Monday, 19 February 2018

Fabrication not fiction! weaving update ...

My past couple of blog posts have been serious – perhaps too much for some, I don’t know.
Time to lighten the mood then! It’s a while since I issued a weaving update. A few Facebook people politely expressed interested in this so here's more evidence of looming madness - a few home crafted products, as our house and family members are becoming somewhat swathed in various tartans and plaids.  My previous post last year.
I find it sadly therapeutic seeing a medley of colours grow into an item that I know for sure no-one else in the world has ever seen!! Very much not mass-produced!
These carry on from where I left off last time. Yes, we have too many cushions.

After making a pale fine baby blanket I embraced the brightest colours I could find for a lightly padded cot blanket or play mat.
Colours inspired by native American Indian craft. 

... this was the soft, baby blanket with matching, tiny, prem-baby garments.

Now, like it or not, all family members will be receiving for birthdays a scarf to suit their personalities. My lucky son-in-law was first on the calendar and I had thought black, white, grey with a hint of red, but daughter put me right, assuring me that he is a muddy-brown, muddy-green with a hint of mustard kind of guy.

Combined the usual with a length of fabric I had in the cupboard for years - kitchen chair cushions, lightly padded but quite flat.

 oh - another view of the one above ...

 and the blanket of many colours folded ready for gift-wrapping!
 Yeah, for Christmas!!

I like to try and make square cushions symmetrical in design; so unless you have a very sharp, photographic memory, the rows need to be recorded on paper as once you get started the length gets rolled up on the loom and disappears out of sight.
This one is to go with bedroom colour scheme. 

Enough? for now anyway ...
Thanks for bearing with me.

When I see Michael Portillo on TV I'm inspired to wonder if he might like a scarf woven in all his jacket and trousers colourways. What do you think?

Monday, 5 February 2018

A rapport with Kazuo Ishiguro?

Dare I claim such a thing? Kazuo Ishiguro won the Nobel Prize for Literature last year, as you may know. I have just re-read his early novels written in the nineteen-eighties, A Pale View of Hills and An Artist of the Floating World, two short but perfectly formed novels that have aged on my bookshelf to the point where they are now falling apart!

I was totally transfixed listening to his Nobel Laureate speech given in Stockholm, when he explained how memories do not just fade but also may be coloured, even distorted by time and later assumptions. He sees reality as being at best fragile and refers to Marcel Proust’s ‘Memories of Things Past’ – I found this exciting as I refer to this in my novel  No Gypsies Served when my half-Gypsy hero decides to write his life story and reflects upon a quotation from this very book. This comes close to the end of chapter 2.

The following day Dunstan switched on his computer with a heavy heart, recalling books he had read in his ‘literary phase’ in his thirties, and in particular Marcel Proust’s A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, or, as he read it, Remembrance of Things Past and he had recently come across a quotation from it: We find a little of everything in our memory, it is a sort of pharmacy, a sort of chemical laboratory, in which our groping hand may come to rest, now on a sedative drug, now on a dangerous poison. 
Indeed. Well, he had started something he knew he must follow through but his reasons for trying to unearth memories, revisit his childhood and those troubled days as a younger man, had changed substantially. Initially it was to please Kay. How feeble and pathetic that seemed now. He had to chuckle. It was a poor reason to commit to such a massive undertaking. 
Since dipping a toe in those turbulent waters, feeling their danger and strength suck him in, he could see it was no mean task to rekindle emotions and recall harrowing scenes of his life that he had conveniently tucked away for so long.

The sentiment in the Proust quotation describes well how Ishiguro's characters' recollections are sometimes unreliable. Delusion, memories that shift and slide form a recurring theme in his novels.
I personally love his disdain for genre, as being mostly a marketing tool, and indeed he sees the barriers now breaking down, as genres merge more and more.  I wrote a couple of blog posts in November 2009 on this vexed question  Still bugged by genres and how it can sometimes seem like the tail wagging the dog; so this was music to my ears when I tuned into an interview  and heard his thoughts. (Where he also confessed to having problems with setting – not that you’d notice!) Like many writers he likes freedom in writing, not the confines of a particular label and in his latest book The Buried Giant he uses myth and fantasy. 
You might be forgiven for thinking that he was brought up in Japan when you read his first two novels, but he and his parents came over to England when he was five years old, so as a young man he felt largely ignorant of his homeland. Of course the aftermath of the 1941 nuclear bomb in Nagasaki, where he was born, was not only well documented but must have been in the background of many a family conversation, especially where his grandparents were concerned. He came to realise that the old way of life he could vaguely remember, mostly through stories he had heard as a young child, may have been to some extent an ‘emotional construct’. This idea seems to flow through his characters’ struggle to grasp memories with clarity. Also the switches in chronology – now so commonplace in fiction were not the norm thirty years ago.
Remains of the Day, Man Booker Prize winner 1989, and Never Let me Go have both been made into films and he finds TV and cinema exciting. Literature in its printed form must offer something special in its storytelling to compete culturally with the screen. He believes that a novel can build up gradually to achieve a satisfactory resolution, rather than is found in many films, where the viewer’s attention is grabbed boldly only to find that the momentum may peter out. This is my understanding of what I have heard him say and, again, is something with which I dare to whole-heartedly agree.   

Sunday, 28 January 2018

An Uncounted People, a film for Holocaust Day

Yesterday morning I went along to the Surrey History Centre in Woking, Surrey, to a rare showing of an award-winning Canadian film, A People Uncounted for Holocaust Memorial Day. Filmed in 11 countries, it focuses on the 500,000 Roma who were murdered. The title suggests that the number is an underestimation, as they went unrecognised until relatively recently – not until 1982 in Germany. In the Nuremberg trials no Roma Gypsies were called to testify.

The word Porrajmos means ‘devouring’ or ‘rape' and is the word for the Romani holocaust. It is not just the numbers that make this film so powerful, but the dark, harrowing detail from first-hand accounts by survivors who are inevitably diminishing, since they tend to be over 90 or even 100 years old.

The Roma are the largest ethnic minority group in Europe – and the diaspora of Gypsies is the largest in Surrey today. Along with Jews, disabled people, resisters to the regime, and homosexuals, they were systematically oppressed, persecuted, and finally gassed and cremated.

You may not have heard of this documentary. Despite it being five years old, it might not have attracted a wide audience yet I would guess that anyone who has seen it would feel impelled to recommend it to others. It is important for, as Dr Ian Hancock, highly respected author of We Are the Romani People and Director of the Romani Archives at the University of Texas, chillingly says in the film ‘It could happen again’. He would not say this lightly.

The film reminds us of other genocides around the world, both current and recent, and of the appalling racism and hate that still exists between different peoples. As many news bulletins confirm, hate crime is on the increase rather than something the human race has resolved and consigned to history.

It shows shocking images and reminders of events of which we are perhaps aware but have become dangerously complacent. I make no apology for recalling here some horrendous facts from the film. Branded like animals with a Z for Gypsy, denied basic rights, the Roma were referred to as vermin. Nazi eugenics is well known but the Institute for Race Hygiene in 1939 worked on the premise that the Roma were born to criminality, lazy and so on. Their facial features were measured and children who did not measure up, literally, were deported to Auschwitz. A respected child psychologist, who died in just 1966, carried out this work.

Before the 1939 Olympics, the Gypsies, Sinti, Roma, were moved to live next to a garbage dump with nothing.  How often have Gypsies and Travellers been tucked away on unhealthy, toxic and poorly drained land?

A survivor from 2,800 people in Vienna herded onto trains tells how a blacksmith stayed behind because he was deemed useful. Local ‘social services’ deported people to avoid paying for their upkeep. Death was caused by forced labour. Massed killings by poisonous gas followed later. Auschwitz had what was called a ‘Gypsy Family Camp’ and about 60 metres away from the buildings into which they were crammed, were the crematoriums. They arrived daily, to be gassed in 8 – 10 minutes, and burned. When the crematoriums were overflowing, the people still alive would be driven into forest or field to pits where rubbish was burned and forced to simply jump in.

A 105 year-old survivor tells of how 5,000 mostly old people, robbed of their possessions, were transported to Transnistria. They had nothing, no water and drank from puddles. Another survivor tells of how Roma were loaded onto cardboard boats. They were shot, the bodies eaten by crows and dogs. A man was made to rape his own mother. There was nowhere to sleep or to eat and they lived for two years in that misery. These are all fragments of what the survivors tell us in the film. The Final Solution was signed by Himmler in March 1938 but the suffering that preceded this is largely undocumented which is what makes this film so very significant. Moreover, after the war, by which time 90% had perished, the remainder had nowhere to live, no papers, nothing and stayed in the concentration camps. Thereafter, with children unable to read or write, they were at a continual disadvantage as they struggled to merely survive. What we must remember is that, even today Roma in Europe and Gypsies in the UK live in the shadow of this dark history.

A man describes what it was like to be herded onto the cattle trucks, upright like pencils stacked in a box. They could not move. An exhausted woman could no longer hold her child and had to let the child slide down to the floor, then could not bend enough to pick up the child and they were both eventually trampled to death.

Then there was the medical experimentation in Dr Mengele’s laboratory, for which Roma children were used. One survivor tells of how the eyes were removed from a living 12 year-old, without anaesthetic.

Surrey has one of the largest Romany Gypsy and Traveller populations in the UK, still suffering from inequalities that racism brings – in education, employment, health, and above all, homelessness, which underpins everything else and is becoming a massive problem for the Gypsy and Traveller community.

I began exploring this very problem over ten years ago and then wrote Gypsies Stop tHere. I am uncertain as to whether certain issues have improved but I do know of great work that is going on and will write about this another time.

The Surrey Gypsy Traveller Communities Forum has bought the rights to show this film. As Jeremy Harte, of Bourne Hall Museum in Epsom, puts it, ‘As ethnic intolerance flares up in Europe, this film sheds light on this unique culture while presenting the Roma tale as emblematic of the world’s legacy of racism and genocide. Closer to home, this film presents a powerful and thought-provoking challenge to what the Commission for Racial Equality has described as ‘the last acceptable form of racism’ in our own country.’

To end, I quote from a talk given by one of two survivors who spoke movingly in a Memorial Service that took place just before the film yesterday. He quoted from Edmund Burke, the 18th century Irish politician, who said: ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing.’

If I ever hear of another showing of this film, I will let you know.

Friday, 25 August 2017

Going back to Tetbury

Tetbury in Gloucestershire is a small town, or large village, and HRH Prince Charles lives in Highgrove a couple of miles away on the Bath road. I mention that for those of you who may not have heard of Tetbury. It kind of puts it on the map!
I lived there until I was 17. In 2012, when I wrote about my memories of the 1950s and 1960s Coming Full Circle I was astounded by the response, especially from people who remembered me and my family. Take a look and you’ll see what I mean! To have so many comments is quite a rare, heart-warming thing.
I have a deep fondness for Tetbury, as you will see from this nostalgic trip I took a few weeks ago, and it greatly influenced the setting for my novels. Appley Green lies on the border of Surrey and Hampshire, but its sense of community was very much derived from my early years. Tetbury is both very different and the same from how it was when I was a child and I decided to go back on my own to revisit some of those memories - for real!  My parents passed away in the 1990s, so it's a while since I’ve wandered Tetbury streets simply to absorb both changes and familiar sights.

This may have no relevance to you if you’ve never heard of the place, let alone been there. I understand that, but if you read on you may be tempted to stop there on your way to Devon or Cornwall for example, or take it in when you ‘do the Cotswolds’.

Unsurprisingly, the shops have all changed since I was a child. So here we are inside a relative newcomer, Highgrove Shop  in Long Street. 

I took a sneaky photo of Chavenage House mentioned in my 2012 post, familiar to you perhaps as Trenwith in TV’s Poldark.  
Imagine Aidan Turner galloping all the way from those Cornish clifftops to Tetbury. Must have been a nightmare for the continuity team!

This photo will mean a lot to people who remember as I do, but I am sorry it may be of no interest to others.  This is the back of The Ferns, what was Sir William Romney’s School, also mentioned  in my 2012 post.

The huge Cedar tree is still there – iconic and steadfast – but the beautiful grounds with their lawn tennis courts and herbaceous borders are pretty much built over now. Here’s a couple of old photos taken on my first ever camera, a Brownie, snatching glimpses of it as it was: I was a bit of a daydreamer on the tennis court.

This alleyway is Eccles Court.

You may well say, 'So what?' A tad self-indulgent, and obscure for you, but it means a lot to me as I walked along this four times a day to and from Courtfield School situated near The Chipping. I remember swinging round those metal posts so well, and in a wall was a triangle of three holes where you could insert thumb and two fingers and make a wish! Now, covered by an interesting plaque!

This used to be the girls’ playground at Courtfield School and house where a progressive teacher lived.
She let us call her ‘Sylvia’ – yes, in the 1950s - and did some kind of strange chanting with her pupils. A friend and I spent a Saturday morning cleaning her windows, something I’d never done before. Our parents knew nothing of this and neither, I suspect, did our headmistress, Miss Rymer!
This is the side rear view of the school, set in a lovely, rather wild garden where children must not stray from  the paths ...
... and surrounded by a high Cotswold stone wall, and as you can see here those grounds are totally hidden behind big trees (not so big 60 years ago).  

Opposite the school are the quite famous Chipping Steps ...
... and another photo in an area that was the cattle market, at the base of steep Gumstool Hill.  A pen has been preserved to its memory.
Looking down from Gumstool Hill where the old woolsack races took place. Still do! 

From the opposite side, this one also looks down and is the exact spot where the photo for Vogue magazine was taken in 1942 and later reproduced in The Telegraph 1995.

The maternity home on Gumstool Hill where I was born! The story goes that my almost 10 year-old sister was not allowed in and our Dad threw some pocket-money to her out of the window as compensation! Hopefully the coins did not roll down the hill!
This is the shop behind the old Town Hall that I imagined as the Wool and Baby shop (not actually selling babies!) in Secrets in Appley Green, my fourth novel, set in the Sixties.

Another one for Tetbury  aficionados, many of you belonging to the amazing  Old Tetbury Facebook page.  Not just any old woods, but Bluebell Woods and the path that leads mysteriously to Hermit’s Cave where, as 1950s free-range children, we once played.

A bit dark, but I vividly remember this field in Chavenage Lane being alive at dusk with scampering rabbits and full of cowslips, before myxomatosis and the decline of indigenous flowers.

The house where I lived until I left home. The rockery was built by my father when they first moved there and had many rare alpine plants – it was his pride and joy. No ball games allowed!

I had thought this was demolished so was delighted to see it now uncovered and intact, though a little devoid of plants!
An earlier photo taken in 2010 shows the ‘dwarf’ conifers planted by my father. You see why I thought the rockery had disappeared!

I recall the neighbours in their gardens along this road of eight houses, all clapping and cheering me (oh yes they did!) one sunny afternoon as I managed to ride my first bike without falling off, (until I was out of their sight!). Perhaps this memory is slightly rose-tinted! 

Photo of me as a teenager and rockery! 
and as a baby with my sister - the same, now famous, rockery behind us. 

For anyone tempted to take a look at my old home town, it is a place of great history, beautiful to explore, under bridges, over bridges, through alleys and up steep steps!

Visit Tetbury

Monday, 24 April 2017

A Tale of Two 'Trafficless' Villages

Now is the time of year for getting out and about when the sun shines. I love to explore Surrey villages and then write about what is going on for Surrey Life magazine.  It never ceases to amaze me how much activity is buzzing behind the scenes in what often looks like a sleepy hamlet or quiet village high street – apart from the traffic!
It’s inspiring to talk to people who, often quite modestly, lie behind events, clubs, campaigns and so on – those ‘movers and shakers’ who make things happen.  A few weeks ago I visited Stoneleigh Community Library to meet up with Diana Kay and her creative writing group, and donate three of my books.
The location of the library is unusual. In the middle of a vast area of London suburbia, a residential rabbit-warren, you come to a high street and wonder where is the traffic? Parked cars, yes, but virtually nothing moving on wheels!
The reason is that it becomes a cul-de-sac where the railway station lies and right there, opposite the station, is the library. This gives Stoneleigh a real village feel and is such a pleasant surprise – in fact it is more peaceful than some country villages where  traffic streams through. I wrote about this solid, enterprising little library in the February issue if you want to take a look: Notes from a Small Village, page 47
Within a few days I visited Watts Gallery in Compton near Guildford to talk to Dr Desna Greenhow in the lovely tea-shop there about Mary Watts.  I also met up with Tristan Greatrex in Shere to find out more about him and the wonderful website he runs for that picturesque and historic village. Shere draws a host of visitors for which there is a large, free car park!
You can find the Mary Watts article in the current issue of Surrey Life (May) and the Shere column will be in the June magazine, out mid-May.
Surrey is a great county for country walks, as well as villages, and last week my husband and I took our dog to Hindhead to do the Devil’s Punch Bowl walk. So lovely to see the many shades of green that come with fresh spring growth - sorry, no blue sky at the time! 

Surrey people and those who live nearby in Sussex will be aware of the story behind Hindhead – the building of a tunnel that lies 65 metres below the walk pathway. The busy A3 that stretches from London to Portsmouth used to pass through the village as a single-carriageway and proved to be a terrible bottleneck for traffic. Since 2011 the road goes underneath an area of land called the Devil’s Punch Bowl and has transformed the village, as you can imagine.

We remember dicing with death, years ago, crossing the road half-way through the walk (see photos for how it is now!) and again at the end to get back to the car park. Now all is calm.

If only all villages could have a by-pass!! How many times do I say this every year? My family are probably tired of hearing me say it – a pipe-dream.  Or is it?

Appley Green does its best to be free of traffic!!

Saturday, 28 January 2017

B-looming marvellous! Weaving a new story ...

I decided to try something new. In retirement I get phases, little surges of enthusiasm that cause me to dip a toe into new waters and this time it is weaving.
It feels good to take a break from writing novels, even though this is my first creative love; the marketing and selling of books can be all-consuming if you are serious about it. Life is too short!
So here, in pictures, is the story I’ve woven so far on my new passion – my lovely loom.

It arrived in a long thin box. First construct loom!


Now - what to make that has essentially straight sides?
Order wool, and set up the warp.

Actually quite excited at this stage,
seeing the effect of colours melding
and the whole thing growing so much faster than knitting.

Moving swiftly on - the finished product.
Of course a scarf, what did you expect?

Ordered more wool. It's like setting up a paint-box.
Now for something to accessorise the conservatory ...

Not quite wide enough for the cushion cover I planned.
Never mind - this is a ... er ... mat, I guess. A sample.
Now must repeat but make bigger.

Will keep you posted!