My Friend Sandy by Jane Duncan

published 1961  chapter 6

I had a sewing-party round our dining-room table, cutting holes in sugar-bags for the heads and arms of varlets to go through while Sir Ian and Sandy measured and cut lengths of rope for belts

“Mrs Cranston” said Marion “take my car and go to the Club and bring back all that red and blue bunting we had for the peace celebrations…We’ll give Red Gurk’s lot red sort of tabard things and Lord Dulac’s lot blue ones…” 

Our house hummed with massed sewing-machines, and costumes and draperies began, as Twice put it, to ‘come off the belt.’ With the help of Madame’s old Letty, her personal maid of some fifty year’s standing, I concentrated on the finicky things, such as Sashie’s cap with the horns and bells and his red and yellow tunic – he insisted on providing his own nether garments as he called them – Sandy’s beggar’s rags and gypsy frills and Dorothy and Maud’s high veiled head-dresses.

observations: As I shamelessly pursue my way through this series of 19 books (see here and here for the beginnings of the trail, or click on the Jane Duncan label below) I may read them all but I don’t have to blog about them all, and this is truly a lesser entry, and could have been omitted.


I do love anything about amateur dramatics and/or dressing up (plenty of evidence in previous entries) , and this book ends with a massive pageant of very English history, at an old plantation mansion house in the West Indies. Don’t ask.

Almost the whole book takes place on this fictional island of St Jago, with a lot of discussion of the coloured question, which manages to be both boring and shocking to modern sensibilities. The heroine confides in us, in her special I'm-such-an-original-me voice, that she loves words, that she is old-fashioned (and wishes young people were more polite), that she is not a slave to fashion. Most certainly someone you would avoid in real life. The other big problem with the book is that two rather major things happen (a strong attraction between two people, and a rapid descent by someone else into alcoholism) but these events happen almost totally offstage, we are witness to nothing but the endgame, and it is unsatisfactory.

But on the plus side, here we are again at the archive of the Builth Wells Historical Pageant of 1909, provided for us by the National Library of Wales, a set of photos I can never get enough of. Maybe one day I will find the book that requires as illo the photo called ‘Miss Godby dancing to the dirge’, (subtitle: ‘Queen of the Fairies foretelling the death of Prince Llewellyn’) and then I will probably think the blog can close down. Meanwhile, these photos are the Court Jester, played by Arthur Price, and some Norman and Welsh squires and soldiers.


  1. As a counter to such gleefully jolly outfitting of troupes of varlets in red and blue, see George Orwell's A Clergyman's Daughter. The heroine suffers a breakdown while making costumes for a pageant and comes to in a different city, wearing a dress, hat and shoes that aren't hers. We never find out what happened to her while she was "out". It's all rather sad.

    1. Oh intriguing. I'm not sure I've ever read Clergyman's Daughter, although I must've read almost everything else by him, I think it always sounded too sad. The role of the pageant in British life and literature is obviously ready for investigation.

  2. Moira - I have to say, I like the focus on costumes and preparing for a play as well. So as unsatisfying as this one might be, I can't deny there's something about that threatre setting...

  3. Yes, I know that I am a sucker for certain themes, and can be a lot more forgiving of an author if cthey pop up.


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