To be exact it's the very drafty platform at Exeter Station where we usually wait for the 7.52 am Penzance to London train when we go up to the smoke for the day which we will be doing later this week.
But in the history of publishing the platform at Exeter Station has its worthy place because it was here that Allen Lane, looking for something good to read on his journey back to London and failing (sadly plus ca change in that respect,) had the idea for Penguin Books, this year celebrating their 70th anniversary.
I was wondering what turns a biography into a book that engages and it may not necessarily have to be about the most famous of lives for that to happen. I'm pleased to find I'm in good company with this inquisitiveness about other lives, William Maxwell in fact
'I can never get enough of knowing about other people's lives. It is why, when I open the morning newspaper, I turn first to the obituary page, hoping for more than the end of the story.'
If there's sufficient of interest to ensure that I enjoy the company of the subject then I'll stay, and for all Kaye Webb's foibles I've had a very pleasurable week in her company thanks to So Much to Tell by Valerie Grove.
Perhaps a name that all us children of the fifties and sixties know but can't quite think how...in that 'where on earth do I know that name from' sort of way.
Just open any Puffin book of that era and you'll know in an instant because Kaye Webb succeeded Eleanor Graham as the editor of Puffin Books and was the founder of the Puffin Club, of which I was not a member because it came along just a bit too late for me. Besides which I had enough on my plate keeping up with Big Chief I-Spy and the PDSA Busy Bees, for whom I collected enough milk bottle tops to build an Apollo spacecraft...or where we trying to build a Guide Dog? I forget.
You'll recognise all these titles I'm sure...even that hint of a one at the bottom of the pile...
Kaye Webb, the exuberant, persuasive, overwhelming, bombastic and opinionated editor with the cut glass accent...for 'carriage' say 'kerridge' ...one of those people of whom I found myself saying constantly as I read, ' well, her heart was in the right place,' as she blazed a trail into the male-dominated world of publishing in the 1950s, firstly as editor of a children's magazine I have no recollection of whatsoever, The Elizabethan and then at the helm of Puffin Books which of course I had shelves of.
Ronald Searle, who at the age of twenty two found himself as a Japanese prisoner of war working on the Burma railway and imprisoned in Changi, and heaven alone knows how he survived. Indomitable spirit has to be the key because physically he was decimated. He returned from the war in a fragile state, fell into Kaye's all-embracing arms and eventually married her, but only after she had given birth to their twins Kate and John.
It was always going to be a juggling act for a working woman in the 1950s, enough to make you feel a complete slouch for putting your feet up even for five minutes to read this book, when you read of the frenetic nature of Kaye's days. Dedicated to building up the Puffin name and pouring all her energies into that, it is inevitable and small wonder that her children suffered, often left home alone at a young age (twins in a sixth floor flat...eeek !!!) or with the Nanny for weeks on end.
In the end Kaye's marriage suffered too, and Ronald who had survived sufficient trauma in Changi to know that life wasn't a rehearsal and that to follow his heart was a good enough reason to leave, did just that and walked out on Kaye and the children.
With surviving children and ex-husband, and evidence of ongoing family resentments still apparent, Valerie Grove may well have had to tread carefully through Kaye's life in order to write this book, but she does seem to have had the cooperation of the family and manages to provide what felt like an honest yet sensitive appraisal of a fascinating woman who deserves her place in the history of Children's Literature. With no university education to her name Kaye often felt inadequate at her lack of intellectual expertise and clearly compensated in other ways, her need to be needed constantly apparent and when she is finally and effectively phased out of the Penguin - Puffin empire her sense of loss and uselessness after a lifetime of service is profound. Despite illness and increasing physical infirmity, retirement was never going to beckon appealingly for someone who seemed to have barely sat still for most of her life. Kaye so desperate to be needed she even offered to go to Sussex and nurse the astronomer Patrick Moore's aged mother.
Kaye died a rather sad and lonely woman at the age of eighty-one in 1996 and I too felt quite sad to leave her company as I turned the final page of So Much to Tell, because for all her faults there really was never a dull moment with Kaye Webb, and if I cast my mind back to all that childhood reading it would seem much of it was down to her.