The Chinese curse of May You Live in Interesting Times well and truly struck this week, didn’t it? I have tried to keep away from news media, I really have. But the appalling tragicomedy that is our current government just wouldn’t leave me alone. And then I re-encountered Rupert Bear.
I was really grateful to my friend and fellow writer Lesley Cookman for spending a happy few hours in the Rupert Bear Centenary Exhibition at the Beaney (House of Art and Knowledge) in Canterbury. She came back and told our Zoom Circle all about it. Continue reading →
Tomorrow is the Queen’s funeral. There will be a great deal of black and much sombre music. And probably quite a few tears. Not a day for laughter.
But the Queen was a woman who had a mischievous sense of humour, a woman who, in private and sometimes in public, loved a joke.
Remembering the Queen’s sense of fun
So today, in advance of all that sombre black, I suggest we remember her funny side. Mostly, as Sophie said last week, she kept a straight face in case someone was offended. But sometimes, just sometimes, she had a chance to let her puckish sense of fun have full rein.
Last week the Libertà Hive and several fellow authors were on a writing retreat in the north. It was a great shock, when I came down to raid the fridge for lunch on Thursday, to find four of them, very serious, sitting round the table looking at the news feed on various laptops. “It’s over,” said one. “The Queen is going.” They had heard the announcement made by the Speaker of the House of Commons.
At first, I didn’t believe it. I may even have said, “Going where?” But then someone else said, “Of course it’s been coming for a long time.” And I realised what they meant.
It was like that moment on a staircase, when you trip and think you’ve righted yourself, only then to find you’re still falling. All the way to the bottom. (I’ve done it twice.)
For me, this week has mostly been about the impact on my diary of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. I don’t mean just the parties, though I admit I prepared food for two, and attended three (so far).
But there were also the logistics. The “holiday” encompassed the spring Bank Holiday, now transferred to Thursday 2nd June, through Friday to Monday or even Tuesday. Parking charges were waived on Friday and Monday but not Saturday by my local authority.
Some shops closed but, in my area of Central London, most didn’t, though some of them adjusted their hours. There were queues round the block for my local Italian ice cream purveyor every time the sun came out.
And then there was the chat. Everyone I met had something to say about the celebrations, the Queen, the royal Family, the decorations and, of course, the weather.
There was a positive rash of Union Jacks in shop windows, They were on cars and even bicycles. Strings of them cross the King’s Road. And, at the end of Royal Avenue, there was a Mini dressed as a Union Jack. My photograph shows the display in the course of construction. Continue reading →
If you thought I was missing in action lately, you were partly right. It is nearly 18 months since I last posted here. Indeed, it is nearly 2 years since I was last in the UK. Duty calls, you understand, and sometimes overseas. But I am back now, you’ll be relieved to know.
And I can see that things have been going rapidly downhill while I’ve been trapped in southern climes. Britain is much in need of strong and clear leadership and communication.
I am raring to go.
It is right up my proverbial street, after all.
And now that I am back, I intend to See That Things Improve.
Rather to my surprise, people have been asking me to recommend books for lockdown reading. Virtual strangers, some of them. I suppose they think a writer reads more than other people. Well, to keep abreast of the competition, if nothing else.
Now, I like talking about books. And I am congenitally incapable of ignoring a request for help.
But this particular question throws me into a quandary. I mean I can happily spout for hours on books I love. As you probably know. But…
Finding a story that somebody else might like, especially someone I barely know (not to mention that someone’s son, daughter or grandchild) is hard. To be honest, it has left me with eyeballs swishing about, looking for the escape hatch.
So far I’ve blundered through, hauling up titles from the cellarage pretty much at random. Do people want books they can read together? Or are they trying to read to block out the effects of too much togetherness?
With a very uncertain Christmas coming, I thought I’d try to be a bit more disciplined.
This week my eye was drawn to a couple of exchanges about Gone With the Wind on social media.
The book has always been controversial, even when it was first published. It was a huge, instant bestseller, so you couldn’t ignore it. But historians challenged its accuracy and many people were disturbed by its depiction of slave-owning as acceptable and the novel’s attitude to the slaves themselves.
It was published in the USA in 1936, between the end of the Great Depression and the start of the Second World War. It was a debut novel, written by Margaret Mitchell, a 35-year-old woman, and set in her native Georgia.
And it was enormous, a five-part tome covering the whole of the Civil War in the South and its aftermath.
In spite of that, it sold 1 million copies in its first year and won her the National Book Award in 1936 and the Pulitzer Prize in 1937.
The 1939 film of the book was the great colour-filled masterpiece, from the gloriously costumed drawing rooms of Clayton County to the terrifying burning of Atlanta.
It won ten Academy Awards, including Hattie McDaniel’s Best Supporting Actress Oscar, the first award ever to an African American. Though her treatment at the ceremony was shameful, as Queen Latifah is the most recent to point out. It’s all part of the long controversy, social, artistic and academic, that the work has inspired.
A couple of weeks ago, Sarah and Joanna took you on a virtual tour of some of their favourite places. We hope you enjoyed the ruins — from all around Britain — and the other inspirational locations they took you to.
Now, since we’re still in lockdown, Liz and Sophie are going to be your guides for a second instalment.
Ready? Your trip starts here…
Libertà’s Favourite Places #3 : Standen House & Garden (Liz)
At the first sniff of spring, the DD and I usually head off to our nearest National Trust property,