Happy birthday, Pat!

gwendapatuniform0001It’s hard to believe that Pat turns 85 today … and probably won’t thank me for broadcasting it. Well, she certainly doesn’t look it. One half of Newcastle General Hospital’s car-owning young pair of 1954 (she and Gwenda upset some of the sisters, who clearly didn’t think it right that student nurses should aspire to such a status), and one fifth of the road trip crew who took America by storm a few years later, I think it’s fair to say that she hasn’t shown much sign of slowing down. She still enjoys her travelling, both solo and with friends.

She had a big party for friends and family at a hotel on Loch Lomond a few weeks ago, but is celebrating more quietly with her close family this weekend. Here are a few of my favourite photos featuring Pat from then (mostly) and now.
floridahols0001filbertpickers0001Fort Langley CanadaJuly 58 Campsite in HelenaMount Rushmorescan0036fourinlakesClockwise from top left: on holiday in Miami; filbert picking in Oregon; rare photo of all 5 in Fort Langley, Canada; cowgirls in Colorado; the Lake District in October; Mount Rushmore; campsite home in Montana.

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The next chapter

Me, Dad, Wendy and Pat

Me, Dad, Wendy and Pat

It’s a long time since I’ve posted on either of my blogs, so time for an update! Though I’ve been working on my new book, ‘When the War Is Over’, which is about Gwenda’s evacuation to the house of the village schoolmaster in the Lake District village of Bampton during the Second World War, ‘Bedpans and Bobby Socks’ and ‘Is the Vicar In, Pet?’ haven’t been far from my mind, and articles earlier this year in Yours magazine and The Sunday Telegraph both helped to spread the word. Not sure if the very quick mention for BABS on Radio 2’s Chris Evans Show’s Top Tenuous slot would have achieved much, but it was very welcome all the same!

Look out next for Emma Gray, with whom I wrote ‘One Girl and Her Dogs’, on a programme called ‘Flock Stars’ which begins on ITV on Thursday July 30th. I think the title gives us a hint of what to expect as Emma puts her celebrity team through their paces as they try their hand at shepherding. Can’t wait to see it!

Writing my new book (hopefully the cover will be ready to share later this summer) has been a fascinating experience and I feel as if I’ve learnt a lot about those times. In May I went to stay with my parents and our friend Pat (of BABS fame) for a weekend just outside Bampton for some last-minute research. We even knocked on the door of the former schoolhouse (it’s now a private residence), Gwenda’s home for three years, but whoever lives there now must have seen us coming as no one answered. One person we caught up with was John Stacey, Gwenda’s fellow evacuee in the schoolhouse, who moved back to the village when he retired. It is incredible to think that it is now 75 years since they were living there together! Gwenda won’t thank me for it but I am sharing the photo of them we took (smile, Gwenda!). I think of them as Carrie and Albert Sandwich from ‘Carrie’s War’ by Nina Bawden, one of my favourite childhood books.

Next-door to the cottage where we were staying lives Wendy, who has her own red squirrel sanctuary attached to her house and owns a patch of woodland on the shores of Ullswater which is a haven for wildlife, while one of the participants of ITV’s ‘Seven Up!’ (the programme that follows a group from childhood at seven-year intervals) is a member of the local church (I wondered why I recognised him!). As in Gwenda’s day, there is a lot going on in these little places.

John and Gwenda, aka Albert Sandwich and Carrie

John and Gwenda, aka Albert Sandwich and Carrie

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RIP Herman

It is with great sadness that I find myself sharing the news of the death of Herman Leggon. Herman, who was 84, was a great friend to the ‘Bedpans & Bobby Socks’ girls when they lived in Cleveland, where they met through the International Students’ Group. They shared many memorable times together – ice-skating in the winter, barbecues and picnics in the summer, and countless evenings spent in Gwenda and Pat’s apartment talking and listening to records. When the girls had a party, Herman was one of the men who stayed behind to clear up, and who helped prepare the tiny apartment for 33 guests on Christmas Day 1957. And it was he who drove Pat and Gwenda all the way from Cleveland to Montreal when the time came for them to sail home to the UK in September 1959. A true friend indeed.

I met him too, in 1988, when I was travelling across America, and we kept in touch. I’d always hoped we would meet again one day, and it’s hard to believe that it won’t happen.

Much later Herman was one of the characters I wrote about in ‘Bedpans & Bobby Socks’. He became a wonderful ambassador for the book, something I will always be grateful for. Indeed, he was hugely supportive of all my writing, often being the first person to comment on this blog.

He had been ill for some time but I had started to think he was invincible! We will all miss his friendship and support, and send our condolences to his family.

Herman last year

Herman last year

Herman and Celia at a Cleveland party

Herman and Celia at a Cleveland party

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The old and the new

It’s been a while since I’ve shared any book news, but things have been rumbling on in the background. Knight Hall, the agency that handles film and TV rights for my books, has been working hard to let producers see the potential in dramatising ‘Bedpans & Bobby Socks’ and ‘Is the Vicar in, Pet?’, and indeed, we have sold the film/TV ‘option’ for the former to the talented Esther Douglas of Fiesta Productions. For those not familiar with the term, this means that Esther has the rights to the book for a certain period of time, but it is not a guarantee that anything will happen. Esther has excellent contacts in the USA and is particularly keen on turning ‘Bedpans’ into a TV series. You will certainly read about it here if anything comes of it!

In the meantime, I’m pleased to announce that I’m about to start a new book, this time about Gwenda’s evacuation to the Lake District as a young girl. Provisionally entitled ‘When the War Is Over’, it tells of her arrival at the home of the village schoolmaster and his wife in Bampton, near Penrith, with her older brother, Doug, in the summer of 1940 and of their adventures during their three-year stay.

Honestly, she’s going to be the most documented woman in north-east England after this.

Great to see 'Bedpans' and 'One Girl and Her Dogs' displayed so prominently on a recent visit to Waterstones in Morpeth

Great to see Waterstones in Morpeth displaying mine and Emma’s books so prominently on a recent visit to the store

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Sing me an old-fashioned song

I received a letter from one of Gwenda, Pat and Molly’s friends in Colorado last week. Robert tells me he’s waiting to hear about a new job, playing piano in an Italian restaurant on the Arkansas River. He’s working on some old romantic songs, and says he’d like to ‘let the music come from inside’ him, like a player in a 1950s New York nightclub. What’s really remarkable, though, is that Robert is 84 years old and in a wheelchair. He’s an inspiration to us all.

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On the Tom Tom trail

I hope to have some more ‘Bedpans & Bobby Socks’ news to report soon, but in the meantime, I’ve been hearing from our friend Michael Chazot, owner of Tom Tom – otherwise known as the Hotel Colorado Welcome Wagon – who has just returned from a holiday in the USA with his family. Michael wanted to catch up with some of the people who played a part in Tom Tom’s eventful story while he was there. Unfortunately he wasn’t close enough to visit the hotel itself in Glenwood Springs, or the man who put the bus back on the road, John Jones in Grand Junction. But he did manage to get to Moab, Utah, where the late Tom Arnold – after whom it gets its nickname – treasured the bus for many years in his ‘Volkswagen Museum’, and though Tom junior wasn’t around that day, he got a glimpse of the famous yard (see below right).

miclinpicWhile he was in Moab Michael also called on Lin Ottinger, who bought the bus from the Hotel Colorado and used it to take tourists on tours of the canyonlands back in the Sixties. Lin is first and foremost a rock and fossil collector, and he’s run his Moab Rock Shop since 1960. Lin is famous in these parts – he has been written about in books and magazines, he has taken professors to hunt for dinosaur bones, and he has even had a dinosaur named after him. ‘He has the collector spirit,’ says Michael, and his shop is testament to this.  He even lent a life-size model of T rex to one of the Jurassic Park films.

If you’re thinking of taking a US road trip any time, Moab could be an interesting place to stop by.

linshoplinlincrystalslinshoptomtompulltomtomyard

 

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Volksworld – a day to remember

The story came full circle on Saturday March 29th when Gwenda, Pat and Molly were reunited with the Hotel Colorado Welcome Wagon, albeit a long way from their first meeting place in the American West. It brought back many memories for the road-trip nurses; their spell working at the hotel in the Rocky Mountain resort of Glenwood Springs was one of the highlights of their American stay, with free time spent on picnics, fishing trips and horseback rides  (see the bottom picture).

The bus’s new owner, Michael Chazot, and his father, Alain, drove all the way from Annecy near Switzerland to attend the Volksworld Show at Sandown Park, Surrey, here in the UK.  It was such a pleasure to meet them both and spend time with them that day.

It was great to see the bus getting so much attention, and to see so many people stopping to read its story, which Michael displayed in the windows (read it on my page Hotel Colorado Welcome Wagon). That it is here today is thanks mainly to two men – Tom Arnold (also known as Tom Tom), who rescued it, and John Jones who brought it back to life.

Lots of photos were taken, including one in which we made an attempt to re-create the now famous one of the five nurses and their friend Cleo, with me, Pat’s son Alastair and daughter-in-law Kim standing in for absent friends. The 1958 photo plays a big part in the story – it not only allowed Michael to find us and bring us all together for this special day, but  it also helped him to carry out his restoration.

Later we gave a talk about the girls’ road trip. As the show organisers had billed it as a ‘trip in a camper van’ I’m just relieved that nobody walked out! We must have looked a bit incongruous, anyway, sandwiched between the ‘tech talks’. Mind, the girls were a dab hand at fixing a tyre or mending a broken fan belt on Flatus in their day.

To top it all, we had informal talks with a film producer while we were there, but that, hopefully, is another story.

On our way! Cowboy hat at the ready!

On our way! Cowboy hat at the ready!

Left to right, Pat, Molly, Gwenda

Left to right, Pat, Molly, Gwenda

Me and the girls

Me and the girls

With Michael Chazot, second from right

With Michael Chazot, second from right

Gwenda, where she is always happiest!

Gwenda, where she is always happiest!

The picture that started it all

The picture that started it all

And our 2014 re-creation of it!

And our 2014 re-creation of it!

 

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