Canadian capers – part I

The year was 1957, and while World War II was well behind us, surely another war wouldn’t break out over the Suez Crisis, would it?! Meanwhile – with the complicated political shenanigans proceeding and hotting up – queues at the petrol pumps were creating huge problems and racked tempers for drivers in the UK, more specifically, my dear husband! As he was a “door-to-door salesman,” he really needed his van to make a living! The situation grew so serious, Canada House became a target for would-be immigrants and the queues vied with those at petrol stations.

no warThe potted history of the situation was as follows: The catalyst for the joint British-French-Israeli attack on Egypt was the nationalization of the Suez Canal by Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser in the July of 1956 but because of bad vibes between Russia and the USA and talk of a ‘nuclear’ situation, Eisenhower intervened and the troops were withdrawn. Canada was still large on my husband’s horizon, less so on mine. Here’s what happened!

‘Im indoors, having a very positive and persuasive manner, somehow or other convinced me it was a sensible and advantageous move to live in Canada, and so we joined the queue, even though I shed a few buckets-full of tears at the thought of leaving my beloved family behind. (Hardly the “Mayflower” type at the time! I changed.)

And so, with large trunk and suitcases packed, he and I, with several friends and family members in tow, and tears galore, bade goodbye at Waterloo station. ‘I’ll never see you again…’ wailed my dear, maternal grandma, my mother was beyond words… and then the tannoy system informed us that ‘Due to a dock strike in France, the “Il de France” sailing to Canada has been cancelled. Passengers due to sail on her will be transferred to “The Italia” which will be leaving in the morning and docking in New York.’ Surely an omen, I thought! Talk about an anti-climax… everyone went home, except us, and we spent the night in a flat due to be my eldest brother’s home in London when he married a few months later.

italia-editThe next morning, my dad, bless him, came all the way to Southampton to see us off. Mum couldn’t face it. We were the last on board ship, as there was a delay locating our trunk! Another omen?

I saw sense and pulled myself together. (‘If we don’t like it, we can always return,’ my other half soft-talked.) Our fellow shipmates seemed a pleasant, varied bunch; we were allocated a first class, huge cabin, and thoughts of walking down Time Square and exploring The Big Apple suddenly appealed.

Our very first, longer sea voyage (the previous short one being to the island of Jersey) proved to be most enjoyable, except for the presence of a badly scarred and obviously hostile German steward who we avoided when we could… All was fine and dandy – until we hit deeper waters and an unusual swell emptied the breakfast crowd like Houdini – my husband being among their number. Luckily I seem to have a good “sea stomach.” Soon all was tranquil again and we floated/swam in the pool; did lots of fine dining and sunned ourselves on a steady deck.

teddyIn the passenger mix, were famous British singers Teddy Johnson and Pearl Carr, who serenaded us at the last-night party with their recorded and popular “Sing Little Birdie,” which was fun, and sailing past the famous Statue of Liberty looming out of an early morning heat-haze the next day was an exciting first. “Time Square” wasn’t and disappointed, but oh the delights of shops which never closed; supermarkets (?), air conditioning (?) and so much that was different in so many ways. It was June though and NY in June can be mighty hot for a Brit! We sizzled.

Generous, distant relatives: lovely, hospitable Bill and Mary Boyle, kindly accommodated us for three, action-packed, days when we ate our first pizza and hot dog (mixed reactions), visited Coney Island (a let-down but still a breeze – and we had the bruises to prove it! ) I bought a polka-dot dress in Macy’s, and we strolled in Central Park: an oasis of calm in a noisy, teeming city. The next day, we left – adrenaline flowing – for the land of the Maple Leaf and The Rockies.

postcard-torontoAfter a comfortable journey, we arrived in Toronto in a near Hurricane – some Palm trees nearly bent double – disappointed our expected friends were not there to meet us (we’d telegrammed) and we felt like a couple of refugees. Oh dear. We telephoned another contact and a most generous couple met us, fed us and put up for the night! How lucky was that. The next day was a total turn-around.

Awaking to bird-song: we were near, huge, Lake Ontario, a bountiful sun beamed down and we were brim-full of optimism. We were spoilt by the choice of apartments to let, a temporary plan, and soon found a large, immaculately clean rooming house nearby which proved to fool us! The owners were German Canadians, seeming pleasant: the wife a “House-Frau” with knobs on… There were no locks on any doors, which should have been a clue. There being two, single men on the premises, made for an uncomfortable feeling. We didn’t plan staying long, which proved prophetic.

Our “missing friends” found us, so we invited them around for a meal and a game of cards the following week. We played the wireless quietly, aware there were two children asleep downstairs. Apart from dear H divesting himself of a tie, there was no strip polka or any other raucous goings-on, and our friends left at midnight. Oh, had we blotted our copy-book. The next morning, an irate Frau said:

‘You must leave next week. We don’t allow guests in our rooms.’ So that was that.

psycho houseRoost No. 2 was something else… Imagine, if you will, the house in the film “Psycho” – innocent enough in daylight – but once dusk hovered, imagination came out to play. Nevertheless, it was solid, spacious, clean and had enough rooms to share with our friends, which worked well financially. It was near Castle Loma, Toronto’s only “Castle.” Again, there were no locks on any doors (?) The owners lived on the ground floor, we shared the first and a couple rented the floor above us. (Note: ‘He’ – we never met ‘them’ – played the organ every night from 11 pm to 12 pm. A noisy fact.)

Except for having to use the huge, creepy, claustrophobic cellar where the washing machine was housed (plus mysterious objects hidden and clothed), and where the sinister, gold-toothed lodger periodically appeared – quiet as a cat, making my heart pump – the arrangement with our friends worked well. We shared the housework, cooking and costs. Life was good.

End of Canadian capers – part one. Read Part two here

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2019

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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

‘Fire!’ and separate tables!

Or the everyday life of a hotelier…

We were still wondering about our quirky guest, nicknamed “Dr.Strangeglove,” but gradually life showed us a more mundane face, and as it was then winter, and a little more peaceful than usual, we had more time to update and renovate .

Fortunately my ‘Gordon Blue’ – who had been an excellent cabinet-maker in his time – capable of fitting out kitchens and bedrooms, etc., and a dab hand at DIY, decided, as he wasn’t ready, time-wise, to refit the kitchen then, would place a large “splash-back” behind the cooker and bought a panel of Formica (all the rage then) to temporarily fit the need. Measurements were carefully made, and doors and window opened to dilute any aromas around. Our few paying guests were out and it was an ideal slot for the job. Or so we/he thought…

fawlty fireCarefully applying the necessary glue to one surface of the Formica, GB climbed on a small ladder, armed with said panel, leant over the stove when WHOOSH! The panel he was holding became a flaming shield…Fortunately, he acted with sensible speed, dropped it on the floor, and did what could only be described as a demented flamenco dance and put out the flames. HE HAD FORGOTTEN ABOUT THE STOVE’S PILOT LIGHT!! WHOOPS… Luckily, he only singed a few hairs and had very mild burns on his hands, and I, being at the extreme end of the kitchen was OK but aghast at the scene which played out before me. You had to be there…

Assuring me he was ‘All right!’ my relief turned to despair as a million – no exaggeration – particles of burnt Formica formed a “black snow-storm” swirling around the dining-room. The beautiful snow-white spotted muslin curtains covering six windows (put up that morning) were covered in black blemishes, as were all the clothed tables (ready for dinner later!!).

Surprisingly, I didn’t cry as I realized time was of the essence as they say… Unbelievably, I was able to shake most of the black smuts off the curtains in the garden, so only had to replace a few fresh ones, luckily available! Luck was also on my side as we had recently bought ‘over-cloths’ made of a wipe-able material, soft to the touch, although slightly plasticised, which protected our white damask ones underneath. Of course, the vacuum had to be employed, the duster used vigorously and the kitchen floor washed, but all things considered, we managed OK. GB had thrust his hands in cold water and later smeared them in Vaseline. I shuddered. It could have been so much worse!!

We only had four guests for dinner that night, which was served, surprisingly, on time. Little did they know, as I smiled and made small-talk, of the drama which unfolded just a few hours earlier!

There followed a brief, fairly quiet interlude, until our new paying guest arrived that is…

Ms Groves approached me in the lounge: ‘I have a good friend called Mrs. Solomons and she’s looking for somewhere to stay for a few months before she goes to paint in the South of France. Have you a room available?’ I had, she inspected it; was happy with the terms and so, later, moved in, with a few other belongings and her clothes.

Mrs S, a widow, was a sweet, untidy but friendly lady, who always looked a little “un-ironed” and her hair-bun kept losing its clips. She was also a little unaware of the time, whereas Ms. Groves was a stickler for appearing and being ‘ON THE DOT!’ as she reminded me if we were ever late serving her afternoon tea… (with a little smile of course!) Anyway, you get the picture…

mrs richardsOn Mrs S’s first day with us, I moved a slightly larger table in place, picked some flowers from our garden and made a small arrangement to greet her and called Ms. Groves to approve before she arrived. Well… she stepped back, her face like thunder and her hands started shaking.

‘I have never shared a table with anyone, ever!’ she declared, as if a crime had been committed. And so, with a shrug, I laid two tables and they conversed in loud voices for the duration of Mrs S’s stay.

I relayed the scene to GB and we said in unison ‘Shades of Separate Tables.’ (I wouldn’t have been surprised to see David Niven walk through the door… )

And so life continued, with Ms. Groves seated for dinner by six o’clock and Mrs. S always hurrying in at five or ten minutes past, while Ms. Groves frowned, tutted and visibly checked her watch.

It wasn’t long after Mrs. S’s arrival, that my father had a heart attack, and, as we were in Bournemouth and he in Essex, made hurried plans to visit him in hospital. We had no other guests booked in for two days, so laid a table in the dining room with kettle, toaster, various foodstuffs and a flask of stewed steak and vegetables, with fruit to follow. We only planned being away one night, and, thankfully, Dad hadn’t had a heart attack, but had pulled a muscle underneath his heart.

burnt-toast-in-toaster-with-clipping-path_40453-215What a kerfuffle when we arrived back at the hotel… Ms. Groves burnt the toast at breakfast-time which set off the fire alarm… The Fire Brigade arrived and the Chief said we had been totally negligent leaving two elderly people alone in the hotel!! (Both fit as proverbial fiddles). Further, the Chief didn’t know that we had alerted the owner of the adjacent hotel that we had to leave for the night. GB. nearly hit the roof….‘And,’ Ms. Groves informed us, pointing at several crumbs adorning the carpet between their two tables, ‘by the way, those crumbs are HERS!’

We went right off Ms. Groves after that!
Look out for more posts about life in “Broughton Hotel”

 

© Joy Lennick 2019

Fawlty Towers images © Copyright BBC Television

 

Scribblings from an eventful life

crab‘Mature’ rather than ‘old’ sounds more palatable to octogenarians (I know we’re only kidding ourselves…) but mentally, we are ‘all’ ages, depending on the mercy of the specific ailment we are suffering from on any particular day! I have no intention of being flippant about bad health (been there and have the clichéd T-shirt…) and will place it respectfully to one side for now.

Most days, having sidled out of bed (crablike) and pinched myself… I gently ‘reassemble’ (really!) of a morning, eschewing the unfavourable mirror – trust me, there is one – shower and apply minimal make-up (no mutton-dressed-as-lamb stuff for me!). A simple, healthy, breakfast follows, and then I welcome what the day has to offer.

Now retired to Spain, on warmer days (generous here!) we: ‘Im indoors’ and I venture near the Mediterranean sea around twice a week for breakfast or coffee or have same on our patio. When friends arrive from distant shores, we join them now and then for lunch or dinner; or go for a drive somewhere scenic, all of which is most pleasant.

There is, of course, a BUT. We don’t always feel like spring chickens, and we do have our ‘off’ days, weather-wise, so it is comforting to have indoor pursuits like music, TV, crossword puzzles (husband), reading and – in my case – writing.

And that is when the memories come creeping in!

Doctor Clouseau?

doc bag1969. With three of my desired children born, the youngest son not yet one year old, a business to run (a large greengrocers/grocer’s shop) and a husband on the verge of having an ulcer, I did not want to hear my doctor announce: ‘An operation ASAP,’ after one of the first smear test results came back positive… That was on a Monday and I had the operation on the Friday, so hurray for a speedy NHS, then. The dreaded word: ‘Cancer’ was rarely mentioned then, so I told my biggest lie ever… and said I had a gynaecological problem – which was sorta true…(didn’t want to worry the folks unduly).

All went well, and with no chemotherapy required. I was elated, despite having to stay in hospital for two long weeks… (Gold stars for my darling Mum and husband).

On release, I felt so well I did a good shop, cleaned where needed and cooked a celebratory dinner for us all. And then I haemorrhaged. Imagining a clanging ambulance dash to hospital to receive pints of blood, I was shocked to be told by the Matron on the phone. “Put your bed on blocks, tear up a sheet, climb in and lie still until your doctor arrives.” Oh dear. Hours later… a young, most annoyed, gruff… assistant doctor arrived.

“You’re very lucky, you know!” he said, frowning (My own, lovely doctor was on holiday). Injecting me with a needle the size of the Post Office Tower building… seeming surprised when I winced, he then gave me a HUGE tablet, on which I nearly choked (No exaggeration). I wondered, briefly, about his marital bedside manner, for his ‘professional’ one was the pits… I was still doubled up in pain (was that an ‘Exit’ sign I spotted on my retina?!) Meanwhile, he treated me as a damned nuisance. Fortunately, things changed.

After a few, perfunctory questions and ‘advice’? the reluctant doctor closed his black case resting on the bed, ignorantly trapping the cord of my husband’s striped pyjamas just peeping from beneath a pillow and proceeded to drag them across the floor like a comatose tiger. I had difficulty in restraining a giggle, but the entertainment wasn’t over, no siree. In his haste to escape, the doctor tripped over one of the bed blocks and flew through the – lucky for him – open doorway. By then, despite the pain, I was convulsed with laughter. Red-faced and furious, he returned to the room and released said offending pyjama trousers from his case. The patient lived. The cure? Humour…

That was over fifty years ago, and it still makes me smile.

If you’d like more tales from the past, keep in touch for ‘memorable memories.’

 

© Joy Lennick 2018