12 November 2019

Tuesday Talk: At Home With Helen

It’s been a while since I updated my (very occasional) personal online diary – Leaning On The Gate. I think this is because the initial excitement and awe of living in one of England’s most beautiful counties, Devon, and the sheer joy of being in the heart of farming countryside has now mellowed into the familiarity of ‘everyday life’ so I don’t feel so compelled to keep a record of ‘what goes on’, outside of some of the Big Events (like the arrival of our two new donkeys!)

That is not to say, however, that I take this wonderful rural life for granted. Far from it!

I still, every so often, get a feeling of 'we'll have to go home tomorrow' - you know that feeling you get when you are enjoying a wonderful vacation but are aware that it will need to end soon? I've come to the conclusion that I have this feeling because we're only temporary custodians of 'Windfall Farm' (not its real name). The old part of the house was built circa 1769 so it has seen several generations and many different people living here. Some of them are still here! (See my journal entry for November about our ghosts!). So this house isn't 'ours', my family and I are merely the present residents. Although I have warned that I fully intend to stick around as a Venerable Spirit myself when the time comes. (A good while yet, I hope!)

The window on the right is my bedroom window
the stone-built part of the house was built circa 1769
Every morning when I get up I stare out of both my bedroom windows in turn – front and back duel aspect. The front window views over the front garden, which needs a bit of autumn debris tidying up, the stable yard (hidden by the dogwoods an holly tree) and Donkey Field, which is our neighbour’s field but is being kept mown by Barney and 'DumpyDonk'.

DumpyDonk (real name Pedro)
The back window overlooks the orchard and our little aspect of the Taw Valley.
For the past too many weeks this view has been obliterated by louring grey cloud (the Devon word is ‘Dimpsey’) and pouring rain. I know the rain’s bad when I can’t see through it to the bottom of the orchard and the rounded hills and woodlands beyond have vanished. What’s the saying? ‘If you can’t see the hill it’s raining. If you can see the hill it’s about to rain.”

'Our' bit of the Taw Valley
and the farm opposite us
November sees the Valley in all its autumn finery. Today the sky is blue and there’s a watery sunshine. The trees and hedgerows are a glory of colour: reds, golds, browns – I never realised until moving here just how many shades of green there are.

We have many resident birds which visit the bird feeders ‘out the back’ house sparrows, tree sparrows, chaffinches, nuthatches, blue tits, great tits, long-tailed tits, robins, woodpeckers, yellowhammers, dunnocks, jays, magpies, willow tits, wrens, blackbirds, thrushes, goldfinch, greenfinch, siskin, bullfinches…

The sparrows also congregate out the front. The honeysuckle that grows next to and over the top of the front door hosts an entire tenement colony of sparrows - we call it Sparrowville. Some evenings the squabbling between the families is like a TV episode of Eastenders!

An injured wood pigeon also visits. He’s hit overhead wires at some point because his chest feathers are damaged. There’s no way that we can catch him to inspect any further damage, but he comes down for a good feed so nature has to take her course.

Growing up Franc...
Franc at a week old with Mum, Saffie
 Franc (Taw River Dracarys) will be a two-year-old next April, but already he is enormous – not far off sixteen-hands. It’s hard to believe that my son-in-law, Adam, actually picked him up on the day he was born! Franc’s mum, Saffie is now twenty (going on two as far as she is concerned!) is again healthily in foal, due in May. We’re hoping for a filly, a little Francesca!
We still have two geese, Booboo and Colin, and a few ducks, but daughter Kathy has switched from breeding Call Ducks to Pekin Hens (similar to Bantams but prettier with their feathered feet and puffed up bustles!) They are wonderful mums (and ‘Arri is a wonderful dad – he poddles around walking like Charlie Chaplin!) The little chicks are so sweet! The rain hasn’t been kind to them, though, as we’ve lost a few babies. With broods of nine to thirteen chicks the hens can’t get all their children under their wings and sometimes the rain comes too quickly and heavily for them to hurry back to the warm dryness of the hen house.

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'Arri and one of his Ladies
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Rats are a problem of farms (and towns actually!) The blighters have killed a couple of the chicks and the mother hens. No matter how secure you make the henhouse these horrible creatures get in. Our orchard looks like Colditz at the moment. I drew the line at discovering a rat making its home behind the fridge in the scullery though! It got dispatched PDQ I can tell you! Yuk!

As for my writing… well, you see the trouble is there’s always something to do outside, or the colours and light across the valley changes, or the farmer is rounding up the sheep and I just have to sit at my desk and watch…

I’ll get the next book finished soon… or as they say here in the West Country “Dreckly” which is a word which means… well... ‘whenever’…

11 November 2019

THE HORIZON: My guest Kimberley Jordan Reeman

"As officers fell, they were replaced by sergeants. Within an hour the sergeants were dead, and junior corporals found themselves in command."
                               Douglas Reeman, “H.M.S. SARACEN”

Poppy, Flower, Klatschmohn, Blossom

My guest today, Armistice Day, is Kimberley Jordan Reeman. Together, we would like to remember the fallen through her husband, author and naval officer, Douglas Reeman who is sadly no longer with us. 
Over to Kim:

Douglas told me this story.

In December of 1915, in rain and blizzards, British, French, Indian, Australian and New Zealand forces, with Newfoundlanders in the rearguard, began to abandon hopeless positions along the Gallipoli peninsula and withdraw, prior to evacuation. The campaign against the Ottoman armies under Turkish and German command had been a military and humanitarian disaster, and tens of thousands of men, Allies and Ottoman, had died of wounds, disease and exposure. Just after Christmas, 1915, a small, exhausted group of Royal Engineers fell back under cover of darkness, having rigged time fuses and self-firing rifles in their trenches to deceive the Turks as they retreated. They were led to safety by a young non-commissioned officer who, eventually, was questioned by a lieutenant-colonel.

“Where’s the rest of this battalion?”
 The young man said, “This is the battalion, sir.”
“Where the hell’s your commanding officer?”
 “I’m the only officer still alive, sir.” 

Ww1, Trench, Warfare, One, War, World

The young man was Charles Percival Reeman, who would give three sons to the next war. His eldest never returned. His second son committed suicide in a post-war world where he could find no peace. With his youngest son, Douglas, he shared this story, and his memories of Gallipoli and the Western Front.

Ww1, Flanders, Belgium, Remembrance

Douglas wrote H.M.S. Saracen for his father, read it to him as each chapter was finished, and Percy gave it his tacit approval. Many years later Douglas would draw on those memories again when planning a new Royal Marines novel. I recalled something else his father had told him, and said, “You have to call this book The Horizon.”
   He knew what I meant. ‘The horizon’ was the lip of the trench, too often the last thing a man saw before he went over the top into the hail of machine-gun fire.
    It was very nearly the last book Douglas wrote.

I should have recognized the signs. He brought his father’s memories to the work, and his own, and the almost unbearable horror of the facts as he researched began to affect him profoundly. He had always had nightmares: they became worse. I woke one night and he was standing at the window, eyes open, staring at the darkness. He was asleep. He worked intensively through the summer, and there was another source of stress as well, illegal tree-felling close to our property by rogue developers without planning permission. He began to have headaches.
   I should have known.
   But I didn’t know, and maybe to escape the intensity of what life had become I thought about visiting my family in Toronto over the Labour Day weekend. Everything seemed fine: Douglas was in favour, although I would be going alone because he was too busy with work.

The voice in my head said, as clearly as if speaking aloud: Don’t leave Douglas.
I didn’t go to Toronto.

Monday, September 5th, 1994. 
One of those golden days, rich sunlight and blue sky. About 11 a.m. he answered the door to some one selling tea towels: he came back quietly and sat on the sofa, and said, “Terrible headache.”
   Then he asked for a glass of milk. He choked on it. I said, “Douglas, give me your hands. Both hands. Squeeze my hands as hard as you can.” He had no grip in the left hand. I ran into his study: I should have dialled 999, but instinctively I reached out to the one man who could save him, and he answered the phone himself.

“Douglas is having a stroke,” I said.
“I’ll come at once,” he said, and the line went dead.
   He was our family physician, Dr. Maurice FitzGerald, and he and Douglas had been friends for forty years. A big, Tigger-like Irishman whose irrepressible zest for life had led his long-suffering wife Geraldine on many adventures with Maurice, including a helicopter flight to an oil rig after a casual invitation from an oil baron at some social function; and a party at which most of the guests were medical professionals, and Douglas was jokingly introduced as Dr. O’Reeman.

I don’t know how he got here from Esher so quickly: he must have used that green light his colleagues regarded with such affectionate contempt. And there was no jocularity, only a gentle, “Ah, you nearly broke my machine, Douglas,” after he had taken the blood pressure that confirmed what he suspected. To me he said quietly, “It’s a cerebral haemorrhage. We have to get him into the car.”
   We got him into the car. Paralysis had already set in. The green light went onto the roof, and Maurice drove as he did everything else, decisively and well.    I sat in the back, supporting Douglas.
  “Keep him talking,” Maurice said. “Keep him awake.”
  We got to the hospital. Maurice sprinted in. Came back with help. His friend the cardiac surgeon was on duty. We stood at a respectful distance as the team worked, Maurice watchful, intent, protective.
  “They’re doing everything right,” he said, and then, “The next twenty-four hours are critical.”

Eventually, having done everything he could, he went home: he had patients waiting. Eventually, when Douglas was stable, I left him. It was the first time I had ever prayed in a hospital chapel: it would not be the last. I went home. I don’t think I slept. At 8 the next morning the phone rang. I snatched it up.

“It’s me,” the beloved voice said. “I’m out of bed. I’ve had a shave.” I really did go to my knees then. 
    He continued, “Did you know this place was run by nuns?”
   “Yes,” I said.
  “Well, the head nun, the... Mother Superior...? She was just in here. She knows Maurice.” Of course she knew Maurice; everybody knew Maurice, and Maurice knew every one. “She said she thought I’d be home in a few days.”

Not a few days: but he recovered completely, although he remained on blood pressure medication for the rest of his life, and was frail and exhausted and depressed for many weeks as brain and body reacted to the trauma they had suffered. He always believed I had saved his life, but it was Maurice who was the real hero.

 And Maurice, a few years later, shocked us all by doing what no one expects of a doctor: he revealed his own mortality by dying in the operating theatre during routine surgery. His colleagues, patients and friends were appalled, his family shattered. Geraldine, a quiet woman somehow diminished in stature in the absence of her towering husband, said in the chilly sitting-cum-waiting room where the Irish harp stood in the corner, “It’s a very sad house without him.”

Poppy, Blossom, Bloom, Nature, Field

I know that sadness. The absence of the voice, the drifting sweetness of pipe tobacco, the tapping of the typewriter keys in the study. But the books live on: a great spectrum of experience, the lives of, as he described them, ‘ordinary people called on to do extraordinary things’. And among them, perhaps appropriately imbued with the dark memories of its gestation, is The Horizon, a powerful evocation of love and war and courage.

The divine fire that animates us as writers, that drives us to create, flows from the source, from memory, from history, from bitter experience and from love: the brain refines, the words take shape, the wordsmith tells the story.

But for the writer the cost is high: the outpouring of energy, the investment of time and intellect and passion, the commitment of nothing less than your life to the stories that demand to be told.

© Kimberley Jordan Reeman

Sunset, Field Poppy, Sun, Nature

Douglas Reeman was born in Thames Ditton, Surrey, England in 1924. With the outbreak of war, and despite belonging to an army family, he joined the Royal Navy without hesitation at the age of sixteen. He saw service in the North Sea and Arctic, and in the Atlantic and Mediterranean campaigns, beginning as a midshipman in destroyers and transferring later to motor torpedo boats.

Following the war, he held a variety of jobs, including delivering yachts, selling marine engines and walking the beat in London’s East End as a uniformed constable and in the plain-clothes Criminal Investigation Department. He returned to active service in the Korean War, and remained a naval reservist while working as a children’s welfare officer for the London County Council.

In 1958, having published two short stories, Douglas wrote the fictionalised version of ‘his war’, more for personal satisfaction than out of any hope of publication. A Prayer for the Ship was published in 1958, and marked the beginning of a remarkable career.

Ten years later, having established himself as one of the foremost modern sea story writers of his time, Douglas embarked on a new and challenging phase: a series of novels featuring one man and spanning the golden age of fighting sail. In June of 1968 To Glory We Steer was published under the pen name Alexander Kent, a childhood friend and fellow naval officer who was killed early in the war, and its solitary, sensitive, compassionate hero, Richard Bolitho, was introduced to an ever-growing readership.

Today, the exploits of Richard and Adam Bolitho feature in twenty-eight Alexander Kent novels, and the lives and deaths of other men, equally heroic, in thirty-five Reeman novels.

Douglas Reeman
Douglas Reeman died in January of 2017.

Kim has her own post today:
"Still" and "Carry On"
do take time to visit her blog

Kimberley Jordan Reeman was born in Toronto, graduating from the University of Toronto with a Bachelor of Arts (hons.) in English literature in 1976. She worked in Canadian radio and publishing before marrying the author Douglas Reeman in 1985, and until his death in 2017 was his editor, muse and literary partner, while pursuing her own career as a novelist. She has always been a spinner of tales, telling stories before she could write, reading voraciously from childhood, and citing Shakespeare, Hardy, Winston Graham and the novels of Douglas Reeman and Alexander Kent as her most profound influences. From Graham, who became a friend, she learned to write conversation, to eavesdrop as the characters spoke; from the seafaring novels of Reeman and Kent, which she read years before meeting the author, she came to understand the experience of men at war.
It is not necessary to look further than the history of Canada, and Toronto itself, for the genesis of Coronach: a vast country explored, settled, and governed by Scots, and a city, incorporated in 1834, whose first mayor was the gadfly journalist and political agitator William Lyon Mackenzie, a rebel in his own right, and the grandson of Highlanders who had fought in the `45. The Vietnam War, also, burned into the Canadian consciousness the issues of collateral damage and the morality of war; and from this emerged one character, a soldier with a conscience. In unravelling the complexity of his story, Coronach was born.


Join Kimberley on the last day of her tour tomorrow 
hosted by Linda Collison

Other Tour Stops

 4th November hosted by : Richard Tearle Slipstream an interview with Kim
 5th November hosted by :  Nautical Mind Canadian Bookstore Blog An Honorary Canadian
 6th November hosted by : English Historical Fiction Authors    Eye Witness To History
 7th November hosted by : Sarah Murden - All Things Georgian  The Secret Woman
 8th November hosted by : Amy Bruno  - Passages to the Past - Let Me Take You By The Hand...
 9th November hosted by  : Anna Belfrage - Stolen Moments ... The Cause, The Rose, The Bonnie Prince - Debunking the '45
1oth November hosted by:  Antoine Vanner -  Dawlish Chronicles ... Heroes A Tribute to Douglas Reeman
11th November hosted by : Helen Hollick The Horizon and Kimberley Reeman - For Those Who Fought And Fell "Still" and "Carry On"
12th November hosted by :  Linda Collison - Sea Of Words ... The Dark Wisdom