Cheerfulness Breaks In by Angela Thirkell
Mr. Birkett had holes punched in an old boiler and turned it into a brazier which the Hosiers’ Boys kept supplied with wood from Thumble Coppice. The skaters, who came in dozens from the neighbourhood, warmed their hands and feet at its glow and gratefully drank hot soup which Mrs. Birkett and Mrs. Morland brought down in fish kettles and heated. Mrs. Phelps suddenly showed herself a first-class skater and for once justifying her trousers and lumber jacket performed the most dazzling evolutions with Everard Carter.
Kate brought Bobbie down in his perambulator, and as he slept the whole time he was considered to have enjoyed himself very much and shown great intelligence. All the evacuees slid in one corner, threw snowballs at each other with uncertain aim, got wet through twice a day, were smacked, dried and put to bed by their foster mothers and returned next day as full of zeal as ever. Manners, the nicest of the Hosiers’ Boys, made with the assistance of Edward the odd man a wooden sledge, upon which he gave rides to the children below school age.
commentary: This is the hard weather at the beginning of 1940: the War is starting to bite, so everyone enjoys the weather-related activities as much as they can.
The Hosier’s Boys is a London school that has been billeted on the local public school. Thirkell’s excruciating snobbery is given full rein in the clash of cultures between Londoners and locals – though she seems to soften to the visitors as time wears on, much as perhaps the hosts would have done in real life. The evacuees are seen as a formless mass of badly-behaved children, but then the local yokel children are seen the same way too. The Hosier Boys are all right so long as they don’t give themselves airs or pretend to be as good as the local toffs.
But you can get over all this because of the book’s enjoyable moments:
‘Look here, Tommy, have you read the Thirty-Nine Articles?’And Mrs Brandon’s dinner party etiquette, when Noel says he needs to talk to her later:
‘Do you mean The Thirty-Nine Steps?’ said Mr. Needham who could not believe his ears.
‘Will you league with me after dinner?’Trousers on women, always a favourite theme on the blog, feature often in the book. Mrs Phelps, above – not a young woman - is usually wearing a flowered overall over the ensemble described above. I greatly regret that I was not able to find a picture.
‘Of course I will,’ said Mrs. Brandon. ‘This dress fluffles out very nicely and if I sit on the little green settee, there won’t be room for anyone unless I choose to make it.’
Another great picture from the Imperial War Museum collection – skating in Northumberland during WW2.