Wednesday, 6 February 2013

I Dare You

One thing that makes life worthwhile, so they tell us, is 'facing a challenge'.  From earliest childhood, if we are lucky, we learn from the right kind of challenge. I started early with a game of the same name, on my first day at school. My primary school, Meadow Lane, was a rough one, frankly, in which the pupils were drawn from the families of dockers or soldiers stationed at the local depot.

Meadow Lane Primary School

We were not, most emphatically not, allowed to stay inside at break no matter the weather.  The three-sided shelter in the yard was the only concession to our comfort.  The shelter had a narrow wooden bench around the inside. To play The Challenge game needed most of the school, and we sat on the bench, side-by-side, each shoving the person to the left, whilst making a sound like an air-raid siren.  Kids knew the sound of the air-raid siren when I was little because they were still tested regularly every week, some 14 years after the bombs stopped falling on London. Children of the '50s grew up in a world where all adult man and women  were locked together in the grown-up world of grief and enforced brightness, a perpetual determination to 'keep calm and carry on'.

Keep Calm & Carry On
So, the end of The Challenge came when you were ejected, straight off the seat and onto the tarmac playground. It was a painful conclusion to a child's break, not because of scraped knees and filthy gymslips, but because rarely, if ever, did anyone manage to force their way back. The object of The Challenge game was to remain safe, somewhere near the middle of the semi-circle, shouting with mouth wide open and unable to distinguish any sound individually. No doubt the counsellors could make something of it, but we didn't have any of those.

At present I'm in that middle part of my book, just over two thirds there in fact. I really need to drop my hero Thomas Tarling right in it, off the end of the bench or into the icy drink of the Thames, so to speak.

The Ice-Cold Drink of the Thames
I've got to get him to feel the lash of the whip (not literally, though it was a common enough punishment for working class men in his day, in 1820s London. Makes community service look a little tame, guys...)  I struggle through various books, and try to find something that will assist me.

The Lash of the Whip
I meet my friend Ruth for coffee. She, too, is having problems with her novel and we read bits to each other. I start with a bit of Thomas's fight on the dockside.

'There was utter silence, and he knew he had to act. With a stifled groan, he sprang forward and knocked the key from Robshaw's hand. It fell to the quay with a clatter.  

     Robshaw bent swiftly, retrieved it and glanced about. 

     'After him,' Thomas yelled, boiling with rage.  'After him. Robshaw, I'm gonna get that friggin key if I have to strip you for it.'

Ruth works through my manuscript, until it's awash with red ink. After that, I expect Ruth to bring out her manuscript but she doesn't. She's got something else. Ruth always burns the midnight oil and is a big fan of weird radio - she loves niche Indie shows with a hundred listeners, and she's a big fan of shortwave. 

My manuscript's awash with red

Last week I caught her tuning into Lucinda Bassett's radio show in the USA.  She was, she says, so hooked that she's brought a couple of pages of Lucinda's memoire and we read it together, our hands shaking with the cold. It's still winter here in London.

.You can buy a 'Keep Calm & Carry On' Poster here


  1. Love it! Really looking forward to your reading this evo. x S

  2. Aww, thanks - I shall expect it to come back awash with red, ha ha!