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He's Called Lucky

posted 5 Aug 2017, 07:06 by Fran Brady   [ updated 5 Aug 2017, 07:08 ]


This week my heart has been heavy. A week ago, I lost my best friend. Fourteen years of love, loyalty and laughter.


We called him Tucker for two reasons:


1) We had moved to our rural retreat after 12 years in the city centre (Edinburgh) only six months before we got him. As we got to know our fellow villagers, many asked which house we had moved into. When we described it, they said, 'Ah! Tuckers' Place.' 


It had been built about a hundred years ago by a family called Tucker.

Then we went to the local DogsTrust to see if they had a dog for us. They had a great many dogs, all barking , scrabbling at their cages and pleading 'Take me!' In one big cage there were five noisy, in-our-faces dogs and one quiet, sad black dog sitting at the back. Total soft touches that we are, we immediately said 'We would like to see that one.' The kennel staff were pleased. 'He's been here for three months and no one has ever asked to see him yet.' Of course, that clinched it.


'He's called Lucky,' they said. We almost laughed. In his first eleven months of life, he had been anything but. As a puppy, he had belonged to a family with young children but they tired of the work that a puppy creates and threw him out. He wandered on to a busy road and was hit by a passing car, dislocating one hip. He was picked up by police and taken to the Dogs Trust who dealt with his injury and nursed him back to health, Now he was, as their motto goes: Happy, Healthy, Snipped and Chipped. At that point, however, he didn't know he was supposed to be happy and looked the picture of misery and fear. We didn't want to go on calling him Lucky but didn't want to add to his anxiety and disorientation with a completely different name. Then we thought of Tucker, which sounds pretty much like Lucky and would match the old name of the place where he would spend the next (happy) fourteen years.


The first week with him tested our resolve and compassion, not to mention our ability to go without sleep. He was so frightened and insecure that he howled most of the night. if he had been a wee dog, I would have taken him onto our bed and hugged him, But he was a 'collie-cross', not huge but certainly too big to share a bed with us. We took shifts at sitting on the floor beside his basket, stroking him, singing to him, petting him. When he fell asleep, we would tiptoe back to bed. Within five minutes, he was off again, clawing at our original wood doors (the scratches are still there - the 'distressed look'?) That was a very long week.

But quite suddenly, it was over. We woke up one morning to find it was not the middle of the night and that the house was quiet. Like an anxious new mother, when her baby first sleeps through the night, I leapt out of bed, convinced he had howled himself to death. There he was at the foot of the stairs in his bed, looking sleepily up at me as I tumbled down, crying, 'He's all right! He's fine! He's slept right through! Praise the Lord!'


After that, he very quickly settled and became our loving and lovable pet. Suddenly, I was looking back and realising he was now totally one of the family, reliable and perfectly integrated, loved by everyone who knew us.

                                                                    

For fourteen springs, he came with us to our holiday home on the Hebridean island of Iona. 


We never cured him of trying to chase and round up the sheep and many were the escapades, some terrifying, some sidesplittingly funny - at least in retrospect. 


All our many house guests there fell under his spell. He just wouldn't take no for an answer when he wanted to be your friend, waiting quietly and doggedly (pardon the pun), with supreme patience, at the side of anyone who ignored him. People who would have said they didn't really like dogs soon gave in and joined the Tucker fan club.


He had the ability to look at me and convey complete trust. I had told him when he first came to us that 'nothing bad is going to happen to you again'. A rash promise and not mine to keep, of course. Inevitably, he had ups and owns and a couple of nasty health scares. One involved him having to wear the dreaded cone of shame for a fortnight. Like all dogs, he hated it and would gaze mournfully at me. I read his mind: Why are you letting them do this to me? Why don't you stop this? But his lovely, patient face also said: I don't understand but I trust you. I hate it but I know you must have a good. reason.



I did a very successful children's talk at church about it - along the lines of: we don't always understand why we are having a bad time and we want to tell God to get a move on and change things for us; but we don't have the full picture; it may be for our own good.' It went down well with the kids, especially one wee lad, who asked me all about Tucker. The next time I did a talk, it was on 'the 'sheep and the goats'. At the end, I asked the children to vote for whether they wanted to be a sheep or a goat. They all voted to be sheep - except aforementioned small boy who declared very loudly: 'I want to be a dog!' Cue a congregation in fits of laughter. Ah, well, you can't win them all.


I could ramble on with story after story, memory after memory. But now the memory box is full and the stories are over. 


Goodbye, my lovely boy. Love my Tuck. Always.




The Foggy, Boggy Land of Funk

posted 29 Jun 2017, 12:10 by Fran Brady

When actors are not acting, they are 'resting'. In fact, they are probably working harder than ever, earning a crust in some low-paid job whilst trying to chase after as many acting opps as possible. And the longer they are 'resting', the harder it becomes for them to believe in themselves as actors. There probably comes upon them a growing, insidious fear that they will not actually be able to do it again - to get out there and produce the goods.  


So it is for us writers, especially novelists. We have, perforce, to spend time and energy on the editing/re-writing/publishing stage; then even more time/energy on the publicity/marketing stage. It can take months and months, even years. All our creative juices are being used up in blogging, facebooking, twittering, etc to bolster our 'internet platform; our time is used up travelling to events and likely outlet places; if our marketing efforts bear fruit, still more time goes on signings and talking to book groups/festivals/ etc. It sure bears no relation to 'resting' but neither does it permit us time or headroom to do what we do best: write original, creative material. 


Like those out-of-work actors, we can begin to lose sight of ourselves as authors and we can enter into the Land of Self-Doubt where there is forever a drought of confidence and a famine of motivation. I remember hearing a really well-known, prolific author talking at a book-festival writers' seminar and describing this very thing. He really thought that he was looking forward to getting down to his next novel; he had ideas, the genesis of a plot and characters were coming to life in his head. But, when the day came that he had allotted to get started, he found himself latching onto other tasks that he told himself were a priority. He made us laugh as he described some of these 'important', diversionary activities: oiling the mower blades (very slowly); cleaning the windows of the garage (who ever does that); colour coding the paper clips in his desk drawer; grooming the cat with a fine tooth comb ; and so. . . . 


In other words, he was gripped with a bad case of what the boarding-school novels I binged on as a child called 'funk'. I'm happy to report - as, indeed, was he - that he did eventually overcome his funk and tentatively begin to write. Like a trooper, he stuck to it until gradually the old facility emerged and the absorption of creating a new world of characters and events sucked him in. He told us of bursting out of his study on Day Four, shouting: "I CAN still do it! I CAN!' 


He made it an amusing story for purposes of the bookfest audience, but it was easy to see what a real and pretty frightening experience it had been for him. I am thinking of him now as I reach the midpoint in my self-imposed year of not writing a novel. It's the first time in ten years that I have not been in the midst of writing one but I decided at the beginning of this year, that I needed to expend more energy and time on marketing the four novels I have written so far. It has felt like a severe deprivation. I am still engaged in several writing-related activities - editing a quarterly magazine, running a writing group, writing a monthly column for another magazine, collating a reminiscences project, writing stories for my little god-daughter, etc - not to mention the aforesaid treading of the internet boards. All of these keep my writing muscles exercised but they do not give me the deep, sensual, absorbing, exciting pleasure that writing a novel does.  And I miss it like mad. I'm longing to get back to it. Roll on, January 1st, 2018!  


But what if I can't do it any more? What if, like that funny, honest bookfest writer, I descend into the foggy, boggy land of FUNK? I can only hope that I too will have a Day-Four Epiphany and escape from its clutches with my own glad cry of: "I CAN still do it!'


THE POWER OF GINGER

posted 17 Jun 2017, 09:22 by Fran Brady

It is really interesting what people respond most to on FaceBook. I put a post up a week ago. Instant multi-response, lots of likes and comments. The other stuff that always gets an instant big response is pics of babies and dogs and news about deaths or illness, especially one's own (illness, that is, not death!) 

Is there a clue here for writers as to what people are most interested in? My latest novel, The Ghost of Erraid, has  all of those, plus a whole lot more, but . . . NO GINGER.  That's worrying.


THE POST THAT GINGERED UP MY FACEBOOK FRIENDS

Memo to self: doing a Sainsbury online order whilst being constantly interrupted by a holiday-houseful is not a good idea (seven of us on Iona last fortnight). Not only did I order it for the wrong day (Friday instead of Sunday - I was still on Iona on Friday and my neighbour had to let the Sainsbug man in to dump it all in my kitchen) but I ordered: 3 kilos of root ginger instead of 3 pieces; 2 enormous tubs of butter instead of 1 med size; 2 large cartons if yoghurt instead of one; twice as much cheese as I need . . . You get the picture? And arriving home to all that waiting to be sorted out and stashed away was a royal pain! Plus we had the painters in while away so furniture etc in house all displaced as well. Finally collapsed in bed, only partly unpacked, and slept for eleven hours. 



There but for the grace of God . . .

posted 17 Apr 2017, 15:03 by Fran Brady

It was sunny but chilly: Easter Saturday in Scotland. A well-happit crowd had gathered in Princes Street Gardens: stoical Presbyterians and Methodists; excited Charismatics and Baptists; buggy-pushing families; escaping toddlers; larking teenagers; bewildered tourists; and blasé Edinburgh residents (very hard to impress people who live in a city of some eleven annual festivals).


There was music playing, unidentifiable but doing its job of raising the expectancy temperature. Something was about to happen. Slowly, dressed-up people filtered through the crowd towards a green sward which had market tables heaped with produce, pottery and rolls of cloth. The characters looked like they had stepped out of first century Palestine. Which they had - although, they could probably still stroll some of the streets there today and not look out of place. The headgear, particularly, seems to have changed little. 


Soon the dialogue began with references to The Teacher, The Rabbi, The Healer, the man who was making the headlines and, incidentally, making himself royally unpopular with the Jewish establishment of the day. The Edinburgh Easter Play – now in its tenth year – was underway, a medieval-mystery-play format, performed in the open air with an ambulant audience following the cast as it moves from location to location, scene by scene. 


The script was a triumph: it managed at once to make huge assumptions about the biblical literacy of its audience, with allusions and quotations from the New Testament interwoven with prophecies from the Old; and to be entertaining for even the least biblically literate watchers, developing the characters of Jesus’ followers to create sparky encounters and humourous interactions, enhanced by some pawky Scots accents.  


As the well-known story progressed from its cheery, optimistic beginning to its devastating crux and astonishing denouement, the mood of the crowd altered. Everyone knew what was coming but the playwright kept the dramatic tension by exploring the motives and manoeuvres of the men who wrought Jesus’ downfall. All too easy to depict them as self-seeking autocrats resenting a rival leader, or as mere puppets of the forces of darkness. What emerged was a group of leaders whose power had been reduced to a very thin blue line indeed, a tightrope stretched between the exigencies of their own ancient laws and the short fuse of the occupying Roman army, which allowed them to practice their religion thus far and no farther. Basically, they were damned if they did, and damned if they didn’t. Every nation that has ever lived through a brutal occupation (and we are one of the few in Europe who did not during the Second World War) can identify with their dilemma. Christian tradition depicts those Pharisees as self-serving, power-hoarding collaborators. There but for the grace of God . . ? 


An old, old story that prods our twenty-first century awareness. Christians are fond of asking: WWJD (What Would Jesus DO?) But another question arises for us all, Christians or not: WWWDP? (What Would We have Done if we’d been the Pharisees?)


The Power of a Typo

posted 31 Dec 2016, 07:20 by Fran Brady   [ updated 1 Jan 2017, 15:23 ]

As I write this on the 31st December, there is less than half a day left of 2016; as I type that, I mistakenly type 2106; and as I correct it, I think of the year 2106, ninety years from now.


Hogmanay - as we Scots call it - is very much a time for looking back. Nostalgia is king. I could spend this blog relating lots of Hogmanay tales. Indeed, that's what I had in mind as I made myself a cup of coffee and settled down to my laptop: childhood reminiscences of 'first-footing'; parties that lasted all night; party pieces of songs, skits, poems, joke routines, piano and accordion 'turns', the same every year; specific Hogmanays when everything went very wrong, or even very right; maudlin memories of dear departed relations and friends . . .  You get the picture - and aren't you glad I have changed my mind about this blog?


If you are NOT glad and would actually like to hear about those long ago 'real' Scottish Hogmanays, try reading my first novel which is based on those childhood experiences, characters and memories? It has its denouement on Hogmanay 1955.  It follows the fortunes of three families in a post-war mining village and depicts a time of great change: for families, losing grown-up sons and daughters to the lure of emigration; for the men, as the miners' union becomes more strident; and for women, as they move - indeed stride - towards greater emancipation.


Sounds serious? Actually, it is full of humour and humorous characters and situations. Readers tell me that some parts are laugh-out-loud funny.   a-good-time-for-miracle


No, I am minded to look ahead today. 2016 has little to commend it, whereas 2106 is a blank page as yet to be written upon. What's more, unless we write fantasy or futuristic stuff, it CAN'T be written upon - not with any confidence. Who knows what will be worth writing about? Ninety years ago, who could have predicted: the speed and spread of the technological revolution; the rise of environmental fears and efforts to alleviate the damage; the food revolution reflecting the 'global village'; the gulf that has opened up between radical Islam and the rest of the world, with all its horrendous consequences; and so on and so on? Even in our wee world of writery things, comparing the novels of ninety years ago with current ones almost beggars belief. Can you imagine 'Trainspotting' even being allowed into print, let alone distribution and literary acclaim, ninety years ago?


So, looking ahead in predictive spirit is best relegated to the status of a party game. What I am minded to do, as the year gutters to a close, is imagine a world WITHOUT some of its current aspects. The end of: bigotry and intolerance between world faiths; sectarianism within those faiths; 

ignorance about and indifference towards the damage we are doing to our beautiful planet; global greed and national incompetence which mean half the world is below the poverty line, some so far below as to be out of sight, whilst the other half is weltering in surplus and consumerism - indeed, one half dying of starvation/one half worrying about obesity; corrupt governments, leaders and politicians (what the Bible calls 'wickedness in high places'); and so on and so on.


We all have our own pet hates and fears. Let's determine to do, at least, something positive about one of them in 2017. None of us will be alive in 2106. But that's no excuse not to care what the world will be like then. 'Apres moi, la deluge' is not really how we want to be remembered, is it?


Sorry if this reads like a mini-sermon. It's not like me to preach - honestly! But that typo 2106 sure gave me pause for thought.


Seasonal surprises

posted 15 Dec 2016, 11:38 by Fran Brady   [ updated 16 Dec 2016, 11:58 ]

It was time this week for our last Linlithgow writing group of 2106. As usual, I met the Stirling train and three members duly squeezed into my wee Fiat Panda and headed for our usual meeting place, a room on the High Street belonging to one of the town's churches.
But, seasonally, there was no room when we arrived at it. ‘Our’ room was full of workmen and great doings were afoot. The St John’s administrator, Ruth, had forgotten to let me know but ( in the seasonal spirit) I forgave Ruth when she sent an apologetic email later in the day.
We repaired to the 'Burgh Halls Café', leaving a message for another member, who was coming later, and took over a corner among several breastfeeding babies and mummies. The seasonal theme continued . . .
The group has been going since April 2015 and has just produced its first anthology. Because we meet in the beautiful old town of Linlithgow, birth place of Mary Queen of Scots, we decided to call the anthology 'Light on the Loch'. This led to a decision to name our group 'The Loch Lights'.



Magical Settings and Memory Lanes

posted 3 Sep 2016, 15:00 by Fran Brady   [ updated 3 Sep 2016, 15:17 ]


I have always been drawn to books in which the setting is one of the principle characters. It may be the landscape like the wild Cornwall of Du Maurier's Rebecca; or a building like the echoing corridors of Thornfield in Bronte's Jane Eyre; or even a claustrophobically small space, as in Emma Donoghue's chilling Room.

My second novel, The Ball Game, published in 2009, was completely inspired by its setting. I had no characters or plot or even the embryo of a storyline in my head when I decided to write it. I was a student at St Andrews University in the (for me, slightly) swinging sixties. Those were four wonderful, unforgettable years, so utterly and completely different from the life that followed them that, if I thought about them at all, it was always with a sense of unreality. Did that really happen to me? They were like a book I had read or a film I had seen only ever once, adored but never returned to.

Until, in the summer of 2006, I found myself spending a week in St Andrews at a Christian festival. Bucking the trends of summer festivals in Britain, there was a total absence of rain and mud. The tented village basked in unrelenting sunshine and there was not a welly boot in sight. My extended family had hired a three-storey house on Market Street, one of the main thoroughfares of the ancient town. I rose early and walked my dog along the beach and around the town before the heat of the day made such exercise too much for us both.

St Andrews is, of course, a beautiful and famous old town, its centre full of antique, A-listed buildings, from which the rapacious hand of modernity has largely been stayed. For sure, the insides will have changed: there will be fitted kitchens, ensuite facilities, widescreen TVs, remote-controlled heating systems; the students' roll-top bureaux I remember will have been replaced by desks sporting computers. But externally, the dear old place still looks the same. On those early morning walks, I could close my eyes and see my friends and me, in our red gowns hurrying to lectures. I could hear the voices, smell the smells and taste the tastes of that bygone age. I was filled, not just with nostalgia, a rather depressing emotion, but with a longing, nay, a determination, to take myself back and relive it.

Of course, the received wisdom is that one cannot/should never go back: it will only be a disappointment and spoil the memory. But authors can thumb their noses at that dictum. They can go back on their own terms, recreating the best of it, plundering the memory banks for characters, dialogues, episodes and descriptions, taking control of the backward journey. Over the next year, I wallowed in my memories, slipping back to St A's several times to drink at the fountain of my inspiration: the town, the university, the beaches, the streets and wynds, the unchanged old cinema, the countryside around . . . I had only to sit down with my laptop and picture it for the characters to spring to life and begin to interact, creating the story. Of all of my four novels, it is truly the one in which I was as enthralled as I hoped my readers would be, having no idea what was going to happen from one writing session to the next. No character studies and back stories; no plot arc; no chapter plans; no research 'folder' in my computer.

It should have been a recipe for disaster but somehow it all came together and a novel emerged which seems to have been enjoyed by readers and is praised as having ‘many likable (and a few unlikable!) characters with plot twists and turns which will leave you hooked’ and even being 'well-crafted'. If only these Amazon reviewers knew! The power of the setting can clearly not be underestimated.

My fourth novel (at the first-draft-rewrite stage) finds me back in setting-inspired mode. It was inevitable that my love of the Hebrides, fostered over twenty years of holidays in the family house on the Isle of Iona, would one day work the 'setting magic'. I shall be taking a trip to the Mull Museum in Tobermory in a month's time to meet up again with the archivist there and get her appraisal of the period and place authenticity of the draft (it's a ghost story set on Mull in the 1920's).
Stunning scenery, golden eagles, seals and dolphins, air so clear it fizzes like champagne, Highland hospitality and no doubt a wee dram of Scotland's most famous export. This is me with my dog on the Isle of Mull . . . working hard at my research . . . honestly! As they say, it's a dirty job but someone has to do it.

 

It's that time of year again

posted 1 Aug 2016, 14:21 by Fran Brady   [ updated 1 Aug 2016, 14:38 ]

‘Over 800 authors from over 45 countries in 750 events for adults, teens and children.’ That’s straight out of the Edinburgh Book Festival programme, which looks more like a heavy-duty glossy mag than an events list.

If you live within striking distance of Scotland’s ancient and beautiful capital city and you like/love/read or write books, then there is no keeping away in August. Charlotte Square Gardens, in the west end of the New Town, becomes a tented village with auditoria, bookshops, coffee/ booze/ food outlets, picnic tables, benches and loungers on the grass in the middle of the square, posters of authors who have graced the Square with their presence over decades. Names like Muriel Spark, Solzhenitsyn, Brendan Behan . . . And more lately, Alexander McCall Smith, Ian Rankin and J K Rowling (all three of them residents of Edinburgh today). Sounds idyllic.

Except that this is Scotland and it does rain quite a lot, stopping for some fog and wind occasionally. I have sat in sessions where the interviewer and author have had to shout to be heard above the rain thrumming on the canvas roof; I have felt as if the whole tent - chairs, table, author, water-jug, lectern and all - was about to be scooped skywards on the (strongly) prevailing wind; but I have also fallen asleep in the stifling, greenhouse-like heat of a tent on a real summer’s day. We have it all, sometimes all in one day.

Every so often, the cry goes up for a new venue, a proper building, all indoors, sheltered from the vagaries of the Scottish summer. But then, we all remember how much we love the leafy quadrangle, the duckboard paths across the muddy grass, the wee yellow plastic ducks swimming in the larger puddles. 
Above all the sense of stepping through the pavement foyer into another world, a magic, once-a-year world, where the book is king and the talk is all of what authors have said and readers have read.
Elderly folks snooze on deckchairs beside the statue of Prince Albert on a horse - the impressive centrepiece of the Square - newly-bought, author-signed books slipping out of nerveless hands. Children issue forth from an hour with their favourite author, clutching things they have made or written or drawn or bought, a gaggle of excited voices and wriggling bodies. Wonderful to see that every generation, even this tech-saturated, over entertained one, still loves a good book and the thrill of meeting its writer.
Me?  I’m booked for six events:
‘The Brontës in their own Voices’ with Juliet Barker (and my granddaughters who are period-drama mad)
‘Culloden, the Battle and the Myths’, with historian, Murray Pittock
‘Play with Putin at your Peril’, with former NATO Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe (a catchy title), Richard Shirreff (and my husband, who loves political stuff)
‘The Fountain of Eternal Youth’ with Erica Jong launching her new novel, ; ‘Fear of Dying’ (because I remember the thrill of reading 'Fear of Flying' in the 70s)
Sarah Leipeiger with ‘The Mountain can Wait and Ron Rash with ‘Above the Waterfall’, both wide-open-spaces novels.
And I’ll probably succumb to a couple of others that have cancellation tickets available at the last minute. Then there’s the free late night gig in the pub tent with authors doing stand-up and Indy bands showcasing . . . Plus my writing group’s now-traditional, posh, pot-luck picnic. Amazingly we have never been rained off, though it has been touch and go sometimes.

If you’re anywhere near Edinburgh this month, don’t miss it. And look out for me. I might even buy you a coffee - or share my umbrella!

Check out the programme at: www.edbookfest.co.uk

 

All heaven declares the glory

posted 19 Jun 2016, 13:38 by Fran Brady   [ updated 21 Jun 2016, 14:02 ]

Just back from two glorious weeks in the Hebrides on the sacred Isle of Iona. My monthly Christian writing group meets tomorrow and our theme this time is 'God's beautiful world'. I couldn't resist using some of what used to be called 'my holiday snaps'!

Lord how majestic is your name in all the earth. When I consider your heavens, the work of your hands, the moon and the stars which you have set in place . . . 
                                                               

Friday night in Oban. Tomorrow, we board the ferry for the Hebrides, to the islands of Mull and Iona.

A still evening, the weather quiet and dreamy, the sky full but not heavy with great rolling, silvery clouds. Moonlight slips through a gap to lay a shining path that beckons beyond the horizon where a far distant glow promises enlightenment. It lures us, unresisting and trustful.

 Lead us on, Lord. We would walk that shining path; we would reach the light.

The next two weeks bless us with days of dazzling sunshine, lightly tempered by myrtle-scented breezes, and nights cooled by soft mists.

                                                              

God’s palette is always well used in a Hebridean summer as he paints turquoise seas, shading through green to blue to navy topped with creaming waves, backlit to perfection by dappling sunlight, fringed by jewel- bright beaches and peppered with red and white sailboats. This year, he invents new colours, new combinations.

The Colourists did their best to emulate the Creator, straining to come close even to his outer fringe. But so glorious are these Hebridean treasures that even the poorest attempt to depict can look wonderful and fetch a price at auction.

Lead us on, Lord, we would draw closer, ever closer, to your fathomless well of beauty and creativity; we would touch the hem of your garment, even its outer fringe.

We worship with singing heart, not only in Iona's ancient abbey but at the altar of his immensity. He overwhelms us with the defiant majesty of sunset and the ethereal delicacy of sunrise.


He called the light ‘day’ and the darkness ‘night.’

And there was evening.



And there was morning          




Lead us on Lord. We would tiptoe, marvelling, along the shore of your dawn; we would bow down, dazzled, in the splendour of your setting sun.


    

        
your horizons beckon; your beaches tempt  

       your sweet winds tantalise; your birdsong wakens

        your lapping waves lull to sleep; you rock us in heaven’s cradle


Lead us on, Lord. We are listening; we long to hear your voice . . .


‘ . . . see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it . . .’ Malachi 3

 

             How majestic is your name in all the earth.












 






























 



















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The Most Famous Woman in the World

posted 22 Apr 2016, 08:26 by Fran Brady   [ updated 25 Apr 2016, 14:08 ]

Watching the celebrations for the Queen's ninetieth birthday, I heard a commentator call her 'the most famous woman in the world'. An amazing epithet when you think about it . . . 

‘The most famous woman in the world.’ Can that really be true? I suppose they mean the most famous alive today. I doubt if, in thousands of years, I will still be on the tip of everyone’s tongue. To last like that, you have to become symbolic and archetypal: Cleopatra – beauty and power ending in tragedy; Helen of Troy – inspiring men to ultimate sacrifice and countries to war; Florence Nightingale – creating systemic values and practices that transformed, indeed created, the nursing profession; Marie Curie – pushing the boundaries of science to the point of self-destruction. . . Such women deserve to have their heads on stamps and their lives studied by generations of schoolchildren.

Create your own list. But leave out the current celebrities. Only the court of history can confer the title of symbol and archetype. Who knows if J K Rowling will be as well remembered and revered as Austen and Bronte? It seems unlikely that Kim Kardashian or Victoria Beckham will last the test of time. 

I have done none of those things. Neither the fabled, unforgettable achievements of those historic figures nor the overblown, feted achievements of the modern ones. Men have not fought over me or launched battleships in my name; I have not impacted the worlds of medicine and science; I have not written six children’s books made into seven films and drawing audiences of millions of all ages; I have not even been the face of an advertising campaign or created a brand of expensive underwear. I represent ordinariness.

Yes, I know that my life of palaces and parades, official duties and worldwide travel, appearances and anthems, seems a far cry from the woman in the street. But, if we strip away the rituals and trappings, we find a life lived in a groove of utter predictability. I represent devotion to duty, dedication to role, steadfast faith in a country of increasing agnosticism, reliability in turbulence, a constant through change. And all that is only a way of saying that I have led a pretty boring life, seemingly unaffected by global tragedies, threats to civilisation and changing catwalk fashions. I am Kipling’s perfect man: I can keep my head when all about me are losing theirs; I can trust myself when all men doubt me; and I can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run. How many minutes are there in ninety years? It makes my head spin to think about it.

There was the Second World War when I was just a girl. Mother and Father were portraying bravery under fire, refusing to cut and run when the bombs came, endearing themselves to a frightened, beleaguered nation. Mummy was always an idol after that and Daddy died before the gloss wore off. Besides they both had the aura of having had greatness thrust them and squaring up amazingly to a challenge they had never envisaged. I did my best to carve out a little spot of the limelight: those photos of me in ATS uniform, tinkering with vehicle engines. But my contribution was only an accessory, fairy lights to their super-trouper.

After the war, I gave the nation what it wanted: a pretty princess falling in love with a handsome naval captain. But how many women in the country had done just that? Some had even been brave enough to leave everything they had ever known and emigrate to America. I was not even required to learn Greek! While other post-war brides struggled to make wedding dresses out of parachute silk and old lace curtains, I had dress designers queueing up to showcase their talents and provide beautiful materials. While other newly-weds squeezed into their parents’ overcrowded homes and joined an endless waiting list for one of the new houses that were being promised, once the country recovered from war, I had residences to choose from. Not for me scraped savings and utility furniture: I had an embarrassing plethora of antique treasures and heirlooms.

Thus, while the women of post-war Britain threw themselves heroically into rebuilding the country and bringing up the next generation in a make-do-and-mend culture, earning themselves a stalwart place in history, I coasted alongside, symbolising nothing more than parasitic ease and wealth. They said I was inspiring, symbolising the triumph of sweet and beautiful womanhood over the ugly legacy of Nazi ideals and intentions. But the women who procreated so abundantly in those post-war years, the baby-booming mothers who threw caution to the winds and took a great big bite out of the future, despite the shortages, ration books and slum housing: the triumph was theirs and glory should have been too.

Girlishly, I coasted along through as sumptuous a wedding as was then possible, into a delightful honeymoon and first pregnancy. Not for me a ‘Call the Midwife’ delivery in an attic with no running water and an outside toilet three floors down. I had the best of care, cutting-edge pain relief and nannies on hand to blunt the edge of a new baby’s demands, leaving me free to bless the nation with bland photographs of cooing new parenthood.

The bombshell came when my daughter, my second baby, was just a toddler. Darling Daddy died, a martyr to the cause of tobacco but probably also to the crippling burden of becoming King - the King that led Britain through one of the worst and longest conflicts in history – when he had never envisaged such a thing and was always bedevilled by a sense of inadequacy and impending failure.

Within a few short hours, as Philip and I raced home, people were calling me ‘your majesty’ and muttering about coronation dates. I should have thrown what I believe is now called ‘a strop’ and refused. I was young, I had dreams and plans for my life. Of course, from the age of ten, when Uncle Edward went off with ‘the American hussy’ – as Mummy called her – I had known, somewhere at the back of my mind, that I would one day be Queen. But I had thought that would be far in the future, when I was old, maybe in my fifties. I would have had my fun, the future that Philip and I had planned together, I would be ready to settle down and play the monarch. But that future was snatched away from me. From now on, my life, my very day-to-day existence, would be mapped out and dictated by the plans and expectations of other people and other countries. And by the remorseless round of repetitive events and duties. Even my birthday – that most personal of things – was hijacked for purposes of state. I can have a smaller celebration, although still formalised into a ritual, on the April date but I must square up to a full-scale jamboree for the June one. Sustain the legend and create the tourist attraction.

Like every other woman, I have gone through family upsets and tragedies, through births, deaths and marriages, through modernism and post-modernism, through boom and bust, celebration and mourning. I have lost my girlish figure and become a tubby old lady; my ramrod posture has crumpled and my hair has gone white. Through it all, I have smiled and nodded graciously, never showing boredom, fear or resentment, never expressing an opinion on a subject that matters.  

I arise of a morning and don the persona allotted to me for that day. Not for me impulsive reactions or plain speaking; not for me the taking of risks and the coursing of hares; not for me excessive joy or sorrow. The bible says we are all parts of the body of Christ. If this is so, I am the stiff upper lip.

I am a shadow of a person, a cipher, a cardboard cut-out queen, the real me buried deep down. Who will remember that person, that queen, in a thousand years?

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