Reviews by Deborah Fisher
Aged Thirteen in Felpham
Here is self-publishing in its most basic form. No disparagement is intended; Hazel Macaulife's booklet -
I couldn't really call it a book - is a lovely example of how self-publication can continue to fulfil the purpose for which
it was invented, without commercial concerns getting in the way.
The contents is a selection of entries from Hazel’s 1949 diary. These often read like fiction, but
they represent a valuable historical document as well as being entertaining to read. I sense that these children, Hazel and
her brother Neville, were brought up in a world quite different from the one I knew as a child only twenty years later. They
are by no means working-class, and consequently their activities are quite different from anything I experienced, as well
as their vocabulary being different. With a playwright for a mother, it could hardly be otherwise.
I would hesitate to say that we find out much about Hazel’s inner thoughts from the entries. She seems
preoccupied with the possibilities for purchasing sweets and ice cream, not surprisingly since they were still rationed in
the years after the Second World War. Some entries consist solely of lists of chocolate bars and varieties of sweets that
she boasts of having obtained on that particular day.
One thing that doesn’t seem to have interested her at the age of thirteen is the opposite sex. This
might be to do with single-sex education, or to do with having a younger brother. However, my instincts tell me that thirteen-year-olds
in the 1940s simply weren’t as precocious as those of the 21st century. The practice of climbing trees and
jumping off roofs provided much greater excitement than any potential encounter with a boy. Television, which would probably
occupy a major slot in any teenage diary written today, is never mentioned, but Hazel and her brother did have access to live
theatre and cinema, both of which evidently provided a major diversion. What is also quite clear is that their everyday lives
were not drab and colourless as we tend to imagine from those black-and-white films that have given us a preconceived idea
of what life was like in Britain just after the war.
The Macaulifes were in the process of moving house at the time the diary was kept, and the children’s
mixed feelings of excitement, anxiety and nostalgia as they left "Hyperion" for the last time, come across very clearly in
few words. So does their bitter resentment at not being allowed into the pictures for an A-certificate film because of a "beastly
woman". The following day, Mr Macaulife obligingly takes his daughter along. "One in the eye for her Ladyship, the girl at
the desk!" remarks Hazel, with the full force of a child’s malevolence.
Although there is a cover price of £2 on the pamphlet, I can't believe that it is meant to be sold in bookshops,
where it would disappear without trace among the piles of thicker, more colourful volumes. I suspect the author would
sell a few copies in the course of giving talks, perhaps on local history. It is very refreshing to see something
that has been done for the sake of personal satisfaction, without an eye for profit, and I look forward to reading other titles
from the same "family".
ISBN 0 9543316 2 1
Anna Brown Associates, 2003
Retail price £2
|Hazel's own photograph of a childhood haunt, the post office at Felpham
|School hockey team, with Hazel third from left at the back
At Chi High 1949-1951
At Chi High sounds as though it ought to be a pun, but no, it is another sequence of extracts from the
diary of the young Hazel Macaulife, this time covering her career at Chichester High School between 1949 and 1951.
In size and appearance, At Chi High is very similar to its predecessor, but there is a major difference.
Anna Brown, the publisher of Aged Thirteen in Felpham, had sadly died before this one was printed, and therefore it
appears under its author’s own imprint.
Much in the same vein as the earlier pamphlet, At Chi High is a valuable social document. Some of
the contents put the reader in mind of the "jolly hockey-sticks" genre of school story that were popular in the 1950s, the
difference being that this is all real. So if you thought Angela Brazil just made it all up, think again. "I think I’d
rather like to try it!" exclaims Hazel, having watched frogs mating and then being dissected during a biology lesson. (She
is of course referring to the dissection, not the mating.)
This was a time when teenage girls actually looked forward to going to school, and made pets of some of their
teachers. Hazel Macaulife was not all sweetness and light, however. "I got my first detention today," she boasts, "for scribbling
with red crayon in my history text book." What on earth for, one wonders. Her record goes from bad to worse, as she
is repeatedly placed in detention for crimes such as running and shouting in the corridor, and chastised for untidy writing.
There is almost too much crammed into these few pages for me to comment on. Our young author is a seething
mass of likes and dislikes, prejudices and surprising sensitivities, and yet there is a distinct difference between Hazel
Macaulife the sophisticated 15-year-old, as she is by the last of these journal entries, and her earlier self, as expressed
in the previous diaries. In parts it might almost be written in a foreign language – though when "Miss Cook called me
pert in Latin", I don’t suppose she actually did!
Published by HKB Press
139 The Ryde
Hatfield, Herts AL9 5DP