Editor Emma Louise Oram's blog. Usually updated on Tuesday nights (or sometimes Wednesdays).
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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.
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
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
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!
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
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.
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!
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
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!
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
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…
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!
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.