Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Autumn Tales of Melancholy and Hope

Autumn was made for melancholy reflection, with a nod to hope and the eventual return of spring. What better way, then, to spend a grey November afternoon than considering the selection of stories and articles on offer in this season’s edition of Vintage Script?

Blue Hat For A Blue Day
Bernie Deehan
Bernie takes us on a trip round 1950s Soho where we meet larger-than-life characters Holloway Harry, Frida—in her ‘big fur coat and red heels’—and the adored Betsy. Bernie’s clever touch blends humour with poignancy, as he describes a society on the cusp between two worlds—the memories of war not so far away, and the beckoning of the new world of beboppers and skiffle kids. Bernie’s tale is a proper story that’s also a snapshot in time of a bygone era, and described so skilfully that you’re breathing in the hot, smoky atmosphere of those Soho jazz clubs…
Tales From The Crypt
Kirsty Ferry
Kirsty—mistress of the Gothic—shows us her dark side in this enthralling account of the unveiling of the Belzoni Sarcophagus by Sir John Soane in 1825. Not only does Kirsty set the scene with her description of the flickering light in the Crypt and the funerary paraphernalia, she also explains Soane’s long-held fascination with death, against a backdrop of the Romantic movement of the day. Get yourself down to Whitby, Kirsty!
The Robin
Nick Brazil
The Robin was inspired by a letter from D. H. Lawrence published many years after his death describing the village in Oxfordshire where the story is set—it’s also where Nick lives. Nick has a photographer’s eye, you can tell, as he sprinkles the story with sharp visual details—the robin scratching at the ground for food, the silhouette of a destroyer in flames seen from a window—which entice you to read more.
Digging Up The Family: The 1918 Influenza Pandemic
Gill Garrett
The effects of the 1918 Spanish ’flu’ pandemic were shocking and far-reaching. Here Gill adds a very personal touch to the story, as she imagines how the disease brought devastation to her ancestor, Mary Garrett. Gill adds a fresh slant to the story interspersing it with scenes from a modern-day virology seminar, adding another layer to this clever tale.
Point Of Contact
E. A. M. Harris
Ann, the heroine of E. A. M. Harris’ story, is modest of her literary talent. The writer captures her spirit beautifully in her understated descriptions: ‘With her left hand she grips the back of a dining chair; in her right she holds a dainty milk jug. It tips dangerously but she pays it no attention…As usual she turns first to her husband’s report of yesterday’s debates in Parliament. At her touch the pages rustle importantly’. The reader is effortlessly drawn into Ann’s life and imagination, and left wanting to know more.

Cathy Mason
Cathy not only describes the Kidderminster weavers’ strike of 1828—she brings it to life with her lively dialogue and vivid description: ‘The jagged chimneys of Kidderminster’s factories cut into the early morning, sea-blue skyline; determining the landscape just as the work inside imprinted itself on their faces’. This well-researched piece has it all: a personal connection with the subject matter, atmosphere and the feeling that the reader is witnessing a remarkable time in history. More please, Cathy!

Autocracy and Democracy: Whitehall in the Political History of the United Kingdom
Michael Montagu
Whitehall—synonymous with power and prestige, and associated with the Remembrance Day parade of this time of year. It’s only fitting that Michael should take us on a behind-the-scenes tour for the Autumn edition. Michael’s an expert at packing his articles full of unexpected details: the lost palace of Whitehall, he tells us, boasted four tennis courts, a cockpit and a bowling alley, and its hunting grounds survive today as St James’ Park, Green Park, Regents Park, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. It’s always good to have an insider to take you on a trip through history, and Michael never disappoints!
Our Day Out
Jennifer Foster
Jennifer gets under the skin of a group of children who visit Salisbury Cathedral not long after the Second World War. Their write-ups of the event are both telling and poignant—revealing their pasts, and their desires and aspirations for the future. The visit has a profound impact on one girl, prompting her to recall a fateful night some years previously: ‘We were going to be evacuated the next day, and I was round the corner at Auntie Mary’s fetching a suitcase when the bomb fell. We dragged and pushed at the rubble, our hands bled, trying to reach Mother and Annie, but there was a fire and the wardens pulled us away’. Another elegant tale from Jennifer.
The Look Every Woman Wanted
Roger Harvey
Roger’s the master of nostalgia with his informative account of the unveiling of Dior’s “New Look” in 1947. His descriptions of the swirling skirts and figure-hugging jackets of Dior’s look make you want to travel back in time and slip them on. Roger’s got a great eye for detail and it’s gems such as, ‘…there could be more than 20 yards of material in one of those New Look skirts,’ that we love!
New Model Army
Gemma Bristow

Vintage Script newcomer Gemma sets the scene beautifully in this Civil War tale, blending description with a tense narrative: ‘
The camp began to break up. Men doused fires and headed for their bedrolls, some in the barn nearby, others on the grass. Denham looked one last time for James’. Short, bitter-sweet and with a twist at the end…perfect!
The Pugilist Parson: The Strange Tale of Radford of Lapford
James Downs
James’ article ticks all the boxes for an autumnal read: a quirky character, tons of atmosphere and an element of danger. There’s no doubt that Radford of Lapford is a shadowy character—‘As a young man he travelled the county in the role of a scissors-grinder, entering fighting and wrestling competitions at rural fairs in places…A well-known drinker, he was often found in Exeter late on a Saturday night, in a “supremely jolly state”’. James’ storytelling is tantalising and urges you to find out more about this man and what made him tick…
The Charcoal Burner’s Daughter
Shirley Cook

Shirley took inspiration from her own family history for her story, where she beautifully describes the art of charcoal-burning: ‘I clear the ruined kiln and smooth the ground. I hammer a wooden stake in the centre and mark the hearth width, then I start to build the flue…I walk back and forth, collecting the cords of oak’. She offsets this precision with evocative descriptions—‘Pigeons coo around me and in the distance a cuckoo calls. May is my favourite month, everything is fresh and the woods are carpets of blue,’—and throws in a hint of romance for good measure. Bravo, Shirley!
The autumn edition of Vintage Script is on sale now.

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Thursday, 29 August 2013

Gateshead Revisited

I had certainly been there before—but only from a distance. We had passed the coppery guardian many times on our travels around the north east, but to encounter it close up was to experience a sense of the Angel’s size, presence and majesty.

Anthony Gormley’s Angel of the North sculpture stands 66 feet tall with a wing-span of 177 feet. It’s a much-loved icon of the north east, and it’s easy to understand why—it embodies pride in the area’s history of mining, it protects the natives and welcomes travellers. Arriving at the site at 9am we expected to be the only tourists there, but within minutes cars and minibuses had arrived and a steady stream of Angel-lovers were lining up to have their pictures taken at its heavenly feet. 150,000 people a year pay the Angel a visit, and it’s seen by 90,000 drivers a day as they pass on the A1. The Angel is a constant in the life of every Geordie—it feels like it’s been there forever and will be forevermore.

The Angel of the North
Elsewhere in the Toon and beyond it was time to catch up with some old haunts and ponder what changes had been made in our absence. Work is finally beginning to revitalise Scotswood—13 years after the area was cleared. Formerly home to Vickers Armstrong workers, the industrial decline led to the area’s degeneration. Happily, residents who had at first opposed the mass clearance and demolition are now excited about, and involved in, the area’s future.

Happy news for Blaydon residents, too, as I understand construction of a new Morrison’s with multi-storey parking is underway adjacent to the Brutalist precinct, through which I have pushed a pram on many an occasion!

Over to Jesmond, known as the posh end of town, and of which I have also been resident. The curious name is derived from its sobriquet “the hill of Jesus” as it’s said that in Norman times the Virgin Mary appeared there with her babe. St Mary’s Chapel—now ruined and enclosed within Jesmond Dene—sprung up in her honour, and Pilgrim Street in Newcastle city centre was so named in recognition of the pilgrims who made their way to the chapel. On a cloudless August day a visit to the Dene is a delight—its shady woodland and banks cool and tranquil relief. I remember it best on late autumn afternoons, when I would push my baby boy in the pram along its paths. Quiet, cool and damp, this is the best and most private time, I think, to enjoy the Dene.

Aside from the landmarks, what I realised I had missed most was the dour bonhomie of the Geordie folk. They’re not great smilers, but they’ll talk to you as if they’ve known you all their lives—and they would hate to admit it, but they’re as soft as butter. Despite my pallor (no fake tan visible) and obvious southern tones, I was instantly befriended by another parent in the playground, “Didna I see you in the Toon a coupla of hours ago, like?” and made to feel like one of the gang.  And I can’t help smiling as I remember the dad encouraging his scrap of a boy to perform a series of press-ups and complicated manoeuvres around the climbing frame. It seemed a bit tough at first—the lad could only have been four or five years old—but the last requirement of the routine was that the child give his dad a big kiss and enjoy a moment’s suffocation in his muscly forearms, tattooed with the boy’s name.

We had driven down the previous day from a sojourn in East Lothian and Berwickshire, the trip arranged around the arrival of the newest member of the clan. In the kind of delightful twist that Vintage Script regulars will know I love, my new great-niece bore the same name as my own great-aunt!

The landscape couldn’t have been more different from East Anglia—hills that looked to us like mountains, and rugged undulations, and the curious reddish mud, coloured by sandstone, that make you feel like you’re walking on Mars. My son was in disbelief that we had arrived in Scotland—a foreign country! —and befuddled all the more by the sight of his uncle in a kilt at breakfast.
The hamlet where we were staying (Whittingehame, East Lothian) is encompassed by the Balfour estate, acquired by the family in 1817. Its most famous resident was the Arthur, the First Earl of Balfour, Prime Minister from 1902 to 1905. As Foreign Secretary in November 1917 he was the author of a letter to Lord Rothschild declaring Britain’s support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine, which became known as the Balfour Declaration. The area’s connection with the Jewish folk continued during the Second World War when Whittingehame House was used as a school for Jewish refugee children from the Kindertransport mission.

Hand-holding at Dunbar Harbour
Today residents are a mix of lifers and newcomers (perhaps resident for 20 years or more), and there’s a gentle affability as you bump into near neighbours (from five or ten miles away) in the woods. Connections to Edinburgh are good if you fancy a bit of razzle-dazzle, or there’s Dunbar closer to home, birthplace of St Cuthbert, famous for his connections with Holy Island further south, and of the conservationist John Muir, who emigrated to America as a boy.

Sitting on the steps at Belton House
Other highlights of the trip (all easily accessible from the A1) include the National Trust places Nostell Priory, West Yorkshire (eighteenth century splendour on the site of a medieval priory), Gibside, Tyne and Wear (an estate once owned by the Bowes-Lyon family) and Belton House, Lincolnshire (“the perfect English country house”), as well as Beamish Museum near Durham, presenting life as it would have been in the area,  mainly in the early twentieth century, complete with an early Co-op, a branch of the Sunderland Daily Echo and a colliery village.

Notice at Beamish
An essential part of any holiday is, of course, returning home, and remarking upon what has changed in the past ten days (the earlier sunset) and what is still the same (no hills had sprung up in our absence). A cup of tea, the abandonment of bags till the morrow and the first night back in one’s own bed were the finishing touches to one of the best holidays where spirits were refreshed, connections renewed and—essential to history-lovers—the winged host of memory was brought to life.


Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Summer's Here...And So Is Vintage Script!

Summer’s here…and so is the latest edition of Vintage Script! Take a peek inside with our mini reviews of this issue’s stories and articles.

Oliver Hambley
Lucy E. M. Black
We welcome back expert storyteller Lucy this edition, with her tale set in mid-twentieth century Canada. We meet Oliver Hambley, unsophisticated and flawed, but with a hidden depth and sensitivity: ‘Oliver listened to the magnificent organ intently for a moment, and then he began to sing also: his voice soaring in the cavernous space…Dulcie edged toward him and saw that his face was wet with tears. Oliver felt her move close to his side and he looked at her tenderly. Still singing, he reached for her hand and pressed it tightly against his heart’.

Happy and Glorious
Roger Harvey

It’s 60 years since the Royal Yacht Britannia first set sail, and Roger celebrates the landmark in his lively article. Roger paints a picture not only of a majestic yacht, but also a cosy, much-loved home, replete with its original 1950s furniture and fittings…sounds like heaven to me!

China’s Sorrow
Clare Reddaway

Another thoughtful and masterful tale from Vintage Script favourite Clare. This time she takes us far away to China, to the banks of the Yellow River, and powerfully describes a strategy that became a tragedy: ‘An old lady, white hair cropped below her ears, wide black trousers flapping around her spindly legs, hobbled through the water on her tiny feet. She was trying to get home…The water rose over the village and took the roofs and the trees and the crops and covered the land with yellow brown water and corpses’.

Digging up the Family: Victorian Juvenile Justice
Gill Garrett
Gill finds inspiration in research done into her family tree, and here she uses her grandfather’s detention in Little Mill Reformatory to explain the fate of young criminals in Victorian times. The details Gill includes tell their own stories: the names of Little Mill boys carved into the pews in the local church, and the brass tablet bearing the names of nine young men, former residents of the reformatory, who fell in the Great War. ‘One hundred and thirty “old boys”, branded as criminals as children, served the colours; many received honours and decorations, including the Distinguished Conduct Medal.’

Baret’s Voyage
Jerry Saville

Jerry’s fictionalised account of a true—and remarkable—story is enticing, intriguing and inspiring. We learn of a well-kept secret that is revealed at last, and delight in Jerry creates a thirst for adventure: ‘The easterly breeze stretched the creaking canvas of the square-rigger…The helmsman had set a steady course and the weather-beaten wooden helm groaned against its lashings on the deck behind me,’ and peppers the narrative with delightful details that make us want to read on: ‘We sat side by side on the beach gazing across the lagoon where the two ships were being readied for departure. At our feet lay a bag of roughly sewn sail canvas from which bright orange and red flowers overflowed’.

Pippa Brush
Hope and disappointment go hand-in-hand in Pippa’s exceptional tale, inspired by Matthew Arnold’s poem Dover Beach. Her observations on human nature are acutely drawn, and expressed poignantly through fine detail: ‘The room darkened around her, all light pooling on the page in her lap…She felt the tightness of her dress around her waist, the pull of her collar at her throat…She raised her head enough, just enough, that the hot salt tears did not fall upon his proffered devotion, but slid down her face where she could hide them on her tongue’.

Mary, Queen of Scots: Conspiracy, Intrigue and Murder
Stephen Davis
Stephen takes through the ups and downs of the life of one of the most controversial—and fascinating—Scottish monarchs.  As Stephen’s title suggests, the Queen’s life was a turbulent one, coming to an abrupt halt in the winter of 1587, found guilty of conspiring against Elizabeth I. Stephen’s narrative draws together the strands of Mary’s dramatic life, and leaves us wondering what if she had succeeded in establishing her historic claim to the English throne?

The Hollow
Bruce Harris
Bruce was inspired to write this story by the impending two hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo.  Robert waits anxiously for news of his soldier brother. A dip in the cool waters of the Hollow offers relief, and Bruce’s magical words give the Hollow a life of its own: ‘I knew the Hollow like the back of my hand, quite literally, every nook and cranny, all the depths and obstructions, and the contrasting worlds of the surface and the dimmer, hypnotically quiet underwater realm’. Time is suspended as Robert experiences something supernatural, unexplained while in its waters. It may be a hot summer’s day, but Bruce’s story leaves a chill in the air.

Against the Grain
Maria Watson

Maria reconstructs her ancestor, James Cooter’s youth, here, imagining his various occupations. Her story is lively and full of detail and drama—after an unfortunate tumble into a bin of grain at the mill (‘The grain inside is like quicksand…keeps shifting under his feet and he is screaming by the time the kernels move up his chest, past his chin and over his face’), he reinvents himself as a beetroot farmer, then an ostler. The reader can only admire his versatility and optimism.

The Story of Catherine of Braganza, Neglected Wife of Charles II
Michael Montagu
Michael describes Catherine as, ‘…a good woman, plain, pious and virtuous,’ but explains that ‘…this did not make her the ideal wife for the outgoing and uxorious Charles’. It’s a sad story, ending with Catherine’s return to her native Portugal, but told with the zest and attention to detail that we have come to expect from Vintage Script regular Michael.

Trafalgar Dusk
Rebecca Stonehill
We end with this thought-provoking vignette from Rebecca, packed with revealing detail (‘Iris’ dark hair is loose around her shoulders and the placard she is holding momentarily rests at her side as she kicks away the army of pigeons that peck furiously at our feet’) and a sense of the shifting sands of history (‘…as she takes me in her arms…I gaze happily upwards as the pigeons fly scared and crazed by the commotion into the darkening sky’).

The summer edition of Vintage Script is on sale now.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Postcard from Karachi (via Suffolk)

It’s not long since our visitors departed and the flag was hauled in. The house resonates still with the energy generated by the extra bodies and souls, and the delight of sharing historical and familial connections. Now is time to reflect on the news brought back from Karachi, 4,000 miles and a whole world away from our corner of Suffolk.

I have to thank the lush Suffolk countryside for its part in the visit’s success—anyone coming from the 40+ degree heat of early Karachi summer would think they had arrived at the epicentre of an oasis such as ours. Karachi stands in what was desert in the Sindh province of Pakistan, right on the coast of the Arabian Sea, and the climate veers between arid (winter) and tropical (summer). Respite from the summer heat is hard to find—and while the sea breezes cool a little they also sting with salt, oxidise and corrode.

Keamari Harbour
During my father’s childhood there, Karachi was reinventing itself from a humble fishing town to a centre of trade and industry with the construction of oil refineries and its development as a major port by the British. Add to this the influx of refugees during Partition, then other refugees in more recent times, and Karachi has exploded to become the most populous city in Pakistan today—currently accommodating 21.2 million inhabitants. And while the city’s area is vast—1,360 square miles—it’s not big enough for the population crammed into it. A snapshot of the city at rush hour—residents hanging off the sides and onto the roofs of buses, the mass of cars and highly-decorated trucks on the potholed roads, each working to their own interpretation of the Highway Code, the people on donkeys, the people everywhere—tells you that the place is big and bustling and full of life.

Compare this to the population of Suffolk of 728,000, the whole county inhabiting an area comparable to the city of Karachi—1,480 square miles—and you get a shock, rather than a sense of comparison.

There are oases in the city, though. The mausoleum of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, is a focal point, and a refuge from the relentless hustle and bustle. It sits atop a hill, and gives you a sense of spiritual elevation as you transcend noisy, messy, chaotic everyday life. Visiting just before dusk is a magical experience: the marble is supernaturally cool under bare feet and the changing of the guard ceremony is bewitching in its elegant reverence.
View from Jinnah's mausoleum
Jinnah’s vision for a Muslim state, and the subsequent complex (and brutal) birth of the separate countries of India and Pakistan, clearly played a part in Karachi’s population explosion. At the time of Partition in 1947 the city’s population stood at around 400,000. Around half—Hindus—migrated to India. But only four years later, it had soared to over one million.

For this, and many other reasons, Karachi is a melting pot ethnically—and like so many aspects of the sub-continent, it’s impossible to extricate the layer upon layer of history, ethnicity, and linguistic and tribal divisions from one another. The indigenous folk are the Sindhis, known for their warmth, hospitality and beautiful, erect posture, a result of binding their babies to boards when newborn. (You can spot a mile off anyone who was cared for by a local ayah, their noble posture giving them away instantly.) You will also find representatives of many ethnic groups from the sub-continent, a result of migration during Partition.

From further afield, and according to official sources, migrants from 64 different countries have chosen Karachi as their new home, with most coming from Bangladesh. Karachi has long provided a home for Afghan refugees, from those fleeing the Soviet War in the 1980s to others escaping more recent conflict. There are significant communities of Burmese and Ethiopian people migrants. The vibrant Ethiopians are famed for their love of donkey racing, mainly in the old part of town, Lyari, where the faded elegance of the colonial buildings provide the backdrop to the clattering across the pebbles, the braying of the donkeys and the whooping of the crowds, Balochi music blaring out encouragement.
Traditional truck
The heat, the dust, the weather, the people are all talking points, so too is last month’s election in Pakistan, important historically as it represented the first time the government had changed over democratically rather than by the habitual military coup. Change, and a desire for change, could be felt.

Sadly, democracy has not quite won through—eyewitnesses say that while polling stations were open early in the morning in some areas, voters were made to wait hours in the searing heat before they were allowed to vote. But many remained undeterred—those only just old enough to cast their vote waited, the elderly, patients on stretchers, the terminally impatient. ‘The spirit is there,’ they said, defiant in the face of the most bloody campaigns in the country’s history, with 130 people fallen victim to violence in the lead-up to the election.

In the end—or even before all votes had been counted—the Punjabi Nawaz Sherif of the Pakistan Muslim League won the day. No coincidence, some say, that the candidate hailed from the most populous area of Pakistan and that local loyalties often supersede careful examination of policy and political conviction.
The vibrancy of Karachi
The news confirms what we already know: life in Karachi, the “City of Lights” is hot, vibrant, intense. A world away from sleepy Suffolk, where the sun set this evening in a quiet hush over the countryside, it’s a universe within a universe—and like the interminable Asian soaps, in a single episode contains enough storytelling, drama and life-or-death scenarios to last you a lifetime.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Hope Springs Eternal

It’s a late and lazy spring…but not too late to catch up with the stories and articles in our latest edition…read on for a hint of more…

It’ll All Be Gone Tomorrow
Amanda Block
Amanda’s story explores the periods before and after the First World War through a triumphant female’s eyes. Amanda’s prose is intensely visual (‘For so long, his palette held only shades of mud and blood. He can hardly bear it, seeing the world now, shimmering so’) and her storytelling striking. The reversal of fortunes presented in It’ll All Be Gone Tomorrow is thought-provoking and leaves you wondering about the characters and as much about what has been left unsaid…

A Time in the City
Edward Clark
Edward is a natural-born writer, with an incomparable style and skill, and he certainly lives up to our expectations in this vignette of Sixties London. His prose makes you feel like you are really there: ‘…the Underground’s essence of swirling air currents freighted with the pungency of smoke and sparking electricity; the rhythmic swaying clatter of the red trains…the broken tempo of people now stationary, now suddenly mobile’. Edward weaves in important milestones—Martin Luther King’s famous speech, the Kennedy assassination—and lets us live history through his eyes.

The Vernon Inheritance
Bruce Harris
Bruce—a skilled storyteller—charts the rise of Luke Astle, a humble stable lad, during the English Civil War to become Sir Luke Vernon, whose line has survived to this day. And it’s not just a feel-good story, but a beautifully detailed one: ‘The late spring afternoon is warm and disturbed by a breeze enough only to wave the leaves gently in the trees…Luke trots his horse Thunders…into the trees behind the river bank…He steps to the edge of the water, strips off, and spends half an hour swimming luxuriantly up and down the Hollow, enjoying the cool caress of water and a rare sensation of cleanliness in the remorseless daily military life’.

David Dobson
David’s enthusiasm for all things Henry V is infectious. His account of the Battle of Agincourt brings history to life with its vibrant description and narrative: ‘The archers stood ready for the battle…There was a pious hum of men reciting anxious prayers…Bright pennants and flags fluttered from countless tents and bugles, pipes and drums thundered across the fields’. David brilliantly tells the story of how Henry V, the soldier and the strategist, won the day, and leaves us intrigued with his consideration of “what if?”.

The Yellow House
Lucy E. M. Black
Lucy weaves her tale set in rural nineteenth century Ontario with a delicate and expert skill. It’s a poignant story, beautifully illustrated by her sensitive description and realism. So hard to pick a highlight, as they come in every paragraph, I particularly loved her understated description of the home her new husband has set up for his bride: ‘Inside all was orderly and quiet and tidy. William, and his mother, had thought of everything…There was a new rocker by the fireplace with a woven hickory bark seat. A small bedroom had been sectioned off from the open living space, and a heart was carved on the pine headboard’.

The Georgian Development of Dublin
Michael Montagu
The growth of Dublin in the eighteenth century is a fascinating tale expertly told by Vintage Script favourite Michael. ‘Then, as now,’ says Michael, ‘the answer was location, location, location!’ and he explains how the south side of the city became the place to be, how the Georgian style fell out of favour after independence came in 1922, and how redevelopment in the Sixties cut a swathe through some of the city’s finest Georgian architecture. ‘Fortunately enough has survived to give us the idea of how it used to be,’ says Michael.

For Those in Peril on the Sea
Clare Reddaway
You know you’re set for high drama on the seas as Clare opens her story with the words: ‘The chapel cowered only yards from the beach, defenceless as the storm lashed its grey granite walls. Inside the roar and crash of the waves drowned out the voice of the preacher. The oil lamps stuttered, throwing shifting, elongated shadows onto the damp-stained pulpit’. Clare’s writing continues to work its dark and enticing magic as the drama unfolds on a stormy autumn night. Inspired by St Agnes, the smallest of the Isles of Scilly, Clare’s story leaves you with real emotions, and a tantalizing feeling of wanting to know more…

Digging up the Family: Lessons in Social History
Gill Garrett

Inspired by the discovery of her grandmother’s mourning brooch stuffed with a lock of her mother’s hair, Gill takes us on an intimate tour of unearthing her own family history, and of the fascinating history behind mourning jewellery. She reveals that hair, so often used in such items, has long been employed to symbolise remembrance and affection—from Ancient Egyptian times onwards. While Gill has not been able to reveal much detail about her great-grandmother, she says, ‘…I have that lock of hair, a tangible, incredibly personal link to her’. Gill brings the personal touch to “digging up the family”.

An Unwelcome Chill
Lucy Charles (Penny Alexander)
We’re back to the Civil War with Penny’s tale, as she interprets the “I See The Birds Have Flown” story from 1642—the point at which Charles I lost control of London, and from where the country slid into Civil War. It’s a dramatic turning point in history, and Penny’s storytelling instantly transports us to this crossroads in history. And it’s not just the drama but the chill atmosphere that Penny conjures up so vividly: ‘It was dark, and still. The candle flames rose in the chill air, illuminating with quite golden light the narrow table where my friend worked.’

No Business Like Showbusiness
Roger Harvey
Roger’s lively style is perfect for his account of his parents’ days managing the Comedy Cinema in North Shields. When his father took on the role of manager, war was in full swing, and it’s easy to see from Roger’s vibrant descriptions how the cinema became an oasis of escapism for the local population. His mother, ‘the golden-haired girl in the pay box’ and his father, ‘the well-spoken, dapper manager in his evening dress’ represented another world, that of big screen glamour, to their patrons, and they were rewarded ‘by many acts of generosity wrenched from a life of real hardship: one cigarette, a kipper, an egg’. Funny and poignant, Roger’s article is a heartwarming and uplifting read.

Living Statues
Jennifer Falkner
Jennifer writes about Herculaneum and Pompeii—and more than brings them to life with her easy style and natural storytelling. She’s an expert too on subtle detailing which adds a depth to her tale: ‘Like so many tourists, he lingered over one cast in particular. A young girl…The detail on the cast had come out so clearly, the small curls like gentle waves framing her face, her fine jawline, her delicate nostrils and open lips, the small ring on one finger’. We see the humanity preserved in the cast of the girl, the inhumanity of her “admirers” and the perhaps misguided heroism of her saviour…

The spring edition of Vintage Script is on sale now.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

First Night in May

May—the most beautiful month—is a time of new beginnings, of expectation and hope. The beauty of the first couple of May days has been dazzling: light reflecting off every leaf, petal, blade of grass, and after so many long, dark days, it’s as if someone just flicked the switch. It’s intense and inescapable: the dazzling light illuminating every corner of your soul.

Add the concentration of May’s anniversaries, birthdays and departures into the mix, and the late sunset becomes a relief. The cool, dark night represents an escape.

Half of the first night of May is spent writing and reflecting on the past four seasons, some of this time so far away now. Temporal and geographical closeness may be comforting but is only half-real: the essence of those you love is forever imprinted on your soul. The realisation that this is so liberates.

The second half is spent chasing sleep, which alternates between shallow and deep unconsciousness. Its fractured dreams of a magical place of spires and low hills, and a story of deep-seated love hidden like the ancient figures beneath the chalky soil, negate the need to turn back time.

The night has been long and I envy the oblivion-sleep of the children, the cats, the rest of the world. I have company now: the birds are starting to chirrup, a deer coughs and a pearly luminescence tinges the horizon. I have been welcomed into a new day.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

A Wedding, Two Funerals And A Box Of Brite-Lites

Yesterday morning I awoke in the best way: slowly from a deep reverie, mist dispersed in the mild air wafting in through the window…and then a niggling feeling overtook me: something important had been overlooked.  Of course, the loft needed clearing quickly in readiness for the laying of insulation (my timing’s atrocious, I know).

I stacked up the half dozen or so boxes on my son’s bed, and with the men due any time, I couldn’t resist a quick peek inside. The first thing I pulled out was a sheaf of newspapers from January 1965 reporting Winston Churchill’s death and detailing plans for his funeral. The synchronicity delighted me, but the thought of getting through the day till the children’s bedtime when I could enjoy my box of delights was a torment…

Meanwhile, there was the funeral of another former prime minister to attend. Some of the event’s absurd details stuck in my mind as much as the pomp and ceremony: Samantha Cameron’s distracting pussybow, the endless background chatter, Prince Phillip…and still wallowing in my own loss, I felt a pang of resentment that my own mother hadn’t been accorded full military honours, a troop of jet black horses, the closure of roads and commentary by David Dimbleby.

The children slept in the afternoon, prolonging the day by another hour or so and increasing my impatience, but finally the house fell quiet and I dug further into the dusty boxes so hastily retrieved that morning. The Evening News and Star from 26 January 1965 described the rehearsal for Churchill’s funeral:

A bass drum shrouded in black sounded through empty London streets to-day as soldiers, sailors and airmen prepared for the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill.

‘Step by step the drum beat out the pace of the 140-strong Royal Navy crew and the escort of Guardsmen and RAF men as they moved out of Parliament Square up to Whitehall, through Trafalgar Square to the Strand, and on to St. Paul’s in a practice procession.

‘With the gun team was the black gun carriage—last used for the State funeral of Queen Mary—which will bear the body of Sir Winston on Saturday.

‘Streets were closed and police diverted traffic.

‘The only witnesses were cleaners in offices along the route and handfuls of early morning workers.

‘Officers with stop watches timed each movement’.

The next day’s Evening Standard reported that four thousand people an hour were filing past Churchill’s coffin in Westminster Hall, and at one time the queue was more than a mile long.

A number of women and a few men wiped away a tear as they gazed upon the coffin, illuminated by arc lights. One policeman standing on duty held a small spray of flowers behind his back. It had been left there by a passing mourner.

‘Mr. Arthur Jones, a carpet maker, travelled overnight from his home in Southport. He was a gunner in the Eighth Army and remembers Sir Winston visiting the troops in the Western Desert. “I wanted to pay my last respects to the old warrior,” he said.’

Not everyone was in mourning. The Evening Standard reported that the parish council of Selston in Nottinghamshire had decided not to pay tribute to the late leader:

Mr. D. Flynn suggested there should be a tribute, Mr. J. T. Simons replied: “I considered him public enemy No. 1 to the miners. He was the deadliest enemy the miners ever had.” Commented Mr. R. Timms: “Not just of miners, but all working people in the country.”’

Anne Scargill, former wife of miners’ leader Arthur Scargill, commented on Margaret Thatcher’s death: ‘She called us the enemy within. There were only one enemy within, and that was her’. Plus ça change

Newspapers and magazines with reports of other events my mother considered important were uncovered – most of the royal weddings from the latter half of the twentieth century and the mission to the moon in July 1969:

The spacecraft had touched down on the moon at exactly 9.18 last night. Armstrong called the earth: “The Eagle has landed”. First reports to Mission Control in Houston said it was a perfect landing.

‘Armstrong, the mission commander, said:
“We are in a crater the size of a football pitch. It looks beautiful from here…the Sea of Tranquility base”.

Then Aldrin came through with a report of what they saw on the moon as they looked from the spacecraft’s windows: “It looks like a collection of every variety of shape, angularity, granularity…a collection of just about every kind of rock.

Armstrong said he could see a hill about a mile ahead…“and literally thousands of little craters”.

A large cardboard box, carefully stencilled with my grandparents’ former address in New Eltham, South London, was to be opened next. It was stuffed full of Christmas decorations dating at least from the 194os and beyond that I remember from my childhood (the decorations already vintage then!)— crêpe paper streamers, Chinese lanterns, fraying tinsel, a box of Brite-Lite fairy lights…but it was the combined smell of ageing paper and plastic that really took me back to Christmasses spent at my grandparents’ house in Kent.
Then the multiple copies of The Times and The Daily Telegraph from 3 December 1968. These proved a mystery at first. Which world event had made my mother pack so many copies away so carefully? The first few pages reported Banks attack squeeze on private loans, Half-crowns phase-out next year, a fugitive gang spotted on Watford High Street in a gold-coloured Ford Zodiac. Of course, the announcements pages solved the mystery:

‘Forthcoming Marriages
‘Major R. A. Oram and Miss P. S. M. Roberts
‘The engagement is announced between Ronald Ashwood Oram , of Farnborough, Kent, elder son of  Mrs. A. G. Oram and the late Alfred G. Oram of Edgbaston, Birmingham, and Patricia, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. W. Roberts of Foots Cray, Kent’
My parents were married 23 days later, the horsedrawn carriage trotting along the frost-covered lane, I imagine, and hope, bringing a sense of optimism and joy to my half-brothers and sister who had lost their own mother a few years previously.

‘The power of trivia is not to be dismissed,’ remarked a friend on hearing of my finds. As thrilled as I was to happen upon the Churchill reports on the day of the Thatcher funeral, it’s the personal mementoes that anyone would cherish most. And it’s true, they are powerful and life-affirming, buffering the vacuum of grief and re-colouring memories. They were held in loved-ones’ hands, thus their energy must be passed on; they symbolise life, hope and laughter and everything in-between.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

The Joy of Text

There may still be deposits of snow deep in the ditches at the side of the road, but today the warmth was shimmering gently off the flat, brown fields, and there was promise in the air. Quiet heat has been gathering momentum all day, soaking into the wood of the parquet and the floorboards, and now, as evening settles in, the warmth is released back into the house. The sun sets in its languorous arc over the house, its last rays highlighting the newly-furrowed lines in the field opposite.

Finally the children succumb to sleep, and their gentle snoring provides the backdrop for the sounds of evening: the pad of the cats as they emerge from their hiding places, the hum of the ancient boiler, a radio turned-down low somewhere, a skirmish on the stairs. This is the best time of day—the perfect time to retrieve the editing project and escape into the rhythm and shape of the words on the page.

The collection recalls growing up in a town in rural Suffolk during the ’40s and ’50s, adventures in faraway lands while in the army, working as a young man in London, and coming full circle back to East Anglia, where the writer now lives.

Luckily for me, the writer is talented, his words and images evocative, sensual, poignant. Seductive. Stationed in Libya, he dreams of ‘soft-skinned British girls with roses in their cheeks, cool breasts and thighs; hot mouths’. Back home, two beauties catch the writer’s eye at the open-air swimming pool. ‘One is in repose, her relaxed, dreamy state reminiscent of Ingres’ odalisques in his painting Le Bain Turc; the other is feline, body turning in contraposto, eager to engage the camera’s eye, dark hair tousled, eyes and mouth sensuously aware’.

I read for the hundredth time my favourite passage, a description of the Carlton Hotel which stood in Newmarket, recalled amid the heat and homesickness of stints in Libya and Cyprus: ‘…a clean coolness in the marble-floored foyer freighted with the smells of fresh beer and wax polish from the bars and the Winter Garden’s airy brightness contrasting with the deep shadows and filtered light of the wood-panelled billiard room, the snooker balls set resplendent on the brushed green cloth of the two tables’.

Then the writing takes you by surprise, changing from sinuous to staccato in a scene describing soldiers waiting at Benghazi Docks in 1958: ‘Daubs of khaki on the sunwhite quayside…Flies buzz. The sun blazes. The sea glitters. The soldiers wait’.

The skill is not just in the manipulation of the writing but in the presentation of a vignette, a snapshot in time. Recalling his time working in London in the early ’60s, the writer says, ‘In November the Kennedy assassination halts trading in the city, the news striking like a blunt instrument. The next day, the 23rd, a man on the tube attempts to articulate and communicate his disbelief and sorrow: They killed him...shot him...hes dead...did you see it?”  There is no response. All strangers, we are embarrassed, our eyes averting to newspapers or the advertisements, or gaze fixedly into space’.

The ability to transliterate historic, dramatic events into the everyday is an impressive feat. Shared stories unite, reactions help explain our puzzling humanity. Maybe we are not so alone.

The description of atmosphere is precise and resonates deep inside. The writer describes his father’s regular dawn walks through awakening Indian villages while serving as a soldier: ‘…the sounds of barking dogs, birdsong, the cries of children, the smells of charcoal fires and the earth and vegetation; the new day’s sky a pale lavender shot with apricot and peach’. I am there.

It’s not just the weight and the pace of the words that make up this physical, sensual experience but the scent of the ink-and-paper, and the feel of the neatly-typed sheaf as I stack the pages back together, and bind them with rubber bands, hiding the work away for another night.

It’s late now and quiet and I remember that I’m here in this room, my bare feet cold as they press against the floorboards. I’m for bed now. There’s no winding-down time for me: words are my love and my life and this evening they’ve soothed me and will sustain a night of dreams.

Edward Clark

I’ve been editing a collection of writing by Vintage Script writer Edward Clark, from Newmarket in Suffolk. I hope to be able to announce continued success with his writing career soon!