3 feet under

No take heart, it’s not about a funeral, I could have called it ‘fishing for information’, but I wanted to tease you!

Book 32 has stalled a bit because I don’t know enough about rather too many things, like how firemen cope with 2 cars on fire, how the social services cope with a child orphaned in a road accident, how teachers in nursery and primary schools cope with abused children.

A teacher in a nursery school was the easiest to find. My first granddaughter teaches in a local one and has told me lots of interesting and fascinating things about the way they are trained to deal with such difficulties and has shown me pictures of her pupils having a wow of a time playing and learning, which made me cheer because it was so good.

I haven’t used any of her pictures on this blog because that would be encroaching on their very necessary privacy. But I need to know a lot more about what it is like in nursery schools today, so hers are the first pair of feet on their way to help me.

The second pair of feet belong to senior fireman called a District Commander who has promised to visit me and let me pick his brains. How’s that for a helper? But isn’t it typical of firemen.

And the third, you will find at the end of the legs of my grandson-in-law who was a policeman, who attended a good many road accidents and is a sweetie if he wouldn’t mind me saying so.

The fourth thing I will need to find out is what the adoption process is like now. My little sister was adopted but I’m afraid she can’t remember very much about it as it happened when she was six months old!

But I shall need to get the fire out of the way first. Oh it’s all go writing a novel!

This entry was posted on September 30, 2021. 1 Comment

Swings and roundabouts

I’m sitting on a fence here this afternoon looking at a fairground and wondering whether I would prefer to be spun round at great speed high in the air or tossed up and down while I was being spun round and round on the ground. Either of the options brings on my vertigo merely to think about it.

And of course I need hardly tell you, there’s a book at the bottom of it all. I finished book 31 at the end of August and sent it to my agent. Unfortunately my timing was very poor – even for me – for the dear girl was about to go off on her holiday to Italy, so here I am biting my nails to the quick waiting for her to come back to London and read my offering.

The trouble is, this time, I have written a book that could give considerable satisfaction to one group of my readers, but on the other hand it might well make another group recoil with revulsion.

Because – shush – it is about – double shush – politics. My anti-hero is fictional. But he is a type who has become very familiar to us in recent years, a politician who tells lies every time he opens his mouth. His whole life is a lie and his behaviour is appalling. He treats his various women very badly, abuses his son, treats his wife like a well dressed servant, is determined never to pay tax on any of the vast fortune he has amassed and is still amassing. He is in every way selfish, self-centred and self-satisfied. But because this is fiction and I can do what I like with a fictional character, he gets a terrible comeuppance. The big problem is whether his book will ever reach the point when it can see the light of printed day.

In the meantime I must bite what’s left of my nails, get on with book 32, and try to contain my soul in patience.

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

How politicians persuade one set of people to hate another.

Or to put it another way, how they use Government propaganda.

Yesterday I listened in on Twitter to a group of people who were ranting against the ‘sins’ of their neighbours. Their topic was the proposed increase in National Insurance contributions, so I started to listen in to see what they would have to say about it. They were set off originally by a picture of a Victorian soup kitchen run by Barnardo’s and a crowd of ragged and dirty children waiting patiently for something to eat. The trouble was that it led them to a series of terrible rants about the profligacy of the poor and how they could run cars and go on holiday and down to the pub, but didn’t bother to feed their children.

Here’s one ranting in answer to something Keir Starmer had said in another Tweet.

‘Not saying there are not some people who need help but many of us know a lot of these poor families have Sky, smoke, drink go on holidays go down the pub run cars, and pay no taxes etc so long as we help real poor people I would support it’ @wardmgw697

It’s an old, old story and could be summed up by a single phrase. ‘The undeserving poor.’ Underneath it is the belief (now totally erroneous) that if you work hard you can earn sufficient money to feed yourself and your children and keep a roof over your heads. This through our history has never been true. Landlords and employers use their ‘hands’ to work long hours on very little pay and they’ve always got away with it, because they are the rich elite and the poor are ‘worthless’.

Read any part of our national history and you will see they poor grouping together and trying by dint of numbers to change the terrible situation they are in, hence the Chartists and the Peterloo Massacre.

Today this struggle is still ongoing because the very poor are still living from hand to mouth and the rich have been growing more and more obscenely rich with every passing year. Their wealth is now a well hidden scandal. ‘Six companies (Serco, Asos, AstraZeneca, Rio Tinto, Tritax Big Bex and Scottish Mortgage) made £16 BILLION in excess profits during the pandemic and received BILLIONS in subsidies on top of all that.’ And ‘UK Billionaires got 22% richer during the pandemic.’

In short – ‘The rich get rich and the poor get poorer.’ And nowadays they have a powerful tool called propaganda to help them to do it and a powerful billionaire owned press and media to propagate their propaganda.

Then this morning, when I opened my blog site I found that somebody had visited a blog I had forgotten, I called it ‘How can we counteract Government propaganda’ and wrote it in April 2016 but as it is so apposite to what is happening now, I’m going to repeat a few bits of it.

The trouble is that propaganda is so easy and so powerful, Dr Goebbels said ‘if you tell a lie often enough, it becomes the truth,’ and when Hitler came to power he followed the repellent doctor’s advice to the letter. His first propaganda campaign led to the most hideous anti-Semitism and eventually and almost inevitably to the Holocaust. It began with a crude but deliberate vilification of the group of people who were going to have to carry the blame for everything that was wrong in Germany, like massive unemployment, poverty, poor pay and the general sense of defeat and depression that followed the first world war. Just take a look at the sort of posters Germans saw as they walked about their streets.

Hitler’s propaganda may have been crude, but it was still effective. It wasn’t long before Germans were beating Jews up in the streets, painting the Star of David on Jewish shops and breaking the shop windows and cheering as the Jews were led away to the cattle trucks and the concentration camps.

It is sad to say that nowadays a scapegoat group is chosen by politicians in much the same abhorrent way but with more subtle persuasion. I’ve watched several groups of people tarred as scapegoats in my own lifetime. When I was a child it was the Irish, in the ’50’s it was ‘blacks’, now it is ‘scroungers’ and ‘idlers’ and ‘hordes’ of refugees who have to be stopped before they can ‘flood’ over the borders and ruin our economy. There are people in our society now who are already blaming the chosen groups for the difficulties they face in a society completely under the power of the obscenely moneyed elite, who of course, present themselves as perfect and completely honest. All of which begs the very pertinent question, how on earth can we persuade people who have been given a lifetime of ‘perception programming’ that what they believe is based on falsehood?

Oh Aletheia you dear Goddess of truth, we need a bit of help!

This entry was posted on September 21, 2021. 2 Comments

Trying to make sense of the senseLESS.

Two days ago I was brought up short by two unexpected pieces of print. The first was a headline in the Guardian, which made me laugh until I was spluttering into my Grape Nuts. ”PM stakes reputation on £12bn health plan.” Reputation?? What reputation were they thinking about? Certainly not a respected one. The man is a compulsive liar, a careless parent, a racist and a fascist. He is jumped up, greedy, lazy, conceited, incompetent and totally self-centred. Wherever he goes, he has to be the centre of attention, even clowning about with an umbrella at a serious public ceremony. We have never had a Prime Minister who was so totally and dangerously unsuited to the job. And if this mistake unseats him, there are lots of us who will thank God for it, even though we know his replacement will be just as bad.

However that was trivial compared to the next thing that made me stop in my tracks. It was written by a group of mid-list romantic writers whom I knew vaguely through twitter. They usually talk shop in a kindly sort of way and tell one another about their books but yesterday they suddenly turned venomous. It was a very nasty shock.

They were furious because they had heard about Johnson’s proposed new ‘social care’ tax and knew that that would mean paying another 1.25% on their National Insurance contributions. Fair enough. It’s a cruel burden to impose on all of us and especially on those who are the poorest in our society and can afford it least, especially when a small wealth tax on his billionaire friends would cover the cost of the NHS and social care and then some. But this was not what was rousing the fury of this particular group.

They were enraged because they ‘knew’ – I wonder what newspaper they read – that the money would be used to support the hordes of ‘foreigners’ from Afghanistan who would soon be ‘swarming’ here across the Channel. They should be stopped, they wrote. It wasn’t right or fair. We don’t want our money given away to foreigners. On and on and on, one after the other. One of them mentioned Farage with obvious admiration – probably remembering his obnoxious description of the RNLI as ”a taxi service for migrants” and said she would like him to be the next PM.

Photograph: Andrew Fosker/REX/Shutterstock

And the more I read, the more clearly I saw Hitler’s ranting face and the swastika marked arms of the Blackshirts, the cattle trucks heading to the concentration camps, the obscene heaps of skeletal dead bodies.

Which made me wonder – not for the first time – How is it that people can be roused so easily to such an appalling hatred of others? And even more importantly, what can the rest of us do, if anything, to help them to see how wrong they are?

There were lots of possible answers on Twitter yesterday morning. One man listed the huge sums of money the Tories have given away to their friends during the pandemic. ”The Tories gave £2 billion of government contracts to ‘friends and donors’ during the pandemic, spent £37 billion on Test and Trace, wasted 3.1 billion on PPE that was useless, and paid Serco 50 million a month.”

RD Hale wrote ”When Tories vote to make people poorer it’s called ‘sensible economics’ but when the poor object to poverty, newspapers accuse them of ‘waging class warfare’ and blame refugees for our falling living standards. And just enough people fall for this.

But that still leaves me with my original questions.

How is it possible for ordinary people to explain to their friends and neighbours, who believe the propaganda that now surrounds us that what they are being told is totally wrong and to do it in a way that will be acceptable. When you’re trying to talk to somebody who is in the throes of a deliberately contrived anger, you are playing with a dangerous fire. When people hate, they find targets everywhere and unless you’re extremely careful in what you say, you could be the next recipient of it. Which is an absolutely horrible situation to be in. Believe me.

Photo credit – https://www.aljazeera.com

I think we all have to hang on to the knowledge that there are gentle and kindly people in every society. We see the ugly and vociferous bellowing in the streets on far too many screens, but they are still – please God – a loud minority.

This entry was posted on September 10, 2021. 6 Comments

Baby fish to delight you

Start typing here 🙂

Great surprise this afternoon when Mary and I went out to feed the fish. As we watched the big fellers sucking the food into their mouths, as if they hadn’t been fed for weeks, we suddenly saw that there were dozens of small fry emerging from the weed at the deep centre of the pond. Not just one or two either. I’ve seen baby fish darting out of the depths in small numbers on many occasions. But this time it was an event. This time they appeared, three, four, ten at a time. They were darting about so quickly and, being baby fish, they were either black or very dark grey brown, so it was impossible to count them but at a guess we must have seen somewhere between twenty and thirty of them. We could hardly believe it and stood beside the pond together squealing as we saw more and more. The old inhabitants just went on gobbling up their food as they usually do and paid no attention to them – fish are careless parents – but we were entranced.

So Mary took pictures and sent them to Charlotte and here they are to entertain you. The three on their own in the first picture are fairly easy to see but you’ll need good eyesight to spot them in the other pictures, especially the one where they’re swimming among the big fish. It made the perfect end to a wonderfully hot day. Enjoy.S

This entry was posted on September 7, 2021. 3 Comments

Book 31 has snuck up on us!

When Lottie and I finished book thirty and had collapsed exhausted on our chaise lounge we both knew that we needed a rest and that it was a very well deserved one. Cue for final curtain.

But we were wrong. I have always kept a list of ideas for books that I might write and in a moment of peculiar foolishness I opened it up to see what sort of thing I might like to write next. And without any warning at all one of the small synopses leapt off the page and grabbed me by the throat! Lottie and I have been working on it all morning, with our fingers crossed that this one won’t take 2 and a half years!

Between us we have now planned the first six chapters, found a stroppy kid, an eccentric grandma, and discovered a lot of useful photographs and a list of places we would like to visit God willing. Some of them are fairly local to us but one is probably somewhere in Australia which doesn’t seem quite so likely as Dorset!

And in addition to that we’ve gathered a lot of snippets that have tempted us, like the decapitated heads decorated London Bridge in the 17th Century and earlier. Oh we like being gruesome! We’ve also explored schools and hospitals and considered a castle and the opening and closing sections are both very clear in my mind. It’s nice to know where you’re coming from and where you’re going.

I think it’s going to be rather fun!

All I need is another two and a half years!

Image credit – http://www.hurstcastle.co.uk

Image credit – http://www.thenewforest.co.uk

This entry was posted on September 2, 2021. 3 Comments

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