Archive for March, 2015


Posted: March 28, 2015 in Chat

It was early; the party still fumed from the mess of part empty glasses, cans, bottles scattered around the apartment.

He had been up since dawn. If he had ever slept; that was still a debatable question, to explain several lost hours, as the night had turned over towards day.
And the noise was the tv.

Friends and remotely familiar people still lay around the place; they were completely out of it, and no noise or moving around could possibly make any impression on their drowned senses. ‘Such irresponsibility’ he caught himself thinking, always the strategic thinking going on, the escape routes plotted, the alternative routes….

But he was baggy eyed, red-eyed, humped over before the tv. The twenty-four hour news channel. He knew this was coming, even the severity of drinking on party-nights could not block it out. The war in the south was not going well, and troop numbers coming home injured more than matched the numbers being trained and held in reserve.

When you sign up, you do not do it expect it to happen; you do it for the lifestyle, for the action, the physical fitness. And here they were, at the peak of their physical best, and now, as we watched them stretchered off planes, helicopters, they seemed just so much broken bone and torn muscle. Bodies, for all their hard biceps, their snap reactions and responses, bodies are just so much meat. Body armour, the new light-weight stuff, hard and resistant, can only cover so much of the torso; and training is how to hit the other parts, the more vulnerable parts. Well, as he can see here, it can be very successful.

He looked around the room; all his mates and their mates and… just who are those guys?… he guessed the girls had done the sensible thing and gone, or crashed out in more comfortable places. Like the bedroom. Always depend on a girl to do the sensible thing. Like Jan, crying-off at the last minute; she knew the desperation behind these parties, and they never ended well. Only one carted off to Casualty this time round, though.

Some ‘suit’ was on the tv; he turned his attention back to it; the ‘suit’ was now saying it, those words he knew were coming but most feared.

And then, somewhere in the house, his phone rang.


Posted: March 21, 2015 in Chat
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Olaf stared out of the kitchen window; the garden had grown out, all the work he had done this past year was undone by the continually fertile energies of what was left of nature in this overdeveloped area.

His dressing gown was scutched here and there, coffee and tea stained his lap, front, cuffs. He caught sight of himself in the window’s reflection, superimposed on the wild garden; his hair looked erratic, too short, and grey now, but it still stuck up all over the place, no order, no system. The bags under his eyes, the pallor of his cheeks; another night of broken sleep.

On his kitchen table partially buried by cups, mugs, plates and used cutlery the corner of an official looking letter was just visible, the insignia of the city hospital, Oncology Department. The room was centred on it, and it tethered Olaf like a dog on a leash; he moved around the room from cupboard to sink to chairs; at one time he paused by the back door, hand on the handle, but couldn’t open it. If the door had come open just then, would he, more to the point could he, have gone through and out of this, out to where there were options? Outside there were stars, distant, remote, and untouched by any of this. Outside a lone plane was riding its light across an arc of night sky; the passengers would be asleep, racked back in their seats. Maybe there would be one person awake, one presence there in the sky, looking down on the silent city, maybe even glimpsing this one lit window, and just for a second wondering, even idealising a kind of perfect alternative life for themselves here. If they only knew. If they only knew then they would know that there is no escape, no alternative, no possible way out. Maybe they would load up with tablets: maybe they would have that courage, because it certainly was missing down here.

The doorway to the hall was open, dark and anonymous; he could hide in the dark there; but the letter held him. This had gone on for days. The chair he slept in, the mop bucket he used as a toilet….

And then out in the dark of the hall, the phone rang.

Current reading is THE HEAT OF THE DAY, by Elizabeth Bowen,


a story set in World War 2 London. This line arrested me:

She was lucky … in being left with Chilcombe Street: few wives of men called up remained placed as they were before.(p16, 20th edition, 1998, Vintage Books)

It was one of those moments when it was as if something had suddenly become very clear. And the drop from where my ignorance had been to where the reality lay was giddying.
I searched around and found evidence:

The mortgage still had to be paid, war or no war, so the house in Whitton was rented out in order to keep up the payments, and my mother moved back in with my grandmother, who was by then very elderly and infirm and living alone.(by Edith Lambourne,

How on earth did they manage, on a woman’s wages? Their wages were a fraction of a man’s wage, and still the mortgage companies had to be paid. Oh yes, the money-men still expected the full amount no matter what; no special rates for Servicemen’s wives and families.
The first quote begins:

… they had taken out a 25-year mortgage, but before they could move in the War broke out and Dad had to return to the Army. As an older, experienced NCO he was kept back from active service, and spent his war training new recruits 

Her father died early, in 1955. There was still ten years probably more on the mortgage to pay as a single mother.

Those who had to give up their homes and move into rented accommodation, the book makes clear, put what furnishings they owned into storage. Storage rent then, also had to be paid.

A further source states that women called into war work had to

cope with children AND a job when the husband is away on active service.

  • try to do the shopping AFTER finishing work at 5pm when all the shops had closed.
  • manage on much less than the men were being paid for the same job – AND suffer the hostility of the men who thought they were taking away men’s jobs and helping to depress men’s wages.(

Women were inducted into factories and industries to keep the fabric of the economy ongoing. This was not always such a straight-forward hand-over: workers waiting to be called-up were often resentful of the women inducted in to take their places. There were instances of refusal to train the women, or train so poorly it only covered the description and contributed little to the skills needed.

We need to consider this:

By 1942 more men, women and children had been killed at home than soldiers in action.
(Caroline Lang, Keep Smiling Through: Women in the Second World War (1989))


And this:

I was seriously concerned myself as our factory is an old shabby place and its sanitary arrangements of a very low standard.   Our canteen is not good.  Lavatory accommodation such as most factory hands use without a qualm will revolt these girls.
(Comment of a factory manager to Mass Observation)

Going off at a tangent here, this comment reminded me of a conversation years ago with a S American management student on a work placement. He complained loud and long at the laziness and lack of care of the workers. I asked about the factory; he replied It was old, filthy; a mess. I drew his attention to the effect of working conditions on work morale.

The men are assumed to put up with shocking conditions. There have been many occasions where women have moved into once male-only work; the men have been shocked to realise just what conditions they had put up with all that time, when the women brought it to their notice.

One off-shoot of the women-in-men’s jobs was a subsequent radicalisation of Unionism. I am a staunch Union member but readily admit that Union attitudes to women have been utterly deplorable in the past; with the embattled work position has gone a supposedly threatened gender position. Male chauvinism in Unions has been poisonous, rife and deeply embedded.

To continue: for the women not in industry or the often lethal munitions work, there was always the Women’s Land Army:


for someone in the WLA over the age of 18 was £1 12 pence a week after deductions had been made for lodgings and food. There was an agreed maximum working week – 50 hours in the summer and 48 hours in the winter

The work was relentless, hard, physical labour. The women were usually billeted where they worked. The one’s in hostels fared better – companionship eased a lot of the pain of being away and amongst strangers.
These strangers were not always honest or understanding:

there is evidence that WLA members were paid less than the accepted rate by some farmers who tended to overcharge for accommodation and food. Also during harvest time, many WLA members worked from dawn to dusk and easily eclipsed their 50 hour week.

The ongoing distrust of farmers and farming, and likewise farming people of town people was even more exacerbated by this.

The mortgage still had to be paid, in full. Just after the War the economy of course was in ruins; exports had been hugely disrupted, and rationing was rife. Returning servicemen had priority on what work there was. What did they return to? Rented accommodation of poor quality, rationing, and ruined superstructure to services.
The European market was ruined, and overseas markets the same.
Then the American loan fell through.

Large-scale loss of life of skilled workers, as well as bad training (above) led to:
Recruitment and training of workers was disrupted – there were long-term bad effects on the quality of British workmanship and management.

One major outcome of all this was the Beveridge Committee Report and its contribution to the setting up of the Welfare State, a breakthrough in terms of modern social issues.

Going back to the book, THE HEAT OF THE DAY.
It is a slow read; the writer qualifies nearly every point. But as a writer aiming for psychological and historical accuracy, as well as artistically. This approach sets the reader up for insights and angles on time and place it would have been difficult to glean any other way. Her writing allows a richness of phrase that lifts the book into something quite distinct, and uniquely Elizabeth Bowen:

from hesitating to feel came the moment when you no longer could. Was that the war’s doing? By every day, every night, existence was being further drained — you, yourself, made conscious of what was happening only by some moment, some meeting such as tonight’s.

(page 55, ibid).

Elizabeth Bowen:



Posted: March 1, 2015 in Chat
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I was waiting for the day to end before I could begin.
Then the night started up. I sat back down as a dutiful man, and listened attentively again. It was tiring but I knew my duty. I had to pace myself, be ready when my turn came.
The night sat back down again, its wild escapades fading in the memory. Some, I admit, stayed with me. And in that hiatus I stood up again, a little shakily, for my turn. Over my shoulder, though, the day was already in its introduction.

The day told a tale of the Sun. The Sun ladled the clouds, it said, stirring them around with its light, until the clouds thickened, clumped together, and some fell. And in the gaps the fallen clouds made could be seen new continents, and in between them the primal source of clouds, huge seas waiting to be called. I knew how they felt. But they were called in time. Here was hope, I thought.
And the Sun put out its pincers and hammers of sun bursts to the land and the annealed soil gave up vapours of running things, animals, that blew here and there across the baize and stone table tops of land. Billiard balls of beasts knocked here and there by the cue, eye and hand of the Sun.

I was so enthralled with this tale I had not realised all had gone quiet around me. They were looking at me. My turn at last.
I doubted by now I had anything to say as glorious as the Sun tale.
Apologetically I began
The tale I told wove in the night’s and day’s tales. I saw out of the corner of my eye their stern looks, felt an icy atmosphere descend. There were embarrassed coughs; what were worse were the silences of the other listeners. Was I parodying their tales? Was I such a naive, unimaginative and dull fellow that I had nothing to say of my own? Or was it, they were thinking perhaps, I was so arrogant I could claim their tales as just a small part of the large and all encompassing tale that was mine?

To pull this off I had to know more than I knew.
I let the tale roll on and followed it, elaborated on details. Frequently I lost direction altogether, but as all directions were one, I claimed it did not matter.
The tale created its own impetus; I could not stop. Tiredness gave it a wild edge; the time after time of being put back gave it a deeper and darker intent.
I told of mechanical suns made to outshine the sun, of lights at night to beat back the darkness; I told of heaped up earth of dug out ground’s flesh that was burnt, melted and moulded into objects that mocked, caricatured living things.

I had to make the tale bigger, wilder; the telling was driving me on – there would never be quiet again, there could never now be a return to order. My tale had to take itself beyond all limits, duties  and regulations. Many times I faltered, I felt them all stir around me, tensing to jump back in, but I revved up and careered on.
Inside a part of me was begging them to stop me, to stop this because I had lost control of it, no matter how well I played at being at ease and….

But the leopard was by now so incensed by my telling of the Sun tale’s using the animals as billiard balls, and her fury roused the other animals sat around listening.

Soon the whole congregation was jumping up and shouting, howling, blaming each other, growing angrier and angrier. In between outbursts of growls, roaring, barking I tried to continue. I was shouting myself hoarse to be heard above them all. My anger blended in with theirs.
We made a continuous fabric of sound, movement and energy.

It is how the world as we know it began.
The animals still blame me; it was the day’s tale of the Sun, it was not even my tale.