This blog grew out of a conversation that I had with my granddaughter amanuensis over breakfast this morning, when I took a ridiculous walk down memory lane and told her about some of the daft, rough games we played in the streets when I was seven or thereabouts. Memory is the oddest thing, I could remember the chants like ‘what’s the time Mr Wolf?’ and the words of the skipping games like ‘Charlie Chaplin went to France, to teach the ladies how to dance, and this is how he taught them, whooshy la la la,’ as if I’d been playing them yesterday.
Strictly speaking, I shouldn’t have been playing out in the streets, because my mother didn’t approve of it. She said ‘only common children played in the streets’ and didn’t send me to the local primary school, but to a posh convent school a good deal further away, I suppose because she thought I’d be ‘safer’ there. But once I’d got the hang of the roads I took a detour as I was walking home and joined a gang in the street before mine and played all manner of rough, noisy games, that the nuns would have thrown up their hands in horror to see. I loved it. And the rougher the better! I got home rather worse for wear and had to be washed and brushed and generally tidied up before my mother could see me.
But I remember the thrill of the games even to this day and the lovely sense of being part of a gang, even if I didn’t live in their road.
There is an Instagram promotion today for my new book ‘The Great I Am’, which is now on offer for a short time for £1.99 and which is part of a publicity campaign set up for me by Mary-Anne Yarde. It’s available on Amazon here. And as well as that, yesterday I arranged to do a signing in Heygates, the local bookshop in Bognor, which is in the station on Saturday the 5th of February at 11am-1pm. I hope to see a lot of you there.
I have to admit that when the idea of a local book signing was first mooted I had private doubts. But this morning, Lottie and I went shopping in the Bognor Marks & Spencer’s and I saw something which made me very hopeful, that more and more people are beginning to accept that politicians tell lies. Despite the Prime Mendacitor’s announcement yesterday that we no longer need to wear masks or stay apart from one another, the place was full of shoppers ALL wearing masks (as were the staff). Far from praising him and admiring him, the way he’d intended that they would, they were taking absolutely no notice of what he’d said. I stood at the checkout thinking what a positive and sensible sign it was.
Many years ago I treated myself to a river cruise in Russia. It began in Moscow and ended in St Petersburg both of which were fascinating places which would take a blog each to describe, and about half way between the two we stopped at a very small village in the middle of nowhere and a forest where huge bears lived. We wanted to go exploring and find one, but our guide took us to the village inn and introduced us to the stuffed bear that was standing in the entrance, it was well over six feet tall and huge! We took a deep breath and decided that perhaps a bear hunt wasn’t such a good idea after all, so we went off to explore the tiny marketplace instead, where they had laid out stalls with all sorts of tourist attractions like matryoshka dolls standing in graded rows to tempt us and next door to the dolls was a stall selling all sorts of Russian hats.
One row of them was trimmed with thick white fur, crowned with white leather and padded. We tried then on and they were marvellously warm, like having a hot water bottle on your head, so having been deprived of the bear I treated myself to one of them.
From then on, I wore it every winter and was as snug as a bug in a rug, until one winter evening instead of putting it away at the end of the day, I left it on the baluster at the foot of the stairs. When I came down in the morning I found to my horror that Dixie had knocked it down and was ‘killing’ it in the hall, holding it firmly down with his front paws, while his back paws ripped it to shreds. By the time I went to rescue it, it was well and truly dead, as the pictures will show you.
My cat is remarkably thorough, and when I said in terms of sad rebuke ‘Oh Dixie what have you done?’ he looked as pleased with himself as though he’d just killed a rat.
Let us now praise famous men, and our Fathers that begat us. Leaders of the people, by their counsels and by their knowledge. Such as found out musical tunes, and recited verses in writing: All these were honoured in their generations, and were the glory of their times.
I first came upon these words in 1946 when children all over London including me, were preparing for the victory celebrations in the Albert Hall. They were the words to a hymn that the great Vaughn Williams, who was one of my heroes, had set to music. The words stuck in my head and have been there ever since. I used to think how wonderful it would be to recite verses in writing MYSELF and be honoured in MY generation. Not that I thought it was ever likely to happen, but it was a dazzling dream.
And now here I am, 31 books down the line, not exactly reciting verses in writing but telling tales by way of the printed word, which I kid myself is much the same thing!
So this is by way of a greeting to all the other artists who have found out musical tunes and have written plays, novels, poetry, songs or produced works of art by painting, drawing, sculpture. I hope all these will be honoured in their generation, because art of all kinds brings pleasure and comfort in hard times.
I’m going to leave our lovely Shakespeare to sign off for me and to remind us that we should treasure our artists.
‘The evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with bones.’
And my last word on this is an echo of the motto of the final school I went to. It was in Latin, naturally. ‘Honesta obtinete’ or to put it in our own language. Hold on to the things that are good.
This is a repeat performance of a blog I wrote in November 2019, just before the General Election that put Boris Johnson in power. I had forgotten all about it but among my visitors to the blog somebody else found it and as I couldn’t remember what it was I checked on it. I thought it would be even more revealing now then it was when I wrote it.
I belong to several local groups on Facebook serving Bognor, Felpham, Tooting and Streatham all of them places where I’ve lived and worked for a considerable time. It is interesting to see how much they vary.
Tooting takes pride in the variety of its inhabitants and the way they usually gel and work together. It’s a cosmopolitan place and always has been. When I was a child the newcomers were predominately German, Italian and Jewish. My grandfather – a Parodi who kept a wine store – lived two doors up from Mr Jung who ran the bakers at Tooting Broadway. A very nice man. A few years before their arrival the men in the local chamber of commerce all had very English names with the occasional Irish one for there were lots of Irish labourers who had dug up the road and laid the tram lines and settled in Tooting, in a road call Kellino Street. As I said, a mixed community. Now it is even more mixed with newcomers from Pakistan, Syria, India many of whom run stalls and cafes in Tooting market and sell delicious food there.
Felpham on the other hand has had very few immigrants other than Londoners who have come here to retire. Bognor has always been a favourite watering place for day-trippers from South London. But the Bognorians answer to the mixture of races that Tooting accepts and glories in, is to close ranks.
Not long ago, one of the moderators of a Felpham group put up a notice to say that people who use the group should not say anything that was ‘political’ or ‘about religion’ because according to her, people were finding that very uncomfortable. So ‘religion’ and ‘politics’ were banned, but that sent me thinking. Politics is a wide term and covers a whole range of beliefs, so does religion and if you stand back and think about what the moderator has said it becomes very clear that what she is actually saying is ‘don’t mention anything left-wing, it upsets people who live here.’ ‘Don’t say anything about religion unless it is about the local church and people who attend it.’ What she is asking us to avoid is a variety of outlook and opinions. I haven’t met many socialists in Felpham although they are here and very sensible, valuable people, but I’m pretty sure the majority of people are ingrained Tories – you only have to look at the voting figures to see that – and comfortable middle of the road people who would call themselves CofE.
And the more I think about all this the more I think how curious it is that in my part of south London, variety is accepted and celebrated and in my part of West Sussex, it is retreated from in horror or at least it is according to what the moderator of that particular group has said.
Curiouser and curiouser as Alice said when she was in Wonderland.
And yet political and religious opinions are changed over the years and what once was unthinkable – like votes for women – becomes established and acceptable. The chartists ensured that all men over 21 got the vote, no matter what class they belonged to. It took blood as those of us who know the story of the Peterloo massacre could tell you. The Suffragettes ensured that women were given the vote to, although they had to endure forced feeding in prison and it took the death of Emily Davison to finally begin to achieve it.
After a couple of years of Christmases messed up by this wretched Covid, I had an absolutely wonderful one last year, spending Christmas Eve with my daughter Caroline and the rest of the family and Christmas Day with my elder daughter Mary and her family. What could have been better then that?
And during the course of it, I had seven of my great-grandchildren cuddled up together with me on a sofa built for three!
Delicious beyond words! What more needs to be said!
The publishing industry can sometimes be unexpectedly odd. I have discovered over the last couple of weeks that there doesn’t seem to be a book category called ‘love’, which struck me as very extraordinary, ‘romance’ turns up in all manner of shapes and sizes and always with the same sort of cover, a spectacularly beautiful ‘poor’ girl gazing into the eyes of an impossibly handsome prince/hero/rich man. So you can have a book classified as ‘true romance’, ‘eighteenth century romance’, ‘a romance in the Tudor court’, ‘historical romance’, ‘wartime romance’ and so on and so on.
So what happened to love? Which as my old darling told me very early on in our relationship was a totally different thing to romance, which was in his eyes shallow, corny and usually a fantasy and totally untrue. In those early days, I was still at school and used to spend a lot of my time when I wasn’t in lessons, studying in the school hall which was used for exactly that purpose and was always quiet and studious. He used to send me a message most days, which was delivered by one or other of his two sisters, who were both at the same school, and found me when I was in the hall. On one occasion when I was having rather a rough time at home and was feeling very down, his message simply contained three words ‘Read sonnet 116’. I left the work I was supposed to be doing, went to the library at once and found the sonnet. I have loved it ever since because it says so much about the complicated trustworthiness of real affection. I know it by heart and here it is:
Sonnet 116 – William Shakespeare
Let me not to the marriage of true minds Admit impediments. Love is not love Which alters when it alteration finds, Or bends with the remover to remove. O no! it is an ever-fixed mark That looks on tempests and is never shaken; It is the star to every wand’ring bark, Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken. Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks Within his bending sickle’s compass come; Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, But bears it out even to the edge of doom. If this be error and upon me prov’d, I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.
You can’t be bettered William – and neither could my old darling. His entire life with me was an example of how love pervades everything you do. Precious beyond words.