Friday, 28 March 2014

Intermission Part 4

The Diary of a Kind Hearted Man Killer now available as an Amazon Kindle book:
This diary came to life several years ago as a novel, one that I was not entirely happy with. But then I had a phase of reading wartime diaries, and I realised a means of bringing Louisa Bradshaw to life. She came back out of her drawer and together we concocted her diary. 

She was born from my love of those old Ealing comedy films of the 1940s and 1950s. Those who share my passion may recognise the title as a cross between 'Kind Hearts and Coronets' and 'The Ladykillers', two of my favourites. I wanted to emulate the black comedy of the genre in the form of a book. This is the reason for the high body count and the at times rather blase attitude towards it. The easily offended or incredulous may wish to give Louisa's story a miss. Part 1 of the story has been available as a blogspot serial. Parts 1 and 2 are contained in this kindle book.

Louisa Bradshaw is a railwayman's daughter who chooses to serve the LMS railway when World War Two erupts. Her adventure leads her to tangle with the notorious Leon family, whose matriarch curses her when she rejects her son's advances. As the curse appears to come true, Louisa looks set to lead a lonely life.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Bomb Sights

I recently borrowed a book from the library, a great door-stop of a tome which details life in Britain in the 1980s. As the historian set the scene for the riots of 1981, he put forward a viewpoint, just in passing, which pulled me up short.  This was the assertion that at this point in time, inner cities had still not completely recovered and filled in its World War Two bomb sites.  And that in fact, the final rebuilding of a London bombsite did not take place until the end of the 1990s.  I have never given much thought to exactly how long it took our blitzed cities to recover.  But I probably held some sort of assumption that it was all done by the 1960s – that a need to construct thousands of new homes and offices had swallowed up the bombsites.  I feel sure that if I saw any piles of rubble in Sheffield’s east end during the 1980s, I never associated it with bombing – more an assumption that progress was sweeping out the old ways of working and living.  As slum clearances took hold and the traditional industries folded, demolition lines became blurred.

I carried out a web search to see if I could find any information which corroborated this assertion that it took more than 50 years to fill in the voids in London. What I did find was that this is a contentious issue.  There are a couple of quite heated debates that have taken place in forums.  One person agreed that the last bombsite was at Ludgate Circus and that this was finally developed at the close of the 20th century.  Others claim that they know of bombsites that still have not been fully redeveloped – gaps in streets that were never filled in, or playgrounds where fragments of bombed houses can still be seen.

Whatever the answer, I still found it amazing that it took so long to clear up the damage and replace all the lost buildings.  But this perhaps proves that I was not there to witness the sheer scale of the destruction.  Fortunately, just a couple of weeks later, a film came along to help bring this home.  The classic Ealing film ‘Hue and Cry’ was filmed in central London in 1946.  It makes very good use of the bombsites to create an atmosphere of seedy shabbiness, where criminals can take advantage and children become worldliwise.  The devastation cannot be escaped, such is its scale.  The scenes towards the end of the film are particularly good, where a gang of sleuthing boys descend on a gang of crooks. This large scale fight takes place by the Thames atop piles of rubble and inside the skeletons of buildings.  It looks like there is not a thing in tact along that stretch of the water.

A scene of houses being built is shown and it is obvious that the priority had to be housebuilding. It was in the politicians’ interests to see to it that their voters had comfortable homes first and foremost. When you give the matter due consideration, not all sites would have been suitable for residential development.  With all the resources ploughed into homes, of course many sites were going to be left longer than others before reconstruction could begin. Especially if they were publicly owned and in need of financial input from the local authority. ‘Hue and Cry’ certainly helped me to gain some perspective on post war redevelopment.

The film is also worth watching for the appearance of Alastair Sim at his brilliant best. There is also some novelty to be found in the depiction of several young boys who are obviously fresh out of school and in work.  This phenomenon is unknown to modern society.  I watched with interest the jobs that they happily kept themselves employed in, including market porter, ice cream bike operative and errand boy for the BBC.  1946 London was truly a world away, one where even the scars have now finally healed over.

Alastair Sim by @aitchteee

For a look at how World War Two changed our attitudes to the spirit world, see ‘Films With Spirit’ – part 5 of ‘Matinee Musings’ by Sarah Miller Walters, available as an Amazon Kindle book

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Stop Wineing

‘Carry on Abroad (1972) takes full advantage of the package holiday phenomenon of the 1970s.  Suddenly, the British found themselves in the position of being able to head for the sun for their summer breaks.  Package holidays to Spain and other Mediterranean countries boomed.  Resorts, keen to cash in on the boom times, sometimes couldn’t quite keep up with demand.  I vaguely remember the consumer programme reports of the late 1970s/early 1980s where people wrote in to complain about tour operators that had sold them two weeks on a building site.  Rich pickings indeed for Talbot Rothwell.  ‘Carry On Abroad’ exaggerates the problems encountered by most, but as with all comedy it is based on familiarity and there are elements of truth in the unfinished hotel in the middle of nowhere, run by amateurs.

A strong theme running through the film, and a looming sign of things to come is the conspicuous consumption of alcohol.  The character of Eustace Tuttle, played by Charles Hawtrey (though mainly being himself rather than acting, by all accounts) is rather symbolic.  A Mummy’s boy, whose maternal bondage seems to revolve entirely around his bowel movements, he uses his holiday to temporarily break free.  To him, to break free entails indulging in copious amounts of drink.  He spends the entire film on the sauce.  Meanwhile, Mrs Blunt, played by June Whitfield, is a hugely uptight woman.  She is the butt of that famous line of Sid’s, where, after telling him that she has tried every vice once and didn’t like it, he can only assume that she has just the one child.  Of course, all it takes is a bottle of champagne to loosen her up and become open to amorous advances.  Finally, at the end of the film, all of the characters bond over a huge bowl of punch.

If we go on the older black and white British films, it used to be the case that our pubs kept to strict opening hours, that men drunk only pints of flat beer or traditional spirits, while any woman unladylike enough to frequent a public house drunk a port and lemon, or possibly a gin. Certainly drunkenness existed – but was it to the same extent that we have now?  These new trips abroad broadened our horizons where drinking was concerned and holidaymakers partook specifically to enhance the relaxation experience.  Trips began to be made across the Channel specifically to drink, and we imported these new habits in an attempt to recapture the holiday spirit, to break up the horror of returning to the daily grind.

Unfortunately, like Eustace, we do seem to have taken it too far, as scenes on a Saturday night up and down the land attest.  And I do believe that we have rather made a name for ourselves on the continent as a nation unable to hold their drink.  As ‘Carry On Abroad’ shows, we do it to escape and to loosen ourselves from the bonds of our natural national reserve.  It is time that we grew up now, and found some confidence elsewhere.  

My first holiday abroad in Tenerife, 1982.  I wasn't on the booze though....