Monday, June 3, 2013

A royal occasion - 60 years ago

60 years ago today Elizabeth II became Queen of England. There were street parties all over the country, with events, races and fancy dress affairs which kept the mums busy. We lived in the village of Harworth in North Nottinghamshire, but our side of Sandymount, at least number 18, were Yorkshire born and bred. Doncaster was the nearest town of any size. I've never been much of a royalist, though some members of my family are, but I was only eight years old when this photograph was taken and had not formed any political opinions.

I was (and still am to some) the wizard on the left. My brother Charles (9) is the Chinese mandarin standing next to me and my brother Philip (3) is dressed as a ladybird sitting at the front. These are the children of Sandymount and the Bull Ring. I recall there was a race for toddlers which Philip, bless him, won. All the children received a coronation new testament and a coronation crown coin.

The day had special significance from a family point of view. It was Auntie Gwen's birthday. She was my mother's sister. It was also cousin Pam's birthday. Auntie Gwen was the 'darling' of the family. On my mother's side there was an attachment to the theatre which is probably where all the money went, if my experience is anything to go by. This is a photograph of Gwen Dalton (later Methley) in study for 'Gas Light' by Patrick Hamilton.

Gwen, who had a wonderful soprano voice, left a blossoming career in theatre to get married and only after her husband, Maurice, died did she choose to make a living teaching the E. G. White method of elocution and voice-training. She trained lots of singers and actors to gold medal standard. One of her child students in Falmouth was Alex Parks who won Fame Academy when Gwen was in her nineties. Another of her students, gold medal winning actress and Gregory Award winning poet, Lorna Meehan, wrote a poem in her honour called Tea and Shakespeare.

Tea and Shakespeare
For Gwen Methley

Every week without fail,
I would come for tea in china cups and Shakespeare,
Noticing a different ornament each time,
As I chomped on posh biscuits.

We wouldn’t get started for at least fifteen minutes,
And speeches would hang in mid air,
As a board treading anecdote was revealed,
But I didn’t mind.
Cause I knew this was where true knowledge lay.

Stories of stage beds folding at inappropriate moments,
Declaring yourself a shameless sex goddess in a silver raincoat,
‘That’ line by Lady Bracknell.
Stories of your husband,
Who divorced another to be with you,
Served in Gallipoli,
Once threw a cigarette in the fire and said
‘I’ll never smoke another’,
And kept his word.

I came one afternoon to help you sort your sheet music collection,
You made me prawns on toast and stewed plums,
And at the end of the day,
The sorted pile remained a few sheets,
As you sang your memories,
And the lines around the eyes and the blankets of age over your hands,
Ceased to hold your light in,
And it spilled over.

You poured inspiration into me,
As we tackled iambic pentameter
Dissected John Donne,
And took Shakespeare and tea.
Tears of awe in your eyes as you described how,
A simple Stratford school boy could make the world fall in love with words.

You raced around the small sea-side town in a bright green Mini,
Your fiery red hair under a classic hat,
The quintessential eccentric old lady.
You told me I had a young Penelope Keith look about me,
I was flattered,
I showed you an awful poem about a boy who didn’t love me,
You were patient and kind.

I was wrapped up in cycle binds,
Lightened by your faith in me,
As I shook my head gravely at Ozymandias,
Reprimanded my foolish father King,
Said ‘that’ line by Lady Bracknell,
And got a distinction.

I drank tea from china cups in your honour,
When I found out I wouldn’t get a chance to say goodbye.
We play our many parts upon the stage,
We are such stuff as dreams are made of,
We fan our flushed cheeks as love seeps in uninvited,
We live without knowing our worth,
We die.
Lorna Meehan

Here Lorna reads the above poem.

Gwen's parents, my grandparents, were thespians too. The Daltons were an old Sheffield family of cutlers and, sad to say, ivory importers, but by the time my grandparents were appearing in 'The Gondoliers' times were as hard for them as most Sheffield families.

So back to June 3rd. As well as it being the anniversary of the coronation of our monarch, the birthday of Gwen, and cousin Pam, it is also the birthday of Philip's daughter, Gillian, a beautician who takes part in Gaiety Theatre productions in Douglas, Isle of Man. So three generations, all female, all sharing the same birthday. Somewhere there is a photograph of the three together. Anyway, Happy Birthday girls!

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