Finding the Furlong Girls

FurlongsIn the Q and A session after my talk Rattling the Family Skeleton I’m often asked, “Why don’t you get a DNA test done to prove that John Wheatley is your grandfather?” My response is that, based on the circumstantial evidence that supports the story in my book No Mean Affair, it would be impertinent to ask any survivors of the Wheatley family to indulge me in this.

However, I have realised that my cousins on my father’s side could provide the answer. They are the children of my dad’s older sister, Millie, and her husband Patrick (Paddy) Furlong. Given that Millie clearly inherited her father’s dark looks and her children will indisputably be hers, it’s almost 100% certain that these cousins will have their grandfather Ireland’s genes. Consequently, if my genetic make up differs from theirs to the extent that we couldn’t share the same grandfather it gives credence to my dad’s story that he wasn’t his ‘father’s’ son.

I have had no contact with these cousins for over 50 years. Perhaps through the power of the internet I can find them. They were four sisters all with the maiden name ‘Furlong’. Patricia was the oldest and will likely be in her 70s. Next was Margaret whose married name was Sampson. She and the younger sisters Eleanor and Christine are likely to be in their 60s. One of them may have had the married name Beckley.

If I could find one of the sisters it would help solve the mystery my dad started with his ‘death-bed’ confession.

If you are one of the ‘Furlong girls’ or possibly know the whereabouts of one of them, please contact me via the contact page on this site or e-mail me robert@robertronsson.co.uk.

 

10

02 2017

The President Without Doubt

Trump Exec OrdersWhen I wrote Out of Such Darkness in 2010 I compared and contrasted the differences between America’s post 9/11 fear of Muslim terrorists and pre-war Germany’s victimisation of Jews. I travelled in the USA in the days after the attack on the twin towers and I was struck by how most US citizens were controlled in their responses to the tragedy. They realised that the crimes of the few did not belong to the many.

One of the characters in the book is a man driven by the certainty of his destiny and I tried to show that certainty without evidence, certainty based purely on faith or belief, is ultimately destructive.

President Trump is certain that he has one of the most powerful intellects in the world and he is certain that any deal he makes is the best deal that can be done, a great deal. He says he can make America great again because he is certain that it is true. He is certain that the crimes of a few Muslim extremists belong to the many. He is certainly a President without doubt.

Out of Such Darkness forecasts the arrival of a man like the Trump but not as President. (Let’s face it, you couldn’t have made this up seven years ago!) But it’s true to say that the themes of the book are even more relevant now than they were on the day it was published.

Out of Such Darkness (Patrician Press 2015) is available in paperback here and Kindle format here.

 

30

01 2017

Glasgow Rent Strike 1915

rent-strike-crowdIn 1915, while the world was at war, the owners of Glasgow’s tenement buildings put up the rents. They were taking advantage of the fact that the man in many of these tenant families now had a steady income because he had joined up. He may have been away at the front, but the family could collect his earnings at the post office. It was the first time they had a steady income and the landlords saw that their tenants could afford to pay more.

The women of Glasgow held a rent strike – one of the first examples of women organising to fight injustice – and they were supported by the local politicians from the Independent Labour Party. One of these was John Wheatley. If, as I have been told, my grandmother, Mary Ireland, was active politically in Glasgow at this time she would have helped organise the strike.

The following is a scene from my novel No Mean Affair in which John Wheatley and my mother are thrown together in the fight for justice.

Wheatley had chosen the McHugh’s as an example but it could as well have been any soldier’s family in Shettleston, Tollcross, Parkhead, St Rollox, the infamous Garngad – anywhere in East Glasgow. But, that day, it was to Mrs McHugh’s house that Danny limped alongside the twenty or so members of the Independent Labour Party. They could see something special was happening. Men drifted in to join them like tributaries feeding a river. It was if they were building a crowd for the football at Celtic Park. The men’s boots sparked on the flags as they hurried down the Shettleston Road.

The top of William Street was a sight to behold. Danny had never seen so many women collected together in one place. From their bonnets and shawls they were from the tenements. From the lowest ‘hairy’ to the highest ‘doilie’ they had marched down behind Mary.

Her shriek went up. ‘That’s him! Mr Wheatley!’ And a high-pitched holler such as would be heard in hell came from them. The men, more used to being massed in a crowd, stood to one side watching, as the women shook their fists and elbowed each other, all the time keeping up a flocking, mocking screech.

Wheatley put his hands up to silence them. ‘It’s good so many of you have come out in support of your sister, Mrs McHugh,’ he shouted. ‘If you will let me through to the front of the house, I can address the crowd and we shall make sure we send the landlords and their factors packing.’

They greeted this with another yell and the group parted. Mary took Wheatley by the arm and led him through to the front. Danny followed and felt the women’s slaps on his back. There was steam coming off the huddle of them trailing a strange mixed smell of the Parkhead Forge, tobacco and sour whisky. It was good to get through them and to the small area where Wheatley stood in front of the cottage.

Mrs McHugh looked old enough to be Wheatley’s mother but was probably fifteen years his junior. She had the look in her eyes as if Wheatley were a statue of Christ on the cross, tears streamed down her cheeks. She grasped his hand. ‘It’s wonderful what you are doing, Mr Wheatley.’ Mary elbowed her aside and stood rigid alongside Wheatley as they turned to face the crowd. Her face was flushed and her eyes sparked with excitement.

Extract from No Mean Affair (Foxwell Press 2012)

13

01 2017

Make our country great again

tiergarten-lake-3It’s a picture of the idyllic biergarten on the banks of Neuer See in Berlin. Imagine the trees festooned with Nazi flags, the perimeter of the gardens patrolled by Brownshirts. This would have been how it was in 1932 when the National Socialists used the biergarten for a rally.

In Out of Such Darkness Leo Plomer, who is Jewish, takes Cameron Mortimer to the park to introduce him to the reality of living in Berlin as an extreme, right-wing nationalist party, which promises to make Germany great again, gains ascendancy.

When I wrote Out of Such Darkness (published 2015) I had no idea how relevant and prophetic its stories would be today.

As Leo and I approached them the Brownshirts stepped to one side to let us through the first ring of trees and now we were on the edge of a lake. Red-hulled wooden rowboats lined the shore to the left as we carried on into the crowded clearing. Here the surrounding trees and posts were festooned with swastikas which also adorned the raised wooden platform set with long pine tables and benches.

There were two stages. The band dressed in Lederhosen played from one and on the other was a choir of young boys and girls dressed like boy scouts with open-neck, khaki shirts and light-blue, cotton neckerchiefs. They were joking amongst themselves and I was struck by their open smiling faces and their chubby knees poking out from their dark knickerbockers. For all Leo’s imputation that the National Socialists were a sinister cult I have to say that all I could see was young people having fun protected by a necessary ring of strong men who were needed to defend them against any of the Communist Red Front Brigades who might try and disrupt this idyllic German scene.

Extract from Out of Such Darkness (Patrician Press  2015)

 

04

01 2017

Hymie the Tailor’s Clothes Hanger

hymieThe clothes hanger at the front of this picture is not any old clothes hanger. It comes from Hymie the Tailor’s shop in 48 Lower Marsh, London, S.E. 1.

You can just about make out the slanting word Hymie on the little plastic plaque.

An identical clothes hanger, bequeathed to Jay Halprin by his great uncle, played a role in helping Jay, the protagonist in my novel Out of Such Darkness, connect with his family history:

Jay takes the jacket down and, with all the exaggerated stealth of a cartoon burglar, leaves the bedroom and tip-toes across the landing to the bathroom. He closes the door, flicks on the light switch and squats on the toilet.

He removes the jacket from its clothes hanger and absent-mindedly drapes it over the side of the bath. Now he’s holding the clothes hanger by its metal hook and he caresses its shoulder as if it’s an artefact plundered from a museum. He imagines Great-Uncle Hymie himself describing it.

‘Look at the hook in your left hand, Jacob. See the gauge of that steel wire? It’s over-engineering, but such quality. This hook is never going to straighten out. No matter if it’s carrying an extra-outsize, double-lined astrakhan coat with mink collar. And the bobble on the end, Jacob. That’s it. Pass your thumb across it. Even a mistress’s tender skin would not take a scratch from such smooth.’

Jay runs his palm down the flank of the arm. ‘Slick as a rabbi’s blessing, Jacob. Only a dense-grain wood could take such sanding. No suit lining, not even my finest silk, could pick a snag from such a finish. Notice how I have designed an angle to the arms. This way the jacket drapes just perfect. A customer could only be impressed with a jacket on such a clothes hanger.’

Tears cascade from Jay’s chin onto his shorts as he hugs the hanger to his chest. The chamber echoes with his low moan. Great-Uncle Hymie’s voice fades, ‘Thank you for keeping my clothes hanger, Jacob. A blessing upon you for this.’

The faux-ivory plate pinned across the join where the two angled arms come together captures Jay’s attention. There’s an old-style telephone number, Waterloo 5561, and then the word ‘Hymie’ in slanted, black script across the centre. To the right of this in red are the words, ‘The Tailor’ and an address, like the telephone number in smaller, black font, ‘48 Lower Marsh, London, S.E. 1’. Jay traces the indented characters with his fingertip.

Great-Uncle Hymie’s clothes hanger will never again be the silly joke of a dying old man. Jay places it reverently on the windowsill. He will find a proper place for it in the morning.

An extract from Out of Such Darkness (Patrician Press 2015).

 

25

11 2016