Ain’t it always the way?


Just as my future begins to look bright, dictators start threatening to blow us all up.

That’s one of the many aspects of Vera Brittain’s story that chimed with me when I first read Testament of Youth as a late teenager, the inconsiderate, inconvenience of war. To get into Oxford, but to not have a chance to enjoy it, as bleeding wounds need to be bandaged, and loved ones mourned. At that age I didn’t immediately associate with those killed or made homeless by war (although my grandfatehrs both fought, and one grandmother was bombed out three times during WWII, one night getting home from the cinema to find a direct hit had occurred while she was out, (top tip –  don’t live near a naval base) but now I’m older I’m able to worry about all aspects, and all potentially awful scenarios, equally and effectively. Last week I ordered Vera Britten – A Life, by Paul Berry and Mark Bostridge, before the most recent round of depressing news kicked off, and it’s turning out to be a horribly timely reminder of how relevant sacrifice still is.


But I’ve also been promising myself for ages that I’d get started on Angela Thirkell, as from what I’d heard she would be effective escapism from the news. Eccentric families, awkward incidents, big houses, snooty servants and large meals is what I need. Firstly, I think she has a wonderful face and I’d have loved to have met her. How many ladies smiled cheerfully in photos and put their hands on their hips back then? Not many, I’d guess.


Secondly, the style of language closely mirrors my own, hyperbole-strewn internal monologue. Young, shy Alice is terrified of an upcoming social occasion at Pomfret Towers, and –

She had a faint hope that on Friday morning she might see in The Times that Pomfret Towers had been burned down the night before,

That’s generally my way of thinking, hoping a Kansas-esque tornado will surprise Aberdeenshire and remove the house at which I’m destined to attend a BBQ. Just that house, the rest can stay. Upcoming, dreaded wedding? Maybe I’ll be lucky and get leprosy.

And Guy, Alice’s brother, when asked by his mother to ask grumpy old Lord Pomfret to lend her a book feels he –

could have willingly killed both his parents on the spot.

I love a book with a nice atmosphere, and every page has a smart line that makes me chuckle, this more than any other –

The furniture was in the highest style of Pre-Raphealite discomfort: sofas hewn from solid blocks of wood and armchairs suited to no known human frame, both with thin velvet cushions of extreme hardness.

– as when I was first married and daft, I bought an old wooden settle, with a high back and Gothic carving, that had once been in a private chapel. I was viewed by those nearest to me as if I had come home with a handful of magic beans instead of a sofa. I made cushions for the thing, it looked awesome in my crumbling, old house, but even the pets didn’t want to sit on it. It ended up in the hall as a resting place for bags and piles of clean laundry waiting to be taken upstairs.

However, I really want to shake the good-natured but annoying character of Alice’s friend, Sally Wicklow, as she depressingly like my own mother when it comes to her attitude about dogs. Sally allows her pack of dogs everywhere and anywhere, referring to them as her children, congratulating them for living and seeing their most basic, natural doggy reactions as evidence of a deeper intellect. As my parents’ manic Jack Russells jump up and rip my tights to shreds, it’s apparently just because they love me. If a bull mastiff flings drool at me and knocks me over, it’s only friendliness and I shouldn’t mind that, and when one particular Jack Russell, Hamish, (of whom I shall post a picture as balance, because I feel a bit mean saying all of this) nips my hands with is sharp little teeth, apparently he’s just playing, and he wants me to stroke him, it’s a friendly nibble. When I was a kid my parents were not retired and less prone to spoiling animals, and our family dogs were used to me, so there was never the level of excitement for me as there were visitors. I loved them all dearly, but now I’m the visitor, I feel like going round there in a boiler suit and padded gloves. These days I welcome and appreciate my cat’s lukewarm response to everything I do (unless it involves a proper tin of actual tuna, then she can be quite demonstrative).


Proof that the over-attractive get away with everything, including sitting on the furniture.