There are times when you just need a book that’s going to make you smile and get a warm reassuring glow – and certainly I needed this recently with all the madness that’s going on in the world.
“Garden Open Tomorrow” is Late Beverley Nichols (1960s) and combines his traditional witty commentary and gardening knowledge, with more modern topics – a chapter where he relates how the Rachel Carson book “The Silent Spring” had made him rethink his use of pesticides was fascinating, and perhaps unexpected.
The book, of course, is a rambling joy – although ostensibly (and very much!) a gardening book, Nichols goes from the effects of cold on gardens, to cats and their ballet dancing, gardening for the elderly, how to deal with lime infested soil and which roses belong to which composers, while ranging over umpteen subjects on the way. My edition is a lovely book club one from the Readers Union which came with a wonderfully intact dustjacket, and has lovely illustrations by William McLaren – which *really* add to the joy of the book!
I could of course simply go on about how lovely the book is, but I thought instead I would share some of Nichols’ bon mots with you in the hope they will make you smile as well. I don’t know how well they will translate out of the context of the book, but they certainly made me happy!
On animals and music:
I have always believed that between animals and music there exists a strange affinity. The cobra coils to the lilt of the flute, the circus bear dances to the cruel rhythm of the drum, and I one had a long and intimate association with a thrush who used to accompany me outside the window of the music-room while I was wrestling – shadow-boxing would be a more accurate way of describing it – with the misty and intricate harmonies of Granados’s ‘Maiden and the Nightingale’.
On the Albertine rose and its relationship to music:
Albertine. I associate this with Lehar because it is the epitome of an old-fashioned operetta. It is so pink and fluffy and feminine that when you see it clambering round the bedroom windows you almost expect a rather elderly (but still attractive) soprano to pop her head through the curtains and burst into song. Stranger things have happened.
On challenging established ideas such as the one that all babies are beautiful:
… a moment’s honest reflection must reveal the fact that… most babies, to the impartial eye, are of considerable hideousness, with bald pates and lunatic expressions. Though obviously to be treated with kindness, they should be removed from the view of all but their parents from the first few months of their lives and kept, if possible, behind screens.
On describing some daffodils and his propensity to let his pen get carried away:
If you go to the Savill Gardens in the early spring one of the most ravishing spectacles is provided by the hosts of miniature daffodils shimmering in golden pools under the leafless trees, tumbling in a medley of yellow down the banks, or preening themselves by the side of a winding stream. As my pen is obviously straying very near to the purple ink-pot, let us hasten to check it….
On why people visit stately homes:
Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, for example, would be the first to admit that for every person who pays to see his daffodils at least two pay to see his Daimlers. These ancient horrors, these hideous precursors of the machine age, have an almost morbid attraction for the ton-up generation; to watch a bunch of youths staring at them, even attempting to fondle them is to be reminded of a group of stage-struck juveniles conjuring up erotic fantasies about elderly actresses. Again, when the turnstiles tinkle at the Duke of Bedford’s Woburn Abbey, the number of people who are eager to study the Canalettos is probably less than the number of people who are eager to study the duke.
On the photographic illustrations in an engineering prospectus:
… the only engineering prospectus I ever read was written in such purple prose that it was almost embarrassing. So were the photographs, portraying enormous square-shouldered engineers, standing by their bridges and their pylons, with their wives fluttering in the background. The engineers were gazing at their gaunt, skeletal creations with such obvious ecstasy that they seemed to be longing to commit some sort of mechanical adultery.
On John Betjeman:
One of the few reasons for hoping that the entire population of Britain is not nuts is the popularity of John Betjeman’s poetry.