A Bout of Nostalgia

I’m not usually given to bouts of nostalgia, I am too busy living the present, but this week I received a letter that sent me hurtling back into my childhood. The letter came from my local area Girl Guides Association inviting me to a garden party of Queen’s Guides to celebrate the Queen’s jubilee year.
My first reaction was: how did they find me? It is many, many years since I helped to run a Girl Guide company and many, many more since I qualified as a Queen’s Guide and then, of course, I had a different name. The letter asked me to wear my Queen’s Guide badge if I decided to attend. Queen’s Guide badge? When did I last see that? Had I still got it?

Shortly before my mother died, she gave me a large envelope full of documents and scraps of paper, with the words, ‘Here, you’d better have this.’ I had looked at them at the time, but hadn’t touched them since. The letter sent me back to them in the search for the badge. The envelope contained every school report I’d ever had, every receipt for tuition at the grammar school, my school certificate, certificates for guide badges and the badges themselves, taken off the sleeve of my uniform before it was scrapped, and the Queen’s Guide badge in pristine condition.

Memories began to crowd in. The last test to qualify for the award took place at the home of Lady Somerleyton in Norfolk. Three of us were invited for the weekend where we were to be tested, though what form the test was to take we were not told beforehand. It was dark when we were picked up by ladyship in her car and told to navigate her by map to the hall. We somehow managed to take a wrong turning and afterwards she told us that it took all her resolve to go the way we had told her when she was tired and all she wanted to do was get home. We had to sleep on the floor on an upper room that night and, being bony, I could not get comfortable. Nor were we allowed to light a fire so our breakfast next morning was bread and butter and water.

After breakfast we were sent to the local cottage hospital where we had to help look after new born babies, much to the consternation of the mothers who were quite convinced we would drop them. We were strolling back up the drive of the hall, feeling smug, when we saw her ladyship hanging out of an upper window calling for help. We began to run as she shouted, ‘Hurry! Hurry!’ We found her in the bathroom with a badly burned arm. The make-up was so good it was a while before we realised this was all part of the test and we were required to give her first aid. She had some old sheets nearby which we were told we could use. We filled the basin with cold water and plunged her arm into it and then needed to bandage it I knew perfectly well that with burns you are supposed to put the bandage on in strips to make it easier to get them off again, but my guide training of thrift would not let me tear up perfectly good sheets, so I used an ordinary bandage. I remember being told off about this and my excuse that I knew it was play-acting and that in a real situation, I would have done the right thing, didn’t go down too well.

Later in the day, the room we had used was inspected to make sure we had left no evidence of our presence and then we were drawn up on the gravel outside for an inspection of our persons. Only later did I learn I had passed.

That year there was great excitement as Princess Margaret, herself a Girl Guide, was coming to join a rally at Somerleyton Hall and as a Queen’s Guide I was to be part of her escort and was required to attend a rehearsal. I was really excited about this, only to learn when I arrived on the big day that the Princess was not well and would not be there. I can’t remember who came in her place, but I remember being bitterly disappointed.

I put everything back in the envelope, but not before I’d taken a peek at my school reports. I certainly didn’t stand out as a scholar and most of the comments were to the effect that my work was spoilt by carelessness and poor handwriting. I managed to pass my School Certificate (forerunner of ‘O’ levels), the only subject I failed was history. How then did I come to write historical novels and to be so fussy about getting things right? The constant nagging of my parents or perhaps my own motherhood must have had an effect.


A busy week

Trying to cram three events into less than a week has left me breathless. First there was the Romantic Novelists Association annual Conference at Penrith. As always it was great fun, very useful and a good way to recharge the writing batteries. Over three days, we had lectures, seminars, workshops, question and answer sessions and serious and not-so-serious discussions, and there was still time to catch up with old friends and chat with new ones. There wasn’t much sun, but on the whole the rain stayed away. On the Sunday it was off to Church Stretton in Shropshire for my second and third dates the following day.

It was pouring with rain when we got up and continued throughout the morning. My daughter-in-law, who was my hostess and chauffeur, drove me to Church Stretton library in good time, so that I could make the acquaintance of the librarian, arrange my books on the table and make sure I had a glass of water for when I became hoarse, which I almost always do.

It was the first time I had been booked for a talk away from my home ground of East Anglia and wondered what to expect, especially in view of the downpour outside. Supposing no one turned up? Supposing there was only one or two, that would surely be worse than none at all, because I would have to give my carefully prepared talk however many were there.

To my great relief, they arrived in ones, twos and threes, with dripping brollies, clad in raincoats and plastic hats. Having divested themselves of their wet things, they wandered about looking at my display of books, chatted to each other and to me and then took their seats. It wasn’t the largest gathering I have ever addressed, but it was a good audience and I was very thankful that they had not decided to stay at home in the dry. They listened attentively, laughed in all the right places and asked sensible questions afterwards. And they bought some of my books, especially the latest, The Girl on the Beach, which is not due out in paperback until August but I had some advance copies.

After that, we just had time to grab some lunch and then it was off to Pontesbury to repeat the whole process at the library there.  We didn't know it at the time but only that morning the bodies of three children and their father who had been missing for four days, had been found in the nearby quarry.  We heard about it on the TV news that evening. I was surprised I had an audience at all, let alone one interested in what I had to say.  Thankfully they were.

Writing is a lonely business. You sit for hours at a computer weaving your stories, making things happen to your characters, living their lives for them, solving their problems which you created in the first place, and you sometimes need reminding there is a world out there, a world that might, if you are lucky, contain people who like reading what you have written. I have a website and I write blogs and sometimes I receive appreciative letters and emails, but you can’t beat face-to-face contact. Talking to readers is one way of connecting with them and I love doing that and listening to what they have to say. It gives me a fillip and I come away rejuvenated and raring to go again.

Two days later I returned home to an overgrown and very damp garden and hundreds of emails. Among them was a message from my publisher, Allison and Busby, accepting my next book. and an email inviting  me to return to Shropshire and give a lecture to the Shrewsbury WI, but that will be later in the year and in an evening.  All in all a happy and successful week.  And now it’s back to work.

Syndicate content