I’m not one for love stories. I don’t do book reviews. So how did I come to read (and write about) And then like my dreams? Well quite simply I enjoyed Margaret Rose Stringer’s blog and thought I would like to read her memoir. I tried to buy a Kindle version but it seems rights are sometimes wrong and I was not allowed to buy a copy. I don’t pretend to understand why I can buy e-books from Amazon USA but not UK or Australia. There must be a reason. I decided it was rights. I mentioned that in passing and M.R. immediately offered to send me a copy. And she did.
If I had to pick a word to describe the memoir I would choose bittersweet. M.R. is sometimes searingly frank (self-critical) about herself and invariably devotional in writing about her late husband, Chic Stringer. He was indeed a man of many talents.
He was an accomplished photographer, a wonderful and seemingly unflappable chef, a craftsman and handyman able to build a house (my limit is wiring a plug), a renaissance man in his learning, which he seems never to have flaunted and of course he coped with Margaret Rose through 31 years of mutual adoration. A symbiotic relationship in which she needs to be loved and he offers unconditional love. And a cornucopia of knowledge.
The story of how they discovered a shared love of Placido Domingo is enchanting. They stopped not at buying his CDs and travelling to see him perform. Oh no. Chic and M.R. had dinner with him. Dining with our heroes is difficult. Sporting heroes can be bought at ‘events’ and indeed I shared a dinner table with the great Phil Bennett once. There were several hundred people in the hall but I sat just a few feet away from him. The only let down was that he wore a brown suit. There we all were in DJs and Phil wore a brown lounge suit. Nobody told him, he claimed. Duw its hard. But as I eventually get back to the point, I must stress that Chic and M.R. simply enjoyed a small, intimate dinner with Placido. There is no triumphalism but a sense of euphoric disbelief that they could do so. And my heart swelled with pride and joy for them.
The book is written in short chapters with scene settings incorporated as befits a story set against the backdrop of the film industry. There are some black and white photos and some glorious colour ones. The book is very well produced.
It is evident that M.R. is a much more talented lady than she admits and her ability to pick up new skills and try new challenges is admirable. I suspect she is far more computer literate than I.
The last part of the book is about Chic’s battle with cancer. He bears this with great dignity. We often say that don’t we. The obits say “after a long illness bravely borne”. Well Chic’s approach seemed to be to spare Margaret Rose as much as possible and to maximize the time they had ahead of them. As the end draws near you can feel the frustration and anger with the health system that shows little sense of care. And finally Chic just wants to come home to Margaret Rose. It is almost impossible not to well up when their 31 year journey together ends.
Since then M.R. has made sure Chic Stringer has a place in the National Film and Sound Archive so we can look him up online. She has written this book and it is clear that he continues to be a dominant part of her life. A lot of memoirs feel ghost-written. This is too raw and too honest to be anything but written from the heart. I have hardly done it justice. I have not touched on family and friends, childhoods, the pre-Chic & M.R. era and I leave you to discover more.
It probably won’t find its way to the top of the best seller list but it is a book I am happy to have read. It reminded me that some of life’s greatest pleasures are more or less free: love, food, music, peace of mind and the ability to write. Wouldn’t it be a pleasant irony if someone picked up the film rights? To paraphrase the infamous review: me Leica.