On the Pulse

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Wells Street in Chelmsford is opposite the bus station and was the home of Chelmsford’s first Indian Restaurant. The Bassment in Wells Street is somewhere I had never been.  But on Wednesday night I went there, a deep dark space full of pillars, bars and wires, for the Chelmsford Arts Collective Christmas Shenanigans – On the Pulse.  The driving force behind the event was Cheryl Hemmings of Hemmingway.  She had organised an evening of poetry, music, stand-up – and me, reading from Beyond the Beehive, obviously a Chelmsford classic.

There had already been a great write up in the Essex Chronicle.  on-the-pulse-essex-chronicle-24-11-16

It’s strange to be introduced by a bear.  But so it was.  The compere for the evening was Carl Denham – we had bonded (I use this word advisedly) before the evening began because his day job is as an usher in Ipswich Crown Court.  He has to wear a gown there, so perhaps (as is so often the case with barristers) he felt better in a uniform.

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It was a hip crowd.  Most people were wearing black.  I felt a little formal and yet frivolous in my red waistcoat and velvet jacket.

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If I say that there were no chairs I think I need say no more about the age of the audience. We had a short Masterclass in Mods and Rockers and I asked people to think which group they would have been in if they’d been there.  It turned out they were all wannabe beatniks.  But what a nice crowd. They listened, they really listened, as I read about a world they had only ever heard of in conversations over their heads as their mums and nans talked.

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After me came stand up comedian Kahn Johnson, who had a robust personality, some good lines and a neat set.  Then it was Ölmo Lazarus – a street, beat poet from Basildon.  He had come hot foot from watching himself on C4 news. 

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And his poetry was good stuff, political, clever, funny.  After him came Scott Casey in a reindeer costume (A little known fact about Chelmsford is its inate love of animals).  It was a good set, and I loved the line ‘Every time Slade shout “It’s CHRISTMAS!’ a reindeer dies.” I know the feeling.  And then it was Aunty Sarah’s Puppets – Aunty Sarah with an everyday story of pirate life told with stick puppets and audience participation.

on-the-pulse-11I so enjoyed the evening.  There was a photographer Andre Kimche (he remembered mods and rockers! hurray), and an artist Marc Sephton whose work included portraits of Twiggy, the Rolling Stones and Spiderman.  So in fact, I was not alone.  And even Ölmo Lazarus made reference to mods and style and the importance of clothes.  I was only sorry that I had to slip away before the music began.

Love Chelmsford.

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Sixties Saturday

Stroud Green Library Nov 12

Events over the last few days are incomprehensible and almost unbelievable, Donald Trump is to be the next president in the White House, Leonard Cohen has died, and almost unnoticed cuts to the benefits of the poorest in our society have been introduced.

What was happening in the 60s? JFK, one of the most popular presidents ever was shot, thousands of American troops were pouring into Vietnam, pressure was being put on Harold Wilson to send members of the British military to join them, and the Beatles were taking the world by storm. On Saturday 12 November I’m going to be talking about this and more at the Stroud Green Library Sixties Saturday event.

Here’s a piece about the event from the Harringay on Line Friday Ketchup newsletter:

‘The Friends of Stroud Green and Harringay Library are delighted to present an afternoon dedicated to the Sixties at the library on Saturday 12th November from 2 – 4pm

At 2.30 we welcome Elizabeth Woodcraft, a local author, to discuss her new book ‘Beyond the Beehive‘ and what it was like being a mod girl in Chelmsford. Elizabeth will play music from the era and her book will be available to buy after the event.

PLUS

*Pop up exhibition: For one afternoon only,  from 2pm until 4 pm, local people have lent items from the sixties for our ‘Beyond the Beehive’ exhibition

*Bring a photo of yourself or your parents/grandparents in the 60s’ to share! Bring baby pics, wedding photos, pictures of you on marches or pictures of your parents and grandparents from the 1960s. If you have no photos, write a memory, association or words you associate with the 60s on our post-it note board.

*Take a selfie with a beehive wig! Elizabeth will bring her wigs for you to try on

*Take part in our discussion about what you like, remember, think about the 60s. ALL ages welcome. All you need is an interest in the 60s!

*Browse and borrow books from Haringey Library from or about the 60s

Refreshments available

We are very excited about this event and we hope to see you there!’

Prepare to launch

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On Thursday, the day before the London launch of Beyond the Beehive I was at Broadcasting House to appear, live, on Woman’s Hour on Radio 4. You can read about my morning at Broadcasting House here and listen to the interview here (my interview starts at 33 minutes in)

And then it was Friday, the day of the launch. The day started with a dash to Muswell Hill to see Frank my hairdresser. His dad used to have a café in Piccadilly in the Fifties and Frank used to play snooker with Tommy Steele and all the stars. So it wasn’t about preening so much as getting in to the groove. We listened to some Motown and I ended up looking a little bit like Cilla Black.

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At 5 o’clock, just before the launch – which started at 6.30 pm – I was to record an interview with Georgey Spanswick for BBC radio. The programme, Feelgood Friday, is syndicated to all the local radio stations in the UK (that’s a lot of stations – 36, including Guernsey!)  I would be in Broadcasting House while Georgey Spanswick would be in another studio – in Leeds I think.  I had had strict instructions from the Manager (as she does not like to be called) that I must get away as soon as possible, to get back to the Launch pad as soon as possible, although she was not optimistic.  Her media experience was telling her that there would be time spent setting up, adjusting and generally farting around, before the recording began.

And the Manager was right. At 5.15 we still hadn’t started. However, after a short tussle over studios, the recording began. Georgey Spanswick was funny, cheerful and we got on famously. I’d sent her a list of some iconic bits of music from the era and she played My Generation by the Who and Rescue Me by Fontella Bass. You can listen to the programme here (the interview starts at 1 hour 10 minutes in). What I hadn’t realised, was that the programme was going to go out at 8pm that night – while we would be eating Twiglets and listening to the Harlem Shuffle at the launch.

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No time to think about that. I dashed down to Oxford Circus tube and jumped onto the Bakerloo line – it’s just one stop to Piccadilly Circus. Then I pushed through the Friday night crowds of tourists, school children and wanderers, leaped onto a bus as its doors were closing, went one stop down Shaftesbury Avenue and arrived breathless into the hall at St Anne’s in Dean Street at 6 o’clock. Fortunately Team Beehive aka friends and family had arrived and were doing great work making the hall look lovely with cunningly placed posters and the Banner.  The hall has a sweet garden and with a few well placed flickering fake candles it looked like fairy land (in the middle of Soho!). The evening was mild and balmy which meant people could stand outside.

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And people came, from all stages of my life, my pal Christine (aka Sandra), a mate from Tec College, people from Birmingham Uni, Feminists, Guardians, lawyers and a couple of judges, my French class, friends of friends of mine who knew each other quite independently.

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At 7 o’clock it was the Readings. After a few minutes of intro and thanks and a mention of a fund raiser for WiFi for refugees on 6 December (information here) I read a couple of short pieces from the book.  The Election, where Linda is poll-checking for her dad, and A Day Out in London (Wormwood Scrubs) where bad boy Danny tries to fix Linda up with Trevor, a fellow in-mate.  People laughed in all the right places. And lots of books were sold and signed

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We drove home very slowly, the car full of glasses and wine bottles, posters, the Banner and empty cardboard boxes. One of the battery candles wouldn’t go out and kept flashing and the iPlayer was playing tinnily in one of the bags.  But at home we discovered, after people had obviously listened to Georgey Spanswick’s programme, I’d sold another shed-load of books!

Of course, for me obviously it is all about art and literature. I merely include information about sales because I know some people are interested.

Thanks to everyone who provided support and to all those who came. It was a great evening.

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News and Beehive reviews

beyond-the-beehive-banner-with-ew-2-2Preparing for the Beehive bash* on Saturday evening.  We have the banner! Getting the books, the posters and the 60s quiz all ready to go.

*Chelmsford Ideas Hub, 6.30 (Hub 1 1-4 Market Square High Chelmer Chelmsford CM1 1XF)

And so here are a few recent reviews.  I know –  all these three people are people I know, and one is even a relative, but I think their views deserve to be heard!

‘Buy the book everyone I am on chapter three and it is good!’ Sue

‘On chapter 8 – it’s a great read so far.’ Christine

‘I’m half way through and can’t put it down.’ Billie

STOP PRESS

‘I am a slow reader but now on chapter four and it is still good.’ Sue

What more can I say? The book is available and will be on sale on Saturday evening, when you can get yourself a signed copy AND listen to the magical sounds of Mark Shelley and the Deans.

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You can also buy it here.

In the meantime – listen to the sounds that mark that start of the book – Green Onions, by Booker T and the MGs.

 

Reading Rhys

Voyage in the DarkWhen I am asked who my favourite authors are, the person who comes top of the list is Jean Rhys, author of Wide Sargasso Sea, Voyage in the Dark, Good Morning Midnight, and more (Find some of my other favourite authors below).

So imagine my delight when by chance I saw a tweet saying there was to be a Jean Rhys Reading Week, organised by JacquiWine and Eric Karl Anderson reading and re-reading her books, discussions, blogs, starting on 12 September.

My voyage with Jean Rhys began in about 1969 – I was at Birmingham University, I was 18 and on my occasional trips into Birmingham Town Centre I would drop into Hudson’s Bookshop and browse the novels.  What took me to the R section I can’t remember, but I was intrigued by the description on the cover of Wide Sargasso Sea.  Jane Eyre was my mum’s favourite book and there were several copies in our house. I had been reading and re-reading of Jane’s doomed affair with Mr Rochester for as long as I could remember.

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I wasn’t a feminist in 1969 but did have a strong sense of justice and injustice and I was very pleased to find a book that gave Mrs Rochester’s side of the story.  Her life in that bleak bare room at the top of Thornfield Hall was awful (as was Grace Poole’s – surely a novel waiting to be written). I was glad someone was rooting for her. I bought the book, took it back to Mason Hall (the hall of residence I was living in), read it and loved it.  I took the 63 bus back down the Bristol Road into town and once more made my way to the R section in Hudsons.  I bought Voyage in the Dark, After Leaving Mr Mackenzie and Good Morning Midnight. Although Voyage in the Dark was written after After Leaving Mr Mackenzie, it tells the beginning of Jean Rhys’ story.  In it she describes leaving the West Indies and coming to the cold grey world of England.  She is something of a dancer, she becomes a chorus girl, travelling around the country, and begins a doomed affair.  She mentions Chelmsford.

Jacqui Wine suggested it might have been quite a frightening book to read at that age, but I liked that tragedy, I liked her life, being on the stage, staying in dreadful boarding houses, meeting and charming new people, having periods of despair.  I wanted to be an actress, I wanted to have affairs, I told myself I knew what despair was.  And I loved her humour, her dry way with words. She had supreme confidence in herself when she spoke to people coupled with a sense of uncertainty about her place in the world – which is how I felt most of the time.

I was also writing my own stories (earlier work to be found in the recycling bins of history) and reading Jean Rhys’ own story I was fascinated by the way her work was criticised by those fancy schmanzy boys she hung about with who said it was too easy to read, too accessible. I think it was Ford Madox Ford who said something about her sentences or her words not being long enough.  And I thought, that’s how I write, short easy sentences, very few long words.  Jean Rhys is my kind of writer!

In the 70s there was an article in the Guardian about her and I wrote to her via the Guardian.  I never had a reply.  It was probably not the best way to contact her.  I kick myself for not pursuing it – I wanted her to know she had written the lives of many of us.  And a few years later she died.  There was a more recent, lovely article in the Guardian about her by Linda Grant.

I haven’t read Voyage in the Dark for a long time.  This is the book I have chosen to read this week as part of #ReadingRhys. I’m really looking forward to it.

 

The other writers in my top three are Rosamond Lehmann (especially The Echoing Grove) and Barbara Pymm (especially Excellent Women). More on them later.

Opening the Beehive

Beyond the Beehive front cover

What a great evening at Waterstones Covent Garden on Friday night.  This was an event organised by Novel London and it was standing room only.  There were three authors, Christopher Bowden (the Purple Stain), Laxmi Hariharan (Taken) and me (Beyond the Beehive), each reading the first chapter of our latest novels.

The Covent Garden branch of Waterstones is in Garrick Street, in the middle of  busy Covent Garden.  It also has an entrance in New Row.  It is a place of nooks and crannies, layers and stairs, and shelves packed with enticing books. As I arrived, as the chairs were being arrranged and the wine glasses set out on the table, Norma Cohen who compered the show, gave the readers some last minute professional advice (only project).  Then the cameras were focussed, the mics were attached and, standing in front of a shelf with the title Smart Thinking, the evening began.

All three books were very different, mine about working-class girls in the 60s, Christopher’s about crime in Paris and London and Laxmi’s many-lives novel.  The evening was compered with enormous charm and humour by Norma Cohen.

Eizabeth Woodcraft & Norma Cohen at Waterstones Covent Garden

It was a great birthday party for me.  Several of my Christine-friends were there (people whose names are Christine) including my oldest friend Christine who is the inspiration for Sandra. Apart from arguing that she would never have worn caramel flavoured lipstick, I think she liked it (of course she hasn’t read the whole book yet) (Don’t sue me, I’m a lawyer).  There were people from my French class (merci!), writing pals, my relatives, barristerial colleagues and chums we see in Paris. I didn’t have copies of my book to sell, but I did have postcards! and there were a few copies A Sense of Occasion.  Afterwards, a few of us went to Carluccio’s across the road for a bowl of pasta and a glass of red wine and I went home with roses and gifts and cards.

So a huge vote of thanks to Waterstone’s Covent Garden and to Cameron Publicity for supporting such a great event, and of course to Novel London for setting it all up.

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Beyond the Beehive

Beyond the Beehive front cover (squared)Beyond the Beehive is about to make its first appearance into the world.  It has been a long time coming but now it is really happening.  I shall be reading the first chapter at Waterstones in Covent Garden on 2 September at 6 pm.

It’s a book I’ve wanted to write for most of my life, because it seems the world has not paid much attention to the lives of mod, working class girls, and I wanted to redress the balance.  When I was about 10 I started to write a book about a girl who didn’t go to boarding school.  Somehow, apart from the Secret Seven books by Enid Blyton, there weren’t that many books around about children who went to day school.  All those boarding school kids had to have their adventures in the long hot summer holidays, whereas in my world we were having adventures on weekdays and weekends. I say adventures – I mean writing the local newspaper, cooking ourselves little restaurant meals, putting on plays for the other kids in the street, and following someone on the estate we were convinced was a spy and noting his movements down in our notebooks (a spy with a very dull life, it turned out).

The problem grew more acute as I got older and became a mod.  There were limitations with being a mod – if you weren’t interested in clothes and music and possibly scooters and if your mum and dad would not have let you go to Clacton or Margate on a Bank holiday, even if you’d wanted to, then there wasn’t  much going on – but there was still a life, and one with a lot of action.  The film Quadrophenia demonstrated that people were interested in mods, but the girls don’t get much of a look in, in the story.

So, out came the notebook and over the pages flew my pen, and then my word processor and then one computer after another.

I hope I’ve captured some of the essence of the excitement of Saturday nights, walking into a dance hall in time to the rhythm of Green Onions, or the smell of Wishing perfume by Avon, or seeing people you knew wearing parkas and leather coats, swooping along the road to park outside the mods’ coffee bar.  It was a great time.

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Beyond the Beehive is out on 26 September 2016.

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Thinking about what a friend had said

A 45 record

I was looking at Twitter this morning (part of my 24 hour a week habit) and noticed a tweet by @thomhickey55 talking about the recordings of the song Sea of Love by Phil Phillips, Tom Waits and Del Shannon.  My heart always flutters a little at the name Del Shannon, famed for Runaway, Hats Off to Larry and Little Town Flirt, songs that accompanied my first steps into love and romance and also songs to hear, with breathlessness and expectation, at the fair, because of the organ music and the echoing sound, and the prospect of what might happen next.

But the main reason my interest was piqued was because it reminded me about the 1989 film Sea of Love starring Al Pacino and Ellen Barkin. I love that film.  Ellen Barkin is such an interesting actress, husky voice, lopsided smile, good with one-liners.  The film is funny, clever, romantic, erotic and it’s a thriller.  What more could you ask? It even has John Goodman.

It made me think about the films I love.  There’s the Big Easy (1986) another Ellen Barkin movie, this time with Dennis Quaid.  Another thriller, with atmosphere and romance and some great Cajun music.  When I first saw it I wasn’t that impressed.  Perhaps it was the cinema seats – not comfortable, people talking, no good snacks.  I don’t know, but when I watched it again and again, I really enjoyed it.  Dennis Quaid is the laid back cop in down town New Orleans and Ellen Barkin is the out of town big shot who comes in to shake up the team and root out corruption.  Sparks fly.  What do you expect?

And last weekend I was talking to my niece about films everyone should see.  My immediate response was Klute (1971) (I’d just been to see The Trial of Jane Fonda at the Park Theatre – worth a visit, catch it before it closes).  Klute is the story of a man from a small town who goes missing in New York, and small town cop Klute (Donald Sutherland) comes to look for him and meets the wannabe actor but for the time being call girl Bree Daniel, who is being followed. Another thriller. I loved it then for the story and for the look of Jane Fonda, her life, living in New York in an odd, pretty apartment, reading books in bed at night, buying flowers, and Donald Sutherland, tall and loping, easy going but yearning, and a beautiful couple.

And Cabaret (1972) because of the story – Germany in the 30s – and the way the politics are explained and described.  It’s so neatly done.  The wonderful Liza Minnelli really is extraordinary.  It was the first time I had really enjoyed watching a musical – Oklahoma, South Pacific and the like had never done it for me – because in Cabaret, the songs add something, they highlight and enrich the dialogue.

Then rushing through to the 21st Century The Connection (2014) – a French film, La French, this is the French reply to the French Connection.  It’s a great film with Jean Dujardin (known for the 2011 black and white movie the Artist), as the local magistrate who has been dealing with family cases but who is given the task of breaking up a successful drug ring. It’s fast, pretty and tense, based on a true story.

They say the weather this weekend will be good, but if it rains – it’s one to watch.

 

 

Big Brother

NewspapersToday I have been reading the Daily Mirror (the paper that cares) and the Daily Telegraph today, as well as the Guardian, to be on top of all the news that’s fit to talk about on Monday, since I shall once again be gracing the airwaves with views and reviews of what is in the newspapers on BBC Radio Essex at 6.15 am and 6.45 am.

There are a couple of points to make.  First of all, the usual presenter of the 6-9 slot is James Whale.  But on Monday, it will not be he – because he is currently appearing on Channel 5 as a resident of the Big Brother house.  I have also watched a few clips of the programme in case the issue comes up.

Celebrity Big Brother Channel 5

I wonder what it would be like to stay there.  I don’t think you could do it, unless you were absolutely clear that it was a game and that any decisions you made were just as part of the game and meant nothing outside of those four walls.  The inmates are required to do such unpleasant, mean things, divisions are made, people have to choose to betray people, they have to do things or the others will suffer.  Decisions are made in secret, but everybody knows.

So how would you get by? No books, no pens, no paper, no films, no telly.  Just the other inmates. I suppose, once inside the house, you would need to spend time just getting to know people, being interested them, hearing their stories.  Because of course that is the wonderful thing, that everyone has a story, an interest, a hobby.  And you can always find it.

But, no, I wouldn’t do it – not for all the tea in China.  And I like tea.  And I like China.  Hen hao.

Just as a small side note – in the Daily Mirror was a story about Elton John relaxing in the millionaire’s playground of Sardinia.  And only last week we were in Corsica. We were so close!  Corsica may be 170km south-east of France, and it may be 90km west of Italy, but it is a mere 11k north of Sardinia.  So close!

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Birthday stories – Peggy Perry 1924-2016

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Readers of this blog will have gathered that my aged mother who was living with me, died in January this year.  Last week it was her birthday, she would have been 92.

IMG_0004 2 (2)On the day, my sister, my brother and I with various partners and off-spring all met to remember mum on a day that for her and for us was always very important.

Mum was born Peggy Maxwell King, the daughter of Edwin Horace Alexander King, a tailor to the working man, and Elsie King.  There were twelve children – Peggy was born after Gladys, Jack, Sid, Honor, Iris, Don, Alec, and Vera, and before Sheila, Rita, and Beryl.

DSC00982They lived in a terraced house in Leytonstone – 5 Ranelagh Road, where Peggy shared a room with Vera at the back of the house.  They were not easy times, they were not well off. Their dad made their school uniforms out of off-cuts of material from his work, Peggy had a black and white pin-striped tunic.  She was sure everyone could tell they were made of cloth for gentlemen’s trousers.

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She went to Cann Hall Infants School and then Tom Hood.  She was very sporty – she had badges for netball and athletics. Unlike the rest of her family, she was a regular attender at her local church, and she was strict TT – alcohol did not pass her lips.  She was also an ardent member of the Girls Life Brigade.

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She was an autograph collector – George Formby, Nosmo King, and Henry Hall were all in her book – but her great favourite was the Street Singer, Arthur Tracy.  An American who came to England to play in the music halls she loved him.  Once she walked all the way from Leytonstone to Stratford Empire to queue for an hour to get a front row seat to see him perform.

Peggy and her sisters had had a pretty hard childhood (except for sister Iris who lived with Aunt Eva and wanted – so the others thought – for nothing).  There was not a lot of money and not a lot of love.  They had to save up for their bicycles, but then they were free to ride where they wanted.  Peggy often flew in late for meals, from a day’s cycling in Epping Forest, her face all red and glowing, to be chastised by her mother.

Her love of Walton on the Naze lasted her whole life.  When she was a child the family would go there every year for their holidays – their dad would drive down on the Friday and pitch the tent and then come back for the kids who would drive down with him on the Saturday.

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Kings of Walton

In 1939, when they were in Walton on holiday, the war started.

The younger children were evacuated from the bombing, for a time to Shenfield & Peggy had to leave school to look after the younger children.  Then they came home but the air raids were taking a toll on the family, and their Aunt Eva – with whom sister Iris lived – said, ‘Come to us for a good night’s sleep.  Bombs don’t drop on Woodford.’

So on the night of 28 September 1940 – Vera and Rita cycled over to Woodford and the others came with their mum and dad in the car which was full of blankets and pillows.  After some discussion as to who was to sleep where – my Aunt Honor and mum swopping places in the living room – they went to bed and a bomb fell onto the house.  Their mum and dad, sister Honor and Aunt Eva, were all killed.  The other sisters were pulled out of the rubble by the A&R men, without a scratch.

After that the girls were separated for a time.  Eventually they all went to live in a bungalow in Chatham Green and mum’s life in Chelmsford began.  They lived in Chatham Green until the end of the war then moved into a flat in Duke Street in Chelmsford opposite the bus station (from where in later years we used to watch the carnival procession).

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Mum worked at Cromptons and it was there she first set eyes on our dad – Alf Woodcraft, the union rep of the Amalgamated Engineering Union (AEU).

In 1947 they married, honeymooned in Walton, and moved to Ockelford Avenue, a small crescent off North Avenue, on the Boarded Barns estate in Chelmsford.  Teresa was born and then me.  We moved to the Woodhall Estate

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and a few years later, Edward was born.

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By now Alf was the District Secretary of the AEU – a full time job, with an office in London Road in Chelmsford.  Peggy didn’t work – Alf was pretty traditional and didn’t want his wife working.  But she went potato picking, fruit picking, even stone picking.  Gradually attitudes changed and she got a permanent job as a clerk in Chelmsford prison and later  at County Hall as a coder.

One of my best memories of my childhood is coming home from school on a rainy afternoon, the light would be on in the living room and there would be a fire in the grate, mum would be ironing and Mrs Dale’s Diary would be on the wireless.  Tess and I both remember times when we were ill and were home in bed mum always bought us a comic.  For herself she liked chocolate – Cadbury’s  Fruit and Nut.  Alf would buy her a bar every evening on his way home from work, with a copy of the Evening News.

In the 50s we only had a BBC TV at home, mum disagreed with advertising on TV, and Edward remembers her being appalled one day seeing a young neighbour walking down the road singing ‘Murray Mints, Murray Mints, Too good to hurry mints.’ She soon got over it.

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Alf left home in 1971 and Peggy was quite lonely and sad for a time – divorce was not a common occurrence on our estate.  Edward was still living at home then and remembers their Friday night TV viewing.  Take Your Pick, followed by Burke’s Law.  And whenever possible, Morecambe and Wise or The Two Ronnies.  An orange would be cut into quarters with the bread knife by way of refreshment, and the peel put by the fire to dry  to serve as a fire lighter the next day, along with twisted pages of the Guardian and kindling and coal.  The skill of making a fire stood him in good stead as a student.

Peggy had very recently become a social work assistant in Braintree, working with the elderly and the job gave her great satisfaction.  One of her proudest achievements was helping two women who had been incarcerated in a mental institution since their youth – for small misdemeanours, I think for getting pregnant.  Mum got them into a small flat of their own.  She often visited them and they were gloriously happy.

And then along came the grandchildren.  What enormous joy they gave her.

IMG_0016 (2)     Grandma and Alex    Walton - Jack, Ed, Robert, PeggyBillie remembers going to stay with grandma and having a very structured day around food, including elevenses – always a long iced bun, and later, after tea, supper – a salad sandwich with salad cream.  Every morning they would study the TV guide and plan what programmes they would watch later.  They watched all the soaps together, and when Billie went home they would ring each other up to discuss the goings on in EastEnders or Coronation Street.

Jack remembers staying and evening baths being timed round the advert breaks in their favourite TV shows.  He also had a memory of finding a bird with a broken wing in the garden.  Gently they gathered it up and put it in a cardboard shoe box filled with cotton wool.  They kept it in the shed for three days, feeding it, watching it, but then it died.

In 1994 her life changed dramatically again.  She renewed her friendship with Roy Perry.  His late wife had been a friend of hers from school days in Leytonstone, and Roy had been in the same class as her brother Don.  They married in North Avenue church and mum moved to West Mersea, a small island just outside Colchester.  Roy gave her the happiness and companionship that she had been missing for so long.  Sadly Roy died two years later.

Mum moved back to Chelmsford to live for a short while with her sister Vera but then moved into a flat in Squirrels Court – back onto the Boarded Barns estate where she had started her married life and where she had been so involved with North Avenue church.

There were so many sides to her personality.  Sister Vera once said to me that she thought of Peggy as a Romantic Rebel and I think that is a fitting description of her.  Caroline remembers visiting the house and apart from all of us just sitting reading the newspapers, remembers discussions, about politicians, the issues of the day, TV programmes.  She was very supportive of Channel 4 and regularly watched the very difficult (for some of us) documentaries that formed the Eleventh Hour slot, from Alan’s department.

Billy Graham, an American evangelist who was very popular in the 50s, was a person who featured large in our childhood.  But Peggy’s chosen church was Congregationalist (later the United Reformed Church) – almost as simple and austere as you can get in a religion, except perhaps for the Quakers.  She put her religious beliefs into practice.  She was a popular and dedicated Sunday School teacher – so the space under our stairs was always filled with pieces of paper and crayons and glue and the cardboard centres of toilet rolls.  We all went to Sunday School, and once a year in June we all got onto buses and coaches and went to Walton-on-the-Naze for the Sunday School outing.

North Avenue                              Walton - Sunday School teachers

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When I was sorting out her flat after she moved to London, I found little bundles of card, cut from Shredded Wheat boxes, Rennies packets, the back of birthday cards, tightly wrapped with an elastic band.  She went regularly every year collecting for NSPCC.  As children we sat round the coffee table (we had a coffee table!) counting the money, making piles of the coins.

Everyone in the 50s was aware of the A bomb and H bomb.  Peggy was a member of Chelmsford CND and would chair meetings at the Friends’ Meeting House.  In 1958 she went on the first ever Aldermaston march. She wouldn’t let us go on the marches until we were 12 for fear people would think we were being indoctrinated.

She was a staunch member of the Labour Party and at election times, delivered leaflets, canvassed and went knocking up in support of local candidates (of whom Alf was occasionally one).  She espoused feminism, and caused some consternation in North Avenue church when she would change patriarchal words in hymns and prayers to include women.  She became a member of Braintree Women’s Aid.  She went to Greenham Common peace camp, where she had her first cup of herb tea, sitting round a camp fire.  She was also one of the Braintree Five when cuts were proposed in Braintree Social Services.

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She enjoyed and advocated paying tax because it was for the good of everyone in society.

And now a question:

Why do bees hum?  When I was clearing out Peggy’s flat I also found numerous little piles of cracker jokes.  She loved them.

This last picture is very typical of Peggy.  She has just finished her Shredded Wheat – she ate it every day, almost till the day she died.  Beside her is a jar of Shredless Marmalade and a slice of toast.  She is doing the Guardian crossword, while on the table is a copy of the Daily Mirror, ‘the paper that cares’, waiting to be read.  Contentment.

IMG_9337 (3)And why do bees hum?

Because they don’t know the words.