[Anthony Tolworth finds his aunt sun-bathing on a beach in the south of France]
‘Aunt Ethel,’ he said… ‘I’ll buy you a drink.’
She heaved herself up and staggered giddily with the effort. From the sand she picked up a flowered cretonne beach-robe which she donned with the maximum of satisfaction.
‘I bought this in Dulwich,’ she said.
‘I shouldn’t like to condemn Dulwich on one mistake, however glaring. Don’t you think it would look smarter just carried over the arm?’
‘It covers my altogether prepossessing thighs,’ she said. ‘That is what I bought it for.’
Anthony sighed gently and took her arm. He placed her inconspicuously in a corner of the terrace, not, he told her, because he was not proud of her personality, but the Dulwich kimono might get the restaurant a bad name.
She grinned… and modestly tucked in her beach-robe. ‘I know, by experience, that no establishment frequented by any member of the Tolworth family could possibly have a worse name.’
observations: In a stylistic (and not at all judgemental) mood, I wonder if that should read ‘not altogether prepossessing’ – or else ‘unprepossessing’?
Very recently the blog featured Matthew Sweet’s marvellous West End Front, and its chapter on rootless European Royals in London during WW2. That reminded me of anecdotes I had heard about the Albanian King Zog and his entourage on the Riviera. And that reminded me of this murder story, read many years ago, which deals with an imaginary, rather Ruritanian, King Rudolph III of Althenia. He is in exile: a young, handsome, unmarried fellow (his mother says ‘the people would almost certainly have called him Rudolph the Golden and names like that are so important in a monarchy’), accompanied by his British friend Anthony, the hero.
The lady above, Aunt Etheldra, many years ago, on a previous beach holiday, ‘fell in love with a romantic young man whom I later discovered to be the assistant of the old woman who hired out the donkeys… your uncle caught me on the rebound.’
There is murder, potential scandal, and a Casino setting – in this entry I concluded sadly that modern casinos aren’t really glamorous, and that it is difficult to find pictures of them, but in books of the mid-20th century they were always dramatic, upmarket, glittering and cosmopolitan.
The book is funny, but this one worked for me, unlike Pamela Branch’s comedy murder story The Wooden Overcoat (rude remarks in recent entry). I liked the minor character saying ‘Below the age of 30 you are merely broke. Beyond that age you are poor, which is a different thing entirely.’
The story-arc of the King and his country bears no relation to reality – see Sweet’s book for less happy tales. One thinks also of blog favourite Nancy Mitford - not the epitome of brutal realism but busy telling us of Royals who are ‘wanted by the police in France and not much wanted anywhere else’, especially not in their own countries.
The Queen Mother here tells us that they always had the curtains drawn at night at home ‘but that of course was to prevent tiresome people from shooting at us.’
‘Anarchists, not our own happy people’ says a diplomatic statesman hastily, whose job is to ‘whitewash’ the Royal House – ‘he must be a busy man’ someone else comments.
The picture shows playclothes that can be made from Simplicity patterns, in case you can’t get to that shop in Dulwich.