I’m here today for the second in my series of interviews with the journalist, biographer, pundit and bon vivant, Jocelyn Humpheries. Today we’re focussing on her writing as a biographer and in particular some of the little snippets that didn’t make the final cut. Jocelyn: which of your biographical subjects was your favourite?
Oh! That is rather invidious – I do so detest those sorts of questions. I enjoyed writing all of them, even – perhaps especially! – the scathing ones. I do have a soft spot for the first one I wrote where the subject was, at the time, still living. He was such a dear! I don’t know if people say that about me now, but he would have been about the same age as I am now when I interviewed him.
That would be Colonel Hart-More?
Indeed. Although he didn’t really like to use his rank. He was an eccentric in many, many ways. He was almost a caricature of an English army officer. Not quite Colonel Blimp, he always appeared far too…not effete but…refined, perhaps is the right word, for that. And of course he had displayed extraordinary heroism when he was a serving officer. So many medals for bravery and gallantry and all the rest of it, but he was always incredibly uncomfortable when talking about this part of his life. In many respects I had much more success digging into the archives for information. I always felt that this part of the biography was rather dry…there was so little of him in it, if you see what I mean?
I think so, although I’ve always felt that the whole book worked in the sense of presenting someone who so clearly spent his life alive in an incredibly vibrant way.
So kind of you to say so. We spent many hours talking over his life and whilst there were some tidbits from this time, there was nothing that I could ultimately put into the biography without it seeming shoehorned in. For example one of our conversations that always stuck with me, even though I couldn’t repeat it verbatim now, flowed over all sorts of ideas. all sorts of philosophy and metaphysics. But the most important part, to me, at least boiled down to what he perceived to be a vast irony in the use of uniforms. Boiled down, what he said was that really there was no such thing. No two soldiers look identical. Even if you found two of the same height and build, the chances were that they would wear their beret differently. Some would have rank, or marks of achievement. Every regiment has its own distinctive features. Every soldier is an individual, and they will find a way to express it.
© David Jesson, 2017
“What’s that they say “all the nice girls love a sailor”? Well, I’d only gone ‘n married one. And not just any sailor mind, but one with proper prospects. “No point living in Pompey if you don’t make sure you get the best of the bunch” me Mum always said. And I did. Royal Navy ‘n a Chief Petty Officer no less. The Navy’s training ‘im to be an engineer, so when ‘e’s done ‘is stint, ‘e’ll have a trade for life. Mum’s dead happy, but then she likes a good looker and my Jim’s that for sure. ‘e can turn on the charm and that cheeky smile don’t hurt neither. But my Dad seemed a bit – I dunno – quiet. Wouldn’t say nothin’ when I asked ‘im though.”
“We’ve fallen out over that, my Dad and I ‘ave. ‘Cos I‘ve found out why. My Dad, ‘e knew about them. Jim’s girls in ‘is previous postings. ‘e’d told me about them – ‘is exes he called them – and maybe they are. But I don’t think children never become exes. And ‘e never mentioned nothin’ ‘bout them till I caught ‘im out. Worse, ‘e gave me all this bleedin’ chat. Called them girls ‘orrible names, suggesting they “knew the score” and all that malarkey. What score is it when you leave a girl pregnant eh? Jim 1 – mother ‘n baby 0. That’s not on. That’s not how it’s done.”
“The child support people came after ‘im and take the money for the kids direct from ‘is wages. That’s ‘ow I found out. I don’t mind ‘im paying, but I do mind that they ‘ad to force ‘im to do it. And I really don’t like ‘im talkin’ ’bout those girls like they’re scum.”
“Sorry, I jes’ couldn’t ‘elp myself, I’ve not bin able to talk to no-one ’bout it.”
The solicitor smiled “Don’t worry Marleen, you’ve given me plenty of information to draw up the documents. I’ll get the divorce papers sent round for you to sign in the next couple of days. You can drop them back off with my secretary and then we’ll get things moving for you.”
“Thanks Mr Palmer. I’m moving soon as it’s done. I don’t wan’ to see another bleedin’ uniform again in my life. Not bothered ‘bout prospects, just a good man who comes ‘ome to his wife at night and takes care of ‘is kids.”
“Don’ suppose you know someone like that, do ya?”
© Debra Carey, 2017
And this month, a bonus story from JS Pailly of Pailly’s World, taking us into the glamor of space travel…
A Million Credits
Back on Earth, Monique had never been able to afford expensive clothes. The most she’d ever spent was 50 credits on a pair of glossy red shoes.
Now she was pulling on a skin-tight jumpsuit of carbon nanofiber mesh, studded with safety valves and wired with auto-adaptive life support circuitry–200,000 credits. A layer of thermal padding went over that, followed by an overlayer of protective ortho-fabric–another 600,000 credits, easily. Nitrogen pressure gloves locked at the wrists. Heavy space boots connected below the knees. Finally, Monique positioned her helmet over her head. With a twist, it snapped in place, and the heads-up display lit up before her eyes.
Monique glanced at the small, crooked mirror affixed to the dressing compartment wall. She did an awkward pirouette in microgravity, trying to get a good look at herself all around. She’d spent almost five years in space, living and working on cargo haulers, but this was the first time she’d ever had to wear an E.V.A. suit: the uniform of the real astronaut. She felt giddy. She laughed, thinking: I feel like a million credits–the spacesuit certainly cost that much!
The radio crackled in Monique’s ear: “Yates, what’s they delay?”
“Yes sir–sorry, sir!” Monique answered, sliding open the dressing compartment door. “Won’t happen again, sir!”
“We’re already behind schedule, Yates. I don’t want to explain to central that we missed our delivery due to a clogged toilet.”
Monique pushed off the wall, maneuvering herself through the tight confines of the logistics module, making her way toward the airlock. This wouldn’t be a grand or glamorous job. Monique was an internal fluid dynamics systems technician–in other words, the ship’s plumber. This morning, at approximately 0600 shipboard time, two filters in the ship’s bio-waste disposal system had ruptured simultaneously, causing a clog to form near the exterior vent. The repair required a spacewalk.
Not exactly “one small step for man,” and yet this was a special moment. Monique could feel her heart pounding, and her helmet’s L.S.S. monitor confirmed her elevated heart rate. For the first time in her life, Monique Yates was going out there: out into space. And she felt excited.
©J.S. Pailly, 2017