#1936Club – a favourite author makes a pilgrimage east #BeverleyNichols


One of the delights of our reading clubs is the chance to pick up a book you might have been meaning to read for a while, or perhaps to revisit a favourite author. Apart from Agatha Christie, one writer I’m always happy to get back to is Beverley Nichols. Bev has featured on the Ramblings on many occasions, mostly because of his wonderful and entertaining gardening/house trilogies; although I’ve enjoyed his fiction and his autobiographies, and even made a guest appearance once on Simon’s podcast, where we had a lovely chat about Beverley and his books!

My rather bedraggled first edition copy.

Anyway, to my great delight, 1936 is a year which featured one of his works, and as I had a copy there was no excuse for not picking it up! The book in question is called “No Place Like Home” and I believe it’s the first time I’ve read Beverley writing specifically about travel…

1936 was, of course, a year when the world was in a bit of a mess. Slap bang in the middle of the difficult thirties decade, there were tensions all over the place. Nichols, however, chooses this time to make a journey over Europe, heading south and east to the Holy Land (forgive me if my geography is sometimes a little vague – it was always my weakest subject!)

It was a very grand hotel indeed. The carpets were so thick that they almost dislocated one’s knees when one waded over them.

Anyway. Beverley sets off and travels first across Europe, through Austria, Hungary, Rumania (sic), Turkey and Greece, finally fetching up in Egypt to have a gander at the pyramids. Needless to say, this being Beverley, much of the journey is full of humour, From his initial overnight stay at a place which turns out to be a TB sanitorium, through art in Vienna, the Orient Express, the horrors of guides, the further horror of organised tourism – well, you can see that travel in 1936 gave Beverley much to be drily and often gloomily funny about. He loves to go off the beaten track, eschews many of the regular tourist sights and would rather appreciate something small and unusual than the more commonplace attractions.

Those who are familiar with the work of Thomas Mann will agree that Christmas Eve is not an occasion on which one desires to live in the pages of The Magic Mountain. Yet that is what I was compelled to do. And as I pulled myself into my ski-ing trousers, and laced up my heavy boots, a number of curious details about the night-life of this hotel, which had obtruded themselves through my dreams, began to be clear to me. Perhaps the most gruesome was the sound which I had taken for a vacuum cleaner… I realized then that it was not a vacuum cleaner that I had heard. It was an oxygen machine. And it was being used in the room next to mine, which was separated by a very thin partition.

Of course, much of your enjoyment of reading Nichols will depend on how you take to his style which, if I’m honest, is quite individual and a bit mannered. Fortunately for me, I love it… An extra element of humour is provided by Nichols’ companion on the journey – well, that is, an imagined one, in the form of an ‘irate reader’ with whom Beverley often has discussions and arguments, having to break off his narration of his travels to deal with his reader’s complaints. The IR is there to “make us Get On With The Story” and Bev does put him to good use! I found this great fun (although I suspect some might not!) However, all is not humour, and I found myself touched and in agreement with Nichols when he was moved to anger by animal cruelty; in fact, it is this which finally caused him to flee one country. However, this doesn’t quite square with the fact that Nichols goes on a duck hunt at one point, despite despising shooting – truly he was a man of great inconsistency!

The Dead Sea appeals to that morbid strain in one’s nature which responds to the stories of Edgar Allen Poe, the drawings of Doré, and certain fragments of the music of Chopin.

Anyway, the further east Beverley gets, the less he seems to like it, and he’s obviously not the greatest traveller in the world; in fact, when faced with glorious gardens in hot climes, he finds himself pining for the simple English landscape and his own plants and garden! Egypt is definitely not for him – harrassed by the various guides, unimpressed by the pyramids and the Sphinx and not at all happy about all the heat and sand, it’s only his pilgrimage which keeps him going.

Definitely a 1936 release… ;D

The second part of the book gets to the nub of things and reveals why Beverley is actually travelling. As a devout Christian, he is making his way to the Holy Land, and visits Palestine, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Hebron and all manner of sites. Here, unfortunately, he’s again often left disappointed – the Wailing Wall leaves him cold, and he’s horrified by the commercialisation of many of the holy sites. Fortunately, there *are* places which move him – but it’s not been a trouble free journey, and it’s clear he’s a man very rooted to his home.

As well as the religious sites themselves, the second part of the book tackles a very complex situation, and one which I don’t feel at all qualified to discuss. The situation in Israel in 1936 was very volatile and the conflicts between the Jewish and Arab populations were bubbling up. I’m afraid I’m very unclear about the issues in the Middle East – my only wish is that people wouldn’t fight and would learn to live together peacefully – though Nichols does try to explore the situation. I expect his terminology sometimes leaves things to be desired, and it may be that events have moved on so much since then that his comments are completely dated. He does address what he considers to be the downtrodden state of women under some religions, which is perhaps a little unexpected. However, as I’ve said, the whole political situation in the Middle East is remarkably complex and so I’ll move on from that aspect.

So “No Place Like Home” ended up being a very unusual read; a mixture of travel, Nichols’ humour, his in-jokes and unpleasant travel experiences, and a long meditation on the Holy Land and what should be done with it. Certainly, Nichols’ views on Empire are definitely outdated, though I felt that underneath it all he just wanted people to live happy lives. But the book showed me aspects of Beverley I hadn’t come across before and was quite fascinating – and I’m very glad I read it for 1936! 😀

Festive incomings at the Ramblings!


I do hope everyone has had a lovely seasonal break; if you’re anything like us at the Ramblings, there’s been a lot of food and drink and silly games and laughter with family, which has been quite lovely. There were also plenty of parcels to unwrap, and inevitably there have been books – in fact, rather more than I might have anticipated!

Things were slightly complicated by my birthday also being a December one, and so I thought I would split the arrivals into the two categories and share some of the bookish arrivals! 😁

This rather modest pile is the birthday books. My BFF J. presented me with another beautiful Beverley for my collection (which gets larger daily!) and the Vegan cookbook was from a local friend. “Dayglo”, about the amazing Poly Styrene, was from my brother in law, and the rest of the books were inspired gifts from Mr. Kaggsy. There is an intriguing sounding book about D. H. Lawrence in there which will become particularly pertinent as this post continues… I was very excited to get the new translation of the Bruno Schulz stories too!

Well – let’s get on to Christmas… Here’s the rather daunting pile of new arrivals!

I must admit I wasn’t anticipating quite so many bookish gifts – here’s a little more detail… ;D

This impressive pile of D.H. Lawrence titles comes from my BFF J., who has obviously decreed that 2020 will be the year that I read DHL! Let’s hope I like him… She actually lugged them all the way round London when we met up at the end of November, which is no mean feat – thanks J.!

These books are from other pals! “The House with the Stained Glass Window” comes from my old friend V., and as a fascinating translated work, it sounds right up my street! The Vita and Carter books are part of my Virago Secret Santa this year, and my Santa turned out to be Simon at Stuck in a Book – thanks Simon! 😀

And this stunning pile comes from family – including the Copenhagen trilogy from Middle child, Montaigne, Oscar Wilde, the Cold War, Buzzcocks and the wonderful behemoth at the bottom – The Penguin Book of Oulipo. I am ridiculously excited about all of these, and the Oulipo book is the icing on the cake!

So I’m obvs going to have to rearrange the shelves and have a bit of a clear out to house these wonderful volumes – and fortunately Mr. Kaggsy rather cleverly gifted me something which will be the perfect aid:

This is a rather wonderful library stool/step (the bottom bit slides out when you want to use it as a step) which I can keep in the spare room where the books live and use to hop up and down from the higher shelves, and sit on to have a quick sneaky read whenever I want! It’s absolutely fab and will no doubt help my investigations of some of my top shelves (and may even help me locate my missing Shostakovich books…)

So – I have been thoroughly spoiled over recent weeks with books and am now going to have even more issues deciding what to read next! I’m very lucky to have been so gifted. I hope all my bookish friends have had some wonderful Christmas arrivals, and do share what lovely books have been incoming at your homes! 😀


Loving London, bookish wanderings and catching up with an old friend!


I’ve written before on the Ramblings about my trips to the Big Smoke; I often pop up for exhibitions, meetings with friends and browsing the bookshops, and this is one of the regular joys in my life. I had a brief get-together with my BFF J. in September when I also had a meet up with Jacqui and Ali; however, we decided on a Winter meeting and had scheduled a day out for 30th November. The awful events of Friday night were just tragic; and Mr. Kaggsy was a bit nervous about me travelling to London on Saturday. But a. I refused to change my life because of horrible, evil people and b. I reckoned there would be lots of security over the weekend. So J. and I determined to enjoy our life and have our day out, and we did.

Barthes and a Greggs vegan sausage roll – the perfect travelling companions!

Travelling this weekend was a bit of a pain, anyway, because of rail replacements (WHY do the train companies do this on the weekends leading up to Christmas???? WHY????) So it was train-bus-train, which did limit the reading time (as I can’t read in buses or cars without getting queasy); however, I had the very wonderful Roland Barthes for company, and OMG what a wonderful book this is!!! 😀

Coffee and vegan brownie – yum!

After meeting up with J. our first port of call was the wonderful cafe at Foyles, for coffee and a shared vegan brownie – yum! 😀

Stationery! (including a notebook constructed by clever J.

We had a good chat and a catch up, before setting off to explore the Bookshops of Charing Cross Road (with a slight diversion into Cass Art and Cecil Court). After lunching at Leon in Tottenham Court Road, and spending some time in Tiger and Paperchase (stationery!!!), we ended the day with trips to Judd Books and Skoob, two of my favourite places which are so conveniently closely located! ;D I had an amazingly restrained day, all things considered, and only purchased four books:

Here’s a little more detail about what and where! The first purchase was this poetry collection from Any Amount of Books:

I don’t think I know anything specific about Szirtes, but I recognise his name and this is published by Bloodaxe (which is always the sign of good poetry). And the first poem is about Chet Baker, which gets my vote; so when a quick glance at some of the other verse really grabbed me, it was a definite purchase!

Next up, I was unlikely to get out of Foyles empty handed:

More John Berger – I cannot resist this prolific and rather wonderful author. This is a slim book of what appears to be poetic prose and again a quick glimpse grabbed me. I may have to end up with a dedicated Berger shelf…

Astonishingly, I got out of Judd Books without buying a Single Book! There *were* temptations, but I have several things on various Christmas lists so had to be quite careful about what I purchased today. However, our last minute nip to Skoob before heading off for a train was not so restrained:

The Baudelaire was a very exciting find, as I’ve wanted a copy of this for absolutely AGES! So I was over the moon to find this in the midst of very tempting shelves of black covered Penguin Classics. And I spotted the book about Tsvetaeva at the last minute and grabbed it. I’ve never seen or heard of it, and I have no idea if it’s any good – but it’s Tsvetaeva!! Not pictured is the copy of Brian Bilston’s “You Took the Last Bus Home” which I bought as a little gifty for J. – she loves Roger McGough, so I hope she will also love BB!

However, these were not the only books I came home with, as there was this which J. had sourced for me:

A new Beverley! I have a number of his works as Florin Books, and they’re awfully pretty – very exciting! There was also a big box containing birthday and Christmas gifts J. had brought for me, and I suspect there will be More Books involved. It was very heavy – she lugged it manfully around London all day, so well done her!

So we had a lovely day out in lovely London; I always adore visiting the city, even though they’re *still* tearing apart Soho and some of my favourite bits… 😦  There are still lots of wonderful bookshops if you know where to look (and I wish we hadn’t run out of time and had made it to the LRB shop…) What was interesting, too, was how often we gravitated towards the poetry sections of the various places, and in my case to a lot of non-fiction, essays and philosophy. However, I think J. actually ended up with more books than me, so the shops of London did quite well out of us. It was the perfect day – what could be better than bookshopping in a place you love with an old friend? 😀


However…. this was not the end of the bookishness of the day… I arrived home cold but happy to find lovely book post from the wonderful FitzCarraldo Editions:

This looks and sounds fascinating, and had it been available earlier would have been a much more pleasant alternative to “Berlin Alexanderplatz” for German Lit Month!! ;D – though it’s not out until next month, so maybe not…

And finally! This has just appeared. Came across mention of it a couple of days ago (damned if I can remember where – my short term memory is now appalling) and when I checked online with various shops I was due to be visiting there was no stock (or I would have bought it in person). So it had to be an Internet purchase and it sounds most fascinating. It’s a good thing I’m so hooked by the Barthes, or I would be having a real crisis about what to read next! 😀

If it’s London, there must be books…. @Foyles @secondshelfbks @JuddBooks


Unfortunately for the shelves in my house, visits to London are inextricably linked with bookshopping, and Saturday was no exception to the general rule… My BFF J. and I managed to miss out on our usual pre-Christmas get-together back in December, and so as it was her birthday yesterday, we decided to have a catch-up, a gossip and a general bimble round London (as she puts it) on Saturday – which turned out to be a relaxing, fun and profitable trip! 😀

The KBR tote came in handy as always….

Inevitably there were bookshops and after we’d done a bit of general browsing (clothes, fabric and art shops!) we decided to give Second Shelf Books a look, as I’d been very impressed by what I’d seen and heard about them (and Ali thought very highly of them on her visit!) We rolled up fairly early (we’re morning birds), wondering if they’d be open and even though they weren’t officially, the very nice person behind the till let us in! And what a lovely place it is! We had a wonderful browse through all the wonderful rarities and first editions, with me eventually settling on purchasing this:

It’s by Elaine Feinstein, who translates Tsvetaeva wonderfully and whose biography of Anna Akhmatova I have lurking and it’s a mixture of novel set in Russia amongst real writers as well as her poetry. So it was most definitely coming home with me… ;D

After interludes for getting vaguely lost, stopping for lunch at Leons (with much gossip and catching up) as well as a very tempting visit to Paperchase, we headed for Judd Books in Marchmont Street. They’re a stone’s throw from Skoob (which we managed to resist) and I can’t recommend them enough. Judds is a shop always stuffed with unexpected treats and I was lucky to get out with only these:

I’ve wanted to add Marianne Moore to my poetry pile for yonks and this was at a fraction of the price it is online (bricks and mortar shops win out again!). As for the book on Peake, I’m not sure how I missed out on this when it originally came out, but it’s absolutely stuffed with the most amazing artworks, essays and writings, and a steal at the price. Both J. and I left with copies…

Inevitably, we ended up at Foyles – well, how could we not? – and partook of tea in the cafe, while J. finished reading a book she’d brought with her for me. Yes, she’d managed to procure me a beautiful first edition of a Beverley I needed!

As it comes with a dustjacket, I was doubly pleased and now I can get on with reading the rest of this particular house/garden trilogy of Bev’s! Dead chuffed!

We didn’t get out of Foyles unscathed, needless to say. Although I *did* exercise restraint, picking up and putting down any number of books. J. indulged in some poetry in the form of Roger McGough and Willa Cather (two of her favourites), whereas I eventually settled on these:

I’ve been circling the Gamboni for a while and finally decided to go for this new, reasonably priced edition (the old ones were priced at scholarly book rates…). As for the Kate Briggs, it’s all about translation and I love translated books and I love translators so it’s a no-brainer. Very excited about this one…. 😀

That’s it book-wise. We were in any number of stationery and art shops, and bearing that in mind I certainly think that the small haul I have was very well-behaved of me…

The tea is green with mint (my favourite) which I decided to treat myself to from Fortnum and Mason (yes, really!) We were in there to pick up some favourite marmalade for J.’s hubby, and I decided to treat Mr. Kaggsy to some posh coffee flavoured choc (not pictured). The tea just fell into my hand as I was queuing to pay…

So a fun day out gossiping, playing catch-up and shopping – lovely! It *is* nice to live close enough to London to pop up there (and especially go to Foyles, although those visits always bring a sense of despair at the *mess* of construction that’s going on in the area). Now it’s just a case of deciding what to read next… 😉

However, before I finish this post, there was *one* more book which sneaked into the house at the weekend, and that was a volume I ordered online after reading a review of it here. Kate Macdonald picked up her copy, oddly enough, at Second Shelf, and wasn’t so enamoured with Priestley’s grumbling. However, I’ve found his grumpy narratives oddly entertaining, so I though I’d give it a try! 😀

Gratuitous book pictures – sharing my Beverley Nichols collection! :D


When Simon posted a picture of some lovely book finds recently it sparked a little Twitter discussion of the crime books of Beverley Nichols. Both Simon and I share a love of Nichols’ books (my guest appearance on his “Tea or Books?” podcast involved us exchanging views on him!) and I was prompted to post a picture of my editions of the crime novels. And then I thought it was a little while since I’d shared any images of books in my collection – hence this post, and lots of gratuitous shots of Beverley Nichols books! 😀

First up, here they are on the shelf where they normally sit (in front of my Mervyn Peakes):

And here they are all laid out on the spare room bed – it’s only when I actually haul my books off the shelves that I realise quite how many there are… 😦

Starting from the left (but we won’t stay in that order…) these are the gardening books:

Yes, there are two copies of “A Village in the Valley” – as I said when I posted about it here, there was an oddness in the edition my BFF J. presented me with and so I had to get a second one to read the missing bits. And yes, there are two copies of “Merry Hall“; I came across the one in the dustjacket in a charity shop for 99p or something and it came home with me!

What next? Beverley’s fiction, maybe:

Crazy Pavements” was the first book of Beverley’s I read, back in 2012, and I loved his tone. I probably prefer his gardening books to his straight fiction, but anything he writes is usually fine by me! “Self” and “Revue” are still to be read!

Next up let’s have some general non-fiction:

Again, these are at present unread – but I have plenty of Beverley stockpiled for the Zombie Apocalypse, so that has to be good.

And then there’s his autobiographies:

Both of these are titles I’ve read – Simon and I discussed “The Sweet and Twenties” on the podcast, and then I posted my review; “Twenty-five” was a wonderful diversion back in 2013. Beverley on the subject of his own life is always entertaining!

He also wrote children’s books, which I have yet to read – I’m vaguely nervous in case I find them a bit twee, but here are the ones I own:

Plus I have a chunky biog of the man himself:

And there are some oddities:

The Monica Dickens-Beverley Nichols letters should be entertaining; “A Case of Human Bondage” was more problematic and caused me all sorts of mental angst. I’m still not sure where I stand on it!

And last, but definitely not least, here are the crime books – spines first!

And then their pretty covers:

So far, I’ve read “No Man’s Street“, “The Moonflower” and “Death to Slow Music” – and I did love them all. I’m kind of saving the last two as I don’t want to run out…

Phew. So that’s quite a lot of Beverley books. And looking through them I realise that massive thanks need to go to my BFF J. who has actually been the source of so many of these (and a first edition of “Laughter on the Stairs” which is coming my way at some point soon). She’s gifted me these over a number of birthdays or Christmases or just got copies for me, and is responsible for much of my Beverley collection – thank you J!

Well. Now I need to get this little lot back on the shelves; and relax safe in the knowledge that I still have many Beverley books for amusement and entertainment and perhaps a little provocation, when the modern world is just too much…

It’s December – so that means more books…


There is an inevitability about the arrival of new books in December; as well as Christmas, there is also my birthday which occurs about a week beforehand. As my friends and family know me well, there will always be book gifts and this year is no exception. So I thought I would share them as usual – well, why break a habit?? ;D

First up, this little pile arrived from various sources on my birthday (and I did share an image on Instagram):

A fascinating selection! The top four are from Mr. Kaggsy – three wonderful books from the British Library focusing on my favourite areas of London, and a period crime novel set in the Jazz Age – I’m intrigued, and with the London books there’s another risk of a reading project… “Nihilist Girl” came from a Family Member after instructions were issued, as did “At the Existentialist Cafe” after a link was sent to my Little Brother! French Poetry came from Middle Child and the Beverley is from my BFF J. who is a great Nichols enabler…

There was a late arrival courtesy of Eldest Child in the form of this:

I follow the Bosh! boys on YouTube as they come up with some marvellous (and relatively easy-seeming!) Vegan recipes, and I’m always keen for new foodie ideas – so this will be just the ticket!

Next up, some arrivals from my Virago Secret Santa; this is a tradition we have on the LibraryThing Virago Modern Classics group and it’s such fun to take part! My Santa this year was the lovely Lisa from the USA, and by some weird trick of randomness, I was *her* Santa. Needless to say, I was spoiled….

The two Mrs. Oliphant books complete my set of the Chronicles of Carlingford – I’m very keen to get to read these all at some point. The Nemirovksy is short stories and I’ve not read any of these. And a lovely hardback of “Golden Hill” which sounds fascinating! Thank you Lisa! 😀

Then there are the Christmas arrivals! Some of these were requests/instructions and some of them my friends and family improvising.

The second volume of Plath letters was from Middle Child; the Katherine Mansfield Notebooks from Youngest Child. I long to sink myself in both…. The beautiful first edition of Beverley’s “Sunlight on the Lawn” (with dustjacket!!) is from my dear friend J. – just gorgeous…. “Sweet Caress” is from my old friend V. and I don’t think I’ve read any Boyd so I’m interested in taking a look… The rest are from Mr. Kaggsy who has been as inspired as ever. The John Franklin Bardin omnibus is a particularly intriguing; I’d never heard of the author but he seems to have been a highly regarded and very individual crime writer so I can’t wait to explore. However, Mr. Kaggsy excelled himself this year with this:

“But, Kaggsy!” I hear you cry, “you already have so many copies of The Master and Margarita!” Yes, I most certainly do, but I’ve always wanted a copy of the Folio Society edition. It seems to have been spiralling upwards in price to dizzying heights, but amazingly Mr. Kaggsy managed to track down a Reasonably Priced copy and snapped it up! Grinning like the Cheshire Cat here….

Finally, some review books have snuck in (as they say); I can’t share most of them, as the publication dates are a little way away, but one I can is this beautiful volume from Notting Hill Editions:

I love their books, and as an inveterate walker, the content looks just perfect for me. I want to get reading this one soon, so look out for a forthcoming review.

So as usual I have been utterly spoiled with new books and my only issue, as usual, is what to pick up next? Never an easy decision… Which would you choose??

Avoiding the rose-tinted glasses…


The Sweet and Twenties by Beverley Nichols

Well, after all the excitement of recording the ‘Tea or Books?’ podcast, and reading and talking about “The Sweet and Twenties” by Beverley Nichols, I really ought to share some of my thoughts about it here. Simon and I were both very taken with this particular volume of Beverley’s reminiscences, and I was especially interested to see how his views about his life and past had evolved since his first ‘autobiography’, “Twenty-Five”, published in 1926. “Sweet” was published in 1958, during a very different decade and in a very different world to the earlier one and the 1920s in general.

There is, I suppose, a certain image of that decade – the clichéd view of flappers, bobbed hairdos, Oxford bags, Scott Fitzgerald and general having a good time in the post-war period, and damn the future. However, as Simon very astutely pointed out, a period of 10 years is not homogenous and the view we have of the 1920s is not necessarily accurate to that whole period.

So “Sweet” has Beverley looking back 30 years or so to his youth and reflecting on how the world was and how it’s changed. And his viewpoint is fascinating, because reading one of his books you don’t necessarily expect to find yourself unexpectedly under the shadow of the Bomb or the Death Wish, as he eloquently terms it. But I initially detected a certain weariness in the author with the way the world had gone; he took a fairly clear-eyed look at what was a kind of optimism in the twenties and a wish for change, for ensuring that there would never be another war and the anger and determination of young people that the world would be better. However, having seen out two World Wars, Beverley could understandably be expected to reflect a loss of hope and also be angry and disillusioned with the thought of total annihilation.

“Sweet” was actually fascinating on many levels. As I’ve indicated above, it contains an intriguing amalgam of his thoughts on the world now and then; and although I don’t always agree with him (he’s very opinionated!), he’s always entertaining. However, it also takes a wonderfully wide-ranging look at the 1920s in all their complexity; from the General Strike to the Irish Problem to the furore caused by women cutting their hair to the fashions to the colours of the decades (another element which struck Simon strongly) through the hostesses and personalities of the decade… well, you get the picture. And actually, a vivid and memorable picture is what you get through Beverley’s wonderful prose – he’s just so witty that I did find myself giggling away while I was reading the book in advance of recording (much to the chagrin of OH….)

Female hair, throughout the ages, has always excited the fiercest of passions. Even St Paul lost all sense of proportion about it. If one goes back to the epistles with an open mind one is bewildered and indeed somewhat shocked to find so great a spiritual leader working himself up into such a frenzy of indignation about women who do not wear a hat to church… for that is really all it amounted to. This must surely be one of the strangest passages in the Bible, or indeed in any of the great spiritual treasuries of mankind.

Although Nichols takes a strong view on the negatives of the period (he has surprisingly liberal views on race and class) he does have something of a split nature and he’s obviously seduced by the charm and glamour of high society, writing wittily and extensively on the great hostesses of the era, as well as notable figures such as Beaton, Novello and Coward. He’s happy to give his views on who he thinks will survive into posterity and whose successes will fall by the wayside; and although he’s not always right it’s fascinating to read what he thinks. His writing about the Sitwells is lovely (and reminds me I must read more Sitwells – I have plenty lurking…), and when discussing the ‘Mapp and Lucia’ books his description of Rye is just a scream:

Rye is an almost hysterically picturesque town in Sussex. When you walk down its narrow streets you feel that at any moment a horde of Morris dancers may burst through the doors of one of the oldy-worldy cafes. Sometimes, to your alarm, they do.

I have to confess to an almost pathological dislike of Morris dancers, so this rather resonated with me… 😉

But the feeling I came away with was of having read the words of someone who was basically a very humane person, despite his foibles and sarcasm and snarkiness (which I confess I find appealing…). For example, he discusses the furore around Radclyffe Hall’s “The Well of Loneliness” with some sympathy, commenting “The ‘Well of Loneliness’ scandal was one of those deplorable examples of mob hysteria which periodically make the British people so ridiculous in the eyes of the rest of the world.” He goes on to consider censorship and hypocrisy in the theatre and how works which were published and performed abroad were still banned in our rather prudish country.

One of the most striking chapters in “Twenty Five” was Beverley’s recollection of the notorious Thompson-Bywaters case (the basis for F. Tennyson Jesse’s magisterial “A Pin to see the Peepshow”, amongst other works of fiction). Nichols is strongly against capital punishment, and he revisits the case here. At the time of the trial and subsequent execution of Edith Thompson, Nichols was working as a reporter and he ended up gaining access to the family to tell their story in his newspaper. Frankly, he seems to have been haunted by the episode all his life and his feelings haven’t change by the time of “The Sweet and Twenties”.

But through it all, Beverley compares and contrasts the present and the past, wondering how the doomed youth of the 1950s (as he sees them) will survive the trials of the current world, and how indeed civilisation will progress. All this is delivered in a relatively light tone (it isn’t all doom and gloom) and although Nichols laments the changes that have taken place in the world, he can’t quench that well of optimism that springs up in him and ends up with hopes for a better future. You and I might be able to judge better than him whether those hopes were borne out.

As you might be able to tell, I really did love this book (but then I tend to like anything Beverley wrote, so I’m not going to be an objective reviewer here). It’s entertaining, opinionated, sometimes thought-provoking, sometimes laugh out loud funny and never, ever dull. Fortunately, Beverley was nothing if not prolific and I by no means own or have read all of his books. So at least I have more treasures by Beverley Nichols still to read, and since I can’t ever sit down and have tea and a gossip with him, that will have to be the next best thing…

(If you want to listen to our podcast on Beverley, pop over to Simon’s site here where you can find it!)

Guesting on ‘Tea or Books?’ with @stuck_inabook !!


The alert amongst you who are also on Twitter might have picked up the fact that I agreed to co-host an episode of Simon at Stuck in a Book’s podcast ‘Tea or Books?’ (and I’m sure you all listen to it as well). This is a one-off while his usual co-host Rachel is unavailable, and I was a weeny bit nervous (but quite pleased to be asked, really, because it’s always lovely to natter about books!)

We chose subjects where our tastes intersect; so in the first half we talk about detective fiction vs crime fiction, getting into the knotty subject of genre. The second half is Beverley Nichols based – “The Sweet and Twenties” vs “Merry Hall” – and so you’ll have to listen to see what we make of these two Beverley books and which is our favourite! 🙂

One thing I intended to mention in the podcast, but forgot in all the excitement, was the source of my copy of “The Sweet and Twenties”. I have a beautiful signed edition which was so kindly gifted to me by the lovely Liz at Adventures in reading, writing and working from home – such generosity, and I do treasure it so it was about time I had an excuse to actually read it – here it is:

My nice signed copy from Liz with the signature inset…

So do go over and have a listen to Simon and I having a good chatter about books (and yes, I was drinking tea while we recorded….) Hopefully if nothing else we’ll convince you to give Beverley Nichols a try! 🙂


#1968 – Some previous reads


When I began to research books from 1968 for our club, I was actually surprised not only by the amount of books of interest from that year, but also by the number I had already read! I thought I would link to a few old reviews here, and also mention some I read pre-blog.

In the First Circle by Solzhenitsyn

I read this chunkster back in 2012, although admittedly this revised and uncensored version was not the same as that first published in 1968. Nevertheless, this powerful portrait of life under Soviet rule was a landmark book and I found myself unable to understand why Solzhenitsyn’s literary reputation isn’t higher in the West.

The Quest for Christa T. by Christa Wolf

A read from 2014, “The Quest for Christa T.” has a deserved reputation for being a difficult book. The writing is elliptical and elusive, but once you get into the flow and start reading it almost between the lines, it’s remarkably rewarding. Her prose is marvellous and I don’t know why I haven’t picked up any of the other books of hers lurking on my shelves.

The Puzzleheaded Girl by Christina Stead

In 2016 I read my first Christina Stead work, a shortish tale called “The Puzzleheaded Girl”. My response to it was unsure in many ways, and my next encounter with Stead was even more difficult. Frankly, I’m not sure if she’s an author I’ll ever return to (despite the fact her Virago editions look lovely on the shelf…)

By The Pricking of My Thumbs by Agatha Christie

Latter-day Christie featuring an older Tommy and Tuppence Beresford (I love Tommy and Tuppence) and it was a wonderful romp with a very clever plot. As I said in my review, if I had infinite time I would read all of Christie’s books chronologically from start to end (and wallow in their wonderfulness).

Garden Open Tomorrow by Beverley Nichols

I’m rather sad that I’ve already read this, and fairly recently, because I’d love the excuse to read another Beverley. But then, who needs an excuse to read Beverley???

The Wedding Group by Elizabeth Taylor

It’s quite a while since I read any of the wonderful novels by Elizabeth Taylor – and actually an annual readalong of the books by the lovely LibraryThing Virago group was actually one of the factors which impelled me into starting Rambling! And this was one of my favourite Taylors, a little darker than some of her other works.

The Heart-Keeper by Francoise Sagan

This was a really *weird*  one…. Kirsty at The Literary Sisters kindly passed it on to me, but I found myself unable to really get to grips with what it was about, finally concluding “Basically, I found myself totally flummoxed by this book! At just over 100 pages, it seems to struggle to get its point across and really I still don’t know what it’s trying to be after thinking about it for several days. I haven’t found a lot about it online and it may be that it either sunk like a trace after its publication or other readers are as confused as I was!” An odd one indeed, and not a title I’m likely to revisit (in fact I don’t even know why it’s on my shelves still – off to the donation box with it!!)

The Sculptor’s Daughter by Tove JanssonI’m a relatively recent convert to Tove Jansson, but I absolutely love her work, both for adults and children. “Sculptor’s Daughter” was her first book for adults, and it’s a beautifully written work which presumably blurs fact and fiction; it appears to be simply autobiographical, but I’m not so sure! Whichever it is, it’s lovely!


There are also a number of books from 1968 which I read pre-blog so of course haven’t reviewed, and some of them are strikingly good. Solzhenitsyn’s “Cancer Ward” appeared in the same year as his other magnum opus and was equally powerful. “Slouching Towards Bethlehem”, a collection of Joan Didion’s essays, was I think the second book of hers I read and I remember being mightily impressed. On the poetry front, when I discovered my local library was stocking Persephones, I borrowed “It’s Hard to be Hip Over 30” by Judith Viorst, a wonderfully witty, wry and entertaining collection which I highly recommend. And I’m pretty sure I’ve read “Maigret Hesitates”, though with the amount of books Simenon wrote, it’s hard to be sure…

So – I hope you’re all getting on well with your #1968Club reading – there really are a *lot* of wonderful books to choose from! 🙂


Some surprisingly downbeat delights


A Village in a Valley by Beverley Nichols

I had a lovely trip to London last month where I met up with J, my oldest BFF, and we spent happy hours visiting the Moomin exhibition at the Royal Festival Hall, the Russian exhibition at the British Library, plus some general gallery visits and a little bit of shopping. J came bearing gifts, in the form of two lovely Beverley Nichols books, and it was just too tempting – I was supposed to be reading another part of “War and Peace”, but I couldn’t resist picking up this Beverley book!

The edition J kindly presented me with is a first edition from 1934; no dustjacket, of course, but in pretty good condition for a book of its age (apart from one oddity – more of which later in this post). “Village” is the third in Beverley’s Allways sequence, set in the fictional place of that name (which is apparently based on his home in Glatton), and I read and loved the first two here. Nichols’ writing is so engaging and funny, yet often lapsing into the lyrical, and I was hoping for some more of that kind of thing – which I did get, but the book is often rather different in tone from the first two.

All the characters we loved and loathed from the first books – Mrs. M, the competitive neighbour; Undine Wilkins, the ditsy, artsy type; the Professor, as absent-minded as you could wish – are present and correct and the lovely location is the same. However, there is a new distraction, in the form of Miss Hazlitt; stated as Nichols’ former governess, she’s an impoverished and saintly woman who everyone feels the need to protect, and much of the plotline revolves around her. There is also Mrs. M’s visiting nephew, Leo, who provides a wealth of humorous distraction, and an entertaining side-plot about the missing church windows.

However, the tone of the book is more thoughtful than the earlier ones, and this is flagged up early on. It’s clear that we are living in the 1930s, where the Depression has had its effects and people are struggling with reducing incomes. These are not the ‘lower-classes’ (although they do feature in the book) but those living and coping in genteel poverty, and Nichols casts a sympathetic eye on their attempts to keep up standards as best they can. The financial squeeze has had its effects in other ways, as those who own the land are having to sell it off (and one particular chapter allows Nichols to pour scorn on Lady Osprey, who is obviously still rolling in it, but is happy to sell land to developers). And it is this change in the nature of Allways that is causing most concern; the arrival of a nasty modern bungalow is met with horror and there is a strong sense that the quiet village way of life is a world under threat from encroaching modernity.

    The storm broke that night, and though there was little sleep for most of us, I did not care. For there are not many better things in life than to lie in bed, in a sturdily timbered room, under a thatched roof, while one’s own garden thirstily drinks the welcome rain, and the wind whistles down the chimney, and under the crack in the door.
    It is at moments like this that one is inclined to count over one’s blessings.

And events take a darker turn towards the end of the book, with one particular character’s health becoming an issue, which leaves Beverley in philosophical mood; the end chapters are moving and poignant, where he reflects on mortality and how the world will change, but glories in his great love, which is the beauty of flowers.

The book is beautifully illustrated by Rex Whistler’s peerless line drawings.

It’s easy to criticise Nichols for his snobbishness and elitism (which I recognise); nevertheless, I think he’s very right in his love of beautiful things and his wish to embrace the everyday wonderfulness around us. There’s a touch of the Betjeman about his lamentations about the invasion of uncouth elements into the loveliness of Allways and you can’t help but wish that these small English oases of calm still existed.

‘Civilization’ is the death of the finer senses of man. If a cigarette is always between your lips, you can’t ever smell the sweetness of the bean fields, on a summer evening. If you begin to drink cocktails at twelve, you forget, for ever, the keen, silvery taste of cold water in a clear goblet. Which sounds like on of the most embarrassing moralizations of Eric or Little by Little but it happens to be true.

However, the book is not all downbeat, and there are some wonderful humorous exchanges, snarky comments and hilarious situations which had me laughing out loud. And Beverley is not averse to mocking himself; his father makes another appearance, giving out wise and sensible advice, while the son paints himself as an impractical dreamer; he also makes reference to his tendency towards purple prose!

The gentlemen of the press who parody me may now draw an elegant picture of me shrinking in horror from the thought of being alone in a room with a rampant poppy. The idea is, as they say, ‘a gift’.

With this book particularly I felt the need to do a bit of digging into the background, particularly Miss Hazlitt, to see if she had any basis in reality. She did indeed draw on Nichols’ old governess, although the events in the book are pretty much non-factual as far as I can tell. It seems that Nichols’ publishers wanted another book about Allways to follow the success of the first two, although I’m not sure how much Beverley wanted to write it, which may explain the slightly more downbeat tone and the elegiac feeling of the writing. I imagine that most of Nichols’ gardening/house books are very well embroidered, but I don’t really mind – I love his adventures and characters, however invented they are!


I read “A Village…” in a couple of settings one day, and later that same day went on to revisit a film I loved in my 20s but haven’t watched since, and it seemed to have a relevance and a connection with the Nichols book.

The film is the Ealing classic “Went the Day Well”; released in 1942, it was a propaganda film to warn the British public of the dangers of invasion. Set over a Whitsun weekend, a small English village discovers that the British troops billeted on them are not what they seem, and the film sees them fight back against the threat to the war effort. Based on a story by Graham Greene, it’s still an incredibly powerful film and the small threatened village resonated with what I’d been reading in Beverley’s book. I love Ealing films anyway, and I did wonder how this one would stand up all these years later; well, I was on edge of my seat all the way through, and both Beverley’s book and this film rather reduced me to a jelly in several places.

I really recommend “Went the Day Well” if you haven’t seen it – it captures a Britain and a way of life long gone.


And now for the strangeness in my first edition of “A Village in a Valley”. Early on in the book I came upon four pages that had missing text and odd blank areas with just a few asterisks, looking something like this:

There was definitely text missing, as some parts stopped mid sentence, and I couldn’t work out what was going on. In one place, it looked a little like a page could have been stuck in and then removed, and I wondered if there was some kind of printer’s error that was rectified and then removed. Whatever had caused this (and the rest of the book was ok) I was a little frustrated at having missing bits, so I sent off for a cheap later edition.

It arrived a little tatty but intact, and when I compared the missing sections, all the text was in the later edition:

1st edition on the left vs later edition on the right

So I’m a little flummoxed, but at least I’ve been able to read all of Beverley’s book. There seems no reason why the text should be missing from the first edition, as it simply relates some funny extracts and comments by Beverley on a local newspaper – most peculiar indeed, and I haven’t been able to find out anything about this online! =:o

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