Evensong by Beverley Nichols

Evensong Cover

Evensong by Beverley Nichols was first published in 1932 and it’s one of his straight novels, there are very few mentions of anything botanical at all, apart from flowers sent to a well-know operatic diva. Sadly, mine didn’t have its dust cover, shown to the right.

Pauline is a young Canadian woman who is travelling to England to be with her Aunt Irela who is a famous opera singer. Pauline is now alone in the world after the death of her father and she ends up being a paid companion to her aunt. This is no easy task as Irela is a bit of a monster, manipulative and spoiled, she has to be the centre of attraction, but she’s also miserably mean. Nichols wrote what can only be called an homage to Jane Austen when he has Irela arguing with herself over how much (little) money she should give her niece as payment.

Time is catching up with Irela though and her voice is nothing like as good as it once was, she can’t hit top C now and has to have well known arias re-scored so she can still sing them, not that she would ever admit that.

There’s a love interest for Pauline of course, but can she break away from her aunt? Or will she be stuck running after her forever?

This was enjoyable, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as his better known garden/home books such as Down the Garden Path or A Thatched Roof.

Uncle Samson by Beverley Nichols

Uncle Samson cover

Uncle Samson by Beverley Nichols was published in 1950 and I don’t think it has been reprinted since then, I don’t suppose it ever will be now, so I feel quite lucky that I stumbled across this one in a secondhand bookshop in Moffat. I had to add the book onto Goodreads as it didn’t appear on their lists. The book is the author’s thoughts on life and society in the USA in various parts of the country. I doubt if it was ever published in the US as although he praises the country and particularly the people for some things, there are plenty of things that he criticises.

In 1950 the recent independence of India was obviously still big news in the US and Nichols got tired of people jumping down his throat about the British Empire. After being lambasted for the British treatment of Indians he finally turned round and said – well at least we didn’t kill them all as you did with your Indians.

He says: America is a country where religious hysteria gushes through the fabric of the body politic with the force of a geyser.

One day Nichols was given a ticket for a New Year’s football match at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. He was puzzled by the ticket as it said on it: IMPORTANT This ticket is issued for use by a member of the Caucasian race only. It was followed by various dire threats about what would happen if it fell into the hands of a non-Caucasian.

What did it mean? Would he be allowed to use the ticket? He wasn’t Russian. Eventually he discovered it meant that black people couldn’t use the ticket. Bizarre. But of course in the 1950s the US was still a very segregated country and that upset him a lot. It was a subject he returned to again and again. He mentioned that the US was pouring money into the UK when they could have been spending it on housing as black people living just half a mile from the White House were living in shacks made out of flattened cans. He didn’t seem to realise that the money we were getting in the UK was loans which were obviously business transactions and indeed it was only a few years ago that those loans were paid back in full, with interest of course. That’s why the money wasn’t spent on making black neighbourhoods habitable. Sitting towards the back of a bus caused consternation. There’s room at the front said the conductor. But Nichols was happy sitting where he was, when he offered a young black man a light for his cigarette the poor chap started to tremble. Nichols was inadvertently getting him into trouble.

On a brighter note Nichols visited Walt Disney Studios and Walt showed him around personally. Nichols was very impressed with him, particularly that he queued up with everyone else at the canteen, and that everyone called him Walt.

There’s a chapter on American comics and comic strips. That was when I learned that there was a very popular comic strip called Blondie, I always thought that the band Blondie got there name from Debbie Harry’s hair colour – but maybe not.

It was the beginning of Alcoholics Anonymous and Nichols was very impressed with that when he had it explained to him.

Meeting Charlie Chaplin was sad as Chaplin was being persecuted. In fact Hollywood had turned against Chaplin completely, seeing him as a communist. It’s like living under the Gestapo he said. Eventually he had to go to Switzerland to live I believe.

Beverley Nichols had travelled frequently to the US over the previous 20 years and had visited 47 of the then 48 states, so he knew his subject well. I found this to be a really entertaining and interesting read, despite it being written almost 70 years ago.

Recent Book Purchases

While we were away on our recent (football inspired) trip down to England we took the opportunity to seek out secondhand bookshops, although there aren’t that many of them around nowadays, we visited the Moffat shop when we stopped there for lunch. We each bought a book there. Then on to Penrith in Northumberland where we found another bookshop. We also visited Oswestry, Shrewsbury, Alcester, Stratford on Avon, Much Wenlock, Ironbridge and Kendal. The upshot of that is that I bought a total of 25 books, Jack bought 11, he’s always more reticent than I am! Some of them were bought in charity shops.

I didn’t find any books that I’ve been lusting after for ages, just some books from authors that I’ve read and enjoyed before, and a few from authors I had never even heard of – but I liked the look of them. Here are a few of them.

Latest Book Haul

1. Uncle Samson by Beverley Nichols. It was published in 1950 and is his observations on the American way of life. I think it’ll be a witty report on social history.

2. Rendezvous by Daphne du Maurier is a collection of her short stories.

3. Getting It Right by Elizabeth Jane Howard. I loved the Cazalet Chronicles so I have high hopes for this one.

4. Seven Dead by J. Jefferson Farjeon, a British Library Crime Classic.

5. Counting the Stars by Helen Dunmore. She’s an author that I’ve only recently discovered – sadly she died just a few months ago.

6. An Experiment in Love by Hilary Mantel, published in 1995 and very different from her Tudor books I’m sure.

I found three D.E. Stevenson paperbacks in an antiques centre for all of £1 each, they were the most interesting things in the whole place.

7. Still Glides the Stream by D.E. Stevenson

8. Crooked Adam by D.E. Stevenson

9. The House of the Deer by D.E. Stevenson.

10. The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall is a Virago which was going for 50p so although I know I could have borrowed it from the library I decided to buy it.

That’ll do for now. Have you read any of these ones?

The 1968 Club

1968

At the moment I’m reading A Small Town in Germany by Len Deighton for the 1968 Club which has been organised by Simon at Stuck in a Book and Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings. This week came around far too quickly for me, I had intended to read a few books for it, but here are a few that I’ve read previously.

A Cargo of Eagles by Margery Allingham

Consider the Lilies by Iain Crichton Smith

The Public Image by Muriel Spark

Mount Vernon Love Story by Mary Higgins Clark

Garden Open Tomorrow by Beverley Nichols

The Salzburg Connection by Helen MacInnes

It’s an eclectic mix I think you’ll agree. I hope to have A Small Town in Germany finished soon.

Orkney Book Purchases

For some reason I never gave any thought to the book buying possibilities in Orkney, but as we were driving around Kirkwall looking for a place to park I spotted a sign saying those wonderful words – Secondhand Books. Luckily after visiting the town centre, Saint Magnus Cathedral and two Historic Scotland properties we were able to walk back to the car and find the bookshop not too far away. So my haul was.

Latest Book Haul

1. The Tall Stranger by D.E. Stevenson
2. Evensong by Beverley Nichols
3. Hunting the Fairies by Compton Mackenzie
4. Rogues and Vagabonds by Compton Mackenzie
5. Cloak of Darkness by Helen MacInnes
6. North from Rome by Helen MacInnes
7. Britannia Mews by Margery Sharp
8. Off In a Boat (A Hebridean Voyage) by Neil M. Gunn

Six of them are by Scottish authors so they’ll come in handy for the Reading Scotland 2017 Challenge.

Have you read any of these?

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.

Garden Open Tomorrow by Beverley Nichols

 Garden Open Tomorrow cover

Garden Open Tomorrow by Beverley Nichols was first published in 1968 although my copy is a Country Book Club publication from 1972.

Beverley Nichols was of course a well known garden writer and he also appeared on TV but he was just a bit before my time I think, I certainly don’t ever remember him being on TV. Percy Thrower was the first TV garden presenter in my life. But I’ve really enjoyed the Nichols books that I’ve read, particularly his early 1930s series of four books about his life in the country and the making of his homes and gardens.

Garden Open Tomorrow feels very much like a series of newspaper articles to me, I know he wrote for gardening magazines so possibly it is a compilation of those articles. There’s a lot more botany involved than in his other books I think, no bad thing mind you.

By this time he was spending quite a lot of time in America, this book begins:

‘The weather in England’ – so wrote my friends with monotonous persistence throughout the cruel winter – ‘is quite indescribable.’ Whereupon they proceed in great detail to describe it.

I was out of it all, lecturing in America, where the weather so they assumed, was not ‘indescribable’. In a sense they were right. It would have been easy for example to write a description of the tornado which hit Detroit at fourteen below zero, at the precise moment of my arrival, lifting me bodily into the air and depositing me in a gutter full of slush, whence I was removed to hospital in an ambulance, x-rayed, bandaged, and inoculated against lockjaw.

This isn’t my favourite of Beverley Nichols’ books but it’s still well worth reading if you’re interested in gardening and amusing general chit chat.

Scottish Highland Book Purchases

books 2

The photo above is of the books that I managed to buy on our brief jaunt up to the Highlands with Peggy. Some were bought at the Pitlochry railway station, a local charity has turned an old waiting room into a bookshop, and they have some great books at very reasonable prices. There’s also another second-hand bookshop just off the high street, well worth a look. I think it’s called Priory Books. I bought two there I believe.

Others I bought in Fort William in a second-hand bookshop just off the main street. It’s not that big but I’m always lucky there.

A few of these books jumped right to the top of my queue so I’ve already read three of them, but only managed to blog about one of them so far – Candleshoe.

Garden Open Tomorrow by Beverley Nichols
The Small Dark Man by Maurice Walsh
The River Monster by Compton Mackenzie
The Progress of a Crime by Julian Symons
The Wooden Overcoat by Pamela Branch
King Hereafter by Dorothy Dunnett (about Macbeth)
Quenn’s Play by Dorothy Dunnett
A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute
Candleshoe by Michael Innes
A Child’s Garden of Verses by R.L. Stevenson (illustrated by Michael Foreman)

A decent haul I think but it is a wee bit worrying that within less than two weeks I bought 24 books, apart from anything else I need another bookcase now, or maybe I should perform a book cull, but I’ve done that before and ended up regretting getting rid of some books. I might have a six months cooling off period for them in the garage and see how I feel about them after that.

Have you bought many books recently?

Back Home

We went on another British road trip last week and I managed to be organised enough to schedule some posts to be published while I was away, just in case I didn’t have access to the internet. It turned out that I didn’t feel much like being online anyway, I was too tired as usual, what with running around during the day.

We visited mainly places which we hadn’t visited before. It’s sad but true that I enjoy visiting places in the UK which I’ve heard about, mainly on the TV or radio – often just on road traffic reports, and I wonder what they’re like if I’ve not visited them.

So now I can envisage Wigan, Haydock, Biddulph Gardens, Buxton, Alcester, Blenheim Palace (Woodstock and Bladon) Geddington, Market Harborough, Geoff Hamilton’s Garden at Barnsdale (Rutland), Uppingham, Oakham, Wetherby, Northallerton, Mount Grace Priory, Sedgefield, Washington Village, Morpeth, Rothbury, Cragside and Wooler. The only places we had visited before were Alcester, Blenheim/Woodstock, Morpeth, Cragside and Wooler.

This time we started off driving down south via Moffat in the Scottish Borders. The bookshop was open and I bought two books –
1. Murder Among Friends by Elizabeth Ferrars
2. Crazy Pavements by Beverley Nichols

It was a bookish beginning to our break, we were heading for Wigan, an unlikely place to visit but as I had just read George Orwell’s Road to Wigan Pier I was intrigued to find out what it was like now. It has a newish shopping mall but you can tell from the older buildings that Wigan was indeed down at heel in the 1930s. Unlike many places, mainly down south, there was virtually nothing in the way of art deco/1930s buildings. From which I assume that nobody was doing any building at that time, it was a very depressed area. It’s not exactly vibrant at the moment but it’s still an awful lot better than Kirkcaldy, my nearest large town, which seems to have yet another empty shop each time I visit it.

We stopped off at Buxton, mainly because it was a Georgian spa town and has associations with Jane Austen.

Sedgefield was chosen as an overnight visit mainly because it was Tony Blair’s constituency when he was an MP and I wanted to compare it with Kirkcaldy. In the end I didn’t even take any photos there as it was such a wee place with just a few shops, a village really. I feel quite unreasonably aggrieved with the inhabitants of Sedgefield for voting in Tony Blair as their MP and allowing Blair to set off on his egomaniacal merry power binge which has put us in the horrendous position we are in now.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been up to over the last week or so and I plan to show you some photos of the various places which I hope you might be quite interested to see.

What did I buy when I was away? Not a lot really, apart from some more books, but that’s another blogpost.

The Moonflower by Beverley Nichols

I think that in the US this book goes under the title of The Moonflower Mystery, I bought it ages ago when I was on a bit of a Beverley Nichols reading spree. I read all of his gardening/house memoirs which I really enjoyed and when I discovered that he had written some crime fiction I decided to see what they were like, then promptly put this one on a pile and forgot about it. It was first published in 1955 and it was only when Joan @Planet Joan mentioned that she had read one that I remembered I had bought this one so pulled it out. You can read what Joan thought of the one she read, Murder by Request here.

In fact The Moonflower isn’t all that unlike the one Joan read as Nichols seems to have stuck to a gardening/plant theme and cats also get a mention. The detective is Mr Horatio Green and the setting is the edge of Dartmoor. A prisoner has escaped from the prison and he’s the third one to have escaped in six months.

Meanwhile Mr Green is ensconced in a little inn, The Greyhound, in the hamlet of Moreton Fallow and the inhabitants aren’t happy about yet another dangerous prisoner on the loose but Mr Green is more interested in a rare flower which is just about to bloom at Candle Court, the local big house. The Moonflower’s seeds cost £1,000 each and of the 13 seeds which had been obtained only seven of them have germinated. Green is determined to see the rare flower and finds himself involved in a murder of course.

This was okay-ish and mildly diverting but I prefer Beverley Nichols’ earlier books about his own life, gardens and houses.