Discovering Beverley

Why? I have a book he wrote about pacifism, a collection of interviews he did with the bright and the good of the 1930s… all sorts. (In   Merry Hall, he focuses almost entirely on the garden –   Laughter on the Stairs looks at the house, and Sunlight on the Lawn   is perhaps more about the community in general than either of the above.) This is a keynote of Nichols’ writing – he is very, very sure of his own taste, and very, very dismissive of anybody else’s. People who look after pennies deserve all they get. Nichols takes an immediate and long-lasting position of loathing to Mr Stebbings, who apparently did every single wrong with house and garden, from planting elm trees – how Nichols would have welcomed Dutch elms disease! Well, the most recent converts are always the most enthusiastic, they say. I’ve read 3.5 of his books this year, and fully intend to launch into more after that. Terrible person that I am, my favourite moments in the book were when Nichols talks about how appalling he finds this pair – and is similarly wittily irate about a succession of labourers who do not labour. While I don’t agree with Nichols’ politics or his cheerful snobbery – though neither of these things stop me loving every moment of the book – there is one area in which I am in wholehearted agreement with him. They weave in and out of the narrative, and won my heart completely. Mr Stebbings has passed on to a better place, but he has an acolyte remaining in the area: Miss Emily. Milne’s Edwardian stories. I don’t think anybody has ever written as wonderfully about cats. Basically, this is a very funny, very charming book that reminded me a lot of A.A. This trilogy is   non-fiction, presumably heavily tinged with fiction, and it is – well, I am going to use the word ‘delight’ a lot in this review, I can sense
It begins with house hunting. (Curiously, he is much nicer about Emily and Rose in the sequel, and then nice about Emily and vicious about Rose in the third – I wonder if locals recognised themselves and threatened action?? (I   did read, at some juncture, a collection of essays he wrote with Monica Dickens – and instantly it left my mind. When I am not having to do it myself, I adore house hunting, and will read any length of it – though, in   Merry Hall, it doesn’t last very long. Of course, he wouldn’t dream of doing any of the hard work himself. My knowledge of flowers and plants is nil, and I got less from this than somebody more practically-minded might have done. Money is clearly no object, and Nichols buys this substantial property in more or less a trice. Nichols has two cats – One and Four. Somerset Maugham’s   Of Human Bondage. There is so much I would like to say about this book, but I have already written quite a bit – and I suspect I’ll be writing more about Nichols often over the years. I suspect it wasn’t real Nichols so much as something he was phoning in. In fact, the edition I’m reading was published for The Companion Book Club in 1953 and, rather delightfully, still has the little pamphlet with which it was initially distributed – and, in that, Nichols writes ‘where the female characters are concerned, I have naturally been obliged to invent a few elementary disguises, which are familiar to all authors who wish to avoid libel actions’. And somehow I never got around to reading any of it. These whimsical names supposedly come from the idea that he would have 100 cats over the rest of his life. If you have only just enough money to buy a bed, a chair, a table and a soup-plate, you should buy none of these squalid objects; you should immediately pay the first instalment on a Steinway grand. ‘Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves’… that is the meanest, drabbest little axiom that ever poisoned the mind of youth. I think I first came across the name in a small shop in Pershore, Worcestershire (no, I don’t imagine you’ve heard of it) where I bought   A Thatched Roof because it was a lovely old hardback and I loved thatched cottages. It was previously owned by Mr and Mrs Stebbings, and (before that) the Doves – known as the Doovz to the broad-accented, old, and extremely talented Oldfield. Miss Emily is ‘one big flinch’ – she pops up regularly at Merry Hall, disparaging everything Nichols has introduced and lamenting every element of Stebbings that has been removed. Because the aforesaid squalidities are essentials, and essentials have a peculiar was, somehow or other, of providing for themselves. – to his choice of wallpaper. Luckily, he does it in a very, very amusing fashion, and mellows slightly as the trilogy continues. Here’s a representative sample of his thoughts:
It is the same when you are furnishing a house. In 2017 I’ve read his 1950s   Merry Hall trilogy (about Nichols buying and doing up a Georgian house with several acres of garden and woodland) –   Merry Hall,   Laughter on the Stairs, and   Sunlight on the Lawn – and I’m torn between being cross with myself that I didn’t read him sooner and being thrilled with myself that I’d prepared for this event by stockpiling 13 of his books. Later in the series along comes Five, and… well, there is a scene which I found harder to read than almost any human death I’ve read about. I was 18 and probably thought he was a woman. One hopes – for his sake and for hers – that there was no prototype for Miss Emily – or, if there was, that she is sufficiently altered in these pages so as not to recognise herself. Related As such, I’ll mostly write about the rest – because there is just as much to love about   Merry Hall for those who don’t have green fingers. One is Siamese and Four is a black cat, and he writes beautifully about their character and mannerisms, with every bit of the devotion that cats deserve. I will say to anybody who has yet to read Beverley Nichols: don’t be like me and put it off for a decade; read something by him immediately. Since that time, I have been amassing books by him – everything from his classic garden/humour collections to a book he wrote in response to W. All they get is more pennies. Share this:TwitterFacebookPinterestEmailPrintGoogleLike this:Like Loading… Discovering Beverley
I decided that I loved Beverley Nichols before I read a word by him. Most of the book examines the plants and planting arrangements that Nichols decides upon, with Oldfield his gardener, and I thoroughly enjoyed it while often not really understanding it. But then what of Rose?)
Nichols is everything one expects of a rich, creative, aesthetically-minded gent – albeit maybe more usual in one of the 1920s than the 1950s. Nichols can’t stand the sight of her, but she is always there – along with her friend Rose, apparently a note flower arranger, who tortures flowers out of their original shape – much to Nichols’ discuss.