A book that starts with a note from the author.
Published in 1951, the title of the book is ‘Nobody Shouted Author’.
Somebody ought to tip you off about this book before you get hopelessly confused. It isn’t really a book at all but a family chorus with an occasional solo in reminiscent autobiography…’
The author is, the author was, R. F. Delderfield.
I am not going to review the book, but felt the need to mention that it a book that I thoroughly enjoyed reading, ‘on many levels’.
It somehow had to be the first book I read in full since the middle of 2017. It was the first book that Emily bought for me from a charity shop while I was locked in the hospital. The next book that she bought me was on my birthday in May of 2017 when I was still recovering mainly at home, ‘An Inspector Calls’ by J.B. Priestley. I have only read a few pages of the play, but I believe that Emily has some sort of mystical sixth sense when it comes to picking out books for me.
I have started learning a little bit more about R.F. Delderfield and I am quite certain that if I get my hands on some more of his books it will be a good starting point for me learning about certain important periods of English and French history. Interestingly, his brother Eric R. Delderfield seems to have written some interesting books too, especially about the local history of Devon and Cornwall.
The next book I will read in full will most likely be ‘The Daughter of Time’ by Josephine Tey, another writer who, like Priestley and Delderfield was not immune to writing plays.
It makes me think that I should plant the idea in Emily’s mind that we should start checking out what the local villages have on offer when it comes to amatuer dramatic productions and the like.
There is also a small ‘retro’ cinema that has just opened up or is about to open up within leisurely walking range of our rented semi. It seems that I have finally learned what I need to do when not chained to the desk in the office.. Live! experience as many different memorable moments with Emily as possible.
Emily tires a lot easier than me, so I can frantically write when she retires slightly earlier, after post-work evenings slightly more interesting than just watching North West Tonight, The One Show, Food Network Channel (which can actually be very interesting, especially Ree Drummond ‘The Pioneer Woman’, and various shows where people tour America to find the best coal smoked hogs etc.) and the likes of ‘Midsomer Murders’ or ‘Supernatural’.
There is a lot to observe and get involved with, in the surrounding towns and villages near the outskirts of the Chesire town in which we live. If Emily and I eventually manage to get married, if we’re ever blessed enough to become parents of two children born a couple of years apart. I like to imagine that when the eldest is less than six months away from being 7 years old I’d be about to write the last lines of a ‘ family chorus with an occasional solo in reminiscent autobiography’ of just under 200 pages… in the small study of our aptly named family home.
His Finest Hour
When we were first married we rented a semi-detached house called “Lenora.” We didn’t call it that. The name was a legacy of the former occupier, Len and Nora.
It was the first time I had encountered this quaint and endearing method of naming a home, but May tells me that it is an accepted practice in the North, where one sometimes passes a whole string of villas with names like “Jackwyn,” “Percynell” and even “Osmollie.” She says that in some cases by glancing at a name like “Phylbert” for instance, it is possible, by means of syllabic precedence, to discover who wears the trousers.
When I ridiculed the practice she flew to arms in defence of the North and said that, coy though this house-naming method admittedly was, it was far, far better than the screaming snobbery of the South, where the householders of entire avenues advertised their overseas background on the front gate and the thoroughfare looked like the route followed by an Indian stopping train. Ours was a sad district for house names. Within mower-borrowing distance we had a “Mon Repos,” a “Chez-Nous” and two “Shangri-las,” each spelled differently.
“Lenora” wasn’t a bad house as semi-detached houses go. Once the kitchen geyser had exploded, and blown verdigris down May’s throat, we had no more serious trouble until the hot-water system became tainted and even that was a blessing in disguise for it was the means of getting us on friendly terms with our next-door neighbour, a master builder called Fred. There is no end to the advantages to be gained by living next door to a master builder. I calculated that it saved us round about a pound a week all the time we were there.
When we first discovered that the water was tainted we sent for the landlord.
For some days we had observed the spasmodic discharge from the hot-water taps of little black specks and when we brushed our teeth the water tasted like quinine. We made one or two half-hearted attempts to discover the source of the trouble but in the end we sent for the landlord and showed him the specks. We tried to get him to drink some of the water but he wasn’t having any and I can’t say that I blame him, for by this time the water had turned a pale shade of amber. It looked attractive but it didn’t smell so good.
The landlord, whose name was Clutch, was an unprepossessing fellow. He had thick pebble glasses, which made him look as though he was about to set out on a tandem tour with H.G. Wells. In addition to these drawbacks he had a nervous habit of chuckling at the end of every sentence he uttered and prolonged association with him filled one with a vague yearning to see what he looked like when he wept. He would recount the most harrowing stories between giggles. The day he showed us round the house he had just passed the scene of a fatal road accident at the top of the lane and he told us all about it as we moved from room to room.
“This is the larder, ha-ah; plenty of sun, he-he! Just saw a terrible smash on the railway bridge, ho-ho! Cracked his skull like an eggshell, haw-haw! Knew the man well, ha-ha! Left a wife and six kids, ho-ho-ho!”
I don’t suppose Clutch was any more callous than the next man, but he made us feel that we were being chaperoned by Palmer the poisoner, and May wouldn’t have taken a week’s tenancy on “Lenora” if Clutch (who knew all about the geyser and various other drawbacks) hadn’t been reasonable about the rent.
Clutch blinked at the black specks in the bowl and said: “Ha-ha, ho-ho!” which didn’t help very much. I don’t believe he even saw them, for he was three-parts blind and his glasses steamed up the moment he bent over the running tap, but he took our word for them and climbed into the loft. I held the ladder for him and he cackled madly as his heavy brogues cracked against my head.
He reappeared a moment or two later and said that he had located the trouble, the ball valve was rusty. He then missed his footing on the rafters and thrust both feet through the plaster of the landing ceiling. It was his ceiling and the damage didn’t worry us overmuch, except that it remained unrepaired during the remainder of our tenancy. He sent a man to replace the old ball valve, but the only result of his visit was that the black specks changed to grey shreds and the smell of the water became almost unbearable.
Ultimately we called in freed form next door and he climbed into the loft with the “I’ll show you” air that master craftsmen cannot help displaying when performing before amateurs.
He did show us. In less than a minute he had fished a suicidal and somewhat decomposed starling from the tank.
We had another encounter with Clutch, the landlord, about a year later.
This time it was drainage. The waste water wouldn’t run away and we sent for him to take up most of the pipes, but he failed to discover the stoppage. The war was on at the time and Clutch had his hands full. Most of his men were in the Services and he was pitifully short-staffed. Although he went on cackling I could see that he was getting madder and madder as he smashed his way deeper and deeper into the bowels of the house. I felt that if he didn’t locate the trouble soon he would tear the place apart brick by brick.
As his excavations developed his conversation began to take a sinister turn.
“Never know what you might find in these pipes, ha-ha!” he declared. “Might even be a matter for the police, he-he!” He said something like this so often, and shone his pebble lenses on us so meaningly, that we got to wondering whether Len and Nora had chopped up a rich uncle and stuffed his remains into the main outlet, but eventually Clutch discovered the trouble, this time without the aid of Fred. He uncovered a six-inch drainpipe near the coalshed door and pointed to a large elm root that had forced its way into a joint, almost completely blocking the flow.
“Knew it all the time, ha-ha!” je crowed, and forthwith drove his pickaxe into the bottleneck.
The pipe cracked and a powerful jet of accumulated waste shot up like a New Zealand geyser, striking him full in the face and knocking him a distance of several yards. It was the only time I heard him exclaim without his terminating chuckle.
“Lenora,” although a smallish house, had latticed, casement windows of an unusually large size. This was all very well in normal times, and was one of the reasons why we had taken the house in the first place, but it was the very devil when Warden Blount called to tell us that he would expect blackout to be in place the evening of every day war was declared.
There was not even time to appeal to Fred, who was far too busy making his own blackout frames. He gave me some laths and May bought some rolls of black paper, so I set to at once and after overcoming an initial feeling of helplessness I rather enjoyed the work.
May made herself responsible for the upstairs windows and I concentrated on a large frame designed for the dining-room. I constructed the frame inside the room because it seemed to me that that it would be too big to get it through the door. I made a series of calculations and spoiled the first frame by making it too heavy for the little tacks I was using. It fell to pieces when I tried to pick it up. I went out into our garage and found some longer nails which I hammered into place at each corner of the frame. One or two laths split but I bound up the splintered ends with tape and everything looked wonderful until I tried to life the huge oblong. It wouldn’t budge an inch. I called over the wall to Fred and he didn’t even have to bend down and touch the wretched frame but just stood there and said:
“You made a good job of nailing it to the floor, old man!” He made the frames in the end but in the interval we had a good deal of trouble with Warden Blount, who live next door but nine.
Isaac Blount was the prototype of all British air-raid wardens. Right up to the moment that Chamberlain announced that we were at war Blount had been a perfectly harmless and rather meek little man, a member of the Peace Pledge Union and, had he been younger, an obvious candidate for the C.O. Tribunal. At 11 a.m. on the morning of Sunday, September 3, 1939, a strange metamorphosis overtook him without his moving an inch from his radio set. He rushed out of his house and ran up a Union Jack on his aerial pole. Then he rushed back again, tore off his Sunday clothes, and put on a boiler suit and a steel helmet. Over his face he wore a respirator, a far more business-like respirator than any of us had been issued with.
Thus equipped he fired the first shots of his own private war. He ran up and down the road hammering at doors and screaming unintelligible commands through his respirator. We all expected him to fall in a fit by sunset but he didn’t, he just kept knocking at doors and calling elderly neighbours fifth-columnists.
As the first winter of the war dreared its way towards Christmas he quietened down, but his new tactics were only a blind, for he took to prowling noiselessly round the garden paths of houses looking for chinks. If he saw so much as a pinprick of light he thundered on the front door like the messenger of doom and if he got no answer he flung stones through the window. Once he attacked an upstairs lavatory window with a shutter pole, commandeered from the grocer’s.
By 1941 everyone in our neighbourhood was longing for the triumph of Hitler and the arrival of Himmler’s relatively tractable secret police.
This sort of thing went on for years. Every Monday morning he herded his little batch of victims into the bus, that served for a tumbril, and drove them to the Petty Sessional Court, where he stood against the wall and smugly awaited his turn to denounce them from the witness box. The Exchequer could always count on a nice, steady income from Blount, for his fines, over six years, must have bought a fleet of tanks and a minesweeper. He never achieved his lifelong ambition, that of getting an elderly widow sent to jail for years, but he got three whacking great fines out of her and as a lowerer of morale in our district alone he was always worth two divisions to Germany.
His end had in it the elements of high tragedy.
In May, 1945, it got around that the war in Europe was over and Blount, terrified at the prospect of becoming an ordinary citizen again, spent a distressing day tracing a rumour that the blackout had become obsolete. After a series of phone calls, and a couple of frenzied visits to H.Q., he learned with immense relief that 2lights up” was optional, and that the local authority still had the power to enforce a blackout. He then redoubled his phoning, pointing out to anyone who would listen that his area was situated on that part of the English coast that face Japan; he also quoted a newspaper report announcing the possession by Japan of a huge fleet of long-distance bombers manned by suicide crews, which had been held in reserve for years pending a final descent upon Blount’s beat.
His enthusiasm carried the day and the blackout, in our area, was soon “on” again. Blount pursued his customary rounds and paid special attention to those of his victims who, in rash moments of exultation. Had made bonfires of their frames and curtains. He turned up the following Monday with a record bunch of felons in tow.
Time, however, was now on our side once again. Mussolini had gone, then Hitler, and now even Blount saw the writing on the blackout curtains. A week or two before VJ-Day, when it was obvious that Japan’s air armada had insufficient petrol to carry it as far as the Bagman’s Rest at the top of our road, the authorities reluctantly informed Blount that lights could be displayed with impunity. They let him keep his tin helmet and his respirator but they took away his badge and his long, jemmy-looking torch.
With the surrender of these tokens of authority a light went out inside Blount. Worn out with years of foot-slogging up and down gravel paths, and half-crippled by the results of countless stumbles over rockeries and terrifying ascents up drainpipes and creep frames, he tottered home, hauled down his Union Jack and peeled off his dungarees for the last time. He then took to his bed and refused all nourishment except his evening cup of cocoa, which for years he had swallowed immediately before setting out on his sunset patrol.
A few days later, Fred, the builder, was summoned by Blount’s wife who said that her husband was sinking fast. Like the surviving captains of the Spanish Armada he had turned his face to the wall and refused to face about even for the doctor.
“He’s trying to say something.” Said Mrs. Blount tearfully, “but I can’t catch what it is!”
Fred hurried in and went upstairs. Touching the huddled figure under the bedclothes he called:
“Blount, Blount old man, what is it you want to say?”
Blount’s tousled head emerged from the sheets for a moment and his stern gaze met Fred’s. The two men regarded one another for a few seconds, then the warden’s lips moved, and Fred, bending low, tried to read their message.
“What does he say? Asked Mrs. Blount, her hand poised on the bureau drawer, where she knew her husband’s will was kept.
Fred straightened himself.
“It sounds like ‘Put out that light!’ “ he told her.
She nodded understandingly. Her hand reached for the switch and out went Blount.