The office cat

11 January 2016

Now that I primarily work from home, the large woolly-trousered cat has become the office cat. Here he is sitting behind the hard drive and contemplating.

Cat on windowsill with books

Family Post Bag (book #154)

10 January 2016

Mildred Robertson Nicoll, 1947.

Book cover

This follows on from my post about Constance Miles’s diary. Mildred Robertson Nicoll was the half-sister of Constance Miles, 16 years younger. She published an edition of the letters of Annie S Swan, which I would like to read.

Inside front cover blurb

Inside back cover blurb

Family Post Bag is a short book, based on letters Nicoll published in magazines during the war. The letters are between eleven people, if I have counted correctly, family and friends, between 1944 and 1946. I found them charming but they are slight and a bit disjointed – that may be part of the charm as they are reasonably convincing as letters. They reminded me a bit of Oxenham, with mentions of country dancing, Girls’ Guildry, working on the land and a strong religious faith: “that city far beyond the stars, that is yet in us and about us and without whose key we are lost”.

Like Miles’s diary, it does give a sense of how disruptive the war was. We know that abstractly of course but it brings it home reading about families being scattered, people doing uncongenial jobs, deaths, injuries and grief, not to speak of the more minor effects on social life – much bridge played according to Miles!

As with Miles, there is concern about “have the men had enough?”. Sibyl Sedgwick writes of “the awful problem of two large meals a day, lunch and dinner, which Oliver always insists on. As you know, I could live quite happily on potato soup and a glass of sherry for lunch day after day, but not so Oliver”. For a party, they had finger rolls stuffed with “sardines and tomato sauce, spam and mayonnaise, and pea-nut butter and raisins”. And there’s “our war-time supper … Dates rolled in bacon. Thank goodness dates are on the market again”.

Sibyl Sedgwick: “I want more than anything in the world a really good corset belt to keep me up and in, and every other woman I know wants the same, but until we polish off the Japs there seems no hope.”

Lots of literary references – MacDonald, Quiller-Couch, Housman.

There is a strong sense of change and, again, disruption – from the past, with Marjorie Leith having to sell her ancestral home, and a suggestion that the New World may be the future, in a way that reminded me of Nevil Shute’s The Far Country. There are also some discussions of organic farming.

I would recommend the book if you’re interested in the period and in domestic fiction. I’d be interested in other’s people’s reviews, but haven’t found any online.

Mrs Miles’s Diary: The Wartime Journal of a Housewife on the Home Front (book #153)

3 January 2016

ed SV Partington (2013).

miles 2
Image is of Constance Miles.

Constance Miles was a journalist and novelist who kept a diary from 1939 to 1943, and sent the typescript of it to the Imperial War Museum. It was over 400,000 words; the IWM has cut it down, I guess to about a quarter (apparently a lot of the length was extracts from newspaper articles) and published it.

Miles’s father was William Robertson Nicoll, a journalist and writer who founded the periodicals British Weekly and The Bookman. One of her friends was Barbara Euphan Todd, novelist and children’s writer who wrote the Worzel Gummidge books. Miles herself wrote, with her brother Maurice Nicoll, a novel Lord Richard in the Pantry (1911), which became a play and then a film (it’s on the BFI’s list of 75 lost and most wanted films). The book is credited to Martin Lutrell Swayne, Maurice’s pseudonym, in the BL and the Bodleian, so I’m going on the authority of Partington’s introduction in saying that Miles co-wrote it.

She is credited alone, however, for what I guess is a sequel, Lady Richard in the larder: an extravaganza (1932), and something called Coffee, Please: the story of a lover’s dream (1933). Furrowed Middlebrow has a post talking about these and also her work as Marjory Royce, which Partington doesn’t mention. There also seem to be some manuscripts of hers in the BL: “Anthology of Letters, taken from printed biography including a few private letters” (1950), “The Springfield Diary between the Wars” (1951) and “Brief Lives. Consisting of pen portraits of people well known to the writer, etc” (1954). I would like to get in there and have a nose, and also to her half-sister and father’s archives at Aberdeen … Most of her books are too expensive but I have ordered Dinah Leaves School (written as Royce) and will endeavour to report back. I do have resolutions / ambitions / plans to update this blog more frequently (and have a pile of books waiting to be “done”) but then I’ve planned that before and then I get under the weather and things go to pot.

Anyway – here are some bits from the diary I liked. Rather a focus on cats as you will see. Miles’s own cat was soft grey Muff, who had to subsist on “chicken’s ‘eads fourpence a pound” at times in the war.

Barbara [Euphan Todd] says Miss J, ruler of the Children’s Hour on the BBC, returns her engaging story of a mouse air warden who dealt with bats (and spoke in rhyme all the time), saying that she hopes that children don’t know anything about raids. ‘I suppose their gas masks are to keep fairies in!’ cries the irritated author. (01/12/1939)

Interesting to see that the focus on food being thrown away is not new. “Before the war about a million tons of foodstuffs were thrown into dustbins every year, Sir Ronald reminds us [Ronald Storrs in The Second Quarter, an account of the progress of the war]!” (10/08/1940).

As a war-time companion Barbara has a small black kitten. It likes cheese straws and cabbages and it spends most of its time purring as mine does. It fitted itself into a blue glass vase the other morning and went whirling round and round. It was in an ecstasy. I should like to meet it even more than Goebbels. (24/01/1940) … I hear that one of the survivors of the torpedoed Transylvania came on shore with a cat in his arms, purring contentedly. Good! (15/08/1940) … Went to call on a Paddington evacuee cat in the village, a sweet whitish kitten. The two dressmakers accompaning it are humbly grateful for their one room, where they can just squeeze in (29/10/1940).

Southampton, that pleasant town, has had two dreadful air raids. When you know all the main streets, it makes your heart turn over. (02/12/1940) May wrote that Southampton is a sad sight. Many forsaken cats sitting on the rubble, and piles of stones and bricks. (10/12/1940) At Southampton I again gazed sorrowfully at the once hospitable little hotel opposite the bus stop. It is an ugly ruin. (06/06/1942)

Miles and her husband riffing on the subject of a War Fare Cookery Week. Her husband invents a dance battle between General Slackness, with team members Stomach-ache, Nightmare, Hiccoughs and Collywobbles, and General Efficiency, with members Delight, Health, Taking Trouble and Comfortableness. “I thought of the Nourishing Soup Dance, to be performed by Mesdames Potato, Mutton-broth and Lentil.” (22/12/1940)

She mentions in passing a discussion in the House of Lords about juvenile offending increasing during the war. “From January to August 1940 they increased by 41 per cent among children under fourteen and by 22 per cent among those between fourteen and seventeen. There are many waiting to be taken into special schools.” (20/02/1942). This does seem to have been the case. Kate Bradley, “Juvenile delinquency and the evolution of the British juvenile courts, c.1900-1950”, says that

Corporal punishment on boys aged under 14 increased in the course of the Second World War. In 1938 and 1939 there were 48 and 58 cases of whippings respectively in England and Wales; this rose to a high of 531 in 1941, gradually dropping to 165 by the end of 1943 before returning to pre-war levels in 1944 when 37 cases were handled in this way. This rise has been attributed to the need to deal with increasing juvenile crime during the war in combination with retired magistrates being reinstated to cope with the dual pressures of an increasing caseload and younger magistrates serving on war duty.

There’s also an interesting article from 1944, “Juvenile Delinquency in Britain during the War”. Some lovely and dubious stats about the % of juvenile delinquents whose parents are not providing a normal home life, and speculation that the increase in delinquency is caused by the blackout, disruption of home life –

Children not only lost their homes, but ruined buildings gave endless opportunities for adventure and play which sometimes became rather wild. Toys, candies and innumerable other things attractive to children were buried under rubble and remained there, sometimes for days, until the area could be cleared.

– wartime restlessness, disruption of school life, an increase in young people working and in the amount they earned, and lack of space in approved schools, remand homes and Borstals. One of the solutions proposed is more use of foster care rather than approved schools – experience of evacuation apparently having indicated that this could work.

This is a rather sad passage:

I discover an advertisement in today’s Times about a job I think I am able to fill. If only I could! They want gentlewomen for portresses at University College, London; no manual work, but answering enquiries, phones, etc.
Robin throws water on it firmly. ‘You would always be ill,’ etc. I can do nothing, of course, as my duty lies at home. A nuisance. (24/02/1942)

Miles does mention that she has been asked to be the area Billeting Officer, but it’s not clear if she did take this on. I think probably not, or there would be more about it.

In June 1942 she and her half-sister (Mildred Robertson Nicoll – also a writer) went to see the ruins of Paternoster Row near St Paul’s, the printers’ and booksellers’ area, “a pious pilgrimage … [to] where the British Weekly was started”. “The desolation at the back of the great cathedral is truly frightful. Yes, it frightened me, as I stood looking across the great space full of ruins. … What kind and gentle people have been killed, what tidy office arrangements have been blasted, what valuable papers destroyed!” (25/06/1942).

In the introduction, Partington quotes Miles saying “I want it to be clear … that I got through the war as I did simply because I had this secret life of reading”.

There’s a good review of the diary at I Prefer Reading.

Oh, and I must say that the cover picture is annoying. It’s a young woman hanging out washing – too young to be a good representation of Miles, who in any case would be better represented reading or writing.

Summerhills (book #152)

29 November 2015

DE Stevenson, 1955. Sequel to Amberwell.

Not reading much at the moment, but have to take this back to the library so thought I would log my brief comment. There is a spoiler at the end.

I thought it was interesting and impressive that Stevenson appears to refer to rape in marriage and the long-term effects, as well as to emotional abuse. Anne marries young and quickly, partly because of the pressure put on her by a relative and partly to get away from her unloving family. After her husband’s death, she talks to the vicar, Mr Orme.

” … Martin frightened me so dreadfully.”
“Frightened you?”
“Oh, he didn’t – hit me. He was just unkind. I don’t know why I was so frightened – really.”
… There were some things she could not tell anybody – least of all Mr Orme. She could not tell him the worst things, the things that made another marriage utterly impossible, but she might tell him some of the smaller unkindnesses which she had had to endure …

She describes finanancial dependence and having to account for everything she spent, and being mocked and criticised. Mr Orme

knew quite a bit about life, and was not quite the innocent Anne imagined, so he could fill in the gaps in Anne’s story of her marriage without difficulty. He was so distressed; he was so furiously angry with the unspeakable Martin Selby that he found himself shaking all over and it took him several moments and a tremendous amount of will-power before he could control himself.
“Other men – are not like that.” he said at last.
“Oh, I know,” agreed Anne. “Arnold would never be horrid to me, but all the same I couldn’t marry him – nor anybody else. It’s all spoilt and – and dirty. … “

Stevenson shows that Anne may not recover enough to marry again, not within the timescale of the book, in any case.

The Tall Stranger (book #151)

7 October 2015

D E Stevenson, 1957.

There’s something oddly plot-resistant, slice-of-life-ish, about Stevenson. Makes it difficult to describe her books. In this one, not one of her best but not awful either, the viewpoint starts as that of Nell, a doctor’s secretary, on a foggy London evening. Nell wants to visit her friend in hospital and the doctor goes with her in case she gets lost. In fact they both get lost and attacked by some muggers. Nell, having taken some ju-jitsu lessons, breaks the arm of one of the muggers (the doctor and the policeman don’t believe that this is possible).

All that is preparatory to the real story, which is about Barbie, the friend Nell visits in hospital. The book drifts along, with Barbie convalescing with the aunt who brought her up, becoming unsatisfactorily engaged and meeting another man. Then she goes back to work as an interior designer and the book follows her on a work trip to a Scottish castle, where the second man pops up again. There’s quite a lot of detail about the interior design work in the castle (measuring, fake leather screens, pattern-books). There’re subplots (if that’s the right word given the book’s lack of plot) about two children, a neglected London child and the running-wild daughter of the castle.

As always, Stevenson’s views are mostly conservative. There’s an interesting exchange between Barbie and her aunt, Amalie:

” …Of course it’s the fashion nowadays to sneer at the British Empire – but what would the world be like today if there never had been a British empire?”
“A good deal less civilised for one thing,” said Barbie after a few moments’ thought.
“Yes,” agreed Amalie. “It’s an interesting speculation.” She laughed and added, “I once asked a very clever young man (one of Edward’s Oxford friends who thought he knew everything) what the world would be like today if there never had been a British Empire, and it sort of dried him up. He just gulped and said it was an interesting speculation.”
“I must remember that; it might be useful,” said Barbie.
“You must remember to look rather stupid when you put the question,” Amalie told her. “I mean you must look as if you were terribly anxious to know. It works much better that way.”

This is obviously a criticism of liberal and post-colonial thought, but it’s also, and more interestingly, a suggestion of how women might stand up to “clever young men … who think they know everything”; looking stupid is worth it if it leaves the man speechless.

I’m a bit worried about the treatment of the London child, Agnes. She’s eight and lives in a flat in the same building as Barbie and Nell. Her mother, Gloria-everyone-calls-me-Glore, “‘neglects Agnes and – and shows her quite clearly that she’s a nuisance'”. Nell’s fiancé, Dr Headfort, tells Nell

” … I think I could arrange for her to be put into a Home. Of course I’m not particularly keen on putting children into Institutions, but the Home I know about is in the country and there’s an exceedingly nice matron. It might be better for her than her present mode of life.”
“Almost anything would be better!” [Nell]
“Or we could adopt her ourselves,” added Will Headfort, throwing out his amazing suggestion in a casual manner.
“Oh Will, you are good!” exclaimed Nell in astonishment. She pondered the matter and then continued, “Of course we should have to think about it very seriously. She isn’t a very attractive child – poor little scrap – but I dare say she would improve. … “

Instead, however, Barbie arranges for Agnes to be sent to Scotland to live with the family at the castle and be company for Bet. Her mother is shown as selfish and easy to persuade that it will be less trouble for her to get rid of her daughter. She wants to go to take Agnes to the castle herself and meet the family, but is firmly told by Barbie that “‘If Mrs. Scott had wanted you to go to Oddam [castle] she would have invited you'”. So Agnes is taken on the long railway journey by a servant whom she hasn’t met before, whose Scottish accent may be difficult for her to understand.

Barbie also makes Agnes over before sending her to Scotland, as she’s worried about how Agnes’s shabby, dirty and rather common clothes will appear to the Scott family. Instead of her yellow cloth coat with a missing button, her lacy blue satin dress and shoes with holes in, Barbie buys her “cherry-coloured shorts and a white pullover, brown leather lacing-shoes and white socks; she bought a brown tweed coat and a cherry-coloured beret and some much-needed underwear”. For some reason, Barbie finds Agnes’s “dark hair, scraped back from her forehead and tied in a ‘pony tail’ with an old piece of ribbon – a most unsuitable style of hair-dressing for a little girl”. Barbie “whirled Agnes into the nearest hairdresser and had the absurd pony-tail cut off and the dark hair trimmed closely to what proved to be an exceedingly well-shaped head”. This makes Agnes cry. She then “put Agnes into the bath, scrubbed her all over thoroughly and washed her hair”.

Although one can see the appeal of transforming the child for her new life, and Agnes does smile when she sees what she looks like, I do feel some concern for her going hundreds of miles from home without anyone she knows and without apparently anything to remind her of her previous life and family, even her own appearance.

I was amused by the “black plastic tray with a crisply-ironed tray-cloth” on which Barbie’s meals are brought when she’s convalescing. Height of technology and fashion.

Haing said Stevenson tends to be conservative, in this book Barbie’s fiancé wants her to continue her work as an interior designer: “‘It’s your Thing … You love the work and you’re very good at it … and somehow I can’t imagine you sitting at home, idle. You wouldn’t be happy.'”

As I’m reading Stevenson in tandem with Patricia Wentworth, I was interested to see three of Wentworth’s books in the same large print series advertised at the back of this book – Out of the Past, Latter End and Danger Point.

Re the ju-jitsu, it’s interesting that this is also a plot point in Elinor Brent-Dyer’s The Wrong Chalet School, from 1952, just a few years earlier.

Unlawful Occasions (book #150)

6 October 2015

Patricia Wentworth, 1941.

I have a cold and some stuff going on that has put me out of routine and made me reach for comfort reading, so I am alternating Patricia Wentworth’s non-Miss Silver books with DE Stevenson. I got a batch of both from the County Fiction Store and they go well together.

Cover of Unlawful Occasions

This isn’t one of the best Wentworths. The start is good, with the protagonist, Sarah, meeting an elderly woman in a station waiting room. The woman has been given a mysterious parcel by a wounded man on a train and is worried about what to do with it. When Sarah gets on her own train, she finds the parcel in her own bag.

The reader has to swallow a lot of coincidence, however, when we find out that the people with whom Sarah lives are involved in the mystery. It’s also hard to accept Sarah’s reason for not going to the police.

This is more of a gothic novel or woman-in-danger novel than anything else, with Sarah eventually trapped in her underwear (pink crêpe-de-chine) in the snow. Unusually for Wentworth, there are two men genuinely in love with the heroine. The ending is rather sudden.

The book was published as “Weekend With Death” in America. There’s a brief review at The Locked Room.

A couple of things reminded me of the Miss Silver books. The villain’s drawing room has “a fine period collection of photogravures represeting the more popular works of Landseer and Millais. There was a Soul’s Awakening over the mantelpiece, flanked by a Monarch of the Glen and a Dignity and Impudence“. I looked at the pictures in Miss Silver’s flat in my post about Christie’s Five Little Pigs. She has both the Soul’s Awakening (actually James Sant, not Millais or Landseer) and the Monarch of the Glen / Stag at Bay, as well as Millais’s Bubbles. It’s slightly odd that Wentworth repurposes the art from her detective’s rooms to her villain’s house.

There’s also considerable focus on how cold the country house is – something that Miss Silver also worries about, making sure she takes her fur tippet if staying in one.

And, in the middle of the terror, Sarah is gripped by Volume I of Charlotte Yonge’s The Pillars of the House:

Actually she found this a most enthralling work. What ingeniously ordered lives this vast Victorian family read. How small a happening could rouse and hold one’s interest. Felix’s birthday tip from his godfather, and the burning question of how much of it should go into the family exchequer, and whether he would be justified in blueing part of it on a picnic – with a wagonette – for the entire family, Papa, Mamma, and ten brothers and sisters. When Papa expired and Mamma had twins the same day, thus bringing the family up to thirteen, and Felix and Wilmet had to support them all, the contest between Miss Yonge’s ingenuity and Sarah’s scepticism became excitingly acute. It might have been done, she could even believe that it had been done, and though not in sight of the end of Vol. I, she contemplated turning out all the shelves till she tracked down Vol. II.

Miss Silver is also a fan of Yonge, as I mentioned in my post on Latter End.

The School in the Skies (book #149)

17 September 2015

R S Lyons, nd, but looks like the first edition was 1950.

Skies 003

Skies 001

Great cover, but very dull book.

Betty’s Wartime Diary, 1939-1945 (book #147)

15 September 2015

Author given as Betty Armitage, but this is a pseudonym. Edited by Nicholas Webley, 2002.

I enjoyed this account of the war years in rural Norfolk. “Betty” is direct and mundane. The best bits for me were the references to her cat, Alfred, a large tabby.

The Vicar came round the other day for a cup of tea and told me he thought Albert was too fat to be healthy. I told him to stick to his job and leave looking after Albert to me, as he is a happy cat which is more than can be said for some of his parishioners.

Betty judges the seasons by how much time Albert spends asleep on his barrel in the sun. Albert chases off intruders twice and becomes fond of a pig, Daniel. I liked Daniel too:

[we] went for our walk with Daniel … We stopped to eat our sandwiches by the round pond. I wondered if Daniel would jump in for a swim but he just sat down with his face up to the sun. … the three of us sitting there with Daniel on the end like a portly gentleman, looking this way and that at whichever of us was talking at the time.

I also found interesting the two Freds, poacher and black-marketeer / smuggler. Their activities are fine with Betty and she comments on how helpful the black-marketeer is: “what would we do without young Freddie, he smoothes the way for so many people”.

And the references to Betty’s past in the theatre are intriguing. She was a seamstress and prop worker (she mentions painting scenery) with touring theatre companies and on the music halls. She has a lot of friends from those days, some of whom come to stay with her.

I always doubt diaries if there is no clear provenance. Webley talks about the diary entries being written on scraps of paper, kept in a shed for decades and disintegrating, and that he has been asked to suppress some of the diary (not clear by whom – Betty doesn’t seem to have any family except for her brother). But Betty’s voice is convincing – particularly the details of daily life, which have a plausible dullness, and the jumping from subject to subject. I was also interested to see that she never (as far as I could see) uses contractions. I’m a bit worried about some of the loose talk about the war though, especially from Betty’s well-connected friend and employer, Mrs Wentworth.

In worlds other than reading, things are rather tough at the moment. House stuff, work, health, etc. Hanging in there.

Clean Sweep (book #146)

29 August 2015

Ilona Andrews, 2013.

This is the first of the Innkeeper Chronicles, a free online serial, though I read it in paperback. I enjoyed it, though not enough to read the second one.

My favourite bit was when the protagonist goes to Costco – people in paranormal novels do not generally do enough mundane things.

There was something almost serene about walking through Costco … Maybe it was the feeling of plenty. Everything was supersized. … It was a false but pleasant feeling of buying a lot at once and getting it at a good price. I could buy ten enormous jars of peanut butter and stuff it in the back of my car. My home was a battleground between a surly werewolf and an arrogant vampire, and a murderous alien was trying to kill us, but I would never run out of peanut butter again and I would get it for a steal, too.

The alien attack in Costco and the help from a bystander is well done, too.

This England (book #145)

25 August 2015

Mary Ellen Chase, 1936.

I had not heard of Chase before seeing a mention of In England Now (1937) in Juliet Gardiner’s comprehensive The Thirties: An Intimate History. Despite the slightly different name and date, from the quotations Gardiner gives I think In England Now and This England are the same book, a collection of essays about England by Chase, an American novelist and academic.

Image from endpapers:


Wikipedia says she is regarded as one of the most important regional literary figures of the early twentieth century. There is a 1995 biography by one of her students, A Lantern in the Wind by Elienne Squire. There is a 1962 article about her here (PDF) and a 2003 thesis about her life and work here (PDF, 272 pages, mostly about her family background and early life, and the themes of her books, rather than her later, professional, life). I was particularly interested in the sections in the thesis about Chase’s character Mary Peters’s creation of art through rag rugs:

She became an expert in dyeing bits of wool, working hours to get the exact shade she needed. When her piecebags and closets were exhausted of old material, she bought odds and ends from factories and coloured them to suit herself. The knuckles of her fingers and the palms of her hands grew rough and calloused by hook and burlap, but she had never in her life felt more free.

(from Mary Peters, 1934).

Chase was apparently much influenced by Sarah Orne Jewett, whose The Country of the Pointed Firs I was amazed by when I read it. I have not read it since as I’m not sure how well it would stand up to re-reading.

Anyway, about This England. I must say it is a rather irascible book. Chase, spending two years in England, based in a cottage in Grantchester (not clear whether her companion, the historian Eleanor Duckett, was with her, but if so Chase wrote her out), was unhappy about many things:

The English weather and its associated travails: “chilblains … demand more resignation and humour than is the capital of most steam-heated Americans. The woollen underwear which one must wear or perish harbours and transmits its manifold vexations … this dismal monotony of discomfort … unspeakable irritation”.

No ice: “Ice simply is NOT … the English consider ice an extravagant and unnecessary commodity”.

Wasps: “There is hardly a breakfast or lunch, surely never a tea, from May to October which is not copiously attended by wasps.”

The lack of good service: The American expects “that when his trousers need pressing, they will be pressed well and quickly; that when dry cleaning is imperative, it will be perfectly accomplished in a short space of time; that when he gives his orders for immediate delivery to the grocer, the chemist, or the tailor, these men will jump to execute them. … [When this doesn’t happen] he is at first amazed and then annoyed. If he stays long enough in England … there is a chance that he may become partially converted to this incredible manner of living.”

Shops in the north of England: “miserable shops displaying through grimy, unwashed windows pink rock candy, drill overalls, tinned sardines, sticky kippers, sucking dummies for babies, garish underwear, impossible hats.”

People who visit museums and galleries on Sundays: “there are few pastimes less agreeable in London as elsewhere than Sunday visits to such places. Among the crowds who throng them on that day there is, on the one hand, too much consciousness of self-improvement, and, on the other, too little appreciation or intelligence.”

Luggage: “sundry cases of fibre or pasteboard or worn leather, baskets with lunch and bathing-costumes, umbrellas, tennis racquets, boxes and bundles of sorts. English luggage in general rarely delights the fastidious eye and never less so than when it is carrying the family clothing to the seaside.”

Having said this, there is more positive stuff. She likes the English countryside and she is even almost persuaded at times that there are good things about the weather. She feels that the northern cities with the terrible shops have more life and welcome in them than the sleepy south. She is transported about “the Yorkshire puddings which my housekeeper for two years has constructed for me [and which] rise like the turrets of some castle at sundown, crisp and golden, and with an appeal to the imagination perilously akin to that inspired by cooking across the channel”. But overall she sounds judgmental about people who are just going about their life, with their ugly luggage and hats and their attempts at self-improvement, and annoyingly patronising when she believes she can read people’s feelings (such as the woman on the ‘bus whom she decides is heart-broken about the flowers she is taking to a friend being less sophisticated than those another friend is taking).

I would like to know when parish churches stopped tolling for the dead (funeral tolling; death knell, passing bells, the latter apparently technically being hand bells rather than church bells). I know this custom best from The Nine Tailors (1934), where the ex-sexton and current bell-ringer, Hezekiah Lavender (good name), says “We got to ring her for every Christian soul dyin’ in the parish … That’s set down for us”. Chase notes that in the West Country, church “passing bells still toll for the dying and the dead, the initial strokes of one, two or three signifying whether a man, a woman or child has died”. And did they toll for all parish inhabitants or only for church members? What Hezekiah says implies everyone except possibly the odd atheist.

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