How to entertain two nieces on the Sunday of a Bank Holiday Weekend

Your mission – should you choose to accept it – is to divert and amuse two little girls on a day out in London.

Very well; we accept the challenge.

Subject One: Secret Agent Code November, aged 10. Strengths: sophisticated, gourmand, snappy dresser. Weakness: aversion to exercise.

Subject Two: Special Agent Code Sierra, aged 9. Strengths: analytical, fearless, optimistic. Weakness: prone to get over-tired.

Mission One – morning at the Science Museum.

Rendezvous 10.45am, single yellow lines by Royal Albert Hall. Met with Agents’ female parent, M. Arrival Science Museum, 10.55am. Reconnoitre toilets. Estimated time at Science Museum: 1hr 30mins; aim: to see it all.

Science Museum - FlightFailed on aim completely, as 2 hrs 5 mins later we had still only visited level 3. But it’s an amazing place. Firstly we saw the “Flight” area, which has examples of old aircraft, a cut-through segment of a jumbo jet, a cockpit of an old plane, simulation of Air Traffic Control and much more. Even if you’re not overly interested in aeroplanes it’s still very interesting and kept us all amused and astounded.

Then we went on to “In Future” and had to grapple with difficult subjects like should men be allowed to have babies, and should cars be able to drive themselves. Your answers get fed into a big database and you can see how many people have answered yes or no to a number of modern dilemmas. Fun and interactive, but it didn’t take up too much of our time.

Next was Health Matters, a subject of considerable interest to Special Agent Code Sierra who recently announced she was going to become a “Baby Doctor”. This display area was full of interesting facts about the growth and development of antibiotics, vaccinations and even the contraceptive pill. Didn’t take too long, but very absorbing.

Heat Seeking CameraFinally we ended up in Launchpad, a highly interactive area full of experiments and displays, with which everyone is positively encouraged to play. Mrs Chrisparkle and I peered at each other through two telescopes separated by a brick wall. How did that work? “Have you realised how it works yet?” asked a charming young lady dressed in a red t-shirt with the word “Explainer” on it. “Is it a question of hidden lenses?” asked Mrs C tentatively. “Yes, that’s right” beamed the explainer. “I thought it was Paul Daniels’ magic” I offered lamely. She smiled politely as she is paid to.

Actually the explainers are great. There are loads of them and they are tireless in taking the kids through the experiments and encouraging them to understand the basics of science that the displays reveal. Plastic bottles full of water zooming around the room; electrical circuits being connected and dismantled; positioning building blocks so you could construct a bridge solid enough to walk over; we did all these and more and it was a real wrench to cut short our visit as we had run out of time. Highly recommended, and the Agents made M promise that they would return to the Science Museum another day.

Mission Two – afternoon Thames Rib Experience river speed ride.

London EyeRendezvous: meant to be on easy parking near Embankment Pier in good time for 1.45 pm check in and decking out in fleeces and sou’westers; in effect we couldn’t find any parking until 1.35pm almost a mile away, so we had to walk ultra-fast and indeed run to get there on time. I ran ahead to make sure they didn’t go without us. Got there about five minutes behind schedule and panted “Thames Rib experience, five people, late, gasp, pant” and I was shown where to check in. The lady there didn’t seem too concerned. Anyway I was panting like a dog in a hot car for at least the next 40 minutes. Thought I was fitter than that, dammit.

Thames Rib ExperienceThe good news is we all got on board. The boats take a maximum of twelve passengers and there were eleven of us on ours. The guide tells you about the notable things you see between the Houses of Parliament and The Thames Flood Barrier, which is where you turn around and come back. The difference from your ordinary boat trip is that once you get past Tower Bridge, they open up the speed and it becomes a really exciting fast dash across the waves with some exhilarating tossing and turning, like a scene out of The Persuaders or The Saint, showing my age. I know for a fact I had a fixed smile on my lips the entire 80 minutes, as did Mrs C, M and Secret Agent Code N. Special Agent Code S spent most of the time with her eyes shut. Additional amusement is provided by the guide’s patter which is chock full of jokes, some really funny; and sometimes you pierce the waves to appropriate musical accompaniment, I’ll say no more.

Thames BarrierUnfortunately one of the other passengers wasn’t up for the speed and complained he couldn’t breathe properly so our return journey was a little more stately than we had hoped. Not a lot you can do about that – and it’s of course right that they put their clients’ health and safety first. Wuss -ruining it for the rest of us! The Thames Rib Experience is something I would definitely recommend, and we will certainly go again, maybe even quite soon. It hadn’t occurred to me how little of the river-scape east of Tower Bridge I knew. Greenwich, O2, Thames Barrier, Canary Wharf – all new to me, and the views are astonishing.

Mission Three – picnic in Trafalgar Square.

Couldn’t park anywhere near Trafalgar Square, so we went on to Westminster and found some quite easy parking and picnicked instead in the park adjacent to the Houses of Parliament watched over by the good Burghers of Calais. Another superb river view; late afternoon sunshine; cheese and ham rolls; crisps and cakes. Code November and Code Sierra both voted it a successful day out. Transferred responsibility of young charges over to M, got in the car, drove home, and slept. Woke up just in time to go out for some pub grub. Great day out!

The trials and tribulations of a Coeliac, or how we spent Sunday afternoon in some anxiety and discomfort

Largely tasteless, yet strangely more-ish. If you know us personally, you will probably be aware that Mrs Chrisparkle is a Coeliac. To the uninitiated, it means she must not eat anything containing gluten. Gluten is found in wheat products, so it’s a no-no to wheat flour, ordinary bread and pasta, many thickening agents, much in the way of convenience food, and loads of common or garden meals that you wouldn’t even think of. No worries, she can eat meat, fish, vegetables, rice, cheese, pulses and lots more. It’s been about ten years since she was diagnosed, and about five years since she last accidentally ate something containing gluten. Gluten free Granola. Scrummy.That normally happens abroad, when language confusion can cause misunderstandings and a glutenous ingredient gets unfortunately scoffed. The result? Anything from mild stomach cramps to fainting and violent nausea, usually around 24 hours later.

But fortunately, people are aware of the horrors of food allergies, and chefs and waiting staff know to take it seriously. We tend to eat out a lot at pubs and restaurants, and asking the right questions and choosing sensibly off the menu means a worry-free dining experience.

Cheese Kettle Chips - fabAlas, that was until last weekend. You may have read, dear reader, about our trip to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday evening. Always an entertaining excursion, and it’s a thrill to be at the Royal Albert Hall, so we go the whole hog and enjoy a delicious meal in elegant surroundings at one of the Hall’s restaurants, pre-Prom. So it was that we went to the Elgar Room, and ordered our three course meals and wine.

Jimi HendrixIf I’m honest, although the surroundings were great, look – we even shared the table with Jimi Hendrix – the food wasn’t that special. It looked delightful and its textures were beguiling; but as far as taste was concerned, it didn’t register much. No matter; it was an enjoyable experience. For dessert I had the cheeseboard which was genuinely tasty. Mrs C had confirmed with the waiter what she could have, and it was some chocolate and orange moussey thing with honeycomb on top. Mid-dessert, she was explaining to me that it was in fact the tastiest of her three courses when she suddenly stopped and asked me if I would try a mouthful. “Is that not sponge?” was her worrying question. I tasted. “Definitely”, I said. “How on earth do they make gluten-free sponge?” she asked. Erring on the side of caution we called our waiter over again and asked him to confirm with the kitchen.

Gluten free organic pasta. It does taste different from ordinary pasta but it's still perfectly nice. A few minutes later and he returned, flustered and apologetic. Some of the dishes had changed a little recently, he explained. The chocolate and orange moussey thing never used to contain sponge, but now they’ve changed it, and now it does, and no one thought to update the record of ingredients and allergens. Massive apologies ensued, and a free dessert (the somewhat safer strawberries and cream); but it’s shocking that they took such little care with her food. It made Mrs C worry about everything else she had eaten. The cucumber soup, for example, certainly had some kind of thickening agent. Her heart sank. Would there be a reaction 24 hours later?

We were in London, let's do it, let's break the law...So the next day, we were really on guard when it came to ordering food in London. We’d stayed overnight as we were seeing another show on Sunday afternoon. It was 1pm and time for a Covent Garden lunch. We spied the welcoming looking Sussex Pub, occupying a commanding position on the corner of Long Acre and St Martin’s Lane. The tables outside looked inviting in the sunshine, and the menu looked full of nice grub. No indication on the menu as to what was gluten-free but one wouldn’t expect it, so armed with a couple of ideas for a starter and main course, I braved the food counter.

“I’d like to order some food please.”
“Certainly. What would you like?”
“Could you tell me first, are either the Nachos, or the Garlic and Lemon Chicken skewers gluten-free?”
“Ah, that’s a very hard question to answer. It is our policy not to guarantee the content of any of our meals.”
“Oh. Well can we not simply ask the chef, it’ll say on the box of nachos if it contains gluten or not?”
“We don’t guarantee what’s in our meals.”
“But can we not ask the chef though?”
“Well if you can’t say what’s in your meals, we can’t order them, can we?”
“OK” came the caring response (with a “wotever” type shrug).

At which point I upped and left, loudly saying how totally ridiculous such an attitude was, (to no one in particular.) I continued my angry remonstrations on the street, with the result that Mrs C had to quieten me down with a “shush dear it doesn’t matter”. But it does matter. Their menu specifically says to discuss any food allergens with the bar staff. Well if they won’t engage in ascertaining what allergens there might be in the food, what’s the ****ing point in that?? To be honest, I wasn’t looking for a “guarantee”, I’m not going to sue them, I just wanted an indication of the likely level of safety.

Fortunately we were able to repair to the sanity and coeliac heaven that is PJ’s Restaurant. We discovered this little gem quite a while ago. Not only do they have an excellent menu, they asterisk the items that are gluten-free.

Covent Garden“Would you like some bread?” asked the friendly Polish waitress. “Yes please” said I, tucking in. “No thank you” declined Mrs C. The waitress was straight in there. “Are you gluten-free?” “Yes!” said Mrs C. “I will get you some crackers” said the waitress. And sure enough, along came a gluten-free rice cracker. I really enjoyed my meal of salad, chicken and ice-cream, but much more pertinent was Mrs C’s experience. To start – Thai Fish Cakes, served with a lovely spicy dressing. I could tell from Mrs C’s rapturous expression that we were on to a winner. Then, Sea Bass in a Spring Roll. Spring Roll? Surely not? But yes, a gluten-free spring roll of epic proportions and of which I had a nibble and it was delicious. Finally, a Toblerone and meringue soufflé. Yes, it was as divine as it sounds. So you see, Royal Albert Hall and Sussex pub, with a little dedication and imagination, you too can provide a proper gluten-free meal.

So what of the gluten that was accidentally consumed on Saturday evening? Well, indeed, it worked its way through Mrs C’s system and by the interval of our afternoon show on Sunday, she felt nausea, giddiness, and an extremely uptight tummy. As a result she had to miss the second half of the show. Thanks, Royal Albert Hall Catering Department, for ruining our weekend. I’ve sent them an email detailing our misadventures with them. I’m yet to receive a response.

My Father’s War Record (Part Two)

Dad's medalsYesterday I posted my research and thoughts on Dad’s war years up to his leaving the HMS Howe on 11th November 1943. On 12th November 1943, Dad rejoined the Victory in Portsmouth until 14th December, when he joined the Sabre. At least I think it’s the Sabre. It’s quite poorly written, and is spelled “Saber” on the record. In fact at first I thought it was Baker, but there isn’t a Baker!

HMS Sabre According to, the Sabre was an Admiralty S-Class destroyer ordered in April 1917 from Alex Stephens at Govan, Glasgow and launched on 23rd September 1918 as the first RN ship to carry this name. After end of WW1 she was transferred after launch for completion by Fairfield shipyard in Govan. Build was completed on during 1919 and the ship commissioned for Fleet service. By 1938 she had been de-militarised for use as a target ship but brought forward for service in 1939 despite her age and unsuitability. Before Dad’s time on board, in 1940, the Sabre was one of the vessels at Dunkirk, evacuating 1500 men. For the two months Dad was with this ship (until 13th February 1944), she was part of 21st Escort Group based in Iceland, deployed for convoy defence in the central Atlantic for support of anti-submarine operations including RAF Coastal Command aircraft. Again, I think I did know that Dad was in Iceland at some point during the war. This must have been it.

From 14th February to 6th July 1944 he served on the Caroline. This seems quite an odd posting. The Caroline was launched in 1914 and survived the Battle of Jutland. From 1924 she was in Belfast as the headquarters and training ship for the Royal Naval Volunteers’ Reserve’s Ulster Division. But in the Second World War she became the Royal Navy’s Headquarters in Belfast Harbour which was used as a home base by many of the warships escorting Atlantic and Russian convoys including Captain-class frigates of the 3rd Escort Group. She served as the last afloat training establishment in the Royal Naval Reserve. Today she is listed as part of the National Historic Fleet, Core Collection, and although no longer capable of making way under her own steam, she remains afloat and in excellent condition. I wonder why he was transferred to the Caroline, and what he would have done there? It was during this time, on 10th May 1944, that he was awarded two War Service chevrons.

This is where Dad’s war history gets very fragmented. He seemed to spend very short times in all (bar one) of his remaining postings. I wonder why? There is no suggestion that he was in any way “difficult”! All through the war his character is marked as “VG”, and his Efficiency Rating is “Satisfactory” (on a scale of Superior – Satisfactory – Moderate – Inferior). From 7th July to 10th August it was back to the Victory, and then two months, (11th August to 16th October) to the Marlborough, which I think was another training establishment, this time in Eastbourne, specialising in Electrical instruction.

Then it was the Victory again (17th October to 3rd November) and then to the Pembroke. I think this was yet another shore barracks, at Chatham. This was just for a month until 2nd December, and then the Victory yet again until 28th December. Then it was the Flycatcher from 29th December to 31st January 1945. This, yet again was not actually at sea. This was the Royal Navy’s Headquarters for their Mobile Naval Air Bases which supported their Fleet Air Arm units. This was at RNAS Ludham in Norfolk.

HMS NabsfordAnd then, right at the end of the war, came his second longest ever posting, from 1st February 1945 to 23rd February 1946 to HMS Nabsford. In that February, the Royal Navy moved its Transportable Aircraft Maintenance Yard No.1, known as TAMY 1, to RAAF Station Archerfield in Brisbane, Australia, and Nabsford was the name given to the new Royal Navy base there. Dad in Australia Here (above left) is a photo of a plaque commemorating it and the British personnel who served in the Pacific theatre, which can be viewed in the old administration building along with plaques from the RAAF and the US 5th Air Force. I always knew Dad went to Australia! But I always thought it was Fremantle. Maybe they called at Fremantle on the way.Pacific Star I’m fairly sure this photo (above right) was taken in Australia, so this must have been during this time. He’s the one standing at the back. I think, from what I can remember, that Dad was pretty happy on this posting. I’m really glad for him! I’m guessing this was how he got the Pacific Star.

Dad at Nabsford This photo on the right looks very much like it was taken by an aircraft, so maybe this is also from his Nabsford days. On 9th February 1945 he was granted a Good Conduct Badge/Medal (1st class) and he also got his WSI (3) – that’s the War Service Increment, and on the same day in 1946, it was increased to WSI (4).

1939-45 Star 24th February 1946, the war now fully over, and Dad being a veteran at the age of 22, his next transfer was to the Golden Hind, just to 4th March. This sounds like this should have been some historical romance type of ship, but in fact it was based at what is now Warwick Farm racecourse in Sydney, and was a Royal Navy manning depot. I guess this may just have been a temporary relocation post before returning back to Britain, as the last posting on his record is once more to the Victory in Portsmouth from 5th March to 13th August 1946.

Africa StarIn addition to his Pacific Star and Italy Star, he also has the 1939-45 Star, which was awarded after six months training and at least one voyage made through an operational area; the Africa Star, which would have been for his service on the Howe in 1942 and 1943; and the Atlantic Star, awarded for at least six months’ service afloat during the course of the war, and with a France and Germany emblem, which was awarded if you were otherwise entitled to a France and Germany Star – uniform regulations did not allow the awarding of both. Atlantic StarThe France and Germany Star was awarded for operational service in France, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Germany from 6 June 1944 (D-Day) to 8 May 1945. The qualifying sea area is the North Sea south of a line from the Firth of Forth to Kristiansand (South), in the English Channel and in the Bay of Biscay east of longitude 6° west, provided such service was directly in support of land operations in France, Belgium, the Netherlands or Germany. And this is where it all gets very curious, because I can’t see from his war record, why he was entitled to this emblem. Maybe during his time on the Flycatcher he went out into the North Sea on some operation I don’t know about.

War Medal 1939-45As well as those stars, he also has the War Medal 1939-45 and the Defence Medal. Looking at the criteria for being awarded the Defence Medal I again can’t quite see how he was eligible, so maybe there was something additional I don’t know about. Just another secret about the war he took with him!

Defence MedalSuffice it to say I am enormously proud of him for what he experienced at such a young age and nothing will ever prise me apart from his medals, wartime photos and his war record! I really know very little about him after the war. I know he met my mother in the mid 1950s, they got married in 1958, had me in 1960 and we were a happy threesome until he unfortunately died of a brain tumour on January 1st 1972.

Please, if anyone has read my account of Dad’s war record – the ships he was on, his medals, the events he may have witnessed – and you have any further information about them, I would be very interested to hear – just leave a comment.

My Father’s War Record (Part One)

My father in the 1950sIt’s taken me ages to find Dad’s war record. I discovered it a few years ago for the first time when I was clearing out my Mum’s house, and I didn’t have the time or opportunity to look carefully at it at the time but I promised myself I would – in due course – take a long hard look at it and do some research as to what he did in the war. And then of course, I lost the record. However, a couple of days ago, I suddenly remembered that I had kept it with his war medals! So now I’ve found it again, and I’ve got the opportunity to give it the attention it deserves.

Leonard Poppe – my father – was born on 1st November 1923, which I knew, and it gives his trade as “Dairy Labourer”. Well I always thought he was brought up in the timber trade, so that’s very odd. It’s bizarre today to think there could be much work for a dairy labourer in East Ham. He volunteered to join the Royal Navy on 30th December 1941, so he would have been just 18 years and 2 months old. I remember being told that he deliberately volunteered for the Navy early, because he thought he would see less carnage than if he were called up for the Army.

Here are his “vital statistics”: Stature – 5 feet 10 inches. Chest – 34 ¼ inches. (That seems so slight in comparison to me! He endured a poor childhood – loving but no money – and that sounds a bit undernourished to me.) Hair – Brown; Eyes – Blue; Complexion – Fresh. For marks wounds and scars: “Scar forehead and left knee”. The period volunteered for is described as “Until the end of the period of the present emergency”. And his first engagement was on 9th February 1942 when he joined the “Duke”, Naval Training Establishment at Great Malvern. This went on to be the Royal Radar Establishment. He was given the rank of Stoker, 2nd Class. The training lasted till 16th March, so it was a five-week course.

HMS Howe He then went to the Victory, which was the main Royal Naval barracks in Portsmouth, from 17th March to 16th June 1942. I think this was probably for further training, in Radar work. Then it was on to HMS Howe, from 17th June 1942 to 11th November 1943, with a promotion to Stoker, 1st Class from 9th January 1943. I’m owing a lot of my information here to Mr Wikipedia, so I hope he’s right. Apparently the Howe was the last of five King George V-class battleships in the Royal Navy. I’m pleased to say the Howe apparently never saw any major ship-to-ship action, apart from one important event during his time, more of which later. She was launched on 9th April 1942, and commissioned into the Royal Navy on 29th August 1942.

More from Wikipedia: “She commenced sea trials in August 1942, but was made available for operations with the Home Fleet from November onwards. Her main duties were to provide cover for Arctic convoys and to intercept any major German warships attempting to enter the Atlantic. On 31 December, following the Battle of the Barents Sea, Howe was part of a multi-ship force that sailed to protect Convoy RA 51 and intercept, if possible, the German pocket battleship Lützow.

“In late February, Howe joined the escort screen of Convoy JW 53 to the Soviet Union, and the return Convoy RA 53. In May 1943, Howe was visited by Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Winston Churchill, then a few days later by King George VI.

“At the start of May, Howe was marked for deployment to the Mediterranean to support Allied landings. After taking on several 20 mm Oerlikon cannons, she departed from Rosyth for Gibraltar on 21 May, and arrived five days later. Howe was assigned to Force H, and operated in support of the landings at Sicily (Operation Husky) and Italy (Operation Slapstick) . After Force H was transferred to Algiers in early June, Howe was again visited by King George.

“During the landings on Sicily in July, Howe was positioned between Sicily and Sardinia to guard against any interference by the Italian fleet, and on 12 July joined HMS King George V to take part in diversionary bombardments of Trapani and the nearby islands of Favignana and Levanzo. After Husky, Howe returned to Algiers for maintenance. Whilst there, on 4 August an ammunition ship, SS Fort Le Montee caught fire and exploded, seriously damaging a nearby destroyer, HMS Arrow, and causing a substantial number of casualties. A party from Howe was sent to help in the dreadful task of gathering bodies and body parts.

“On 8 September, after the Italian surrender, Howe and King George V escorted a naval force to land the British 1st Airborne Division at the important port of Taranto on 9 September and, while en route, an Italian squadron was encountered sailing to Malta to surrender. On 14 September, Howe and King George V escorted surrendered Italian warships to Alexandria from Malta. On 1 October, Howe arrived at Algiers, and departed for Scapa Flow to resume duties with the Home Fleet. She was refitted for service in the Far East at Plymouth Dockyard between October 1943 and June 1944.”

Gosh, there’s a lot to take in here. I have a vague recollection of either Dad or Mum quoting Dad saying that he had been in the Arctic during the war, but I had no idea of what he might have been doing. To be honest, he never spoke about his war experience. I think, as a very young man, he saw an awful lot of horror and it scarred him, and he tried to spend the rest of his life blocking it out. Unlike my mother, whose ATS war was very deskbound and she loved it – it sounded rather like being in some Enid Blyton’s Girls’ Dormitory with midnight feasts and late night talks about handsome fellow officers. Mum at warThe photo on the left here shows Mum “at war”, she is the person furthest left in the picture, and this is dated 29th June 1945, so to be fair, the worst was over by now. Her worst war memories were the misery of spending Christmas sending out death notifications to families.

Italy StarAnyway, the activities of the Howe explain why Dad has the Italy Star. I never put two and two together to work out that he would have been involved with the Sicily and Italy landings.

I wonder if he was involved with the party who was sent to clear the HMS Arrow of body parts. I think he must have been, as I do know he did have at least one experience during the war where he came into contact with a lot of death and destruction and it affected him deeply. So this must have been the occasion. It’s very lame of me to comment “how awful for him” – but I can’t really think of any other way of putting it. Awful of course for the dead and bereaved too. I’m going back to Mr Wikipedia for some more information about what happened to the Arrow and the Fort Le Montee.

“Fort La Montee was in harbour at Algiers, preparing to sail for the invasion beaches on 4 August 1943. Before she could depart, a fire broke out aboard ship. Attempts were made to fight the blaze, whilst the harbour authorities, fearful of the risk of an explosion and damage to the other ships anchored there, ordered her to be towed out into deeper waters. Tugs were able to attach lines and bring her out into the bay. The British A-class destroyer HMS Arrow had been in the harbour at the time and came alongside to help with the firefighting. Efforts to control the fire were eventually unsuccessful, and it spread to the forward compartments and into the holds where the ammunition was stored. The entire forepart of the burning freighter then blew up, sending flaming debris raining down over a large distance. The Arrow was caught in the blast and she too caught fire, sustaining heavy damage and considerable casualties. She was subsequently declared a constructive total loss and never returned to service. The devastated Fort La Montee continued to burn. The aft section had to be sunk by gunfire from a Royal Navy submarine to prevent it blowing up. The remains of the forward section remained ablaze and burned for several days.”

I am absolutely sure that Dad witnessed this. I do remember descriptions from my childhood of a ship that had one half sunk whilst the other half was ablaze. I think this was the moment that scarred him. On reflection, looking back over his subsequent life, I’m sure this was his most significant life-changing experience. He would still have been only 19 years old and this was why he could never talk freely about his war.

On a lighter note, I don’t suppose a Stoker, even one promoted to 1st Class, would have met the King or Churchill, but it’s an amusing thought! I think if he had, he would have told me, as that would have been one of the brighter memories of the war.

Anyway we leave the story of the Howe here, and tomorrow I’ll post the second half of my research on Dad’s war record. If you have any other information about the ships he was posted on, or the events he may have seen, please let me know by leaving a comment, I’d be really interested to hear from you.

The meaning of the Real Chrisparkle

Thanks for the warm welcome to Blogland. Whether it’s good news or not, it has spurred me on to write more.

I doubt anyone reading this who has met me would think of me as Chrisparkle. But that was a nickname my mother had for me for as long as I can remember. Chrisparkle was the formal nickname – sometimes shortened to Sparkle – more often shortened to Sparks. If she called me Sparks I knew I was in her good books and there was nothing to fear. If she called me Christopher I knew I was in trouble.

I don’t know whether she was in a particularly literary erudite mood when she coined this nickname but it does come from the Reverend Crisparkle (note the lack of “h”) in Charles Dickens’ unfinished work “The Mystery of Edwin Drood”. Or, if you saw the musical show back in the 1980s with the late Ernie Wise, “The Mystery of Edwin Droo-oo-oo-oo-oo-ood”. He’s a goodly (not to mention Godly) soul who almost certainly didn’t do away with Edwin, although someone did. Crisparkle, that is, not Ernie Wise.

Here is a picture of the actor Martin Wimbush playing Cedric Moncrieffe playing Crisparkle (a.k.a. me) in the show in the 1980s – actually 15th May 1987 was the day I saw the show according to my ticket stub.

Reverend Crisparkle as played by Martin Wimbush

And here are all the suspects who might have killed Edwin. He is/I am Number 1.

The suspects for the murder of Edwin Drood

Now that my mother has fallen foul of the dreaded dementia, she doesn’t think of me as Sparks any more. She does think of me as Chris, which is a good thing, although she does suspect I may be her brother and not her son. Whenever I see her she does try to ascertain our relationship early on in the conversation, but sometimes she forgets during our chat. So by resurrecting Chrisparkle online, I’m bringing back something that had otherwise been lost, and I’m quite pleased about that. I also think that to sparkle or to spark is not a bad ambition.

Mum, circa 1947 Here’s a picture of Mum in more carefree days. I believe this was taken on the steps of the Madeleine church in Paris shortly after the end of the Second World War. Even though this was a long time before I was born I can certainly recognise some of the joie de vivre that survived for many years.

I’m sure she created plenty of sparks in those days with that cheekiness.