This is the last book in Beverley Nichols’s Allways trilogy and I enjoyed it just as much as the first two, Down the Garden Path and A Thatched Roof, despite the fact that there isn’t a lot about his garden in this one.
His books are based on his life in the village of Glatton in what is now Cambridgeshire. They seem to be true accounts of his experiences, to an extent, with a lot of embroidery of details I’m sure. There is a part of the book which is very similar to bits in the previous book, about a lazy servant, but you know – you couldn’t get the staff!
In fact Beverley Nichols rarely has a good word to say about women in general. Miss Hazlitt, his old governess is the exception and she takes the place of a mother in his affections. So far I haven’t come across any mention of his actual mother, which is very strange given that he was obviously gay and in my experience gay chaps often have a very close relationship with their mother. He mentions his father quite a lot, and apparently he hated him, but you wouldn’t know it from the books I’ve read.
I did realise whilst reading this one that the characters remind me very much of those in the Mapp and Lucia books of E.F. Benson. The whole set up is very similar, sleepy English village, early 1930s, buying shares in mines, financial disaster for one of them, penny pinching and remodelling of old clothes by the characters, one of them setting up a shop/teashop… the list goes on! There isn’t as much bitchy wit in the Nichols books but it would be difficult to top the spats between Mapp and Lucia, let’s face it.
I had to laugh when they were all discussing what should be sold in the village shop, they were sure that Miss Hazlitt wouldn’t want to sell tobacco or cigarettes but thought they could get around her if they promised to hand out a leaflet with every packet, warning of the evils of smoking too much.
It was surely proof of the distance we had departed from reality that this suggestion was received with complete gravity. For as I look back on it, I can imagine no stranger principles on which any commercial undertaking could have been begun. To warn one’s customers, with each packet of cigarettes of the dire effects which would result from smoking them, to tell them that they were straining their hearts, impairing their digestions, lowering their morale, and generally hurrying themselves at full tilt towards the nearest lunatic asylum … this would be, indeed, an odd way in which to build up a flourishing retail business.
As Beverley Nichols lived a fairly long life, not dying until 1985, he must have lived to see cigarettes packaged with health warnings I think. How times change, my own mother was actually advised to take up smoking cigarettes by a doctor in the 1940s, to help her digestive problems! Luckily for her she couldn’t get on with smoking at all, and preferred to put up with the indigestion.
Anyway, if you like Beverley Nichols you’ll probably enjoy this book, although he seems to forget what he has written in previous books as I know that he mentioned before that he was a Christian, but suddenly in this one he is an atheist, although he would like to believe. Maybe it depended on his mood at the time of writing!
I had wondered why he ended up moving from his idyllic thatched cottage after only nine years their, apparently the villagers were unhappy that some of his weekend guests (male) were chatting up the young village lads. The possibility of police involvment seems to have resulted in his move away from the village. I can just imagine the parents’ outrage at the possibility of their sons being corrupted, and I can’t say I blame them really.
If you want to read more about Beverley Nichols, have a look at this New York Times article. If you want to see some images of the village of Glatton, the original Allways, have a look here.
My copy of this book is an old library book, first edition I suppose you would call it, in not bad condition, but not as good as the others I have, but it does still have the original library sticker on it. It cost 3d, to borrow the book for 7 days. That seems quite expensive to me considering it was 1934. Thank goodness for free libraries nowadays!