A view of the Front from the Back
21 September 2017
I can not believe, at this stage in my life, how people were so different when we were at war in the 1940's.
They sang their way to eventual peace and many to oblivion.
They believed, rightly, and strongly, in King and Country in that order.
They sang "We will hang out our washing on the Siegfried Line" ostensibly to annoy Hitler, though I doubt whether he ever came across them arriving in France with the washing baskets.
Vera Lynn was the prime singer of the moment. The nation was united and steadfast and eventual victory was a close-run thing; must have been dire because the country politely informed me that my help was necessary. I was heading fast for an armoured regiment within 6 Airborne Division.
And here, discovered in my files by accident during a search for some trivial thing, a war-time letter to me from another journalist, a union official, who I thought at the time was of sound mind; now I am not so sure.
I was surprised to hear that you had joined the Forces. Somehow I had always thought of you in the same category as myself - one who was missing all the fun.
When the war is over I shall have hardly any reminiscences with which to bore everybody to death. In fact, the number and weight of other people's war stories is likely to be too much for me. I expect an early decease in the post-war era...
I am glad, therefore, to see that you have defended yourself against a similarly dreadful state and I shall confidently expect you to send me to sleep or off my mind at any future cricket match with, 'When I was in the Army.'
Well, dear friend, I am too lazy ever to do anything without at least a purpose and I now come to it.
Your departure came upon me unawares and I find that contributions are owing for July, August and September.
Perhaps you could make arrangements to let me have same (I love that word) at your earliest opportunity and certainly before the end of hostilities. You see, otherwise you will be out of benefit and think what our feelings would be if you started selling matches or began letting down the side.
I loathe being so tactless in mentioning these things, but I know you will want to spare us any more than we already have to bear.
Best wishes, and remember to collect the right kind of stories - we are so particular
He signed it with his full name.
Oh, and I forgot to mention it: We won.
Don't say I didn't warn you
Here we are, towards the end of August, and I saw an advert that said I was to book my Christmas dinner. This followed adverts of last November when I was invited to go cruising nine months hence.
Life is in such a hurry these days that you are invited to soften your old age with savings shortly after you are born.
I was about to say "while you are still in short pants." But those days are gone. Lads at school are in long pants and their fathers are in shorts. Why? I don't know. It's just a sartorial tsunami and it blew up from nowhere.
Rich people will book their children into Eton before they are conceived. Poor people will put their offspring down for an invalid chair at the same time.
Where were we? Ah, Christmas. Yes, let us examine Christmas since we have been rudely reminded of its coming while the beaches are fully occupied. Well, the ones not covered in chemical fumes, that is.
Auntie Mary, senior citizen (ie, old) is choosing a tie for her nephew which he will never wear, and he will thank her for it in February in a note beginning: "Sorry for the delay, but things have been so hectic..."
On Christmas Day alone, she will have looked at her four cards, wondering whether, next year, there will be three.
Office girls are twittering in flocks of 50, pecking at the dinner they ordered in July and when they order drinks, they will have written them down - "One lemonade, no ice; eight still orange juices, three with ice; four martinis, two with ice, three with lemon..."
The bartender curses them under his breath because they will haggle over the cost to the very last penny.
There are 50 ways of drinking disastrously and the girls from the typing pool know every one.
At 14 they discovered that snowballs came in little bottles. At 15 they discovered cherry brandy. At 16 they discovered Bacardi and Coke. At 17 they mixed the lot seven times in 20 minutes flat - then that's what they were, flat. They wanted to die and couldn't move.
The real drinkers, the professionals as it were, are morose and keep clear. Their sacred places at the bar are occupied and desecrated by amateurs.
Important people send very large cards. Arty people send very small ones. Poor people wrap presents with great care. Rich people throw theirs at the foot of the tree.
The girl who isn't married will get eight bottles of cologne, all identical. She will wish instead for a house, a husband, a child, and pans.
The girl with a house, a husband, a child and pans will wish for eight bottles of cologne but she will not get them. She will get a scarf, a food mixer and, with luck, a pair of leather boots.
Many do not care what Christmas is really about. The message gets lost in the melee. A million expiring turkeys know what it is about because they are martyrs of tradition.
After one gin, Uncle Albert, who comes twice a year, is affable; after two, thoughtful; after three garrulous; after four, he remembers what his sister-in-law said at their Norman's funeral and fists fly.
Father Christmas runs the gauntlet of 200 children and his beard flies off and hangs from his ears. He replaces it without embarrassment as if God created him that way.
The thousand-piece jigsaw has two pieces missing. The radio controlled toy car has twice run across the landing before taking to the stairs where it dies instantly.
Jenny, who moved heaven and earth to get a doll that cries in bed and has bad habits, ended up with two real kids, and she doesn't like the habits of either. The child who asked for "a banister case" has got her vanity case.
In the old people's home they sit along the walls as they do, all their possessions in their handbags, which they clutch to their stomachs. They know it is Christmas because there is holly over the door.
The last of the roses still bear witness to a year gone. Shoots of daffodils will promise a spring to come. Round the table there are new young faces and old familiar faces have gone.
"Here's to another one" says Uncle Joe, and he wears a silly hat with an expression that does not match. It does not match because he is remembering, while the young poke about in his chair looking for two missing pieces of the jigsaw.
And that's Christmas. And I warn you now - it's coming. Run!
Ronald Carter, blacksmith
Violet Carson (Ena Sharples)
"The magic of Shakespeare swept me off my feet. Then I'm back to 'Ee, by gum' in the Street. It trapped me. It made me, if you like: it has gone all over the world. But it has destroyed me, because nobody sees me or anything about me."
Dame Gracie Fields & me
(Railway Children)L S Lowry (above)
"You're not getting your ball back," she used to shout. "You'll kill somebody, you lot."
The crucible (climbing)
copyright: Geoffrey Mather 2017
(collected in one spot) On growing old So there they were - Hollywood dominating the world with its Clark Gables, Jean Harlows, Spencer Tracys, Garbos and Bogarts, tears in its eyes, inventive, vulnerable, blessed by climate, limos and money but tormented, insecure and edgy as fledglings in nests. Bennett's art is to take the apparently trivial - his mother's views of "her betters" and so on - and make them meaningful in much larger ways. Miss Shepherd tested all his beliefs and inhibitions one by one. The two of them existed together, but in worlds apart, like aliens. And yet, I suspect, it was the sameness that reached furthest into the writer's psyche. His long essay on Miss Shepherd is superb. Even on the second reading, I was laughing out loud, to the disgust of the dog,, and in the next sentence feeling for Bennett's own agony. So you have this magic formula, where the relationship between two people over 20 years can match the life experiences of us all.
"I am all for the unusual on Page One. I do not read stories of the type headed ' Bandits gag, tie up woman' very much nowadays because people are always gagging and tying up women. Such incidents are as common as gas-oven suicides."
became editor of the Daily Express in October, 1933, a position he held for 24 years until 1957. During his editorship sales peaked at two million in 1935, over three million in 1944 and four million in 1949. Each day he wrote a bulletin. It was compulsory reading for members of editorial staff. Here are many of those bulletins.
+ Molloy of the Mirror + Clive James + Churchill + Big-ego words + Vanishing language + Noam Chomsky's words + Great words of great events
In spite of his own eccentricities, he wanted the world to behave as he expected it to. Big companies, shops, waiters and hotel managers were his normal fodder. He terrorised them. When he snagged a coat on something protruding in Woolworth's, he said to the manager, "This is an expensive coat." "I can see it is," said the manager. "I noticed it when you came in." "Right," said Brian Duff, "I expect you to pay for it. And I don't want it invisibly mended because you can see it."
Sir James Scott Douglas (gossip columnist)
When an editor complained of his booking into an expensive London hotel - the Dorchester as I recall - at the firm's expense, James merely said, "Where else can one entertain one's proprietor?" and the matter was hurriedly concluded, since no-one was prepared to phone (the late) Sir Max Aitken, who bossed the place at the time.
I asked Jim (I always called him Jim, to be perverse, though it was obvious that he was entitled to James) to find out something one day - on the phone, I emphasised - and he said, "Oh yes, I shall ring" - go on, guess - "...Uncle Essex." It made me wish I had an Uncle Oswaldtwistle
James had a habit of living extravagantly and encountering hard times, which is how he came to be a journalist. Both conditions were once almost fundamental to the job.
Pub Talk with Peter Thomas
Dudley Doolittle (comic),