The Matchbox

Reading & Writing

It was larger than I remembered. Deeper, with bigger matches. The box was a gift to me – it’s the first matchbox I’ve ever received – from my lovely neighbour Lou. It says on the front: ‘Quis Separabit’ – ‘Who will separate us?’ from Romans 8:35. It refers to the union and is usually decorated with patriotic flags.

A Bryant & May match is a safety match, as opposed to a Swan Vesta, which was longer and struck on the strip of sandpaper on the box’s side or against a wall (or one’s teeth). But in all this time of writing about Bryant & May I had not touched the ubiquitous object of my childhood.

It was a precious gift and made me think. After my last hospital treatment my time in London was largely lost, thanks to ‘chemo fog’, in which every other word vanished from my head. I might have been Tess of the D’urbervilles lying flat out at Stonehenge, blissfully asleep until reality once more intruded.

But the fog is clearing and my powers are returning little by little. Each flight of steps is a challenge, though, and even Captain Tom had more energy than me. 

‘Who will separate us?’ I answered the question fairly definitively at the end of the last novel. But my attitude has changed; life goes on until it stops. So I’ve decided to continue writing. If you cease to use the one measly gift you possess, you are committing a crime against yourself. So I’m going to carry on as normal, and we’ll see what happens…

44 comments on “The Matchbox”

  1. Paul+C says:

    Marvellous – your decision to write on is really great news.

    Striking matches on your teeth reminds me of an old pal who would bite off bottle caps. He was always surrounded by girls in pubs who wanted him to open their bottles of Babycham and Cherry B. He was very popular but I never had the nerve to try (on the other hand I do still have all my own teeth)

    Hope the new writing goes well

  2. Stu-I-Am says:

    First, wonderful news about you starting to write again — for me. As you may remember, I was emotionally blackmailing you to take pen in hand once more so I could read ‘London Bridge.’ It obviously worked. Can we expect the first glimmerings of ‘The House That Jack Built’ beyond its outline or, mayhaps, a short story ? And btw, try to avoid any future musings by that dean of depressives, Kafka, especially of all things, about writing (‘ The writer who does not write is a monster who flirts with madness’ — I believe from his ‘Diaries,’ but I could be wrong) Writing was very much a kind of painful experience for him, a suffering. Although I will say, as much as he obsessed about it, he did, in fact. continue to write. And oh yes, that ‘measly gift’ you mention, is not being able to put words to paper. It is the rare ability to bring joy. Hardly ‘measly.’

  3. Nikki-Bo-Bikki says:

    (* with tears in my eyes * re the ‘measly gift’)
    ditto what Stu said.

  4. Martin+Tolley says:

    My dad used a flick of his thumbnail. Worked ok until the flaming head flew off and the curtains incinerated one memorable Christmas Eve.

  5. Cornelia Appleyard says:

    The Bryant and May trademark was an ark, with ‘security’ written on it.
    Looking forward to reading about whichever mountain it finds itself on, or the adventures of any birds released during the voyage.

  6. Kathy says:

    So very happy to hear this! I need more Bryant and May in my life!

  7. admin says:

    Crikey, I remember the ark (not the actual one, thank you).

  8. Glenn Orlin says:

    Thank you for the decision to continue to write. My wife and I are Americans who stay in London twice yearly (except during the pandemic) and each time I read one or two of your B&M masterpieces. (I just finished The Lonely Hour so I have more catching up to do.)

    We knew you lived close by us in King’s Cross, but I only recently learned that you live in the top floor of the building directly across the courtyard from us! We’re on our little balcony looking up at your flat and giving you a wave!!

  9. Debra Matheney says:

    Life goes on until it stops” should be the motto for all of us. I had hopes that retirement would mean a peaceful life with lots of entertaining, a deepening of friendships and much more reading. Instead it has been Trump (Boris for you), COVID and disturbing life and world events. Trying for a more Buddhist outlook to quell all the anxiety.

    I am close to finishing London Bridge, one of only 2 books I have read this August. (When I worked I read 10 a month.) It is lovely and now I have hope of more to come. I hope the writing brings you fulfillment and sense of purpose. Your readers await whatever you produce.

  10. Gary Hart says:

    Welcome back, old man.

    What Stu said.

  11. Helen+Martin says:

    Aah, we can exhale. So glad that you are feeling well enough to return to writing.

  12. Stu-I-Am says:

    It appears your precious matchbox dates from about 1914 and commemorates the amalgamation of the British India Steam Navigation Company (the ‘B.I.’ on the front of the matchbox) and the Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company (‘P&O’) — hence the ‘union’ theme. The trade name still exists but is now owned by Swedish Match. By the time your matchbox was made — probably in Bow, East London — conditions at the factory — then the largest in London — had improved greatly from those that caused three of the most divisive industrial episodes of the 19th century.

  13. Keith says:

    That’s great news for us loyal fans Chris. Glad the fog has lifted somewhat. Nice matchbox too. All you need now is a Spitfire Pipe, some of that old Arabia Navy Rough Cut Aromatic shag or something from that suspicious looking plant you have under your desk.
    Seriously though, so glad to hear you are feeling up to writing again, and look forward to whatever spills from your pen.

  14. Jan says:

    I was down at Dartmouth today and nearly photographed a very old fashioned Bryant + May advert to send you. Course I never did..
    Keep going Chris you’ve sounded great this past couple of weeks. Keep chugging along. X

  15. Jan says:

    I was down at Dartmouth today and nearly photographed a very old fashioned Bryant + May advert I saw a t Kingswear station to send you. Course I never did..
    Keep going Chris you’ve sounded great this past couple of weeks. Keep chugging along. X

  16. Jan says:

    In will keep sending this make sure message receivd R5

  17. SteveB says:

    That last paragraph is brilliant news, both for you and for us. I wonder what journeys of the imagination it will take us on?

  18. MaryR says:

    Jubilation, excellent news! Long may you feel better. Looking forward to whatever writing comes our way.

    B&M Matchbox – what have Pacific & Orient and the British India Steam Navigation Co got to do with it? Were these matches for merchant seamen in particular? I thought you could just buy them in any old British shop. (Not really expecting a reply to this. Probably counts as going off on an obscure detail.)

  19. Joan says:

    Wonderful, wonderful, Chris!

  20. Laura Andru's says:

    Keep on, old sock. The motto is superb and so appropriate. Love and best wishes.

  21. Stu-I-Am says:

    @Mary R CF’s matchbox was very probably issued by parent firm P&O as either a souvenir for its passengers, simply as an advert, or both. By the time it was made, advertising on matchboxes by products other than those related to smoking, was well established and highly successful, since they obviously offered multiple opportunities to see the advert. This high exposure was also much less expensive than using other forms of advertising media.

  22. Brooke says:

    @MaryR. Going off on obscure detail is what we do here.

  23. Mary Ann Atwood says:

    Your courage amaz

  24. Mary Ann Atwood says:

    All thumbs…meant to say, Mr. Fowler, your courage amazes and inspires me. Thoroughly enjoyed Arthur & John even with the twisty ending… Thank you for sharing your talent with all of us.

  25. Bruce+Rockwood says:

    Glad to hear. Will hold you in the light as we Quakers say, and continue to read your work.

  26. Peter says:

    That is wonderful news, Chris!

  27. Ed+DesCamp says:

    At Admin:we await whatever joy you’re willing to share via your scribbles. Best wishes.

  28. Vic says:

    Great news. Your creativity, honesty and courage are the reasons we follow you so endearingly. Plus B&M stories are so very good.

  29. Jo W says:

    Brilliant news Chris. Just to read that you are feeling capable of writing more is a joy to me.
    P.s. if the stairs are a challenge (with or without bannisters, the friend to the elderly) get Pete to install a stairlift. I can picture you whizzing up and down all day instead of pounding the keyboard.

  30. linda+ayres says:

    Wonderful news but please do whatever works for you, over the years you have given us so much. Who knows perhaps in 20 years time readers will have a Bryant and May/ Edwin Drood to mull over. Wouldn’t that keep us busy.

  31. John Hudson says:

    Thanks for this. I hadn’t looked at your blog for ages so the conclusion of ‘London Bridge’ caught me completely by surprise and I was very sad at the afterword and catching up with your circumstances. I’m glad you’re continuing to write: good luck with everything.

  32. John Hudson says:

    Thanks for this. I hadn’t looked at your blog for ages so the conclusion of ‘London Bridge’ caught me completely by surprise and I was very sad at the afterword and catching up with your circumstances. I’m glad you’re continuing to write: good luck with everything.

  33. Paul+C says:

    Going off message for moment, the National Book Fair at York is definitely going ahead this year on 10 and 11 September and is a fantastic event for bibliophiles. A free shuttle bus is available from York railway station to the venue. See the event’s website for full details.

    York is a beautiful city to visit anyway and conveniently is a stop on the main London to Edinburgh rail service.

  34. Richard says:

    “Oops, there goes another rubber tree plant.” Welcome back, Chris. And thank you!

  35. Wayne+Mook says:

    When the title said Matchbox I was thinking toy cars and then rockabilly bands from the 80’s.

    With Bryant and May matches it’s always the red and white box with the picture of the steamship in the middle and England’s Glory round it that I see in my mind eye.

    Glad to ear the fog is lifting and look forward to your further splendid tales.


  36. John+Griffin says:

    I haven’t been able to open LBIFD. Instead I reread some earlier books, my favourite still being Victoria Vanishes. As you are up for more writing I might get there, just stunned by your courage under extreme fire.

  37. Helen+Martin says:

    Paul C, could you arrange a shuttle from Vancouver (B.C.) to the event site? Would love to go to a book fair and I have had my two shots and have a mask so I should be a safe person. York is one of the friendliest places I’ve ever visited and I was so proud to be able to explain to (another) tourist why there were so many ‘important’ people attending church that Sunday (Battle of Britain Sunday) Just thinking about all the fun things I saw and did while there makes me long to go again.

  38. Renzo says:

    Having finished LBIFD this evening, I turned to your blog in the hope (but not in expectation) of good news. And here I read that you have decided to carry on writing! Having tested positive today with THAT bug, this has cheered me up immeasurably! Thank you so much Chris and may your quill scratch on for a very long time!

  39. John Howard says:

    “It was the best of news.” That truncated, plagiarised quote absolutely needs no more. It is sufficient unto itself. “O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!” Ok, will stop now, but all that is really just another way of saying I’m so glad that things are more positive and that you want to write again. I don’t care what it is. It will be good and fun to read whatever. Much love to the both of you. xx

  40. Paul+C says:

    That’s nice to hear, Helen. Hopefully a mad scientist will invent a teleportation machine shortly……….

  41. Stu-I-Am says:

    Paul+C No doubt you’ll be celebrating the 200th anniversary of the completion of the present Ouse Bridge, the second of which very likely had the very first public lavs in England.

  42. Silly+Sully says:

    Welcome back and hallelujah…we knew that smile in the sand betokened good things!

  43. Brooke says:

    In honor of your return to Spain and Pete’s birthday, rarely seen blue whales have returned to Spain’s coastal waters. Ask Ms. Armitage to elucidate this positive omen.

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