Remembering a passionate ambassador for Fenland
PUBLISHED: 21:33 25 November 2018 | UPDATED: 21:33 25 November 2018
Keith Skipper remembers a good friend, Edward Storey, who has recently died at the age of 88
Edward Storey, celebrated Fenland chronicler and poet who flitted to the foot of ancient hills in Wales 20 years ago, has died at 88 after a short illness.
We struck up a warm and enduring friendship over Radio Norfolk’s airwaves during the 1980s when he mixed verse and prose with infectious humour and common sense, thus providing a vibrant refuge out of water and distance.
Spirit of the Fens still stands out for me as the most compelling of his volumes, a personal and anecdotal exploration of local history with a foreword by Waterland author Graham Swift. He set his highly-acclaimed novel in the Fens “because they have a character and drama of their own”.
It came as a major surprise to many when Edward left his spiritual flatlands with wife Angela and settled in a hamlet scattered about lanes at the bottom of a hill in Powys. He laughed at rumours of retirement and accusations of forsaking those everlasting fields.
“I am a born-again poet, alive and kicking, on the borders between two very different worlds, landscapes and cultures. I am gaining more from seeing the Fens from a distance both in time and space. Now I will sing my song in a strange land” he told me in a letter flowing with excitement in his delightfully upright and easily-read handwriting.
We exchanged news and views regularly until a few weeks ago when he revealed the extent of his illness and admitted to being calmly resigned to his fate. Typically, he invited me to send a line of farewell. “And be cheerful”. Well, I could manage “thankful” and “uplifting” for his friendship and encouragement.
He also sent a souvenir newsletter to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the restoration of St Michael’s Church in Discoed, a cause to which he and Angela were fully committed from the time they arrived. “How could 500 years of history be so easily erased just because the building needed major repairs?” was Edward’s call to action.
Born in the Fenland town of Whittlesey, where brother Trevor and his wife Jan still live, Edward was to write with deep perception and feeling of a place then balanced precariously between agriculture and the brick industry. His father worked several long years in rhe brickyards.
This clearly influenced Edward’s decision to find a wholly different path on leaving school at 14. He surprised his parents by announcing he had no intention of working on the land or in the brickyards as his forebears had done. He wanted to be a journalist – an ambition never achieved.
After a succession of unsatisfactory jobs, he found his niche working for the Peterborough Education Authority, mainly in adult education where he became Registrar of the Peterborough College of Adult Education.
When commissioned to write A Portrait of the Fen Country in 1970, he decided this was at last the chance he’d been waiting for to become a freelance writer. He went on to publish 10 volumes of prose, mainly about the Fens, 13 collections of poetry and a highly-praised autobiography, Fen Boy First.
He became a regular contributor to various BBC radio and television programmes and a popular public speaker. A passionate ambassador for his region, Edward was a welcome voice on my Dinnertime Show during years when I sought consolation among local writers over the changing face of our precious part of the world.
Latest poems were a rich bonus along with ready permission to use them in some of my own publications and on entertaining rounds when a few deeper reflections were due. He extended that generosity throughout our correspondence after his switch to Wales.
I savour a shelf of his personally signed books, verses specially composed for a Norfolk admirer and a big batch of letters from a man who shared his talents and times with so many. One of his final poems was composed in tribute to Dr Andrew Bernard, who brought him into this world 88 years ago and later encouraged a love of literature.
Edward Storey remained fully aware of where his roots were throughout that sojourn in Discoed. He really was a Fen Boy First. I vividly recall his powerful words from one of our on-air celebrations.
He pointed to houses and farms clinging like crustaceans to the black hull of the Fens: “Here you must walk with yourself - or share the spirits of forgotten ages”.