Posted by: billpurdue | September 26, 2011

Alan and Debo

I’ve picked up a couple of very enjoyable reads in the last week or two: Alan Bennett’s Smut: two unseemly stories [Faber/Profile £12.00 9781846685255] and Wait for Me! : Memoirs of the youngest Mitford Sister [Murray, £20 9781848541900] by Deborah Devonshire.

The first book consists of two short stories “The Greening of Mrs Donaldson” and “The Shielding of Mrs Forbes”. In the first, Mrs Donaldson, whose husband has recently died, volunteers as a “proto-patient” at the hospital in order to help train student doctors and nurses. She also decides to take in student lodgers, much to the annoyance of her daughter. Her lodgers, being behind with the rent, hit upon a novel way of paying the arrears, which has unforeseen consequences.

The second story is as much about Mrs Forbes as it is about her son Graham. She can’t help being disappointed in Graham’s choice of a future wife – not very good looking and a few years older than him. After the marriage, Graham thinks he can carry on with his sex life in just the same way as he did when he was single and ends up getting into spot of bother. His wife, Betty, has more gumption than he gives her credit for, as she skilfully manages the situation to her own advantage.

I have always enjoyed reading Alan Bennet’s stories and his other prose and these two stories were no exception. As regards the “smutty” subject matter of these stories, there is nothing to worry about. Alan Bennett’s treatment of the subject is as delicate and tasteful as you would expect from him

Wait for Me!…..

…. is the title of the memoirs of Deborah Devonshire – Debo to her friends – in which she tells of episodes in her very busy life right from the moment she was born on 31st March 1920 in Kensington. The family soon moved to Asthall Manor in the Cotswolds and seem to have had several moves according to the fluctuation of their fortunes. In this wide ranging autobiographical book, she writes as much about her sisters and her parents as about herself.

The book begins with a short foreword explaining the many nicknames which Debo and her sisters used for members of the family and others. Mother and Father were Muv and Farve. Debo herself was called Stubby by her parents because of her short fat legs. I thought it might be difficult to remember all the nicknames when reading further in the book, but I needn’t have worried.

There have been many memorable moments in Debo’s life and the lives of her sisters: taking tea with Hitler, the time when President Kennedy toured Chatsworth House with members of the public looking on in amazement , her sister Diana’s marriage to Oswald Mosley , Unity’s attempted suicide and Debo’s experiences as a government minister’s wife and of course “living above the shop” – managing Chatsworth House and its gardens.

This is a fascinating book: Debo tells of so many memorable episodes in her life, that some of the events are only described briefly and you are left thinking that you might have liked to know more about them. That said, it is a real page turner, except perhaps when she reaches the stage when she is in charge of the running of Chatsworth, which is a bit of an anticlimax after what she has written up to then, though still interesting. I would certainly recommend it.

I’m now reading: Good Time Charleys by Mansfield’s own Roy Bainton. I’ll be commenting on that next time.

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