Thursday, 16 January 2014

Gone Fishing...



I'm on sabbatical...taking a break from publishing Vintage Script for a little while. I plan to resume my blog in the spring, and will post updates about future editions here and on the main Vintage Script website.

Emma Louise Oram
Editor


 

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Autumn Tales of Melancholy and Hope

Autumn was made for melancholy reflection, with a nod to hope and the eventual return of spring. What better way, then, to spend a grey November afternoon than considering the selection of stories and articles on offer in this season’s edition of Vintage Script?

Blue Hat For A Blue Day
Bernie Deehan
Bernie takes us on a trip round 1950s Soho where we meet larger-than-life characters Holloway Harry, Frida—in her ‘big fur coat and red heels’—and the adored Betsy. Bernie’s clever touch blends humour with poignancy, as he describes a society on the cusp between two worlds—the memories of war not so far away, and the beckoning of the new world of beboppers and skiffle kids. Bernie’s tale is a proper story that’s also a snapshot in time of a bygone era, and described so skilfully that you’re breathing in the hot, smoky atmosphere of those Soho jazz clubs…
Tales From The Crypt
Kirsty Ferry
Kirsty—mistress of the Gothic—shows us her dark side in this enthralling account of the unveiling of the Belzoni Sarcophagus by Sir John Soane in 1825. Not only does Kirsty set the scene with her description of the flickering light in the Crypt and the funerary paraphernalia, she also explains Soane’s long-held fascination with death, against a backdrop of the Romantic movement of the day. Get yourself down to Whitby, Kirsty!
The Robin
Nick Brazil
The Robin was inspired by a letter from D. H. Lawrence published many years after his death describing the village in Oxfordshire where the story is set—it’s also where Nick lives. Nick has a photographer’s eye, you can tell, as he sprinkles the story with sharp visual details—the robin scratching at the ground for food, the silhouette of a destroyer in flames seen from a window—which entice you to read more.
Digging Up The Family: The 1918 Influenza Pandemic
Gill Garrett
The effects of the 1918 Spanish ’flu’ pandemic were shocking and far-reaching. Here Gill adds a very personal touch to the story, as she imagines how the disease brought devastation to her ancestor, Mary Garrett. Gill adds a fresh slant to the story interspersing it with scenes from a modern-day virology seminar, adding another layer to this clever tale.
Point Of Contact
E. A. M. Harris
Ann, the heroine of E. A. M. Harris’ story, is modest of her literary talent. The writer captures her spirit beautifully in her understated descriptions: ‘With her left hand she grips the back of a dining chair; in her right she holds a dainty milk jug. It tips dangerously but she pays it no attention…As usual she turns first to her husband’s report of yesterday’s debates in Parliament. At her touch the pages rustle importantly’. The reader is effortlessly drawn into Ann’s life and imagination, and left wanting to know more.

 
Alfie
Cathy Mason
Cathy not only describes the Kidderminster weavers’ strike of 1828—she brings it to life with her lively dialogue and vivid description: ‘The jagged chimneys of Kidderminster’s factories cut into the early morning, sea-blue skyline; determining the landscape just as the work inside imprinted itself on their faces’. This well-researched piece has it all: a personal connection with the subject matter, atmosphere and the feeling that the reader is witnessing a remarkable time in history. More please, Cathy!
 

Autocracy and Democracy: Whitehall in the Political History of the United Kingdom
Michael Montagu
Whitehall—synonymous with power and prestige, and associated with the Remembrance Day parade of this time of year. It’s only fitting that Michael should take us on a behind-the-scenes tour for the Autumn edition. Michael’s an expert at packing his articles full of unexpected details: the lost palace of Whitehall, he tells us, boasted four tennis courts, a cockpit and a bowling alley, and its hunting grounds survive today as St James’ Park, Green Park, Regents Park, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. It’s always good to have an insider to take you on a trip through history, and Michael never disappoints!
Our Day Out
Jennifer Foster
Jennifer gets under the skin of a group of children who visit Salisbury Cathedral not long after the Second World War. Their write-ups of the event are both telling and poignant—revealing their pasts, and their desires and aspirations for the future. The visit has a profound impact on one girl, prompting her to recall a fateful night some years previously: ‘We were going to be evacuated the next day, and I was round the corner at Auntie Mary’s fetching a suitcase when the bomb fell. We dragged and pushed at the rubble, our hands bled, trying to reach Mother and Annie, but there was a fire and the wardens pulled us away’. Another elegant tale from Jennifer.
The Look Every Woman Wanted
Roger Harvey
Roger’s the master of nostalgia with his informative account of the unveiling of Dior’s “New Look” in 1947. His descriptions of the swirling skirts and figure-hugging jackets of Dior’s look make you want to travel back in time and slip them on. Roger’s got a great eye for detail and it’s gems such as, ‘…there could be more than 20 yards of material in one of those New Look skirts,’ that we love!
New Model Army
Gemma Bristow

Vintage Script newcomer Gemma sets the scene beautifully in this Civil War tale, blending description with a tense narrative: ‘
The camp began to break up. Men doused fires and headed for their bedrolls, some in the barn nearby, others on the grass. Denham looked one last time for James’. Short, bitter-sweet and with a twist at the end…perfect!
The Pugilist Parson: The Strange Tale of Radford of Lapford
James Downs
James’ article ticks all the boxes for an autumnal read: a quirky character, tons of atmosphere and an element of danger. There’s no doubt that Radford of Lapford is a shadowy character—‘As a young man he travelled the county in the role of a scissors-grinder, entering fighting and wrestling competitions at rural fairs in places…A well-known drinker, he was often found in Exeter late on a Saturday night, in a “supremely jolly state”’. James’ storytelling is tantalising and urges you to find out more about this man and what made him tick…
The Charcoal Burner’s Daughter
Shirley Cook

Shirley took inspiration from her own family history for her story, where she beautifully describes the art of charcoal-burning: ‘I clear the ruined kiln and smooth the ground. I hammer a wooden stake in the centre and mark the hearth width, then I start to build the flue…I walk back and forth, collecting the cords of oak’. She offsets this precision with evocative descriptions—‘Pigeons coo around me and in the distance a cuckoo calls. May is my favourite month, everything is fresh and the woods are carpets of blue,’—and throws in a hint of romance for good measure. Bravo, Shirley!
The autumn edition of Vintage Script is on sale now.

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Thursday, 29 August 2013

Gateshead Revisited

I had certainly been there before—but only from a distance. We had passed the coppery guardian many times on our travels around the north east, but to encounter it close up was to experience a sense of the Angel’s size, presence and majesty.

Anthony Gormley’s Angel of the North sculpture stands 66 feet tall with a wing-span of 177 feet. It’s a much-loved icon of the north east, and it’s easy to understand why—it embodies pride in the area’s history of mining, it protects the natives and welcomes travellers. Arriving at the site at 9am we expected to be the only tourists there, but within minutes cars and minibuses had arrived and a steady stream of Angel-lovers were lining up to have their pictures taken at its heavenly feet. 150,000 people a year pay the Angel a visit, and it’s seen by 90,000 drivers a day as they pass on the A1. The Angel is a constant in the life of every Geordie—it feels like it’s been there forever and will be forevermore.



The Angel of the North
 
Elsewhere in the Toon and beyond it was time to catch up with some old haunts and ponder what changes had been made in our absence. Work is finally beginning to revitalise Scotswood—13 years after the area was cleared. Formerly home to Vickers Armstrong workers, the industrial decline led to the area’s degeneration. Happily, residents who had at first opposed the mass clearance and demolition are now excited about, and involved in, the area’s future.

Happy news for Blaydon residents, too, as I understand construction of a new Morrison’s with multi-storey parking is underway adjacent to the Brutalist precinct, through which I have pushed a pram on many an occasion!

Over to Jesmond, known as the posh end of town, and of which I have also been resident. The curious name is derived from its sobriquet “the hill of Jesus” as it’s said that in Norman times the Virgin Mary appeared there with her babe. St Mary’s Chapel—now ruined and enclosed within Jesmond Dene—sprung up in her honour, and Pilgrim Street in Newcastle city centre was so named in recognition of the pilgrims who made their way to the chapel. On a cloudless August day a visit to the Dene is a delight—its shady woodland and banks cool and tranquil relief. I remember it best on late autumn afternoons, when I would push my baby boy in the pram along its paths. Quiet, cool and damp, this is the best and most private time, I think, to enjoy the Dene.

Aside from the landmarks, what I realised I had missed most was the dour bonhomie of the Geordie folk. They’re not great smilers, but they’ll talk to you as if they’ve known you all their lives—and they would hate to admit it, but they’re as soft as butter. Despite my pallor (no fake tan visible) and obvious southern tones, I was instantly befriended by another parent in the playground, “Didna I see you in the Toon a coupla of hours ago, like?” and made to feel like one of the gang.  And I can’t help smiling as I remember the dad encouraging his scrap of a boy to perform a series of press-ups and complicated manoeuvres around the climbing frame. It seemed a bit tough at first—the lad could only have been four or five years old—but the last requirement of the routine was that the child give his dad a big kiss and enjoy a moment’s suffocation in his muscly forearms, tattooed with the boy’s name.

We had driven down the previous day from a sojourn in East Lothian and Berwickshire, the trip arranged around the arrival of the newest member of the clan. In the kind of delightful twist that Vintage Script regulars will know I love, my new great-niece bore the same name as my own great-aunt!

The landscape couldn’t have been more different from East Anglia—hills that looked to us like mountains, and rugged undulations, and the curious reddish mud, coloured by sandstone, that make you feel like you’re walking on Mars. My son was in disbelief that we had arrived in Scotland—a foreign country! —and befuddled all the more by the sight of his uncle in a kilt at breakfast.
The hamlet where we were staying (Whittingehame, East Lothian) is encompassed by the Balfour estate, acquired by the family in 1817. Its most famous resident was the Arthur, the First Earl of Balfour, Prime Minister from 1902 to 1905. As Foreign Secretary in November 1917 he was the author of a letter to Lord Rothschild declaring Britain’s support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine, which became known as the Balfour Declaration. The area’s connection with the Jewish folk continued during the Second World War when Whittingehame House was used as a school for Jewish refugee children from the Kindertransport mission.
 

Hand-holding at Dunbar Harbour
 
Today residents are a mix of lifers and newcomers (perhaps resident for 20 years or more), and there’s a gentle affability as you bump into near neighbours (from five or ten miles away) in the woods. Connections to Edinburgh are good if you fancy a bit of razzle-dazzle, or there’s Dunbar closer to home, birthplace of St Cuthbert, famous for his connections with Holy Island further south, and of the conservationist John Muir, who emigrated to America as a boy.
 

Sitting on the steps at Belton House
 
Other highlights of the trip (all easily accessible from the A1) include the National Trust places Nostell Priory, West Yorkshire (eighteenth century splendour on the site of a medieval priory), Gibside, Tyne and Wear (an estate once owned by the Bowes-Lyon family) and Belton House, Lincolnshire (“the perfect English country house”), as well as Beamish Museum near Durham, presenting life as it would have been in the area,  mainly in the early twentieth century, complete with an early Co-op, a branch of the Sunderland Daily Echo and a colliery village.
 

Notice at Beamish
 
An essential part of any holiday is, of course, returning home, and remarking upon what has changed in the past ten days (the earlier sunset) and what is still the same (no hills had sprung up in our absence). A cup of tea, the abandonment of bags till the morrow and the first night back in one’s own bed were the finishing touches to one of the best holidays where spirits were refreshed, connections renewed and—essential to history-lovers—the winged host of memory was brought to life.