Extract from “Escape From Winter”

I’ve spent most of this last month back in cold, rainy England. Even though it happens every year, I’m constantly surprised at how August really is nothing special in England. In my memory it was always great, but I suppose that that was probably an assorted collection of days from June, July and September. Ho hum.

Anyway, in all that time, I have done no writing, except a journal with my twin brother, as we travelled around Wales, England and Scotland. Perhaps I could find an amusing extract from that and post it here at some point.

In the mean time, here is a little manuscript researching I’ve been doing. Yes, oooooooh. You see, my grandmother came round to visit my parents, and brought with her a whole host of materials and photos she inherited from her father. His name was W.M. Ridgwell, and is the inspiration for my pen name. (At the time, I didn’t know the name was without a central “e”, and I’ve been constantly debating since then whether or not to change my pen name, the problem being, it’s part of the web address and I can’t work out how to change that.) He wrote two published books – one I think a vanity publishing (if that’s the term) of his autobiography, and the other “The Forgotten Tribes of Guyana”, from his time as Organisational Adviser to the United Force of Guyana. My grandmother brought with her a third, unfinished book. Its name is “Escape from Winter”, and it is part autobiography, part guide book for the Canary Islands, composed in a Franco-ruled, pre-mass tourism time, and designed to encourage those elderly Brits who suffered from the cold to migrate. I haven’t finished reading it yet, but I’m really enjoying it, partly for an insight into a relative, partly to see how times and writing styles have changed, and partly from a Spanish-speaking, historical perspective. It’s great to find myself bonding with a relative who died when I was 7, and seeing what we had in common and what set us apart.

On his first cargo ship voyage from Liverpool to Tenerife, my great grandfather and his wife suffered a pretty vicious storm.  We join the story after a night of very little sleep, where the extreme rocking of the boat has thrown all of the elderly couple’s possessions around the cabin:


“Morning tea, due at 7 o’c, was heralded by sounds of smashing crockery and Spanish imprecations from the stewards’s pantry nearby. But tea arrived, and on time. The bland Spanish steward shot into our pitching cabin, balancing a laden tray with acrobatic skill. Deftly he poured tea from astonishing angles, with verse, but with never a miss.
With a nonchalance that betokened superiority and long experience, he ignored the wreckage around, completely disdaining the caprices of Neptune. He appeared to be unaware of over-turned chairs; of life jackets in unusual places, and, whilst pouring and handing cups of tea, neatly side-stepped suit cases that slithered between his resolute feet and legs.
Appreciatively, he smiled as I – considerably less skilful than himself – slid across a swaying floor to hold open the cabin door to facilitate his exit.

In mountainous seas, use of the facilities of a combined bathroom/shower/lavatory was hazardous, but human needs had to be met. Shaving with a so-termed “safety” razor was a nightmare under those conditions. It called for faith; it called for resolution; and it called for perfect timing. Faith was but lightly held. Resolution to stand upright when the vertical merged with the near horizontal, necesitated gripping an elusive and over-spilling wash-basin with one hand, and wielding a razor in the other. Actiity with the razor called for patience and careful timing, ajusted, os far as was possible, to coincide with the pitching of a ship that apparently had lost all sense of balance. But God gave to man dominion over the earth, and all in it. Presumably this included the seas. Fortified by that assurance, we triumphed over rude elements, before seeking breakfast. ”


It’s reading something like this that really makes me want to write a story set in the past, just so I can experiment with changing my voice, and my language, to fit the vocabulary and usage of the times. And the way people think! One shaves every morning, come hell or in this case, high water. Lovely.


3 thoughts on “Extract from “Escape From Winter””

  1. I just wonder how your grandmother would feel about you using her memories in that way. Are you truly respecting her memory or just exploitig it for your benefit?

    1. Good question.
      First off, it was a manuscript by my great grandfather, lent to me by my grandmother. But the question still stands. Would my great grandfather object to me using his unfinished manuscript? And would my grandmother object to me using her father’s memory?

      The second question is easier to answer. My grandmother knows that I use the name “Ridgewell” out of respect to her father, a man I barely knew but with whom I feel a connection. My grandmother always claims he would have loved to know that I am a writer. She lent me the manuscript, and was very pleased that I wanted to read it. I really enjoyed reading it, but I know it will never be published (nor should it be – it was only the first draft, really). She doesn’t really know how blogs work, but any way she can help to inspire me, she’s glad to. In fact, she is almost unchanged in her role in two of my stories, “Tomatoes” and “Aunt Wendy’s New Home”.

      And the first question? I know it might sound like I’m poking fun at the old ways when I selected a passage where my great grandfather is made to look a fool. But he wrote it, and it’s clear from everything around the passage that he took great relish in writing it. He was a storyteller, and storytellers love to be heard. Like me and my Granny, he loved a bit of melodrama! So, while I can’t know for sure, I suspect he’d be pleased to get to tell his stories again, to more people.

  2. Having known and loved him, I can assure you he would be “thrilled… absolutely delighted”. He was never afraid to laugh at himself, and actually, I don’t think he does appear a fool in that passage because he could so obviously see the funny side of it by the time he got down to writing. I imagine he was amused by the complete absurdity of the scene.

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