The Girl on the Wall –
One Life’s Rich Tapestry
By Jean Baggott
Icon Books – £7.99
Born in the West Midlands in 1937, Jean Baggott was initially inspired to write her rich and colourful memoirs by stumbling upon an ornate ceiling at Burghley House in Lincolnshire. Intrigued by how the plaster formed inviting, interlocking circles, the authoress was compelled to embroider this literary cross stitch-tapestry of yesteryear; thus resulting in an absorbing and altogether nostalgic overview of the past seventy years.
The Girl on the Wall – One Life’s Rich Tapestry is a truly magnificent traipse through the garden of history, which, amid other momentous events, includes the potential horror of the Cuban Missile Crisis and Neil Armstrong first stepping onto the moon. Although it has to be said, that along with the big stuff, some of the more poignant moments are those of Baggott’s own childhood. A time of innocence, to which we can all relate, regardless of where, when, how, what and why. For instance, in ‘Christmas,’ circle fourteen (as opposed to chapter fourteen), she writes: ‘’On Christmas Eve the front room would be prepared. A bowl of fruit was put on the table and a bowl of nuts on the chest of drawers. A fire would be laid in the grate ready for lighting next morning and there would be a final flick with the duster before the finishing touch was added – the new rug. It would be placed ceremoniously across the hearth and the old one relegated to the kitchen, having hardly been used all year. In the kitchen mince pies were baked, vegetables were prepared and the best china was washed and put ready. Finally we children would be washed in front of the fire before we all settled down for an evening with the radio. The atmosphere was alive with excitement and expectation.’’
No doubt, many of us will be able to reflect upon, as well as fully comprehend the all round sense of anticipation and excitement at play here. Especially with regards the all-centrifugal sense of place/happening that evolved around ‘the fire.’ It was after all, only a few years ago that central hearing didn’t really exist. In its place was a real fire; or at least a gas fire, around which all (household) community essentially circumnavigated.
It is indeed, this all pervading sense of family and community, that Baggot has captured all too well throughout this book’s 334 pages. So much so, that The Girl on the Wall ought to perhaps be read and taught in English class. Reason being, it’s a perfect example of how to convey one’s thoughts, both succinctly and charmingly, without ever getting lost in the process. Admittedly, a whole lot depends on the reasoning behind why one writes memoirs in the first place. There are those who write to please themselves or their accountants, their egos or their enemies – not to mention a myriad of other reasons.
In Baggot, we experience a much sought after telling innocence that is sorely lacking amid so much of today’s writing. For this reason alone, this book is well worth investigating. Even if only to infiltrate her wide gambit of views on everything and anything from rationing to radio shows, politicians to Pink Floyd, icons to inventions, strikes to Sunday pastimes.