Tuesday, 14 October 2014

A Memory of Childhood



As I watch my grandchildren stare at images burned into the acrylic surface of a DVD, the years crowd backwards to my own childhood. Maybe our two generations share little besides the gift of self-absorption that life awards to the young, allowing, for the most part, children to skate blithely through their early years, ignorant of the complexities of adulthood.
      In my house, weekdays were confined to school and homework with The Archers, Goon Show or Dick Barton on the radio. Saturday often meant an outing with my father to the golf club followed by a visit to the pictures. He worked away during the week. Arriving late on Friday nights, Saturday always began with him cleaning his clubs on the kitchen table, pushing the breakfast cloth to one side – much to my mother’s ill-concealed irritation – while he lovingly oiled the head of his woods. By the age of nine, I was awarded the privilege of accompanying him to the municipal course, where, as a reward for dragging his trolley round nine holes, I was given a jam tart and a drink of Tizer in the clubhouse.
      Of the game of golf I remember little except for the bonhomie that accompanied winning, and the lowering ill-tempered glances that walked hand in hand with losing. Occasionally, when an unexpected sound broke my father’s concentration in the middle of a shot, a bad-tempered expletive would hit the air followed, if he was losing, by a few choice words. Woe betide anyway approaching without earshot who happened to be pushing a squeaky trolley. Even a wayward golf ball came in for its fair share of invective if it refused to drop into the hole. Tournaments, of which there were many, were also recipients of this maverick behaviour; my father arriving home with a box of silver spoons or a club bent like a boomerang after an encounter with a tree, beaten into submission following a bad hook or slice that had lost him the match.
      I wasn’t aware as a child that my father’s life existed of two things only: work and golf. The full extent of his uncaring nature became clear during my first year at college, when I was taken very ill. He drove through the city on his way to a golf match, ignoring the severity of his daughter’s plight and never came near.
      But as a child, Saturday was the day I dreamed of all week; the night my father and I went to the pictures. I had older sisters but they mostly stayed at home with my mother. I was too young to know then that I’d been set up as the fall guy, my job to keep father away from the house and in a good mood when he returned.
      With at least five picture houses within easy reach, with names like Tivoli, Regal and Sheldon, there was always something in the newspaper that I wanted to see. In truth, even in those days I found the celluloid screen as addictive as children find a DS today. Two of the cinemas were within walking distance, others required a short ride on a trolley bus up or down the Coventry Road. We didn’t have a car. My grown-up cousin who lived with us because of a shortage of housing, he did. The first in our long road; a brightly polished black vehicle with running boards, always surrounded by an admiring audience of kids, whose idea of heaven was a peak under the bonnet at the spark plugs and carburettor.
      So we walked or took the bus across the border into fantasy land, where my dreams were played out in Technicolor; cowboys and Indians fought pitched battles and John Wayne bellowed Hi-Yaa to his horse before vaulting on to it – a far cry from the ridiculous walk on that modern film-makers use.
      To my shame I haven’t the slightest idea what films my father liked or disliked. In the world that children inhabit, he was simply the obligatory adult that handed over one and nine pence for a ticket to the balcony and provided sixpence for a vanilla tub of ice cream, while I feasted my eyes on the flashing images on the screen. I don’t recall whether he ever expressed a liking for one star over another, although he was a young man and even in our modern society, young men still take their fantasies very seriously. For all I know he may well have lusted after beautiful faces, long legs, and low cleavages, personified by stars such as Rita Hayworth and Ava Gardner. To me he was simply father who took me to see the films I wanted to see.
      If my memory serves, most of the picture houses were built of red brick. Only one, in Kings Heath, was white with a fa├žade like the prow of a ship; a magnificent art deco stained-glass window looming high over the pavement. At street level, miniature replicas were rapidly being replaced by plain glass, as urchins wielding stones used them for target practice. White marble steps, with handrails of polished brass, led up into a foyer with its plush carpet, rain-soaked and scuffed at the edges. A few steps further and you were surrounded by swirls of gold and red that beckoned you onward into a secret world that existed behind the dark grey of the sound-proofed doors. And these could be opened, not with a cry of open sesame, but the purchase of a ticket.
      In those days, there was nearly always a queue, waiting patiently behind a board, on which were scrolled the words: balcony queue here. My father liked going upstairs – as did I. Even from outside, I could hear the stairs to the balcony calling to me. With their wide and shallow treads that circled round gold-clad walls lit by delicate sconces of candle light, they were an integral part of the magic that awaited. And for precious seconds, I was one of these magical creature, soaring upwards and floating down wth feet easily as nimble and light as those of Ginger Rogers, my imaginary ball gown drifting in an equally imaginary breeze. For cinemas were always crowded and always hot.
      But the memorable thing about the queues, that wrapped round the walls of the cinema building, like a birthday bow, they didn’t last long. People were mostly honest and left once they had seen the programme round. Although, I freely admit to seeing Jane Eyre, with Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine, round twice and crying both times. But, in my defence, it was afternoon and there were empty seats.
      ‘Two,’ the commissionaire would intone, appearing on the marble steps and holding up two fingers.
      Conversation ceased as the crowd awoke, those at the back anxiously poking the people in front to move forward; someone hissing, ‘Go on, that means you,’ as if rushing in would immediately empty other seats.
      While father was waiting in line to buy our tickets, I spent the few moments stargazing; worshipping at the altar of legendary movie stars; their glossy black and white photographs sensibly encased in glass on the wall. With faces as familiar as your own, they were far grander than any of our modern celebrities; an entire industry was dedicated to them, every word fed to the public carefully scripted to enhance the magic that was cinema.
      At the box office, tickets, small with the consistency of blotting paper, slid out from silver-coloured slots. If you were heading for the stalls, you were allowed only a moment or two to savour their texture and colour, before an usherette ripped them in half and opened the door.
      There the world in all its glory began. Whether you sat upstairs or down, the moment the doors opened you were captivated. Like a moth drawn towards a flame, the moving images on the huge screen grabbed you, stealing your attention away from the task in hand; that of negotiating your way to your seat, guided only by the downward spiral of the usherette’s torch. It would have been easier if you could keep your eyes on the ground – but you can’t. Hypnotised by the onscreen images, your gaze is trapped and fixed and like a zombie you stumble down any number of white edged steps. The usherette flashes her light towards two empty seats in the middle of the row. There’s never a choice, never a, shall we sit here? You take what’s on offer and are glad to do so, thrilled to be there, a part of the Hollywood experience. Seats bang up and for a few precious seconds chaos rules, as obliging patrons are forced to their feet, awkwardly clutching umbrellas, trilbies and raincoats to their bosom, their eyes never wavering – fixed straight ahead. From the row behind, a shuffling arises as people impatiently lean first one way and then another, trying to see round the bodies blocking their view. A muttered ‘sit down will you,’ hits the air, from those anxious not to miss a second, their glance still never wavering  And, after the obligatory second, long enough to stuff your coat under your seat, you join them – mesmerized.
      At the interval, maybe an organ takes over. A massive chord announces its appearance out of the ground in front of the stage. It launches into a lighthearted medley of popular dance tunes allowing people queue up for ice cream or the wc. As lights dim again for the start of a second film, there were always two, with a final triumphant blast it descends below ground again, leaving the usherettes with torches to guide newcomers to their seats.
      Sometimes my route to the screen was blocked by a hat and then I perched on the back of my seat or my father changed places. Often the film broke down, leaving squiggles on the screen, deeply laggard speech and a wild fluttering sound as the celluloid roll flapped helplessly against its spindle. Coughs, groans and whistles of annoyance sever the enthralled silence of the auditorium, and an ironic cheer breaks out as the projector whirls back into action.
      ‘Do we have to,’ I say, when the film reaches the point at which we came in and, if father has liked the film, maybe we stay on another five or ten minutes. Then, dragging my feet, my head still fixed to the screen, I reluctantly squeeze past those still happily watching. Most times though, on Saturday night, we’d accompany the crowd out at the end and, if hungry, call in at the chip shop.
      Even the taste of chips is fondly remembered; soaked in salt and vinegar and wrapped in newspaper – a neat pile of sheets waiting for customers. In those days, the print didn’t come off and you weren’t left with ink-stained hands when you screwed up the paper afterwards. I don’t remember how much chips cost, ten pence sounds familiar. Down in Small Heath, Smith’s Crisps factory sold bags of broken crisps, with a peck of salt packed in a screw of dark blue paper, for a penny.
      In all the years my father and I went to the cinema, I never once wondered why only the two of us ever went. Perhaps it was dozen years later that I finally understood that the images of a caring father, taking his daughter on an outing, were as false as the lives we saw on screen. He only took me to the cinema to escape being in the house, and my mother let him because she hated him being there.
      I wish the magic of Hollywood could conjure up some gentle deity whose job it is to protect children from the heart-wrenching lives of adults long enough for them to learn how to cope. I never did understand why my mother or sisters couldn’t be bothered to listen when I prattled on about the tap-dancing feet of Fred Astaire, or the tenor voice of Mario Lanza or the swash-buckling sword-play of Stewart Granger – unless it was I was guilty by association.

Visit my website Barbara Spencer.

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Saturday, 2 August 2014

The never-ending repetition of history







Wanting to understand more about the current situation in Gaza, I borrowed A Very Short Introduction The Palestinian-Israeli conflict by Martin Bunton.

Having now reached the age when I can admit to having lived through many of the incidents in this very readable account; indeed I was caught up in the civil war in Beirut in 75, I found this book absolutely fascinating and come away with a far reater understanding. This humanitarian disaster in Gaza is not the first nor the second or even the third and I quote : from a passage about 1949
"Based on the belief that a constant show of Israel's military superiority would eventually force the Arab world to accept Israel's present, this attitude ensured that no attack on Israel would go unpunished. Indeed, it was made clear that Israel would retaliate with disproportionate force. While the policy of severe retaliation may have served at some level as a deterrent, the policy also contributed to heightened enmity and a repeating cycle of violence in which both Arabs and Jews saw themselves as innocent victims acting against injustice." 

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Saturday, 26 July 2014

Where has all the fun gone?



I've got music playing - a welcome change from TV. Am I getting old or is telly becoming more and more dismal every day? Programmes used to be fun, especially comedy. Once written with skill, now audiences are expected to find swearing, over-emphasis, and crude jokes funny. I don't. Even crudity needs skill, a good director, excellent comedy actor and a good delivery to make you laugh - not simply words stated with emphasis. Sadly I have also seen most of the re-runs of detective series at least once. The criteria for that is - once you remember 'who done it' they are no longer of interest. Fortunately I have a shelf full of books! They never let you down.

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Thursday, 17 July 2014

Authors Grand Launch Festival Blog Train


 


You are cordially invited to attend the 

 Grand Launch Festival Day! 

Join us for what is sure to be a blast with the Most Enticing Book Trailer Contest winner announcement, scavenger hunts, giveaways, Google social hangouts, and our kick off for the 1st Annual Authors' Cave Book Awards where you can win $500 cash, a Kindle Fire or Nook, and free promotion of your book for a year at Authors' Cave!


July 22, 2014
(8am to 11pm EST)



Back to the train...Get to know the blogger - that's me!



Who am I : A grandmother who writes great books for children and young adults. I live in Somerset in the south-west of England which is a terrible drag for visiting schools or booksignings because I have to be up by 5 a.m. to get to the station. I have also lived in the Caribbean, the United States, Europe and the Middle East. As a result all my books have a little bit of my life in them, including the one above: Time Breaking.


The first three words I would use to describe myself are: Workaholic, chocoholic but not alcoholic

I am currently working on this project: The Amazing Brain of O C Longbotham 
Publication date 27.11.14


 



Running and Turning Point: A Boy : A Missing Computer Scientist: a Secret so dangerous it must stay hidden from the world

Scott Anderson has a secret so big he daren’t share it even with best friends; he and his dad are American. If you’re American, you don’t talk about it. If you don’t talk about that, you don’t talk about any of the other secrets that haunt your life – that your dad’s really a computer scientist and people are searching for him.

Stay on the train and follow these authors next! See how they responded to the same questions!

Get to know: Laura De Bruce : http://theriddleofprague.com/blog/

Get to know: K T Bowes :http://ktbowes.blogspot.co.nz/



 Product DetailsProduct DetailsProduct Details



Visit my website Barbara Spencer.

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Caught in the Act

The engineer arrived at my house early this morning to take away my washing machine.
To unplug it, he had to delve into a cupboard and there he discovered my stash of chocolate!
Oh help!
As he pulled it out, I watched it multiply into a mountain range.
'I'm a children's writer,' I said, gazing at the brightly coloured packages, trying to lessen my guilt, 'I get very stressed if a book isn't going well.'
He gave me a funny look, then turned his eye to the mound of, shall we say it, "that stuff that stays a moment in your mouth and a lifetime on your hips."
No doubt he was thinking - she either writes a lot of books or spends every hour awake being stressed.

THEN HE PULLED OUT THE WASHING MACHINE and sixteen years worth of frozen peas, peanuts, and dried up raisins came with it + a handful of dead flies and spiders.

Now, I am so stressed at being found delinquent in the housekeeping area ... I need to delve into that cupboard again.
PS: I only hope he didn't count the number of bars before he left because he is returning in a couple of days with my mended machine.
PPS: I'd better hurry out to the shops and replace the ones I've just eaten.



Visit my website Barbara Spencer.

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Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Our changing society

As a children's authors, I am frequently invited into primary and secondary schools to talk about creative writing and, particularly with young kids, increase their enthusiasm for the written word. Returning from a visit to Kings of Wessex I daydreamed the journal home, thinking about how hard librarians and teachers work to keep their pupils reading. Why do we do it? I guess because the sum total of our world's learning has appeared in books. Everything we are today is because some person had an idea and wrote about it in a book.

No longer perhaps ... now it's UTube, Twitter and Facebook. But it is very difficult to break a habit that's lasted for almost 600 years and replace it with something so modern that it hasn't yet reached 25.

And yet tragically fewer and fewer of our teenagers are reading.

I would like to think they go back to books in the future when social media loses its appeal ... I hope it happens and happens quickly; the world will be a much poorer place without books.

Visit my website Barbara Spencer.

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Thursday, 29 May 2014

Views from the US

If I had to confess what gave me the inspiration to write my thriller, Running, it is my love of the US and the generosity of its people. And I am delighted that the book is being read by an American audience.

Really Great Story and Writing, May 27, 2014
By 
Nolen (Houston, TX) - 
 
 
 
 
 
This review is from: Running (Kindle Edition)
I was intrigued from the first few paragraphs. The earthquake scene had me believing for that instant that this was an end-of-the-world sort of story. It isn't. But it's that good. After the earthquake that shook California off of the United States to bury it beneath the Pacific Ocean, the story begins again in England. I loved the discussion from the teens about Americanisms used by other students. The big secret in this "broom cupboard" discussion is that two of these students are Americans hiding the fact. Because after the earthquake the rest of the world has "disowned" the U.S., cut them off from import, export, and everything else. So being an American is not something to be proud of, even in Britain, or so thinks young Scott Anderson. For this reason he keeps it quiet. He doesn't realize that there is a far more important reason to keep himself to himself. From a fast-paced chase from Cornwall to Scotland and then to Holland, Scott doesn't know who to believe much less trust, and neither does the reader. Recommended reading!!!
 
Running by Barbara Spencer
Sequel: Turning Point 
YA Thriller

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