One of the reasons I decided to live in the Notting Hill area was a book called Few Eggs and No Oranges: Vere Hodgson’s Diary, which was reprinted by Persephone a number of years ago. During WWII, Vere worked for a Notting Hill charity and documented her experiences throughout the war. She began keeping her diary on June 25, 1940, as the Blitz began, and she wrote about everything, from what was going on in the world down to the doings of her neighbor’s cat. I recently re-read this book and was struck anew by how much this book is a testament to how ordinary people can do on with their lives, even as extraordinary things go on around them. One of my favorite passages is as follows:
[Sunday 11th May 1941] Just heard the terrible news that Westminster Hall was hit last night. Also the Abbey and the Houses of Parliament. They saved the roof to a large extent. In the Abbey it was the Lantern. At first they thought Big Ben had crashed! One cannot comment on such things. I feel we must have sinned greatly as a nation to have such sacrifices demanded of us. Indeed future generations will say we have not taken care of what was handed down to us. We should have been more careful to defend it. We must pay the price now; but it is terrible to think of the wasted years, when, sunk in enjoyment, we did not realize that the days we looked on as precious were numbered.
The Notting Hill and London that Vere Hodgson knew is much different today, but in many ways, her sentiments–of resilience and not giving up in the face of difficulties–ring true today. I feel that, given recent events, we are teetering on that precipice now.