So, there I am, standing in a Fringe Venue. The one show I wanted to see was cancelled. Another one which looked good was due to start, but (from my point of view) miles away. So I was reduced to going to the ticket desk and asking what was on next. “Ooh, you won’t like that show,” said the girl. “That’s brutal theatre”. Do I look, I thought , like someone who wouldn’t like brutal theatre? Well, yes I do, actually. So she suggested I tried “The Fastest Woman in the World”, an American University play about Jackie Cochran, the famous woman pilot who flew jets and started a female plane transport unit in World War 2. It was an incredible show, a great feat of memory and staging, with in depth characterisation. If only I had known more American history, my enjoyment would have been complete. I was amazed, though, that women found it so difficult being accepted to transport planes in the 1940s, compared with Britain, where I have read at least one book – memory fails on title at the moment, about women flying spitfires and everything with wings. Maybe the British didn’t have the time or resources to be fussy! Of the three shows I saw at the Fringe in Edinburgh, this was definitely the most technically adept.
My book today is also American linked. Dear Mr Bigelow – A Transatlantic Friendship by Frances Woodsford is a book of letters sent by Frances, a Swimming Pool Manager in the UK, to an elderly American widower between 1949 and 1961. Although one sided, Mr. B’s letters not surviving, it is a fascinating profile of life in Britain as rationing ends and realistic everyday life emerges from the War. There are so many interesting details and revealing personal insights that I could really hear the author assembling her thoughts and reactions to life in a less practised way than 84 Charing Cross Road, for example, and is painfully funny yet serious at the same time. It is also obviously essentially true, and well edited, which makes it an enjoyable read. Not just a female book, but it would appeal to Persephone Book fans as a gentle portrait of mid -twentieth century life in Britain when money was not exactly flowing, but the advent of cheaper cars and other resources meant more lifestyle choices. An unusual book, but enjoyable and worthwhile.