None of the Cadillacs was Pink by William Bedford

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None of the Cadillacs was Pink by William Bedford

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Category: Short Stories
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Trish Simpson-Davis
Reviewed by Trish Simpson-Davis
Summary: Stories from a Humberside fishing town; the biographical title tale details living next door to an American air base in the Cold War. I enjoyed these tales of growing up in the nineteen fifties, especially the wealth of authentic material. A perfect evocation of the east coast of England in the nineteen fifties - wonderful stuff.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 192 Date: October 2009
Publisher: Solidus
ISBN: 978-1904529446

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I chose this book because of its superb title – the last and best memoir in a collection of sixteen stories. These Humberside and Lincolnshire stories have a background beat of Fifties' music that sets them firmly in an exciting, disturbing time for young people everywhere, not least for the author and his friends, as old ways of living made way for new along the East Coast of England.

It seems to me that there are two types of fiction, one observed from life and the other imagined from life. This is the former: a blurred slice set between reality and fiction. I like that approach. It stands the test of time as authentication of the past, of a way of life that's now disappeared. The fish are all but extinct and yachts in marinas have taken the place of fishing fleets. Holiday makers have flown away to Ibiza and Tenerife and relics of the English sea-side holiday barely survive. Only these first-hand accounts tell us how it was.

It's easy to don rose-tinted spectacles, and forget the reality, a hard life of survival and endurance for the fishing communities, until you read something as uncompromisingly grounded as this. William Bedford writes about the everyday sound of the sea washing through the lives of people, the gritty sand permeating their lives on the margins of the sea. For them, fairground rides, slot machines and shows on the Pier aren't traditional seaside amusements but a chance to scrape a living outside the fishing industry, since the fish docks are the otherwise inevitable destination for all those people who live within sight of the sea.

Two themes dominate life in Grimsby, and Bedford's writing . Survival is often a matter of endurance. Characters are left hanging in mid-air at the ends of stories, like Judith, whose child has died, or Walter Parnham, who waits uncomplainingly for death. Couples like Sarah and Malcolm may marry in haste, but repent in unremitting hard labour: there are no get-out clauses. There are so many different characters in these stories, but they share an ability to endure. Grown-ups in those days seemed conditioned to a hard life: they expected little else.

The second theme is that life goes on, with or without you. The widow who screams and pulls the arm of her son when he signs on for a fishing boat has to carry on when he's gone, anyway. The young Willliam loses his first love to a posh boarding school, only to be told she'll probably write to him. When the East Coast floods in 1953, workers at the fairground dance as they start repair work so the amusements can open with the season. William watches a dead man plopping out of the tree in which he wedged himself for safety. There is no response from the phlegmatic group of rescuers.

This is the first eye witness account I've encountered of the 1953 floods. As I read: …the beachcombers were working along the shore …There must have been several hundred people out in the cold sunlight, scrabbling among cookers and ruined furniture, mattresses and children's toys, sodden clothes and battered tins of food… I was struck again by the power that evocative details have to score a place in the reader's memory.

Later on, the Bedford family moved to a Police house in Lincolnshire with an American air force base across the road. In consequence, we hear a fair bit of detail about the Cuban Missile Crisis and American military life in the title story. It's a strange contrast to battery hens and country yokels. At times William Bedford lapses into explanation, where his well-observed descriptions tell all we need to know about how it was.

Song titles and blaring music define the stories. Rock 'n' Roll provided a new language, a wake-up call to the first generation of teenagers. Of all the rock 'n' rollers, Elvis, a storm himself, obliterated the saccharin songs of the older generation from singers like the Beverley Sisters, Perry Como, Doris Day and Alma Cogan. Here again, the author's encyclopaedic knowledge of the period is a convincing backdrop to the small-town action.

As a children's writer, William Bedford uses enviably clear writing, and I feel that's a great strength. These stories aren't 'edgy' in the modern tradition, and that may deter some readers. But I enjoyed reading all the stories and I imagine some of them would go down well with teenage students today.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

For more about the east coast (albeit further north) fishing industry at about the same time we can recommend Hellfire and Herring by Christopher Rush. If None of the Cadillacs was Pink appeals to you then we think that you might also enjoy The Complete Novellas by Agnes Owens.

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Buy None of the Cadillacs was Pink by William Bedford at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy None of the Cadillacs was Pink by William Bedford at


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