The man who tried to teach me to write was a very patrician academic, who wrote book reviews for The Times and was also an army officer. He was my charismatic headmaster at boarding school in Malaya, tall, elegant, witty and charming. School was in the cool of the Cameron Highlands, surrounded by jungle which hid both the aborigine Sakai people, and also the communist bandits.
We travelled to school in what were known as coffins, and they felt like it. They were metal boxes on wheels with tiny slits to let in the stifling tropical air. This convoy of coffins was escorted by armoured cars between each one. It usually took me two days to get to school, flying out by a light Auster plane from Kota Bahru to Bangkok, via a change at a lonely air-strip at Alor Star. In Bangkok I changed planes for Kuala Lumpur. Here I spent the night and joined everyone else for the train journey up to the rendezvous with the coffins. We then had another six hours of tough travel before reaching the Highlands in the evening.
We never knew the date of the beginning or end of term until the day before, so the bandits couldn’t ambush us. We children didn’t worry terribly. We might have felt differently had we realised that our school food was so awful because the cooks were giving our rations to the bandits surrounding us in the jungle. I learned this from the headmaster some years after I’d left school, by which time they’d uncovered the problem. Every night the school was patrolled by armed guards, but somehow I never really believed the bandits could be so close. In hindsight, the fact that they were depending on our food was our best protection! I lost half a stone every term.
Robin, my headmaster, decided that the new A level exams which had been introduced a couple of years before, were a challenge that he and I could rise to, and that he would coach me to pass them in one year instead of two. This was a stretch, but I had a one- on-one lesson with him most days.
I would sit side by side with him at a table in the school library while he neurotically smoked his way through a round tin of fifty cigarettes, lighting each one, taking a few puffs and then stubbing out three quarters of the cigarette before lighting up the next. He, like so many army officers I knew then, was still suffering from the effects of the war, only in those days there was no counselling or understanding of their trauma.
I quickly discovered that I was a sloppy thinker, with very little idea of how to write. This uncomfortable realisation hit me after my first essay, when I referred to ‘the naked truth’. Robin ( I learned to call him this later) made me look up the meaning of the word ‘naked’ in the dictionary, and it was a lesson I never needed to learn again – to make sure I actually knew the meaning of a word before I used it, and forget about clichés !
He taught me to write short simple sentences, to use short Anglo –Saxon words, and not pompous, pretentious Latin words. He’d say chuck instead of throw, and taught me to write direct simple prose… though you may not believe this now. He also tried to teach me to think for myself, and once when I had written an obsequious essay on Anthony and Cleopatra, he teasingly wrote at the bottom: “Beware too slavish an adulation of the Bard!”
The best training he gave me was to do a précis nearly every day, of a piece of weighty Elizabethan or Restoration prose, reducing each piece to a third of its length. It was a rigorous exercise, which trained me to express meaning in the most efficient and simplest way. It taught me to understand the meaning of words so I could translate them into a simpler briefer version, and sharpened up my whole writing style. Years later, when I was worried about my children’s exam results, and they in their turn were worried about theirs, I found the passages still marked in my battered Oxford Book of English Prose, and gave them all the same exercises, and they worked the same magic for them too.
And that was it – the nuts and bolts. When I hear or read of people’s experiences with gifted teachers today, I marvel at the creative opportunities they have; but on the other hand, these simple rules he gave me have been a useful scaffolding on which to build a writing life. Yes, I missed out on the metaphors and similes, and creative flights of fancy. I just had simple guide-lines for communicating clearly, with no tiresome tics of speech or writing, no frills or clichés, no worn-out phrases, un-necessary words, purple passages or exhibitionist long words.
And though we revelled in Shakespeare’s exuberant inventions and plays on words, Robin reminded me that the vocabulary of the exquisite King James Bible is only about eight thousand words. I learned to write truthfully, and to avoid sentimentality – I think! And this for me, is still the challenge of writing, over half a century later; truth means finding the exact word, no compromises, which means knowing how I truly feel.
A month before the exams, my best friend and I went for a walk and ended up having afternoon tea of tomato sandwiches – nothing else was ever on offer – at the Cameron Highlands Hotel, a privilege for prefects if, and when, their pocket money would stretch.
At the hotel my friend saw a young officer she’d met during the holidays, and he and his fellow officer joined us. We had great fun, and then they took us up to inspect their gun emplacements from where they had just started blasting into the jungle. Whether they actually hit any bandit camps I never knew, but the noise was hateful: the sound of crashing broken trees and the thunder of guns echoing around the mountains and blue sky, followed by a moment of horrified silence – the shock of a peaceful world rended by this vandalism – and then the screams and cries of terrified birds. Then a pause, and then the whole dreadful sequence began over and over again.
The chaps took us back to school in their land-rover, so we were back in time. As we reported in, and the land-rover drove off, the young duty mistress gave us stick for hobnobbing with the young men… but we thought she was just jealous. It turned out she was – she had assumed they were her property. She reported us to Robin, and said we had lied about where we were going. We were both stripped of our prefect’s badges and gated for six months by a very angry righteous headmaster who refused to believe that we had not lied.
The next day, feeling sore and angry, I had my usual lesson with him and was shocked to realise that in our study of Francis Bacon that day, we were about to discuss his essay: ‘ What is truth, saith jesting Pilate?’ As I took in the implications of this horrid coincidence, and waited for the head to arrive in the library, I wanted the floor to swallow me up, cliché or no cliche. His courtesy got us through this embarrassing session…though I was in a state of agonising hyper-sensitivity for the whole hour.
A few weeks later the exams arrived, and as I sat alone in the classroom with an invigilator, battling through three and a half hours of rigorous examining, the chaps began their artillery barrage into the jungle again (we hadn’t seen or heard of them since). As they fired over our heads, it was like sitting in the trenches of World War One, or enduring the barrage before the Battle of the Somme,
As I tried to maintain my concentration and keep scribbling, Robin came in silently, took my exam paper, and wrote the time on it, with a note and his signature saying the barrage had begun. When it ended two hours later, he came back in and did the same again. I always hoped that it had influenced the examiners to have pity on me and excuse me any blunders I had made during what felt like the fog of war!
After I’d left school, and he and I were back in England, I used to visit him and his wife who I loved. He would write me zany poems about kipper trees, and do witty parodies of Shakespeare over the lunch-table. He invited me to meet minor Royalty on a ceremonial occasion and came to my commissioning ceremony. And when I became engaged and brought my first husband to meet him, I felt a faint disappointment from him that I wasn’t going to be putting his lessons to better use.
Food for Threadbare Gourmets
Such beautiful cauliflowers at the moment, so after running the gamut of my cauliflower recipes, I decided to make soup. This recipe is called Crème du Barry after Louis XV’s mistress, and it’s delicious. You need a cauliflower that weighs about a pound or half a kilo. In some butter I sauted the white part of a chopped leek, half a chopped celery stick and a good sized knob of finely chopped ginger. When this is soft, but not coloured, add small florets of cauliflower. Add a litre of stock, salt, cover and boil until the cauliflower is soft, ten to fifteen minutes.
Puree and return to the pan. Stir about three quarters of a cup of cream or crème fraiche, and season with nutmeg, and a little lemon juice if you wish.
Food for Thought
Minds are like parachutes. They only function when they are open.
Sir James Dewar, eminent Scottish physicist. 1842 -1923
79 responses to “The nuts and bolts of writing”
Sadly, there was no such English teacher for me; I was left to ramble and skip my way through the English language as I pleased. Teaching grammar (and writing) was out of favour when I was at school. The only formal language education I received was in French, Latin and German classes. I am fascinated by the story of your boarding school. Does it still exist? Have you been to any reunions? Most of the British children I knew in Fiji were sent ‘home’ to boarding school in the UK; some of them were only 5 years old when they went.
No the school closed many years ago after Merdeka ( Independence) and the British left Malaysia…, I haven’t been to any re-unions, though they have had them… we are scattered all over the world…
Yes, it was awful what happened to most children whose parents were overseas……
Sounds like you had a very interesting education anyway. Not your typical boarding school situation.
What an eventful childhood! Compelling reading. Soup sounds wonderful too. 🙂
Thank you so much Dorothy – glad you enjoyed it…
You have such great stories! Will have to try the soup.
Thank you – hope you enjoy the soup !!!
what an incredible childhood/life you have got to wander within…
your stories always keep me still from the beginning to the end….
Thank you for once again sharing you…
(and I will have to think about this recipe…cauliflower is not one I have acquired a taste for even after all these years LOLs)
So good to hear from you, and glad you enjoyed reading my rambles… yes, I realise that cauliflower is an acquired taste – but I have it !!
I especially liked your last sentence – “I felt a faint disappointment from him that I wasn’t going to be putting his lessons to better use.” That means the story hasn’t ended. Oh, I do like a story that continues….
The journey of learning to write is not for the faint-hearted for it demands you highest commitment to excellence. The “Robins” of this world are priceless treasures.
“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
― Ernest Hemingway
Oh Rebecca, what a hilarious quote from Hemingway… I’m afraid I’m not a masochist, and if I bled, I don’;t think I’d be doing it !!!
Yes, I was very privileged to have Robin as a teacher – as head he didn’t normally teach, but he decided to take me on !! And handed me some of his ‘treasure” !!!
I can only imagine the conversations!!! Lucky, Lucky you…. And lucky us that you are continuing the conversations with us….
You had a wonderful teacher. And I love the photo of the books.
Yes, I was lucky… he didn’t normally teach, but decided to take me on…
Yes, the books – higgledy-piggledy, but constantly used !!!
Wow! You have had an interesting childhood.
Well I feel i have competition with Bucks and Amber on their travels !!!
How lucky you were to have such a good teacher, and so much attention as well. I remember hating doing précis, and yet they did teach succinctness, for which I’m grateful.
Yes, I did gain a great deal from having that attention, but I’m sure I would have done far better if I’d had twice the time to do the exam instead of half the time !!! My father always felt it was a mistake !
I well remember the journey to Slim although when I was there 57 – 59 we did travel in 3 ton trucks with an armed escort, not brilliant but better than the “coffins”. I first lived in Port Dickson so it took two days to get to school, I remember how scared I felt at 11 – no such thing as parents accompanying you!!
I remember the food being awful but did not know that about the bandits – but, as you say, it probably kept us safe. I remember the boys once protesting about the food and started throwing “dog biscuits”, as we called them around. I believe the food improved for a short time. It was well named “Slim” as I always lost weight and had to have my school skirts altered to fit. When we went to the school reunion in Australia – the hotel we were in thought we were a slimming group and had slim fast products on the bar. We never laughed so much.
I too have always liked writing and English was favourite – we had Mr. Feilding who also had an influence on me unlike most of the teachers. Mr Harrison – the art teacher was also lovely and always had something good to say about my art – even though I was rubbish. I met him again in 2000 at the very first reunion when he came over from New Zealand.
I feel I would like to write a blog as I have so many things in my head and a variety of subjects. How do you get started
thank you for reading and commenting… It’s interesting how different generations of children have completely different memories and experiences…
Blogging – I can’t be any help to you about that,I’m afraid, as I had to pay my printer to set up my blog… i’m a total technological incompetent, and still don’t really know my way around blogging… Good luck however you decide to tackle it…best wishes Valerie
I was lucky enough to have a very wise sub editor when I was a 16-year-old cub reporter who taught me similar things and I learned more from her in one year than I did in all the years I sat in English lessons 🙂 It’s amazing how one person can make such a difference to you
Good to hear from you…wise professionals are a gift to the young, aren’t they !!!
Wish I had a teacher like that. But how did you end up at a school there?
That’s a long story, but the short answer is that my father was stationed in Malaya !!!
Just the visual of your travels to the school is a lot. Wonder what made them plunk the school way out there.
So we could work all day in the cooler air !!!!
Ah, gotcha! 🙂
What a wonderful teacher! I loved this: “Beware too slavish an adulation of the Bard!”. Reminds me of a teacher I once had who always preached (loudly): OMIT NEEDLESS WORDS!!!
Great to hear from you Kathie… I think with that directive ringing in your ears, you probably didn’t need any other writing advice !!!
Wonderful, an all-pupose fail- safe rule…
I went to a Catholic grade school and the nuns were big on diagramming sentences. I swear that helped me a lot. It helped to eliminate those extra words I always seem to put in. I still go through my writing and strike them out!
Kate – I have no idea what diagramming sentences means..sounds like writing to a formula, but I’m sure that’s not what you mean !!!.
No, it’s taking a written sentence and diagraming it out so you can see the subject, verb, phrases, adjectives, adverbs. When you do it that way you can see the how each relates to the other. No formulas.
Aha – it sounds like you can read music, while I can only play by ear !!!!
Hahaha minds are also sometimes like jars…hard to pry open. Enjoyed your description of school years. Like you, or maybe ever more so, I have little formal education in writing. This was a wonderful post!
I loved your formula about minds – you’re so right, there are a lots of minds with their lids screwed on out there !!!!
Glad you enjoyed the post…
Oh, you’re putting those lessons to great use! Your writing here is spectacular. No doubt.
Oh, and I love that quote by Dewar at the bottom. Awesome.
Erik, thank you so much for your wonderful encouragement, I value it.greatly.
yes, it’s a delicious quote isn’t it !!!
I so agree with all your commentators, and esp. Clanmother. What an amazing life you have lived! I did get your email to me and will be answering it soon. I’m still pretty stretched but everyday I make a little bit more headway to normal.
Hello Linda, thank you for your encouragement as ever.
I didn’t mean to put pressure on you about my e-mail – just hoped you’d found it, and knew that I was thinking of you.
I’m very behind with all my blogs at the moment.. life is running away with me at the moment… will be in touch…..
For every rule about how to write, I suppose there is an exception or two. In the end, if your true voice rings clearly, you’ve done well. I know I can always go back and make my work better, stronger, more concise. I never know when to stop editing!
I’m sure you’re right Lorna, a master can break rules ( with discretion !),
I think one’s voice comes through regardless… and our voice to me, is the sum total of our character.
As for the editing, well that was one of the great gifts of journalism, there was no time to agonise over a piece, it had to be written and ready !
Even now, after writing, and checking for punctuation etc, I sleep on a piece of writing, re-check, maybe take out a word here, or maybe find a better word there, and that’s it.
It probably shows, but everyone has their own method, and no one way is better.
You’re right. There isn’t just one way to do anything. 🙂
Wise words indeed from a woman who clearly has lived … please offer us more glimpses into your childhood … it is fascinating.
I guess the craft of fine writing, is in the distillation process – rather like making consommé – where we truly reduce our writing to its bare bones, the essence – that richness – found in sheer simplicity.
Thank you for today Valerie, you have helped me enormously – to focus, observe, dig deep, pare down …
I look forward to hearing more … and the soup sounds delectable !
Thank you Shelagh for your lovely comments.
I thought your second sentence about the craft of writing, and the distillation process was both beautiful and masterly.
And so satIsfying for me to know that you understood what I was saying.
Thank you so much…. hope you enjoy the soup, Valerie
Valerie, have you written about this childhood of yours in a book? If so, where do I get a copy? If not, when will you be doing so? Magnificent. You have all the adventure and color to work with that is found in “Let’s Not Go to the Dogs Tonight.” Magificent post.
How did I learn to write? I’m trying to think of how I learned. Inch by inch, grade by grade? I did go to a good school. I don’t think I ever thought I could write prose, though, until the last two years of high school when all my electives were literature courses and suddenly I was writing paper after paper.
Thank you Luanne for your lovely enthusiasm… I’ve written a little about my childhood in my book ‘The Sound of Water’, which you can find out about in ‘ How to buy Valerie’s books’ at the top of this page..but your enthusiasm makes me think perhaps I might write something for my grand-childrten !
I’m always astounded by the crazy adventures you’ve lived through! There’s enough for many volumes, I’m sure… But a treat to have that kind of one-on-one tutoring and a great basis for your writing.
As an aside, my partner grew up in Malaysia – in Sabah. Schooled with the local indigenous children…her father in the army. The two of you would be able to exchange some stories!
Hello Alarna – glad you enjoyed the fun !
How interesting that would be – I think Sabah was much more unspoiled than many other places – that must have been a really memorable experience for your partner…
I enjoyed reading this piece so very, very much. First though, I enjoyed studying the image you put with it. A perfect post in every way, shape and form – Or is that too cliched? 🙂
Sandie, thank you so much. So glad you enjoyed it all … I love it when someone notices the pic… if your comment is a cliche – then I’m all for them !!!
What a fascinating life you’ve lived. And this piece has me going back and remembering teachers who had great influence in my life. One that stands out is Chet Landes, my drama teacher. Having been in a play as an extra, I saw him as a strict, almost austere disciplinarian. Then I enrolled in his class and learned he was quite the opposite; a caring man with a crusty exterior who demanded excellence from his students. I learned more than drama from him. Your “no-frills” writing teacher put me in mind of a play review I wrote for Mr. Landes’ class. I felt that it was too short, that, perhaps I should have embellished it more. You can imagine my delight when my paper came back with the highest mark possible and a note at the top, “Brevity is the soul of wit.”
As always I enjoyed you story. Being on a very restricted diet for a myriad of food sensitivities I can only salivate over your foods for thought. 😉
I love the picture of your bookshelf. A question, as I study it. The little girl in the photo in the upper right-hand–if I guess this to be you, would I be correct?
Thank you for being so generous with your life.
Rochelle, what a wonderful reply from you… those teachers who inspired us are unforgettable aren’t they… if only they knew that they are still remembered with affection decades later…
How maddening about having to be careful about your food… I went through a phase like that, but these days seem to be okay…
How observant you are !
Yes, that picture is me at six… my mother had it taken shortly before she disappeared… I had masses of thick brown hair then… white now alas!!!
It’s one of the only pictures I have of me as a child.
Thank you for what you say about my life… it always amazes me that others find it interesting…,
Your mother disappeared? I’m so sorry. That had to have been difficult for a six-year-old. I ache for that little girl even though it was some time ago.
PS As I’ve told Doug, I find pure white hair to be a thing of beauty. My Aunt Sarah had that kind of hair and it fascinated me.
Dear Rochelle, thank you for your reply, and your understanding.. the little girl has got over it I think, but I find it hard not to envy people on mother’s day and the like… the older I get the more I realise how much I miss not having that relationship…but no point in dwelling on the past !
White hair – yes, lovely on other people !!!!
Ever the artist, you provide these windows into a life so marvelously led. It is amazing how teachers, mentors and those who touch our life stay with us no matter how long ago their influence. I am still able to picture my elementary 5-6 year teacher and principal, both of whom were my first true teachers.
Valerie, your writing is always a so spectacular. Whether you are telling stories from your past or taking your reader on a walk through village life. Your use of language, beautifully rendered. I suspect Robin would be immensely proud of you today.
Val, what a lovely comment – thank you so much… yes, our teachers matter don’t they…. I wonder if they know how much…
I can remember all my teachers all the way through school – some more kindly than others !!!!
It’s such a joy that you enjoy my writing… you are always so encouraging and generous… that is a nice thought that Robin would be pleased! Thank you again, from one writer to another – who is so feisty and true ….
A very interesting story that helps to explain why your writing style seems always so crisp and clear!
Thank you Shirley, that is a lovely generous comment, and much appreciated,
FIrst I pored over your picture, reading every title I could, and then I looked at each picture at length and then, when I could wring nothing else from the image, I began to read.
Your teacher would be very proud of you.
More soon, time for bed and a long sleep before my last shift.
Dear Doug, what a sweet picture of you enjoying my hasty practice picture which I had to use because I’ve done something to my pic file… I would have tidied up the higgledy-piggledy book shelves if I’d known they were going to be presented both to the public and to my dear friend.!!
Thank you for what you say about Robin.
Do I take it from what you say that you will no longer be working with the moon and stars?. I loved to think of you scanning the starry skies at night in that clear ocean and island air.. With love Valerie
I am not ever going to leave the ‘scanning’ job if I can help it. I was writing that comment at altitude and found myself unable to string together two coherent sentences. By ‘last shift’ I meant only my last laser spotting night before I finished my four day shift and returned to sea level and the realm of thick, blessed, oxygen rich air.
As for your higgledy piggledy picture, I cannot imagine a better one for that post. Books are a window to their owners soul and I loved browsing yours. Your successful quest for perfect words (which grace your equally perfect sentences and lead to paragraphs and posts I love to read) is something I try to emulate. Your writing inspires me to keep trying and to never give up. YOU inspire me in the way you’ve led your life and the lessons you learned and share with us.
Now I’m not putting you on a pedestal here, never fear. I am, however, doing my level best to let you know that you are significant, that your writing has touched me (and many others) and that I care about you.
Best I can do and best any writer worth her salt can ever hope for.
It’s not often I want to read every comment and response in a blog, Valerie, but I certainly did with this post! Wow, I remember the long walk on sticky, muddy roads with older siblings to reach our country school in Canada. Were it not for the love of learning, it would have felt like torture. Then you tell of being transported in coffins with snipers every threatening to a school of scant meals – away from home and hearth.
Thank you! I understand how surprising it is to find people interested in stories of our root experiences. However, press on!
Like your friend Doug, I magnified the photo and scanned your books and photos. You are beautiful, Valerie. When I look at that little girl, I take great comfort that she has/you have been able to somewhat reconcile the abandonment. It feels unimaginable. It reminds me of the psychic Ainslie MacLeod (The Instruction) telling us in South Africa that some old souls incarnate into lives with parents of younger souls. The agreement exists between the souls for different purpose, of course, but when the child is the old soul, it can be confusing and requires a tenacious journey towards self-love to reach understanding. May you now be blessed with that understanding.
Seeing the cluster of Arctic/Antarctic tomes reminded me of the family of a friend. The Raeside family used to live on our island. They had come from New Zealand and the brilliant, erudite, quiet and shy father, James, (now passed on) had been involved in one expedition with Scott. (aside: one of my good deeds in life – when I was in NZ in ’84, I found long lost friends of theirs in Christchurch. Everyone had lost addresses, phone #s had changed, etc. so when before I even returned home, they had reconnected with great celebration. Sounds strange now with all our modern technology.)
Speaking of brevity….pffffft!
What a wonderful juicy comment, packed with fascinating thoughts and observations… so I’ll work my way through…
first – I had no idea that you could magnify pictures on blogs, enough to read the titles and see the pictures…thank heavens I trust my followers, or I’d feel unintentionally exposed!!…Amazing that you could even see the
Antarctic /Arctic titles !
What an intriguing story about the New Zealander who’d been with Scott… before the earthquake which has obliterated so much of that once beautiful city, Scott always had a quite a presence there… what were you doing there in 1984???
I was of course fascinated by what you had to say about our lives and agreements.. have just been doing work which revealed to me that like so many others, I am dealing with the original separation, which in that first moment of separate consciousness, aeons ago, I experienced as rejection and punishment, which has been the story of this life and many other lifetimes, for me.
In a book I picked up quite by chance yesterday, I came on the same theme, in which the Christ Consciousness says that most people have to deal with their original birth trauma… it makes such sense to me… not original sin, but original heartbreak !!!. And it makes what happens, and the other people involved, so much easier to come to terms with. No regrets!
I’m so glad you weren’t brief!!!
What a pity we aren’t close enough to thrash out all these things !!! XXX
This is packed with interest, from the character of Robin and his methods to the difficult circumstances of the schooling with rations being ripped off by a bunch of bandits.
i find writing a precis, or reducing a story to very few words, is always a useful exercise. My best effort there has been rewriting War and Peace as a fairly short poem.
Thank you so much for yo0ur appreciative comments… I laughed out loud at the idea of reducing War and Peace to a precis – would love to have read it !
You reminded me of Jane Austen’s assessment of Robert Burns – ‘ he loved, he left and he forgot’
‘WAR AND PEACE’ BY LEO TOLSTOY
(Sorry, this one’s a bit long – but then the book runs from 1500 to 6000 pages depending on the edition, so have a heart!)
This book starts without a worry
At Pavlovna’s little soiree:
There we meet young Pierre Bezuhov,
Niklolay, Natasha Rostov,
And, of course, there’s Prince Andrey
(He gets killed off, anyway);
Pierre inherits, Count’s his blessing;
His estates just keep him guessing;
Then the action starts, and war,
With some battle scenes and gore,
Bonaparte comes barging in,
Pierre gets captured in the din,
(His Napoleon bump-off schemes
Failed quite dismally, it seems);
But he gets released OK,
Bonaparte is chased away,
And Natasha marries Pierre;
Of young Nik please have no fear –
He to Marya marrya’d too –
Everything is tickety-boo!
– Then poor Tolstoy goes quite dilly,
Wanders off on theme ‘Free Will-y’…
© September 2007
Brilliant actually, including your last line !!! Never did like male chauvinist charlatan Tolstoy, which I know is heretical!! Thank you for a good giggle, and am very impressed with your literary skills and how you can ‘cut to the chase’, to use a delicious cliche!!!
As a Malaysian, I thoroughly enjoy your description and I remember the cold wind and tea plantations at Cemeron Highlands. You’ve made the place alive. You’ve created a vivid image of Robin. He would have been so proud of you with this beautiful prose — and you have kept his style with direct simple prose.
Janet, thank you so much for your comment – lovely to hear from. you,. interesting that you recognised the lovely Highlands from my story…
Thank you so much for your enthusiasm for my writing- it’s such a fascinating subject, isn’t it…
Dear Valerie, I enjoyed your post so much, and learned so much. Not about Créme du Barry, we covered that in City and Guilds basic catering!, but the skill of writing.
You see, I wasn’t very good/was remarkable at English (comprehension,essay,précis and language). Let me explain, if I may. I had, have, a very good imagination, and wrote some very good essays, but in my own time. Similes, I excelled at, until I was asked to give one in class by a not very understanding teacher. I said: memory like a sieve. I will always remember the teacher ridiculing my example.
However, I achieved English Language O’ Level GCE after three attempts. And glad I did.
Thank you for your enthusiasm, I am not surprised at the number of responses.
Thank you so much Andrew, for your comments and enthusiasm… what a mean teacher.. no- one should ever be ridiculed, it really makes you curl up and never dare stick your neck out again, doesn’t it….I’m impressed that you tried so hard, and you deserved to get your results after so much determination…
Another delightfully compelling piece of writing. I’m catching up after being away and have missed your posts. I love the sound of Robin, his teaching of such a splendid style, his sense of humour and his sensitivity.
Love the idea of adding ginger to cauliflower soup too.
Thank you for another good read. 🙂
So glad you enjoyed the story about Robin, Sally… yes, the cauliflower soup is rather delicious with the ginger… it’s one of my favourites at the moment… the last batch I made, I also grated half a carrot in to give it a bit of colour….
How long were you in Malaya?
Love this, your rich learning journey. Pen in hand dripping your blood LOL. I share these bc your post brings some parts of them to mind:
No obligation to respond, esp if you feel an imposition.
Just found your message as I was belatedly going through spam… humble apologies for not having replied…
I certainly don’t think it an imposition to reply, and will now enjoy looking at the posts you pointed me to…
Thank you for taking the trouble so comment, and I’m so sad it went into spam – I must be more diligent about checking it !
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I’m blown away by the scope of experiences you’ve had. I never think of REAL imperialism as being experienced within a contemporary person’s lifespan – only neo-colonialism. I realize that’s a reflection of ignorance, yet I’m baffled because I’m really just about as educated as a person can be without finishing a PhD dissertation – and I’m shocked at the neglect of the histories of the East that’s allowed here in the US.
I’m struck by the combination of elegance and grim conditions that faced the British army officers’ families. Malnourished chilldren travelling in metal boxes for hours and hours, surrounded by guerilla fighters in a jungle boarding school – yet private lessons with an intellectual who reviewed books for the Times, Four hundred -year-old estates, juxtaposed with dangerous, urban conditions.
It’s all so haunting…when liberation came for the indigenous peoples, was there any sense on the part of the British of justice having been won?
Or was that mentality not yet a possibility for one so young as you still were?
Your writing is just magnificent, Valerie. It suits its subject matter so well.
I have kept your last comments about my own writing close to my heart, and I treasure them,
I am sorry that I’ve been out of touch. It has been a difficult time,
Bless you and keep you.
Hello Claire, thank you so much for your generous words, and for your really intriguing thoughts and questions. You’ve given me so much food for thought that I’ll answer you by e-mail, yours Valerie