‘Before me lay a voluminous and virginal desk-diary which he (father) had brought home for me from the office, a handsome wine-and-spirit-trade production, fat with the introductory pages extolling this shipper’s port and that chateau’s sauternes. What mattered was the delectable acreage of plain white pages that followed, unsullied by anything save the printed days of the week. It was for this that the diaries were passed to me, to scribble in. And scribble I did, the pencil clenched, the small fist moving ceaselessly across the paper’ Geoffrey Trease, A whiff of Burnt Boats
The family wine-and-spirit shop was, and still is at, No.1 Castle Gate, the narrow Georgian street leading up to the castle, just a few doors away from a surgical-appliance firm where DH Lawrence did a brief stint as a clerk. It was started by Trease’s grandfather George in 1890 with his father eventually joining rank. The family shop had a man-made cave as a cellar. These sandstone caverns that spread throughout Nottingham have been remarked upon by Defoe, Celia Fiennes and most recently in David Belbin’s crime book Bone and Cane. The shop front was ‘inconspicuous’, partly due to his father’s reticence towards self-advertisement and his grandmother’s embarrassment that the neighbours may comment their family home was kept alive by the liquor trade.
Trease accompanied his father to work on some occasions and spent his time “taking the stamps off the violet-inked envelopes from the shippers of Bordeux”, presumably fostering his intrigue of travel. Stamp collecting would become a hobby and help supplement his general knowledge of the world and capitals, cigarette cards were another useful insight into culture.
The family moved home a few times but Trease’s main memories come from the third home at 142 Portland Road, a tall semi close enough to the Arboretum that they could hear Sunday music filtering through from the bandstand. The surrounding roads were named after the likes of Cromwell, Raleigh, Chaucer and Shakespeare, a constant reminder of the men who had defined history and culture. As WWI drew to a close in 1918, the nine year-old Trease was reminded that the glory of great men came with consequences: “I lay in bed with the influenza that was raging across Europe and listened to the horse-drawn funerals rumbling and clattering down our cobbled road on their way to the cemetery.”
The attic of the three storey family home was a proper treasure chest and included bound volumes of the Illustrated London News “covering the Crimean and Franco-Prussian Wars, with contemporary accounts of the Charge of the Light Brigade and the Paris Commune, and vigorous line-drawings, all puffs of canon smoke, solid blocks of infantry, brandished sabres, rearing charges, urbane staff-officers with telescopes, and canon-balls littering the ground like fallen fruit. There was rich food for my imagination in that attic.” One body not on the cart was that of his Uncle Syd, a second lieutenant in the Sherwood Foresters who’d gone missing at the Sekonika Front, a brave and brutal mission that would wipe out a large percentage of the troops. So distraught was his grandmother at his disappearance that she refused to allow his name to appear on the School war memorial in the hope that one day he would turn up. All they ever found was his helmet.
You can read about Geffrey Trease in Issue 11: Books And Bowstrings
- UNESCO City of Literature (library.nottinghamhighblogs.net)
- Under Black Banner Geoffrey Trease (clothesinbooks.blogspot.co.uk)
- Cue for Treason (lilyoakbooks.blogspot.co.uk)
- The Sherwood Foresters (armyservicenumbers.blogspot.co.uk)
- Interview 7th Sherwood Foresters (worldwar1veterans.blogspot.co.uk)
- The History and Renovation of Nottingham Arboretum (redshed.co.uk)
- Geoffrey Treas (tonyshaw3.blogspot.co.uk)