Alistair Cooke,

Monday afternoon finds me in some what a relax full mind set  I have in front of me a book by Alistair Cooke, who most may never have never hear of.

But that doesn’t matter because I going brake my own rule and tell you about him and why well because what he did was import

For over half a century Mr Cooke informed and entertained millions of listeners across the world with his weekly BBC radio programme ‘Letter from America.’ An outstanding observer of the American way of life, he became one of the best know and loved broadcasters what we would now a days call a blog only on the radio.

To fill you in about the history of the man, we have too start in Salford Manchester the year is 1908 he born Alfred not Alistair, he became Alistair after. Winning a scholarship to Jesus College, Cambridge he read English, edited the undergraduate magazine, Granta, and founded the Cambridge University Mummers

He made his first visit to the United States in 1932, on a Commonwealth Fund Fellowship which took him to both Yale and Harvard universities. Following his return to Britain, he became the BBC’s film critic and, in 1935, London correspondent for America’s National Broadcasting Corporation. He returned to the United States in 1937 to work as a commentator on American affairs for the BBC. He made his home there and, in 1941, became an American citizen

He never decided what he was going to talk about until he wrote the script, made no notes during the preceding week and preferred to rely on his memory. The series was the longest-running series in history to be presented by a single person

So here now this a copy of the first letter he sent

I want to tell you what it’s like to come back to the United States after a sobering month in Britain and say what daily life feels and looks like by comparison.

I sailed back on the Queen Mary with a couple of thousand GI brides and I recall now the great liner thundering its great horn as we slipped away from the dock at Southampton.

All the mothers were clinging to the rail and all the babies were clinging to their mothers along the entire curving length of the ship’s main deck.

The handkerchiefs fluttered in an unbroken line, like washing day in Manchester.

And then a small coastguard cutter scattered along like a playful puppy.

A sailor stood at the cutter’s bow. He cupped his hands and he yelled, “You wouldn’t like to come back, would you?” and the young mothers and wives, weeping like mad, yelled, “Nooo!”

The ship turned about, we headed into the Channel, England faded into the night and we all went below.

For the brides who’d just done dabbing their eyes, there was a first small shock of Americana. A meal with meat and a vegetable not easily recognisable. No wonder.

It was not Brussels sprouts, it was a cooked mixture of lima beans and corn (translation – maize), an American Indian favourite christened by them “succotash”.

At the breakfast next day, there were eggs and bacon and sausage patties and pancakes and maple syrup. The butter was fresh and plentiful and the oranges were to take away.

This went on for five days and it struck me by the second day out that few ironies of peace can be so delicate as the sight of GI brides, comparatively famished for five years, refusing most of these goodies not because of the rolling wave, but because their stomachs, over five years, had shrunk.

Towards the late afternoon of the fifth day, we were moving slowly up New York harbour and slowly out of the mist rose the towering cluster of the downtown skyscrapers, crowned with a small cloud of smoke and fog.

Some bright girl wondered why this should be when all around was blue water and a sparkling sky. It was the first reminder of New York as, in a minor way, a war casualty.

Before the war, Manhattan was a sparkling island both by day and by night because the city had a law forbidding the burning of soft coal anywhere for more than ten minutes a day.

But in 1940, when neighbouring factories turned into war factories for 24 hours a day, the law was suspended and it’s never been put back.

By now a whole fleet of little freighters and tugs were piping out as we rode by and from time to time the Queen Mary terrified the children by roaring back three thunderous blasts.

A specially chartered ferry boat tagging along by our side played jazzed up versions of “Why Did I Kiss That Girl?” and “Here Comes the Bride”.

The captains of the tug boats would look sky high and wave at the brides and soon we saw great signs painted on piers and docks: “Welcome Home” and “Well Done”.

A soldier friend of mine told me of the lump that came in his throat when he heard the bands and saw the signs.

Full of pride and bounce he went down the gangplank to meet New York and its grateful citizens.

He was far from home and he started to look for a hotel room. Nothing had been built during the war and the hotels were crammed.

Then he looked for just a room anywhere.

He wounded up by begging a man who ran a Turkish bath for a sheet just for the night. It was his due of fame for a job well done!

I soon noticed other flaws in everyday life that only a month before I’d taken for granted as the war had worn on. The taxi that took me home had one door tied with string and that evening in another cab the driver couldn’t use his first gear, which had given up shortly before VE Day.

He also couldn’t go in reverse so, if he scuttled past your destination, he had to drive around the block again to land just right. (This is a useful moneymaking device I offer without fee or patent.)

Next morning, outside my office was a long queue of about, oh, 80 yards long. Mostly of women, and a sprinkling of men shifting a little guiltily from foot to foot.

It was a queue for nylon stockings.

Well, by now there are, in theory, enough nylons to provide most women with a single pair, a promise that signals what might be called Operation Greed.

People get afraid they’ll miss their assigned pair of stockings so a woman queues up for one pair and her husband, nonchalantly disguised, for another.

Need I say there are also in these queues smooth-looking gents and crummy-looking youths with fake ration certificates who have no personal use for nylons and no wife or girlfriend to be a hero for.

They’re just doing the round of queues by way of running their own modest black market.

Nylons are not a unique case – since I got back here I’ve only once had butter offered to me in a restaurant.

But here again – and I mean over here – a wholesaler who serves any big city hears there’s going to be, say, a shortage of butter.

It may be only for a few days but the black market, if it’s to keep its custom, can’t depend on a long shortage so it corners the market and jacks up the price.

The big hotels and restaurants are reluctant participants in this game.

They can’t afford to go two days without butter so they are thinking of the prosperous peacetime patronage to come.

They lay in extra supplies, pay more for them and in the end everybody is the loser.

And now the City Fathers tell us that worse is to come – soon we’ll be eating brown bread.

The fact that brown bread – which preserves the wheat kernel, the whole grain – is far more nutritious than the white bread that has for a very long time been bleached of it, is not over publicised.

In both countries, it seems, white bread has for a very long time been thought “tonier”. So what now?

Good housewives rush around buying up stacks of white flour, which in turn produces a flour shortage.

The panic is basically a fear in a land of plenty that you may go short and become – help! – like Europe.

The fear was very lively during the war. The consequence was that Americans consumed more meat than ever before in their history.

And eventually these contrived shortages affect the farmer and what they call his mule feed, the residue from milling which farmers feed their cows and chickens.

And this means in another month or so, we’re told, fewer chickens, an unnecessary egg shortage and a beer shortage, something America hasn’t seen since Prohibition.

So whenever you’re inclined to grumble at your lot, at the controls you live under, think, as the prophet says, on these things and consider how hectic it can be to be a housewife in this country, where the government is not buying the food in the first place, where controls start mainly with the bewildered retailer.

I hope the next Letter will be more cheerful than this one but I thought you’d like to know how it feels to have left austere, shivery old England and got back to the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.

On March 30, 2004 he died aged 95


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