Yesterday morning, thanks to the offices of my lovely amanuensis I took part in a radio broadcast to talk about the lack of food during the war with a German lady called Ingeborg who had lived in Berlin at the end of the war. I think we were chosen because we were both old enough to remember, but she was a mere child compared to me as I told her, she being 85 to my 90! But our memories of the food or lack of it, were very similar and I think our interviewer was a little surprised to hear how very little food there was available for us.
Lottie and I had looked it up because I still have a ration book, identity card and a list of food that was available to us during the war and the prices, butter for example was one shilling and seven pence a lb, our ration was 4 ounces a week. Sugar was 5p a lb, eggs were two shillings for a dozen, margarine was 10 pence a lb. We had 4oz of bacon a week, 2oz of tea, 1oz of cheese and a whole variety of food on ‘points’, so I had to explain the points system and how it worked and also the black market system and how that worked. Ingeborg had similar memories, but the prices didn’t really mean much to me as I didn’t really know what the German coins were worth in those days.
But the thing that surprised our two interviewers, one in the UK and the other in Germany, is that both of us made light of having very little to eat and tried to explain that living in a city like London that was bombed every night for ten months at the beginning of the war, or a city like Berlin that was bombed incessantly and towards the end of the war, was waiting to be invaded by the Russian, British and American armies who were rapidly encircling them, was actually much, much worse then being hungry. By the end of the programme, Ingeborg and I had made friends with one another, for we both understood what it was like to have been mortally afraid and in very real danger. But it came as a surprise to the organisers of the programme who had expected it to be simply an examination of how difficult it was to get hold of enough to eat. That, as both of us explained, was the least of our worries.
I have made a friend and so has Ingeborg, which is a very good thing to have come out of such a programme. It will be broadcast by the BBC next Thursday, sorry those are all the details I’ve got.
No copyright infringement intended, please DM for credit
This one is for all those who want to see Blake’s cottage repaired as a top priority. As I do.
I’ve been watching out for the new press release from Jonathan Mullard ( the new official with the Blake Society and the Blake Cottage Trust) and have therefore been trawling the net. Under ‘Jobs with Blake Cottage Trust’ I found the following statement.
”About Blake’s Cottage Trust
The Trust was registered with the Charity Commission on 2nd March 2015 (Reg 1160716) with the company incorporated on 30th October 2014. The Charity’s objects are restricted specifically to the ‘promotion, encouragement, maintenance and improvement and advancement of education of the public in the life and works of William Blake (1757 -1827) and to EQUIPPING AND MAINTAINING HIS SURVIVING HOMES in particular the property located at 1 Blake’s Road, Felpham, Bognor Regis, PO227EB, as a focal point for the study and appreciation thereof.”
It made my blood run cold. ”equipping and maintaining his surviving HOMES.” It’s not just our Blake’s Cottage the BCT are concerning themselves with now but the other house where Blake and Kate rented two rooms, which is in South Molton Street in London. There are only two surviving houses where Blake lived, and that’s the other one. It has always been a pipe dream of Tim Heath’s to own the two rooms he currently rents in the house for the use of the Blake Society. I visited them once and a grubby and untidy pair of rooms they were. Nobody knows exactly which of the two rooms in the house were rented by William Blake, but it’s a big building as you can see. Tim Heath fondly imagines that the two he rents are the ones. So that’s another expensive pipe dream he wants us to pay for. According to Zoopla Estimates – the average price for property in South Molton Street stands at £1,304,990 in November 2021. In terms of property types, flats in South Molton Street sold for an average of £1,304,990 and terraced houses for £3,570,472.
I have contacted two ex-trustees of the Blake Society with whom I have been friends for years, to ask them to tell me what they know about Heath’s ambitions regarding this property, when I get some answers I will put them up. We need to know what this man is planning.
The jobs that were mentioned in the ad were mostly for people who are good at raising money, although, very condescendingly, they also said they were going to appoint one person from the Felpham area to join their new team. I wonder whether they’ve chosen someone and who it is. Do any of you know?
I’m hoping that my booklet about the cottage will be on sale in Felpham soon. I will keep you posted.
To put this bluntly those of us who care about the future of our Blake’s Cottage are now facing a choice between two diametrically opposed points of view and two diametrically opposed choices.
Is to concentrate all the funds that will be raised in the next year or so by the Blake Cottage Trust, which now consists of four men (of which later) on the restoration and repair of the cottage itself.
Is to spend a large part of the funds raised on demolishing half the cottage and building a state of the art new building in the grounds. This has always been the favoured choice of Tim Heath – who is the Chairman of the Blake Cottage Trust and the Chairman of the Blake Society and is currently squatting in his mother’s house. He is now being aided and abetted by a new lieutenant called Jonathan Mullard who has been appointed a new trustee of the BCT and the secretary of the Blake Society and has the ear of the press both local and national. All of this is written about in my new booklet ‘If Blake’s Cottage had a voice, it would cry help!’
So as you can see, those of us who want the cottage restored, are up against formidable opposition. I have had two long and helpful conversations with a lady called Alma Howell who is an official of English Heritage, who have just put the cottage on their ‘at risk’ register. She reassured me that she and English Heritage will do everything they can to restore the cottage. I’ve also had a telephone conversation with Jonathan Mullard but that was like talking to a brick wall.
So now, what can we do if we want to preserve the cottage? Well for a start I definitely think we should NOT stay silent, but should make our voices heard in any way we can. Perhaps we should start with the biggest possible petition we can raise between us in the Felpham area. When I began my campaign to protect the cottage I gathered 500 signatures on my own but I am now no longer physically capable of doing it again. But to encourage us all, I now know that there are hundreds of people in Felpham Matters who want to preserve the cottage as a matter of priority and if one person can collect 500 signatures how many could 200 people collect. It’s worth a thought.
I could provide printed posters to put up in the local shops, pubs, tearooms and so forth and petition forms – each one with space for fifty names, which makes it easy to count the number you’ve collected – and help in any housebound ways you can think of and use such contacts as I have with the local and national press. But I also think that the handing over of this petition should be a very public occasion with as many people as possible who have signed it present to see it done, possible holding placards saying ‘Save our Cottage’ which is a nice simple slogan for viewers to respond to, and we should get the press to record it and with a bit of pressure, local TV to film it. These things are possible.
So all is not lost all you lovely supporters but it’s going to take work to do it. In the meantime I will do what I can to find out as much as I can about this new trustee.
Since I last posted here about the cottage, several ominous things have happened and this blog is to keep you all informed. The last post I put up was fairly upbeat because I had just heard the news that English Heritage had put the cottage on its ‘At Risk’ register. I wrote a booklet detailing the current state of the cottage and explaining what needs to be done about it and had it printed in time for a literary event which I attended last Saturday. But now four things have happened which change the circumstances entirely.
The Blake Cottage Trust has acquired a new Trustee, whose name is Jonathan Mullard. I did a spot of detective work and discovered that as well as being a Trustee of the BCT, he is also the secretary of the Blake Society – both organisations run and dominated by Tim Heath – so I thought I’d better find out a bit more about him. I sent him a message suggesting that we should talk. Rather to my surprise, he phoned me. I didn’t find out anything out about him AT ALL apart from the fact that he comes from the north and is ‘an optimist’, which he told me over and over again as if he was waving a flag.
The next day, very much to my surprise, I had a phone call from a friendly lady from English Heritage who is called called Alma Howell. Among other things she wanted to know how I felt about the cottage after Jonathan Mullard’s phone call. I told her it had left me seriously depressed. Her reaction was a surprise. It upset her. She actually said ‘Oh no!’ with real passion and it plainly wasn’t the answer she had expected. It made me wonder why. At which point I began to smell a rat.
The third thing that happened was a e-mail from a lady called Adriana Diaz Encisco, who has been a long standing member of the Blake Society, was the secretary of the Society for several years and probably knows more about the workings of the organisation that anybody else I can think of. She too had been contacted by our Jonathan Mullard, who had told her to take down the blog she had written about the cottage. How arrogant and overbearing is that? I told her I hoped she hadn’t done any such thing and she said no, she hadn’t.
The fourth thing was the publication of an article in the Daily Telegraph, which has been put on Facebook by a lady from the Felpham Village Conservation Society, and, although I’m sure it wasn’t the writer’s intention, it made the current situation horrifically clear. I’m going to quote from it at length.
In the first paragraph the writer says ‘Campaigners SEEK TO DEMOLISH A 1970s EXTENSION to the 17th Century building.’ That is simply not true. 500 people in Felpham signed a petition asking for the cottage to be repaired and Tim Heath completely ignored it. You will find the details in my booklet. The person who wants to pull down the extension is Tim Heath. There are details about that in the booklet too.
In the 3rd paragraph, he says, ‘BCT is seeking £450,000 for repairs.’
In the 4th paragraph he reports, ‘Jonathan Mullard said, ”We’re fund-raising. PART OF THAT MONEY WILL BE TO REMOVE THE 1970 FEATURES.’ Jonathan Mullard is quoting Tim Heath directly. That is what he has planned from the beginning..
In the 10th paragraph, he says …’his cottage, which Trustees hope to make suitable for visitors and CREATIVE RESIDENCES by 2027.’ Jonathan Mullard is quoting Tim Heath again. See my booklet for a full explanation.
By this point in the article it is plain and clear that Jonathan Mullard is speaking and acting on behalf of Tim Heath AND NOBODY ELSE. There are now so many rats for me to smell I feel like the Pied Piper.
Now is the time for all good men and women to come to the aid of the Cottage. It is sorely in need of your help.
It is now a hundred years since the first poppies were worn to commemorate the young men who had been so brutally killed in the first world war. A lot has changed since then, BUT there are still wars and men, women and children are still killed. There is still an appalling and terrifying cruelty embedded in the hearts of far too many people and we STILL haven’t found any way of dealing with this plague in our midst. And it is a plague and it does need dealing with, more and more urgently as more and more people go on giving horrific evidence of it.
Cruelty does not happen on the spur of the moment, it is deeply engrained in the hearts and minds and feelings of very badly damaged and excruciatingly dangerous people, men and women alike.
So today on this hundredth anniversary, I’m writing this blog with pity for the men and horses massacred so terribly in the first world war, for the men women and children killed in so many terrible ways during the second world war and every other wretched war since. For the people killed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, for all those men, women, children and animals hurt and tormented by the angrily dangerous people who live amongst us.
I shall wear my poppy at my literary event on Saturday, it’s already pinned to my black shawl as you can see.
And I shall use poems to express what those of us who abhor the cruel disease that stalks our society. The first is by Wilfred Own who died in the First World War and wrote some of the most moving poetry I have ever read. ‘I am not concerned with poetry,’ he said. ‘My subject is War, and the pity of War. The poetry is in the pity… All a poet may do today, is warn.’
DULCE ET DECORUM EST By Wilfred Owen
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge, Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs, And towards our distant rest began to trudge. Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots, But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind; Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time, But someone still was yelling out and stumbling And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.— Dim through the misty panes and thick green light, As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams before my helpless sight, He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace Behind the wagon that we flung him in, And watch the white eyes writhing in his face, His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin; If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,— My friend, you would not tell with such high zest To children ardent for some desperate glory, The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori.
The second poem is mine and owes a very great deal to Wilfred Owen. Repec’ Wilfred.
Poppies that once bled pity in the Flanders fields Are ritualised today to paper prettiness. It’s the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month The exact poetic time when the war that was to end all wars That should never, in all conscience, have begun Dragged its ravaged, shell-shocked, blood-soaked length To a stunned stop In the dumb, dead darkness of a corpse-gorged year.
Now it is men and rivers that are gorged In the greed and thoughtless muddle of our time. And only winter stirs long-hidden truth, When furrows fill with water Whitely reflecting an impassive sky. Bare branches darken in a north-east wind And the old cold shrinks a sullen earth, Smites the caked hides of shivering cattle Soon to be killed to feed our appetites. And touches our too sentimental skin.
Yet Folly still stands proud with its paper flower, To parrot out the politicians’ lie. ‘They died that we might live’. Not so. Not so. Oh, it was never so. They died like cattle, herded, scared and young Because, like cattle, they were sent to die.
If you’re anywhere near Bognor Regis railway station on Saturday morning, do take a few minutes to visit ‘The Track’, this is a brand new venue which has just been opened. Some of you may not even have heard of yet, but I think it may turn out to be well worth a visit. It is a new public centre in the station, where the waiting room used to be and this Saturday it will be the venue for locally based books and the authors who have written them and it has been organised by the Bognor Regis Heritage Partnership.
I think it should be quite a lively occasion. Authors’ get togethers usually are, because it is always fun to meet our readers and get to know a bit about them.
I shall be there this Saturday the 13th November, from 10am to 2.30pm, to sell and autograph my books – and a new booklet specially written for the occasion – and meet my readers old and new.
‘William Blake cottage at risk of being lost, says Historic England. Home where he wrote Jerusalem, in Felpham, West Sussex, one of 130 places on 2021 at-risk register’ – Today’s Guardian
I think I must have had a fairy godmother hidden away in my history somewhere, for what has happened and is happening today seems more than a coincidence. After years out in the wilderness, battling away to save our Blake’s Cottage, the building is now marvellously in the news, both local and national with an article in the national Guardian this morning and an item on BBC Radio 4. Historic England have at last put this precious building on their ‘buildings at risk’ register. My war horse was waiting beside my breakfast table this morning. At last, at last. And not a minute before time, as you can see from this picture of the rotting roof.
And as if this weren’t good fortune enough, I have just this week taken delivery of a batch of booklets all about the cottage which I had written specially for sale at the Bognor Regis literary event which will take place in ‘The Track’ in Bognor Regis station (no, really, I’m not kidding!), next Saturday as ever is from 10.30am onwards.
Now the campaign proper to save our cottage before it’s too late, can begin. By now, I have a very good idea about the things that should be done and the order in which we should do them in order to have the maximum impact. There IS a way to save our cottage. I’m painting the sign-post now.
I must apologize for giving this blog such a coarse and vulgar title but I couldn’t think of another one that was more suitable because this week the news has been dominated by raw sewage, which our private water companies are being allowed to dump in our rivers and lakes and all around the sea coast. As you see here.
The Labour MP for Streatham, Bell Ribiero-Addy, (Respec’ Bell) put it very succinctly on Twitter
‘Private water companies,’ she wrote, ‘are crapping on us from a great height. The average household in England pays £53 a year on top of their water bills to subsidise shareholders’ dividends. How do they repay us? By piping sewage into our rivers, lakes and the sea.’
And Jon Trickett MP (Respec’ Jon) listed the private water companies at fault. Here is his list
‘70% of our waterways,’ he wrote, ‘are owned by:
Malaysian Corp. Cayman Islands based
US Hedge funds
German Asset Firm
US Equity Corps
UAE, Kuwait and China Investment
Australian Global Asset Corp.
‘They pollute our waters,’ he says, ‘overcharging and move profits abroad. Public ownership is the answer.’
So what had happened to make the water companies feel secure about behaving in such a high-handed and anti-social way? Well to put it briefly, 265 Tory MPs had voted against an amendment to a government bill put down by the Duke of Wellington which would have made such behaviour illegal.
The amendment is very clear and seems absolutely reasonable, I quote it here:“141ZA Duty on sewerage undertakers to take all reasonable steps to ensure untreated sewage is not discharged from storm overflows“.
Nevertheless 265 Tory MPs either decided to vote against it on their own behalf or were whipped into into voting against it. And the news of their decision broke on social media early in the week when all of the 265 were named and shamed and had their mug shots on display. The outcry against them from their constituents and others was immediate, massive and furious. ‘Allons enfants’ I could almost smell the gunpowder.
And in Wednesday’s Guardian, a guarded article by Helena Horton headed ‘Ministers in partial U-turn over sewage amendment’
22 Conservative MPs had rebelled against the government to vote in favour of the amendment and after the outcry against the 265 one of the rebels who is called Phillip Dunne and is the chair of the Environment Audit Committee admitting that ‘although it was just 22 of us last week, awareness of this issue has been raised. There were many who abstained and many who did not understand the gravity of the issue, who have been made aware by constituents and colleagues.’
Certainly the figures she quotes in this article are big enough to make the more timid MPs think again. There were 403,171 sewage spills into English rivers and Seas in 2020, according to the Environment Agency, totally more that 3.1 million hours of spillages.
Entendez-vous, dans les campagnes
Mugir ces féroces soldats?
Ils viennent jusque dans nos bras
Égorger nos fils, nos compagnes.
The 265 have certainly done their fair share of Mugir-ing and although they’re not yet cutting throats, they are certainly risking the health of all our citizens and I kid you not. The sort of infection that you can catch from untreated sewage is hideously and painfully unpleasant. I know because it happened to me when I was seventeen. I’ll explain briefly. I spent a lot of my time during summer holiday swimming and that summer I had swum most days from a battered red buoy about a mile out at sea, I didn’t know it marked the outlet for raw sewage, but the result was that I caught streptococcus and was seriously ill for more than six weeks. To give you some idea how seriously, I weighed 9st 10, when I caught the illness, but 7st 4, by the time I could stand up again. Raw sewage is bloody dangerous.
I’m going to give the penultimate word to Pam Ayres who has written one of her splendid poems about it all. Respec’ Pam.
Now river life is dying And turning up its feet Along the Shitcreek River Where vapours ain’t so sweet Where water ain’t so crystal Where sewage oozes down Along the Shitcreek River Where the waters turning brown.
And the final word is another poem and that’s called ‘It’s no good thinking about it.’ I wrote it in March 1978 at the start of the Winter of Discontent.
A plastic mind is cheap and closed And will admit no growth, All change resisted till it warps or splits Or both.
Neon opinion’s automatic flash Requires no thought, Will change electric colour in an instant, And can be bought.
Flotsam democracy of empty heads; One name, one vote, Even on tides of grief and poverty Will simply float.
Fear is the silencer on tyranny’s gun. The observant know what’s wrong Yet acquiesce because the threat is aimed At their own young
An open mind can suffer fear and pain As well as growth. Perhaps a lack of thought is preferable, Defence not sloth.
Our helpless anomie in the grip of power may prove That atrophy is best, Since we survive if we reduce ourselves To plastic like the rest.
And yet. And yet. The happy tyrant should not quite forget.
Plastic can warp, can split, Or can become In the ultimate despair of powerlessness, A terrorist bomb.
This illustration probably looks rather odd, but that is because it is rather special. It is a picture of my old darling and me on one of our jaunts with our grandchildren, taken by my lovely granddaughter amanuensis, a copy of which I’ve had on my wall ever since. But this is a different copy, because it’s a mosaic composed of more than 300 pictures of my family. Hanging on the wall now, it is possible to see one picture after another, which has been a great comfort in these days of lockdown and uncertainty.
In fact, I went back to it for comfort after I’d read a tweet from a new writer asking us how other writers coped when people arrived and wanted her attention and she wanted to write. I wrote back to tell her that the people who are visiting her and especially those who were friends or related to her should always come first, because people are the important thing. In short people not paper.
I knew that even before the pandemic but oh, how the pandemic has driven it home. It was absolutely horrible to be able to see so few of my family when I wanted to see and cuddle them all, the way I always had. Being in a bubble was and is so limiting. I have a lot of family, two daughters, five grandchildren and eleven great-grandchildren, seven of whom I see frequently and love to bits.
A loved family is a tangle of gossamer threads that bind us to life. I cannot imagine any torture more terrible then living on my own.
So greetings all you families everywhere, take joy in one another whenever you can. You are worth it.
And by that I don’t mean consult your doctor, but actually see him or her face to face. It is apparently quite a rare thing these days to be allowed to the surgery to actually sit in a room and see your doctor and get a few answers about what is wrong with you.
Personally, I can’t remember the last time I did that. I have quite a lot wrong with me now – bits falling off every time I turn round! – so I do tend to use the surgery rather more often then younger and fitter people. But the appointments are usually over the phone, which would be all right if I could hear well (which I can’t even with hearing aids) or augment my hearing by lipreading, which is what I usually do, but there are two drawbacks to lipreading as I rapidly discovered. One is that you can’t do it if you’re both wearing masks as most sensible people still are, nor can it be done over the phone.
Yesterday I found that I had a repeat of the vertigo that spins my head round a great deal, makes it difficult to stand unaided or to turn round, so I rang the surgery and to my great surprise I actually got to talk to one of the doctors in the team. Unfortunately, although she was kindly, she sounded as though she was Indian and spoke softly, so her English was very difficult for me to understand and hear. She did her best and I did mine, but it was tricky. But even so, we made a sort of sense of it and she was very kind and very helpful.
And now this morning the Guardian has run a headline to say ‘Face-to-face appointments plan could lead to exodus of doctors’ and goes on to explain that the Governments plan to force GPs to see every patient in person will make life so difficult for surgeries that there will be an exodus of doctors who are already under serious pressure because of the pandemic. Oh how I wish we had a government that would listen to the needs and problems of the people they purport to lead instead of just bullying them.
There are some alarming facts and figures that Government ministers have failed to read and/or simply ignored, NHS Digital official figures show ‘that the number of full time equivalent GPs in England has fallen from 29,403 in September 2015 to 28,023 – a fall of 1,380.’ ‘In addition, the 4% rise in England’s population since 2015 means there is now just one full-time equivalent GP for every 2,045 patients.’
I would call that a cause for concern, not a reason to apply a bullying technique. We need our doctors, paramedics, nurses, surgeons and we have always needed them because none of us know when we will fall ill and need them desperately and now we have a pandemic to contend with as well as all the normal illnesses ‘that flesh is heir to’. Perhaps we need some genuine face to face talk between doctors and MPs but that would require the sort of humility on the part of the MPs that very few of them now show any signs of possessing.
Perhaps we should be standing up and shouting ‘we need our NHS. WE DO NOT WANT IT TO BE PRIVATISED!’ It is horribly possible that this government will make the morons among us hate their doctors by using this campaign to get them overworked as they are, to obey government rules and see all patients face to face, but the rest of us will recognise bullying for what it is and go on admiring and being grateful for our NHS. Oh if we only had a government that understands the meaning of compassion and cooperation.
And in the meantime our Prime Mendacitor is on holiday in a costly property in Marbella posing in the sun, pretending paint and pretending to be Winston Churchill. Yuck!