Category Archives: For Sheila with love

Happy birthday, Nan

My nan would have been 85 today. Her passing earlier this year was a devastating blow to the family, and her absence is still felt very strongly.

William & Sheila with their favourite book

Today is also William and Sheila’s 65th wedding anniversary. Theirs was a very emotional and powerful bond. Like all marriages, there were ups and downs, good times and bad. But I like to remember the good times, and there were certainly plenty of those. One thing I fondly remember of my grandparents is the amount of laughter to be had when they were together.

I can’t think of a better way to mark Nan’s birthday, and their anniversary than to share a favourite passage from the book dedicated to her memory. It Never Was You tells the story of two people who, despite all their differences and the struggles they face in post-war Britain, manage to fall head over heals in love and revel in each other’s company. There is plenty of William and Sheila in Harry and Mary.

Nan loved reading William’s writing, and often dipped in and out of the printed books. There was always a smile on her face and a sigh of contentment when she did so. So here’s a passage I think she’d have particularly savoured.

Happy birthday, Nan. Love you xx

Harry departed Rosario for Cordoba punctually, thanks to Juan Peron who, like all good dictators, made the trains run on time. He secured a seat in the observation car at the rear of the train which gave panoramic views of the countryside through large picture windows. The two hundred and fifty mile journey was scheduled to take some six hours so Harry kicked off his shoes and settled himself comfortably to enjoy the scenery. The first leg of the journey, some one hundred and fifty miles west to the small railhead at Villa Maria, would be across the open pampas, the Argentinean sector of that vast treeless plain which lies south of the Mato Grosso and home to some five million steers, those vast herds which drove the country’s economy. From there, the train would travel North West into the easternmost foothills of the Andes. Harry was particularly fond of Cordoba, its quiet provincial atmosphere, its hospitable people but above all the scenery. The city had once been the seat of Spanish colonial government for the region and its architecture and culture was emulate of the city in southern Spain from which it took its name. He gazed contentedly through the window at this ocean of lazily undulating grass. He smiled. What was it Francisco Chavarre had said? ‘My country is only half made up.’ He looked out at the vast emptiness of this half-made land as the pampas rolled interminably past in great sweeping arcs. His eyes moved across the horizon. The summer sun had not yet attained its full power and the grass, still remarkably green from the late spring rains, was flecked with a myriad rash of the bright yellow wild flowers known as ‘pampas roses’. The huge beef herds  were still far to the north but would move slowly southwards as the season advanced to feed on this bounty before the January sun scorched the plain. Then the hills came into view.
     Unlike many of his peers, Harry did not frequent the bars and bordellos of the ports, but preferred to use any free time to explore places of interest and to see as much of the country as he could. He was to learn in time that recounting such experiences was to prove a most effective, if not wholly infallible method of subduing Mary’s runaway chatter. He did not succeed in actually closing her mouth, which hung agape in awe at his stories.
     He told her of trips to Manaus, the great former rubber ‘capital’, a thousand miles along the Amazon, deep in the vast Brazilian rainforest.
     ‘Did you ever see any of them Indians, Hen? You know, them ones with the piss pot ’air cuts and the poison darts?’
     ‘No, darling.’
     ‘Bloody good job though, eh? I mean you wouldn’t want to go play’n 501 up with those nasty buggers, would you?’
     Of taking the train from Mollendo Puña in Chile and then by funicular railway to Lake Titicaca, high among the majestic peaks of the Andes, those vast palaces of nature whose bright blue sunlit summits seemed to mingle with the sky.
     Of the spring carnival in Rio de Janeiro, a three day orgy of the flesh…
     ‘What’s it all in aid of then, Hen?’
     ‘The Rio carnival? It’s a religious festival marking the beginning of lent. The big blowout before the fast. Like Mardi Gras, you know, Shrove Tuesday and all that.’
     ‘Three days on the piss for lent?’
     ‘Look, I’m talking about Rio here, not Bishops Stortford. It’s the time for love.’
     ‘Don’t sound very religious to me, all that sing’n, danc’n and knee trembl’n. Tell you what though, it must beat the shit out of toss’n frigg’n pancakes.’
     Of the Rodeo La Plata, when gauchos, dressed in their finely embroidered boleros, their billowing troos tucked into delicately tooled calf-length leather boots, display their skills at cattle wrangling with the ‘bolo’, a type of lasso carrying a heavily weighted leather ball at its end which winds around the legs of the unfortunate steer, bringing it down…
     ‘Does it hurt them, Hen?’ She turned her head to look up into his face. ‘I mean it’s no joke being pulled arse over tip with a sodd’n lasso, is it?’
     Laughing, he shook his head. ‘Compared with what is to come, that’s the good part.’
     He described, without too much of the gory detail, the scenes in the abattoir. Her face screwed up in horror as she listened. ‘Oh Jesus, that’s awful, those poor things. Can’t they do it any other way? Christ, I don’t think I could face another bit of steak, even if you could get it on the rations.’
     ‘You can always eat fish, sweetheart.’
     ‘Yeah, ’course, they have a much better time, fish. Hooked up by the roof of their mouth or caught in a bloody great net and tipped out to suffocate on the deck of some poxy trawler. What did you have to tell me all that for, anyway? Now I shall probably starve meself to death.’ She snuggled into him. ‘Hen?’
     ‘Yes love?’
     ‘When all sweets come off the rations, will you buy me about a hundredweight of jelly babies?’
     ‘Absolutely! But why jelly babies?’
     ‘Well, people don’t ill-treat jelly babies, do they?’
     ‘Of course they do, they bite their heads off.’
     ‘Oh, you rotten bugger!’


Extract from It Never Was You by William E. Thomas, Chapter Seven
(c) All rights reserved
Advertisements

For Sheila, with love

Tomorrow, It Never Was You, part two of William E. Thomas’s Cypress Branches trilogy, will be officially released as an ebook. It is a day I have been looking forward to for a long time, and the weeks and months that follow will be exciting. But in one way, it will be a sad occasion.

Sheila and William on holiday in Somerset. April 2006

Without a doubt, William’s wife Sheila, my nan, has been the single most important figure in the creation of this trilogy. Not only did she spur on and support William during the years it took him to write the book, she also provided me with unconditional support and encouragement from the moment I first mooted the idea of self-publishing it in 2008.

She was there when William finished the book. She was there when I handed him his copy of the hardback. She was there when Pegasus Falling, the first paperback was revealed and she was there when the first reviews started coming in. She insisted that I hurry up and finish the trilogy so that she could see them all together, and the project completed.

Sadly, her wish wasn’t to come true. In April last year, Sheila suffered a devastating stroke. After a year long battle to recover, she passed away on 7th March.

The last few months have been a difficult time for the Thomas family. We lost our matriarch, a woman who never failed to express her love, and knew how to do so in so many different ways. She was a formidable woman, an inspiration to many, and never failed to make an impression on everyone who met her. Her circle of friends continued to grow even in her last days.

She was married to William for 65 years. A marriage that long is bound to have both its highs and lows, and there were plenty of both for the two of them, but their love for one another was constant, and truly inspiring. They raised a family of six children who went on to provide them with countless grandchildren and great grandchildren who have developed into a close-knit, supporting and loving family.

Sheila was buried in a Humanist ceremony that was attended by her large family and extended group of friends and ex-colleagues last month. She has been laid to rest in a meadow at a green burial ground. It is a beautiful spot with a wide view of the Buckinghamshire countryside that she would have loved.

She leaves a huge hole in our lives and will be sorely missed by all who knew her, but she would hate for us to put our lives on hold to grieve, and so plans for the publication of William’s second book have carried on and the launch is going ahead as planned.

It Never Was You is dedicated to Sheila’s memory.

Sheila Thomas
29th November 1928 – 7th March 2013