Skating & Hard Weather in January

Cheerfulness Breaks In by Angela Thirkell

published 1940

Thirkell skating

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?’
‘Do you mean The Thirty-Nine Steps?’ said Mr. Needham who could not believe his ears.
And Mrs Brandon’s dinner party etiquette, when Noel says he needs to talk to her later:
‘Will you league with me after dinner?’
‘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.’
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.

Another great picture from the Imperial War Museum collection – skating in Northumberland during WW2.


  1. That does sound like an interesting clash, Moira - Londoners versus the locals. And it sounds as though this one really captures wartime life, if that makes sense. And I do like those bits of writing you've shared. Nice one to read by a warm hearth...

    1. Exactly Margot - a nice undemanding comfort read, with some great details of its time.

  2. Someone suggested this to me years ago, and I have very vague memories of or a reading it. From this one book she struck me as someone who really resented the modern world, although her snobbery is leavened by a sort of 'we're all in this together, work for victory' attitude and her sense of humour. If the snobbishness were softened or at least ridiculed a bit, it's the sort of thing that might well work as a TV series.

    The thing that I remember the most were the hard-drinking, straight-talking lesbian couple. Thirkell obviously views them with tremendous affection, which seems strange given her attitude to everything else. Their sexuality is made plain with a lot of sly jokes and references which I recall made the book seem strangely ahead of its time for me. The person who originally suggested the book to me, told me that they put him in mind of a couple he had known in the village that he had grown up in just after the War. They were very obviously a romantic pairing, and made no attempt to hide their partnership. However, in appearance and manner they were very much in the mold of Celia Johnson/Dulcie Gray. They were always helpful, always paid their bills on time, and best of all they often threw parties where booze flowed very freely. As a result they were liked and respected locally. What one might have thought would finish them in 'polite' society was treated, when anyone mentioned it at all, as a mild eccentricity.


    1. Yes, that is absolutely a description of the book, and she does have some unexpected views - she has that awful 'but it's only common sense' attitude to anything she believes in, and a completely snide take on anyone else. But at the same time, the lesbians are indeed splendid here. (as they were in the DE Stevenson Miss Buncle's Book featured earlier this week - DES comes over as a much nicer person than Thirkell in other respects). I find I can read Thirkell books one at a time - I enjoy the story, and the jokes, and get over my annoyance with her. Two in succession would be too much. But she is entertaining, and funny.

      And it is terribly encouraging to think of the lesbian couples living happily in their villages, in fiction and in real life...

  3. It has been a long time since I was skating outside. I can remember freezing my toes several times in grade school.

    I was glad to hear of the trousers and lumber jacket. A flimsy skating outfit is not made for January outdoors skating whether England or Canada.

    Now the flowered overalls sounded a bit much. No self-respecting Canadian would be skating in flowered overalls.

    1. I knew you would have a practical comment Bill! I am entranced by the flowered overall, but I do see a proper Canadian woman would not be wearing it...


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