30 Years Ago

We can’t avoid it so I’m going to have my say as well. I’m not a monarchist – or a republican for that matter. I don’t really have strong views either way. But I am not going to be mean spirited and have a go at K and W. I wish them well, as I would any couple about to embark on a lifetime of commitment because it takes some guts in this day and age – even without all the media pressure.

What interests me about royal weddings – and coronations, jubilees, and funerals – is that they are markers in our lives. We remember where we were – even my husband, a staunce republican, could tell me where he was on July 29th 1981.

I was 13 years old and living in our big old house in Teignmouth. My mum ran a guest house and supplemented this with ‘foreign students’. My mum believes in the royal family and what it stands for and she took a rare few hours off to sit and watch the wedding. She made the students do this as well; she thought they should experience this historical occasion. I sat there too as did one of my older brothers, the other one having escaped somehow. But it is the Italian student, Massimo, I remember. He was a bit scoffing of the whole show but agreed to watch nonetheless. But he didn’t get very far. He managed to watch Diana getting out of the carriage at St Paul’s and reveal the dress. He watched the palaver of getting the train out, of straightening it up, and those creases. But it was when he saw the length of it spanning the aisle of the cathedral that he finally let go of an almighty snigger and my mum told him off. I think he must have disappeared to play football at that point, bemused by our mass hysteria over a wedding. I’m sure I could read all sorts about the Italian psyche into this but basically he was a bored 17 year old.

I wonder now, thirty years on, knowing how this marriage panned out, and what a global phenomenon Diana became, whether Massimo ever looks back and remembers where he was. My guess is that he does.

My novel The Generation Game is set against a backdrop of national events, some of them royal – the Silver Jubilee, Charles and Diana’s wedding, and Diana’s funeral. As I said, I’m not a monarchist but it does strike me as weird that I should have chosen these events – except for the fact that they are such strong markers in my life; I remember vividly where I was for each of them. I wrote the novel long before K and W’s engagement so I wasn’t trying to tie my book in with wedding fever. But that’s art imitating life again as it so often does.

The book comes out on 30th July, 30 years and a day after that wedding, which some of my characters witness. I guess I chose the wedding as a backdrop for an important part of the narrative because  I could picture it all so clearly. I may have been in a small seaside town with my family and those ‘foreign students’ but I could just as easily have been standing outside the steps of St Paul’s or in the Mall for all the footage and photos I have consumed over the years since. 

That day has stuck with me and leaks out in my writing. It’s just a coincidence that the son of that couple is getting married so near the launch. So many ripples. So many creases.


Best of Beryl

Beryl Bainbridge’s ‘Master Georgie’ was today announced as the winner of the Man Booker Best of Beryl, a special award in her memory. She is no longer the five times shortlisted Booker Bridesmaid, but the winner.

I have to confess I have only read ‘According to Queenie’ which was extraordinary and so I shall now turn my attention to the rest of her novels and give her the time she undoubtedly deserves. Better late than never.

Well done, Beryl.

Click below to see an article by Hilary Mantel on what she owes to Beryl Bainbridge.


Backwards in High Heels

Dancing backwards in high heels

This week BBC Radio 4 are broadcasting short stories about women ‘quietly outperforming the men in their lives’ to mark 100 years since the birth of Hollywood legend Ginger Rogers. A few blog posts ago I had a photo of Fred Astaire doing his stuff and I have to make a confession. For me, Fred was the one who always outshone his partner. But I never really thought about what Ginger had to do. And she did exactly what Fred did, only backwards. And in high heels. And a big frock. She has shot up in my estimation and so I wanted to pay tribute to her here.

How many other great women have been overlooked for doing it the hard way?

Go, Ginger.

Lamenting Woolies

Just got back from town, daring to feel slightly excited by what is a big happening in Teignmouth. Forget Muse playing our seafront backalong, what really concerns us Teignmothians is the collapse of Woolworth’s. It was a tragic day its doors closed forever. A friend of my eldest somehow managed to blag the ‘W’ from the workmen deconstructing our favourite shop as a memento. She has it in her bedroom, I believe, and I am very envious.

What could ever replace Woolworth’s, we wondered and discussed in those bleak winter months of 2008/09. We allowed ourselves some wayout daydreams. Maybe it would be a decent clothes shop, or a gaming/music/DVD store. A toyshop. A specialist shop like Milletts which we also lost many moons ago. Something for the kids, the young people, those of us who feel we have enough pound shops.

What did we get? Carpet Right. Despite already having at least  three independent carpet shops in our town,  the councillors seemed to think a Carpet Right would enocurage visitors, even though there are several Carpet Rights in the area, some of which have free parking. (Free parking barely exists in our town, and the lack of day trippers reflects this.) And has it been a success? Well, whenever I’ve walked past, the manager is all alone surrounded by his cheap carpet, playing what I can only presume is Solitaire on his computer.

Carpet Right has gone. And there are rumours as to what will replace it. The one I favour is Wilkinson’s as that is the closest to Woolies we can get. We just walked past the shop and it is being totally gutted and the space looks huge. I really really hope that the council will have got it right this time and had a bit of vision for our fantastic town.

I love my town. I grew up here, moved away at 18 and hankered after it for the following twenty years until I moved back here, dragging my family with me. The best move we ever made. But this lovely, proper Devon town, with its lack of second homes and money, with its down-to-earth people and beautiful beaches, with Brunel’s stunning railway that crashes along the red coast, and renowned jazz and folk festivals, artists, musicans and of course its fab cafes where you can get anything from builders tea to a skinny splitshot latte, … well, we could do even better.

Let’s just hope that whatever the shop, it will have pick’n’mix.

I’ll keep you posted.