DUE back from the printer any time now is my boyhood memoir, Outsider Looking In, which reflects on my early days in the village of my birth, Wigston Magna, in Leicestershire.
Though Wigston has changed dramatically since my boyhood, having fallen victim to one of the worst cases of planning vandalism I have ever known, it remains a place of wonderful memories for me.
It was here that that I enjoyed all the simple but exciting adventures of a 1950s childhood, and learnt the fundamental lessons of life.
The 120-page book is in a (very) limited edition and will go only to family and close friends.
It was written mainly because I deeply regret not asking my parents more questions about their childhoods.
They lived through fascinating times, yet I know too little about the major influences and experiences in their early lives.
At least my family - and a few choice friends - will be able to read about my early life if they feel inclined to do so.
A bargain buy - plus a signed
BOOK-LOVERS find joy in simple things.
I bought a hardback copy of Charles Causley's poems off an outdoor bookstall the other day. Price: £2.
Tucked inside the back dust-jacket was a short letter to a previous owner - from Charles Causley himself.
The owner had queried the meaning of one of the poems.
Mr Causley replied courteously, pointing out that some poems are open to different interpretations, depending on the reader.
Revised valuation of my £2 book: with letter attached, about £100. That's because it was also a first edition.
Our 'fame' is
join from far
MORE readers are following this site, with one fan in the Emirates welcoming my attacks on what he calls 'the world's idiots.'
We've now been up and running for over six years, and our fan base includes several media professionals, many of them senior executives.
Among the latest devotees are a Caribbean newspaper editor, a media professional in the Middle East, a Cuban businessman, and several British professionals from the Home Counties and the North.
Though my books and prints receive a fair bit of attention, what really gets them going is the 'Comment' section, and my trenchant views on national and international affairs.
I can't claim to match 'celebrity bloggers' for the numbers following my provocative prose, but I reckon I score highly when it comes to the quality of my audience.
I've always thought it far better to be read by fifty genuinely intelligent people than 50,000 morons, so it seems this site is finding its target.
I'm now being read in Australasia, North America, the Caribbean, Europe and, of course, Britain, so the 'fame' of johnmarquis.net is spreading satisfactorily, albeit at a steady pace.
What I find particularly gratifying is that some of my followers hate what I write, but enjoy reading it anyway. That's music to the ears of any writer, whatever their medium.
THIS kindly looking gent is James Rowe, a preacher-cum-author who wrote an admirable history of Flushing in 1904. The photo has been sent to me by one of his descendants, Stephanie Dale, who has read both my own books about our beautiful village and thought I'd like to know more about the man who wrote 'Sixty Years and More'. If I go ahead with my plan to publish a supplementary booklet on Flushing's history, this will undoubtedly be included.
its way to
CONSIDERING it probably weighs more than a house brick, it's gratifying to know that readers are prepared to pay good money to have my new Flushing history book airmailed to faraway places.
With volumes now winging their way to America, Australia and the Caribbean, I can claim - with all due modesty - that my beloved tome has genuine international appeal.
Copies have already gone to readers in Europe, and found their way to far-flung areas of the British Isles, so the collectable hardback edition of Flushing: A People's History already sits proudly on bookshelves the length and breadth of the civilised world.
The last twenty or so of the edition - numbered 280 to 300 - will be on sale at Flushing Arts Week at the end of May, offering a chance for summer visitors to grab a piece of history.
As the discount stores say, 'When it's gone, it's gone!' In this case, never to be reprinted in any form. Don't miss it.
In search of
THICK sea fog shrouded a maze of bumpy lanes in North Cornwall this week as I went in search of a man with a claypit.
It's amazing what
dedicated amateur potters will do in the interests of their craft, but finding the elusive Mr Doble was a mission worth pursuing.
With visibility down to fifty feet, car speed reduced to two miles per hour, and no SatNav to help me, I was on the verge of giving up in despair when I finally found his isolated makeshift office next to arguably the most famous claypit in the world.
Since 1975, the Doble family have been supplying Cornwall's most discerning potters with clay of such distinction that they will cross some of the county's roughest terrain to find it.
Among them was Bernard Leach, the most famous British potter of all, and the Dobles continue to supply The Leach Pottery in St Ives to the present day.
The Doble claypit has already provided a living for three generations of the family, and there's enough goo left in the ground to make them secure for several more.
'It keeps us out of mischief,' Mr Doble muttered philosophically as he heaved a bag of stoneware clay into the back of my car.
As I ventured back into the thickening fog, I left behind the lonesome figure of Mr Doble with two young, starstruck ceramicists who had travelled far to find this holy grail of the potter's world.
With reverence and a sense of wonder, they gazed at this sodden hole in the midst of a foggy field and paid due homage to the boundless treasures lying within.
'We read about it on the internet,' they said.
Thus, new technology had guided them to a site potters have come to revere in practising one of the world's oldest crafts.
Ancient and modern had found common ground in the middle of nowhere.
Meanwhile, Mr Doble just keeps on digging.
WHEN I look back on my fairly undistinguished school career, I recall no more than one or two teachers worthy of the name.
Among them was undoubtedly Anton Bantock, who died two years ago in Amman, Jordan, after a lifetime devoted to good causes.
He was 82.
Mr Bantock, as we knew him back in the more respectful 1950s, taught history with flair and no small degree of eccentricity. He brought alive great characters of the Victorian age like Gladstone and Disraeli, and was passionate about the Great Reform Bill of 1832.
Now I learn that he spent every summer during his teaching career cycling round the world trying to make life better for deprived people of all races.
He not only tirelessly raised money for charity, he also set up the 'University of Withywood' in a poor district of Bristol, hosting community events and offering educational opportunities to the needy.
He was also a talented artist, though his family background was musical. Both his grandfather and mother were accomplished composers.
Mr Bantock was an Oxford graduate who taught me and other classroom slackers for two years at Guthlaxton School, Wigston Magna, Leicestershire.
I recall the day a lout at the back of the class threw a piece of chalk at the blackboard while Mr Bantock was in full flow.
The chalk bounced on to the floor with a sharp ping, but the unperturbed Mr B carried on, not even bothering to remonstrate with the culprit.
His enviable sang froid is fondly remembered even now, nearly sixty years on.
I'm pleased to hear that he received the MBE for his good works, earned an honorary doctorate from the University of Bristol and was loved throughout his life by all who knew him.
dies after fall
WHEN you pass your 70th birthday, you become increasingly aware of mortality and all that it implies.
So it was this week when I heard of the death of my former colleague Des McCartan, for 30 years the Westminster correspondent of the Belfast Telegraph.
He suffered a very bad fall in London on the day the Westminster Bridge atrocity occurred.
He was taken to St Mary's Hospital, where victims were being treated, but never regained consciousness. After a week, his life support machine was switched off. He was 68 and leaves behind a wife and daughter.
SEE Old Hacks Gazette (under MORE signpost) for more details.
Pottery is the way to inner peace
LOOKING for inner peace? Fancy a few hours a week when you can lose yourself in an all-absorbing hobby? Time to take up pottery.
My weekly sessions at Penzance School of Art are now an eagerly anticipated part of my busy creative life.
As with football, pottery is a thoroughly enjoyable activity whatever your level of competence. My occasional forays into the world of ceramics are the equivalent of Sunday morning kickabouts - but, oh, what joy they bring!
My recently-completed coiled pot - see blog on left - has been described by my daughter as 'tribal', which I've taken as a compliment, especially as traditional African pottery is so sought-after.
Next up is a tall, thinnish vessel with a flared neck, and another big honey-glazed vase with sgraffito design. Can a Tate exhibition be far off?
Portrait of the Artist as
an Old Bloke
SO why does a retired hack get into art in his seventies? I haven't a clue, but that's no reason for not offering some kind of explanation.
My new booklet, Portrait of the Artist as an Old Bloke, is a 68-page round-up of colourful images created by Yours Truly over the last three years.
It attempts to describe my fascination for shapes, colours and composition, and the themes that dominate my work.
For me, the motive for drawing and painting is simply the enjoyment it generates. The fact that people like my images enough to buy them is an added bonus.
See Booklets section
A decade at the helm
IT'S a long way from Fleet Street, but Falmouth in Cornwall offers one of the most alluring journalistic berths in Britain - the editorship of the Falmouth Packet.
My booklet, On Being Editor of the Falmouth Packet and Other Essays, is a collection of pieces on everything from my dog, Jack, to the lure of small towns, the joys of authorship and the life of my enigmatic dad.
But the lead essay describes my ten years as Editor of one of Britain's most famous titles - a newspaper whose history stretches back to the Crimean War.
See Booklets section
As a lifelong newspaperman, I have a wide range of interests, including modern literature, the visual arts, music, history, politics and sport, especially football and boxing.
Though I have travelled widely, I have a special interest in Cornwall and The Bahamas, the two places where I have spent most of my life.
Apart from my wife and family, journalism has been my dominant passion. To echo the words of the essayist H.V.Morton, I regard it as 'the most bewitched and attractive calling in the world.'
More recently, I have developed an interest in painting, and specialise in what I call 'Crazy Art', which translates as 'infantile depictions of everyday situations.'
You can view my work on the 'Prints' page.
My books (see BOOKS page) cover a wide range of subjects, from Bahamian politics to D.H.Lawrence. My latest project is a collectable (and revised) hardback edition of my village history, Flushing: A People's History.
I am also compiling a collection of my journalism, and working on a revised (and revealing) edition of my book Blood and Fire, about the famous wartime murder of Sir Harry Oakes, the British Empire's richest man, which remains the most fascinating crime mystery of the 20th century.
What I've read recently
(Firstly, heartfelt apologies -
I've read dozens of books since this column was last updated, but I've been diverted by other things)
A Life of My Own by Claire Tomalin
BIOGRAPHER Claire Tomalin is noted for getting into the hearts and souls of her subjects.
But she appears oddly detached in her examination of her own life.
Her book, A Life of My Own, is an interesting insight into London literary society, but is somewhat clinical in dealing with the tragedies marring an otherwise gilded life.
Her unusual marriage to the gifted journalist Nicholas Tomalin - he was a freewheeling romancer who became a notable foreign correspondent - produced five children, including one who died early, another who was severely disabled, and a daughter who committed suicide.
Both had affairs, and she appears strangely insouciant about his wanderings while juggling motherhood with her various journalistic responsibilities. They parted for a time but were together again when he was killed while covering the Yom Kippur war in 1973, having been struck by a Syrian missile. She later went on to marry playwright Michael Frayn.
Parts of the book read like a shopping list of London’s literary in-crowd, but it is the lack of emotional engagement that will strike most readers as its biggest defect.
In spite of all that, I quite enjoyed it.