The 1951 Club

the 1951 club

I’ve read and blogged about quite a few books that were published in 1951 in recent years, so if you’re interested in my thoughts on them click on the titles.

A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor

The Wooden Overcoat by Pamela Branch

The Willow Cabin by Pamela Frankau

Cork on the Water by Macdonald Hastings

The Catherine Wheel by Patricia Wentworth

The Duke’s Daughter by Angela Thirkell

The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

Merry Hall by Beverley Nichols

Duplicate Death by Georgette Heyer

School for Love by Olivia Manning

Of course 1951 was an important year in Britain as we had The Festival of Britain which went on for most of the year – or at least until the general election when Churchill became PM again and he saw the whole thing as being Socialist so he shut it all down – spoilsport!

But apparently the Festival was a life-saver for the people who had by then been suffering under austerity for years and years what with the war and even worse rationing post-war. It cheered people up no end to see the bright colours and modern designs, and was a great opportunity for artists, designers and makers.

Before I started blogging I read and enjoyed Festival at Farbridge by J.B. Priestley which was published in 1951 and has local events featuring the festival.

I blogged about the festival some years ago and if you’re interested you can see that post here.

The Blessing by Nancy Mitford

The Blessing cover

The Blessing by Nancy Mitford was first published in 1951, so I decided to read it for the 1951 Club which is being hosted by Karen of Kaggy’s Bookish Ramblings and Simon of Stuck in a Book.

The Blessing was a re-read for me but it was way back in the 1970s when I first read it and as far as I can recall – I enjoyed it just as much this time around.

It’s the beginning of World War 2 and Grace is a young upper class English woman who is engaged to Hughie. He has just gone off to war and he chose not to marry Grace before leaving, thinking it would be unfair on her if he was killed. Subsequently Grace meets Charles-Edouard a rich Frenchman who is going to join up with de Gaulle and is determined to marry Grace because he wants a son – in case he is killed during the war.

Of course Grace ends up dumping poor Hughie and marrying Charles-Edouard and she doesn’t see him for seven long years, but she did get pregnant immediately after the wedding so when her husband does get back from the war he has a six year old son Sigi who is rather spoiled and used to getting his own way.

Grace and her family move to France and so begins her education in the ways of French marriages. As predicted Charles-Edouard is far from being a faithful husband and his relatives and friends are less than impressed with his choice of wife.

When Grace leaves her husband in high dudgeon after an infidelity too far she goes back to live with her father in England and Sigi quickly realises that he can play his parents off against each other to his own benefit.

This makes it sound like rather a grim read but The Blessing is really quite hilarious in parts. When I think about Nancy Mitford’s own experiences of life in France post-war though – where she hung about for years waiting for her married lover to spare some time for her, putting her own life on hold for him, it’s actually quite sad that she knew what to expect from men of that type, but she still chose to do it – AND when his wife did die, he went off and married someone else!

As it happens over the years I’ve read and written about quite a few 1951 books, but I’ll mention those ones later.

1951 club

Nella Last’s Peace – The post-war diaries of Housewife, 49

Nella Last's Peace cover

Luckily I have a copy of Nella Last’s Peace so I was able to dive straight into it after finishing her war-time diaries. I love being in her company although for quite a lot of this book Nella was suffering from poor health, almost certainly due to the end of the war meaning that she no longer had a reason to get out of the house and meet lots of people. Her life was closing in around her again, it’s a sad fact that the war had given a lot of people a purpose to live, they all felt they were pulling together against a common enemy – Fascism.

After the war rationing actually got worse and there are far more mentions of tinned food in this book, it seems that it was much more difficult for Nella to make the delicious meals that Will had been lucky enough to be given during the war. As Nella loved cooking and feeding people it must have been difficult for her. Petrol was also rationed until mid 1950 but luckily Will always managed to have enough to drive Nella to her beloved Coniston in the Lake District from time to time. I think it was only those trips and her beloved pets that kept her sane, but over the years she learned to be more positive and ‘polish up the dark side’.

The suicide rates particularly for women were pretty high and there seem to be a lot of them amongst Nella’s acquaintances – and they were reported in the local newspaper, something that they tend to keep quiet about nowadays if possible. Perhaps it’s just as well that we now have non poisonous natural gas and not coal gas as the preferred method of ‘topping’ themselves seems to have been to stick their head in the gas oven.

These peace-time diaries concentrate on neighbours and family members, Nella still has worries about her sons and her relationship with Will her husband is still up and down, they’re really a mis-matched couple, complete opposites who should never have married. There were times though when I was on Will’s side although after 35 years of marriage I was surprised that Nella didn’t seem to know him as well as I did. How could she have been happy that for one he had made a quick decision about buying a new (to them) car? I knew it was going to end up a disaster!

I found it very frustrating that about 18 months of the diaries went missing during the war and in that time obviously a lot of things happened. For one thing we don’t know what happened to Nella’s chickens, suddenly they aren’t there and she’s having to barter for fresh eggs.

Nella comes across as being a very caring person with a conscience which led her to being taken advantage of, particularly by her husband’s family, all of whom had treated her quite badly over the years, but it didn’t stop her from organising care for them in their old age.

Mostly though I think it was taking part in the Mass Observation experiment that had a big impact on her life and writing these diaries, getting it all off her chest, and also in some way becoming a writer, something she had always fancied doing. I’m sure she would have been amazed to see what had become of her writing. She also spent a lot of time writing to various people during the war, to friends of her sons who were servicemen and such, I bet those letters were looked forward to. I wonder if any of those were saved, I’m sure they would have made entertaining reading too.

I’ll have to track down a copy of Nella Last in the 1950s now. I can’t wait.

My spring garden

Although I say it myself, my garden is looking very colourful at the moment. I especially love the pansies in the photo below, but in reality they look more purple than they are here.
pansies

My so-called rockery, which isn’t very rocky – is full of primulas and the aubretia is just beginning to bloom too. There’s always work going on so buckets and tools are likely to be lurking in the background as you can see.

rockery

rockery

I wasn’t going to bother planting any daffodil bulbs as there are so many wild ones growing around where I live but I couldn’t resist planting some miniature ones.

miniature  daffodils

Below are some of the wild daffodils just outside my back gate.

daffodils

Or are these ones narcissi, I’m never quite sure? As you can see – some of the trees have really started to green up now, it seemed along time a-coming!

daffodils

daffodils

Death of a Ghost by Margery Allingham

Death of a Ghost cover

Death of a Ghost by Margery Allingham was first published in 1934 and it’s the sixth Albert Campion murder mystery, so fairly early in his career and for me that’s the problem with this book. As he matured Allingham wrote Campion as a much more interesting character than he was in his early days, he’s just too shadowy and one dimensional, I much prefer the older married Campion.

John Lafcadio was a great artist and he decided that to keep his name going as long as possible after his death he would paint several pictures to be unveiled after his death – one a year, beginning ten years after his death. I have to say that that is a great idea.

It’s the eighth unveiling of one of those paintings, so eighteen years after his death, and there are lots of famous people at the party, suddenly the lights go out – a shilling is needed for the electricity meter, and there’s a murder!

So begins Campion’s investigation, aided by Stanislaus Oates, but for me there’s just not enough of Campion and it’s all a bit predictable.

Dunkeld, Perthshire

Last Saturday was a gorgeous day, unseasonally warm for early April and we drove up to Dunkeld again. After having lunch at Palmerston’s and having a poke around a wee antiques shop and an unexpected church jumble sale – where I bought a big bag of tapestry wool (when will you use it? said Jack) and some cute wee individual Pyrex dishes, we set off for a walk around the outskirts of the town. So we walked through the gateway below which is at the beginning of a long driveway leading to a hotel in beautiful surroundings.

Dunkeld

As you near the hotel they have a boat planter full of spring flowers and an ‘angler’ catching a wooden fish.

Dunkeld

Perthshire or Perth and Kinross as I think the county is called now (why do they have to keep changing names?) is well known for beautiful trees and some of the ones around here are quite historic. As you can see from the ‘hills’ of earth on the bottom left hand of the photo the moles have been hard at work!

Dunkeld

As the walk goes uphill towards the end you end up quite high above the River Tay.
Dunkeld

It looked really placid from a distance but when you are close up it’s really fast flowing.
Dunkeld

This is a circular walk and it leads you back into the centre of Dunkeld, straight to the cathedral, you can see images of it here.

Beatrix Potter visited Dunkeld and the neighbouring village of Birnam every summer with her parents for years and was inspired to write some of her stories here. She also took up the study of fungi and painted beautiful specimens she had collected, unfortunately as a woman she wasn’t taken seriously by the men in charge of such sciences. There is a Beatrix Potter Exhibition and Garden at the Birnam Arts and Conference Centre which displays some of her botanical drawings. Birnam and Dunkeld more or less run into each other but are separated by the river.

There’s also the nearby Birnam Oak which is all that is left of the Birnam Wood of Shakespeare’s Macbeth fame, but I’ll save that for another post.

The Pursuit of Paradise by Jane Brown

The Pursuit of Paradise cover

I think it must be a few years since I bought The Pursuit of Paradise – A Social History of Gardens and Gardening by Jane Brown. I wasn’t really too sure what to expect of it. Sometimes gardening books are a bit like ‘teaching granny to suck eggs’, not that I think I know everything about the subject, but as I’ve been gardening since I was a wee girl, over fifty years!! – it’s inevitable that you pick up a lot of information one way and another.

But this book was informative, it has eleven chapters:
1. The Purest of Human Pleasure
2. The Secret Garden
3. The Military Garden
4. Emancipated Gardeners
5. The Rise of the Small Garden
6. Acquiring Eden
7. Science Lends a Hand
8. It’s Clever, but is it Art?
9. Labour of Love
10. The Formative Garden
11. Future Gardens

I found The Military Garden most interesting as it hadn’t dawned on me that so many gardening terms come from the arts of warfare – cordon, earthing-up, trench, bastion, palisade, covered way and more. It seems that when generals were at a loose end after wars were won, they went home and started to plan gardens where they could keep everything under control, just as they had commanded their men. All that topiary stood in for regiments of men!

This one is definitely worth reading if you enjoy social history and gardening.

Cellardyke, Fife, Scotland

A couple of weeks ago some friends invited us to spend an afternoon along the coast at Cellardyke, their house is very handy for the beach, in fact it backs onto it, the tide was almost as high as it gets. I just took some photos of a small part of the beach, the North Sea looked lovely and clear, but I suspect that like most other stretches of sea nowadays – it’s full of teeny wee plastic particles.

Cellardyke, Fife, Scotland

Cellardyke

Cellardyke

Cellardyke

It looks like I must have taken this photograph from a boat but it’s just the angle that the beach takes. I’ve always wondered why the village was called Cellardyke and I’ve just discovered that it’s a corruption of Sil’erdykes as the harbour walls were covered with the drying fishing nets which were covered in silvery fish scales.

You can see more images of Cellardyke here.

We’ll be going back to that area soonish as we plan to take the boat over to the Isle of May (weather permitting) as we’ve never been there before and I dying to get some photos of puffins and whatever other seabirds might be around the place.

On The Beach by Nevil Shute

On the Beach cover

On The Beach by Nevil Shute was first published in 1957 and probably you’ve all read it already, but I hadn’t even seen the film (two have been made) and I had no idea what it was about.

Of course it’s about the end of the world – as we know it, and that came as a bit of a shock to me, in fact I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue reading it, but I bashed on anyway and although it’s well written as you would expect of something written by Shute, I did find it a bit of a downer, especially given all the sabre-rattling that’s going on in the world today – and in every direction I look there seem to be unstable leaders.

The story is of course based in Australia where Shute moved to from England. It’s set mainly in and around Melbourne, there’s been a short but catastrophic war culminating in nuclear weapons being used and particularly a cobalt bomb which was designed to cause the maximum nuclear fallout over a large area.

At the beginning of the book most of the inhabitants of Earth are already dead from radiation sickness and the residents of Australia are waiting on the contaminated air to reach them. Everything is running out, people are using horse-power again as there is very little petrol for cars, but most people haven’t really come to terms with the fact that they only have months to live, people are in denial and still make plans for the future. I liked most of the characters and their actions seemed to me to be believable.

On a personal note, I was still at primary school and it was the height of the Cold War when I realised that in the event of a nuclear war the area that I lived in would be first in line for a nuclear strike as I lived close to the nuclear submarine base on the west coast of Scotland, in fact my dad worked there. It didn’t worry me for long though as I thought that it would be an advantage to ‘go’ in a flash so to speak. On The Beach just made me think that I was absolutely right about that.

I read this one for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2017.

Nella Last’s War – The Second World War Diaries of Housewife, 49

Nella Last's War

Nella Last’s War – The Second World War Diaries of Houswife, 49 is a great read, I loved it and the author Nella Last. Nella was one of the many people who had signed up to be part of a Mass Observation project which was started in 1937 by a social research organisation. Her wartime diaries are full of interest and lovely writing. Nella would have liked to have been a writer of books, presumably novels, she could certainly write and her diaries are a window into the life of an ordinary woman.

Nella had suffered from ill health before the war and had even had operations, although she didn’t specify what sort, but it seems that her illnesses must have been stress related and almost certainly caused by the narrow life that she led. Her home was her whole world and her husband, a self-employed joiner, was an old-fashioned man who felt he had to be in control, despite the fact that he was less than dynamic. Poor Nella must have had a life of watching him make the wrong decisions time and time again and she had to cope with the consequent fall-out, particularly a lack of money.

So it’s just as well that Nella was such a good manager – give her five tins of sardines and a few loaves and she could have fed the five thousand – AND had some left over for tomorrow’s lunch! Not that her husband was impressed, he took her completely for granted. Half-way through the book I thought that their relationship was improving, but it didn’t last for long.

Nella’s mental and physical health improved vastly when she started doing voluntary work for the war effort. This was the first time she had ever set forth to do anything without her husband William, and with two sons she had never had many females in her life, she lacked a woman friend and the companionship that she found in the three jobs that she took on must have given her a big boost, even although some of the other women were of the awkward variety.

Nella had a great affinity with her animals, cat, dog and chickens and knowing this her doctor entrusted her with the life of a tiny premature baby – until the mother was well enough to look after it herself. I’m aware that as she is writing all this herself then you might think that this is just a woman who enjoys blowing her own trumpet a lot but she doesn’t come across as that sort of person at all.

There were a couple of things that I didn’t agree with her about – she mentioned that it was in the newspapers that Hitler had euthanised (murdered) a lot of Germans who had been regarded as being mentally defective and that was one thing that she agreed with Hitler about as she didn’t see any point in such people being a drain on society – words to that effect anyway. But of course Nella would not have realised that many of the people who Hitler had had ‘put down’ had suffered from similar problems that she had had pre-war, people who suffered from depression or had had a nervous breakdown were murdered in that barbarism.

Nella also ‘laid into’ her husband when he was afraid for their soldier son’s life, something that I thought was completely natural.

I could write a lot more about this book but as almost everybody seems to have got to it long before I did I’ll leave it at that. Luckily I already have her peace time diaries to read.

I enjoyed watching Victoria Wood in Housewife, 49 but now that I’ve read the book I feel that Wood portrayed Nella quite differently, as I recall Nella seemed quite pathetic at times, and I don’t think she ever was.