Archive | August 2021

Another story about another piece of jewellery – by special request.

One of my very oldest friends read my story of the Suffragette necklace and asked if there were any more stories connected with any more of my jewellery.

And this particular piece came into my head almost at once. Partly because it was the second piece of jewellery I’d ever possessed, the first being my engagement ring. And partly because of the significance of the day on which it was bought. It was our thirteenth wedding anniversary and the first one we had dared to celebrate. We were staying in Felpham in my mothers bungalow and my sister Carole was there with us and because we knew how well she would look after our infants – and she did – we treated ourselves to a day out and went to Chichester. The freedom of it quite went to our heads and we gave ourselves one treat after another.

In the afternoon we went to the pictures to see Ken Loach’s masterpiece ‘Kes’, which impressed us both very much and after that we strolled down South Street and browsed the shops. And during the course of our browsing I found this pendant, it was lying on a tray amongst a plethora of other items, some valuable, some not, none with any price tags attached. The shop belonged to a brother and a sister who sold their goods in this rather haphazard way. A lovely pair. Roy saw that I had found something I liked the look of and asked what it was and when I pointed it out he thought it would be a good idea to go into the shop and ask how much it would cost. The answer rather stopped me in my tracks. The pendant was made of gold and set with a peridot and seed pearls and it would cost £14, which at that time was well beyond our means. Three children are pretty costly, so we did tend to live rather hand to mouth. We thanked the brother and sister but didn’t make a purchase, which was a disappointment but not an unexpected one.

After that we strolled down to a tea shop and ordered tea. Oh we knew how to live. And half way through Roy emptied his cup and stood up. ‘Shan’t be a minute’ he said. ‘Must just go and buy my Guardian.’ And off he went, returning in a little while with a copy of the Guardian in one hand and a twist of tissue paper in the other, which he put carefully down on my saucer. I asked him what he’d got there and was it sugar. In those days I took sugar in my tea.

He had his devilish face on. ‘Open it and see,’ he said. And it was my pendant. I knew him so well by that time that I knew he had sat in that tea shop doing the maths to see whether he could afford it. He really was the dearest of men and this was one of many moments when I knew it beyond a doubt.

Years later, when the children had left home and I was earning a very comfortable salary by writing books, I found these earrings in the same shop. Once again they were set with peridots and seed pearls, so he bought those for me too.


This entry was posted on August 23, 2021. 6 Comments

Nearly done!

I’m yelling about this, which is not really very commendable but I feel so pleased to be so very nearly at the end of book 31 – which I’m presently calling ‘The Great I Am’, but of course that might change – that I can’t help jumping up and down. It’s taken me a very long time to write it, the longest time I’ve ever taken over any of my books.

Lottie and I started to research it 2 and a half years ago and we began in Amberley which we chose because it was one of the prettiest villages in our vicinity and I wanted the main settings to be in a village, a market town and the Houses of Parliament. We spent a happy day in Amberley and came home with a lot of pictures.

The market town I chose was Guildford because I already knew it fairly well having visited it frequently when I was a teenager.

I explored this place with my sister Carole and it was my first lengthy outing since I had six stents fitted in my arteries and and been finding it quite difficult to walk for any length of time. But on that first day of exploration we were on our feet non-stop for five hours, so not only had I found lots of places that I wanted to use in the book, but I came home feeling rather pleased with myself.

By the time it came to researching the House of Commons and Portcullis House, I was rather confined to my own house, so that research had to be done via the internet and this image of the luxurious interior came from the internet as you can see. (Photo credit – STA-LOK)

Now it is just half a chapter away from completion! And with luck, Lottie and I will be able to send it off to my agent next week. It has taken us 2 and a half years, which seems an interminable time because time was when we could research, plan and write a novel in nine months. I always used to say it was like a pregnancy. Rather a long pregnancy this time, I think I may have turned into an elephant in my old age!

This entry was posted on August 20, 2021. 4 Comments

A pudding basin and a suffragette’s necklace.

No. It’s OK. The old girl hasn’t lost her marbles – although there are days when she wonders. There is a connection and an historical one. And it begins with a pudding basin.

My first grand-daughter needed a pudding basin so that she could make steam puddings for her kids and, as she didn’t possess one, she asked her mother (my daughter Mary) if she could find a second hand one for her. Mary is a dab hand at finding bargains in charity shops. And Mary told me all about it, when she came to look after me the next Monday. And it occurred to me that I had plenty of pudding basins and she might like one of those. So we looked one out and as we were sitting in the conservatory having our elevenses she examined it thoroughly and turned it over. And there on the bottom of it was the maker’s name. Mason Cash. So naturally we had to check that out too. Oh we’re quizzy when we’re having our elevenses! And we discovered that the company had been going since the early eighteen hundreds and that we might be looking at an antique. It was very likely because the bowl had been given to me by my grand-mother when I got married. Roy and I had nothing at all except books and my grand-mother filled in the gaps from the equipment she’d found in the house when her husband bought it in 1914. What fun.

So what’s the link between a pudding basin and that necklace. Well it’s my grand-mother again and it has a slightly sordid history. My grand-father ran an off licence in Tooting and it was his habit to let his regulars pay for the booze they wanted with a pawn ticket, which he would redeem. He got a fair bit of jewellery that way, which he gave to my grand-mother and closed his eyes to the fact that it would probably have been stolen. My grand-mother was no fool and knew very well that it was stolen so she wouldn’t wear any of it.

But she gave this piece to me. And I found out that it was a suffragette piece when I’d been an established writer for several years and wore it round my neck when I went into the jewellers to look at something else. He was very interested in it and asked if he could take a closer look at it and did. His verdict was exciting. It was definitely a suffragette piece. The little green stones were green garnets that had only been mined for a short time so he could date it to within few years. Wow!

I often think about my suffragette and wonder who she was and what happened to her. But I never thought I would link her with a pudding basin.

This entry was posted on August 14, 2021. 3 Comments

What’s in a word?

On the 31st of July, this article about Farage’s deeply unpleasant attack on the RNLI and the immediate public response to it was printed in The Guardian. Written by Tim Adams, it makes no bones about the value of the RNLI

The lifeboat stations that circle our coastline, crewed by volunteers and funded by charity, are living reminders of the humanitarian impulse that remains the best of us. Nigel Farage’s attempts to undermine that spirit last week, by characterising boats saving drowning refugees as a “taxi service for migrants”, went against everything… that the crews risk their lives for. The fact that donations to the RNLI are up 3,000% in the days since is a welcome indication that the spirit that sends those crews out is as appreciated now as it ever was.’

Photograph: Andrew Fosker/REX/Shutterstock
Image from The Guardian

Since then the RNLI has been ‘inundated with donations and messages of support’ it’s work was widely praised on social media too and according to Rachel Hall, also writing in The Guardian ‘it has been trending on Twitter, with the likes of Nicola Sturgeon and Gary Lineker posting their support.’

Even our Prime Mendacitor felt he ought to join in the debate. His spokesperson said the RNLI did “vital work to protect people’s lives at sea”, but added in an attempt to placate Farage that ‘the migrants’ journeys across the Channel were “dangerous and unnecessary”’

But I think it is necessary to point out that there is nothing new in refugees crossing the ocean or the channel to get to the UK because they cannot bear the terrible things that were being done to them in what, until then, had been their home country. In 1972 they were running from Idi Amin. In 1979 it was the Vietnamese displaced by the Vietnam war. And if you look even further back in our history you will find an influx of people from all over the place, Angles, Saxons, Vikings, even Romans who didn’t particularly want to go back to Rome. Nothing new.

And there’s nothing new about the reaction from the various peoples who were in residence in the UK and didn’t want any more people coming in.

Then I remembered a poem from 1979 which looks at the refugees we called ‘The Boat People’ and is I think germaine to the current reactions now.

“Boat people”

You have to admit it’s the right romantic label
And cleverly attached at just the right moment
To evoke the right response,
Our easy sentimental charity
To soothe and assuage
A manageable, comfortable guilt.

We didn’t feel the same kind glow at all
For all those other frightened refugees
Who fled to us in 1972
From the torture, traps and threatened massacre
Of bully-boy Amin.
But then they were only “Ugandan Asians”
And these are “The boat people.”

It’s a cute description – “Boat people”
Their crafty propagandist chose it well,
A slick soft-sell.
It suggests the sturdy vagrant, travelling for freedom,
Sun-tanned and spicy, glamorous, exotic;
The superior inferior
With the uncanny, useful sight of the clairvoyant.

“Boat people” are different.
They smell of the salt-fresh sea
And are as independent as sailors.
So all the nice girls love them.
And it’s quite in order
To let such people cross our closing border
And file to join our overcrowded ranks
Stumbling their thanks.

In every television they are seen,
Grateful, polite and clean,
Polished for presentation,
The sort of charming visitors who please,
Who do not make a mess or bring disease.
They paid their passage here in stored gold leaf.

Their well fed faces and their rounded limbs
Display an affluence quite like our own.
Good servants of an Empire, Yankee style,
And well rewarded
Till the Empire fell.
Then suddenly they had no craft to sell
And they were hated by the new-grown powers
Loathed and belittled, pressured to submit
To poverty, to service, to defeat.
So bought another craft for their escape.

I wonder what our welcome would have been
If they’d been called “the Chinese middle class”
And not “boat people”.

Or they’d arrived here, dirty, underfed,
Unheralded – or ‘red’.

This entry was posted on August 6, 2021. 1 Comment