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Mother’s Day in the UK is this Sunday, while tomorrow is International Women’s Day. This is a post I wrote in 2014 which some of you have seen before.

First Night Design

Benedicta Leigh 1922—2000Benedicta Leigh 1922—2000 [photo: David Sim] Born Benedicta Hoskyns in 1922, my mother spent a large part of her childhood on the island of Malta where her father was serving in the Rifle Brigade.

She later spent a year drawing from life at Salisbury School of Art. During World War II, she nursed with the Red Cross in Auxiliary Hospitals and Convalescent Homes throughout the country, also finding time to write, produce and play in several revues for her patients.

The war over, she trained for the stage at RADA where she received commendations from Sybil Thorndike and Laurence Irving and won the George Arliss prize as well as sharing the Dialect prize with Cyril Shaps.

Her subsequent career included repertory at Windsor, Bromley, Sheffield, Coventry and Nottingham, No Other Verdict at the Duchess Theatre in the West End (“stealing all the notices as the maid” she would tell me…

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What a fabulous introduction that old rogue, Seumas Gallacher, has given me! I say rogue when I’ve known him all of three days! Do visit his blog – it’s great fun. Thanks again, Seumas, for your kindness.

Comfort in a Cotton Frock Day 2
Comfort in a Cotton Frock Day 3

Seumas Gallacher

…when this ol’ Jurassic asked for Guest Posts from yeez Lads and Lassies of Blog Land, I expected nowt but the highest quality of off’rings… the wonderful Sarah Vernon serves up the following gem… yeez’ll note the first step back in time is to a quite recent date… last November to be precise… her ‘go’ at the NaNoWriMo’s fiction produces the second step back in time, to her infancy, and simultaneously brands her as a NoNoWriMo Rebel inasmuch as it’s a personal true piece… I’m glad she did, and delighted with the content… yeez’ll see what I mean… read and enjoy… thanks, m’Lady Sarah…

#NANOWRIMO DAY 1

This is the start…

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Benedicta Leigh 1922—2000

Benedicta Leigh 1922—2000 [photo: David Sim]

Born Benedicta Hoskyns in 1922, my mother spent a large part of her childhood on the island of Malta where her father was serving in the Rifle Brigade.

She later spent a year drawing from life at Salisbury School of Art. During World War II, she nursed with the Red Cross in Auxiliary Hospitals and Convalescent Homes throughout the country, also finding time to write, produce and play in several revues for her patients.

The war over, she trained for the stage at RADA where she received commendations from Sybil Thorndike and Laurence Irving and won the George Arliss prize as well as sharing the Dialect prize with Cyril Shaps.

Her subsequent career included repertory at Windsor, Bromley, Sheffield, Coventry and Nottingham, No Other Verdict at the Duchess Theatre in the West End (“stealing all the notices as the maid” she would tell me gleefully) films such as The Eternal Question and Hands of Destiny.

Benedicta Leigh & Michael Aldridge in See How They Run 1951

Benedicta Leigh & Michael Aldridge in See How They Run 1951

In 1955 she married my father, the actor Richard Vernon, and after giving birth to me and my brother Tom, she gave up the stage to look after us, though occasionally returning to do the odd episode of such series as The Main Chance with John Stride.

Diagnosed as a manic-depressive in the late 1960s, there followed a series of breakdowns. It was only in the late 1980s that she was able get her life back on an even keel. After divorcing Richard, she wrote an autobiography The Catch of Handswhich was published by Virago in 1991 and won The Mind Book of the Year Award in 1992. She followed this with a work of fiction, Unlock, and Remind Me of the Sea, also published by Virago. Following this association with the mental health charity, Mind, she spoke at a Stress Against Women conference and contributed details of her treatment at the hands of professionals for MIND to use in their campaigns.

In 1997 her health began to deteriorate and she had to be sectioned once again. Chronic renal problems were diagnosed in 1999, probably a result of the length of time she had taken the anti-psychotic drug, Lithium. She died in Kingston Hospital on 8 February 2000.

Sarah Vernon © 2014 (adapted from a bio originally published on Rogues & Vagabonds in 2001.)

The Catch of Hands
Published by Virago Press Limited 1991

Blurb

With the piquant with of Colette, the lyricism of Laurie Lee and a passion all her own, Benedicta Leigh tells the story of her life — a life made remarkable by her determination to rescue it. Born in the 1920s, to parents who allowed her delightful eccentricities and dreams of glory, her childhood and adolescence were a restless seeking out of life.

But after her beloved father’s death during the Second World War, and the suicide of her lover some years later, came the first of many shattering breakdowns.  It is twenty years later that, with an undeniable force of will, Benedicta Leigh bravely takes up the sword to tackle the nightmares, and to loosen the knot within herself.

Extraordinarily perceptive, The Catch of Hands is written with powerful candour and a painterly skill. Benedicta Leigh’s is a unique voice, full of beauty, longing, pain and courage.

Biography

Benedicta Leigh was born in Hampshire in 1922. After working as a VAD during the Second World War, she trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and has since performed widely in the theatre. Although she has written most of her life, this is her first full-length work. She has two grown-up children, and lives in London.

In this remarkable autobiography, Benedicta Leigh portrays with painterly skill her insouciant, untrammelled childhood and her troubled adult years.  Using language with a wonderful freshness and originality, hers is a unique voice, full of beauty, longing, pain and courage.

Excerpt

The bullet bit into my forehead as I skidded across the lawn and crashed to the ground  The decks ran crimson, and away by the hedge my mother slowly hauled up a great dandelion, its acrid milk spattering her knuckles.  She was too busy to notice the rattle in my throat, my dying, my death, oh, the perfection of it, and she missed Ned the cabin boy weeping over my body and saying ‘O Captain, Sir, what will we do? Mr Peyton is dead and done for, and who shall drive the boat now?’ ‘Well, not him, anyway,’ said Captain Tollemache. ‘Get a coffin and some flags, and we will have a long dull funeral and a party with ginger-beer. Everyone can come but Nanny, and my caterpillars will do an entertainment.’

I heard the boys whining and thumping up in the nursery as I turned over on to my stomach. My mother had gone indoors, leaving her straw hat on the steps, and spikes of grass bent beneath the anxiety of a beetle’s progress. Over my shoulder blades a concentration of heat spilled, and the dog of war walloped towards me and leaned against my shoulder, a raggle of tongue pushing into my ear.

I said, ‘You’re being rather intimate with me today, my dear,’ as I stroked him. His coat felt like  a hot flannel. I sang: ‘O dog of war, who forged thy dread breath?’ And I sang that if it was stew for lunch, then I would be sick unto my plate a great lot….


While there are copies to be had of The Catch of Hands and her second book, Unlock And Remind Me Of The Sea, they are now out of print. I am hoping to persuade Virago to republish. At the time, Benedicta received a number of letters from people saying how much the memoir had helped them immeasurably by allowing them to realise they were not alone.

An interesting postscript is that in January this year, I commented on a post by Judith Haire at the Mentally Wealthy blog about my mother’s bi-polarity and mentioned her memoir. An instant response to my comment came from Jean Davison who said, ‘That’s so interesting, I bought that book years ago and kept it on my bookshelf. I have it in my hands now. It was one of the books that inspired me to write my own memoir and try to get it published, which I eventually did.’ (The Dark Threads – a vivid memoir of one young woman’s psychiatric treatment)

It is a small and supportive world out here.

blhiiBenedicta in 1991
[photo: Bill Moody]

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Take care and keep laughing!

Sarah


Running with Scissors: A Memoir

“I myself am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions.” Augusten Xon Burroughs

Related sites

Take care and keep laughing!

Sarah


Edmund Gosse 1849 – 1928

Sir Edmund William Gosse CB was an English poet, author and critic; the son of Philip Henry Gosse and Emily Bowes. Wikipedia

Portrait of Sir Edmund Gosse, 1886, by John Singer Sergent . Oil on canvas 54.6 x 44.5 cm (21 1/2 x 17 1/2 in.) National Portrait Gallery, London

Portrait of Sir Edmund Gosse, 1886, by John Singer Sergent. National Portrait Gallery, London [Wikipedia]

I’d only just turned fifteen when I read Edmund Gosse’s memoir, Father and Son, and while I can’t remember any distinct episodes, I do remember being very amused and profoundly moved, feelings that remain today when I think of Gosse. The subtitle, A Study of Two Temperaments, gives you a flavour of its content. It’s a book I certainly need to read again. Gosse himself wrote: ‘The comedy was superficial and the tragedy essential.’

Embed from Getty Images

Here is his perspective on Punch & Judy: ‘I was much affected by the internal troubles of the Punch family; I thought that with a little more tact on the part of Mrs. Punch and some restraint held over a temper, naturally violent, by Mr. Punch, a great deal of this sad misunderstanding might have been prevented.’

Embed from Getty Images Embed from Getty Images

“The man who satisfies a ceaseless intellectual curiousity probably squeezes more out of life in the long run than anyone else.”

Father and Son: A Study of Two Temperaments (Nonsuch Classics)

Take care and keep laughing!

Sarah


I doubt one can get more incestuous than this post: I am re-blogging my oldest friend Pippa’s re-blog of my original post because her introduction is now engraved on my heart!

Extract from a memoir by Sarah Vernon

Few people’s childhood impressions are recalled with as much honesty and poignant detail as Sarah’s. She conjures the enormity of the smallest things, and the intensity of the desire to own every emotion, every moment.

With many thanks to Sarah, the first part of COMFORT IN A COTTON FROCK is reblogged from First Night Design

COMFORT IN A COTTON FROCK

I wish Anne would come. Wednesday Anne. I want to help her today: I want to use the dustpan and brush. She’s broken her arm again so she can’t do any cleaning without me. I love her. How pretty you are, she says. I couldn’t do any of this without your help, she says. How I love her. She’s been around for ages and is even older than Mummy and Daddy. She used to clean for Ellen Terry and Ellen Terry was very famous and from very, very long ago. Charles-Who-Had-His-Head-Chopped-Off was around then. I think. I want to be Ellen Terry…..

via Pippa Rathborne’s CONTRAblog: Extract from a memoir by Sarah Vernon

Take care and keep laughing!

Sarah

Related articles

Victor Hugo did it Naked

This excellent post from writer Chris Hilton explains exactly why I have not written anything for #NaNoWriMo since 3rd November. I lie. I wrote one paragraph on the fourth day.  It’s not entirely procrastination as I’ve had to deal with money problems (what a surprise) and our dog disappearing and having to be looked for and brought back home on three occasions. He’s staying close now because he’s frightened of the thunder, which is a blessing in disguise. Yes, WordPress, thank you for pointing out this last as a cliché. Alright, WordPress, now you’re just being silly when you suggest I might want to add ‘2011 Big East Women’s Basketball Tournament’ as a keyword.

#NaNoWriMo Comfort in a Cotton Frock 1st November
#NaNoWriMo Comfort in a Cotton Frock 2nd November
#NaNoWriMo Comfort in a Cotton Frock 3rd November

Take care and keep laughing!

Sarah


#NaNoWriMo Day 3

In which I decide this will be the last post with extracts from my ongoing memoir as a NaNo Rebel.  I hope it leaves you wanting more!

I'm a Survivor, Darling! Post Card I’m a Survivor, Darling!

I am standing at the bottom of the stairs. I can hear Granny’s stick on the floor above and I turn back.

‘Is that you, Rich?’

As I creep towards the kitchen, a fountain pen falls out of my pocket. ‘Rich?’ The woman is a stranger to me. I know she is standing at the top of the stairs looking down. She wears a long narrow skirt and an equally long, grunge-coloured cardigan. She reminds me of my history teacher whose buttons are always done up the wrong way.

I scuttle through the kitchen and clamber over gumboots and riding hats to get to the back door. I love my cousins’ house. I love pootering about in and out of the rooms and up and down the corridors but now there is a granny flat within because Grandpa has died and Granny is living with my cousins.  It means  the freedom to roam is no longer there.

She is not a witch. She is not even horrible but I cannot talk to her. She makes me shiver. She is so tall and long and thin and gaunt, and the noise of her stick makes me want to bash her with it to see if any emotion can be harvested. She cannot touch or hug, and is it violets or lavender I smell?  Perhaps it’s mothballs.  I know her name is Violet, Vi for short, but I cannot associate it with flowers.  Only later do I learn that she used to be very active, that she fell from a ladder while decorating and broke her hip and was never the same again.

Comfort in a Cotton Frock Day 2
Comfort in a Cotton Frock Day 1

Sarah Vernon © 3rd November 2013

Take care and keep laughing!

Sarah

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