‘The Memories of a Rolling Stone’: Times and incidents remembered.
‘Perhaps it has taken me all these years to realise that I have been over-taxing my constitution and that I was never made to be a success’ (66).
From reading the autobiography of Stanley Rice, which he completed on October 12th 1974, aged 69, it is clear that he lived a life through encounters of disappointment and heartache, but with that, successful business ventures, proudly fighting for his country and spawning a long-lasting relationship with wife Ethel, which he should only be proud of. It is presented as a book in typescript form that is clear and easy to read, with precise dates pointing to relevant and intriguing moments in history. He shares a love and passion for Art, as I do, which instantly attracted me to his autobiography and the sixty-eight paged detailed account of his exciting life, kept me gripped and wanting to find out more. On every page there is a new scenario to get involved in, which is utterly fascinating and a real page turner, which he should be accredited for.
Stanley Rice was born on 23rd March 1905, in Camberwell, London; he had one brother and three sisters. His mother stayed at home looking after the family, while his father was in and out of work and found it difficult to support the seven family members; having to sign on at the Labour Exchange now and then. At the age of eleven, Rice found something that he was good at and was noticed for his great artistic abilities, which he could have progressed in. However, he was forced to leave school by his parents, because they needed the extra support to look after the family financially; this was very common. This led Rice through an array of employments, that he admits were not his dream jobs, such as parcelling and delivering books, a carpenter’s assistant, a general hand to a builder and decorator and a locomotive engine cleaner; to name a few.
He eventually found a job that would change his life; working for the Earl of Lathom. Although it was only a small responsibility, working in a ‘Decorative Art’ shop (18), also in a small warehouse unpacking expensive goods and making trips to Selfridges to buy fabric, he could retire from wearing stereotypical working-class clothes, replaced with ‘tailor made suits and specially made shoes, all arranged and paid for by His Lordship’ (20); a working-class man’s dream. He ‘made many a journey in [Lord Lathom’s] Rolls Royce car’ (20), which was such a drastic change of lifestyle. He says with this job, ‘in comparison with the past, and in my small way, I felt like a man of importance’ (20). From this experience, he then swiftly moved into a job working in an antique and modern decorative art showroom and worked alongside the British Film Industry hiring out modern furnishings, now associating himself with famous actors and artists, such as Ivor Novello, Miss Marie Tempest and Mr Alan Walton; which is impressive to say the least. He says ‘my keenness to encourage and develop this new avenue seemed to absorb me, and I felt I had a ‘flair’ for it’ (27). He continued to get his name in a theatre play’s programme; ‘Furnishings by Stanley Rice’, which he was proud of. I find this to be so interesting and inspiring, how he created these great opportunities for himself; showing that hard work and passion can get you where you want to be.
The Munich Scare of 1938 saw Rice become a Voluntary Warden, and then as War ruined his furnishings business, he became a full-time Air Raid Warden. He goes in to detail about the living conditions at the time, and witnessing people turning to drink to overcome depression and mental breakdowns. This foreshadows the deterioration of his mental health later in life. He reveals, ‘I was under a doctor who had done a lot of psychiatric study, and I must say he took considerable interest in me.’ (53) He was under strict orders that if he kept working too hard, it would result in greater problems, later in life; that did not stop him as it was instilled in him to work and keep a stable life for his family. Although this was another chapter in the author’s life, which was frightening but exciting, working in WW2 and living through both wars put a significant mental strain on him. I am going to explore these issues in more detail later in the blog, as to be so distinct, writing about such personal issues is quite rare in working-class autobiographies.
One thing that Rice has no difficulty in writing about is the strong love and affection he feels for his wife, Ethel. For every new job or business venture he has, he always comments on how ‘I would never have done it without the great help and encouragement from Ethel’ (36). She is his ‘muse’ and passion for making a successful life for them and I suppose their love comes from the combined struggle to make ends meet. He married Ethel in 1931 and is still married to her at the time of writing the autobiography in 1974, an example of true friendship and long-lasting love.
Rice’s autobiography is a beautifully written and fast-paced account of a humble, kind and honourable man who should be recognised for his lifetime achievements. There is plenty more exciting moments in Rice’s life that I am eager to explore in greater detail. On the first page of his autobiography he claims, ‘This is about an ordinary average life’ (1), which, I think, is far from it.
RICE, Stanley, ‘The Memories of a Rolling Stone: Times and incidents remembered’, TS, pp.68 (c. 33,600 words). Brunel University Library, Volume 2:661.