WORDS, WORDS, WORDS. AN ADMIRABLE NOVEL AND A BUMMER OF A PLAY.

I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to the way so many politicians say one thing and do another, and how often their actions contradict their words. They brag and bray about the wonderful things they are going to do for us – they’re very good at ‘jam tomorrow’ – and all the time, behind our backs and secretly, their actions are destructive and hurtful and often the exact reverse of the wonderful things they talk about. Words are all very well but ‘by their deeds shall ye know them’. But sometimes the words people use reveal more about what they think and believe than they realise. All of which has made me return to an excellent and entertaining novel.

It is called ‘Various Pets Alive and Dead’, is written by Marina Lewycha and, like all her books, is warm, quirky, perceptive and wonderfully funny. This one deals with a grown up family who were brought up in a commune which, according to them, was all high ideals and endless lentils, and are now earning their living in a variety of ways. Oolie-Anna, the youngest who has Down’s Syndrome, works in a factory and is often wildly and unintentionally funny; Clara her big sister is as socially aware and responsible as her parents and works in a run-down Primary School in a very poor district; big brother Serge, on the other hand, is aiming to be one of the moneyed elite and works in the City in a finance house called FATCA gambling with figures on the screen in front of him. He already has £1.21 million in a bank account and wants more. His boss, who is nicknamed Chicken, makes no secret of his philosophy. He spends a lot of his time in Downing Street. ‘trying to firm up the Government’s commitment to the role of the financial sector in the national economy’ and reminding the politicians ‘that what’s good for the banks is good for Britain.’ Sound familiar?

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He has open contempt for anyone who works but doesn’t make money for the financial sector. ‘They’re not productive,’ he says. By which he means, ‘Nobody’s making money out of them. Think – if it was all in the private sector. Schools. Universities, Prisons. Hospitals, Sheltered Housing. Residential homes. Think of the business opportunities.’ Sound familiar? This is the world we are all living in.

But of course it isn’t just millionaires and politicians who say one thing and do another. Lesser mortals do it too. We have a horrible example of it in Felpham. But to begin at the beginning.

Earlier this week Facebook reminded me that this Saturday is the second anniversary of a talk I gave in the Museum at Worthing. It was part of a ‘Blake evening’ and I was telling the story of Blake’s three years in Felpham and his trial for sedition. The audience was rather small but a few of them had come specifically to hear about Blake in Felpham, which was gratifying. The rest were self-styled poets who had come to read their poetry to one another, and a team of actors who had come to give a read-through of a new play about Blake’s death. The organiser thought very highly of this play because it had been given the seal of approval by the Chairman of the Blake Society, no less. I wondered how the playwright was going to make a drama out of a death that was so peaceful and joyous. Our Blake welcomed his death and died singing hymns because he believed he would ‘soon see Jesus’.

But sadly the playwright’s Blake was a very different character. He spent his time ranting about a ‘Tic’ that was plaguing him. Hmm! And Kate, who in real life was a gentle quiet woman, was portrayed as a 21st Century harridan, screaming and arguing with anyone who came her way. Hmm! And as if that weren’t bad enough, there were anachronistic mistakes at every turn. The worst was when a character who was apparently ‘an amalgam of John Linnard and William Hayley’ burst onto the death scene, screaming at Kate. ‘He’s ill. You must get a doctor. He needs a blood transfusion.’ I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Hayley died seven years before Blake; poor people couldn’t afford to call a doctor until 1948; and blood transfusions didn’t come in until WW2. Treble Hmmm!

And who was the man who gave this appalling play his seal of approval? You may well ask. He certainly didn’t know much about Blake whoever he was. Well, it was none other than Tim Heath, the man who now ‘owns’ Blake’s cottage and spends his time and energy feeding pipe-dreams to the local press about how he’s going to erect a wonderful, million pound building in the garden of the cottage where he will encourage and foster ‘thousands of geniuses’. And the local papers lap it up while the cottage falls further and further into decay. His message is simple and familiar. ‘Pay no attention to what I’m doing – or in his case not doing – just listen to what I’m saying.’

What a world we live in!

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This entry was posted on May 6, 2018. 1 Comment

e-book publication of Two Silver Crosses

This is a novel about twin girls, one blind and the other sighted, born just after the first world war, and it was handed to me on a plate – or to be more accurate a butler’s serving dish – back in the 80s.

Roy and I were visiting Uppark House and had reached the butler’s pantry where everything was laid out ready for the master’s breakfast. I was marveling at the fact that the newspaper, which was The Times, had been ironed until there were no creases in it. It lay on the dish pristine and perfect and I looked at it idly, admiring it. The first page was given over to advertisements as the papers were in those days and one of them caught my eye.

“Would twin sisters (they were named but I’ve forgotten what the names were) last seen at Victoria station boarding the boat train to Paris and each wearing about her neck a silver cross, please contact the above named Solicitors where they will hear something to their advantage.”

It was a gift. It set my mind spinning where I stood. Why were they going to Paris? What advantageous news were they going to hear? I got out my notebook and copied at it all down and, as I drove home, the story was growing in my head.

And now here it is as an e-book, years after Uppark House was burnt down, taking the newspaper with it and years after it was first published, putting in an appearance again.

Find it on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07C61QGG9

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Alive and Kicking is now on ebook!

Endeavour have put another book from my back list up on Kindle.

Alive and Kicking was set in Lambeth, not far from Lambeth Walk and its market, at the start of the First World War and it features a poor orphaned family, who live in two small rooms in Ritsy Street, down by the Thames, and are looked after by big brother Bertie and their sister Rose.

It is available on Amazon now: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07CDQYJCW/#

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This entry was posted on April 16, 2018. 4 Comments

Fake news, fantasies and pipe-dreams vs. the truth

I’m going to start this blog by quoting from a blog written by Adriana Diaz-Encisco, because she has put the thing I most wanted to say, into skilled and powerful words, which I can’t better. This is what she writes:

We live in times when it’s easy to lose our grip on reality and start living entirely in a fantasy world. Our overdose on what we call technological advances has made of the disconnection, dissociation and disintegration of our minds a strange commodity.”

It is very noticeable in the publishing world that so many bestsellers are horror, fantasies, science fiction and time-slip stories – none of them based on reality. The same can be said for films, TV shows and videos. There is a great and growing taste for stories that will frighten us, shock us, even disgust us. It is a very far cry from the world of Peter Pan, which was also a fairy story and a fantasy, but in those days, those of us who read it and watched it recognised it and enjoyed it for what it was. Now look at our current taste for horrors. It’s enough to blow our minds. In fact, like Adriana, I wonder whether this appetite for horrors and fantasies has done us serious damage.
Do the majority of us now know how to distinguish between the truth and a lie? All these fantasy worlds that are created are lies and unreal, they shock us, frighten us, take us into realms we would otherwise ignore, but do we know they are based on a lie?

All this is bad enough, but in the political world it is a great deal worse and we only have to look at the Brexit bus to see how much worse it is. This was a piece of propaganda and very skillfully handled by men who are masters of the skilled lie. It does not say ‘We will fund our NHS with money we would otherwise send to the EU,’ which would be a straightforward promise. It uses a hint instead, saying grandly ‘let’s fund our NHS instead’ and millions believed it and voted leave on the strength of it. Boris Johnson disclaimed it later when all this was pointed out to him, by saying it was a joke. But it was no joke, it was a straightforward con and a lie.

Nowadays we also have to strain our brains to distinguish between real news and what is called ‘fake’ news or in other words what is a deliberate lie. The trouble is, a very large number of people are conned by it. ‘It was in the papers,’ they say, ‘so it must be true.’ And very sadly when you try to tell them that it’s a lie they close their ears as cognitive dissonance kicks in. It is extremely worrying to see how many people can’t distinguish between a lie and the truth in circumstances like this.

Adriana and I have seen this persuasive process at work during the time we have been struggling to get the Blake Cottage Trust to repair the cottage. They are now, I’m sorry to say, very firmly in the realm of fantasy. Take a look at these pictures and you’ll see what I mean. They are the drawings and plans produced by MICA an expensive architectural company for Mr Tim Heath.

This is the cottage as it is, sadly in need of repair but still full of character.

 

 

 

 

This is the pipe-dream cottage.

And these are pictures of the magnificent half a million/two million pound extension that Tim Heath dreams of building in the garden.

As Adriana says:

“In this context, I wonder whether if the Blake Cottage Trust’s three Trustees have really lost it altogether now, whether if they are trying to take advantage of the gullibility of contemporary men- and women-folk, ever more willing to believe in what is not actually there, or a combination of both.

Be as it may, we recently had a chance to see an article on the Bognor Regis Observer, boasting 3D images of Blake’s Cottage (new Blake’s Cottage 3D images).  The reader could access this piece of entertainment by watching the accompanying video: a slide show created by MICA, the architecture firm that the BCT has chosen to help them do as they wish. The video has an interesting caption telling us that we’re looking at images “of what a fully restored Blake’s Cottage would look like”. That is, we’re watching images belonging to the realm of make-believe.”

 

‘Images belonging to the realm of make-believe’, please notice, not my truthful pictures of the state the cottage is actually in, I have still to find a local reporter or a local newspaper that will give them as much publicity as Tim Heath’s fantasy.

World Poetry Day – a bit late

I wasn’t alerted to the fact that yesterday was World Poetry Day until it was nearly over! But I hope you will forgive me if I celebrate it a day late.

There are so many superb poets, men and women who have written in English, that it seems invidious to single out half a dozen. Those of us who love poetry could list scores if not hundreds but I have tried to restrict my list to the ones I have admired the most. And top of my list has got to be our superlative Shakespeare, although trying to sort out which of his many poems I want to quote here is like taking my pick from a gigantic box of chocolates. Perhaps Sonnet 116:

Let me not to the marriage of two minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when alteration finds
Or bends with the remover to remove:
Oh no! It is an ever fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken.

 

Read to the end oh gentle readers, it’s well worth it. 

And here’s our lovely, passionate Blake, crying out against the injustices of his time.

A robin redbreast in a cage
Puts all heaven in a rage
A dog starved at his master’s gate
Predicts the ruin of the State
A horse misused upon the road
Calls to heaven for human blood.
Each outcry of the hunted hare
A fibre from the brain does tear.

And here’s Elizabeth Barrett Browning, writing from the heart to the man she loved.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.

A loving woman and an admirable man, her poet husband. His dramatic monologues take us into the minds of a whole variety of characters, from a libertine monk to a murderer, but this is the character I think I like best.

One who never turned his back but marched breast forward,
Never doubted clouds would break, never dreamed, though right were worsted, wrong would triumph,
Held we fall to rise, are baffled to fight better,
Sleep to wake.

 

 

And now the moderns are crowding into my mind. Jenny Joseph’s ‘Warning’ us in her idiosyncratic way.

 

 

 

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells

Read on, I dare you and see if it doesn’t make you laugh out loud in sympathy. I’ve got my purple dress ready and my red hat!

And here is Dannie Abse, who was a doctor and wrote this poem about the amazing smile that a newly delivered woman gives to her baby.

He called it ‘The smile was’.

 

 

that effulgent, tender, satisfied
smile of a woman
who, for the first time
hears the child crying the world
for the very first time

That agreeable, radiant smile—
no man can smile it
no man can paint it
as it develops without fail
after the gross, physical, knotted,
granular, bloody endeavor.
Such a pure spirituality, from all that!

I could go on forever about one poet or another – the Mersey poets who are  rough, tough and funny. Robert Frost who takes you to an ordinary world and makes you see it in a completely new way. Robert Graves who survived the first world war to write superlative lyrics and Wilfred Owen who wrote during the war and was killed by it, who wrote:

My subject is war and the pity of war. The poetry is in the pity.

But I will let my last word come from Shelley, who spoke powerfully to the downtrodden poor of his generation and speaks equally pertinently to the downtrodden poor of ours.

 

Rise like lions after slumber,
In unvanquisable number –
shake your chain to earth like dew
which in sleep had fallen on you
Ye are many – they are few.

 

 

This entry was posted on March 22, 2018. 4 Comments

Dixie brings down the curtain

Dixie, I’m afraid is facing his second court appearance in as many weeks. I can’t actually say this was willful damage because it surprised him as much as it surprised me but to begin at the beginning.

We were waiting patiently for our supper to cook, I was watching the television, he was playing with his favourite toy, tossing it into the air, chasing it happily all over the room and holding it down and kicking it with his back paws, so as to put it in its place and generally having a happy time with it. But he tossed it into the air once too often and it disappeared behind the curtains. This could plainly not be allowed. He leapt after it through the small gap between the curtains, teeth and claws at the ready prepared to do battle. But it didn’t quite work out that way. Within half a second he was swinging from one of the curtains and both curtains, pole and part of the wall were tumbling into the room. I don’t know which of us was the more surprised.

I have matching pairs of curtains at each end of my living room, as you can see from this picture of the undamaged pair! Now I have one end of the room looking as it should and the other looking more like a bombsite.

He wishes you to know that the damage was unintentional and to understand that of course he had to deal very thoroughly with the run-away catnip. It was just that the curtains happened to get in the way. He finds it quite hard to understand that I would beg to differ.

He certainly knows how to bring down the curtain, I suppose I must count myself lucky that he didn’t bring the house down!

Cat pie anyone?

 

This entry was posted on March 14, 2018. 2 Comments

The UK Southern Book Show

I spent last Sunday in the Pavilion Theatre on Worthing Pier as part of The UK Southern Book Show. It was organised by an independent, friendly writer called Natasha Murray who gathered independently published writers from all over the South and even further afield and produced this poster, which as you can see, is very eye-catching. The object of the exercise was to provide a stand where independently published writers could display their books and their posters and whatever other publicity material they had produced and sell to as many book-lovers as could be coxed into the theatre. They were also offered the chance to address their audience and say how good their books were.

It didn’t work. And the reason it didn’t work was obvious from the moment the first speaker took to the stage. The auditorium seats six hundred people according to one of the front of house team whom I asked. But there were never more than ten people sitting there and often fewer, so the speakers were talking to a virtually empty theatre and couldn’t make eye contact with anyone, which is essential for a good speech. And they were so far away from the people they hoped would be listening to them, that they might just as well not have been there.  The noise was deafening because the walkways were full of people, all talking at once and talking to one another and although the speakers had a microphone, it was almost impossible when we were sitting at our tables, to hear them. I tried hard but heard very little because people were talking to me at my post at the table.

When I finally got up to make my own speech, I discovered how desperately isolated it was up there on that stage. The lighting was harsh, so without holding your hand up to shade your eyes, you couldn’t see the few people who were sitting in front of you. The noise of the microphone was even harsher. I gave up after a few minutes, smiled in case anybody was noticing, although I don’t think they were, said ‘over and out I think’ and went back to my stall.

 

The sad thing is, that this sort of event can be handled successfully, as I know because I attend a similar event, every year, in Selsey. It is held in a small hall where the tables are set all round the walls and people have plenty of room to walk from one to the other so the noise level doesn’t reach booming proportions as it did in the theatre, because there are no speakers there, only buyers and sellers. The Selsey venue, is nowhere near as handsome as the Pavilion Theatre but it works.

It was pleasant to meet up with authors I knew and people I’d taught many years ago or taught with, but none of us were selling many books, which is what it was all supposed to be about. But it was sad too. I began to wonder whether Oswald Moseley had put a curse on the place. He spoke in this very theatre in the ’30’s and led his storm-troopers out on to the promenade, in their black uniforms and jack boots and all bellowing ‘England for the English’ in their hideous way. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.

 

This entry was posted on March 8, 2018. 1 Comment