Archive | April 2021

Looking back into a bit of history.

This is the second book of Michael Rosen’s that I’ve bought and I bought it because I wanted to know what a ‘pisher’ was and he recommended the book so that I could find out. It’s a fascinating story, because it’s a description of a large family of highly individual, loving people and how they interacted with one another, lots of humour as you would expect – our Michael has a great sense of humour – and lots of Yiddish. He’s part of a huge family and yet he brought each of them vividly to life. A joy to read.

But in the middle of it, I discovered that we had one or two historical events in common. The first was one of the Aldermaston Marches, which was at Easter in 1958 and went from London to Aldermaston. I missed that, but watched it with great interest on the news and decided that I would have to join the organisation which was called CND.

By the following year, I was the secretary of the Streatham CND ground but I couldn’t go on the march because my third baby had been born in March, prematurely, and needed a lot of care and constant feeding, so I didn’t get around to occupying a seat on one of the coaches I’d booked to take the local group to the march and home again in the evening for the four marching days, and it was 1960 before I could call myself a marcher. I loved it, out in all weathers, with people I liked, singing and talking with no housework and nothing to be responsible for except the coaches. From then on, it was my annual holiday.

According to his book, Michael Rosen joined the marchers with a couple of friends when he was thirteen and unlike the pampered CND members from Streatham, he slept in the accommodation provided for the marchers by the organisers and as always in this book, he saw the humour of the situation. He also, to my great interest, named one of the men who was walking with the marchers and had a megaphone. ‘His name’ he said, ‘was George Clark’. The sight of that name made me sit up because, although the young Rosen wasn’t really very interested in him, he was a friend of mine and the first man I knew to be arrested and be sent to prison for his beliefs. A stalwart. I can remember very well how gaunt and ill he looked when he was finally let out of prison and came down to Streatham to harangue the workers coming out of P.B Cows the rubber factory. I cooked a sizeable meal for him to try and build up his strength. But he was formidable even when he was skinny and he meant what he said. And he was one of the original 100 who founded the committee of 100.

I read on through Michael’s book wondering whether he got involved with the committee of 100 as well as CND, and yes he did. He and his friends decided that they would go and join the demonstrators who were sitting down in the middle of Whitehall near the Ministry of Defence to demonstrate their total disapproval of the arrival of nuclear submarines in Scotland. I went with a friend of mine, called Leila Berg another warm heart like Michael Rosen, who also wrote books for children. The column was led by Bertrand Russell himself, with Michael Randle, Vic Richardson and Michael Scott alongside him and when they took direct action and sat down on the pavement outside the Ministry of Defence, the police took action. The Riot Act was read and they were all arrested, but by then the rest of us had sat down in the road in solidarity and there were rather a lot of us.

According to Michael Rosen, he and his friends heard that the police were going to arrest people and decided to let discretion be the better part of valour and go home. Who could blame them, they were very young. But they missed an interesting piece of social history, which I had forgotten about until I was reading Michael’s book.

As soon as Bertrand Russell and the leading group had been bundled into Black Marias and driven off to the nearest Magistrates Court, the police arrested the next line of demonstrators and after that, the next and the next, until they reached the line where Leila and I were sitting and then a curious thing happened. The Riot Act was read, we were told we would be arrested if we didn’t move away of our own accord and like the others, we wouldn’t budge, so we were arrested and carried off to sit on the pavements to wait for the return of the Black Marias to take us away too. None arrived. So we sat on and waited and presently a Very Important Policeman arrived and gathered his senior police around him in a Very Important way. By then Leila and I had befriended the young policemen who had arrested us and beckoned them over to tell us what was going on. The story they told made us all giggle. Apparently the Magistrates had sent a message back to the arresting police to ask them not to arrest any more people. They were finding it very difficult to handle the numbers who’d arrived at the court already and couldn’t cope with anymore. Our laughter spread along the column as the news spread and for a little while we weren’t quite sure what to do, but then someone decided that, as we had declared that we would sit down for four hours, we would sit down for four hours. Which we did. It was actually very British and I think it would have made our Michael laugh like a drain.

On which ridiculous snippet of English social history, I will stop.

Oh and if you’re wondering a “pisher” turned out to be a young, inexperienced, presumptuous person. Love it!

Happy bank holiday!

This entry was posted on April 30, 2021. 2 Comments

Major Sleaze

Yesterday those of us who were watching Prime Minister’s question time, were treated to an alarming display of bellowing, red-faced, incoherent, uncontrollable bad temper. No matter what any of us might have been thinking about him up to now, we can hardly go on considering him a nice, cuddly BoJo – the man is a thug. His outburst made it easy to understand why one of his neighbours called the police on that famous occasion when he heard him bellowing at his live in lover and as the neighbour said at the time feared for her safety.

Not that that tells us what can be done about having such an unedifying character as our Prime Minister. I’ve been saying for a long time that the man is seriously unbalanced and simply can’t tell the truth from a lie and that, I’m quite sure is because the lie is so necessary to maintain his image and his image is all important to him. And that’s something I can understand, I wish that I couldn’t, but the truth is that I grew up with another compulsive liar with an appalling temper and learnt some horrible lessons by the time I was seventeen.

My mother was an abuser, not to put too fine a point on it, and I was the child she abused, so I watched her closely and fearfully throughout my childhood. And years afterwards when I had written a small chunk of autobiography which she dominated, I wrote an epilogue about her, which I called ‘Anatomising Regan’. Parts of it are pertinent to Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, so with your permission I’m going to quote them here and see what you think.

“Two things were central to her personality. The first was the need to project an image. It was actually the exact reverse of the truth but was how she had to see herself if she was to be able to function at all. By the time I was in my teens, she believed it totally, which was how she was able to convince other people of the truth of it – she was a wonderful mother, adored by her children, a loving and dutiful daughter, adored by her mother, a marvellous wife who put up with her husband’s brutality and never left him, a woman who never did anything wrong, young, beautiful and perpetually attractive to every man who ever saw her. When the evidence of her laziness, vanity, greed, filth or cruelty was too plain to be avoided, she denied it violently and refused to understand why anyone should tell her about it. Her rages were so terrible and so destructive that for most of the time we connived in her fantasy and didn’t correct it. But, of course, there was a terrible price to pay for connivance, which was the other thing that was central to her personality.

       In order to sustain her image she had to have a good child to pet and pamper, the way her father had petted and pampered her, and to prove what a wonderful mother she was, and a bad one to punish, the way her father had punished her brother. As the bad one I was trebly useful, being someone on whom she could vent her anger when she couldn’t contain it any longer, someone who could carry the blame for anything that went wrong and someone whose ‘bad behaviour’ would give her a reason to play the martyr. Playing the martyr was also part of her fantasy.

       I hope this story will be helpful to those whose job it is to deal with dysfunctional personalities. And yes, I do know how difficult that is. Seriously dysfunctional people live in a fantasy world; they tell lies about themselves and their families and the lies are skilled and persuasive; they are greedy for all sorts of things, food, money, drink, drugs, sex (or as in Johnson’s case power); they require constant attention; they are totally self-centred and they will do and say anything to hide what they are actually like.

And isn’t that our Prime Mendacitor? It sounds horribly familiar to me. And more to the point how the hell do we get rid of him, when the Speaker doesn’t have the power to call him out when he lies and the media support him in his fantasy and applaud it.

“Then let them anatomise Regan, see what breeds about her heart. Is there any cause in nature that makes these hard hearts?” William Shakespeare. Oh there are causes, there are always causes.

This entry was posted on April 29, 2021. 3 Comments

Hope springs eternal

According to the Huffington Post “A Creative Mind Is A Wandering Mind​​” It’s a comforting thought when your mind is jumping from one thing to another like a grasshopper.

Mine has been darting about between snatches of remembered poetry and a rag bag of information about plagues, the coming of Spring and the peculiar quality of hope. It was a half remembered poem that set it off and now it’s spinning like a top.

The poem was written by Thomas Nashe sometime around 1592, the same time as one of the great London Plagues. It was bubonic plague then, but every bit as terrifying and lethal as Covid-19 is now. At least 15,000 people died of the plague in London alone, theatres were closed and doctors wore terrifying masks like this one. Plus ça change.

The one comfort I take from all this anxiety inducing information, is that poetry endures and continues to delight through the centuries and Spring comes round every year to lift our hearts, no matter what might be happening to us. Which brings me back to my original poet, Thomas Nashe circa 1592.

Spring, the sweet spring, is the year’s pleasant king
The fields breathe sweet, the daisies kiss our feet,
Young lovers meet, old wives a-sunning sit

This old wife will be very happy to sit in the sun again and is already being cheered by the flowers in her garden and her growing colony of fish in the pool!

Happy Springtime all of you!

This entry was posted on April 23, 2021. 2 Comments

A blog to cheer us all up.

Take a good look at this cover if you haven’t seen it before. It is the book of our times, chronicling what it is like to have ‘long covid’ step by horrible step. It is a stoical book, there isn’t a word of self-pity in it, but then you wouldn’t expect self-pity from a man like Michael Rosen, who is a superb communicator and admirably honest. He has spent his life writing books and poetry for children and knows exactly how to talk to children of every age. He never talks down or at, he talks with.

Here he is talking to a doctor whilst he was in hospital.

“A doctor is standing by my bed
asking me if I would sign a piece of paper
which would allow them to put me to sleep and pump air into my lungs.
‘Will I wake up?’
‘There’s a 50:50 chance.’
‘If I say no?’ I say.
And I sign.”

Superlative. No histrionics, just underplaying and accepting. Breathtakingly brave, as far away from the over dramatisation and self praise which the Prime Mendacitor indulged in when he went into hospital for a few days and came out declaring he’d been ‘at deaths door’.

There is so much in this book I hardly know which bit to turn to, to tempt you next (and I’ve read it three times now!). But first lets have a few facts. He was months on the wards, six weeks in an induced coma and many more weeks of rehab and recovery as the NHS saved his life and then got him back on his feet.

“In the gym
I walk five steps
and grab the bar.
The physio says that’s really good.
I’m proud.

She says that she knows
children who like my books.
I’m proud again
but then I’m sad.
I’m sure I won’t be well enough
to stand in front of 500 children
ever again
telling them my poems and stories
hearing them laugh.”

While he was on the ward and quite unable to speak because he was intubated, he was watched over every night by a team of nurses and assistants of various kinds who’d been pulled in from other wards to help. There were scores of them and at the end of each night they wrote a message for him in a diary that was kept by the bed expressly for that purpose and which he prints in this book. They are all the most loving of messages. I found them almost unbearably touching, but it was wonderful to read them because they were so obviously fond of him and saw how much he was suffering and how he didn’t complain. Love and bravery writ clear. Here are just a few of their comments.

This is an early one written by Pat, a lung nurse specialist. “It’s lovely to see all the photos of your family smiling and showing how much you are loved. We will keep you comfortable and talk to you all through the shift to let you know what we’re doing. My kids were brought up on your poems and loved them. We have given you a lovely wash and brushed your thick hair.”

A nurse called Joe writes “You seemed quite agitated and I know this is such a confusing time for you, I am truly sorry. Everybody says hello to you every day as you have been with us for 29 days. Everyone knows you and is rooting for you to keep improving and getting stronger… Your family have been sending their love every day.”

A girl called Holly writes she is “unsure whether I will work with you again Michael… I wish you all the best with your recovery. You are a fighter and you can do this.”

A girl called Natasha writes: “My hope is that you will get lots of hugs and love from your family to make up for all this time you have been apart, once you are free to go home…
It’s been a true honour. As I mentioned before, my two children love your poems and books and it has been a privilege to help in looking after you.
Good luck for tomorrow and I wish you safely home soon.”

It was a very long haul and it’s still ongoing for as Michael and lots of others have discovered, long-covid can be very long indeed. Right at the end of the book he writes of a lovely, normal moment, with his lovely, loving, normal family.

“I’m in the midst of beginnings:
you love, are starting a big, new thing
a change;
our daughter is buying lamps
and wooden spoons
before she leaves for university;
our son hovers on the edge
of a return to school,
GCSE worksheets lie open on the table;
and my granddaughter
not yet two years old
sits on the blanket outside:
we do
round and round the garden
like a teddy bear,
again and again and again,
she kicks a ball
and we all clap.”

If you haven’t read this book yet and thousands have – it’s a bestseller – may I recommend it to you?

This entry was posted on April 8, 2021. 3 Comments