My mother, in real life Mrs Paul Dashwood but more generally known as EM Delafield, the author of Diary of a Provincial Lady, would always write sitting by the drawing room window, pencil in hand and manuscript on her lap, and never seemed to mind being interrupted.
One of the very best things she ever did for us was to buy some little red books with extracts from Shakespeare ; there was the trial scene from The Merchant of Venice, and A Midsummer Night's Dream, and we used to have family readings of them from time to time. My mother particularly fancied her rendition of 'The quality of mercy' speech, and my father was surprisingly funny as Thisbe, with a little, high, squeaky, voice.
The great thing about that was that by the time I went to school Shakespeare was an old friend, and I was very supposed to find that the other girls at my first school had never even heard of him, still less read him. The one disadvantage about having a relatively famous mother was that the headmistress had an embarrassing habit: when she was showing prospective visitors round the school, she would invariably single me out and I had to come to the front of the class and be patted on the head by the visitors, which did nothing for my popularity amongst my fellow students.
At home, things were wonderful. People used to tell me that I was a very lucky little girl (but they usually followed it up with something about how that meant I should be more grateful). We lived in the heart of rural Devon. The farmers still used farm carts pulled by great shire horses, and one of our greatest pleasures was to go down to the village and watch the blacksmith at work.
Although cars were something of a rarity then (this was the 1920s), we had two at the time. My father had a small blue car called Crouch (a make that no one now seems to have heard of) and its name was Bluebell. My mother's was a Standard called Pinky. It had a top you could put down but it was a terrible job and people always got their fingers pinched. Pinky hated going up hills and whenever we were about half way up we wall had to get out and push, and when she finally made it we would pat her on the bonnet affectionately and praise her.
At home we still had maids and my mother was every bit as terrified of Cook as she says in the Diary. She herself could not cook at all, but she told me that I would have to learn to, not of course in order to do it myself (Heaven forbid! as she would have said) but so that when I got married I could tell the maids what to do.
Home life had an inflexible routine: Breakfast at half past eight, lunch at 1:15, dinner at 8 o'clock. The maid would bang the gong and for dinner my parents would always dress formally, my father in a boiled shirt and my mother in a evening dress.
Occasionally they would give a dinner party for the Llewellens. This was a game invented by my brother, Lionel. We would be Mr and Mrs L. and we would dress up accordingly. The maids would enter into the spirit of the thing and make a great production of treating us like grown-ups.
The opening lines of the conversation were always the same. 'Tell me,' my mother would ask, 'has your wife made any more jokes lately?' And my brother would always answer regretfully, 'No, only just the one.'
This was in reference to the fact that as a small child I was alleged to have no sense of humour, and the reason my mother gave me the nickname Vicky was because she thought I looked like Queen Victoria not being amused. (And once, when I did make a joke which I thought was funny, they simply said, 'Don't be silly.')
My father and Lionel and I had horses, and we would sometimes go out hunting, even though my mother disapproved of all blood sports – indeed she once held the entire hunt at bay when the fox came into our garden because she said that he had come into sanctuary and she refused to let them pursue him any more.
My mother would sometimes pass an idle hour by reciting to herself a poem which began with the lines “An Austrian Army Awfully Arrayed, Boldly By Battery Besieged Belgrade, Cossack Commanders Cannonading Come, Dealing Destruction Devastating Doom. (She would recite it to herself while she was trying not to be seasick.) I know the poem goes on right through the alphabet but I have been unable to find it in any book of quotations. Can any readers of The Oldie help me out here?
My mother's best known book was The Diary of a Provincial Lady. The one thing in the book that has always particularly amused me is the passage in which she .... (I await the second page from The Oldie!)