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Posts tagged ‘War’

The Slippery Slink

“They seek by day. They seek by night.
Those Nazis seek with all their might.
Of sleep they cannot catch a wink,
Nor can they catch the Slippery Slink!”

This comes from “Adventure”, a wartime comic book dated May 4th 1940.  It’s issue No. 966.  According to the cover, which features “The Human Torpedo Lands in Britain” and “Free – War Savings for Boys Named Inside!”, it comes out every Monday and is priced at 2d. Inside, you find “The News-Rangers Round-Up”, a story “How the Heroes of Finland Fought On!” and “The Nazi Torpedo – How a Nazi skipper scuttles his ship – in a Suffolk creek”.  But my favourite has to be The Slippery Slink and the tale of how clever British actors and musicians, assembled as The League of Slinks, rescues scientist Paul Grunow from his Unter den Linden shop window prison, guarded by the Gestapo and “Gasbag Goebbels”, who is ultimately doped and swapped for the prisoner.  At the story’s end, next week’s story is plugged and the boys are asked to make a guess how the Slink’s next daring exploit will come out.

But this is all I know about the mysterious Slippery Slink and his British band, foiling the Nazis at every turn.  It’s another example of how the war was “sold” to children, from Nazi board games whose “challenge” was to make a town “Jew-free” to “Mein Kampf comic books” and Hitler paper dolls.  Adventure readers are urged to cut out a war stamp in the comic book and post it to Fleet Street in the hope of winning a War Savings Certificate – “every one helps to fight against Britain’s enemies.”  In an era of “total war” it’s no surprise that the war is everywhere that children look.  But I can’t help wonder if it made it easier for them to understand the war by feeling that they were a part of it.  It wasn’t a discussion had in the next room, after they’d gone to bed.  It wasn’t a war that was just for grown ups.  Even Adventure tells them, “Come on, Boys! Do your bit for Britain!”  Meanwhile, do you know anything about the Slippery Slink?  If so, do let me know.

We are still at war

And I think I forget that.  I say, quite off-hand, “Oh, I’m writing about the war,” as if there is only my war, my book war:  World War 2.  Of course, there is not.  We are at war.

But, no war stands alone.  Each war is the horrible child of a war that came before it, however far back.  There is no egg or chicken.  We have, somehow, always been at war.  As I get to grips with my war history, I am constantly thrust back to WWI, which planted the seeds of resentment alongside the economic environment that made Germany ripe for Nazism and made the British begin to question their “special relationship” with Germany.  When I began this project, writing a community play on the Isle of Man about women’s internment, I was pretty sure how I felt about “the war” – it was a good war that needed fighting.  I was proud that both my home country and my adopted country fought against Nazi Germany, albeit in different years.  The propaganda for WW2 is particularly fantastic.  I adore the artwork and the iconography, though I do giggle a bit at such sentiments as, “Children are safer in the country: Leave them there,” and “To dress extravagantly in war time is worse than Bad Form – it is Unpatriotic.”

The more I learn about “my war” the more I learn that nothing is as simple as I thought.  But then, when we started our current war I still saw things quite simply.  I waited for Hans Blix to tell me what was the right thing to do.  It was never about Tony or George for me, but I did believe that some wars had to be fought and if Hans Blix said we needed to go to war, that was good enough for me.  I can see now that I was blind-sided.  I bought the white wash.  I bought the propaganda.  Shame on me.

If you follow me on Twitter, you will know how struck I was by watching John Pilger’s film, The War You Don’t See.  Truly harrowing viewing, but essential, if only to bear witness.  There were a number of arresting statistics in the film, but this one in particular has stuck with me:  In WWI civilians were 10% of total deaths.  For WW2 it was 50%.  Vietnam, 70%.  This war, now:  90%.  I’m no good at maths, but even I know that figure is obscene.

John Pilger has also been in the news discussing Julian Assange while he was being held in HMP Wandsworth and hoping for bail; Assange features in Pilger’s film as well, for it is Wiki Leaks who is attempting to poke a pin in the rhetoric and justification of this war and to show the truth lurking behind the propaganda.  If there is any form of Wiki Leaks for WW2 it is Nicholson Baker’s “Human Smoke: the Beginnings of World War II/The End of Civilization” published in 2008.  Using primary resources, Baker juxtaposes newspaper and radio propaganda with memoirs and diaries to lay out the arguments for starting the war, both in the UK and the US.  I am using primary resources for my own research, from the Hansard House of Commons sitting notes to interviews made by myself and by the Imperial War Museum, so I am doubly grateful for Baker’s authentic and holistic approach to supplement the history books.  Further, I am grateful for his critical eye.  There is no good war.  That is what I know now.

If you want a better perspective on today’s war, please visit John Pilger’s site, where you can read about The War You Don’t See and find a link to watch it again on or hear a recent interview on Radio 4 – sorry, UK only.


Well, here in Edinburgh it’s been more of a whiteout, as snow and ice have kept the faint-of-heart indoors.  I emerged like some premature gopher yesterday after two days inside.  I watched men holding ski poles fall on their heads on thick slabs of ice that covered any footpath not salted or gritted.  I walked home, knees bent, hunched as an old woman, skidding my way down to Canongate.  So, you’d think I would be getting plenty of writing done?

I am, actually, thanks.  Up to 15K since arriving here and taking up residence at a small table beside a radiator.  It’s pretty fast writing statistically, I suppose, but it feels slow to me, if only because the research for this book has been with me so long, and because I currently have so much time in which to do it.  You will have seen my earlier pictures of research materials I was bringing up with me.  They are all now unpacked and waiting for me to read them.  But there are a couple of things I forgot… yes, I forgot my own research: transcripts, interviews, maps – all the research I have already done.  Why, oh why?  I’ve spent much of this morning in a tailspin of looking and looking in the same file folders to convince myself that I hadn’t looked hard enough.  I had.  They are not here and I cannot go home to get them.  Does this mean the end of my progress?  Shall I give it all up and go shopping?

Of course not.  The fact of the matter is that I know my story.  I know the research I’ve already done and my fingers remember the transcripts I’ve already typed.  I know I have internalised the research and am changing it and shifting it into new bits of story to make one that is truly my own.  I know this – and yet I want the safety blanket of this paper, this proof that I know my stuff as a kind of signpost for when I get lost in my narrative.  For when I can’t see where I’m going.

Research is a really important part of writing, whatever it is you’re writing.  When dealing with history it is all the more important, though there are plenty of writers who will say they just write and factcheck later.  I guess I have to put a blackout on my desire for my research – I have to stop looking outward for what I’m worried I can’t remember or will get wrong and trust that it’s all already inside, glowing.  I don’t need more of what I already know – but that won’t stop me looking for all I still have yet to learn!

I couldn’t remember when blackouts went up, and many fine websites told me they went in 2 days before the war started, September 1939.  That doesn’t work for my story, so I need to know the history – know the truth – and then write why something different is happening in mine.  In my case, I’m writing about hundreds of empty bedrooms on the Isle of Man.  No blackouts have gone in, I say, because there are no people there to switch the lights on.  Is it true?  Does it matter?  Only if it makes a reader stop in their tracks and think, no, that doesn’t ring true – or if it stops a writer in her tracks, trying to justify a scene.  Either way, in 2005 I met a man who was a joiner in 1940 on the Isle of Man and he remembered putting up blackouts, and that really is good enough for me – even if I can’t find the transcript I did of our interview.

I do not believe he had access to these fancy blackout kits, but they sure would have made his job easier.  The joiner, by the name, was called Swimmer back then.  You will meet him in my book, some day.

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