Saturday, 17 May 2014

Mary Stewart, and things connected

I was sad to hear of the death of novelist Mary Stewart. Her novels were part of my early introduction to fiction, because my mother not only read them, but in a sense embodied them for me, with her tales of life lived before motherhood; she was a Wren in Gibraltar during WW2, working as a signals officer in the dripping, cold tunnel systems, deep under the Rock. On rare days off - and with only £2 as her currency allowance - she and her sister-officers would gallivant over to Spain on day-trips, to buy silk to make dresses for the endless cocktail parties, which the very few women present in that very masculine world were more or less commanded to attend - getting tiddly 'for the war effort'.

As she told these stories, her face would change and she'd become again the 20-something in a pretty hand-sewn frock, smoking a Players cigarette, absolutely equal to her situation. In later life, her intrepid nature was called upon to cope with all kinds of economic and practical challenges, abroad and at home, and she met them with great spirit. Even in her final couple of years - when her memory for day to day things was gone - her voice and posture would change as she talked, glass of whisky in one hand, cigarette in the other, white hair, brown skin, glamorous red lipstick, and I could see the heroine emerge again, ready for anything.

This is a poem I wrote about that life, and how it progressed, and it refers to the Mary Stewart influences (though I think I got the novel reference wrong - it was surely Airs Above The Ground I was thinking of, with the great car leaping up a snowy mountainside.)

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