Isaac Newton and Samuel Pepys, or what did YOU do in isolation?

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It is fortunately not often that millions of people on our planet find themselves in such a similar, dire situation, except in wars and epidemics, and so many, brave individuals have, in this present, horrific coronavirus situation, paid the ultimate price for their unselfishness in caring for the sick and dying. We should feel eternally grateful and humbled. I am.

NASA_newton4048_regHarking back to the truly dreadful plague of 1665: it was said that a five-year-old boy named John Morley was found dead at his home in Cambridge with black spots on his chest in July 1665 and became the town’s first bubonic plague victim. Townspeople started to isolate, and a young scholar at Trinity College named Isaac Newton fled to his home farm in Woolsthorpe, Lincolnshire to study. In the two years he was there, he studied calculus, created the science of motion and unravelled gravity, or so it was said. (Husband reckons he went scrumping, filled his pockets with apples and they were so heavy, his trousers fell down, but wouldn’t dream of putting forward such a theory… ).

pepysAs for the Diarist Samuel Pepys, in 1665, aged 32 years, he dined out wearing a camel-hair or goat suit, noting ‘The very best I wore in my life,’ during the plague. He commented that most doctors, lawyers and merchants fled the city and that ‘Parliament is postponed until October.’ Later, while in Drury Lane, he saw ‘two or three houses marked with red crosses’ and the words “Lord have mercy upon us.” Writ there, which was a sad sight to see.’ Claire Tomalin, Pepys biographer, spoke of his pain and suffering since a child which made him a stoic person. It was said that he welcomed whatever there was to enjoy.

Theatres, sports and other meeting places were closed and the poor – as ever then – had to steal or beg for food. History rarely shows us a pretty place.

Pepys was a clerk and worked for the Navy Board, had a wife called Elizabeth, but as he admitted, was up for many shenanigans with fancied chamber maids and the like. The times provided rich pickings for his diary, like the Restoration of the Merry Monarch, Charles II (from whom Pepys received favours), the Great Plague (An estimated 100,000 died – 20% of London’s population), the Great Fire of London and the terror waged by the Dutch when the Royal Navy suffered one of their worst defeats after they destroyed several British ships and captured Sheerness. Luckily peace swiftly followed. It is not known whether Pepys, who lived to the age of seventy, actually expected his diary to be published after his death, but it now famously infamous.

nature smlBack to the present, apart from a birth explosion in around nine months, I wonder what some of us will have accomplished/learned during this trying and protracted period of isolation. Of course, some will be almost speechless from boredom, while others will have gained more than they lost… Marriages and relationships will have floundered or, hopefully been made stronger. Life itself will, surely, be writ in larger letters, for it is the most precious thing we have, and Mother Nature, in her more likeable guises, will never have looked more attractive; or freedom sweeter. The fact that so many people have lost loved ones of all ages and creeds is heart-breaking and all the blaming won’t bring them back. We can, perhaps (must!) try harder to work together for the well being of each other. Surely, we can do that, in memory of all those lost and the brave heroes and heroines of this epidemic.

As such phenomena as splitting the atom, black holes, penicillin, and heaps of other, tremendous strides in technological fields have been discovered or accomplished, I questioned my feeble grey matter and did a lot of thinking. Sadly, I had to accept that – in the grand scheme of things – I had diddly-squat to offer, as I push when a sign says ‘pull’ and maths is not my best subject. So, what to do? Well – and I’m sure you are dying of curiosity!! – it’s mainly too prosaic to itemize – I lived, within the boundaries dictated, read, prized the telephone and my computer, exercised a little… toured the ‘estate’ (small urbanization and communal pool) daily, and thought some more. Oh, and read and wrote a lot. I missed our sons and their partners, but a loud hurray for my online friends. laptop_computer_hand_pen smlThey are a wonderful, friendly and helpful bunch. Not to mention good writers. So, what’s with all the thinking you may wonder? Well, I intend finishing the ULTIMATE, FABULOUS book I’ve been working on – forever – and new ideas have been percolating. You can drop my name at dinner parties if you like; autographs given on request. Who am I kidding… Joking aside, hubby and I have had more than a few laughs – quite silly things can spark us and we are most grateful for humour. It’s a great antidote to what’s really happening outside and saves sanity.

Meanwhile, I bet many people have actually published their books, cooked up a storm, written songs and music and painted near masterpieces. Do tell what you have been doing.

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2020

Thanks to Gavin Mortimer of The Spectator for the piece on Samuel Pepys.

Everything stops for tea…

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TEA: such a small word, the sound of which sums up just one letter of the English alphabet. And yet…what thoughts it ignites at certain times…For tea ‘aficionados’ shopping in the rain, they can’t wait for a cup of the reviving drink, or conversely, after gardening in the hot sun and, for the passionate, it is almost the elixir of life! My late dad was an avid consumer, always eager for a second cup. (Hope there’s a generous tea urn up there, Pop!)

As for the folk lore of the humble leaf, it is said that the Chinese emperor, around 2,737 BC, was drinking boiled water when leaves from a nearby tree fell into his drinking vessel. It was, thereafter, consumed by the Chinese and recorded in the Shang dynasty. The popular drink has since been linked, now and then, to a rich, sometimes macabre, heritage of superstition and stories. But they’re tales for another time. (Eerie sounds coming from the wings…)

488px-Cutty_Sark_(ship,_1869)Tea first appeared in Coffee Houses in London in the late 17th century via its introduction by the Dutch and Portuguese sailors; it was often smuggled from Amsterdam. The first tea shop opened in 1657 and gathered popularity when Charles II married Portuguese Catherine of Braganza and it was introduced to the Court. After the formation of The British East India Trade Company in Macao, tea became more accessible to the hoi poloi, and was accepted as the national drink in 1750.

In most ‘average’ households in the 30’s, 40’s and even 50’s, more tea than coffee was consumed in the United Kingdom. Since then – after ‘Musical Coffee Cafes’ were introduced to the UK in the 50’s and 60’s, by the Americans, coffee too became very ‘in vogue.’ Nevertheless, tea still remained popular in many households. I can recall my dear Grandma Sarah liking quite stewed, dark brown tea which made her burp like thunder rumbling…She’d always apologise and add “That’s better…” My own mother – after a ‘run in’ with Senna Pods…eschewed tea for ever more, didn’t like coffee and only ever drank water, milk, fruit juice and Cocoa. Oh, and the very rationed… Babycham.

Fast forwarding to my own family unit situation, we introduced our three sons to tea, milk, fruit juice and coffee. Now mature, one drinks only coffee and the other two dislike coffee and only drink tea. So it’s all a matter of taste.

teapotOver the years, my other half and I have been lucky enough to indulge in our fondness for both beverages. Indeed, we nearly bought a Tea Shop… ending up with a small hotel instead. (See earlier posts.)

On our previous travels, how could we forget a trip to the delightful and famous ‘Betty’s’ tea rooms in Harrogate, or their delicious pastries! Then there was a special trip to Paris, where we scoffed tea and the yummy offerings in a superb and memorable coffee shop, and a birthday celebration treat for husband in Vienna where – surely – the waitresses had stepped out of the 18th century? The wealth of adjectives expressed for the fare can be imagined! Lucky, lucky us.

Before closing, I must mention two other worthy ‘emporiums’ (although there were many others!). The first was The Ritz (my Welsh gran would have said “There’s posh.”) where one sister-in-law and I took my dear mum to celebrate her birthday. It rose to meet its reputation with finger sandwiches, dainty cakes and tea galore: the silverware dazzling…Very impressive.

20174804-180201-tea-salonA recollection of the other, memorable, café – within the bowels of a famous, expensive, store: Fortnum & Mason – has me feeling ‘uncomfortable’ again…Let me explain. Same sister-in-law as above and I – making the most of our free Travel Passes to London (by then pensioners) – had window-shopped and were thirsty. We decided to treat ourselves as the reputable store was nearby, so had supped and chomped on some delectable, tiny delights, and were – as was our wont – putting the world to rights… Fully sated, we pushed back our chairs and sauntered over to check out the hand-made chocolates on display. Far too expensive for our purses, we walked on. Checking our watches, we then caught our train and were comfortably seated when a light bulb pinged in my grey matter. “Oh no!” I proclaimed – loud enough to wake a sleeping gent and disturb a third of the compartment… plus alarm my sister-in –law. “Whatever’s the matter?’” she said, paling. “We’ve just had afternoon tea in Fortnum & Mason of all places, and didn’t pay the bill.” You should have seen her face! My conscience had never felt so guilty…

PS. As we lived a long distance from London and, soon afterwards, emigrated to Spain – as the waitress hadn’t given us the bill or even approached us once served – I decided to send the equivalent money to Mary’s Meals, a fabulous charity based in Scotland who feed over a million hungry children a DAY. I think I did Fortnum & Mason a favour.

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2020

From the archives… 1950

1950s-fashion-1950-gettyimages smlNot long released from the dreary clutches of the war; ears no longer tuned into the air-raid siren or a suspect aeroplane – what bliss! And, as a carefree teenager, what joy it was to be able to wear ‘the new look’ with peplum-waisted two-pieces and pretty dresses with voluminous skirts and petticoats after the utilitarian years just past… Apart from sweets and chocolates still being rationed, we could now treat our taste buds with, much-missed, oranges and bananas, despite the odd queue. Fortunately, books hadn’t been rationed, and I owned a copy of a much-treasured “Jane Eyre” and had an up-to-date issue of a newly-published American magazine import about the latest “True Crimes” in the United States, which I always relished.

I had long-since joined the Youth Club where I jitter-bugged with vigour and enthusiasm to a record player, but was fast-being lured by more sophisticated haunts such as The Hammersmith Palais, the local Ilford Palais and The Lyceum in London, with its wonderful, bouncy dance-floor. I was in heaven! My best friend, Sheila – ‘Slim’ – Devo, “held court” in college, as she had such a magnetic personality, and we bopped wherever there was music, had pretty dresses run up by a cheap dressmaker and, at one time, both worked for Associated British Cinemas in Golden Square. (I left their employ after my mature boss tried doing unspeakable things to me in the broom cupboard.) She stayed on awhile and became a successful career girl, working for several notable personalities, including Jack Hylton. A few years later, we joined an East End Amateur Dramatic Society and appeared in “Oklahoma” staged at The People’s Palace in Mile End. Being a good actress with an excellent stage voice, Slim played a leading role, while I ably cavorted on stage with the other dancers, not daring to project my questionable singing on the audience…

One day I played truant (the one and only time. Honest) and didn’t heed the warning of a classmate at college:

dancers 3“You’re not going to the pictures with Jeremy Howard, are you? He’s got a terrible reputation…” I should have listened… (The picture had only just started and, within minutes, he had undone the buttons on my sweater…) I recall saying, cheeks flaming…“You heel!” before flouncing out of the cinema with a few hours to play with! The trouble was, although I liked boys a lot, I was shy and blushed crimson. Being a teenager had its problems…” The times”were very different then and you quickly gained the label of a Jezebel if you were liberal with your favours. Catholicism added to the guilt complex; something I resolved in later years. Fortunately, there seemed to be a fair percentage of young “gentlemen” around and I met some really nice boys (guys was used much later). That’s not to say a whole lot of smooching didn’t occur… But dancing was my passion and I certainly did my share. I loved ballroom, and at one stage, met a pleasant lad who asked me to train seriously but, for one reason or another, it didn’t come to fruition.

Soho Coffee BarThe generally more buoyant atmosphere of the 50’s, was enhanced by the really fabulous music around at the time. American-style coffee bars and cafes were opening in London, and we were truly spoiled by the Big Band sounds from Glen Miller, Tommy Dorsey, and Harry James records, and musicians like Count Bassie, Louis Armstrong, and Duke Ellington. And then there were the singers who could REALLY sing, or rather croon, such as Sinatra, Perry Como, Bing Crosby, Howard Keel, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan—swoon… The list is as long as my arm.

It was only three years since I had visited Merville in France where my father was housed in the first part of the war as an airman. He had befriended an attractive woman called Clemence who sent us a few food parcels, and ran a café there. I had crossed the channel for the first time, aged fifteen with my Godmother Aunt Doris. We had a rough ride in a taxi from the station over roads unfit to drive on and passed fields still littered with war debris. Entrails of various planes and craters were still evident, and the café Clemence ran was opposite a rocket-launching pad facing the UK. She said she prayed every time she heard one going up. I was treated like a VIP when we arrived. “Oh, Sharlie’s daughter….” She exclaimed several times, shaking her head. Methought she was very fond of Dad! I was prodded and well-fed as she tutted “Too thin…” and had my first glass of wine with dinner! We visited Lille by train to shop at their market; and cycled to the local churchyard to look for poor 1280px-Royal_Air_Force-_France,_1939-1940._C1498 smlUncle Bernard’s grave. He was Aunt Doris’s youngest brother, aged 22, and had been a navigator in the Royal Air Force. For some strange reason, she thought he might be buried there, but had been stationed many miles away. His body was never found. It was later thought he went down in the channel in his plane, poor man. I recall shedding several tears at sight of so many memorial “Angels” to youngsters near my age.

One evening, I was taken by my Aunt to the village hall, which also featured as a cinema. What an eye opener…Youngsters of both sex, seeming sophisticated beyond their ages, nonchalantly smoked, and one blonde French lad made quite a fuss of me and changed places with a friend so he could sit beside me. Aunt Doris was chatting to the person next to her in stuttered French, so didn’t notice “Paul’s” interest. The lights dimmed and the film played out, with Paul nudging closer and flirting like mad. When the lights came on and Aunt Doris noticed Paul’s interest, she whisked me away. But not before he said “I will write cherie… Clemence will give me your address,” and kissed me on one cheek.

Armed with a freshly killed and plucked goose for “Dear Sharlie and Lila,” we left a tearful Clemence for home. True to his word, Paul wrote, and Aunt Doris helped me translate, but by the third letter, he was getting carried away and she became shocked by his ardour. She then received a letter from Clemence telling me not to reply to his letters as he had stolen some of his grandmother’s savings to cross the channel and visit me. I should have been shocked, but instead was rather flattered to be wooed like a heroine in a French novel.

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And so, I left Pitman’s college at fifteen to work in a series of offices in the City and West End of London. I was buzzing! I can’t emphasize enough just how wonderful it was to see all the lights aglow and the shops stuffed with such an array of tempting goodies after being, often, boarded up or near-empty for over five years. And it was such a joyful time that, as a family, we were all together again.

 

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2020

A tribute to my dear mama/mum

Until I went to school aged five, I called my mother Mama. Her birth name was Lila Elizabeth Havard, after a Fairy Queen her mother had seen in a play! ‘Mama’ was my God-mother, Aunt Doris,’ suggestion as she had grandiose ideas as to my up-bringing and saw me as a little lady of breeding who would doubtless learn to play the piano beautifully, knit Fair-Isle sweaters, blind-folded, embroider as if to the manor born, and POSSIBLY end up marrying someone higher up the ladder (and I don’t mean a window-cleaner.) As it transpired, while I may have mastered Chopsticks, and The Bluebells of Scotland, sewed a fairly neat hem, and even made a peg-bag, and a few cushion covers, etc., I’m afraid I disappointed in all other areas. And, because a strange, deranged little man with a moustache wanted to dominate the world and promote a “Master Race,” I didn’t attend the Convent School my aunt had mapped out for me. Meanwhile, I enrolled at the local, Dagenham village school, before being whisked away to live on a Welsh mountain when war was declared in the September of 1939. Then, realising I just belonged to the hoi polloi, I thereafter called my mother mum.

The Mansfields (my paternal relatives), needed to “set the scene,” thought they were a cut above. There was Royal Doulton china and crystal cut-glass in the display cabinet and a framed picture of Churchill on the wall to prove it!! The ladies of the family also bought glossy periodicals which “the toffs” purchased; and shopped in the very best West End stores whenever possible. Oh, and both Dad’s sisters owned FUR COATS, and wore Perfume by COTY… But I mustn’t give the wrong impression as, with the (later) exception of one of their number, they were consistently kind, caring, charitable and generous. But quickly back to mum…

Lila - editedSo, what was she like, my pretty, loving mum? Imagine a blue-skied and sunshiny day, with a soft breeze blowing and birds wheeling in the sky… That was my mum. She epitomized Spring and was blessed with a sunny, happy personality. (On later reading Laurie Lee’s book “Cider with Rosie,” mum put me in mind of his quirky mother as their sense of fun were similar!) She was a perfect foil for Dad’s no-nonsense: a spade is a spade, sterner make-up, although he had an earthy sense of humour, was as reliable as the clichéd Rock of Gibraltar and loved her to bits… Around five feet two inches, with a slender figure, mum belied an inner strength which repeatedly revealed itself.

Born in 1906, she lived to experience the Great Depression in South Wales and helped look after her two younger sisters. Grandad said she had ‘Dark brown hair like fine-spun sugar…’ A brick-layer and later, shop-keeper, he may have been, but he was a gentleman and charmed the ladies. Mum had left school at fourteen and worked selling ribbons and cottons in the market and in her parents’ greengrocer’s shop/and on a pony and trap serving customers living in the mountains. Too soon, everything was ‘on the slate, please, mun’ because of The Great Depression, and money was fast running out. Aged seventeen, mum begged to go to London to work but Grandma was convinced it was worse than Gomorrah. ‘Duw duw, you could be murdered, or worse.’ she cried. But, when feeding her family became critical, Grandma relented. Mum pointed her “winkle-pickers” in the East End of London’s direction and worked as a Nanny for the two children of talented Jewish tailors in Stepney.

Soon Lila was not only a Nanny, but taught how to cook Jewish dishes and do intricate beading work. Linking up with her best friend, Edna, the pair went dancing on their one day off and, as she said ‘The streets weren’t really paved with gold,’ as promised… but the lights were brighter and you could have ‘six-penny-worth of fun’ and watch American pictures too. She saved hard and soon had the requisite ten pounds to add to her mother’s hard-saved purse. Her family: Mam, Dad and three siblings, caught the train to Dagenham Dock station with packed suitcases and little else and were given a new Council house in Becontree, which her enamoured mother announced, was ‘Like a miniature Buckingham Palace!’ Mum said that was pushing it a bit… But it had a new roof which didn’t leak and a bathroom downstairs, three bedrooms up, and a proper garden at the back. ‘Not like that old slum in Dowlais,’ Grandma was heard to say.

Leaving the Soloman’s employ with regret, Mum then became a cinema usherette, also working part-time in the building’s café with her sister Peggy. She found life fun as she loved to dance and, being pretty, caught the eye of many a would-be suitor. One in particular pursued her and they became engaged, but he spent too much time on his motor-bike and Mum wasn’t cut out to play second fiddle to a bike! The move couldn’t have been luckier for another dancer and natty dresser (first in his crowd to wear plus-fours, it is said… ) called Charles (Charlie) who quickly stepped into the breach. He and Lila won a few prizes for their prowess on the dance floor – including “The Black Bottom’”- of the Cross Keys public house in old Dagenham and were soon seriously courting.

Lila and Charlie - editedEager to show off his new girl-friend to his family, Charles invited her to tea, much to the delight of his father, also Charles: a well-heeled Freemason, who had a penchant for pretty faces… The females in the family, however, on being introduced to an uneducated girl “from the Welsh valleys” almost had them reaching for their smelling salts… but Lila was polite, friendly and possessed a winning smile and they gradually accepted the inevitable. Charles was smitten, but found it difficult to ‘write my own life script’ as he later discovered. The happy pair were married in a – horror of horrors – Registry office, while the Mansfields were staunch Catholics, a fact the Father of the local church found difficult to comprehend and led to harsh words being exchanged. Although to keep the Mansfields’ happy, when I arrived on the scene, I was Christened by a Canon, no less. (Dad said ‘She should have been fired from one!’ when I decapitated his row of red, soldier-erect tulips, aged two.) After the birth of my second brother, the Priest visited our house and tried to persuade Mum to marry “in the church,” but went beyond the pale when he suggested all three of us children were illegitimate, and was quickly shown the door.

Like most working-class women then, mum was familiar with the Monday-wash-boiler, the scrubbing board and the outside mangle. Although we had indoor plumbing, we had no central heating until the mid/late 50’s – and only had a gas-fire for warmth on in the bedroom if we were very ill (once with measles). The stove in our tiny kitchen was much cosseted, as was the rare fire in the lounge fireplace. And the telephone, also installed in the 50’s, was almost revered, as was the “new-fangled” TV set.

Meanwhile, mum – by then a trained hairdresser – crimped and cut hair to help expenses go further, cooked delicious meals for the five of us and was everything a good mum should be. Then – wouldn’t you know – the lunatic little man mentioned above, started strutting his stuff and war, an incomprehensible state to us children, was declared. When rationing was introduced, Mum made all sorts of filling dishes, using more potatoes and vegetables from our garden, bread and fruit puddings and ‘apples in blankets’ (pastry) to fill our corners…she also made sure we had concentrated orange juice, cod-liver oil (ugh!) and Virol to keep us healthy, as – in due course – did dear aunt Sal. If any of us children received a B or C for our school-work, she’d give us a hug, sympathize and say ‘Never mind, you’ll get an A next time…’ while dad was the opposite of impressed…

paul-jespers-114448-unsplash plane - editedDad, having been an Air Force Cadet at the end of World War I and in love with aeroplanes, re-joined the Air Force and was one of the first wave of airmen to be called up for duty. After hastily digging a huge hole in our pristine, green lawn, he erected an outdoor air-raid shelter, as instructed, and then accompanied us three children and mum to South Wales. We were to stay in the relative safety of her cousin Sarah Jones’– Aunt Sal to us – tall, thin house, set into the side of Mountain Hare, just above Merthyr Tydfil. It didn’t have all ‘mod cons’. like ours, but I was enchanted with gaslight and candlelight… not so with the outside “lav,” with squares of the Merthyr Express on which to wipe one’s bottom!

Mum stayed on awhile, but dad had to join his unit in France. Having entrusted brother Bryan to the loving care of another aunt in Ebbw Vale, as Aunt Sal couldn’t cope with three children due to a badly ulcerated leg, mum left to stay with her mother and do “war work.” As mentioned above, Mum wasn’t very tall and quite slender, and we were surprised when next we saw her, as she had developed muscles…after working on a moving assembly belt of Army lorries at Ford’s Motors. She later moved to another company, where she was taught welding and became even stronger. Fortunately, during the first part of the war, it was fairly quiet, so we were transported back and forth a few times, especially as dad was given leave from France before things hotted up. Thereafter, Dagenham, and more specifically: our house became a dangerous place to live in as it was near the River Thames; Ford’s Motor works, churning out war machines; a huge drug factory and a railway – all likely targets for the German planes. A land-mine fell at the end of our street and demolished many houses and killed several people, but our house was only marginally damaged. In all, we were evacuated three times: to Merthyr, Neath and – with my secondary school, to Derbyshire. Towards the end of the war, dad was stationed near enough to visit our home and mum gave birth to my third brother, Royce (despite being warned about the aphrodisiac quality of eels to which he was partial). As mum was unwell, the doctor advised her to stay somewhere quieter, and the most generous family, who lived in Neath, Wales – and had two children of their own – took the five of us in, as aunt Sal was ill. You can imagine our sheer joy when peace was declared and we were all able to return to our own home: shaken and stirred but still intact, and dad was, at last, demobbed.

Lila 2 - editedDuring our absence, we soon discovered, Mum had re-decorated several rooms herself. There was a shortage of wallpaper, so she had “stippled” the walls with a design in a contrasting colour and I spent many odd times imagining all sorts of animals and magical “objects” floating up to the ceilings… It seemed, Mum was able to tackle most things, and a great advocate of “make do and mend.” She was always darning socks, turning shirt collars and bedsheets, and aware of the hard times, often said “That will do…” if an item of clothing had a vestige of life left. A keen dancer herself, she encouraged me when I reached my teens and joined the youth club. Mum and her father both won prizes for dancing and she played a mean piano. I recall her pounding the ivories in our Welsh centre during her visits. “Amapola,” “The Seigfried Line” and various popular tunes and songs were requested during her time with us, and she urged me to take ballet and tap lessons, which I adored.

As far as “lessons subtly-learned” while under my parents roof were concerned, Mum in particular emphasized that I should ‘show willing and be helpful to others’ as she did…and, while sex was never actually discussed, whenever I went out with a boy, she always told me to ‘be good now!’ which I interpreted as ‘keep your legs together,’ which I dutifully did, much to their annoyance. Every week, Mum and I went to the local cinema to see the latest British or American film and lapped up all the glamour and fantasy and she loved reading “Nell’s Books on Wheels” delivered locally every week She was particularly fond of romances and favoured medical tales. Mum had a knack of bringing sunshine into the house with some of her embroidered tales of people she worked with and even when it rained for a few days, managed to lift our spirits. Fortunately, both my parents were able to enjoy several holidays abroad as we children grew older, and still managed to impress on the dance floor!

As time wore on, and after I married, mum took advanced cooking courses and learned “Silver Service Waitressing,”securing an excellent post in the directors’ canteen of a large company nearby: May & Bakers, and worked there for several years. When she retired, she hated it, so arranged wedding functions and 2lst birthday celebrations and the like, with the able assistance of one of my sisters-in-law, Doreen; and made beautiful, iced celebration cakes. She also did flower arranging and made bridal bouquets, buttonholes and the like… (and even won prizes for her arrangements at the local Town Show.)

When my parents celebrated their Golden Wedding, as my husband and I were then running a hotel, we were able to entertain them with family and friends, for a fun weekend. It was so good to be able to make a fuss of them for a change! Sadly, as dad approached eighty, his lungs started letting him down – he was a heavy smoker when young and in the war, apart from working for so many years on the river. But he made it to eighty-three. Mum was, naturally, at first desolate at his passing, as were we. But we sold her house for her and bought her another, smaller one, just around the corner to ours.

Her hands were rarely still thereafter. She made delicious petit fours and boxed them up as gifts at Christmas time, still made large and small assorted cakes, and embroidered many pictures which my husband framed for her. She also knitted toys, covered coat-hangers and sewed lavender bags. We were able to take mum and a friend on two continental holidays – which she loved, and we spent many happy hours together. She so enjoyed being in the company of our three sons and her other grandchildren, was alert and keenly interested in them and what was happening in the outside world. She only went on one “Old people’s outing” as she termed them (aged eighty) but said: ‘I shan’t go with them again…Some of them clicked their teeth and talked about their operations all the time’

It was tragically ironic that mum – apart from a worn heart – and comparatively healthy for her age, was struck by an unlicensed car a few inches from a kerb, while out visiting a relative, suffered a broken hip and lapsed into an unconscious state for six, long weeks before dying. It was the most cruel blow of my life and I was bereft, but I still carry her treasured memory in my heart, as I will until I fall of my own perch. Mum loved all us four children unconditionally and, despite our faults, thought us “the bee’s knees…” and, as we thought she was too, you can’t ask for more than that. Can you?

If you’d like to read more about Joy’s life during Wold War II, order her book: “My Gentle War” which went to No.1 on Amazon Kindle in the Social history and memoir category.

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2019

Plane photo by Paul Jespers on Unsplash

An interview with author Beryl Kingston

Beryl_resizedToday, I have great pleasure in interviewing someone very familiar with the writing craft. Not many of us can claim to have sold ONE MILLION BOOKS, but Beryl Kingston can. I can’t begin to imagine how that feels … Hugely proud and gratifying, I’m sure, and she must have worked so hard to have achieved that figure.

I’ll tell you more about Beryl later on, but first I’ve invited her to answer a few questions to give you some insight into what makes this amazing lady tick.

Hi Beryl, a warm welcome to the ‘writer’s hot seat.’ It’s great having you as my guest today. I promise it won’t be a bumpy ride!

Where were you born and what is your earliest memory?

image1To start at the beginning, I was born in Tooting in South London 88 years ago and my first memory is probably singing and dancing on a stage somewhere feeling completely happy with spotlights shining on my head and foot-lights warming my feet and people clapping and cheering in the darkness below me. I was probably about five.


Were your early years marked by an outstanding/unusual or particularly disturbing/amusing incident?

I’m afraid I can’t tell you amusing stories about my childhood because I was an abused child and spent most of my time in a state of twitchy anxiety and fear. The abuser was my mother who beat me with a cane from the time I was five, when my younger sister was born, until I was seventeen and finally took action to stop her. Not a pretty story. I wrote about it in some detail in ‘A Family at War’ so anyone who is interested can find it there. But there’s one fact that might interest other writers. In a roundabout way, being beaten made a writer of me. My mother enjoyed her brutality and was buoyed up by it, but she also had an image to protect, which meant that she had to take steps to ensure that her neighbours knew nothing about it. I had strict instructions to hide the marks she left on my legs and arms by wearing a thick cardigan and black stockings – she never hit my face, only my back, legs and arms. She used to say ‘Cover yourself up. You don’t want people to know what a wicked child you are.’ And I did as I was told because I agreed with her then and thought she was right. But I needed to talk about it and I needed it desperately. It didn’t seem right to me, that she could be so cruel and get away with it. And in the end I decided to keep a diary. I nicked and exercise book from school, kept it well hidden and wrote in it freely and honestly from the time I was seven and for the next twelve years until I married my darling. I never considered that anything I wrote or did could ever be any good or of any value. My mother made sure of that. She told me so often that I was a nasty wicked child, that I should never have been born, that I was useless and would never amount to a ‘row of beans’ and that my ‘dear little sister Pat’ would ‘make ten of me’. Naturally I believed her. So when I started to write poems and stories and plays I threw them away like the trash I thought they were.

Did evacuation in World War II have a lasting – good or bad – effect on you?

blitz_smlI don’t think being evacuated made a lot of difference to me. It was just something that happened. The London Blitz, on the other hand, was another matter altogether. That had a profound effect. My mother evacuated us all to Felpham on the day before war was declared, but having decided that we were going to make peace with Germany and that the Germans were going to fight the Russians, she brought us back to London in August 1940. We were just in time for me to watch the bombing of Croydon from the flat roof at the top of an apartment block, and, not long after that, the Blitz began. From then on we spent our nights in the cellar, listening to the ack-ack and the dreadful laboured droning of the German bombers, until November, when we were bombed out and she evacuated us again. But I was back in London in 1944 – on my own this time – so that I could attend the local Grammar School. And that meant I saw the terrible casualties and the widespread devastation that was caused by the doodle-bugs and Werner Braun’s obscene rockets. All of which I’ve written about in ‘London Pride’ and ‘Citizen Armies’ which is my latest book.

During your teaching years, did you nurture a growing desire to write?

It rather tickled me to be asked whether I ‘nurtured a growing desire to write during my teaching career’, because the question is so wonderfully inapplicable. I didn’t ‘nurture a desire’ to write, I just wrote and enjoyed it, even though I was still sure it wasn’t any good. It was as simple as that. Most of the time I wrote plays. I taught in a variety of schools and the bulk of my time was taken up with encouraging my pupils to enjoy learning, but whenever I found a drama club or a group of kids who wanted to act in a play, I wrote one for them. Very cumbersome things they were because anyone who wanted a part had to have one, so the casts were enormous – on several occasions over a hundred strong. It was great fun. The last five or six were musicals which I wrote in conjunction with a talented teacher from the music department. I learnt a lot from doing that.

What advice would I give to a young writer just starting out?

queen of sagas smlI don’t think I would give them any advice at all. We all have to discover our own writing methods and we are all different. I expect what a newbie would most like to know would be how to persuade one of the big publishers to take their manuscript and publish it and sell it in millions. But another writer can’t tell him/her that. What they need is a good agent. I can tell them how to set about looking for one but that’s the limit. I feel very sorry for newbies in these pushy times. There are thousands of wannabees out there all pushing their work as hard as they can and the competition must be soul destroying. I feel very fortunate to have had a Fairy Godmother around at the two big turning points of my life. One saw to it that the man I was going to marry should turn up on my doorstep at just the right time. The other arranged for an agent to be at the Frankfurt Book Fair and to pick up a rather esoteric book on the next stall on how to cope with period pain that had been published by Ebury and to be interested enough to read it. With his help and support – offered out of the blue and doggedly – I ended up having my first novel published by Century/Futura – no less – and became a best seller. But that’s the stuff of fairy tales. When I tell people the story I also tell them that when I’ve finished they’re at perfect liberty to chant, ‘Liar, liar, pants on fire’ because I don’t believe it either.

Separate from your writing, how would you like to be remembered?

I’m going to answer that with a – suitable when slightly adapted – quotation from Hilaire Belloc.

‘‘When I am dead,’’ he wrote, ‘‘I hope it may be said

His sins were scarlet, but his books were read.’’

***

More about Beryl and her books:

She was evacuated to a place called Felpham, during World War II, igniting an interest in poet William Blake, and went on to become a teacher until 1985 when she became a full-time writer.

Her debut novel “Gates of Paradise” was her 20th novel on Google Books. She admits to writing VERY BAD poems, aged seven but, hey, give a little girl a break! She redeemed herself when her first novel became an instant best seller years later. Beryl is an eclectic writer, publishing family sagas, modern stories and historical novels, including books about the first and second world wars. She reached the pinnacle of one million books with No. 12, and has also written plays for children, stories for magazines and a novella about a conceited cat!

Our celebrated author won The Blake Society Tithe Grant Award, and has been married for 54 years, has three children, five grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren – all apples of her eye… Another distinction, is for receiving the top level for public library lending with her 4th book.

Beryl’s books, include:

“Hearts and Farthings”

And the sequel “Kisses and Ha’pennies”

Modern: “Laura’s Way” and “Maggie’s Boy”

Historical: 18th/19th/20th centuries, WWI & II – “A Time to Love” and “Avalanche of Daisies.”

Beryl’s 30th book, ‘Citizen Armies’, will be published this year on 2nd September.


Her books can be purchased from Amazon UK / Amazon.com and from bookstores

You can find Beryl on Twitter and her Website

© Joy Lennick 2019

Pictures © copyright Beryl Kingston & Imperial War Museum

Back to the 50’s – The Wedding

Now… where did I leave off? Not exactly on a ‘cliff hanger,’ but nevertheless a ‘big’ moment in my young life. I was accepted into the Jewish faith, and relieved that I was at least over that hurdle. I also had a mental picture of my future mother-in-law smiling broadly, for ‘arrangements’ had to be made! But that was in the future. My ‘significant other’ and I continued to save and plan, until we caught sight of the wedding date. What followed was testing to say the least. The topic of ‘the table seating plan…’ arose, as expected. (Any readers unfamiliar with Jewish wedding table planning will, sadly, not appreciate the ironic humour and angst which accompanies such a feat of endurance.)

Don’t you dare seat Aunt Beccy next to Uncle Solly…There could be fireworks. Oy vey!” And the fraught subject of the mixing of The Cohens, The Catholics and the ‘Taffies’ was aired and discussed.

I had to ask Grandma H to tell Uncle William and Uncle Percy not to slink out to the pub half -way through the proceedings. (Common in ‘working class’ Christian weddings at that time!) Oh the shame…

Aware that we couldn’t ‘let the side down’ so to speak, regarding the wedding reception, Eric and I worked our butts off and saved hard: walking everywhere when possible and watched the pennies grow into pounds.

It didn’t take a lot to make us happy and we had great fun just being in each other’s company. The time flew, until, on a very special, freezing Sunday in February, 1953, with the snow glistening in the sunshine, we were spliced at the Bernard Baron synagogue in East London. As tradition decreed – and as Eric’s parents were separated, and mine were not of the Jewish faith – we had ‘stand-ins’ under the Chuppa. Let me explain: mature couples, usually friends of the bride and groom, step forward in such cases and deem it an honour to ‘stand under the Chuppah’ for the couple. But before that part of the proceedings took place, we were taken to the relevant houses of the couples and given a tasty ‘breakfast’ (not an egg or rasher of bacon – bite your tongue – in sight!) Back to the synagogue, under the silver-embroidered, velvet chuppah, resplendent with early Spring flowers, with vows made and the ceremony complete, a glass in a velvet bag was crushed underfoot by the bridegroom to the congregation’s cry ‘Mazel tov!’ (good fortune or luck). The obligatory photographs followed (taken by the – later famous – ‘Mirror’ newspaper photographer Monty Fresco.) Thereafter we ate enough to feed a multitude of people – all delicious it must be said – in time to the lively music of a four piece Jewish band. Da-da-da-da-da-da-da….da-da-de-da…etc., It was difficult not to raise soup spoon, knife, fork and pastry fork to our lips in time to the rhythm! Food digested, we danced – of course – then, phew – tiny pastries, hot cherries and ice cream, were served to keep hunger pangs at bay around 10 o’clock…all washed down with copious amounts of wine. Bouquet duly despatched, my hew husband and I were driven to a two night honeymoon in the Strand Palace hotel.

I recall showering confetti in the lift, and blushing as the ‘lift boy’ grinned in his knowledge that we were newly-weds. Breakfast in bed – in a hotel! – was a first and we later walked down the Strand and nearly froze as the temperature plummeted. We had enough money between us for a magazine and a box of chocolates to also entertain us after dinner… and left with sixpence between us once the fare home had been paid! Happy as larks – we had some money left over after the ‘affair’ had been paid for (which Mum was holding for safe-keeping) – we set up home in ‘two rooms and a landing (the kitchen),’ in ‘Mr. and Mrs. Golding’s’ house in Forest Gate, a London suburb. Water was two flights of stairs down and our kitchen consisted of a gas stove, eye level cupboard and a waist high cupboard. We managed fine and lived there for three and a half happy years, entertaining friends and even having a few parties!! How times and needs have changed!