Thursday 27 June 2013

They've got her on the list, the lady novelist.

So, the portrait of Elizabeth Fry is about to be replaced by a.n.other on the 5 pound note. To be quite honest, I only remembered that her picture was actually on the note when it was announced that she was about to be ousted. Did I ever know it was there, despite the fact that being a Quaker she was an ancestral member of the ever-shrinking bunch of people to which I myself belong? With constant daily usage, pictures on bank notes become wallpaper after a time: we become blind to the design on the paper which our grubby fingers handle on a daily basis. I'm not sure our Liz would even have approved of having the dubious honour of being there, though those old Quaker (mostly chocolate) families didn't actually spurn money, but used it wisely, the modest profits going partly to building houses for their workers and on other laudable projects. Elizabeth Fry was of course a woman who dedicated her life to reforming the awful conditions in Victorian prisons.

So, who is to be the replacement? It was with some puzzlement I heard this morning that it might be the novelist Jane Austen, an ancestral member of yet another of my groups, though 
one that seems to be expanding rather than shrinking. Jane wrote some excellent novels, dealing (under a flimsy veil of romanticism and 19th century manners) the human condition. An immensely talented woman, but really, did those made-up stories written in the comfort of a middle class home and earning the author a considerable income actually do anything to improve the lot of less fortunate men and women? (She has thousands of fans, so I'm expecting a lot of flack!) My money, my five pound note, would be on someone like Mary Seacole, who unlike Florence Nightingale, was actually there, on the battlefields of the Crimea, caring for the dying and wounded. Mary, from the West Indies, applied to become a nurse and to travel to the Crimea to do just that, but was rejected by whoever was running things at the time, so she used her own small income to get there under her own steam, where she opened a hospital she called the British Hotel. Laudable? If not Mary, someone equally unselfish and generous with their time and money. There are surely more worthy women than novelists?

Wednesday 19 June 2013

Good Old Boys

These are a few of my classmates from an RAF Boy Entrants military school in the mid-50's. I won't bore you with names, but despite the fact that I hadn't seen most of them for 50 years, I felt an instant affinity with them at our reunion. Some of them had retained a vestige of their 15-year-old looks, while others had changed completely. All of us bore the ravages that time works on the body over half-a-century. The pictures above were taken 5 years ago and two or three of those in them are gone now, reminding the rest of us of our mortality. It's a very strange experience to walk into a room of people you knew intimately in your youth, but have not seen for over half-a-lifetime. In essence, once we started talking (and once I knew who I was actually talking to) they had not changed. Bob was still Bob and Tam was still Tam and so on through the gang. They were as easy to talk to as my own family, who have been by my side almost as long.

What have I garnered from this weekend that pulled the past up and put it before me in my dotage? Really, I suppose, that there is something eternal in a group spirit. Dave, Bob and dear old Alan have passed on, but though their faces won't be at the next reunion, which takes place this year, they'll still be there with us as an invisible part of the whole. We began our training at 15 years of age with almost a hundred of us - now down to a score. Most of them have achieved what they set out to do. I do not know any one of them who has serious regrets of any kind. I could be wrong, but I don't think so. They are the good old boys who served with me. Some of them reached dizzy heights in rank, others changed course and went into civilian life - 55 years of life so far -  but still, when I see them, talk with them, they still have that 15-year-old inside them, just below the surface.

Sunday 9 June 2013

The Bay of Fires

This is the Bay of Fires on Tasmania. I don't know how long the beach is, but it's loooong - and you can see how crowded it is. We spent a week in a beautiful house above that beach in 2006 with our Aussie friends, Carolyn and Pete, who live in Melbourne. Dolphins swam by most mornings and bright blue fairy wrens perched on the veranda rail. There was a deadly snake who lived in the woodpile underneath the house - I think they called him Bob - which the owners did not see the need to get removed. I don't have a snake phobia, but I do have a reasonable fear of a deadly poisonous reptile. I was always careful to tread softly when passing Bob's home of logs and I'm sure that were the place mine I would have have preferred a cold house in the winter to rooting around for firewood.

Anyway, what's my point? Well, I have a new collection of short stories coming out from Infinity Plus at the end of this month entitled 'The Fabulous Beast' and one of those stories was written in that house above the Bay of Fires. It was a perfect environment in which to write. I'm sure if I had spent a year or two there I would be in my shed making a shelf for a bunch of literary prizes. I know writers have different ideas about where they need to be to write - some probably like the blare of London or New York traffic - others the solitude of a garden room that faces a placid lake or tranquil river - still others the wild-weather Shetlands. I love the sound of waves breaking on the beach, a clear blue sky above, and a long crescent of sand curving out towards the horizon and dropping below it.

I should do it, I know, but real life ain't like that mate. There's other people and other things to consider. I'll leave my readers to guess which of the tales found its paper home over the Bay of Fires.