Maud Coleno’s Daughter

The Life of Dorothy Hartman, 1898-1957

Sample:

Before the curtain

The former Lady Dalrymple, and now the widow Dorothy Hartman, known to her intimates as Dodo, had been a glamorous society hostess and successful business woman. Her life spanned five decades, three marriages from the music halls to the jazz age, through two world wars to the birth of rock and roll. But it was not how it had begun.

Dodo really didn’t want her early life re-called, she had gone to some lengths to re-invent herself (and parentage too), and the past truths could have jeopardised her present fiction.

This is her story, because it falls short of a detailed biography, as there are no diaries, papers or photographs for the first half of her life to refer to, and if they had existed, they would have been air-brushed out of the picture long ago. As if the certain past had never existed.

There are of course official records and some newspaper cuttings –they could not be edited-out, although some of these too have been recorded with a touch of the family obfuscation, sending the researcher in a different direction.

However, we get a glimpse of the pert young show-girl, and the parts played by her family. In charting her progress it was necessary for the writer to occasionally speculate with these small factual jig-saw pieces to form a mostly true story narrative.

Dodo had suffering from a heart complaint for some time for which there was no cure. Her fate had been sealed as inevitably 1957 drew to a close. No amount of wealth could prevent it – ‘like the distant roll of thunder at a picnic’ [1].

A past secret had surfaced in the last few years, so she had made a new will. The contents of which, once revealed would cause surprise after her death, and continue to cause family acrimony.

In the last few weeks she had taken to bed, attended only by her servants, private secretary and occasional visitor. The time usually spent in her Mayfair apartment at Berkeley House during the week –would now continue, the weekend entertaining at Stumblehole Farm in Surrey put on hold. Despite her illness she still insisted on the high standards expected of staff.

In fact in her remaining weeks she had dismissed her London Cook Ivy Hinton over an incident concerning some inappropriate menus. She had sent for her dependable Stumblehole cook, whose maternal nature instinctively coaxed ‘the patient’ to eat simple and nourishing dishes to encourage her failing appetite.

Dorothy Hartman was widely acknowledged for her generosity with household and business staff, not to mention the beneficiaries of her various charities and Children’s Home. The farm and estate children had been collecting firewood for weeks, and unusually Hartman had given permission to use any remaining straw in the barn, with the effect that the bonfire burnt for four days like a funeral pyre [2]. Although the weather was not promising as it had been stormy and wet since the beginning of November. It wasn’t surprising that she had provided twenty-five pound’s worth of fireworks for their annual ‘Guy Fawkes’ bonfire night celebration at her farm. Then on the same evening of 5th November 1957 at around eight o’clock she died quietly with only Henry Rowan her physician Helene Dupont her lady’s maid and loyal butler Frank Gear in attendance.

Keeping a vigil her close confidante and executor Nicky Vansittart was devastated. The following day, whilst household staff were coming to terms with events, Gear had the unenviable task of officially registering her death with the Westminster Registrar, Marjorie Jordan, Hartman’s personal secretary had telephoned Mrs Farr, with the news one of many on her contact list, she was the wife of the Rector of St. Mary and St. Ethelbert church in the Wiltshire village of Luckington; Hartman’s country home during the war years.

She knew what to do. Making her way to the nearby village of Sherston, she entered the High Street post office, and took a telegram blank from the rack, away from prying eyes and local gossip she composed a brief message to send to South Africa.

=MOTHER DIED 5TH CREMATION MONDAY = FARR + [3]

 But to observers Dorothy Hartman didn’t have any children –did she? There was Mark, a distant step–son from her marriage to Sir David Dalrymple, and a married step-daughter Betty Gwinner, from her late husband Frederick Hartman’s first marriage – but no other children. The press had always reported she was childless.

This was a complete mystery to everyone including her business partners, household staff and particularly the Executor of her will a close friend.

Her life had been one long performance –but in death it now began to unravel.

Act I    A child of the fin de siècle (1898 -1915)

/1 New Woman /  2 Cow’s cathedral  / 3 Maud Manchester  / 4 William Abbott
/ 5 The Jubilee party  / 6 Country girl  /7 Ingénue in the chorus

Act II  Captain Lewis takes leave (1915 – 1923)

/8 The gas cloud at Ypres  /9 Love at the Cavendish  /10 A marriage of convenience
/11 In praise of older men

 

  Act III Lord Dalrymple entertains (1919-1932)

/12 The Albion affair  /13 Marriage amongst the clans  /14 A very public divorce
15 The Dalrymples’ of Newhailes  /16 The actress and the peer  /17 Iberian sojourns
/18 David’s dénouement

 

Act IV Captain Hartman’s business   (1933-1942)

19 Third time lucky  /20 The Hartmann family  /21 The Lady Hanson affair
/22 Lendrum & Hartman Ltd  /23 The Gabrielle Brown affair
/24 Northease Manor  /25 The Beaufortshire spies

 

Act V   Nicky Vansittart –‘at last’ (1938-57)

/26 Luckington  /27 The Vansittarts’  /28 Smoke & mirrors
29 Post war years  /30 The Mayfair hostess  /31 Dodo’s child  /32 Stumblehole
/33 Dodo’s bequeath  /34 End of the tour

 

After the curtain

/35 Rapprochement  /36 Envoi
Notes
Bibliography
Index

 

Act I  A child of the fin de siècle   (1898 -1915)

 “The boy I love is up in the gallery,
The boy I love is looking now at me,
There he is, can’t you see, waving his handkerchief,
As merry as a robin that sings on a tree.”
Chorus of a music hall song, made famous by Marie Lloyd -not to mention Maud Coleno

-1- New Woman

Maud Coleno’s daughter was born into a late Victorian London at the beginning of 1898. This was the fin de siècle -an explosive cocktail of endings, beginnings and transitions, a remarkably dynamic time. The naughty nineties, was a period of fun-loving and laxity, especially in sexual morals. It was an age of tremendous change, not only in morals but art, politics, science and society were revolutionised by the emergence of new theories and challenges to tradition. It was a time of heightened uncertainty and questioning old values as the century was coming to its end.

In Britain by 1891 nearly half the women were in the paid work force, with the overwhelming number in domestic service, textiles and clothing factories – the working class occupations. But for those with any talent the stage offered an independent life for many of them, through the burgeoning demand in the music halls and stardom for a few.

In London a few years earlier the women and teenage girls working at the Bryant and May Factory in Bow, took part in what became known as the match-girls’ strike. Over a thousand had refused to work -sparked by an unfair dismissal, and combined with poor working conditions. Their factory day lasted fourteen-hours, their meagre pay was often finned excessively on some minor pretext, and the conditions produced severe health complications working with white phosphorus. The strike publicity caused a public outcry, and within a month they had won concessions and their strike ended.

It was an emerging form of emancipated womanhood. The figure of the ‘new woman’ threatened conventional ideas -both social and sexual about ideal Victorian womanhood. In 1867 the London Society for Women’s Suffrage had been formed; and three years later the Married Women’s Property Act was passed by Parliament which allowed married women to own their own property. Previously, when women married, their property transferred to their husbands. Divorce heavily favoured men, allowing property to remain in their possession. This act allowed women to keep their property, married, divorced, single or widowed.

Around the mid-1890s the term ‘new woman’ had drifted into circulation with the foundation of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage. A rebellion that was free-spirited and independent, educated and uninterested in marriage and children. Women’s rights were promoted in literature by sympathetic authors like Grant Allen, who published a novel The Woman Who Did in 1895, creating controversy right from the start, with conservative readers. However, the social mood was changing, and Allen’s title could have served as a ten-plate for the child of this story.

 

The new industrialisation was making England the richest country and London the greatest city the world had seen in size, wealth and grandeur. Yet it was also a city where poverty and disease were rife. It had seen its population raised six fold in a century and together with its outer villages and suburbs it reached six million in 1900.

It became a magnet absorbing over half of all migrants from within Britain itself, as well as immigrants, created by revolutions and political struggles of late nineteenth-century Europe bringing many from Russia, Poland, France, Italy and Germany. This cosmopolitan mix filled its neighbourhoods, occupying the bright streets and dingy courts of the capital with their trades, languages and customs.

The influx of people fuelled a need for social entertainment, more than just the old meeting places taverns and coffee houses of the eighteenth century, where men met to drink and do business.

A new type of entertainment developed out of these pubs -the music halls, introducing performers who sang songs whilst the audience now ate drank and joined in the singing. These became so popular that entertainment was put on two or three times a week. By the 1870s over three hundred music halls had been built in London alone, such as the Alhambra in Leicester Square, the Oxford Music Hall, famous for its lively barmaids, and hundreds more scattered across the British Isles.

 

New performers were needed to fill the stages at all these brash new Empires and Palaces that soon sprang up to meet the new middle-class demand, so young women – often the daughters of supper club and tavern veterans – stepped into the spotlight for the first time.

A typical music hall bill would feature a chairman keeping order with a gavel, a comedian or two, dancers in daring costumes, novelty acts like a juggler, contortionists, trapeze artists or trick cyclists, a drag act, and a magician.

However, singing and the comic song remained at the heart of music hall – and the star was always the singer. Men like Albert Chevalier and then George Robey were adored, but it was the women and their signature songs that topped the bill.

 

-2- Cow’s Cathedral

London at the turn of the twentieth century, was a city full of crowded streets with the pervading smells of chipped potatoes, horse dung (one-thousand tons deposited daily –by something like three-hundred thousand horses) and old leather. Whilst at night the leaping naphtha flames along the main roads; the glittering multi-coloured shop windows, the sound of street barrel organs, brightly lit music halls with their enticing posters and the highly decorated pubs with their ornate mirrors and plate glass windows.

The streets littered with cigar and cigarette ends, mud and straw created a wave of specialist trades such as ‘sweepers’ –to clear your path across the road, ‘uniformed shoe-blacks’ –to clean muck off footwear, ‘link-boys’ brandishing flaming torches would appear as if by magic in thick fog to guide you.

In the winter months, when dusk gathers in the mid-afternoon, the looming buildings would merge into a dark labyrinth of shadows beyond, created by a ‘London particular’ when in 1871 a New York Times article referred to “London, particularly, where the population are periodically submerged in a fog of the consistency of pea soup…” So called by it similarity to that colour and consistency – very thick, and often yellowish, green.

You could smell and taste the fog, smoky sulphur, which produced a choking sensation. The product of a million coal fires burning cheap bituminous coal in open grates polluting the atmosphere with clouds of filthy black smoke, which could not easily disperse, carrying noxious fumes, infections and lung diseases.

The city resounded with a symphony of fog horns on the river and thousands of people coughing in the street. This image of London became fixed in the imagination of the world – a place where caped policemen flitted in pairs between gas-lamps through the sulphurous haze, and men worked all day at counters and ledgers by artificial light and in the winter never saw the sun.

London has always been a city of villages each becoming absorbed by the steady expansion from the old city limits, but even today they retain much of their individuality.

The district of Camden lies just three miles north of the city of London, on the road through Kentish town towards Hampstead and Highgate. It was a rural setting in the early nineteenth century, which had been slowly developed, because of its location, canals and then later the railways, enabling it to become a thriving economy.

Most of Camden’s early houses had been designed for middle class families. These houses, built in yellow stock brick, were typically of three storeys, with a basement service area and often an attic containing the servants’ quarters. Some smaller two-storey cottages had also been erected for the less affluent.

No one in the middle of the nineteenth century depicted the rural suburbs of London better than Charles Dickens, and Camden in particular, in which he sets many of his fictional characters –where as a boy, he lived with his impoverished family. His memories of that time were vividly brought to life in his later novels. His home, a four roomed house in Bayham Street – then a rural area, backing on to meadows, became the setting of the Cratchit family in A Christmas Carol (1843). Bob Cratchit used to run from his home in Camden to the city each day thus saving bus fares, a round trip distance of six miles. Another fictional resident was Polly Toodles family featured in Dombey and Son, (1846) his novel in which he describes the coming of the railways to Camden. His old house yet again becomes the setting of his impecunious Micawber family in David Copperfield, (1849). Camden was also the location where Dickens installed his teenage mistress the young actress and Meuse Ellen Ternan after he left his wife.

By the end of the nineteenth century most of the housing stock was now soot-stained and run-down. Multiple-occupancy had become the norm: large houses originally built for the middle classes and their servants had been divided into apartments, and few premises were without boarders or lodgers.

At the heart of Camden’s community the Bedford Music Hall, had reigned supreme for over thirty years. It was demolished in 1898 and a new theatre, The Bedford Palace of Varieties, was built on the site a year later. It would feature performers like Marie Lloyd, Little Tich and later both the actor Charlie Chaplin and singer Gracie Fields appeared there.

Near the junction of Camden High Street, was another much older institution, the Mother Red Cap pub so called after Jinny Bingham known as ‘The Shrew of Kentish Town’, who’s chequered love life included sheltering highwaymen. She lived up to her legend as a witch in a cottage -with her black cat, where the pub now stands. It was rebuilt in its present form in 1875 and by 1898 it was run by landlord Walter Holden. It still stands today, although re-named the Worlds End.

On the other side of the same road at the junction of Camden High Street and Kentish Town Road, where the workhouse once stood until 1817; Thomas Brown a farmer since 1790 had opened his dairy in 1822. Brown’s Dairy in its early days was a no-nonsense utility place, but in its later years had developed all the ‘folie de grandeur’ of a late Victorian public house. The interior of the shop was handsomely fitted up and contained some elegantly carved oak frame work, with costly embossed and engraved plate glass, the work of an eminent west-end firm and manufactured expressly for the premises it included large glass cases of gaily feathered stuffed birds. The whole edifice was known locally as the ‘Cows Cathedral’ [1].

By the 1890s this family run Dairy at 176 Camden High Street, had sub-divided their property and created a number of additional low rent shops with lodging rooms above.

The shop front at number 176a, was taken by Arthur Robert Miles for the St Pancras (West) Conservative Association, 176b, was occupied by John Pfund, a provision dealer, 176c, was a fried fish shop run by a Swiss national Antonio Monico, and from 176d, Robert Fairbairn, operated his tailor’s shop.

The weather in London during December 1897 had been mild and changeable, with frost and fog there had also been some rain with thunderstorms. After the rain, the roofs of London would glisten when the winter sun shone through. This effect came from the unique building material used in Victorian London -almost universally provided by the mountains of Wales, shipped from Lord Penrhyn’s quarries near Snowdonia. The dark blue grey Welsh slate, the most durable in the world with a life expectancy of over one hundred and fifty years had become the roofing of choice for Victorian buildings.

There had been a typical ‘London particular’ on the 18th December –a nick-name often used to describe the fog –taken they say from the special brown Madeira wine produced for the London market from around the reign of Queen Anne. So dense was it, that amongst other events a rugby match between Cardiff  FC and Blackheath FC had to be cancelled. As the incredulous Welsh Club secretary later recorded:

“…but that conveyed little of what a London fog was like”, he continued, “On this particular occasion we set off from Charring Cross about 11.30 a.m. and in the ordinary course should have arrived at Blackheath Station about 35 minutes later, but on this occasion we proceeded by such easy stages that we arrived at Blackheath about 4 p.m. It was as black as night there, so we immediately got into a train to go back to Charring Cross, which station we ultimately reached at 7 p.m., having practically been on the train for six hours.”[2]

As December moved into the new year of 1898, the weather was generally dull, dry and abnormally mild for January.

The crowded rooms above Robert Fairbairn’s tailor shop in Camden High Street was rented to two families with children, and a couple of single lodgers, altogether around a dozen or so inhabitants occupying this small terraced building. Here we find the Yarmouth family, a bus conductor his wife and one year old son. William Hurley, a tailors’ porter, his wife Julia and their four sons, George aged eight, Edward six, William three, and Joseph just nine months old.

Other lodgers included an Egyptian Mohamed Abdow who was a Turkish bath attendant and Edward Griffiths a Welsh railwayman.

It was amongst this medley cast that on Tuesday 4th January 1898, in a cramped room and in reduced circumstances the attractive twenty four year old music hall artiste Maude Coleno who could not write her name, gave birth to a daughter in secret. She was named Dorothy Maud Abbott.

A month later on 12th February Maud Coleno –who’s married name was Maud Wainwright falsely registered the birth under the name of Alice Edith Abbott.

Alice of course was unaware that her husband had fathered a child –but all this would emerge in due course. In the meantime William Abbott and Maud Wainwright had to think of what to do with their love child -little Dorothy.

The winter of 1897-98 had been generally snow-free up to this point, when a low pressure tracked southwards across England by February gave London its first big snowfall of the year. The Christmas Pantomime at the Drury Lane Theatre was appropriately Babes in the Wood, with Dan Leno and Herbert Campbell, and by March the fog had returned.

In a few short years all trace of these rooms and buildings would have disappeared. The occupants dispersed. The shops and dwelling house on the corner site of Camden High Street and Kentish Town Road, including Brown’s Dairy were sold for demolition in December 1903, and the dairy moved across the road to Park Street.

This was to make room for the new Camden Town underground station, to the Charing Cross, Euston & Hampstead Railway (now the Northern Line). The station was finally opened in 1907 by then Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, and the location of the former ‘Cow’s Cathedral’ dairy was redeveloped by the Midland bank (now HSBC).

 

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Mrs. Hatton-Jones Regrets (Connie)

From a short story collection:

“When they begin the beguine, It brings back the sound of music so tender’…”

SS Uganda

The taxi bounced along the hot dusty coastal road, lost in our thoughts we sat quietly recovering from the night before behind the comforting shade of our sunglasses. In a little over an hour we were collecting our passport stamp at La Linea the Spanish frontier with Gibraltar. The Rock towers majestically from the road which crosses the airport runway, and winds into the fortress town beneath. The bustle of the port was quite a contrast to our week in Andalucía. Giles and I had booked into the newly opened Queen’s hotel in Boyd Street, close to the Botanical gardens and not far from the shops of Main Street. It was also much cheaper than the fashionable Rock hotel.

After reception formalities, we made our way to the second floor. As we were unpacking we heard a noisy crowd outside. Giles moved to the balcony window, ‘Simon come and look at this’, we saw a stream of noisy Gibraltarians marching along below us with banners proclaiming “British we are, British we stay” –it was an anti-Franco demonstration. We learnt that every so often –usually connected with some domestic unrest and the Spanish politic response would make territorial demands on Gibraltar to avert public attention from the real issues -and naturally these were always rebuffed by Her Majesty’s Government.

We exchanged our remaining pesetas for sterling and decided to explore the Rock. Climbing to visit the siege tunnels and Sergeant-Major Ince’s gallery, we marveled at the tunnels cut through solid rock, which had sighted the British guns effectively during the siege in the late eighteenth century. The main street in Gibraltar seemed curiously familiar, with recognisable English brands, telephone boxes and street signs. We bought a duty free box of hand-made Upmann cigars, and enjoyed the novelty of an ‘English’ pint or two in the Star Bar which we stumbled upon in a Lane off Main Street – in fact it all seemed home from home.

Later that evening we decided to stroll up through the Botanical gardens to the Rock hotel to have a drink (just the one) in the famed Barbary Bar –once the haunt of spies and celebrities in its hey-day during the 1930’s. My impression was that little had changed since then – just the guests perhaps. We strolled out to the Wisteria terrace enjoying the stunning evening views to Africa and Morocco. Relaxing in our wicker chairs, with the hum of the ceiling fans from the Barbary bar, we sipped our gin, imagining ourselves transported back to the cocktail era. The pianist completed the illusion playing a selection of melodies and one of Maud’s favorites, A Nightingale sang in Berkeley Square.

The next day, after breakfast we reported to the Cook’s man in Gibraltar; at the offices of the port agency J. Lucas Imossi and Sons, located in Irish Town, as they handled most of the visiting shipping lines. After formalities we joined other passengers on the tender transfer to the ship. We recognised her immediately as we left the dock, gazing at the white paintwork and distinctive oversized black funnel with its two white bands growing larger, as we steered towards the Uganda laying at anchor in the bay on that sunny September afternoon.

This was her last port of call before England. On the return voyage from Dar-es-Salaam that had started three weeks before in East Africa, she had called at Zanzibar, Tanga, Mombassa, Aden, then through the Red Sea to the Suez Canal and Port Said. Once in the Mediterranean she sailed to Malta, Marseilles and Barcelona before arriving in Gibraltar. The last sector to Tilbury, would take three days. Altogether the 14,000 ton ship carried three-hundred passengers, and unusually, more than half were in first class. This was the age before mass air travel and a leisurely voyage to England allowed travellers’ from Africa to gradually acclimatize. Fellow passengers were a mixture of tea and coffee planters, business people, government, military officials and expatriates, some from the Aberdare highlands the so called ‘Happy Valley’ country of Kenya. In its pre-war heyday it had become infamous for its hedonistic colonial life-styles of the rich and not so famous. One scandalous episode involving a murder inspired a book, and later made into the film ‘White Mischief’. The post war ‘winds of change’ were flowing through the continent. There had been the Kenya Emergency in East Africa, but the ‘Mau Mau’ terrorists had been effectively crushed by the mid 1950’s. This accelerated the period towards independence.

The ship weighed anchor in late afternoon, and the first evening, we descended to ‘C’ deck and presented ourselves at the entrance to the dining room. We were greeted by an immaculate and solicitous maître d. He led us to our table appearing to effortlessly glide (think Fred Astaire) across the dining room. Winding between tables, our senses were assailed by what seemed a sophisticated and ‘well-healed’ atmosphere. The room was decorated in a pre-war art deco style, lightwood veneered walls, recessed with glowing subdued lighting. The floor space was scattered with circular groups of diners, passing the hubble-bubble of table conversations mingled with wafts of exotic and intoxicating female scents.

Table introductions were made, and our fellow guests seemed equal to that evening’s occasion, in long frocks and evening dress. Giles and I on the other hand, only managed modest dark blazers, ties and white shirts. We found ourselves in the company of a Standard Bank executive James Pembroke from Nairobi with his pretty (but quiet) young wife June, an interesting and kindly retired colonial couple (and big-game hunters) Freddie and Alice Jansen who kept us entertained with stories, and the mesmerising Mrs. Hatton-Jones. We learn that she was a divorcee travelling alone, from the so called hedonistic ‘Happy Valley’ set, close to the Aberdare mountains. She was beautifully groomed, with figure to match about medium height, probably middle aged (Giles’s estimate –along with his uninvited observation  ‘you do seem to have a penchant for the more mature woman’) with silver blond hair. She had an uncanny resemblance to the American actress and singer Frances Day, one of Maud’s more outlandish theatrical acquaintances who I had met whilst staying at Abbots Leigh.

Our fellow passengers had already established themselves on the ship, which had been on passage for around twenty-five days. They had developed friendships with their ‘in’ jokes aided and abetted in their table hopping games by the immaculate ‘Fred’, as the maître d, was known, passing their ‘billets-doux’ message slips between tables. We were participating unknowingly in the twilight years of this East African shipping service, with its ship board ‘Drawing room’ together with the colonial guests, characters that would soon fade into history. Even the conversations seemed littered with phrases from another age. ‘thanks awfully’, …don’t I know it darling, …don’t talk a lot of rot, ..’I’d look a fright’.

As fresh faces on board Giles and I received an unusual amount of attention. Connie Hatton-Jones in particular enjoyed herself. She would provocatively lean forward in an apparently innocent, ‘but knowingly’ sort of way to speak to us, showing her ample décolletage. She would pay rapped attention to our every word. Whilst Giles chatted away to another cricket enthusiast James Pembroke, Connie Hatton-Jones flirted outrageously with me, and as Freddie murmured, she had found some new entertainment. I was captivated by her sexual charm, irresistible to men, even more so to young men. That first evening had started tentatively but soon passed effortlessly. Captivated, the wine flowed with interesting conversations and we soaked up the dinner party atmosphere. Later, as guests began to disperse towards the Drawing room, the distant sound of a jazz trumpet playing ‘Cole Porter’s Begin the beguine, Connie knew the song …as she swayed her hips, and hummed some of the lyrics to the tune …”It brings back the sound of music so tender,… of tropical splendour, … a memory evergreen! I’m with you once more…, And down by the shore an orchestra’s playin”……

Connie on impulse caught my arm and with …‘let’s dance, darling’ as she swayed to the rhythm of the music, but Connie was in demand –holding me closer she suggested perhaps meeting ‘accidentally’ for drinks around lunch time tomorrow just you and me for some fun. ‘Let’s meet in the tourist class bar Simon, away from the rest –it’s down on ‘A’ deck’. She had been flirting all evening and flattered by her attention, excited by her warm soft closeness, feminine scent and the prospect- I readily agreed to the proposal. And then she was gone, whisked away on the dance floor by one of her many admirers.

I was excited but also petrified, ‘I feel a bit out of my depth’ I confided to Giles after we returned to our shared cabin. ‘She’ll eat you for breakfast –or lunch in your case’. Well she certainly slips into the category of amply upholstered’. ‘You make her sound like an arm chair’. ‘My point exactly’. Sensing my concern, he went to say ‘look Simon – it’s all a game really, imagine you’re batting on a sticky wicket –take it slowly one ball at a time, but you must go through with it – got to be worth it’  It was the advice of my cricket loving companion, who added with a grin ‘you lucky bugger’.

The following morning, (despite travelling first class), our particular cabin had no bathroom. Our Goanese steward had brought us an early morning cup of tea and a digestive biscuit, and advised a time he’d run a bath in one of the bathrooms, along the corridor. What service! Afterwards we took a quick stroll around the deck, before descending to the dining room for breakfast. There is always something special about breakfast –and it is irresistible on board ship. Reading the menu Giles decided to work his way progressively through the courses.

The menu choice seemed immense, starting with fresh fruit, a wide range of typical English cereals followed by a selection ‘cooked to order’ dishes like smoked cod fillets or grilled Wiltshire bacon with choice of eggs and ‘Hash Cakes American’ – which we both found a novelty, all washed down with the usual toast and marmalade tea or coffee, delicious.

We didn’t see Connie, and learnt from Freddie and Alice that ‘she doesn’t surface before noon’. After breakfast we explored the ship. It was a sunny day, with a warm sea breeze as we decided to join fellow passengers in deck chairs, enjoying the best of the southern European weather, as we ploughed steadily on towards England. I was dozing lightly in the sunshine, when Giles broke the silence. ‘I wonder what’s for lunch’, followed by ‘It’ll be soon time for your seduction Simon’. ‘I’ll leave you to it then’, and with that sauntered off along the deck.

Back in the cabin I splashed some ‘Yardley for men’ aftershave on my face, bracing myself for the inevitable stinging sensation. Slipping on a blazer jacket, pausing to consider a cravat but decided against it, and with a final glance in the mirror stepped out into the corridor and made my way to the bar. Glancing around I noticed Connie was engrossed in a conversation with another older man – she caught my eye but made no sign of recognition. ‘Playing cool’, I thought, as I levered myself on the bar stool and ordered a beer. Time drifted on as I continued to nurse my drink – I began to wonder if this was all a mistake. The steward had been summoned to her table, she spoke to him and signed the pad on his tray, he returned to the bar.

Connie excused herself from her partner and left alone passing me again without recognition and followed by a whiff of Chanel No 5 –and was gone. Not sure if I was to follow, the approaching bar steward interrupted my thoughts, ‘Excuse me sir, the Lady asked me to give you this’, passing a note. Hastily written across his receipt pad, ‘Mrs. Hatton-Jones regrets’, very formal I thought, glancing at my watch realised lunch was practically over, so I ordered another beer. I felt foolish I was out of my emotional depth, and I had had lost out on two events.

Meeting Giles in afternoon he cheerily said, ‘Connie came down to lunch, but she sat with what’s-his-name from the next table, I wondered what she had done with you’. ‘Don’t ask I replied’. Missing lunch, I’d wandered around the deck a few times and the sea air made me ravenous. To compensate from my failed amorous adventure – I even ate two teas, first with the children by agreeing to help their stewards with some conjuring entertainment, (which they and I loved) and later with Giles in the lounge, as I related the story, and for once he didn’t laugh. ‘You do seem to have a thing about older women Simon, that Mrs Van Spengen and now Connie’. The mysterious Connie was absent from dinner –but appeared for desert later at another table, Jansen’s comment ‘Connie is at it again’ made me realise that it had all been a game – an amusement for Mrs. HJ.

Lingering on at the end of dinner, we noticed as staff were clearing and resetting tables in the dining room, they also placed silver circular rings over the table cloths. Wondering why I asked a passing waiter. ‘It’s the Bay sir, – stops dishes sliding off’ apparently it is notorious area for storms. They had announced there was a screening of the Stanley Baxter film ‘The Fast Lady’ in tourist class – where the ship’s entertainment was always considered better so we had been told, so off we sauntered.

Rattan armchairs had been set out for passengers in the open air on aft deck. We settled into the film with our cigars and drink to hand, with a general air of well-being and feeling life was grand! After a while there was a perceptible rolling movement of the ship as we approached the Bay of Biscay. The Rattan chairs began to creak and move slightly with the ship’s motion, increasing rhythmically row by row, as the film continued. In one’s and two’s passenger’s retired for the evening, by now the creaking chair rows were out of rhythm, eventually leaving Giles and me alone in splendid isolation sliding from side to side. It was a surreal evening.

The ship’s menus were extensive with the puddings being a particular personal favorite. I discovered that the school perennial ‘Spotted-Dick’ had been re-branded ‘Mansfield Pudding’ at sea. Giles too had a hearty appetite. In fact he would literally eat his way through all the courses. This was quickly noted and became the focus of the table’s amusement. Individuals would join the table, peruse the menu and make remarks like, ‘what’s Giles’s opinion of such and such?’ Unperturbed by the teasing he always gave a positive opinion usually ‘splendid, absolutely splendid’ much to Fred’s delight.

The weather changed and became cooler as we steamed through the western approaches, towards the English Channel passing an outward bound aircraft carrier on the horizon. After breakfast whilst taking a stroll on deck now wearing pullovers, we watched as the ship picked up the Trinity House pilot off Brixham in Devon for the final run up the channel to the Thames Estuary. Later we watched the faster, P&O Oronsay with her pink painted hull steam past us heading for the nearer port of Southampton.

Giles and I decided to enjoy a drink in the tourist class bar on promenade deck to avoid any ‘heavy rounds’ which would have been inevitable on meeting our newly found (wealthier) travelling companions. We made our one drink last, it seemed forever, – eventually making our way down to the First class dining room. Joining our table guests we exchanged pleasantries noticing the absence of Connie. No dinner jacket on the last night of a voyage –as tradition dictates. We started to peruse the last night dinner menu Giles and I glanced at each other with unspoken understanding as we hadn’t dined better – it seemed a long way from our small London flat and monotonous toast and tea or ‘spag bol’ suppers!

As usual, Fred glided between tables saying he could recommend this or that, and so we ordered. We agreed to cover the entire menu between us. Keeping travel mementoes as I do an old dog-eared copy reminds of what we consumed.

D I N N E R
Lobster Mayonnaise,  Consomme Vermicelli,  Cream of Vegetables
Fillet of Lake Fish Meunière,  English Guinea Fowl Forestière
Roast Quarter of Lamb Mint Sauce Fresh Broccoli,  Chateau & Boiled Potatoes
Grilled to Order 15 minutes Tournedo Bohemienne  
Cold Buffet
Roast Beef,   Horseradish Sauce,   Liver Sausage Salad,  Coleslaw
Sweets
Charlotte Royale,  Poires Belle-Hélène Savoury Canapé Windsor
Dessert Apples Tangerines Figs
Coffee Coffee will be served in the Smoking Room and Drawing Room

 We made our way to the smoking room on promenade deck, for coffee as the menu suggested and to make the most of our duty free cigars. It was a splendid room – like a gentleman’s club, it had highly polished wooden veneered paneled walls, the room set out with blue leather settees and chairs. The crowning glory was a pair of elephant tusks a distinctive feature mounted either side of a painting. They had been a gift from King Freddie as he was known, the Kabaka of Buganda an ancient land now part of Uganda, a few years earlier. On the last morning much to Giles’s disappointment we had to manage on just one orange and a digestive biscuit each for breakfast in our cabin, (brought earlier by our steward). This was because our remaining cash funds (no credit cards then) wouldn’t stretch to all the tips expected at the breakfast table, and we simply couldn’t face the social embarrassment.

But this way of life was to end, and within a few years the shipping service had been withdrawn. The wind of change was blowing through Africa. There was industrial unrest, the development of containerisation for cargo, independence of the East African states and the success of the jet aircraft for passenger transport, all contributed. The Uganda would find another career as a school’s cruise ship and later achieve distinction as a hospital ship during the Falklands War.

The ship rounded the North Foreland and into the calmer waters of the Thames estuary where were to disembark at the Tilbury landing stage on an overcast and grey damp morning. Passing along the ship gangway towards the cathedral-like baggage hall I glimpsed Mrs Hatton-Jones with her luggage porter ahead of us. We were different first class passengers now –reduced to carrying our own suitcases towards the rail platform for the forty-five minute journey to London. We had without realising experienced a glimpse of colonial travel a microcosm of the past –and been part of it for a few days.

I paused watching her disappear, having completed a few pages of my practical travel education. Checking through my pocket for the last of the cash, for the ticket to Fenchurch Street, I chanced upon the bar-tender’s note ‘Mrs. Hatton-Jones regrets’. And for a moment so did I, but as Jack once wrote ‘Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.’ On the train to Fenchurch Street Giles broke the silence with ‘what are we going to tell Hodges on our ‘operational debrief’ Simon -apart for your newly discovered penchant for well upholstered older women? ‘We can’t excite the old man Giles we’ll leave that bit out’.

Note: Abbots Leigh, and Maud are introduced in an earlier short story.

 

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There is no why (Francoise)

From a short story collection:

‘In the chilly hours and minutes of uncertainty’…

paris 68

The lunch was too extravagant, but I knew it would be. Thanks to the generosity of aunt Maude -who still referred to it as the Buffet de la Gare de Lyon –where she’d once dined with Coco Chanel and her lover ‘Boy’ Capel. Le Train Bleu as it was now called had seen better days. I sat contemplating its faded splendor, imagining my aunt sipping her champagne amongst the magnificent wall and ceiling murals with the gilt extravagance of this Belle Époque room. As my eyes cast around there were nymphs and gods lolling indulgently, above tall banks of windows amid miles of gilt embellishment. Massive chandeliers illuminated the many scenes of various locales in southern France –my proposed destination.

I had travelled to France many times before and since, but that time was different. Paris in May 1968 riots raged on the streets, although I didn’t know it then, I played a very small part, in what was to be the eventual downfall of Charles De Gaulle and the fifth Republic. I had found myself marooned in Paris, during the ‘les événements’ – the student revolt that led to a general strike. I had arrived in Paris alone (saving some travel money by using one of the Captain Herbert methods*). Friends had left earlier with the promised use of a family villa near Fréjus, but I had been delayed. My original plan was to buy a rail ticket at the Gare de Lyon, but I’m easily distracted, and lingered too long in the capital; it was too exciting to leave.

After finishing my Rum Baba and savoring the last drop of Pommery, I settled the bill leaving some francs as a tip and walked out into the sunshine passing the restaurant cat, who I had glimpsed wandering through the establishment. Outside, pausing fully replete I decided to walk. Strolling along Rue de Bercy then turning left towards the Pont d’Austerlitz crossing to the left bank, occasionally stopping at various riverside bouquinistes cabinets. I ending up by browsing in the ramshackle Shakespeare & Company, a bookshop located in the Rue de la Bucherie on the Quai opposite Notre Dame. It specialised in English books and I loved the place, and its eccentric people. Originally, Sylvia Beach, an American, founded it in the Rue De Odeon way back in the 1920’s. She had outrageously published James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’. It became the hub of the literary world, frequented with regulars such as Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, T S Eliot, and Esra Pound. It was closed down during the war, but re-opened at the new address in the 1950s by another American, George Whitman. Amongst the higgledy-piggledy shelves of books, I chanced upon, and on an impulse bought, a copy of ‘A Tale of Two Cities’. After leaving, I continued towards the ‘Boul Mich’ as the Boulevard Saint Michel was affectionately known, and into Boulevard Saint Germain.

That afternoon, I sat alone reading in the Café de Flore. It was known as the writer’s café, frequented by the likes of Sartre and his mistress Simon De Beauvoir. It had the lingering scent of Gauloise and Gitanes tobacco, great atmosphere, and a perpetual buzz. I preferred it to its rival, Les Deux Magots, on the adjacent corner. Overhearing a heated discussion, I looking up from my book, caught the eye of a young man, who, pausing from his argument with a group of men, had slumped back in his seat in resignation. I don’t know why, but we often tend to act differently in a foreign land, as he gazed my way, I raised my eyebrows to him with a sympathetic facial acknowledgement. In a moment he had sauntered over to my table and speaking in good English introduced himself. His name was Philippe Dumas. Trying to be sophisticated (but probably failing), I replied in passable French saying, “Trois heures, c’est tourjours trop tard ou trop tôt pour tout ce qu’on veut faire”, quoting Sartre and then asking him how he guessed I was English.

He responded, “Only an Englishman would be…”, pausing he continued “ironique”, reading ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ at such a time”. Declaring “It is the best of times – for you; but, it is the worst of times for us”, he miss-quoted. “Touche” I smiled –tilting my head slightly in replied. “May I sit down?” Philippe inquired with perfect manners, and continued in English. I asked him who he had been arguing with, and he replied shrugging his shoulders, nodding towards another table, “that’s Guy Debord, – drunk as usual, -hates what he calls Anglo-Saxon culture, a lecher too”, he said with feeling. “Really, – it doesn’t surprise me he hates the English”, I responded. “I heard he visited England last year to recruit revolutionaries -most didn’t bother to turn up and the one’s that did preferred to watch football on television and drink beer- rather than listen to him, so I gather he departed.” Philippe thought for a moment assimilating the comment he laughed and exclaimed ‘you English’. Relaxing, we slipped into easy conversation, and the discussion passed quickly from Debord’s absurd situation-ism to politics. It was the start of my ‘French leave’.

*

The troubles had started in a small way, on one or two campuses, and then spread to universities across the country. Around the Sorbonne, the government’s heavy mob Compagnies Rêpublicanes de Sécurité, the CRS – took over the streets in that menacing and heavy-handed way they have, with tear gas and truncheons. At first, drawn along by Philippe’s enthusiasm, I thought it was just a bit of fun, a diversion, but it wasn’t long before things became serious and the fighting began. The barricades grew higher; trees were felled, cars were set on fire. Now the CRS really got going. Hundreds of people were arrested and hundreds more were seriously injured. They attacked indiscriminately: men and women, demonstrators and passers-by. I had witnessed some of the worse street fighting at first hand in early May during the rioting in the Rue St Jaques.

Slowly, the country came to a standstill. The universities were closed, thousands of students affected. There were no trains, no buses, no planes and no ferries across the Channel. I was running short of money. I suppose I could have hitchhiked to Belgium and then England, but I would have been a deserter. Wordsworth, when travelling through France during an earlier revolutionary period with his French lover Annette Vallon, wrote “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven!” It summed up my feelings brilliantly. The air in Paris was intoxicating: a mixture of champagne and tear gas (you could taste it) – one breathe and you were tipsy. I cashed my remaining Travellers Cheques at the Cook’s travel office in the Place de la Madeleine and joined the struggle.

Intoxicated, the words of Sydney Carton’s speech ran through my thoughts, “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done”–. For me, I was now taking part in a re-enactment of Hugo’s Les Misérables; the Commune, barricades and the heroics of little Gavroche re-lived over again. On the left bank, the students reoccupied the Sorbonne and most of the faculty buildings in the 5th and 6th arrondissements. They gave their own lectures, directed traffic, ran the commissariat and covered corridors with superb graffiti: “L’imagination prend le pouvoir”; Exagerer, c’est commencer d’ inventer”; “Dessoules paves c’est la plage”; “Plus je fais l’amour, j’ ai envie de faire la revolution.”

We also produced and displayed posters of Marx, Chairman Mao and of course our icon Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara. (He’d been killed the year before somewhere in Bolivia) He was to become history’s most photogenic Marxist guerrilla, and we fixed these posters to the columns outside the faculty buildings. I threw myself into the fray with Philippe. After a street meeting at the Gare de l’Est in mid-May, he was now taking orders direct from the charismatic student leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit – ‘Danny le Rouge’-on account of his politics and hair colour. I played a small part on the fringes of one or two battles. I sat in lecture halls and listened to speeches and debates. I made new friends and there were endless impromptu dinners, the conversation going on for hours. It was amazing – the tension, the adrenaline. It was surreal days -everything was possible.

I forget what night it was, but the CRS were attacking the great barricade in the Rue Gay Lussac. I was trying to make my way to Philippe’s apartment somewhere beyond the Place Monge where I had a mattress on the floor. The air was thick with gas and cries of fear and anger. The CRS had blocked off one end of a side street just as I entered it. As I turned to retreat; there were more policemen behind me. I attempted to merge into the shadows, but I had been seen. I heard a shout. I was an easy target. I ducked into a doorway. Running footsteps came towards me. I was a foreigner – and English too, sticking his nose in where it wasn’t wanted. I was scared.

Then the door behind me opened. A girl’s voice said, “Suis-moi”.We were all “tu” and “toi” in those days. She grabbed my arm and quickly pulled me through the doorway and closed it quietly. In the darkness she led me across the hallway to the staircase. We paused listening silently, I heard heavy running footsteps pass the door, then she climbed the wooden staircase and I followed. After three or four flights we arrived at the top of the house, to a tiny landing with a room beyond. The door was ajar and the light revealing a narrow bed, with a poster of Che Guevara on the wall. I stood still, my heart still pounding; she quickly walked to the window, opened it and listened. In a moment, she turned to face me, and I blurted out “thanks, you saved my life”. She replied without smiling, “Je vous en prie”, pausing and glancing back at the window saying “les flics sont parties”!

I visibly relaxed, and as my eyes adjusted to the light, for the first time took in her gamine like appearance. She was dressed in a dark green velveteen collar-less jacket, buttoned down the front with a patterned silk scarf around her shoulders tied in a knot at the front. She was slim and slightly shorter than me, and wore black leather trousers. It was her Mediterranean skin, and fresh open face, with her straight, black hair held back behind her head, a style which for some reason I have always associated with French girls since. But most of all it was her hauntingly beautiful doe eyes that had me entranced.

She broke the spell by moving towards me, reaching behind me to the door of the room, and quietly closed it. Seeing me standing awkwardly, “it’s alright to sit down”, she said brushing past, in a waft of scent, waving her arm toward the bed. She then continued in English, “I’ve seen you with Philippe n’est-ce-pas?” “Yes”, I said in surprise. “You are the Englishman”. “Why”? “Why am I English’? I replied foolishly. She continued “les évènements, – it’s our struggle, n’est-ce-pas”?

I wanted to say something profound, but couldn’t. Instead I reached into my jacket pocket for a packet of Gitanes. Pushing the pack open with my thumb I offered her a cigarette, I was then searching for a match, when she took two and walked towards a curtained off part of her room. She pulled back the dark green curtain to reveal a small kitchenette with a gas ring on a small table. She opened a box of matches, putting both cigarettes in her mouth she struck one match and lit them both. Exhaling the smoke with that familiar aroma, she passed one to me, and for the first time gave me a little smile. She sat at the top of the bed, cross-legged and faced me. She persisted, “Pourquoi”?

I still had the Dickens with me and on impulse took it out of my inside pocket and gave it to her. “Your answer is inside”, I replied seriously. She frowned and looked at me curiously, then studiously flicked through the pages, closed it and carefully placed it alongside a framed photograph of two young girls in a garden that was resting on a record player – doubling as a bedside table. Then looking directly into my eyes she inquired, “What’s your name”? I paused and without realising, I’d answered “Sydney – Sydney Carton”. “So, are you ‘ungry Sydney”? She inquired in that ‘Franglais’ accent of hers.

We made an omelette and she opened a bottle of red wine. Her name was Francoise Javal. She told me she was a communist like Philippe, and for some reason seemed to find my ‘Englishness’ amusing and insisting on speaking in English. To this day I can still hear the sexy ‘Franglais’ pronunciation of my newly adopted ‘nom de guerre’ – “So, are you ‘ungry Sydney”?’ It had started to rain -pattering against the window, through which we could hear the distant sound of battle raging in the street below. But for the moment in her garret we remained secure in our own world as we continued to talk.

I learnt she was a music student studying at the Conservatoire de Paris. I asked what instrument she played when she quickly slipped off the bed and knelt down beside me, pulling a battered navy blue case from under her bed. “Voila”!  She exclaimed opening and taking out the violin. She explained it was very old and had been her grandfather’s. He had been a musician too, but was dead now – “in the war you know”. She then turned serious and added sadly, “Les sanglots long des violons de l’automne” –it’s from a poem. It was broadcast to us in France by the BBC telling the resistance that the invasion would be very soon. But they shot him’ -but she didn’t elaborate. ‘I’m sorry Francoise’.

During the pause, I glanced at the bedside photograph again and changing the subject inquired, “who’s the other blonde girl with you Francoise?” Francoise mood lifted and she replied “That’s my eldest sister Camille – she’s an actress you know Sydney”.  I remember asking her to play something. “Non pas ce soir” she replied firmly, shaking her head she replaced the violin and case under the bed. Instead we played some records, one Donovan track in particular, we played over and over. We sat closely, quietly listening and contemplating the words: “In the chilly hours and minutes / Of uncertainty / I want to be / In the warm hold of your lovin’ mind. / To feel you all around me… ”. Since then, whenever I hear Donovan and particularly ‘Catch the wind’ my thoughts are with Francoise and Paris. We continued to talk. Her English was expressive and accented, lapsing into French when she became enthusiastic about something, which was often. We finished my cigarettes and another bottle of wine. After a while, it seemed perfectly natural to go to bed, and we did.

She got up naked the next morning, bringing some coffee made in her cafetière à piston. Enjoying her closeness, we shared the last of her grandmother’s home-made petite madeleine dipping it in our coffee. I watched her from the bed as she move about the room, gathering up the memory of her for the future, remembering the things we had said, how we had made love. It was with Francoise that, for the first time, I had experienced that uninhibited joy, a special texture and warmth of the flesh made tangible. I have never forgotten her or that moment in time. The way she moved, her gamin like charm, the way she emphasised her speech with hand gestures and particularly those mesmerising lovely doe eyes. I remember these things, when I day dream – the feminine scent of her black hair, her gentle soft lips and her uninhibited yielding mouth.

The next morning as I was leaving, I took the ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, and inside the cover wrote “It is a far, far better thing that I have ever done;” signing it ‘ton ami anglais SC’, the initials of my ‘nom de guerre’. She took the book, slowly looked at my inscription, smiled and gently kissed me on the cheek, squeezing my arm and murmured softly, “Merci Sydney”. Looking away, she walked to the door, I followed and we silently walked down the stairs to the street entrance. I glanced quickly in each direction along the street, then pausing before leaving, “pourquoi”? I enquired, wondering why she had rescued and taken me into her bed. Her answer was perfect for that time that place – so much so that later that day, I took a paint pot and added her words to the philosophical graffiti that was scrawled on the walls of Paris. “Il n’y a pas de pourquoi.”- There is no why!

*  *  *

After Paris I had written several letters to Francoise but received no reply. Then years later, I was in London making my way along Knightsbridge heading away from Harrods when by chance I vaguely recognised someone striding towards me. Although dressed in a business suit, it must have been something about the walk, as he drew nearer we looked at each other – and a simultaneous recognition dawned on both of us. “Philippe!” I exclaimed. “The Englishman with two names”. Was his droll reply. We stopped and greeted each other in the French manner. Quickly exchanged the ‘how are you’s’, ‘what are you doing now’s’, and then pausing to glance at my wristwatch enquired “do you have time for a drink”?

We strolled through the back ally-way to the Grenadier pub in Wilton Row for a pint. Sitting at a little table in the cramped bar, I learnt that Philippe was now based in London, an attache at the French Embassy. We laughed at this situation. “Ironique” I quipped, adding, “does your government allow revolutionaries to work for them these days?” He smiled in good humour with a Gallic shrug. Conversation turned to our times during ‘les évènements’. The worst and the best of times Monsieur Carton, he remembered. I inquired about Francoise. Philippe’s face became serious.

“Didn’t you hear mon ami”? He paused, looking at my bewilderment; “Francoise was killed a few days after you left us”. Stunned, I stammered, “Oh God no – but how, – when”? He levered himself from the chair, “I’ll get us something stronger” Philippe replied. Returning with two cognacs, he touched my glass with his, murmuring “a votre santé”. Holding my eyes with his gaze, he leaned forward and continued, “she was hit by a CRS van late one night -it was raining, it swerved on to the pavement to avoid some barricade and she was killed”. Seeing the shock in my face, he pushed the cognac glass towards me and reaching for my arm exclaimed “killed outright – she felt no pain Sydney. We all attended her funeral and her sister was there too. She attracted a lot of press as you can imagine. It was reported in L’Humanité of course – even Le Figaro.”

After this news, our conversation stalled, we agreed to meet again and exchanged telephone numbers. We left the pub, shook hands in the English manner and I walked alone towards Victoria station. It had begun to rain, pulling my collar up I continued deep in thought. Passing a bookshop, on impulse I entered and began to browse distractedly. My eyes fell on a paperback collection of the Hulton Getty images of the 1960s. Flicking through the pages, I recognised ‘Danny the Red’, in the ‘Protest’ section, as memories started to flood back, pausing to study various images of the Paris student riots. Turning the page to the ‘Entertainment’ section, revealed a photograph I immediately recognised as Brigitte Bardot dancing with her hair swinging provocatively. Reading the footnote a sudden revelation dawned on me. The caption quoted ‘Camille Javal, better known as Brigitte Bardot from her 1966 film ‘Two weeks in September’’. Javal! -I repeated slowly, then my subconscious heard Francoise’s voice, “That’s my eldest sister Camille –she’s an actress you know Sydney”. “Why”? I exclaimed out loud causing heads to turn in the shop, then hearing her soft ‘Franglais’ voice replying “Il n’y a pas de pourquoi”

*Explained in another short story ‘Jenner’s Tie’

 

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Britannia ruled the waves

or, how the Royal Navy shaped the modern world

An extract from ‘Jack’s War’, a family story

The_Battle_of_Trafalgar_by_William_Clarkson_StanfieldTo understand Britain’s history you first need to know a little about the Royal Navy, because it shaped not only modern Britain but the modern world. Britain is an island nation and the Navy has always had a special significance. Its history has remained embedded in the national consciousness.

Today, many words and phrases we use originate from the Navy
such as: ‘showing the ropes’, taken aback’; ‘at a loose end’; to feel ‘groggy’ or ‘under the weather’; or granddad’s favourites ‘splice the mainbrace’ followed by ‘three sheets to the wind’. Amongst other things the Navy also taught us the habit of winning.

The Royal Navy is an integral part of the story of how this nation rose to global dominance without precedent in history and without equal, even today. The Royal Navy enabled Great Britain to build an empire on which the sun literally did not set, encompassing one-fifth of the world’s population.

But it also facilitated free trade and communication with every part of the globe. Thanks to its navy, the British Empire became the first truly global community, bound together by law, language and commerce and by British ships and sailors. It helped to free the continent from a succession of dictators, from Philip II of Spain and Louis XIV of France to Napoleon and Hitler. It ended the African slave trade, opened the Pacific Rim to international commerce, and established the bonds that hold together today’s world.

That Empire has now developed into a Commonwealth of Nations, 30% of the world’s population, a unique, voluntary and informal international association of sovereign states without racial prejudice.

We have been a Christian island for over a thousand years since St Augustine settled in Canterbury in 597, although Christianity was introduced into Britain shortly after the crucifixion. We have been a United Kingdom since 829 when Egbert became King of all England. He was the grandfather of Alfred the Great; who, some sixty years later built a fleet of warships, to defend the island against Viking invaders, thus founding the Royal Navy.

This institution developed over the years around a tradition of heroism, in which courage in battle and bravery in death was a byword. A military force very different from any other with a cast of individual and amazing people from the 15th century to the present day.

Sailors like John Hawkins and his cousin Francis Drake, (1540?-95) who became the greatest seaman of his age, a professional who had acquired his extensive knowledge from an early age through practical sailing experience. He set sail from Plymouth to circumnavigate the world with four other ships in 1577, flying his flag in the Pelican.

During this epic voyage to avert a potential mutiny amongst his crews, he made a speech which is an example of his leadership quality. It was intended to create unity with no class distinction at sea. In that adventure he decreed, the ordinary seaman and courtier were of equal rank, by saying;

 “….I must have the gentlemen to haul and draw with the mariner, and the mariner with the gentleman ….I would know him that would refuse to set his hand to a rope, but I know there is not any such here.”

Francis Drake was a genuine hero and returned to England triumphant two years later in in the Golden Hind in 1580 (his ship the Pelican had been re-named).

He had become a millionaire by modern standards and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth I. In one of the most exciting summers in English history, equaled only by 1940, – in 1588 he led the English ships in defeating the vastly superior force in the ‘Spanish Armada’ as it sailed up the Channel and anchored off Calais.

Capt CookA century later under the keen interest of King Charles II the Navy became known as the ‘Royal Navy’. In the next century we find Captain James Cook (1728-79), a renowned naval surveyor, one of the best navigating masters sailing with Major-General James Wolfe’s famous expedition down the St Lawrence River to take Quebec from the French during the Seven Years War in 1759. He later went on to explore the Pacific, discovering and charting both islands of New Zealand.

The English Oak tree has a special place in our history too. Growing in our forests, it was the wood from which our great fleets were constructed from the time of Alfred the Great until the middle of the 19th century. ‘Heart of Oak’ is the official march of the Royal Navy. The music was composed in 1760 by Dr William Boyce who was Master of the King’s Band of Musicians. It reflected famous victories that year during the Seven Years War. The words were written by David Garrick (the celebrated actor-manager), who ran the Drury Lane Theatre in London –which still exists today.

”Come, cheer up, my lads, ‘tis to glory we steer, To add something more to this wonderful year;     To honour we call you, as freemen not slaves, For who are as free as the sons of the waves?  Chorus:   Hearts of oak are our ships, jolly tars are our men, We always are ready; steady, boys, steady! We’ll fight and we’ll conquer again and again.

The Napoleonic Wars produced another hero Horatio Nelson, (1758-1805) who had joined the Navy when he was twelve; becoming our greatest fighting admiral and the embodiment British sea power.

His inspirational leadership amongst his captains, –‘his band of brothers’ whilst explaining his new tactics –known as ‘the Nelson touch’, made him loved by officers and sailors alike. On board his flag-ship, HMS Victory on the morning, before the Battle of Trafalgar, Monday, October 21st 1805, he called the flag lieutenant: “Mr. Pasco, I wish to say to the fleet, ‘England confides that every man will do his duty.’ You must be quick, for I have one more to make, which is for close action.” Pasco asked to be allowed to use “expects” instead of “confides” because “expects” was in Popham’s signal book, but “confides” would have to be spelt. “That will do, Pasco, make it directly,” Nelson said. And at 11:35 the most famous battle signal ever made was hoisted to the yards and mastheads of the Victory, ‘England expects that every man will do his duty’, earlier during a quiet moment in his cabin he composed a prayer;

May the Great God whom I worship grant to my Country and for the benefit of Europe in General a great and Glorious Victory, and may no misconduct in anyone tarniHoratio Nelsonsh it, and May humanity after Victory be the predominant feature of the British fleet….”

 Though Nelson died during the battle, (but not before learning of victory), the consequences of which prevented Napoleon from controlling the Mediterranean, eventually bringing peace to Europe that lasted a hundred years.

In the 1790’s the Royal Navy had pioneered the use of lemon and lime juice helping prevent scurvy. This is caused by a deficiency of vitamin C (found in fresh fruit and vegetables), once the scourge of sailors on long sea voyages, which when introduced helped save many lives.

The Royal Navy has been instrumental in many innovations and developments from navigational advances such as the marine chronometer and sextant, to charting and surveying the world’s seas and introducing the world’s first aircraft carrier.

After the First World War (1914-1919) it emerged victorious and with what was by far the strongest fleet in the world. Subsequent governments radically reduced the number of ships and sailors. However, much work had been done to improve tactics and equipment in surface action and night fighting (used to great effect at the battle off Cape Matapan), but still the Royal Navy had few equals in both by the late 1930’s.

The Second World War produced another great fighting Admiral, Andrew Cunningham (1883-1963) in the Mediterranean. The victor against the Italian fleet at Taranto (the first attack in history by carrier aircraft – the impressive effect was copied later by the Japanese at Pearl harbour), who typically in May 1941 at a low ebb in the country’s fortunes, facing the immanent defeat of British and Anzac troops on the island of Crete, against overwhelming German land and air attacks, ABC (as he was known in the service) sent this rallying signal concerning their withdrawal:

 “We must not let them (the Army) down. It takes the Navy three years to build a ship. It would take three hundred to build a new reputation”….

 So the Navy did what it had built up a reputation for at Corunna (1809) and Dunkirk (1940) it rescued the soldiers. During three dreadful nights despite many ships sunk, over half the garrison of 32,000 troops were evacuated and transported safely to Egypt.

The war at sea between 1939 to 1945 was the longest and greatest battle of all time, extending to every ocean and sea, and with more ships sunk and more lives lost than any earlier conflict. The Senior Service was in action on the first day, and the last. It demanded more of its sailors than any previous war, – this was also Jack’s War*.

* The story in an edited form has been published as ‘Struck by Lightning’ -see details in ‘About’

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Ladies, behind closed doors

vive la differenceExtract from ‘Rugger Shorts: reflections on the amateur game

What may surprise is not that women play rugby, but that they have done so since the 19th century, albeit with little publicity and not much encouragement. The secretive nature of the early years of women’s sport — and especially rugby union — ensures its historical obscurity.

We do know that the (mainly male) public reaction to women playing contact sports was often contemptuous, sometimes even violent. In 1881, when teams played a number of exhibition ‘football’ games in Scotland and northern England, they had to be abandoned due to rioting in or around the grounds. There were early reports of women’s rugby union being played in New Zealand where in 1891 a feisty group had their proposed overseas tour cancelled (‘too independent for their own good’). Later in France in 1903 and England in 1913, but in both cases the games were played behind closed doors.

However, in December 1917 during World War One at a well-documented charity game at Cardiff Arms Park the Cardiff Ladies beat the Newport Ladies 6–0. A certain Maria Eley played fullback for Cardiff that day, and went on to become probably the oldest women’s rugby player, dying in Cardiff in 2007 at the age of 106. The Cardiff XV all worked for the local brewery William Hancock (possibly inspired and encouraged by Frank Hancock, a company director who had played for Wales). Interestingly they all wore protective headgear, some decades before it became popular with male rugby players. After World War One the women’s game in France at least had appeared from behind the doors, as the ladies magazine ‘Les Sportives’ journal illustré féminin in their January 1924 issue featured a front page photo of Lille Rugby Athlétic Club.

‘Rugger for girls’

Another advocate for women’s rugby was Colonel Philip Trevor CBE (1863-1932) born in Richmond Surrey, who had five daughters of his own (Phyllis, Violet, Dorothy, Evelyn and Enid). He had served as Captain in the 2nd Norfolk Regiment in the Anglo-Boer War, and during the Great War was Assistant Director of Ordnance Services in London. He had written books on cricket and was the rugby correspondent of the Daily Telegraph. In his book, Rugby Union Football, published in 1923, he opens with the chapter The Game’s Popularity – Rugger for Girls’.

His daughters, who by this time were teenagers and intent on enjoying themselves and flouting conventional standards of behavior, suggested a family conference in 1913. The end result being that they and a bunch of friends trooped off to a secluded beach for a game of rugger, 15-a-side with more players available if the need arose. Colonel Trevor who acted as referee marveled at the skills of the girls and described how they improvised with kit, by wearing bathing hats to lessen the chance of being ‘tackled’ by the hair.

The youngest rugger playing daughter Enid Trevor became a stage and film actress, (not surprisingly perhaps as she was great-grand-niece of 18th century actor manager David Garrick.) Her stage debut in the West End was playing cockney character parts. Later she joined a concert party as a comedienne; and met Claude Hulbert a Cambridge graduate. Hulbert had been a member of the Footlights comedy club and became a well-known British comic actor, although less successful than his older brother Jack. They married in 1928. They appeared together on BBC radio and leapt into popularity in a domestic quarreling sketch ‘Some More Nonsense’ written by her husband.

Antonia Fraser DBE [née Pakenham], the historical author in her ‘A memoir of growing up’, recalls one of the things remembered most fondly from her childhood was games of rugger. All the girls at ‘Dragon School’ her prep-school in north Oxford, in those days played rugger as a matter of course, there was nothing special about it. Antonia played on the wing for the A XV and found it ‘intoxicating’. Years later whilst watching an Army v Navy match at Twickenham, with her first husband the Under-Secretary of War, she had to stop a benevolent general attempting to explain the rules of the game, after assuring him to his incredulity that she knew the game perfectly well –having played it. Another ‘Old Dragon’ as the former pupils are known was Ronnie Poulton-Palmer whose illustrious rugby career was cut short in World War One

From these ad-hoc beginnings, women’s rugby -“a sport for women of a non-conformist cast of mind” gained popularity and the first women’s rugby international match was played in Hilversum, Holland in 1982 where the home side were defeated 4-0 by France. Changing attitudes had by the 1990s made the Rugby Football Union recognise the English Women’s game and they finally amalgamated in 2012. The women’s game has gone from strength to strength in recent decades, after the first Women’s World Cup in 1991 –won by the USA. In 2014 England, won the Women’s Rugby World Cup in Paris for the second time, after a convincing win over Canada 21-9. What is remarkable about their great sporting achievement, is the fact not one of the team are full-time professional athletes, unlike the men, they are all are amateurs. Today, more than 18,000 women and girls regularly play rugby in England alone!

 

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‘Not a rugby man’

Extract from ‘Rugger Shorts’: reflections on the amateur game

rugby game 2

The late archivist of Radley College, Tony Money once a boy at the college in the 1930s, served during World War Two as an officer in the Buffs (Royal East Kent Regiment) winning the Military Cross in 1943. Returned to the college as a don after the war in the 1950s. He was to accurately described Peter Cook a pupil at that time as ‘Not a rugby man’ . Cook had established himself amongst his contemporaries for his impersonations of dons and those in authority. He was already a brilliant mimic and the seeds had been sown for some of his later comic characters.

Peter Cook (1937-1995) was of course made to play -but ‘detested rugby’, and as an act of subversion, would organise illicit football matches at the end of a local forest track. By the time he left the college the ‘Radleian Magazine’ would lament that ‘every square mile of waste land was dedicated to the cult of association football’.peter cook

Cook went on to become an influential figure in modern British comedy. One of the leading lights of the satire boom and anti-establishment comedy that emerged in Britain in the 1960s. His views on rugby never changed.

“I was forced to play it. For some reason I was placed at full back. I spent the whole time avoiding the ball. Often they’d forget what to do and actually come at me. In my rush to get away from the ball once, I fell on it. I was then hacked to bits by the forwards’ feet and got a spurious reputation for courage.”  He went on to declare later,  “Rugby is a game for the mentally deficient… That is why it was invented by the British. Who else but an Englishman could invent an oval ball?”

If not a rugby man – certainly an amusing one!

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Some poetic thoughts…

daisy (2)

Daisy on a Sussex beach

…on why it is a privilege to be born under an English heaven.

“…A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware, 
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam; 
A body of England’s, breathing English air, …” [1]

The joy of the changing seasons, watching the crashing waves on the Sussex coast, the scent of sea air and sound of mewing seagulls, swooping and circling, …  “Five and twenty ponies,  Trotting through the dark –  Brandy for the Parson, ‘Baccy for the Clerk.  Laces for a lady; letters for a spy, Watch the wall my darling while the Gentlemen go by”! [2]

044

a rainbow on the Sussex Downs

The appearance of snowdrops and crocuses, -the promise of spring, the countryside alive with expectation, and the endless fascination with the sound of English place names, “Yes, I remember Adlestrop – The name, because one afternoon, Of heat the express-train drew up there,  Unwontedly. It was late June. … And for that minute a blackbird sang,  Close by, and round him, mistier,  Farther and farther, all the birds  Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire”. [3]
The dreamy sound of click on willow from a distant summer village cricket match, …  “Stands the Church clock at ten to three? And is there honey still for tea”? [4]
The mellow autumn colours drifting towards the misty distance, and the delightful lingering scent of wood smoke. A country pub, roaring log fire and a pint of Harveys Sussex Best bitter. Glimpsing an infinite number of stars on a frosty winter’s night. “And still of a winter’s night, they say, when the wind is in the trees, When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas, When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor, A highwayman comes riding—Riding—riding— A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door”. [5]

The sense of adventure and anticipation at the prospect of seeking fortune leaving our island kingdom, “We turned the ‘Fancy’ from the wind and ran out 40 gun, And soon the sky was filled with smoke that hid us from the sun”, [6] ... or perhaps the more leisurely,  “They sailed away, for a year and a day, To the land where the Bong-tree grows..” [7] and the memories of exploring, “Do you remember an Inn, Miranda, Do you remember an Inn?…And the fleas that tease in the High Pyrenees, And the wine that tasted of tar”? [8] But not forgetting to take time to allow distraction, “What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare” [9] as a Welsh poet wrote, pondering these thoughts whilst walking a Labrador through wooded pathways upon the Sussex Downs, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” [10] and living in Cornwall -that urge that effects ever islander, I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life, To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife; And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover, And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over. ” [11], or perhaps the absurd “I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky; I left my shoes and socks there – I wonder if they’re dry? [12]


Poem notes:  [1] The Soldier’, Rupert Brooke, 1888-1915;  [2] A Smuggler’s Song’, Rudyard Kipling, 1865–1936;  [3] ‘Adlestrop’, Edward Thomas,1878-1917; [4] ‘The Old Vicarage, Grantchester’, Rupert Brooke, 1887–1915;  [5] ‘The Highwayman’, Alfred Noyes, 1880-1958;  [6] ‘The Ballad of Long Ben’, based on a Broadsheet printed in London c.1694;  [7] ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’, Edward Lear, 1812–1888; [8] Tarantella’, Hilaire Belloc, 1870–1953;  [9] ‘Leisure’, W H Davies, 1871–1940;  [10] The Road Not Taken’, Robert Frost, 1874–1963; [11] ‘Sea Fever’ John Masefield 1878-1967;  [12] Spike Milligan 1918-2002 alternative version
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