Friday, February 16, 2018


A cold, stormy afternoon yesterday, but one of indulgence and déjà vu for me when I, at last, used my birthday gift voucher at Ruth Scally's Spa Cottage in Billericay. Ruth's beauty salon created in 2004, is, I reckon, the very best in this area. It was great to meet my masseuse specialist, Sarah, again, who gave a fabulous treatment.

The déjà vu moment came when I realised Sarah’s treatment room was the very one that I had written about in my weekly column when Ruth invited the lovely Jeanne Argent (nee Gentry) to visit. Jeanne had lived at the cottage as a child and had actually been born in that very room in the 1920s. Although it’s twelve years since we and local media had gathered with champagne and lovely food, together with Derek, Jeanne’s late husband, and Billericay Town Crier, Jim Shrubb, Jeanne was delighted when I phoned her yesterday, bringing her up to date. 

So, lots of love from Jeanne to Ruth, Roger  and Coral, her new business partner and the team for keeping that beautiful 200-year-old  Spa Cottage in superb condition as well as the very best in beauty treatment and care.  As I mentioned at the time, this is a venture that will go from strength to strength. 

Tuesday, February 06, 2018


Emmeline Pankhurst
What a day this has been on radio, TV, internet and film celebrating the centenary of the introduction of the Representation of the People Act 1918. ago in the UK, certain women became eligible to vote. and stand for Parliament. Amidst the celebrations, let's not forget those women who were excluded from voting for another ten years, and the women still denied a political voice, even today.  While it is important to recognise that the Act at this time gave only certain privileged women the right to vote - those who were 30-years of age and property-owning - it was a small step in the right direction

The topic of suffragists and suffragettes - and the distinction between the two, makes interesting reading, but our Society of Women Writers and Journalists, founded in 1894 (by a wonderful man) has an interesting archive full of information about some of the brave women who took part in the struggle for emancipation.

As someone who, from 1979-2005  worked at the Palace of Westminster and passed daily through St Stephen's Hall where the doughty women had chained themselves to the statues, I've long had strong feelings linked to that Hall. A few memorable images will shortly be posted on this blog. 

Some of my Russian students wanted to learn when other countries eventually granted women's suffrage. This was in the closing years of the Great War.   Russia, Germany, Canada and Poland also recognised women's right to vote. Propertied British women as described, who were over 30-years-of-age had the vote in 1918, Dutch women in 1919, and American women won the vote on 26 August 1920 with the passage of the 19th Amendment.

Friday, February 02, 2018


Steve Scruton currently on BBC Essex

You all know, by now, that I love radio in all its forms - national, regional,local and hospital radio and have broadcast from at least eight different studios in London and the South East.  Mainly I talk about social history linked to museums in the county. Research is vital in my work and the results over twenty years, have been published in at least ten books and seven anthologies. One of my latest titles has been read by former Barking & Dagenham folk who now live all over the world. Available on Amazon and in most bookshops such as W H Smith, Waterstones and particularly Upminster-based  Swan Bookshop. 
Dudley Moore on a return visit to his old school Dagenham County High - pictured with his music teacher

My latest book, following two years' research

Billy Bragg who lived opposite Barking Park - soon to launch the Essex Book Festival

Vera Lynn - super message from her for inclusion in my latest book

With appreciation to the Ford Motor Company's historian Dave Hill

West Ham photo from1972 - some memorable faces there, including Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst, Martin Peters, Frank Lampard and the super Sir Trevor Brooking, among other great footballers of the time. 

Wednesday, January 31, 2018


Can it be sixty five years today since that dreadful flood occurred along the east coast, particularly on Canvey Island?  Hundreds died that night and my father-in-law, PC Richard Graham Kent, then a policeman stationed at Brentwood, helped save some of the families living in the bungalows that were under the water.
Some of my family live there now and just recently, I paid a visit to learn more about the island which was built by the Dutch several hundred years ago. Defences in the form of a solid sea wall were built thereafter starting in 1975 and finished in 1983.  Ray Howard "Mr Canvey"  has just given a talk on BBC Essex outlining that awful time.  There are, of course, numerous books written about this event, and I have included this sad period in several of my features and books over the last few years.  In my last book (my tenth), I mentioned the Dutch engineer Cornelius Vermuyden who, in 1625, is believed to have worked in Canvey in repairing sea walls, as well as the breach damage at Dagenham - see page 11 of BARKING & DAGENHAM FROM OLD PHOTOGRAPHS published by Amberley Publishing of Stroud.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018


Today was Book Club time on Phoenix 98fm presented by our super host Michelle Ward. This month's guest was the professional speaker and writer from Billericay, Margaret Mills, who knows so much about Essex and its history.  

Sunday, January 21, 2018


Sad to hear of the passing of Jenny Joseph, the well known poet who was a good friend to the SWWJ.  Poetry is an important part of our organisation.  Here we have a photograph of Jenny with one of our top poets, Susan Skinner, receiving her well deserved award for poetry.  This was taken during the early 1990s. 

Jenny Joseph, born in Birmingham in 1932, wrote dozens of poems which are included within her anthologies including her most famous poem  "Warning" or  "When I grow old I shall wear purple..."  Strangely, she was not out of her '20s when she created these lines which older women of the world adopted as their mantra. Part of her poem goes: "When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple ; with a red hat that doesn't go, and doesn't suit me."

So the Red Hat |Brigade was born. Hundreds of organisations - mainly in America and Canada at first - were spawned as a result. The idea spread to Britain and purple and red outfits are worn by the members of the Red Hat Societies!

When I met Jenny Joseph a few years back at Somerset House in London as a delegate of the Royal Society of Literature lecture, she was not very pleased when I mentioned her famous poem. She told me that she had written so much other work since that early part of her life, and why didn't I - as a journalist - read her latest book and pick one of her latest poems for a feature.    Knuckles duly rapped!

However, I've just had a chat with the president of the local Red Hat Society (I once enjoyed a fabulous lunch as a guest speaker with these super ladies) and she outlined a programme of lively outings and events for the coming year. If I am once again invited, will have to dig out my red beret with that purple jacket (which most certainly doesn't suit me), so that I don't receive a black mark!  Wonder what Jenny Joseph would have said!

Friday, January 19, 2018


Yesterday's Daily Mail  published  a request for information on making wine at home from fruit and vegetables.  This hobby (or I prefer to call it a craft) has been a favourite pastime for many of us who like to know exactly what goes into our food and beverages. 

My favourite monthly magazine HOME FARMER is probably the only self-sufficiency journal of its kind which gives valuable help and advice on growing and using our own home-grown food. My regular literary contribution covers how to make all kinds of wine and beverages and my articles concentrate on each month of the year.  Currently, you can learn how to make both Parsnip wine and a super variation of Celery wine.  I feel the most important aspects of home fermentation are imagination, cleanliness  and patience - to allow your wines to mature in good storage conditions.