The Week Before Christmas by Freda C Bond is the second of four books about the Carol family, which I mentioned briefly here. The cover and black & white drawings are by Mays, who illustrated Noel Streatfeild’s Curtain Up and many of the Jennings books.
The four Carol children live with their parents in a smart London flat, with ‘Posset’ as they call her, coming in every day to do the work. How agreeable. At the start of the Christmas holidays the younger children, Squibs and Tony, fear that things will be dull until Christmas. Instead, in the week of the title they find themselves hunting for their mother’s stolen ring, tracking a missing child, getting on the trail of turkey rustlers and befriending a nice refugee family. Tony’s life is busy as he has a good singing voice and is very involved with the local church choir. He takes religion seriously as does older sister Susan, who goes to a boarding school run by Anglican nuns. You can tell what sort of girl she is when she takes a liking to a girl they meet, thinking, ‘I bet she’d make a wizard prefect.’ Lawrence is also at boarding school and turning into a languid, arrogant public schoolboy. At home with his family he becomes quite human and as keen on adventures and planning a Christmas charade as the rest of them.
From the jacket blurb: What we especially like about Freda Bond’s books is that they are happy stories about real-life people, who manage to have adventures in their everyday comings and goings. Her children and grown-ups alike are lovable and natural – the sort of folk who might live next door to you. If your neighbour happened to be a famous actress, that is. As far as I’m concerned, the Carols need never have any adventures at all; I like just to read about their daily lives in post-war London.
High Rising has long been one of my favourite Angela Thirkell books and as it begins with Laura Morland picking up her son Tony for the Christmas holidays, I thought it counted as a Christmas book. I’d recommend this as the starter for anyone who hasn’t tried Thirkell before. My copy is a brown-paged old Penguin but that didn’t stop me loving the re-read.
I followed it up with Christmas at High Rising, a collection of stories not previously collected together. This is a slight book in terms both of content and of flimsy production (by Virago Modern Classics). I would have bought the cheaper Kindle version but I have an almost complete Thirkell collection and wanted to add this to it. Five of the stories are Barsetshire ones and feature Tony Morland. The reviewer in The Scribbler found this a pain as she doesn’t like Tony. Glad though I am not to be responsible for the exhausting child, I find him highly entertaining. I can very quickly have enough of George Knox, though.
I found Shakespeare Did Not Dine Out the most interesting of the three other pieces. Thirkell picks several Shakespeare plays and amusingly points out what a terrible time people had at the ‘parties’ as she calls them. This essay annoyed me because it shows how very clever Thirkell was and therefore how even more reprehensible her attitude in the novels to ‘educated women’, who are mostly given a hard time. ‘I’m not educated, thank God,’ says Laura Morland. Grrr. Alexander McCall Smith is quoted on the back cover of this book saying, of High Rising, ‘Very funny indeed. Thirkell is perhaps the most Pym-like of any twentieth-century author, after Pym herself.’ Really, AMS should have more taste. Angela Thirkell was a *far* better writer than Barbara Pym and much, much funnier. This Pym-mania is a thing I shall never understand.
Next, a book I should have mentioned before but forgot about. The Accidental Dictionary by Paul Anthony Jones is not a Christmas book; more a Christmas present book. The author blogs about language at Haggard Hawks. He is intrigued by the origins of words and their changing meanings and his book is full of fascinating, useless information. Not the OED but absorbing for anyone interested in language. I was sent a copy of this by Elliott and Thompson.
After finishing Christmas at High Rising I began another Christmas story (Last Christmas by Julia Williams) only to realise that I’d read it before, although it wasn’t on my list of books read. So I cast it aside and began Jill Paton Walsh’s latest Peter Wimsey book, The Late Scholar. A reliable source has stated this to be ‘dire’. We shall see.