teacher I could – and did – thoroughly admire. Her name was Miss Davies and she was the Headmistress, wonderfully herself and admirably eccentric. Over the years she had gathered a team of like-minded and equally talented and eccentric teachers around her. It was the perfect place in which to learn. She taught according to a new technique called the Dalton System, which allowed pupils to progress at their own rate and in their own way. It suited me to a T. I loved her to bits.

So naturally when I came to write a story about a teacher, she was my template and I put her words into my heroine’s mouth and sent her to New York to find about the Dalton System, naturally, and made her a suffragette. Here she is explaining her philosophy in a letter of application for a headship.

”I believe that learning should be pleasurable and should bring its own reward. I believe that lack of pleasure in what we ask our pupils to do. A baby learning to feed himself or to stand and walk is utterly absorbed in what he is doing. He doesn’t fear mistakes, since mistake are one way of learning, he doesn’t tire, he is never bored and when he finally succeeds he is quite rapturously happy. If we could find some way to translate that experience into the teaching situation we should revolutionise the lives of our pupils.”

And here she is again at her interview, explaining in answer to a question, how she would deal with her pupils if they misbehaved. “It would depend on the offence. If someone has been hurt, then there must be an apology and an attempt to make amends, if it is caused by bad temper, the reasons for the temper must be discovered and dealt with, if it is laziness, the child must be helped towards greater effort, if it is misery, she will need cheering. There are always reasons for bad behaviour and that’s what I try to tackle.”

And is she relevant now? I think she could be and would certainly be a comfort to those of us who are near desperation at the appalling behaviour of our present government. I’ll let Polly Toynbee put that into words for me – and us – as she does in today’s Guardian.

‘Cronyism is rampant,’ she says, ‘and worse it goes unpunished. The sums are so vast, the secrecy so shocking, that ‘chumocracy’ doesn’t begin to capture what Britain has become…. Nepotism stinks as badly as awarding contracts to VIP pals; glorying in both, the government, rotting from the head, spreads the stench of corruption through everything it touches.’

Spot on Polly And thank you speaking out so clearly. We need voices like yours.

Have fun with my Octavia, friends and followers, if you haven’t met her before. I liked her so much I wrote a trilogy about her and her influence. The second book will be published on May 13th. I should live that long! Available on Amazon here.

This entry was posted on February 23, 2021. 4 Comments

Dying on its feet.

I have topped this blog with a familiar image of NHS staff in a crowded ICU tending to very sick coronavirus patients. It’s a sight we are all familiar with because it appears on the news so often. What doesn’t appear on the news and isn’t mentioned is that these hardworking men and women have been poorly equipped and very badly paid throughout this epidemic and have struggled on despite everything, to do the very best they can for their patients, which is and always has been the ethos of our National Health Service.

But yesterday I saw and felt something I never thought I would see and feel again after 1948. I went for an appointment at an eye clinic in my local hospital, where the patients sat at the prescribed distance from one another and everybody in the unit wore masks and the staff were under impossible pressure. And the longer I sat and watched, the more strongly I felt that what I was seeing and experiencing was the collapse of the system. The specialist I should have seen was plainly overworked and running well behind time – I had to leave before I could see her – but it wasn’t just that that sent my senses into alert and sitting in my study now away from it all it shocks me to remember it, but it was there just the same. It was the feeling you got in the old clinics that were run for people who couldn’t afford expensive doctors, before the NHS. And it wasn’t just me, the lady who sat on my right hand side at the prescribed distance felt it too. And said so. ‘He’s going to privatise it, isn’t he?’ she said.

And god help us, I’m afraid she was right.

The Prime Mendacitor can tell us whatever lie he likes, confident in the knowledge that nobody in Parliament or the media will ever call him out for it. So corrupt and venal is our system. I can’t bear to see him or listen to him now, but I’ll leave you with this image of him, clapping the NHS on the steps of Number 10. The Great British Trump.

I’m sorry to be so glum and I’ll find a cheerful topic for you next time. But this has to be said.

This entry was posted on February 19, 2021. 4 Comments