Just Jane: tribute to Carole Blake

carole-blog-post-medIn the absence of a Gazette column to post this week, I thought I’d share a Woman’s Weekly piece I wrote back in 2013. In memory of, and with love to, Carole Blake, who died so suddenly on 25th October and is missed by so many of us.

It made me sad to re-read it but it is also a happy memory of a great evening with Carole – to go with many more of some fab times. Here’s raising a glass!

The article reads…

Would someone please tell me where this year has gone? One moment we were all moaning about how winter was dragging and the daffodils were late, we sneezed and it was summer for a day or two, then I got distracted and found it was October and now suddenly everyone’s using the C word and preparing to take the tinsel out of the loft.

Time flies as you get older, they say. And it’s not only ten months that can pass in the blink of an eye. Three weeks ago I had the privilege of rolling up to top literary agent Carole Blake’s party held to celebrate her astonishing fifty years in publishing.

Astonishing because Carole looks far too youthful to have been at it that long – they clearly started ‘em young in those days – and surprising for me too, to realise that I first met her, screwing up all my courage to speak, when I was a wannabe novelist back in 1998. Which means I’ve been knocking around the book world fifteen years myself and I don’t know where that has gone either.

I arrived at the bash with Katie Fforde and a wild look in my eye.

We had flown back from France for the event – I’d been teaching at the fab Chez Castillon (Google it now!) and Katie had been working away at her 21st novel (she, too, has been going a while) – on a journey which was punctuated by minor crises, mostly of my doing. These began when I left my mobile on the floor at Bordeaux airport while trying to stuff my handbag into Katie’s suitcase (that one item of baggage rule has a lot to answer for) and went downhill from there.

“J’ai perdu mon telephone,” I stuttered frantically to the couple sitting where I’d last seen it. “Avez-vous seen it? S’iI vous plait.”

“Never mind all that, love,” said the husband. “Try the information desk.” Mercifully it had been handed in by some wonderfully honest being, and after a small panic over where Katie’s passport was and me leading us purposefully to the wrong gate, we arrived in Gatwick intact but with not much time to spare.

Katie’s face was a picture, therefore, when at passport control, she whizzed through and I got the cheery chap who fancied a chat. While I explained why I’d gone to France, why I was coming back, whose party it was and why I didn’t look at all like my passport photograph (it was taken nine years ago, mate!), I could see her expression ten metres away, frozen in horror, convinced I was about to be led away and we’d miss the revelry after all.

I’ll spare you the sagas of the taxis, my blisters and the curious incident of the laddered tights, but eventually we got there to find Carole, her usual cool, glamorous self, in a room brimming with warmth and affection.

The fizz flowed, the speeches were heartfelt. Fellow agent, the beautiful Isobel Dixon, recalled her interview at Blake Friedmann 18 years ago when she was offered a glass of wine and wondered if it was a test. I would say it probably was and she passed it by having the second glass – she’s been working with Carole ever since.

Colleague Conrad Williams told how he had learned from Carole’s example, the “centrality of lunch” and the bestselling crime writer Peter James, hailed by Conrad as the “Uber Client”, stated quite simply that he adored her.

Carole said she’d promised herself she wouldn’t cry – by that time I was fumbling for a tissue myself. And looking round the packed room I went on my own little trip down memory lane.

There was the agent who wrote that she hated my first novel so much she couldn’t even encourage me, and the other poor chap I practically stalked while trying to flog it anyway. The smiling one-time boss of the publishers who eventually gave me a deal; the authors I was once so shyly in awe of – now my friends. The big book-seller who was so kind to me when I was newly in print and the editors I’ve only ever known by email – now here in the flesh. Looking at the guest list later there were more names from the past I sadly didn’t spot among the 300-strong crowd, all there to raise a glass or three to a long-serving pro. I need her to have another gathering when she’s been doing books for the full sixty.

The next morning Katie and I were back on the plane to Chez Castillon a little jaded but very glad we’d made the trip, and four days after that I flew home. The napkin that came with my complimentary salty things bore the maxim: “Time flies but you are the pilot.” I think we can safely say Carole Blake has earned her wings.

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Plain Jane 100516: I might give Channel Tunnel another chance

Plain Jane 100516Friday Quiz Time and your starter for ten. Who knows what auspicious and momentous event took place on May 6th? 

Yes, well done, you at the back, Roger Bannister did indeed break the four-minute mile on that date in 1954.  Just six years before Eisenhower signed the Civil Rights Act on the same day as Princess Margaret married Tony Armstrong-Jones and a year after Tony Blair was born. As it happens, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, a little later in 1966, were also sentenced to life imprisonment on May 6th and it was Orson Welles’ birthday. (Never let it be said your local newspaper does not have the enhancement of your general knowledge and possible potential to win on Eggheads at heart.)

But I was thinking of something a bit closer to home.  Clue: it happened just up the road here in Kent, the Queen was there, and despite the worst of the fear-mongering, we didn’t all get wiped out by rabies.

I speak of course of the opening of the Channel Tunnel.

It was on this very day, back in 1994 that the sub-aqua link between England and France was officially opened by Her Majesty and President Mitterand.

I have no recollection of it at all and can only assume that  since I had spent the previous twelve months in a haze of exhaustion after the arrival of The Child That Never Slept, that I was probably having  a catnap when the news footage came on, the whole event thus passing me by.

I have now been belatedly mugging up and can tell you that the structure, recognized as one of the “Seven Wonders of the Modern World” by the American Society of Civil Engineers, on a par with the Empire State Building and the Panama Canal,  is 31.4 miles long, with an average depth of 50 metres below the seabed, and the longest undersea portion of any tunnel in the world.

I have only been through it twice. Whereas my highly risk-averse colleague Mr Mike You-won’t-get-me-up-there Pearce (he wouldn’t even come on the roller coaster at Dreamland) frets about falling out of the sky, I feel a slight sense of unease about all those tonnes of water hovering over my head.

So I hesitate to mention it, knowing  a proportion of the readership gets rather more exercised by my carbon footprint that I do (there was a small outcry and some  hilarious abuse when I once admitted flying to Manchester) but on the many occasions I have been to France since the tunnel opened, I have been inclined to let the plane take the strain.

Having, however, had the recent experience of being stuck in a traffic hold-up on the M25 (three hours), endless queues for security at Gatwick (at least half an hour longer than usual), an extra long wait on the runway after we’d “missed our slot” (a further forty-five minutes) and a ninety-minute flight during which the back of my seat was consistently and rhythmically kicked by the small boy sitting behind me, who also regularly shrieked, I am wondering if I should rethink.

Teaching here now at Chez Castillon in the Dordogne, up to an hour’s car ride from Bordeaux airport, I have been joined by two other Thanetians, who arrived fresh-faced and bright-eyed, having  made the journey from Broadstairs via the Eurotunnel shuttle,  in shorter time door-to-door than I had, and having had considerably more sleep. Perhaps it is time to put aside my fear of fire and flood and broken-down trains (in 2009, 2,000 passengers were trapped down there for 16 hours, a thought that fills me with horror and dread) remember instead the thousands of successful journeys that have been completed since and be brave for the 35 minutes it takes to cross beneath the Channel.

Sorry to inflame a different faction altogether, but it’s at times like these that I so miss Manston….

*

You can read the original article at http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-Channel-Tunnel-chance/story-29252022-detail/story.html.

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