Friday, 27 June 2014

'My Main Character' blog hop

Me, in the middle, with some friends in 1956
 Bernadette O’Dwyer,, one of my writing friends, has tagged me to take part in a blog hop about ‘My Main Character’ and I’m happy to take part because I think it will be good to concentrate the mind.

   1.What is the name of the main character? Is she real or fictious?

Oh, she’s real enough – but only in my head. She’s lived there for several years so I’ve got to know her pretty well. Her name’s Kathy Armstrong.

2.When and where is the story set?

It’s set in the mid-1950s in the small Lancashire mill town of Horwich. It’s a time of change, when post-war austerity is giving way to a growing affluence, with the Suez Crisis looming and the beginning of rock n’roll and Elvis Presley.

3.What should we know about her?

That she’s a well-brought up grammar-school girl, born in Cheshire, who comes to live in Horwich when her father gets a job as a draughtsman at Dehavilland Propellers Ltd. As the only child, she frequently comes into conflict with her over-protective parents. She works as a shorthand typist in the offices of the Bolton Evening News and loves the buzz of the place.
Popular conception of a Teddy boy!

4.What is the main conflict? What messes up her life?

She has several areas of conflict, but the main one is what she thinks of as her unwise attraction to Nick Roberts, a Teddy boy whom she’s known for several years, when she is courting John Talbot, who is good husband material. It is this situation that threatens to mess up her life.

5.What is Kathy’s goal in life?

She loves writing and her dearest wish is to become a reporter on the newspaper. But this brings her into conflict with John who sees it as a silly girlish dream.

Now it’s time to pass the baton on to Bella Osborne and Tora Williams, two writing friends from the Birmingham Chapter of the Romantic Novelists’ Association. Over to you ladies! Oops, nearly dropped it!

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Memories of my soldier Dad

My parents at the 75th Gallipoli anniversary 1990

While watching the television coverage of the 70th anniversary commemoration of the D-Day landings on Friday, 6th June, memories of my dear Dad came flooding back. He was such a lovely man that I feel his life is worthy of a more than just a quick mention.
            He was born in November 1911 in Huddersfield, Yorkshire, where his father had been working for the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company. The family returned to Bolton in Lancashire, where his mother’s family lived, shortly after. His father died of wounds in the Gallipoli Campaign in June 1915 following the Battle of Krithia. His mother obtained a live-in job as a caretaker where she also served as a post-lady during the war.  Dad said he wasn’t especially clever at school but he was one of the most knowledgeable people I know. He was also a brilliant artist in pencil or pen and ink although his talent was restricted to copying photographs and other drawings.
            By the time he was 15, he was driving a motor cycle and, at 17, was an experienced car driver. There were no driving tests; he always said, ‘You just sort of picked it up as you went along.’ He remained convinced that he could drive right up till a couple of years before he died though he had stopped driving a few years before that. He held a variety of jobs, most of which involved driving. Again, early photographs show him as very handsome with thick dark wavy hair and a moustache. He was still handsome even into old age, with a shock of white hair, but still with his moustache.
            I was only a baby when my father went away to the War. He was working as a lorry driver in a brickyard at that time and had become a reservist under a Government Scheme whereby all experienced motor car drivers were encouraged to register for service and be rewarded for doing so with £15 a year. In the event of a war, they would be called up to the Royal Army Service Corps (RASC). Several of the other drivers were reservists too and when they all received letters telling them that they were to report for duty immediately, they were in a quandary. Should they go right away or wait until after the weekend, they pondered?
            ‘Go now,’ their boss advised. ‘It’ll be a false alarm and you’ll be home Sunday night.’ The boss nearly went bankrupt and my father didn’t return home until the following February when I was a year old. He’d been with the British Expeditionary Force in France and returned to the severity of the 1940 winter, when he had to walk from Wigan to Horwich where we lived, in hedge-high snow carrying his rifle, kit bag and wet up to the waist. He was near exhaustion when a lone policeman offered to help him carry his gear and accompany him home.
Dad in Germany after the liberation 1945
Many years later, he decided to write his memoirs of the war and they make for harrowing reading. As he spent most of the war driving staff officers to and fro, he wasn’t directly involved in any battles but in the retreat to the Dunkirk beaches, and being in the rear-guard with officers, there were several dodgy skirmishes. Somewhere along the line, he acquired a canteen of cutlery and lugged this around for many days along with his Bren gun, rifle, ammunition and gas mask. He and his comrades arrived on the Dunkirk beaches on 25th May 1940. At that stage, there wasn’t a ship in sight but the beach and sand-hills were crowded with around 200,000 men. He could not imagine it being possible to evacuate everyone. After days of hell on the beaches, with little food or water and with constant bombing and machine gun fire, he was finally evacuated on 30th May. Too exhausted to carry it any longer, he’d buried the canteen of cutlery and we often wondered if some French man had found it years later while metal detecting!
            By the time he got to writing about the Normandy invasion, his health had deteriorated with his writing almost indecipherable. He never actually said what date he landed in Normandy but I gained the impression that he was not involved in the first wave but that he and his unit followed on with the transport. Under heavy German fire, they landed at Gold Beach, the small port of Arromanches, where most of the commemoration events took place last week. I gather from his ramblings that he saw rather more action following the invasion than he had prior to Dunkirk. He was demobbed in 1946.
             My Dad was a loving, caring father and I remember my childhood being a happy time. Dad would sing silly songs he made up himself, wonderfully daft to the ears of a little girl. We had ‘rough and tumbles’ where he would tickle me until I was almost hysterical with laughter.  One time, it all got a bit out of hand and I somehow pinched his nose which swelled up like a ripe strawberry.  One of my favourite occupations, was sitting atop his shoulders as he sat in an armchair, plaiting, curling and pinning his luxurious dark hair. I once got a comb stuck in it and Mum had to cut it free, leaving a chunky gap in his hair. Years after, my own daughter would sit on his shoulders as I had, doing the self-same thing, to be followed by my niece when she was a little girl.
            I’ve written before about my parents being in domestic service so I won’t go into that again. They made an excellent team, though, she with her wonderful cooking, he in his butler role with the cutaway jacket and white gloves. Like the gardening, he’d never been taught, simply picked it up as he went along. They could, I believe, have gone much further than they did if only they’d stuck at it. As it was, Mum always became restless, wanting to move on to something different. After Dad died in 1999, she always claimed it was Dad who could never settle. I knew different though.
            Everyone who met my parents said how incredible they were, interested and interesting. I can only give humble thanks to them for giving me the precious gift of life and then, with their constant love and support, showing me how to live it.