Keeping the record

Keeping the record

Chapter one;  part one;  draft one

Note:   I’m engaged in writing a bit of a novel, in a piece-meal way.  It’s likely to be an auto-bio-fic with a varying degree of bio and fic for reasons which will hopefully become apparent.  I enjoy writing into this little text box on my computer screen, and welcome comments as I go along.  If I have the strength and tenacity to go on to some kind of finishing point in about 90,000-120,000 words, I’ll do what I can to review, edit and pull it together as a finished product.  Don’t nag me on this!  Meantime, as and when I feel in the mood, I’ll chuck a segment or two your way and see where we go.  Here’s the first 600-odd words.


When you’re young there’s a feeling of eternal life about your approach to record keeping. Plenty of time. No need to waste it now. Come back later.

So you get on with it, with enjoying what comes and with trying not to regret too much what doesn’t.  You sit around when your family meets, playing with the laces on uncle’s shoes, listening to the stories and sipping from glasses of dark beer when you think no-one is watching.

Life, even though there was a war on, and yes, I did know it, may have had a strange colour, taste and smell to it, but I didn’t know that it wasn’t really strange.  Seemed normal enough to me.  When you’re three or four years old the cru-u-u-mp of bombs falling in the night and the stac-ack-ack-ack-ack of the anti-aircraft guns that answered them are part of your world and the only frightening thing about them is the stories the grown-ups tell in an effort to comfort you.

Oh, the noise, when it got really loud and wall-shakingly close, the noise was alarming enough, drowning out the comfortable sound of the BBC and sifting solidity from the ceilings in a gentle drift of dry plaster dust.  Sometimes there was a coincidence between a particularly loud thump and the loss of power, turning out the lights and raising a curse from my mother as she scrabbled for matches and candles.  Bless her, for a woman who got things done, who managed a small family and a succession of homes through Blitz and botherations of all kinds, she wasn’t the most organised of people.  If she’d had her evening half-glass of brown ale it was sometimes that she’d laugh at Hitler, and take several long drags on her Player’s Weight, sparking the cinder to light until she found the errant saucer with its candle stub.

Light would sputter, the wet-cell battery would continue pulling the BBC out of the aether, and the air-raid would rumble on.

That was the London end of our life, with my mother holding things up day by day and my father off for days and weeks at a time being a London fireman, Hero of the Universe.  Or so he was for me.

When my mother felt in need of a break from it she’d pack a couple of bags, buy a workman’s ticket on the train from Liverpool Street to Chelmsford, and take me off to join another group of survivors, centered on her own mother.  I’d smile, settle on the floor with a different set of legs, socks and lace-up shoes, and dreamily sip on unguarded glasses of ale and stout until I was rescued, washed, wrapped up, and lodged in the big feather bed in the front-room, safe until my mother slipped in beside me, and safer still as we slipped into sleep cuddled up together.


16 responses to “Keeping the record

  1. I can picture it. I was in Elgin, Illinois…USA during the same period of time. Dad was in Germany and Mom was taking care of the homefront. The Moms did a wonderful job…mine had a small retail position and I was a schoolgirl. We had another Army wife and her son living with us. I love stories about that time in our history. Enjoyed reading your beginning.

  2. Thank you. I shan’t nag but will wait patiently.

  3. Go, John! I won’t nag but I won’t be patient either. Oh well, I suppose I shall be for your sake. Great beginning. I can remember the lights out and my Aunt Gen always having just misplaced a needle it seemed like. I hope you’re over your cold by now.

  4. that’s lovely John, that moment with the mother smoking is beautiful, it folds like a ribbon, pulls you down into the the image, like smoke, like the bbc pulled out of the aether, they echo the sense of flowing between the narrative in it’s general tone, and the specific moment that is brought to life. Smart, but laid back, very evocative, but sure we’d expect nothing less 🙂

  5. Not nagging either. Much…….

  6. Thank you, John.

  7. Enjoyed this bit. If more comes, I’ll enjoy that, too. That’s what I’ve learned to do in my old age. The era of your novel is one that fascinates me although I wasn’t born until after the war ended.

  8. I’m totally hooked!

  9. So am I !

  10. Christi Richardson

    Graham painting the kitchen.. i got a feeling that he is itchy about the house not being sold, and that he “just has to do something”, regardless of everything looking lovely already. Busywork so that he doesnt go crazy..

  11. I have to venture out of lurkdom to congratulate you on the beginnings of a fascinating story, John.

    I too was a small child in the early 1940s, in Hull, and well remember a similar atmosphere to the one you so eloquently describe.

    Looking forward to more…..

  12. Yes, I’m also looking forward to future installments of the adventures of Young John Bailey.

  13. Oh, John what a lovely thing to read. I feel like I’ve gotten to have a good visit with you. All these years I’ve been reading your blog and I never once considered you had a mom and dad and duh, a childhood.

  14. Thanks so much for these, friends. I’m just about to cut and past this segment into what I hope will be the MS WORD working document for the ‘novel’. It’s not at all surprising but the comments are helpful in a directional way, too, so I shall save them alongside the original segments.

    I’ve already started on the next (second) segment, and hope to have it ready on Saturday or Sunday.

    I’m still making no promises! 😀

  15. I enjoyed that, thanks 🙂

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