09 +00002014-11-30T20:05:08+00:0030 2012 § 11 Comments
I recently had a conversation with my daughter-in-law, who is not at present able to drink much alcohol, about what alternatives there were for people who dislike soft drinks because they are usually too sweet. By chance, the topic was picked up again when my friend Priscilla visited yesterday and we were reminiscing about the (few and far between) forays into drinking alcohol that we ventured into when students. Yes, I was a student at the height of the student power era and, no, we didn’t all spend our time getting drunk and bed-hopping, as I explained to my son in his adolescent years (somewhat to his disappointment).
The two conversations (and this delightful post by Jacy Brean which recently caught the imagination of lots of blog readers, including me) have started me thinking about beverages generally. When I was a child, tea was the drink of choice for virtually every occasion. We drank tea at every meal, tea when my grandmothers and other relatives visited, tea when the milkman and postman called in on cold days and tea when we went to the seaside – the cafés close to the beach were all fitted with serving hatches in one wall where parents could send their children (i.e., my brother and me!) to buy a pot of tea and carry it on a tray, together with cups, saucers, milk jug and sugar basin, all in in thick white or blue-and-white pottery, down to the sands; the cafés relied on customers to return the crockery when they’d finished with it and clearly almost everyone obliged, as I don’t recall ever being asked for a deposit. Tea was also served with seaside fish and chips, together with thick hunks of white bread and butter, a meal polished off with a generous helping of ice-cream. We were quite innocent of any knowledge of ‘balanced diets’, cholesterol, the cause of coronary heart disease or obesity. We were, in any case, as skinny as rakes, despite, as a family, consuming 4 lbs of white sugar each week, most of it stirred into tea. I gave up adding sugar to drinks only when I reached the sixth form.
The tea we drank at home during my primary school years was not branded. It came from Hannam & Blackbourn, the grocer’s shop in Spalding (long since closed following the advent of the supermarkets). It was weighed out in quarters from a wooden tea chest and wrapped in dark blue ‘sugar paper’. (Sugar, dried fruit, rice and dried pulses were bought and wrapped in the same way.) By the time we had a television, my mother was buying the brands of tea that still flourish today, mainly PG Tips and Typhoo (their branding has changed over the years, but only subtly). We enjoyed watching the PG Tips chimps’ tea parties in the adverts, although I do remember feeling uneasy even then about seeing primates dressed in human clothes. Typhoo adverts were annoying: ‘You-hoo, Typhoo!” I liked the chimps better.
Alternatives to tea were limited. My parents didn’t drink coffee until I was in my teens, though they sometimes rounded off a meal with a cup of “Camp”(sic) Coffee, a chicory-based liquid substitute for coffee which fascinated me because of the picture on the bottle of a hirsute Sikh servant in full national dress serving an equally hairy and rugged Scots soldier wearing a kilt. I assume that the product was invented for consumption by the armed forces in the colonies. I didn’t then understand that the word ‘camp’ had various meanings; looking back, I wonder if that picture was a joke, or at least intended as a double entendre. Nescafé arrived towards the end of my childhood and was reserved for such festivities as whist drives and church fetes. The good ladies who provided refreshments on these occasions considered that the proper way to serve it was by adding a mixture of hot milk diluted with hot water to a sparing teaspoonful of the powder. The result was drinkable, if nothing like coffee. My grandmother would give me a cup of Nescafé if I visited her on a Saturday morning. She didn’t drink it herself, so bought a tiny tin – about the size of the very smallest tin of beans obtainable – and reserved it for my use. I didn’t graduate from powdered coffee to the real thing until I was married, and then only via the percolator, popularised in the 1970s for what I can only describe as the emasculation of the coffee bean. Coffee makers followed some time later, and it is to this period I date my addiction to good coffee.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Other childhood drinks, aside from water from the tap (none of my parents’ generation would have dreamt of paying for water) included the weekly treat of being able to choose a bottle of pop from the pop man (the Corona lorry did the rounds of the local streets: I always chose Dandelion and Burdock and, I recall, my brother liked Cideapple), Ovaltine on cold winters’ nights, milk (which I hated – I never drank my free third pint at school – Margaret Thatcher would have been welcome any time to snatch it from me) and Lucozade, which was strictly reserved for aiding recovery from colds, ‘flu and bronchitis. Occasionally, if we stopped at a pub on the way home from the coast, we were allowed a very weak shandy. This was another hatch-in-the-wall job, my father returning to the car with one beer, three shandies and four packets of crisps, but I remember that we were mainly excited because the break in the journey meant we would overshoot bedtime by at least half an hour.
My father came from a family of Methodists and, though he did not practise the religion himself, he’d grown up in a household where alcohol was banned. It was therefore only when I was a teenager that he began to buy alcohol to drink at home, and then only at Christmas. Each year he would invest in a bottle of sherry, a bottle of whisky and perhaps two bottles of wine. We were allowed a glass of the latter with our Christmas lunch. It was not unusual for some of a year’s quota of whisky and sherry to come out the following Christmas, not having been consumed in the meantime.
Priscilla’s family was a little more convivial, but still not exactly what you would call topers. Her mother introduced me to Asti Spumante. As students (she reminded me yesterday), Priscilla and I experimented by buying a bottle of Barsac, which we managed to make last three or four days. I can’t remember what we drank most of the time, but I suspect it was once again largely tea and tap-water.
So, to revisit the conversation with my daughter-in-law, what do you drink with a meal when you want to cut down on alcohol or it’s entirely off-limits? Given my background, finding alternatives shouldn’t be a problem. I must confess, though, water and tea don’t seem nearly as alluring as an accompaniment to an evening meal as my parents seemed to find it (I still enjoy tea in the afternoon, as you’ll know from here) and, over the years, I’ve become conditioned to appreciate a carefully-cooked dinner much more if it is accompanied by a glass of good wine. (My Barsac days are over: I like a good Pinot Grigio, Bourgogne or Chablis now.) One answer which I intend to explore is to follow the Chinese example and experiment with more unusual kinds of tea. I have no excuse for putting this off, as I already have quite a collection, either supplied by my son on his travels or collected myself on mine, like the ones I brought back from China.
So here’s a toast to tea! And to being in my (tea-) cups often during the course of this winter, if I can find the right ones! I may not carry you or members of my family along with me.
09 +00002014-11-23T17:56:14+00:0030 2012 § 6 Comments
This is the final post on my launch week activities for Sausage Hall. I’m covering the last two events: Tea at Sausage Hall, an imaginative tea-party given last Wednesday by Alison Cassels, Lynne Holroyd, Claire Pickering and their colleagues at the Wakefield Library at Wakefield One, which regular readers of this blog will know has provided me with granite-strength support ever since In the Family was published two years ago,
and an evening of conversation and readings at the Covent Garden branch of Waterstones, rounding off the celebrations with a London launch on Thursday.
Ever resourceful, Alison and her team provided sausage rolls, cake (Yes, there was cake!) and biscuits for the tea party. (Her e-mail to me when organising the event reads ‘Can you put chocolate cake in the title of your next book?’)
As always, she promoted the occasion superlatively well and attracted a lively and engaging audience, amongst whom were old friends (such as Marjorie and Pauline – both also fab visitors to my blog) from the library’s book club, as well as many interesting new faces.
There’s obviously a lively and diverse events programme at Wakefield One: under the table bearing the tea-cups was a box containing a plastic skeleton (I was rather disappointed that someone arrived to remove it, as a suitable visual aid never goes amiss), while high on one of the shelves was a stuffed green parrot in a glass case. (My husband dared me to say ‘Norwegian Green? Is it nailed to its perch?’, but, though tempted, I’m afraid I failed to rise to the occasion, having on my mind things other than late parrots gone to meet their maker.)
Wakefield One audiences are truly wonderful.
They are united in their love of books and reading, and not afraid to tell it how it is. I’m delighted that they like my novels, because they would certainly tell me if they didn’t – during the course of the afternoon, they told me exactly what they thought of the work of a writer who is much better known than I am! As well as being extremely perspicacious, they’re fun and they like to have fun.
They know what they want and they want more of it: I’ve already promised to return to talk to them about DI Yates numbers 4 and 5. It was my first Wakefield audience that told me how much they enjoyed reading about Juliet Armstrong and that they’d like to see more of her. I hope that they’ll think I’ve done so in Sausage Hall, where Juliet’s story takes a new turn.
Several of the Wakefield readers had already bought Sausage Hall and came armed with it for me to sign. Others bought it during the tea-party; as at my other Wakefield events, the books were kindly supplied by Rickaro Books in Horbury. A man in the audience asked for an interesting, and very relevant, inscription (see caption): apparently, these are the nicknames of his brother and sister-in-law!
The event at Waterstones Covent Garden was masterminded by Jen Shenton, the bookshop’s lovely ‘can-do’ manager.
I hadn’t met her before, but as soon as I saw her I knew what a distinguished bookseller she is. It’s something you can’t fake: I honestly believe that the best booksellers are born, not made, though that’s not to say they don’t work hard all the time in order to stay ahead. I didn’t leave Jen’s shop until almost 9 p.m., and she was still there behind the till, helping customers, smiling and looking as fresh as a daisy, even though she must have been feeling exhausted.
This event also had a wonderful audience.
Many of my friends from the book industry came (which meant they bowled me a few googlies when it came to the questions). It was a light-hearted, laughter-filled evening, well lubricated with Waterstones wine and sustained by Adams & Harlow sausage rolls. I was delighted that Tabitha Pelly, who has worked with Salt on PR for Sausage Hall, was able to come. Like Jen Shenton, she seems never to tire or have a negative thought in her head.
I left the shop laden with some book purchases of my own and headed for King’s Cross station to catch the last train. It was the perfect end to an extraordinary week. My only sadness was that Chris and Jen Hamilton-Emery, my publishers at Salt, were unable to come. But I know that they’ve been keen followers of my progress as I’ve sprung Sausage Hall upon the world and I look forward to catching up with them next week. Today is Chris’s birthday: I’d like to take the opportunity to wish him many happy returns!
Grateful thanks, once again, to Adams and Harlow for their wonderful sponsorship of the launch of Sausage Hall.
09 +00002014-11-21T16:54:42+00:0030 2012 § 4 Comments
In this extraordinary Sausage Hall launch week, which I am enjoying so much and for which I am very grateful, I’d like to pay tribute to two amazing bookshops.
The first is Bookmark, Spalding’s very distinguished bookshop (the CEO of the Booksellers Association, Tim Godfray, has even been known to serve behind the till there on occasion). Bookmark very generously offered to host the Sausage Hall publication day party, which took place in the evening of November 17th, after the day that I spent at Spalding High School. The event was masterminded by Christine Hanson, the owner of the shop (who is both practical and imaginative – she fixed both a toilet roll holder and a broken table joint within minutes of my arrival, while the shop itself, resplendent with its Christmas stock and decorations, achieved a standard that I’d have dearly liked to replicate in my bookselling days), and Sam Buckley, also a former pupil of Spalding High School, who organises author sessions at the shop. Equally generously, the launch party was sponsored by Adams and Harlow, the local pork butchers, who supplied sausage rolls for the occasion.
This event was attended by members of Bookmark’s lively reading group and some old friends of my own. I was astounded to see Finola, a day-job friend – she had driven for more than an hour from Cambridge in order to support me. I was also staunchly supported by Madelaine, one of my oldest friends, and her husband, Marc, who have both offered me hospitality every time I’ve returned to Spalding as Christina James and also bought many copies of my books as presents for everyone they know who might enjoy them.
Madelaine’s contribution to my writing is acknowledged in Sausage Hall. I was also delighted to see Sarah Oliver, whom I first met at the Priory Academy last spring and who came with her husband. The book club members, who lived up to their reputation for being engaged and vivacious, were shrewd and perceptive: as well as listening attentively to two readings from Sausage Hall, they launched into an animated discussion about all three DI Yates novels. Everyone present bought at least one of the books, some more than one. (Sam Buckley later this week let me know that one member of the audience, who had not read any of the novels and took away with her In the Family, returned within forty-eight hours, having read it, to acquire Almost Love and Sausage Hall as well!) And, of course, I couldn’t myself resist making a few purchases in this fairy-tale bookshop.
Having spent the night with my son and daughter-in-law at their house in Cambridgeshire, I arrived in good time on Tuesday November 18th for a signing session at Walkers Bookshop in Stamford. Although I first met Tim Walker, its owner, last year (he’s currently President of the Booksellers Association), I had not visited one of his bookshops before, The one in Stamford is in a listed building in the town centre; he also owns another in Oakham. I was particularly impressed by the huge range of stock in this shop, both the cards and gifts downstairs and the extensive range of books upstairs. Tim and the manager, Jenny Pugh, were respectively at the other shop and taking holiday, but everything had been set up for me and Mandy, the assistant manager on the book floor, couldn’t have made me more welcome.
Bookmark and Walkers are two fine examples of thriving independent bookshops, packed with atmosphere and individual charm and led by brilliantly creative people who understand how to serve their communities very well indeed. It was a privilege and a pleasure for me to have been able to enjoy what they had to offer and I’d very much like to thank Christine and Tim for hosting Sausage Hall events this week.
09 +00002014-11-18T21:58:09+00:0030 2012 § 6 Comments
At first light yesterday, I travelled to Spalding High School, my own former school, to which I had returned only once previously since leaving the sixth form. I received a wonderful welcome from Adrian Isted, the newly-appointed Head of English, who began the day’s activities by showing me round the school.
First stop was the office of the headteacher, Mrs. Michele Anderson, who is also fairly new to the school. She was fascinated to hear a little more from me about Mrs. Jeanne Driver, the first married headteacher at the school, who was its leader throughout my school career. Born Jeanne Ouseley, she lived at 10, High Street, a large house of several storeys situated near the River Welland in Spalding. Part of this house was divided into flats and there were usually several other teachers living there, as well as two of my fellow sixth formers, Cheryl Ouseley and Elizabeth Davies, both of whom were her nieces. They called her ‘Auntie Jeanne’, a name that the rest of the sixth form also used affectionately, if unofficially. Mrs. Driver was one of several strong women who influenced me as a girl. She had a strong sense of duty and an even stronger work ethic. We found some of the things she said highly amusing (for example, ‘I stand up whenever I hear the national anthem, even if I’m in the bath.’). Sometimes she took the notion of duty to an extreme. I remember she told us that when her husband, who had been in ill health for some time, finally died, she finished marking a set of books before setting in train the preparations for his funeral. But her influence has lasted all my life.
The school has been added to, but otherwise is little changed. I suppose the thing that struck me most yesterday is how it seems to have shrunk. The corridors seemed longer, the stairways steeper, the ceilings higher when I first attended it as an eleven-year-old, then for only a part of the school week – pupils belonging to the first two school years still spent most of their time at the old school building in London Road, the first home of Spalding High School when it was established in 1920 on the site of its predecessor, the privately-owned ‘Welland Academy for Young Ladies’. (The present school building was completed in 1959, but the London Road property continued to be used by younger pupils for more than twenty years afterwards.) The assembly hall still boasts its luxurious but absurdly impractical parquet floor.
In my day it doubled up as a gym (there is now a separate sports hall) and we were obliged to do PE barefoot, which we all hated, so that the floor wouldn’t become scuffed by gym shoes. The same grand piano stands in the corner, to the left of the stage. In the corridor outside the headteacher’s office are several group photographs taken of all the teachers and pupils at intervals during the school’s history. After some searching, I was able to discover myself on one of these – and I could also name all the other girls in my form and most of the teachers.
After the tour, I was interviewed by Eleanor Toal and Holly Hetherington for High Quarterly, the school’s completely online magazine (which is streets ahead of the drab, dark-red-covered printed production of my youth). Eleanor, the e-zine’s editor, also writes articles for the Spalding Guardian, carrying on the long-standing relationship between the school and the local newspaper. Eleanor and Holly (who edits Gardening and Food in the mag) knew they were going to be asked to interview me only very shortly before we met, because the intended interviewer was ill, but I wouldn’t have known if they hadn’t told me. I was much struck by the sensitivity and perspicacity of their questions and enjoyed answering them.
After lunch, I talked to sixth form English students about how to get published. Jean Hodge, who reports on cultural affairs for the Spalding Guardian, also attended and joined in. It was quite an exciting occasion, because it also took the first steps towards setting up a short-story competition that the Great British Bookshop has agreed to sponsor at the High School. Adrian and his colleagues and I will choose the best ten or twelve stories submitted to be published in a single volume at The Great British Bookshop’s expense. Winners will each receive a free copy of the book, which will then go on sale in TGBB’s extensive distribution network. I’ll be writing more about the competition in this blog very shortly.
I completed my day at the school with a writers’ workshop for Years 7, 8 and 9 students. The participants explored some of the key elements of crime fiction (they proved to be very well read) and collaborated to put some of those into practice. Their discussion illustrated their excellent grasp of linguistic and literary effects and the results were amazing! Nearly all of these students bought one of my books at the end of the session; some bought all three. Thank you!
I can’t conclude this post without saying that a remarkable library now exists at Spalding High School. The library is housed in the same room that I knew, but what a difference in the stock! The emphasis is on supplying students with books to read for pleasure. It’s a place of relaxation and also a place where students can go to work in groups. There’s none of the shushing and grim looks that any talking in the library produced when I was a schoolgirl and all the dusty old Latin grammars and ancient editions of Gray’s Anatomy have been disappeared. Hats off in particular to Kirsty Lees, the School Librarian and Learning Resources Manager, and to her team. The school knows how lucky it is to have them and to be able to enjoy the warm and inviting place (complete with crime scene rug featuring a splayed body) that they have turned it into.
It’s almost impossible for me to thank all the people who made this day so special. I’m deeply grateful to Michele Anderson for making it possible; to Adrian Isted and Kirsty, for making it happen; to Eleanor and Holly, for giving me such a delightful interview; to Jean Hodge, for all her support for Sausage Hall both at this event and elsewhere and, especially, to all the students whom I met yesterday, who were such a joy to work with and who were so keen to develop their own writing. Thank you all!
09 +00002014-11-04T09:36:36+00:0030 2012 § 9 Comments
After a shadowy existence, Jim steps out into the glare!
Just before Christina James launches DI Tim Yates into another investigation in Sausage Hall, I managed to run her other half, Jim (aka Mr J), to ground and interrogate…sorry that should be interview… him on what it was like not only living with a crime writer but also editing her work.
How did you first meet?
We were students together at Leeds, following the same English course, and so we knew each other from lectures and seminars. Then some mutual friends, already an ‘item’, suggested we went as a couple with them to a hall of residence ball. Nothing, for the romantics reading this, came of it. However, two years later, we were both in Leeds during the vacation and I asked her to keep an eye on my car for a week, whilst I went rock climbing with a minibus group in Derbyshire. I took her for a…
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