Monday 29 April 2013, 14:59
Editor's Note: Ian McMillan explains how the story of his parents romance during World War II inspired his afternoon drama. Listen to Love, War and Trains from 1 May 2013.
Love, War and Trains The tale that I tell in Love, War and Trains has been a family story of ours for as long as I can remember; in fact we told it to each other across kitchen tables and in back rooms with murmuring TVs in the background for so long that in the end it stopped being remarkable, it became ordinary, like the fact that I had four uncles called Uncle Blood, Uncle Terror, Uncle Passion and Uncle Thunder wasn’t too unusual. I’ll come back to the uncles later, perhaps.
The facts are these: my dad was from a place called Carnwath in Lanarkshire and my mother was from Great Houghton near Barnsley. My dad joined the Royal Navy in 1937 and my mother was called up to the WAAFs at the start of the war and they wrote to each other as pen pals in a scheme organised for the services at the time. They wrote for a while as my dad sailed the world and my mother worked in signals at RAF Blackbrooke near Wigan. They met a few times and the letters got more and more passionate. Eventually they got married on a 48-hour pass: my dad got a 48-hour pass, anyway, and sent a telegram to my mother saying GET LEAVE NOW. She couldn’t get leave but he chugged up to Peebles, where the wedding was, on a slow train, not knowing this. She eventually decided to go AWOL and climbed the fence and got on a train and just got to her wedding in time. They had one night together in the Tontine Hotel on the High Street in Peebles, my dad went back to the war, my mother went back to base and got arrested and chucked in the glasshouse for two weeks. Arrested for love: the height of romance.
When I told Gary Brown this story he said I should write it as a play and not only that, I should write it as a rhyming play. I wasn’t sure how that would work but I had a go; he also said that I should be in it as a narrator, with a different kind of rhyme-scheme. So I narrated in rhyming couplets, my dad spoke in quatrains, and my mother spoke in a special way that I invented for her, a six-line stanza that rhymed abc/abc, reflecting the more reflective (!) way she spoke.
After lots of drafts during which Gary and I wrestled with the dilemma that we all knew the ending (or I wouldn’t be here) and we tried to get some jeopardy in and I tried all kinds of new rhymes I’d never thought of before, we recorded the play at Media City in March. Billy Boy and Verity May Henry were fantastic as my parents, and I did a passable job of being me, although I don’t normally talk in rhyme that much.
And the Uncles? One was passionate, one was loud, one liked a scrap and one was scary. That was Terror. His real name was Norman. Of course.
Listen to Afternoon Drama: Love, War and Trains
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