Friday 30 June 2017

And ... a comic dialogue from our short story workshop

From our short story workshop earlier last month at the Royal Cornwall Museum - a comic dialogue in the tradition of Brian Rix, Joyce Grenfell and Blackadder:

A Marriage of Inconvenience

‘This is Treveneth, darling. Welcome. Come along, Snookums! We don’t want to keep my family waiting.’
I do so want to keep my family waiting. I have such an awfully feeling of doom – but that’s my family for you.

‘They are all so excited about our engagement.’
Well, in deep shock perhaps is more accurate.

 ‘Don’t look so scared.’
Please don’t look so scared. I’ve managed to get you this far….

‘Anything to be scared of? Oh, my goodness, no. Dear me, what a thing to say. Gosh no.’
Steady old girl, don’t overdo it. But, a little preparation might not be such a bad thing…

Well, a couple of small pieces of advice…
                Say as fast as you can, then it won’t sound so bad.

‘My brother Johnny is a bit… eccentric? Don’t let Great Aunt Gertrude attempt to kiss you. Don’t let Mummy near any alcohol; we have a system, more a little game really a bit like fielding at cricket – you played cricket at your boarding school surely? No? Lacrosse? Oh, very odd. Anyhoo, I’m sure you know the rules. Danson, our butler, sets the field as it were, so you can act as silly mid-off. And, as we are using the sporting analogy, Daddy, as it were, erm… bats for the other team. Do you see? No. Ok, well, just don’t get caught in the library with him; got quite a pinch, so I understand. Ah, here’s Danson.’
Thank goodness.

‘Oh, thank you Danson. Coat, Snookums, you don’t need it inside.’
And you are definitely not going outside, not at least until I get you down the aisle of the family chapel.

‘Danson has been with Daddy since he was a boy. He would do anything for Daddy. Goodness, yes, absolutely anything, wouldn’t you Danson? Indeed, just so. Absolutely anything, even… Mummy! How well you look.’

You have some colour in your cheeks.’
Or the ‘dipso glow’ if we are being honest – which would be a first for this family.

‘Hullo, everyone, Tralala! This is my finance…’
Oh, dash it all, where’s he gone.

‘Danson. Quick, he’s getting away. Oh, sorry didn’t mean to shriek. You have it in hand? Of course you do.’
Darling Danson.

‘Oh I say, that was quite a rugby tackle. Oh, Snookums is putting up quite a fight… no, its fine, Mrs Danson got him with a rolling pin.’
Golly, that’s going to raise a welt.

‘I say, Danson, who was that putting in the try-saving tackle? New footman?
Lorks, he fills out a shirt, what!

‘Why is has he not be conscripted? Pacifist, really?’
Really? How does he cope in this house?

‘Normal service is resumed everyone, although dinner will be delayed.’
While we patch him up.


‘Snookums. Snookums! Mummy - she’s trying for a single. Oh I say, well fielded - soon got the hang, what. I’m so sorry; you were saying Great Aunt Gertrude?’
It’s hard to tell through that soup-strainer of a moustache you have there. Not as impressive as Cook’s. Although you don’t have the hob nailed boots. But then Mrs Danson is a sturdy woman – burly, even - so perhaps they are required to hold up her bulk.

‘Yes, getting married: it is a surprise! Tralala!’
                Bally Miracle more like.

Snookums, mind out, Daddy is going for a seamer!’
Poor Snookums, now he has a bruise to add to his collection. I say, Daddy looks perplexed; perhaps Snookums deflected him after all.
‘What’s that Aunt? Oh, his family are from Yorkshire, so that’s why you haven’t heard of him… oh, you know the family… thought it was all girls…. No, you must be confused.

‘Where is he now? Oh, I think I saw him disappear onto the terrace with that handsome rogue brother of mine. Probably having a cigarette and a chat. Go and see? In my interest?’

‘Oh I say, that’s not a chat… and it’s certainly not cricket. Johnny you have always stolen what’s mine, my dolls, my clothes, even, but you will NOT steal the only chap I have got to agree to marry me! When splendid fellows have asked my name in the past I have burbled it into my tea, mumbled it around a cucumber sandwich, sneezed it, coughed it, I even feigned a faint once. But they always find out about my wretched family; and then they are gone in a cloud of dust! I have tolerated your behaviour only because Danson told me about that Duke of Orleans; told me if it were good enough for the French Royal Family, it was good enough for ours.’

‘But you simply will NOT steal my fiancĂ©, Johnny… What’s that?!... Well, yes, I did think it a little odd that the army would not take Snookums, considering conscription and all.’
                I don’t think I like where this is heading.

‘Yes, ‘deeply suspicious’ isn’t a nice thing to say about a volunteer. But they have said if he gets married it will put an end to all that. Yes, I know the DCLI is his last chance, after he worked his way down the whole country.

I do not like this at all. But going through your life with your eyes half shut is not only sensible, it’s wholly necessary in this family.

‘Stop sniggering you two. Your father always wanted boys, Snookums? Always wanted you to join the army? But…’
                Oh, I see, this is the Duke of Orleans in reverse.

‘I don’t CARE if you are made for each other. I will NOT be a ‘surplus woman’. I will not die an old maid. No thank you, Danson, I’m an abstainer as you well know. You think it is alright at a time like this? Is it from Daddy’s secret stash? No.Mummy’s!’
I suddenly have a new found respect and understanding for my poor, long suffering mother.

‘Golly, that’s better. What’s that, Danson? Yes… really… I see… or rather I didn’t… long family tradition? You mean… Cook, Mrs Danson, was... Daddy’s batman! And back then to employ an ‘unmarried’ cook. Mutually beneficial arrangement? I see. Yes, righto, excellent plan. Listen up you two: Snookums, if you don’t marry me tomorrow, I shall sue you for breach of promise. So there. It will all come out, do you think your mother could stand the scandal. I didn’t think so. After the wedding you will go straight to the beastly Western Front and you will take my equally beastly brother as your batman. And I jolly well hope that Kaiser Bill drops a beastly Whiz-Bang right on your beastly heads.’
Golly, that brandy does give one courage. I never knew I had it in me. Danson did though. Good old Danson. Why is he waggling his eyebrows like that? Splendid eyebrows; mine used to be just like that… until mummy bought me my first pair of tweezers.

‘Oh. I see, capital idea, Danson. Right, after we are married, I shall live in the west wing of the hunting lodge with my own personal staff.
                Very, very, personal.

‘You two, if you return - and I look very good in black, by the way – will live in the east wing.
                Wearing each other’s wardrobes, apparently.

‘Right, Danson, I want to go and kiss my mother. Could you kindly put your foot on that floor to stop the room revolving? Thank you awfully.’

Mummy! Here, would you like the rest of my courage water? You have jolly well earned it. Yes, I love Danson too; he is splendid… although there is no ‘d’ in the middle of his name, it’s an ‘n’. You must be a bit squiffy.
                And very nice it is too. Don’t know why I haven’t tried it before.

‘I say, footman. What’s your name?
                I don’t care.

‘Do you have a sweetheart? No?’
                I really don’t care.

‘Danson says you may come and work for me after my… marriage.
                That’s surprisingly hard to say now.

‘Tell me, how do you like your women? Rich. Eager. Generous. Splendid. Why thank you for your good wishes, I do believe I will have a long and happy marriage.’
                Turns out the nuts do not fall far from the tree after all.


Thursday 29 June 2017

Visit from Paul Church to Heart of Conflict

Great to welcome such an enthusiastic group from Paul Church, near Mousehole, to Heart of Conflict  - our World War One exhibition at the Royal Cornwall Museum - yesterday.  At the very start of Heart of Conflict I visited Paul Church and heard about their major project to restore a fine World War One stained glass window there in memory of local man Torquil Bolitho. Click here for more.
Now - very good news  - the group has received a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund for the window restoration. As part of the project, they are visiting various examples of 'good practice' - and Heart of Conflict was the first visit!
It was very enjoyable talking about the development of our exhibition - and hearing their plans.
Elements of Heart of Conflict are relevant to Paul, so may well be on display there in the near future.

Saturday 24 June 2017

Poetry workshop at Royal Cornwall Museum

A wonderful poetry workshop today at the Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro, today led by local author Jenny Alexander. Poems were inspired by different elements of our exhibition Heart of Conflict, looking at Cornwall during World War One.
The exhibition closes at the end of next week - and it will be sad to take it down! But hopefully poems and short stories created during it will live on after its stay here at the Royal Cornwall Museum.
Other elements will be touring: watch this space.

Wednesday 14 June 2017

Talk on WW1 tunnelling disaster

The trenches in northern France where William Gendall
Jenkin died are now covered with woods.
Great to see so many people at Juliet Jenkin's talk at the Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro, on William Gendall Jenkin, a Cornish miner who died in a tunnelling disaster at the Western Front in World War One. William was one of many hundreds of Cornish miners who dug out under enemy lines to plant mines.
It was dangerous work - and William died underground with several of his friends who joined up at the same time in Camborne.
He was a cousin of Juliet's late husband - and Juliet's personal interest and commitment made this a very interesting and moving presentation.
This was the last talk in our lunchtime series for our Heart of Conflict (Cornwall during World War One. We'll be taking down the exhibition on 1 July 2017.

Monday 12 June 2017

The convoy yard, Etaples

Only just come across this atmospheric World War One watercolour by Cornwall-based artist Ernest Procter. Procter lived in Newlyn through the war years, and was a friend of Harold and Laura Knight (she later went on to be an official war artist in WW2). He was also a close friend of the controversial vicar of St Hilary, Bernard Walke, and contributed wonderful illustrative panels (and altarpieces) for the church.
This watercolour shows a different, matter-of-fact, facet of his personality.

Thursday 8 June 2017

Vita Sackville-West's history of Women's Land Army

Am reading Nigel Nicolson's Portrait of a Marriage - and there are unexpected revelations about World War One.

His mother (the writer and renowned gardener) Vita Sackville-West is bowled over with excitement in April 1918 on discovering the clothes worn by women in the Land Army.

They are liberating - and open new doors and horizons for her....She later wrote to her very close friend Violet Trefusis:

"I had just got clothes like the women-on-the-land were wearing, and in the unaccustomed freedom of breeches and gaiters I went into wild spirits; I ran, I shouted, I jumped, I climbed, I vaulted over gates, I felt like a school boy let out on a holiday....."

Later she was to write a history of the Women's Land Army. World War One changed society - and life - for women generally.

Essential reading over coffee....

Dropping in to a cafe in Truro for coffee... it was great to pick up a leaflet featuring Heart of Conflict (our WW1 exhibition at the Royal Cornwall Museum)!

Wednesday 7 June 2017

A soldier's tale, a mother's story

Written this morning at our short story workshop at the Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro - inspired by Heart of Conflict:

A soldier’s tale, a mother’s story

“Please, mum, I don’t want to go. Don’t make me go. I’m scared. I’ve never been away from here. Why do I have to go?”
“Because everyone else is going. All your mates. The whole of Dolcoath expects it. You’ll shame this family if you don’t. So go out, have a pint, come back and tomorrow be a man…” It was 7am and his mother was shouting furiously. “You’ve missed muster deliberately, you coward.”
“No, I didn’t. I just drank too much. I will go, mum – for you. I want you to be proud. Please…. I’ll run now.”
Wilfred dragged on his uniform, grabbed his kit bag and ran out the house, torn. He was in total turmoil.
“I don’t want to go, but I must go because I can’t let mum down. What can I do?”
Then he saw the milk cart standing on the corner.
Wilfred had never stolen anything before.
“I’m only borrowing it,” he said to himself as he urged the horse onwards to the muster point at the station. And then he saw his old foe, the local police sergeant, and his heart sank. He’d missed the muster and he’d stolen a cart and it must be obvious to Sgt Williams what was happening.
The policeman looked at Wilfred. Sgt Williams was notorious for his hard, unflinching ways. Many boy had felt the back of his hand. Many young men had ended up in his cells for very little. Wilfred sobbed. He was terrified – of going to war, of shaming his family, of going to gaol.
They looked at each other.
Then Sgt Williams spoke.
“Ok, Wilfred my lad, let’s sort you out. These things happen. We’ll get you there.”
Wilfred was open-mouthed as the policeman gently led him back to the cart and drove through the back roads to Truro where the Dolcoath lads were still waiting for their connection to the Front at the station.
They cheered when Wilfred appeared. He swallowed and steeled himself for what might lie ahead. He turned to thank Sgt Williams but he had already turned the cart round and slipped away.
Wilfred said to himself “I’ll do you proud, mum, even though I don’t want to go.”
It was October 1914. He was only 19. He never came home again.
And his mother, back at their little house in St Agnes, never forgave herself for forcing him off to war for pride. They never found his body so she refused to believe that he wouldn’t return home one day.
And every night, for the rest of her days, she kept a candle burning and a cold supper on the kitchen table just in case.

Short story writing in Truro

A thoughtful Tuesday morning in Truro ... a short story writing workshop at our WW1 exhibition Heart of Conflict at the Royal Cornwall Museum.
The session - inspired by stories featured in the exhibition - will result in some pieces that will live on after the exhibition closes (at the end of this month).
We'll post up contributions here on our blog  - and on the project's websites.  Click here to read the first ...

Thursday 1 June 2017

Saving lives at sea - the inside story

Local historian Len Sheppard gave a fascinating talk on life at sea during the war years during our exhibition Heart of Conflict at the Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro.
Len, co-ordinator of Newquay Museum, is passionate about the subject and has a treasure trove of  material on it.

He talked about the build-up to the War - and then the war years, when people who were close to the sea were often pushed to extremes. Fishermen were called upon to help with rescuing people from torpedoed ship: a descendant of the Hicks family of fishermen pictured in Len's slideshow still lives in Newquay today.

Central to Len's talk were the events of December 1917 when the crew of lifeboat “James Stevens Number 5” defied the elements to battle through mountainous seas to rescue a stricken Danish cargo ship carrying vital war supplies.

Later this year, there will be special exhibitions at Newquay Museum to mark the centenary of this event. To find out more, visit the Museum's website.

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