The special CiB meme ‘Xmas in books, accompanied by carefully chosen pictures’ is back!
Every December on the blog I feature Xmas scenes and Xmas books – I never seem to run out, but am still open to ideas and suggestions.
If you use Pinterest you can see some of the beautiful seasonal pictures on this page, and you can find (endless!) more Xmas books via the labels at the bottom of the page.
Today, a realistic picture of Xmas shopping in 1970s England
No Holly for Miss Quinn by Miss Read
Lights were strung across the streets of Caxley, and entwined the lamp standards. Christmas trees jostled pyramids of oranges in the greengrocers’ shops. Turkeys hung in rows in the butchers’, presenting their pink plump breasts for inspection. Children flattened their noses against the windows of the toy shops, while exhausted mothers struggled with laden shopping baskets and wondered what they had forgotten.
Queues formed at the Post Offices, buying stamps for stacks of Christmas cards, weighing parcels bedizened with Christmas stickers or simply inquiring, with some agitation, the last date for posting to New Zealand and getting the answer they had feared. Yet again, Aunt Flo in Wellington would receive a New Year’s card sent by air mail.
commentary: This is a charmer, in an unexpected way. I’m a big fan of Miss Read (and have featured several of her books on the blog), but had never read this one. I had a vision in my head that it would be about a lonely old lady who has no visitors at Christmas – this is the rather misleading cover:
When I finally picked it up to read, I realized that Miss Quinn is a relatively young woman: a successful and independent businesswoman. She has planned her own quiet peaceful Christmas, which will involve re-decorating her sitting-room. But then – disaster strikes for her brother and sister-in-law, and she has to cancel her plans and take off for Norfolk, where she will take over the running of a busy vicarage household, with three young children, while their mother is treated in hospital.
What I loved about the book is that Miss Quinn takes over, and copes. Everyone is nice and good-hearted. She is somewhat shocked at the state of the vicarage, but she doesn’t swoosh in and change everything, she likes the children and they like her. In any modern book she would do a makeover of herself, the vicarage and the children – but there is nothing like that. She takes great pride in making a delicious supper of fish fingers, and quite right too. She learns that her sister-in-law is a more admirable person than she’d realized, and perhaps the up-rating is mutual. But she doesn’t go home wishing she lived in a family house, she just wants to go back to her decorating. There is a whisper of possible romance, but it is clear that Miss Quinn is happy with her life and her ways – and that it is her efficiency, her work skills, that enabled her to take over.
I found it delightful.
I was surprised to find that the Irish singer and musician Enya has a track called No Holly for Miss Quinn on her album Shepherd Moons – you can hear it here. And she wrote another piece of music based on a Miss Read book – Miss Clare Remembers.
The top picture is from 1966, but the Miss Read books always seemed to be set in some distant time – No Holly reads much more like the 60s than the 70s. It comes from the Tyne and Wear archives, who have some lovely pictures of shops all done up for Christmas.
The other picture (grim realism) shows the queue outside a post office in Plymouth at Xmas 1980, and was taken by Chris Hoare for geograph.org.uk.