Sunday, August 21, 2005


A House in the Country

The Telegraph gives a glowing review to Xandra Bingley's new book Bertie, May & Mrs. Fish, her memoir of growing up during the war in a formerly deserted Elizabethan farm in the Cotswolds:

Seemingly artless, this story is in fact told with great technical skill.... It is rather like leafing through somebody's family photo album: the time the cattle strayed into the clover and got blown, the time Munday cut off his fingers with the circular saw, the time the snow came in through the roof, the time Daddy brought home a clapped-out racehorse.... She writes particularly brilliantly about the relationships between people and animals. There is an extraordinary description of May dealing with a stricken bull in the aftermath of a road accident, and an account of hand-rearing a foal that, like so much of this book, is extremely touching without being in the least bit sentimental.

Horses dominate these lives. People talk of women being "due to foal", worry at funerals what will happen to the deceased's pony, and go hunting with notes sewn into their hacking jackets, instructing: "Please Do Not Take Me To Cheltenham Hospital." Anxious about her wedding night, a young bride is told by her married sister: "It's a riot, June… you'll love every minute… I just ride him astride… he's like a narrow little mare galloping along in a point-to-point."

The review ends with the suggestion that this book has "all the makings of minor classic"... to which I might add my own little bit of praise for another minor classic of the genre -- so minor, perhaps, that scarcely anybody seems to have heard of it: My Own Master, by Adrian Bell. He's better known for his novel Corduroy (still in print), but this 1961 memoir of raising a family in the country -- and staying there -- is one the most thoughtful and amiable little books I have ever come across. It's utterly out of print, but used copies still go cheaply on Abebooks.

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