McGrath, Melanie Hopping

ISBN 13: 9780007223664

Hopping

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9780007223664: Hopping

The sequel to the bestselling Silvertown, which tells the story of Aunt Daisy, and all the other Aunt Daisys – the locals of the old East End.

For more than a century, hopping was the main event in the East End calendar – an annual expedition of over 200,000 East Enders out to the Kentish countryside to look for casual work picking hops and stripping bines.

Aunt Daisy was one of those day trippers. For her, the train ride from London Bridge to Faversham was a kind of magic that she always passed in a rush of sensation. To be away from the tight hustle of the city and lose herself in the open spaces and pollen mists of the Kentish summer provided her with a succour that would last her through the long winters back in London. Her delicate demeanour had never really suited the smutty terraces of the East End; rather she considered herself a countrywoman who just so happened to be stranded in the city.

Married young and yet not unhappily to Harold Baker, a closet homosexual who would never consummate their union, at some early point she wrote an escape clause into her life that shielded her from her life's difficult realities. It was this resolve, a kind of armour born out by her dreamy nature, that more than anything else marked Aunt Daisy out as an East Ender.

Thoughtful, moving and beautifully rendered, Hopping captures the essence of ordinary family lives often obscured from history during an extraordinary period in London's past. Regardless of era or circumstance, chartering the shift of the East End from a hive of poverty whose dimmed population toiled daily at the docks, to a Blitzed-out community that defiantly rose to confront the brutalities of World War II, through to the gamble and risk emanating from behind the glass and steel towers of today's Canary Wharf, Hopping stands as testament to the true East Ender disposition - an agility of spirit to endure your lot and get by.

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Review:

'One of the book's strengths lies in its evocative details…Most of all, though, this is a story of ordinary people living through the extraordinary period of two world wars, bearing the hardship with fortitude, and longing for those brief moments when they could escape.' Sunday Times

‘“Hopping” is a book of astonishing empathy, eloquence and understanding. It needs to be read slowly and carefully, as the dense network of love affairs and relations fills the equally tightly knitted net of East End streets before the Blitz. A subtle social texture develops of openness and secrecy, love and betrayal, survival and catastrophe.' Adam Nicolson, Guardian

'A sublime successor to the beautiful “Silvertown”, is a classic of its kind. Social history is personalised in a narrative that renders period detail and sophisticated psychology in a novelistic style.' Kate Saunders, The Times

'McGrath is an engaging writer who is passionate about bringing her story alive. Daisy Cromelin would probably have never imagined that she would even be worth a line in the local newspaper, yet Melanie McGrath has found a quiet dignity and honesty in this most ordinary of ordinary lives.' Leo Hollis, Sunday Telegraph

From the Author:

In 1997 I was commissioned to write an article for The Guardian newspaper on a little known and even less regarded part of East London called Silvertown. At the time, Silvertown, the site of the old Royal docks, was more or less a wasteland. The docks had long since closed and the area was awaiting redevelopment. Not so long before, the place had been a busy hub, part of what was, until 1968, the largest port in the world. Hundreds of thousands of Eastenders made their living there. Among them were my grandfather, Leonard Page and my grandmother, Jenny Fulcher, who owned a greasy spoon, known as the Cosy Café, on Silvertown Way, beside the vast Tate and Lyle sugar refinery.

As I became more engrossed in the story of the area, and discovered more about my grandparents’ lives, so the article gradually morphed into a book, also called Silvertown, in which I attempted to recreate the wonderful bustle of the area and, at the same time, to paint a portrait of the lives of a working class London family living in its midst.

My grandparents were typical in almost every way but one. Unlike many tens of thousands of Eastenders living in the first half of the twentieth century, Leonard Page and Jenny Fulcher did not spend their summers hopping. The annual pilgrimage to pick hops in Kent was known as the ‘Londoners’ holiday.’ Hopping was a great deal of hard work, for poor pay, but it was the nearest many Eastenders ever came to a vacation, a chance to breathe the fresh air of the countryside and return to the smoky streets of East London renewed.

Rather than write a straightforward sequel to Silvertown, I decided to explore this very East End custom. My mother, Margaret Page, had been hopping once or twice in her childhood, but, just as I had told the story of a working class family living in the docks in Silvertown, I wanted in its sequel to focus on a tale of a single family of hop-pickers. My opportunity came in the shape of a man I’ll call Richie Baker. Richie had read Silvertown and recognised in the portrait of my grandmother an old friend of his mother, Daisy Crommelin. Richie and Daisy had fled London around the time of the Blitz and passed most of the Second World War in the hop gardens of Kent. I began to add my own research to Richie’s reminiscences and soon had, in the story of the Crommelin family, a moving drama of everyday working class life led partly in the East End of London and partly in the Kentish hop gardens.

Hopping is the story of the Crommelin family, ordinary men and women living the same sort of tough, resilient, often happy and occasionally desperate lives led by any number of Eastenders born in the first half of the twentieth century. Theirs is a very common story that has been very rarely told. And that, precisely, is why I have chosen to tell it in Hopping.

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