Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Understanding Frank

In 1971 I was pretty much focused on myself, which is not unusual for a nineteen-year-old with very limited life experience. However last year, while editing my diary I fell into considering the events recorded in it from another point of view, that of Frank Browne.  

What must it have been like, I wondered, to be in your sixties with a seriously disabled wife, and to be attractive to a young girl - one who lacked sexual knowledge and self-confidence and who hangs on your every word?  How do you respond to that?

Well, Frank's response was straightforward, although subsequent events were constrained by the need to keep things very secret.  But there was something more, something about his attitude to life I hadn't really understoodI looked through the diary at our conversations, much of which includes Frank's folksy wisdom.  He spoke often about reincarnation, which seemed odd to me as he was a Roman Catholic.  He mentioned the need to equate actions. "Well, life is more about give and take, said Frank, and you must do both to be happy."

I'd been brought up to believe that you looked after your own interests and if you had any spare cash you saved it for a rainy day.  Frank was willing, once his own and his family's needs were met, to give freely to others.  He even handed his overtime money to his fellow liftman.

In thinking about all of this, I came across a lovely book by Felicity Hayes-McCoy called 'The house on an Irish hillside'. It is her account of how she found a better and more balanced understanding of life from living in a cottage on the Dingle peninsula.  It's a great read and I would recommend it to anyone.  It also gave me a few clues into Frank's thinking and behaviour - and Frank came from North Kerry, not far away from the Dingle.

Here are some quotations from Felicity's book which I found particularly revealing:
"When people meet, they try to place each other, and they're not happy until they find links that join their story to yours."

"In the Celts' circular image of eternity each thing follows the next in its allotted sequence, like the notes in a tune or the steps in a dance."

"In their world view, everything that lives must die to live again."

"'Nai crann sna flaithis naos airde nai crann an foighde' is [a saying] you hear often.  It means 'there's no higher tree in heaven than the tree of patience'."
"Even pulling a pint of Guinness takes patience."

"Enough is plenty."

"People here know that too much or too little of anything means a lack of balance.  Balance brings contentment."

"The essence of health is balance. And I think the route to finding it is awareness in stillness."

All of which resonated with what I had written down and what I could remember of Frank.  

Lastly I came across these, which made me think about Frank's situation as an Irishman who had left Ireland over thirty years before to live in London, and was quite critical of "the Irish".
"In Granny's world, wearing a shawl and speaking Irish made you a peasant, while a hat and coat and a command of English made you a cut above the rest."

"In a foreign city where no one knows you, you can discover who you are."

St James's church, Paddington

Monday, 29 August 2016

Portland Place playlist!

Above is a playlist of tracks that are either mentioned in 'Portland Place' or which were around at the time.  Hope you enjoy it.

'Your song' came out about the time that Frank and I first got together, I thought of it as 'our song' for a while. 'I hope you don't mind that I put down in words how wonderful life is while you're in the world' now seems even more appropriate.

'My sweet Lord' seemed to be on the radios in the GFS hostel every morning in the January.

'Another day' was so typical of a secretary's life ...

Decimalisation happened in March 1971.

Dec 10th: "Although they are a bit corny, I keep thinking of that Paganini Variation and the Carpenters' 'Close to you".
The Rachmaninoff 18th variation on the theme by Paganini seemed to come on the radio at several critical moments that year.

'No matter how I try' and 'Without you' were on the juke box on the night I went out with Frank in North Kensington.

'The mountains of Mourne' was a song Frank used to sing in the lift at the Langham.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Ode to The Langham

This brilliant poem was sent to me by one of the authors, Sarah Holmes (@CalmHolmes).  It appeared in the BBC staff newspaper in 1979 and describes so well what it was like to work at the Langham.

Ah, the 'leisurely jaunts' in the lifts ....!  Thanks to Sarah for letting me reproduce it here.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Spreading the word ...

I'd be delighted if you could join me on Wednesday 19th October at 7.30 pm at the West End Lane bookshop, where I will be talking about Portland Place and signing copies.  Free entry, but you need to register beforehand.

Meanwhile, the book has been sighted on the shelves of many branches of Waterstones, like Bridport,

Kettering (thanks to Carol Walters),

and Piccadilly (thanks to Claire Chesser)

So join us in keeping the ball rolling by adding your comments to Amazon and Goodreads;
and by giving the book a mention to your friends, colleagues, neighbours, book group, library and on social media.

My favourite tweet so far, simply for combining #sausagerolls and #liftmen!

There's also a Facebook page which you are welcome to "Like".

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

School broadcasting and sex education in 1971

In 1971 a furious controversy raged in the British press about the corruption of innocent young children at the hands of the BBC. But this wasn't about what went on in the dressing rooms of Top of the Pops; the tabloids fear was that the earnest and sober educationalists of the School Broadcasting Council were polluting the nation's youngest minds with this horror ...

In 1970 the BBC, at the request of the SBC, had started to transmit radio and television programmes about "sex education" for use in primary schools. From the moment the proposal went public there was an outcry. Some people assumed that the programmes would contain explicit scenes of sexual behaviour, whereas in fact, they were entirely age-appropriate and gave simple, basic facts about animal and human growth and development. Some objected by arguing that the subject should be dealt with exclusively by parents, or that teaching children where babies came from would encourage them to experiment. A particular point of contention was that, in the section about human reproduction, there was no mention of marriage and, in the illustration of an embracing naked man and woman, there was no evidence of a wedding ring. 

How ironic that the same newspapers which later attacked the BBC over the behaviour of popular entertainers were at the time criticising the Corporation's efforts to ensure children were properly informed about sex. 

Letters poured in to the SBC's offices at the top of the Langham building.  It was my job to open them. From memory, many came from vicars, retired teachers and, of course, people who had never seen the programmes. I was particularly intrigued by those written in green ink or which enclosed diagrams or bizarre images. 

In February 1971 the SBC published this slim pamphlet, a careful evaluation of the programmes and their use in schools. Three months later Mary Whitehouse and her National Viewers' and Listeners' Association set out their objections to several schools programmes. Their solution was for the Government, in the form of the then Secretary for Education, to take over BBC schools broadcasting; that Secretary being one Margaret Thatcher.

Mrs T had other matters to attend to at the time, especially as she was in the middle of her own controversy over abolishing free school milk. 

In editing Portland Place, I noticed with some pride that I was the person who typed the first draft of the report, and I did the final checking with my boss. Less impressively, and with youthful arrogance, I described the report as "boring", probably because it required a lot of careful laying out on a manual typewriter.  I remember being amused by the point that children in rural areas couldn't see what the fuss was about, as they were used to watching animals mate.

The SBC officers were very anxious that the report should show they had taken great care in making and advising on the use of the programmes.  However, they nearly went into meltdown when the printers suggested that the purple ink on the report's front cover was the same shade as that used on condom packets.  (Was that a wind-up?)

There is another irony.  While all this was going on, one young woman with a very limited grasp of sexual knowledge was embarked on her own course of private tuition in the Langham's lift shaft. But to find out how and what she learned, you will have to buy the book!

Monday, 25 July 2016