I was attracted to 'Chalk Pits and Cherry Stones' because it is a memoir about life in Kent stretching back to the 1940’s. I didn’t live in Kent as a child but I’m always interested to read about its recent history. Jean Hendy-Harris tells the story of growing up in North Kent in the 1940’s and ‘50s and she remembers so much more about her childhood than I do about mine. The residents of Northfleet and Gravesend were deeply involved in the events of wartime as recipients of bombs aimed at the London docks as well as local harbours, airfields and factories. She talks of taking refuge many nights in Andersen shelters and abandoned chalk pits. It was a much more rural area than it is now of course and her family was deeply involved in the annual rituals of hopping and fruit picking. She suffered the shock of a strange father returning from the war when she was already six years old and accustomed to life without him. I found this a gripping story of the survival of poverty, not just lack of money but lack of aspiration. Why would girls need education at all when they could be bringing in an income? Working as a typist in an office was a step up to be fought for against family opposition because fieldwork was more familiar and available on the doorstep. Jean talks of creating her own imaginary family that had all the possessions and attributes that hers didn’t have – the beginnings of the creative process. Her writing style is very engaging and I found the story well worth reading even if you don’t live in Kent.

Comment