I can only hope to be as sparky and sparkling as Mavis Nicholson when I’m an octogenarian. Her book, What Did You Do In The War, Mummy? is a collection of interviews with women about their wartime experiences – from WI stalwarts to spies to the little known but awesomely named ‘landjills’. The audience for this event was definitely on the older side and there was much knowing nodding and finishing of Nicholson’s sentences for her.
Nicholson had two particularly interesting takes on social change and the Second World War. First, that while women found freedom, independence and adventure in the war, by and large they went back to ‘ordinary’ lives afterwards. What changed most were their expectations and relationships with their daughters – they gave up on liberation for themselves but wanted it for the next generation. Second, she argued that women’s willingness to be volunteers is ‘why they don’t rule the world.’ Women want to be liked, so they are content with gratitude; men want to be admired, so they start to compete.
One particular woman stood out for me: Odette, who spent two years in solitary confinement as a prisoner of war. To stop herself losing it, she would mentally redecorate people’s houses – and was often surprised on returning home that they hadn’t followed her advice.
There was definitely a sense that no one had ever asked these women to tell their story before. At a time when every celebrity has churned out three autobiographies by the age of 25, it’s worth remembering whose memories really matter.
Lyndsey writes at teadevotee
It’s a change of tempo from Jon Ronson’s interrogation of madness that took place in the same venue immediately before. That said, Chris Evans did write ‘Memoirs of a Fruitcake’ and Anne Robinson ticks a fair few of Robert Hare’s boxes.
In a tour through his autobiography Evans talks about the acquisition for £87 million of Virgin Radio and sale for nearly three times as much. When the audience applauds he raises a hand, smiles and says “nothing to do with me”.
We hear of the inexhaustible supply of cars (twenty two), so many that he couldn’t keep track of tax and MOTs. From buying multiple cars he went to buying houses on a whim. One on Wilton Grove, he bought simply because the street name was easy to pronounce to taxi drivers after a heavy night in the pub.
Despite disappearing to the States and hiring private jets to marry Billie Piper after wooing her with a rose filled Ferrari,
We hear the inside story of Chris Evans’ return to BBC breakfast broadcasting and his desire to do a breakfast show again. Evans is grounded. I’m in service and always have been “I serve people who want to listen to the radio”.
One percent of the population is a psychopath, 25 percent of the prison population and apparently four percent of CEOs are psychopaths. That means there were perhaps nine or ten psychopaths in the audience “or many more if psychopaths like going to talks about psychopaths” said Ronson.
Ronson interviewed a number of candidates for his book. We heard about Tony who claimed to have blagged his way into Broadmoor claiming madness. It was on the advice of a cell mate in order to get out of a five year prison sentence. When Ronson went to meet him, he had been there for twelve years.
Ronson talks about the 20 point test created by Robert Hare that defines psychopathy. Madness is it seems everywhere “television is now about troubled people being booed”. A television booker told Ronson that she would ask potential guests what medication they were on. If it was Lithium she wouldn’t book them but Prozac would increase their chances of appearing on TV. Debilitating over anxiety, Ronson’s claimed mental malady, is the neurological opposite of psychopathy, which I guess qualifies him to put his interviewees to the test.