Smorgasbord Blog Magazine – Open House Sunday Interview with author Frank Parker


Welcome to the Open House Sunday Interview, and my guest this week is author Frank Parker. Frank will be sharing something of his childhood, special guest for dinner, a delicious sounding lamb roast and some delightful music from Jazz singer Clare Teal.

About Frank Parker

I’m Frank Parker and I am a writer. I didn’t used to be. Like many people I always wanted to be. On several occasions during my career as an Engineer I produced stories that I submitted to publishers. I even had a writing job once. It involved talking to small and medium sized businesses and writing up profiles for a regional business magazine. To make any money you had to sell advertising to accompany the articles. Selling is not a skill that comes naturally to me so that job did not last long.

I returned to Engineering, working on chemical plants, refineries and power stations throughout the North and Midlands of England. In 1997 I joined a defence contractor as a project administrator, a job that saw me through until retirement in the autumn of 2006. I came to live in the Irish Midlands so as to be near my son and his family. And, now at last, I have the freedom to write.

Novels

So far I’ve self-published 4 novels and two collections of short stories. You can find out more about them here. My stories have also appeared in anthologies published independently in County Laois.

Politics

I have also pursued a lifelong interest in politics. Between 1985 and 1991 I served as a councilor in North East Lincolnshire. So you should not be surprised to find posts on my blog commenting on current affairs from a broadly Liberal point of view. The environment and the damage we are doing to it, from agri-chemicals and air and water pollution to climate change, has always been a matter of concern to me. As a councilor I argued the case for the local authority to purchase timber products only from sustainable sources.

History

Since 2013 I have been studying Irish history in an attempt to gain a fuller understanding of the turbulent relationship between that country and its near neighbour. It began when I discovered that among the leaders of the Norman invasion of Ireland in the 12th century were a number of individuals with a prior connection to the county in which I was born and grew up, Herefordshire. That discovery lies behind my historical novel Strongbow’s Wife which describes the invasion and its aftermath from the point of the view of the woman who married one of the most powerful of those leaders. You will find articles about some of the people and places involved by clicking the Hereford and Ireland History tab above.

For the past year I have been researching the background to the period in Irish history usually referred to as The Great Irish Famine. This work was prompted by a friend and together we hope to produce a book on the subject.

We will find out more about Frank’s books after he has been in the hot seat and answered his chosen questions.

Welcome to the open house Frank and can you tell us where were you born and something about  your childhood memories.

I was born in Hereford. My parents were Londoners; Dad was serving with the RAF and Mum worked in Air Raid Precautions as well as being a tailor working for Simpsons of Picadily in their Stoke Newington factory. In the summer of 1941 she was expecting me so she and her widowed Mum were evacuated. She chose Herefordshire because a decade before she had holidayed there. After a year of living in various shared houses, in the spring of 1942 they found a stone built cottage to let high in the hills above the Golden Valley in the west of the county. It was to become our home for the next 14 years.

A stream ran behind the cottage with a couple of steep waterfalls in a deep ravine. Five small meadows and an orchard surrounded it. The owner used these to graze cattle through the autumn and into spring – in bad weather the animals were housed in a stone built block, the gable end of which faced the cottage across a cobbled yard. In late spring the cattle would be taken to market and the grass left to grow to be harvested for hay in July. This was a traditional rich mixture of grass and wild flowers and provided the winter feed for the cattle. It was stored in a ‘Dutch Barn’ – a steel structure with a curved corrugated steel roof – beyond the cattle sheds.

For me, growing up this set up appeared idyllic. Dad was killed in action shortly after my second birthday and, two and a half years later, Mum gave birth to a baby girl. I suspect that her arrival was one of several factors that stymied Mum’s chances of returning to London after the war. But for me and my sister, having the run of five acres of meadows, a stream and the gable end of the cattle shed to bounce balls from, was close to paradise. The cottage and its surroundings are the setting for my novel Summer Day.

I came to realise much too late that for my mother it was a lonely and isolated existence, especially after her mother died in February 1948.

In 1952, having passed the 11+ examination, I was sent away to a boarding school in Surrey. By the time I completed my education six years later, Mum had taken up with a local man, had two more daughters and set up home in an old house they bought in the village. A lot of hard work went into modernising and adapting that house and I was a, sometimes reluctant, labourer on many DIY projects whilst working as an apprentice in an Engineering business in Hereford.

Both the cottage and the house had large gardens where we grew most of our own fruit and vegetables. As a consequence I acquired a life long love of gardening.

Which author would you have to dinner, why and what questions would you ask them?

I would love to have the late Herbert George Wells as a dinner guest. I had already read several of his science fiction works by the time The History of Mr Polly was chosen as one of the set books for the Cambridge GCE ‘O’ level English Literature examination in 1958. I loved that book and could readily identify with the young man and his life as an apprentice to a trade he had no interest in, his loveless marriage and his escape to a very different life which, nevertheless, does not fully live up to his expectations.

But Wells was much more than a novelist; he was a Socialist and advocate of social reform and the creation of a progressive world government, all ideas that I have espoused myself.

I would love to know what he makes of the real social, political and technological advances of the seven decades since his death. What, for example, does he make of the United Nations as a forum for addressing the world’s problems? How would he rate various United States presidents or British prime ministers? How would he view recent incarnations of the British Labour Party: Tony Blair’s ‘New Labour’ or Jeremy Corbyn’s attachment to left of centre policies?

Would he be disappointed by the failure to close the gap between rich and poor, exhilarated by the advent of ‘smart’ technology and instant international communication, dismayed by the continuing ignorance of large sectors of the population?

In truth it would take many more than one dinner engagement to explore the mind of this great man of letters, a true polymath who thought deeply about science, politics, economics and philosophy, and wrote prolifically about them all.

What kind of music do you listen to and who are your favourite musicians?

I do not have a record collection. I listen to whatever happens to be on the radio – and mostly that means my local commercial radio station here in the Irish Midlands and an elelctic mixture of old and new popular music. I love live music, too, and I don’t mind if the artiste is a well established celebrity performer, a young person just starting out, or an established amateur performer. My taste ranges across all the genres that have been popular at various times during the last 60 years: folk, rock, blues, country, soul . . . It also embraces all of the many singer/song writers who have found fame and fortune over the same period.

But my first and continuing love is for jazz. The first live concert I ever attended was in the summer of 1957 at what was then the Gaumont State Theatre in Kilburn. The concert party was a group styled ‘Jazz at the Philharmonic’ and featured Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton and Oscar Peterson, among others. Ella Fiztgerald topped the bill and took about a dozen curtain calls. This was at the start of Fitzgerald’s move away from Be-Bop into swing and the standards of the Great American Songbook. The first of a series of albums she produced with Norman Granz (who also manged the JATP tours) at his Verve records, this one featuring the songs of Cole Porter, was released the previous year.

As for a favourite piece of music – I guess anything from that era would do or you could play something by one of the greatest modern re-interpreters of the music, Clare Teal. I first saw her perform at a small venue in East Yorkshire about 15 years ago – around the time she was ‘discovered’ by Michael Parkinson, whose Sunday evening radio show she eventually took over. Here is Clare Teal with ‘Chasing Cars’ live at the Lichfield Festival in 2014. You can find her music: Clare Teal Amazon

If you cook do you have a signature dish that everyone loves to eat? Can we have the recipe?

I love to cook. I do most of the cooking in our house; not, however, the baking. Cakes and pastries are Mrs P’s department and she excels. I like cooking spicy casseroles and Indian style dishes. Here’s my recipe for a spicy lamb roast.

  • Take a small to medium sized joint of lamb, leg or shoulder will do.
  • Make a spice mix – use your own favourites and vary the quantity to suit your taste and that of your guests. I use cumin and coriander for the base, preferably whole seeds, a tea spoon of each, heated gently in a frying pan to bring out the aromas, then crushed in a pestle and mortar along with 3 or 4 cloves and a piece of cinnamon. Add oil – I use rape seed oil, but olive oil is good too – to make a paste.
  • Pierce the surface of the joint in several places and push in slivers of garlic and rosemary leaves then massage the paste into the surface and leave to stand for about an hour.
  • Meanwhile peel and chop a couple of medium onions – again, the quantity can be varied to suit your taste – peel and grate a two inch piece of ginger and chop a small red or green chilly. Once again adjust this or leave out altogether if you don’t like too much heat.
  • Sweat the onion with a little oil for ten minutes in the base of a large pan, add the ginger and chopped chilly. Now place the marinaded joint into the pan and cover with stock. Bring to the boil and simmer for about two hours until the meat is starting to fall off the joint. Lift the joint and cover with foil whilst you strain and thicken the pan liquor to make a sauce.
  • Slice the joint and serve with mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables.

Tell us about your work in progress.

My current work in progress is a historical novel based on the two and a half years that Captain (later Sir) Arthur Kennedy spent as Poor Law Inspector in the town and district of Kilrush in County Clare during the famine.He came to despise the actions of some of the land owners in the area who were evicting large numbers of their tenants, thereby increasing their dependence upon the relief provided by the poor law, whilst at the same time controlling the amount of money available for relief, by their refusal to pay sufficient taxes.

Books by Frank Parker

The latest book by Frank Parker released on November 17th 2017.

About the book

A layman’s guide to the worst man made disaster to afflict Great Britain, it’s causes and lessons for the future.

Whilst the British elites were celebrating the achievements of Empire, a million people died from lack of food and housing elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
Is it possible for humanity to achieve the Liberal ideal of the greatest good for the greatest number or are Malthus’s predictions about the relationship between population and food production about to come true?

A recent review for the book

This is a deeply researched and well-written book. I was expecting it to focus almost entirely on the famine years. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it covers much broader topics which help to put the famine into historical, political, social, economic and religious perspective. Indeed, a full eight chapters are devoted to “setting the scene”. There’s even a fascinating chapter on nutrition and mental development.

The actual famine is broken down into four chapters as the crisis begins, develops, peaks and then wanes. At the end is an interesting summary giving the author’s personal view on the disaster, and on the continuing presence of famine in the world today.

A Purgatory of Misery is worthy of attention for anyone interested in European history. It gives a broad sweep of history, from way before the famine up to and then beyond those famine years. And it presents what seems to me to be a well-balanced account that does not take sides or inappropriately point the finger of blame.

A full review including an interview with the author is on thebookowl.com

Read the reviews and buy the books:  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Frank-Parker/e/B0076JVE5I

And Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Frank-Parker/e/B0076JVE5I

Read more reviews and follow Frank on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7834486.Frank_Parker

Connect to Frank

Blog/website: https://franklparker.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HerefordAndIrelandHistory/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/fparkerswords

My thanks to Frank for sharing his memories and music with us and I know he would love to receive your feedback. Thank you for dropping by.. Sally

Smorgasbord Christmas Posts from Your Archives – You’re Fired: A Christmas Fable by Frank Parker


A welcome pack to Frank Parker who entertained us recently with posts from his historical archives.. now a post with a festive flavour or perhaps more of a enjoy this Christmas because it might be the last for a while!!!!

You’re Fired: A Christmas Fable by Frank Parker

A young man goes to his uncle’s office. They are both partners in the family business. The young man wears his hair and beard long. He has piercing blue eyes. Above them is an irregular line of marks, puckered like scar tissue, lighter than the generally swarthy appearance of his skin. The older man also has long hair and beard but, where the younger man’s are dark, his are pure white. His cheeks, visible above the white hair of the beard, are rosy and his eyes are crinkled in the appearance of a permanent smile. He is working at a computer screen, going through long lists of requisitions, placing orders.

“The Old Man wants to see us.”

“Did he say why?”

“No, but I don’t think it’s to talk about the Christmas bonus. He was going through the record books and I got the distinct impression he was not too impressed.”

The uncle sighs, “He knows how much I hate being interrupted when I am in the middle of the Christmas rush. It doesn’t get any easier you know. The number of children and the volume of stuff they demand makes it harder every year. If it wasn’t for Amazon I don’t know how we’d manage.”

The man the young one had referred to as “The Old Man” is strikingly similar in appearance to the uncle. He is pacing up and down behind a large desk.

“Nicholas; thank you for coming. I know how busy you are at this time of year.” Before the uncle can respond the Old Man holds up his hand. “Just hear me out. I’ve made a decision. It’s going to make your life a lot easier from now on.” He stops his pacing and grasps the back of the ornate chair behind the desk. “We may as well sit down,” he says as he pulls it out.

Seeing the young man hesitate he says: “You too my boy. Whether you like it or not, you are in this as well. Your message doesn’t seem to be getting through any more and we need to work out what we are going to do about that. But first there’s this Christmas business. It was supposed to be a celebration of your birth. But thanks to your bumbling, Nicholas, it has gone horribly wrong. What happened? How did a tradition that was meant to be about ensuring the poor got their share of the harvest end up as a colossal orgy of self indulgence? If I didn’t know better, Nicholas, I would accuse you of working for the other lot.”

Nicholas splutters and the Old Man raises his hand again. “I’m not saying you are in the pay of the rival firm, although I do have serious doubts about that crowd Amazon you’ve given the sub-contract to. But whatever is going on, be it naivete on your part or something else, you are obviously not on top of the job anymore and you have to admit he is winning.”

“I know, I know.” Nicholas is evidently chastened by the Old Man’s criticism. “I was just saying to the boy here how the demands of this latest crop of children have become harder and harder to satisfy.”

“Exactly. And it has to stop.”

There is a stunned silence in the room. Eventually Nicholas speaks in a quiet voice that is full of sadness. “You know, I can remember,” he pauses, turning to the young man as he adds: “and this is something you will appreciate from your days as a carpenter. I remember how fathers would make things for their children. Doll’s houses, rocking horses, simple models of grown up things like wheel-barrows, locomotives or motor cars. The cleverer ones would fashion toy animals. Mothers knitted and sewed making dolls for the girls and fair-isle pullovers for their husbands and sons. And they made cakes, pies and puddings involving the whole family in the mixing. The whole season was a great occasion.

In those days I got so much pleasure from our work. Collecting all those lovingly crafted objects brought joy and wonder to my heart and, I am certain, to the children for whom they were intended.”

The Old Man looks at his son who has been fidgeting uncomfortably as Nicholas was speaking, finally pressing his hands between his knees to keep them still, ringlets of the long hair hanging in front of his face. “See what I mean? Your message. Just not getting through, is it?”

The young man raises his head, flicks his hair back, brushes a tear from his cheek.

“Evidently not. But what can we do?”

The Old Man grasps the edge of the desk with both hands and leans forward. “There is only one solution as I see it. Nicholas, you are looking very tired these days, jaded. I think you should take some time off. I am cancelling Christmas.”

Nicholas and his nephew emit horrified gasps and the Old Man lets go of the desk and leans back in his chair. “Think about it,” he continues. “It will give you a break, a few years sabbatical if you like, a chance to take a well earned rest. The boy and I will spend the next while sorting things out, getting the business back on track. Then, in a century or so, we can think about bringing you back on board, helping people celebrate Christmas as it was meant to be.”

He leans forward extending his right arm its forefinger pointing directly at the young man’s uncle. “Meanwhile Nicholas,” he says, “You’re fired!”

©Frank Parker 2016

Well that gave us all something to think about didn’t it?. And as I tripped over tins of Quality Street, Celebrations and Heroes in the supermarket yesterday.. three for a tenner (normal price the rest of the year a tenner each) destined to give everyone a sugar rush for the next week… I thought perhaps even if we are not religious we might look at the spirit of Christmas differently. Thank you Frank.

About Frank Parker

I’m Frank Parker and I am a writer. I didn’t used to be. Like many people I always wanted to be. On several occasions during my career as an Engineer I produced stories that I submitted to publishers. I even had a writing job once. It involved talking to small and medium sized businesses and writing up profiles for a regional business magazine. To make any money you had to sell advertising to accompany the articles. Selling is not a skill that comes naturally to me so that job did not last long.

I returned to Engineering, working on chemical plants, refineries and power stations throughout the North and Midlands of England. In 1997 I joined a defence contractor as a project administrator, a job that saw me through until retirement in the autumn of 2006. I came to live in the Irish Midlands so as to be near my son and his family. And, now at last, I have the freedom to write.

Novels
So far I’ve self-published 4 novels and two collections of short stories. You can find out more about them here. My stories have also appeared in anthologies published independently in County Laois.

Politics

I have also pursued a lifelong interest in politics. Between 1985 and 1991 I served as a councilor in North East Lincolnshire. So you should not be surprised to find posts on my blog commenting on current affairs from a broadly Liberal point of view. The environment and the damage we are doing to it, from agri-chemicals and air and water pollution to climate change, has always been a matter of concern to me. As a councilor I argued the case for the local authority to purchase timber products only from sustainable sources.

History

Since 2013 I have been studying Irish history in an attempt to gain a fuller understanding of the turbulent relationship between that country and its near neighbour. It began when I discovered that among the leaders of the Norman invasion of Ireland in the 12th century were a number of individuals with a prior connection to the county in which I was born and grew up, Herefordshire. That discovery lies behind my historical novel Strongbow’s Wife which describes the invasion and its aftermath from the point of the view of the woman who married one of the most powerful of those leaders. You will find articles about some of the people and places involved by clicking the Hereford and Ireland History tab above.

For the past year I have been researching the background to the period in Irish history usually referred to as The Great Irish Famine. This work was prompted by a friend and together we hope to produce a book on the subject.

Books by Frank Parker

The latest book by Frank Parker released on November 17th 2017.

About the book

A layman’s guide to the worst man made disaster to afflict Great Britain, it’s causes and lessons for the future.

Whilst the British elites were celebrating the achievements of Empire, a million people died from lack of food and housing elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
Is it possible for humanity to achieve the Liberal ideal of the greatest good for the greatest number or are Malthus’s predictions about the relationship between population and food production about to come true?

A recent review for the book

Joseph Willson Our history is not always pretty.2 December 2017

I have always wondered about the story behind the cause and effect of the Irish potato famine. Never have I really come across anything at any time that could hold a candle to this in-depth chronology. The way that both government and church played a part in this ‘atrocity’ if one looks closely enough at the events. It begs the question, “Have we as a people truly learned anything from this considering the current state of the world?” Are there still not the exact same things happening all over the world if one just alters the context a little? Makes you wonder.

A well written and well researched work well worth the look for anyone interested in what I shall refer to as social injustices. Our history is not always pretty.

Read the reviews and buy the books:  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Frank-Parker/e/B0076JVE5I

And Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Frank-Parker/e/B0076JVE5I

Read more reviews and follow Frank on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7834486.Frank_Parker

Connect to Frank

Blog/website: https://franklparker.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HerefordAndIrelandHistory/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/fparkerswords

Thank you for dropping into today and  Frank will be introducing us to more posts on the subject of Irish History in the New Year..