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Thursday, 29 March 2012

Blurred photo, anyone?

One of the characters in my latest novel  is a young, ambitious photographer working on a provincial newspaper in the 1960's. My research on the subject was going  well until I met an old college friend I'll call Angela, who spent several years  as a  freelance photographer. After offering lots of useful advice on the subject, she asked what I was like as a snapper ( a cool word in the sixties.) Cringing, I handed her my mobile phone ( 5.0 megapixel autofocus and no doubt  very uncool.) I have to say her face was a picture. Below are some of Angela's  favourites from my' portfolio' which she's planning to use in her forthcoming book  'What to do when The Camera Lies.'

York Minster after three glasses of wine

My wardrobe taken without glasses

Mr Guernsey Writer driving by roadworks

And finally...My 'fairy granddaughter' flying away

Can't see what's wrong with them, myself...

Friday, 23 March 2012

Out on a limb...

Remember the name  Giles Duley. I'll come back to him later.

I've just been out in my garden for the first time today  since slipping a disc at the beginning of February. The trees were in bud, the sun was shining and it felt more like summer than spring.

 I remember my mother suffering a slipped disc when I was a young child.  She was encased in 'Plaster of Paris,' from chest to thigh which was the only cure in those days. I had no idea what was wrong with her or where the mysterious disc was supposed to have slipped to, but oh, how different things are now. The physio comes to visit regularly,  encouraging me to get up and  walk a few steps each day.

Life's quite cushy , really. I lie in bed (to keep my spine horizontal)  while 'Mr Guernsey Writer' dishes out tea, sympathy and usually a hot supper.   Best of all, I have plenty of time to catch  up on my reading.

Which brings me to the  reason for this blog post. I've just read the most amazing account of a 40-year-old photographer, Giles Duley, who had three  limbs blown off a year ago whilst working   in Afghanistan. He was out on patrol with the US Army's 1st Squadron, 75th Cavalry Regiment along with six Afghan National Army soldiers, when he stepped on a land mine. His career up to then had been spent  in the fashion and music industries and he desperately wanted to do something more worthwhile. 

 He was left with only his right arm intact
Is he miserable? No, actually, he's very glad to be alive and determined to walk again.  His girlfriend, whom he had known for just a short time before the tragedy, has stayed by his side throughout.  The thought of her, he says,  kept him going when life seemed impossible  And now, back home and still adjusting to his new circumstances, he appreciates the small things  he once took for granted. Like Spring, and the wonder of nature as every day new shoots push their way through the earth towards the sun.

Giles Duley  has strength, willpower, compassion, forgiveness and love -all of it in bucket-loads. I wish him all the happiness he deserves

Ps - Did someone mention a slipped disc??

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Jane - Where are you now?

Jane as a four-year-old child when she overcame
paralysis and walked for the first time

Memories of a pretty little girl whose mother I interviewed  many years ago came flooding back recently  as I wrote on this blog about  about my early life as a trainee reporter. The four-year-old girl, called Jane, who lived on the Fylde Coast, was born with Spina Bifida, a condition which causes part of the spine to be exposed at birth. For the first eight months of her life Jane was paralysed from the waist down.

'We, like so many other parents, were told that our child would probably never walk, but we always had great faith in her,' her mother explained. 'One day, knowing full well the problem I was presenting, I said Come to Mummy. And she did.'

Over the years, I've often wondered what happened to that little girl. So, being a hoarder  as well as a lover of all things vintage, I  searched the attic for the elusive cutting, written  when I was still in my teens! To my amazement I found  an ancient scrapbook with the article intact.

Deciding not to put it through the scanner,  I reproduce the cutting here, (scrapbook and all) because I'd like to share the story with you. It begins: The day four-year-old Jane walked across the room into her mother's arms, she brightened the future of more than 8,000 children.

We've reached that future, Jane. I wonder-  where you are now?

Jane's mother was an member of ASBAH - the Association for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus which is still active today. If you need advice about the illness you can contact

Sunday, 4 March 2012

The Guernsey boy who never grew up...

Born Guernsey 1929

Died Oldham, Lancashire 1942
 Aged 13

A collage entitled 'From Our Garden, L'ancresse Bay
and Guernsey Harbour'

The mail boat 'Isle of Guernsey'

My uncle might have grown up to be an artist. My uncle should have grown up, of course, but the sad truth is that he never got the chance. He died in the second world war when he was just thirteen years old; not from a bomb or a bullet, but  from a knock on the head by a football.

David Richard Brown died in 1942  during soccer practice for his school  team in Oldham, Lancashire. He  had been evacuated to Oldham Hulme Grammar School, England, from Amherst School, Guernsey, along with many others,  when  Hitler's troops occupied the Channel Islands. David, it seems, was a quietly spoken boy with a love of  sport, but  the only time he was truly happy was when his thoughts turned to home. He would sit in his bedroom for hours at a time staring out at the unfamiliar streets, with their terraced houses and soot-clad chimneys, whilst sketching  the sea and sunshine of his beloved island.

One of my most treasured possessions   is the quaintly-titled 'Brush-Drawing Book' (above)  issued  from the County Borough of Oldham Education Committee for the use of local schoolchildren. Poignantly,  David's   homesickness was reflected in  his sketches.

My favourite  is a 'collage' ( though I doubt if he knew what the word meant at the time) of three sketches entitled 'From our Garden,' Lancresse Bay' and 'Guernsey Harbour. '  Other pages depict the Isle of Guernsey, the mail boat, as it was affectionately called by islanders, that regularly travelled from Guernsey to Southampton or Weymouth before the war. Then there is the touchingly titled  'A corner of our bungalow' and a  'A goal' , a more upbeat sketch depicting a triumphant Guernsey footballer hitting the back of the net.

My late father Harry Brown,  a freelance journalist, wrote prolifically throughout his life,  yet   never  himself  recorded the impact on the family of his brother's tragic death.
My grandmother, very occasionally, would  reminisce about her younger son, but then her face would cloud over and the words,all too soon, would die on her lips.