18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Emma Smith, born Elspeth Hallsmith in 1923, is a novelist of both adult and children's fiction, and in this engaging memoir 'As Green As Grass' she shares with the reader details of her life beginning as a schoolgirl in the mid 1930s, up until her marriage in 1951.
Divided into three sections, the first part of the book begins with the Hallsmith family's removal from Emma's much-loved seaside home in Newquay, to Crapstone, in Plymouth, a village on the edge of Dartmoor, when her father is transferred by the bank which employs him. Emma's father, a war hero from the Great War, is a difficult and bitter man, whose ambition to become an artist was thwarted by the outbreak of war and whose mood swings and unpredictable behaviour worsen over the years, making life very difficult for the whole family, but particularly for Emma's long-suffering mother. Eventually Emma's father has a total breakdown, tries to strangle his wife and after the verdict of two doctors: "Daddy, they agreed, has completely gone off his head, and he must therefore be put into a lunatic asylum." Emma, expecting her mother to collapse with the shock of her husband's breakdown, is surprised by her mother's transformation now that she is no longer held back by her bullish husband: "In twenty four hours she has reverted miraculously to the person who once, during that far-off period of the Great War, was not just able to drive an ambulance, but was Commandant, no less, of King Edward's Convalescent Hospital for wounded soldiers..."
The second part of the book takes us into the years of the Second World War, where Emma starts secretarial training at Queen's Secretarial College in Clarence Lodge, and by 1942, at the age of eighteen, Emma is a qualified secretary, living in Oxford and working at Blenheim Palace for MI5. However, secretarial work is not exciting enough for Emma and, feeling that she should do something more to contribute to the war effort, she applies for a job on the canals where she ferries vital cargoes for the Grand Union Canal Carrying Company. Working on the canal boats, Emma meets other young women from a variety of different backgrounds and although the work is physically exhausting, Emma's life is transformed. After the war, in part three of the book, Emma's life changes again as she works for a documentary film maker, travels to India to make a documentary film with Laurie Lee, lives in bohemian Chelsea, falls in love and out of love, spends time in Paris where she tries to mend a broken heart writing a novel, and is photographed by the legendary photographer, Robert Doisneau.
This is a very engaging memoir, told with enthusiasm, energy and honesty and, as it is written in the present tense, the reader almost feels as if they are experiencing Emma's life alongside her. Warm, evocative, friendly and very readable, this entertainingly told story (with its very poignant Afterword) is one to keep on the bookshelf to enjoy again and also one to share with family and friends.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 19 December 2013
Totally riveting throughout. We owe a lot to this woman, who spent 3 years during WW2 ferrying coal on canal boats to keep the industry going in England. A very arduous task for a young woman. She, and 2 other young women , who changed from time to time, worked in all weathers, and in grim conditions, at a task which had not been done by women before, but now when men were in the forces, they stepped in. Always with a sense of humour, she describes a long and eventful life acutely observed, and with great modesty.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 27 August 2013
A very interesting read, but the author needs a new proof reader. Spelling mistakes, misuse of words e.g. access instead of excess, make the reader irritated. Also the vocabulary comes over as slightly dated. However, the references to events and personalities during the period covered are handled with a light touch, and the curious lives led in the pre through to post war years are fascinating.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 8 November 2013
I chose this as my poor mother passed away this summer and as I was going through her address book to invite her old friends to the funeral, I saw a group of friends under the heading 'The Bargees' as I started to contact the ladies it became clear that they were all part of a girls school group calling themselves by this name as their favourite teacher was a barge woman during the war who helped to take scrap metal to Wales on the canal barges then return with barges loaded with coal. All to help the war effort! I heard the author interviewed on Woman's hour and then saw an article in the press about her story. It was a moving account and a most enjoyable read.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 3 September 2013
Emma Smith writes about her life between the ages of 12 and 28, beginning with her family moving from Cornwall to to the village of Crapstone, on the fringes of Dartmoor. The present tense can be occasionally misleading, but it lends itself to the exhuberant tone of the fresh discovery of youthful pursuits. Her father's gloomy presence, descent into madness, and eventual absence from the family home, gives way to a freer period for the whole family, an open house, keen study and romantic beginnings. Growing up in an English village before the war is vividly brought to life.
By the time Emma is 18 she is working at Blenheim Palace as an M15 secretary. But she yearns for a more productive contribution to the war effort, and this she achieves in working enthusiastically and jolly hard on the Grand Union Canal. This work and the people she comes across are all vividly recollected, with a sense of high adventure.
After the war she becomes involved in the cultural scene of Chelsea, with Laurie Lee as part of her group. There are trips to India, a summer at Valmondois (and Jean-Pierre...), spells of writing in Paris and her first literary successes. Family and friendships are warmly and crisply described. I enjoyed it all very much.