[Mr Downing has been invited to a Christmas tea-party]
The drawing-room was a blaze of comfort. The blackout had already been done, a wood and coal fire was throwing out grateful heat, all the lights were on and the room was full of laughter, smoke and noise. Mrs Turner, sitting on a sofa before a low table, was pouring out tea. Her other niece and Mr Greaves were sitting side by side at the piano with a large plate of cake and two cups of tea by the music stand, singing a duet and sharing the accompaniment
[Two others] were sitting cross-legged on the bearskin hearthrug and toasting scones. Mrs Paxon, in a red coat and skirt and a bright green halo hat, was near the tea table having a violent flirtation with Colonel Passmore, and Mrs Turner’s two good little evacuee boys, Derrick Pumper and Derrick Farker, were sitting under the piano dressed as Red Indians, with a third little boy, wearing a mask with a dog’s face, whom Mr Downing subsequently discovered to be their cousin who has been invited for Christmas because his mother had a new baby. All three little boys were gently playing mouth-organs, [and] someone had left the wireless on at full blast in the dining-room…
observations: Although the party is shown as being delightful, Thirkell has prefaced this social event with some more cynical sentences:
No one has ever yet described with sufficient hatred and venom this Joyous and Festive Season. As the Rector when off his guard so truly said, the war was little but an intensification of Christmas in that it either separated families that wanted to be together, or far worse, herded together families for whom normally 12 counties were not large enough.
This is the early days of the war – the whole of the book is set in the period – and people are making the best of it. One of the characters above is never given a name: Mrs Turner has a niece called Betty, and then there is someone who is referred to throughout the entire book as ‘Mrs Turner’s other niece’ or sometimes just ‘the other niece’ when being informal.
One interesting thing about the book is that no-one dies in it – not even in the normal run of things, let alone because there is a massive conflict raging not that many miles away. And also there are people who are figures of fun in it – as mentioned in this earlier entry on the book – but no real villains, no-one behaves horribly badly.
The lovely photos of a wartime Christmas party come from the ever-excellent Imperial War Museum collection.