« Dream Section | Main | 91 – The Happiest Years Of My Career »

London Letter: Nude Bathing

...“You can have me if you catch me,’’ Madeleine challenged in a low voice so that no-one else could hear, and she plunged into the sea. I tried to be bold and brave and followed her but the cold water knocked the breath out of my body. Madeleine swam like a fish and I never caught up with her...

But there was a sad, sad ending to the life of the ebullient Madeleine.

Ninety-six-year-old Henry Jackson brings another intoxicating and unmatchable mixture of news and autobiography, history and poetry.

Estate agents report that house sales in London have fallen by 50% this year and prices dropped 15%. They forecast that the decline would continue until 2011 when prices would bottom out with a fall of 35%. Two large house builders announced large cuts in staff and 60,000 jobs could beat at risk in the industry.


Westminster Council is to spend £6m to put the sparkle back into London’s Theatreland. The first part of the scheme will be to put coloured lighting columns down Shaftesbury Avenue. All footpaths in the area will be widened and paved with sparkly granite in alternating white and black. It is also considering a plan that would enable pedestrians to cross Oxford Circus diagonally in an effort to make life easier for shoppers.


Jagmeel Channa, aged 25, of Ilford, Essex, an employee of HSBC Bank, Canary Wharf, was gaoled for nine years for trying to rob the bank of £72m.


More than 1,000 people collected at King’s Cross Station on Monday to commemorate the terror bombings three years ago when 52 people were killed.


A man took an overdose of sleeping tablets in Isleworth Crown Court moments after being found guilty of child cruelty and died in hospital two hours later,
the West London Coroner was told on Tuesday. The man, a native of Sri Lanka, had been sentenced originally to five years imprisonment but a retrial was ordered. He smuggled the crushed tablets into court in a handkerchief.


Two Fathers4Rights campaigners were arrested after a 14 hour rooftop protest at the home of Harrriet Harman, deputy leader of the Labour Party. It is the second time in a month that they have climbed to the roof of the house in Herne Hill, South-East London. One of the protesters was dressed as Superman and the other as Batman.


A column of 13 wind turbines are to be erected on the banks of the Thames near Tower Bridge at Chambers Wharf. They are the centrepiece of a new £200m housing scheme to provide 596 new homes on the four acre site.


HMS Shoreham, one of the Royal Navy’s latest minesweepers, has arrived on a courtesy visit to London and is moored alongside HMS President at Tower Bridge. It is one of a new six ship squadron based on the Clyde.


Old Hendon Cricket Club is celebrating 100 years of cricket on Sunday with a competition at Barnet. The club began as the Hendon Working Men’s Club and former members include Denis Compton and Bill Gatting, father of Mike Gatting, the former English captain.


A shop in St. John Street, Finsbury, has lost its licence to sell cigarettes and alcoholic drinks after Islington Council found it guilty of selling them to under-age children.


Bow Garage celebrated the 100th anniversary of its opening with a display of
historic vehicles.


A former Mecca bingo hall in Essex Road, Islington, has received planning permission to change its use into a church.


This Week in History

1930. Construction of the Hoover Dam began.
1951 Paris celebrated its 2000th anniversary.
1954. Elvis Presley made his first radio broadcast.


Famous Quotes

Do not do an immoral thing for a moral reason---Thomas Hardy

Marriage is a series of arguments people feel passionate about.
---Katherine Hepburn

When you are over the hill you pick up speed---Unknown


Poems for Posterity

by Henry Jackson

If I owned all the world
I would give it all to you wrapped in love
and affection.

If I had all the happiness in the world
I would give it all to you wrapped
in laughter and sunshine.

If I had all the friendship in the world
I would give it all to you
in little notes on perfumed notepaper.

If I had all the love in the world
I would give it all to you wrapped
in the beating of my heart and the yearning of my soul.

If I had all the beauty in the world
I would give it all to you
in the middle of the Greek Theatre in Taormina.

If I had all the music in the world
I would give it all to you
with the help of Chopin, Mozart and Beethoven.

If I had all the poetry in the world
I would give it all to you
with the help of Shakespeare, Byron and Shelley.

If I had you I would have everything.

Circa 1990


The Women in my Life---6

(Last week I told how I arrived in Sete on my wine tour of France with
Marie-Francoise and Madeleine)

The next day was the Concourse d ‘Elegance. Marie-Francoise arrived after breakfast covered in bandages but with a big smile. “I help you win first prize with your lovely Jaguar,’’ she said, and patted the bonnet with affection. Then she spent the next two hours cleaning and pottering and polishing. Madeleine arrived later and began covering her Prefect with little stars, moons and rockets.

Of course, I won the first prize not because the Jaguar was a beautiful car and well turned out but because everyone wanted to make Marie-Francoise happy. And Madeleine got the first prize for the most interesting car, not because it was, but because she was French and the judges fancied her. Champagne popped and everyone kissed everyone. Celebrations went on all afternoon and drivers who had not talked on the way across France found easy audiences to recall their experiences.

The Rally Ball was held that night when even more champagne was consumed.
I was particularly pleased because I was sitting between the two most beautiful women in the room, Marie-Francoise and Madeleine, and could feel the envious glances directed towards them.

At 11 o’clock Madeleine leaned over and whispered in my ear: “Meet me in the foyer at midnight. Bring towels—we are going bathing.’’ And she pressed my hand.

I turned up and felt slightly embarrassed because Madeleine arrived with four others, two men and two women, from the rally. Marie-Francoise was not among them. Madeleine and I walked down to the beach hand in hand and although the day had been hot there was a slight chill in the air.

Madeleine was in charge

“Undress here,’’ she called out, “and no clothes---leave everything behind, it will be quite safe”.’’

In a few seconds she had set the example and her bronze body shone in the friendly darkness. I had brought trunks but left them wrapped in a towel. The breeze felt cold. Nearly everyone else was undressing slowly and there was an awkward silence. The only one appearing to be enjoying herself was Madeleine. And I noticed how much better most people looked with their clothes on.

“Follow me!” called Madeleine and tripped down to the water. I followed six yards behind.

“You can have me if you catch me,’’ Madeleine challenged in a low voice so that no-one else could hear, and she plunged into the sea. I tried to be bold and brave and followed her but the cold water knocked the breath out of my body. Madeleine swam like a fish and I never caught up with her.

We returned a few minutes later to dry off and the only one comfortable was Madeleine. She strolled around full of chatter quite happy to show off her beautiful body.

Back in the hotel Madeleine used her influence to re-open the bar and we all drank brandy except Madeleine who was faithful to pastisse.

I went up to my room with Madeleine.

“You should try to become a better swimmer,’’ she teased as she closed her door and I returned to my room excited and frustrated. I slept through breakfast and was dozing in bed recalling the last night’s events when there was a knock on the door. It was Madeleine looking radiant and wearing a dress that confirmed her deepening tan. She walked in without hesitation.

“Come on, lazy bones,’’ she said. ”I want to show you my part of France, the canals and the fish market and the flowers.’’ She sat on the bed and when I returned from the bathroom she had made the bed and found a clean shirt and slacks for me.

“You need a good woman to look after you,’’ she said.

On my bed was a tray with coffee and croissants for two.

“Where did this come from?” I asked.

“I am a practical woman,’’ she replied with a smile. “I know that a man needs feeding.’’

“Yes, and loving---and so do women.’’

I looked across and there was a suspicion of moisture in her eyes.

There was an atmosphere of unspoken sadness as we strolled through the sunlit streets, along the canal and into a large market square dominated on one side by a large fish market and an outside restaurant. Flowers were everywhere.

“English do not understand fish,’’ she said, and without waiting for a reply added “Do what I do and you might be mistaken for French.’’

She stopped at a stall and collected a dozen oysters and a long plastic tube containing something looking like a large worm and I did the same. Then she walked a little further to a cafe with tables and chairs and waved to a waiter.

“Chablis!” she ordered. No mention of “Please”.

When it arrived she swallowed the oysters in a few seconds and drank the liquid in the shell. I tried to do the same but made a bad job of the operation that had looked so simple. Madeleine looked on and smiled.

“English are so clumsy,’’ she smiled and I knew it was true.

“Watch me!” she ordered. Then she picked up the long tube and extracted what looked like a big fat worm but which I found out later to be a baby eel and swallowed it and it wiggled its way down.

Her eyes challenged me and I had to admit defeat. I could not do it for the honour of England, to prove my courage, or for the love of a beautiful woman.

“You English have no courage,’’ she said softly.

I could not think of a suitable reply so I drank a large glass of Chablis and quickly filled it up again. And I topped up her glass, too. There was an uneasy silence but it went away when we continued our long walk round the town. Occasionally she held my hand and gave it a hard squeeze.

We stopped for a lazy lunch in a bar overlooking a canal. There was a hint of Venice in the air but instead of gondolas sturdy fishing boats splashed past.
Without waiting for me she ordered lunch.

“Perch goujon,’’ she explained. “Fresh today, cut into strips and fried. You will love it.’’

I did and we sat by the canal surrounded by flowers eating and drinking slowly and looking at the houses that had been there for centuries, the boats that had belonged to the same families for decades and at the tanned and grizzled locals who walked with the measured dignity of people who did battle every day with the sea and lived and died in the life-giving and life threatening cruel sea. We hardly spoke a word but we were in tune with the silent music in the air and understood the earth, the sea, the stars and the universe.

It was the last day of the tour and in the early evening we drove together to Marie-Francoise’s home where her mother enveloped me in a warm hug, her father kissed me on both cheeks and Marie-Francoise kissed me on the lips. Two long sturdy farm tables were laid out on the grass in front of the house and we ate and drank and talked until the moon warned us that it was time to go home.

Madeleine hardly said a word and kissed me long and hard when we parted outside her room. We had breakfast together the next morning and I left in company with Geoffrey, his wife and a distant female relative he was ferrying back to London.

I telephoned Madeleine several times soon after I returned and was invited for a week-end at her Elizabethan home on the edge of a lake near Tonbridge in Kent. A second visit followed a month later but this was the last.

A year later I married again and bought a house two miles from Madeleine’s home where I lived for 14 years. Then my marriage ended in disaster and once
again I was living alone. Out of the blue a woman decorator came to discuss changes to my house and by one of those extraordinary coincidences that can only happen in real life she told me that she was renting the gateway lodge to Madeleine’s home.

The news she gave me was sad. She told me that Madeleine had been very unhappy with long periods of deep despair and was drinking heavily. I tried to find out for myself and rang her house but did not speak to her because Madeleine did not hear my words, slurred her own words and could not carry on a conversation. A little later I tried once more but again failed to talk to her so I gave up.

Six months later the decorator rang me again and told me that Madeleine had driven her car on to the by–pass and was involved in a crash with a heavy goods vehicle and was killed.



You can now read “The Week in London” on Google under
Open Writing—Henry Jackson


London has had very mixed weather with heavy intervals of rain—somehow summer does not seem to have arrived.


Friends & Family

Gillian (Totnes)
Has been writing the history of the famous Dartington School near her home.

Both twin boys are doing well at school and are preparing to move to a new senior school for the next term. Sean has a part in a new school stage drama at the local Civic Hall and Lewis is doing well at cricket and is in the Totnes Under 12s team where he has made a reputation as a fast bowler.

Gillian ran the tombola stand at the boys’ summer school festival and with the help of a friend raised a record £300 despite heavy rain.


Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.