Posts Tagged ‘Joanna Trollope’

16 YEARS OF READING SUE TOWNSEND

July 26, 2016

‘I don’t know what to wear’.

We both didn’t.

I tiptoed to her wardrobe and peered over her shoulder: inside, there was only her emerald green jumper.

‘Where are all you clothes?’ I asked surprised.

‘How should I know?’ She got a little offended. ‘It’s all Mrs Biggly’s fault,’ she muttered to herself.

‘Who’s Mrs Biggly? Is it that dreadful woman who insists on giving you advice?’

‘She doesn’t insist on it,’ Viveka moaned. ‘She’s just offered to help me find my own style’.

‘By taking all your clothes away? By the way, when has she managed to remove all this? You did take something out of this wardrobe in the morning and put it on, didn’t you? I saw you do it.’

‘I gave her the key to the flat,’ Viveka admitted.

‘You did what?! To a woman you hardly know?! Are you insane?!’

I’m a rather hot-tempered kind of a person. I started to shake. Gently.

‘Not now, Fredrick. We need to get dressed.’

Yes, she was right. It was already half past seven.

I went back to my own wardrobe and pulled out a pair of tight jeans. I threw them to Viveka.

‘These might fit.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Well, you clearly have to do with the jumper and my trousers, unless you prefer to go to the party wearing a tracksuit, of course’.

She grimaced and then opted for her yukata, which she kept in the bathroom. Hopefully, it was still there.

When she left the bedroom, I poured myself a glass of water and sat on the bed in front of my open wardrobe.

It was a relatively warm September evening and we were going to my brother’s birthday party. Actually, he was my half-brother. We’ve never been very close – his mother didn’t take it very well when my father decided not to marry her despite the pregnancy and so he visited us only once or twice a year. It was a bit awkward for me when I was a child. There he was, a boy who supposedly was my brother, sitting shyly at the edge of the sofa, while my mum was trying to act like a perfect hostess – and an extremely liberal spouse. Not that Michael was born out of wedlock, no – he was conceived when my father was at college –  but deep in her heart my mum was still a catholic and couldn’t quite come to terms with the fact that her husband: a) had had sex with someone else b) had let Miss Someone Else have the baby without marrying her. Well, at least mum didn’t have to marry a divorced man –  that was my opinion – but she’s never been very good at spotting the silver lining. Obligations and good manners –  yes, Pollyanna-like optimism – no. And so, during Michael’s visits she always put on this strained smile, and, as she didn’t like feeling the way she felt then, she didn’t insist on him coming over too often either.

Speaking of putting things on…

Why was it always so difficult for me to choose what to wear for a special occasion. Was it because I was so fond of the 18th century and couldn’t really be bothered with anything that didn’t include white stockings and stuff? Did I have a Mr Darcy complex? Thanks to Colin all men probably did nowadays.

When Viveka came back, I scrambled to his feet and chose my usual combination of a ridiculously bright shirt and more serious trousers.

AFTER READING JOANNA TROLLOPE AT THE UNIVERSITY (PLUS A VOCAB EXERCISE)

July 26, 2016

His unsavoury remark suggested extermination of the infirm, ‘sieving the grain from the chaff’ as he put it. He mentioned it quite casually, between boasting about his latest catches and pulling his wire-haired dachshund back to the driver’s cab. Later, still pushing Jimmy’s buggy down the road, Sarah wondered why only the old. Maybe Bregson just didn’t have time and confidence enough to mention the whole stock, from the residents of funny farms to patients wearing callipers, or whoever else he included in his list. The usual walk got protracted today thanks to too many gushing neighbours lurking behind every corner ready to surround her like vultures – Mrs Wilson ready to borrow her an ancient cookery tome,  Mrs Cox collecting money for a new silver salver for the parish and now the local Hitler. Not to mention virtually hundreds of semi-strangers inquiring about Fiona’s adenoids. ‘Everyone seeking solitude should stay in town.’ Sarah thought ‘It is there where you really feel as if you lived on an out-of-the-way farm, where you can just close the door and not expect anyone knocking in weeks’.

When she finally reached the fens the bracing wind let her forget the nosy villagers, even forget the morning skirmish between Oliver and Charlotte, this time over his shoving her slingbacks under the rush matting, to which Ollie, having Jimmy as the only eye witness, wouldn’t admit. The house was still a ten-minute walk away and these ten minutes, Sarah decided, were to be exclusively hers, unless Jimmy wakes up of course.

*     *    *

The kitchen was empty. There was only Ian sitting quietly at the table, his all attention taken by his new dot-to-dot book. A Barbi doll dressed in a sloppy handmade outfit of gauze and doilies lay beside him.

‘Where are the monsters?’ asked Sarah gently removing her baby son from his buggy. He was still asleep.

‘Charlotte stripped the currants and scraped the carrots and then took Ollie’s bicycle. He is now chasing her. In bare feet.’ answered Ian imperturbably. A portcullis started to emerge on his picture and a vision of a castle in his mind was not for a while replaced with that of his older brother chilled to the marrow somewhere in the fields.

Sarah sighed and put Jimmy into the nearby armchair. She was stacking plates in the dishwasher when the older monster appeared at the footstep breathing loudly.

‘I’ve got it, got it, and who’s the boss now? Oh, mum, hi, have any fondants for me? I’d kill for a fondant.’ He opened the fridge and grasped a plastic envelope of smoked salmon. ’May I have this as well?’

‘No sweets I’m afraid but the salmon won’t keep till tomorrow so we are only too delighted for you to have it dear.’ said Sarah in an expressly elaborated voice. ‘Where is your beloved sister?’

‘My beloved sister is in hospital recovering from having her adenoids removed.’ Oliver picked up her literary tone. ‘As to the abhorrent creature I do not sincerely believe to have any biological connection with me, I left it in the barn. Blubbing.’

‘Go and bring her right now, won’t you.’ ordered Sarah, ‘I’m going to make you my slaves today, at my beck and call. Now!’

*     *     *

 

‘What a bumf’ Ollie slap his notebook shut. ‘Mum, can I have a banana please? A speckly one.’

‘There are only smooth left’ said Sarah. Bananas always reminded her of aunt Lucinda, the previous owner of their new house. ‘Cut the bananas up, won’t you’ were the very first words astonished Sarah heard from her while visiting the place for the first time. ‘Old bossy boots.’ Sarah thought. No one wants to put the dead in an unsavoury light, but that is just what aunt Lucinda was. Always on the jump and trying to keep her surroundings in an apple-pie order, usually by ordering people around in such a natural way that you didn’t actually felt like being ordered around, not until you got so tired that you couldn’t see straight. Timothy, her only nephew and Sarah’s husband, was simply putty in her hands. She might have liked it. But they didn’t expect the old lady’s liking to influence her so much and her decision to make Tim her only heir came as a great surprise to the couple, a surprise equal to that of Jimmy, despite a convincing prenatal photograph, turning out to be a boy. Aunt Lucinda drew her will the very same day her doctor told her that her brain turmoil was not a benign one. She died two months later, as a kind of a cruel exchange for the two-week old James. It was in March. The following months were spent redecorating the cottage and selling their semi, and the family finally moved in September, just in time before the beginning of the academic year three weeks ago. Not for a moment did they considered selling their  new propriety. The reason for that was simple – with five small children every extra room was a blessing.

‘If I could choose whatever I wanted for Christmas’, Ollie wished aloud chewing his banana. ‘I’d like Mrs Rotskin to strike it rich and give up  teaching.’ Mrs Rodskin was a finicky buxom woman who wore diaphanous iridescent made-to-measure robes and taught humanities. A seemingly  unfulfilled hippie, she now told her ten-year-old pupils to write an essay titled ‘My soul in an alienated society’. Oliver’s only association with the topic so far was ‘Men in black’ and its vision of modern American society studded with undercover E.T.’s.

‘Fat chance.’ hissed Charlotte plumping a cushion. ‘She wouldn’t hand in her notice.‘

‘I want a drawbridge.’ announced Ian.

I wish I had a musical box.’ said Fiona slowly, pleased as Punch to be able to take part in family conversations after a week of silence. ‘Or a private clotheser.’ She added thinking about her shoe-lace problems.

‘You mean a dresser?’ asked Sarah.

‘So there is a job like that?’ Fiona was happy to hear that someone else needed such a helper.

‘A dresser works in a theatre. We saw one at work in a theatre in Stradford.’ Oliver was always eager to enlighten his siblings.