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Verily Anderson

This obituary of an inspirational woman was published in The Times in August 2010

Verily Anderson – Author of children’s books, histories and family biography and doughty widow who brought up five children on a shoestring

Verily Anderson was one of that breed of English lady authors whose writing received respectful attention for more than half a century. “She can write what might seem a sustained tall story,” wrote Elizabeth Bowen, “and at the same time make it convincing; at times grimly so.” She wrote initially because she loved to write, then to keep her large family when widowed. But even in old age, the books — family biography, history and children’s stories — kept rolling out.

Fame, which she enjoyed briefly, was not the point for her. She was content to keep productive, preferably in the hours of 2-4am. Last week, on the day before she died, she completed the manuscript of her final book.

Verily Bruce was born in 1915 in Edgbaston, Birmingham, the fourth of five children of the Rev Rosslyn Bruce, and grew up in East Sussex where her father was rector of Herstmonceux. She attended Normanhurst School in Sussex, where foxhunting was on the curriculum even if a girl didn’t own a horse. She learnt to read music at 4, and could play the violin while riding a bicycle. At 16 she was accepted at the Royal College of Music. But after two years, when it became clear that she would never make a concert pianist, her father stopped paying her fees. Instead, she took various jobs for which her badges as an enthusiastic Girl Guide were her qualifications: designer of toffee-papers, chauffeur, motor mechanic and writer of advertising copy. When she set up a Brownie pack, she made uniforms out of brown curtains, and used old horse reins for belts.

At the outbreak of war in 1939 she was a sub-editor on the Girl Guides’ magazine The Guide, where she had to wear her uniform to work and even in the pub afterwards. Staff on the magazine were permitted, if time hung heavy on their hands, to get on with writing their novels.

In 1939 she enlisted with the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY) on the grounds that if there was going to be war it would be “less frightening to be in the middle of things”. She was court-martialled for driving into and demolishing a gatepost (belonging to her father’s churchwarden), but was found not guilty.

In 1940 she left the FANYs to marry Donald Anderson, a scriptwriter and playwright 18 years her senior, who had served in the 1914-18 War in Mesopotamia with the Rajputana Rifles. In the 1940s and 1950s the couple supported themselves and their five children as freelance writers; he specialising in military history, she as a reader and talent scout for Warner Bros, and as editor of The Girls’ Friendly Society journal.

Her regular radio appearances included the first Woman’s Hour in 1946, an association that continued until September 2009. She also wrote television plays. In 1954 the Andersons moved to Sussex to run a children’s holiday hotel. Their professional qualifications for childcare (apart from their own) were nil. They relied on his experience as an army officer, hers as a Sunday school teacher and Brown Owl, and on the goodwill of well-connected friends in politics and the arts.

In 1956 Donald Anderson died, leaving her with five children aged from 3 to 15. Verily wrote with increased vigour, while continuing to run the holiday hotel. Her third book, Beware of the Children, was about a holiday home for children whose wealthy parents were abroad. The young residents included an Arab sheikh’s shoplifting sons, a boy ballet dancer with homicidal tendencies, and a budding arsonist. The story was turned into the film No Kidding, produced by the Carry On team, with Leslie Phillips playing Captain Anderson, Geraldine McEwan playing Verily and Joan Hickson as the drunken matron.

Anderson wrote altogether six autobiographical books about the delights of bringing up five children on a shoestring. Of the first, Spam Tomorrow (1957), Elizabeth Bowen wrote: “This is a genuinely bizarre book … Verily Anderson has had the good idea of writing about a new kind of wartime experience — new, that is, to literature; the job of marrying and having babies.” The copy in the Imperial War Museum has been used by writers such as Sarah Waters, Juliet Gardner and Virginia Nicholson as an authentic account of young married life in wartime London. The optimism of her writing, overriding any domestic disaster or genuine wartime tragedy, made her books particularly popular with readers going through their own misfortunes — the hospitalised, the bereaved, the widowed.

After her husband’s death she moved with her children to London where they lived in the studio of Anderson’s aunt Kathleen, the sculptor and widow of Captain R. F. Scott (of the Antarctic). The house was full of paints, paper, fabric and typewriters, and the children were encouraged to find their creativity: four of the five became writers. Her ten books about the adventures of a Brownie pack, from The Brownies and the Ponies (1965) to The Brownies’ Day Abroad (1984), were considered by the Girl Guide Association to be too exciting for it to endorse them.

Janet Adam-Smith, reviewing her book about her father, The Last of the Eccentrics, wrote: “Verily Anderson goes to her work with zest, combining daughterly affection with humorous detachment.”

Anderson’s friendship with Joyce Grenfell proved important. In 1951 Grenfell was appearing in Penny Plain at the St Martin’s Theatre when Anderson came to interview her. “Such a nice plump young woman,” wrote Grenfell in her diary, “with three young children and a fourth impending. She is a vicar’s daughter and refreshingly simple and nice.” In Verily Anderson’s widowhood Grenfell became a loyal benefactress, visiting her when she was in hospital, delivering goulash to the children’s doorstep, scrubbing out the kitchen, helping out financially and donating cast-off couture clothes.

In 1965 Grenfell offered to buy Anderson a home of her own in Norfolk, and found “Sally Bean’s Cottage”, near Cromer. Here Anderson wrote The Northrepps Grandchildren, inspired by Northrepps Hall, a large manor house near by, occupied by the same family for more than eight generations. The house was the centre of the Buxton, Barclay and Gurney families, from all of which Anderson was descended, including Thomas Fowell Buxton the slavery abolitionist, and Elizabeth Fry, the social reformer, who was Anderson’s great-great aunt. Her account gave a picture of family life at the house through the eyes of the children who grew up there. The book is still in print after 42 years.

In Norfolk she met her neighbour and third cousin, the architect Paul Paget, who was Surveyor of St Paul’s Cathedral, an amiable bachelor of 71 who had shared a home in Cloth Fair with his partner Lord Mottistone. They were married in 1971, the bride wearing a dress borrowed from Joyce Grenfell, with Grenfell as matron of honour and Sir John Betjeman as best man.

She was widowed for a second time in 1985, but retained her huge sense of humour and her love of throwing parties, whether things were going well or badly. She could make one chicken feed 25 people (“plenty of aspic is the trick”) and when times were tough would make punch from oranges and tea. The result was often a commission for another book or article. (She met her first literary agent, Joyce Weiner, at the christening of one of her daughters.) In 1992 she wrote a book on the Earl of Oxford as the true author of many of Shakespeare’s plays. It was optioned for a film, and resulted in a trip to Hollywood, but was sidelined when Shakespeare in Love was made instead.

For her 90th birthday party she didn’t want a sedate birthday tea but a proper dance. Grandchildren provided live music and great-grandchildren welcomed 140 relations, aged from 12 months to 104 years. She was still dancing to the jazz band at 2am. The morning after, she went riding, for the first time in 20 years.

By 2007 Anderson had begun to lose her sight and with her customary optimism undertook the rigorous training needed to host a guide dog. In the Society of Authors journal The Author she wrote a feature in which she wondered how Milton might have adapted to having a guide dog.

The day before she died she finished correcting the proofs of her latest history book, about Herstmonceux Castle in Sussex.

She is survived by her five children, who include the authors Rachel Anderson and Janie Hampton.

Verily Anderson, author, was born on January 12, 1915. She died on July 16, 2010, aged 95

 

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This was sent to me by a friend as an unattributed email attachment. I regret I don’t know who wrote it, because I would love to thank them for shedding light on such a delightfully arcane subject.

I had a neighbour who had bought a new pickup. I got up very early one Sunday and saw that someone had spray painted red all around the sides of this beige truck. 

I went over, and told him the bad news. He was very upset and was trying to figure out what to do, probably nothing until Monday morning, since nothing was open. Another neighbour came out and told him to get his WD-40 and clean it off. It removed the unwanted paint beautifully and did not harm his paint job that was on the truck. I’m impressed!

WD-40 stands for ‘Water Displacement #40’ The product began from a search for a rust preventative solvent and degreaser to protect missile parts.

WD-40 was created in 1953 by three technicians at the San Diego Rocket Chemical Company. Its name comes from the project that was to find a ‘water displacement’ compound. They were successful with the 40th formulation, thus WD-40. The Convair Company bought it in bulk to protect their atlas missile parts.

Ken East (one of the original founders) says there is nothing in WD-40 that would hurt you. When you read the ‘shower door’ part, try it. It’s the first thing that has ever cleaned that spotty shower door. If yours is plastic, it works just as well on that as on glass.

It’s a miracle! Then try it on your stove top … Voila! It’s now shinier than it’s ever been. You’ll be amazed.

Here are some other uses:

1. Protects silver from tarnishing.

2. Removes road tar and grime from cars.

3. Cleans and lubricates guitar strings.

4. Gives floors that ‘just-waxed’ sheen without making them slippery.

5. Keeps flies off cows.

6. Restores and cleans chalkboards.

7. Removes lipstick stains.

8. Loosens stubborn zippers.

9. Untangles jewellery chains.

10. Removes stains from stainless steel sinks.

11. Removes dirt and grime from the barbecue grill.

12. Keeps ceramic/terra cotta garden pots from oxidising.

13. Removes tomato stains from clothing.

14. Keeps glass shower doors free of water spots.

15. Camouflages scratches in ceramic and marble floors.

16. Keeps scissors working smoothly.

17. Lubricates noisy door hinges on vehicles and doors in homes.

18. It removes black scuff marks from the kitchen floor! Use WD-40 for those nasty tar and scuff marks on flooring. It doesn’t seem to harm the finish and you won’t have to scrub nearly as hard to get them off. Just remember to open some windows if you have a lot of marks.

19. Bug guts will eat away the finish on your car if not removed quickly! Use WD-40!

20. Gives a children’s playground gym slide a shine for a super fast slide.

21. Lubricates gear shift and mower deck lever for ease of handling on riding mowers.

22. Rids kids’ rocking chairs and swings of squeaky noises.

23. Lubricates tracks in sticking home windows and makes them easier to open.

24. Spraying an umbrella stem makes it easier to open and close.

25. Restores and cleans padded leather dashboards in vehicles, as well as vinyl bumpers.

26. Restores and cleans roof racks on vehicles.

27. Lubricates and stops squeaks in electric fans

28. Lubricates wheel sprockets on tricycles, wagons, and bicycles for easy handling.

29. Lubricates fan belts on washers and dryers and keeps them running smoothly.

30. Keeps rust from forming on saws and saw blades, and other tools.

31. Removes splattered grease on stove.

32. Keeps bathroom mirror from fogging.

33. Lubricates prosthetic limbs.

34. Keeps pigeons off the balcony (they hate the smell).

35. Removes all traces of duct tape.

36. Folks even spray it on their arms, hands, and knees to relieve arthritis pain.

37. Florida’s favourite use: ‘cleans and removes love bugs from grills and bumpers.’

38. The favourite use in the state of New York: WD-40 protects the Statue of Liberty from the elements.

39. WD-40 attracts fish. Spray a little on live bait or lures and you will be catching the big one in no time. Also, it’s a lot cheaper than the chemical attractants that are made for just that purpose. Keep in mind though, using some chemical laced baits or lures for fishing are not allowed in some states.

40. Use it for fire ant bites. It takes the sting away immediately and stops the itch.

41. WD-40 is great for removing crayon from walls. Spray on the mark and wipe with a clean rag.

42. Also, if you should happen to wash and dry a tube of lipstick with a load of laundry (aren’t you just always doing that?), saturate the lipstick spots with WD-40 and rewash. Presto! The lipstick is gone.

And finally the one you all know:

43. If you sprayed WD-40 on the distributor cap, it would displace the moisture and allow the car to start.

The basic ingredient of WD-40 just happens to be FISH OIL.

 

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(By columnist Carol Midgley in The Times, 26.5.2012 – as ever, simply brilliant and totally spot-on)

You know you’re a spoilt, Western brat when tiny irritations manage to trash your day.

That when you buy new pencils, for instance, they’re flat at the end and require sharpening. What possible use is that? I wanted a pencil, not a problem. That petrol pumps take up to 15 seconds before dispensing fuel. Hello, Esso? Busy people here. That when you’re in Tesco loading up with food from across the globe, you can’t always get a mobile signal. Not a catastrophe, granted, but irksome if you need to ring home to check if you’ve run out of balsamic. And why do people still tittishly wear hands-free earpieces when they’re not on the phone? Not a problem, just annoying.

But here’s another tribulation that taints my otherwise pampered life. Why, when you’re watching a telly programme, do they start flagging up the next one before it has finished? That’s just rude. It’s like waiters putting chairs on tables and sweeping up while you’re still eating. When you’re immersed in a drama, you don’t want to see a banner announcing that Dickinson’s Real Deal is coming up next. It ruins the moment and is counter-productive, because it just makes you want to kick your telly’s face in.

Victoria Wood once told me (yes, I am name-dropping) that it annoys her when the credits at the end of a show are squeezed into a corner while they bang on about the next thing coming up. It’s not just that these are people’s jobs and that credits recognise the sound technicians; it also makes the viewer feel like they’re getting hassled by an extended-warranty salesman at Currys.

We’re absurdly lucky to have the best TV in the world. Can broadcasters just let us enjoy it, and not behave like a hustler chasing us down the street saying, “Looky, looky, nice watches pleez”? Because it cheapens all of us. Thanks.

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Vernon Scannell

This was published in The Guardian in November 2007 and is a really beautiful piece of writing by the great Simon Jenkins, whose work I so much admire. I also like Vernon Scannell’s poetry, so that’s another good reason to share this piece.

A patient and sincere teacher … Vernon Scannell

By Simon Jenkins

The reference jumped from the page. Vernon Scannell, who has died at the age of 85, was a drifter, boxer and army deserter. He drank and fornicated his way across Fitzrovia (just north of the West End in London), said the obituary, until, “after a succession of jobs in the underbelly of teaching”, he emerged as a poet. Wait a minute, I thought. That underbelly of teaching was me.

Scannell’s path crossed with mine when I was 10 and he was desperate. The headmaster of the struggling prep school into which I had been decanted from the local primary must also have been desperate. Scannell had no degree or qualification. During the war he had been imprisoned for desertion. Afterwards he deserted again, changed his name and worked in a doll factory and as a fairground boxer. Finally court martialled, he was sent to a mental hospital after telling the judge that he was a poet who hated the folly of war and “feared the final extinction of humanity”. A kindly psychiatrist discharged him.

The school, which lay in the Kent countryside and was called Hazlewood, clearly had some wildness in its veins. It had employed both Christopher Fry and Michael Tippett. Boys would roam the adjacent woods during break and were often lost. The headmaster, an eccentric man named Parry, had reputedly insisted, during the Battle of Britain, that sports day continue as a gesture of support for the pilots overhead, despite parents running for shelter under a rain of shrapnel.

Scannell had just two messages to convey to the nervous, rebellious Jenkins, who felt as out of place in the school as he did. One was the supremacy of boxing and the other of poetry. Scannell’s first act was to ask the headmaster if he could erect a boxing ring in the assembly hall. Boys would duly line up, petrified, and only pretend to beat hell out of each other. But Scannell was a patient and sincere teacher of what he regarded as the “noble art”. We knew nothing of his past as a professional boxer, only noting the misty-eyed reverence with which he viewed our rectangular canvas of needless pain.

To Scannell, I now realise, it was only in the ring that he was able to lay aside the miseries of a poor upbringing and war-scarred life and, for a moment, be utterly himself. Only in the ring did a man literally stand or fall by his wits.

For a poet whose work was shot through with the fear and futility of violence, boxing was a strange addiction. But then nor did we know that Scannell was a poet. All he communicated was a vague and distant preoccupation, as of a man with much to hide and only a little to give, even if that little was infinitely precious. He was out of John le Carré.

I came to love the rituals and rhythms of boxing, as against the mindless and muddy brutalism of rugby. I was intoxicated by the terrified adrenalin of an upcoming fight and the exhilaration of surviving it. Nothing at school was quite its equal. Certainly I liked Scannell and went on boxing until I was 18, by when the health and safety mafiosi were moving into schools to ban it. Heaven only knows if learned from the sport, but I believed I did, and see no harm and much virtue in schoolboy boxing’s return to favour.

The classroom Scannell was a man transformed. He did not teach English, which presumably was his job. He simply read poetry from start to finish. He read the entire canon and made us read it back. We had to learn nothing by heart, but he did insist that we “recognise by heart” what he was reading. This rough diamond of a man would recite Marvell’s To His Coy Mistress when close to tears (from his memoirs I can perhaps tell why). If only we had known that he also wrote the stuff, wrote of a life without direction which, none the less, “Ran like a fuse/ And brought me to you/ And love’s bright, soundless detonation”.

Keats, Wordsworth, Tennyson, Hardy, cascaded from the walls. In particular Scannell read the war poets, Owen, Brooke and Sassoon, with a feeling and a savagery that must have tested the headmaster’s patriotism (if he ever knew). Poetry must always tell a story, he said, but do so by employing meter, scansion and song. I do not recall Eliot or Pound or anything lacking rhyme and rhythm. My eyes used to wander through the windows to the trees outside, where they saw that poetry was supremely true to life. Its potency has frightened me ever since.

Scannell was under-recognised as a poet, though he was eventually awarded a civil list pension. It cannot have helped that he listed his Who’s Who hobbies as, besides drinking and boxing, “loathing Tories and New Labour”. His poems were always clear in meaning and strong in emotion. He was to poetry was Edward Burra was to painting, teetering on the boundary of the surreal but never quite crossing it. Every line expressed his passion, every verse his anger or melancholia.

Above all, Scannell wanted to give a generation that had no knowledge of world war “a poetry that would tell them more exactly and movingly than any film or history book” what it was to live and serve in one. He later wrote allusively of Guy Fawkes night as a moment of awful recollection: “I am to hear/ The banshee howl of mortar and the talk/ Of men who died, am forced to taste my fear”.

Scannell’s faith in the truthfulness of poetry over all other mediums was boundless. He was a true working poet, industrious, unsentimental and self-aware. He wrote that “No one is really interesting until /To love him has become no longer easy.” Hardy would have recognised him as a writer who “wishes to touch our hearts by showing his own.”

In the 1970s, Scannell accepted the ill-conceived appointment of “poet in residence” on the dreadful Oxford housing estate of Berinsfield. He called his memoir of the job A Proper Gentleman, as the pub-crawling rebel was converted into horrified upmarket victim of gangs of yobs shouting nightly obscenities at him: “Scannell, poet!” He wrote, “It was as if I were a member of a persecuted minority, a Jew in an antisemitic society, a black among racists.”

I did not know Scannell in later life, though we corresponded and he kindly sent me inscribed copies of his books. But I revelled in his verse. He was strong to the end and his glorious irony never left him. One of his last poems, Indian Summer, had him listening to Strauss’s Tod und Verklärung,

And yet more faintly, now and then is

heard,

Closer, underneath my hand,

Dry whisper of a turning page,

As I peruse, with awful delectation,

The Oxford Book of Death.

So remember, all you drifting, drinking, despairing, self-demeaning schoolmasters. Hidden at the back of your class, pretending to be sullen and resistent, is a boy in whose imagination lurks unknown a spark waiting to be blown to flame. Scannell was even better than a good poet. He could teach.

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