Heavens to Betsy



Reminded by Beth Bonini’s cheerful Instagram feed of these delightful books (I’ve posted about their companion volumes here and here before), I think I’m getting ready for a re-read.


Lots of commentators compare these books to Meet Me in St Louis, and as well as the period details (the hairstyles! the dresses! the slang! the excitement over a telephone!), what I love most is the inherent optimism – progress is always good, and friends and family remain stable whilst welcoming new developments – but also the complete acceptance that a job, writing, singing, making your own mind up, are all important to a girl and in no way conflicted with the rest of her being.


I find it depressing that a modern book wouldn’t show this, or would have to make a big point about it. Written in the 50s about the 1900-1910s, Betsy, Emily and Carney are in fact far more progressive than any characters today.

Rat, oh rat…

never in my life have I seen

as handsome a rat as you.

Thank you for noticing my potatoes.

Oh Rat, I am not rich.

I left you a note concerning my potatoes,

but I see that I placed it too high

and you could not read it.

Oh Rat,

my wife and I are cursed with possession of a large and hungry dog;

it worries us that he might learn your name –

which is forever on our lips.

Oh Rat, consider my neighbour;

he has eight children (all of them older

and more intelligent than mine)

and if you lived in his house, Rat

ten good Christians

(if we include his wife)

would sing your praises nightly,

whereas in my house there are only five.

Christopher Logue

False Chronicles! BAD.


A twitter account that relocates Donald Trump to Anglo-Saxon Mercia, satirising his wilder utterances. The name Donald the Unready is particularly witty since, as all historians know, Unread was the Anglo-Saxon word for ill-advised. Here are a couple of gems:

Twisty lying monk Bede writes his History of the English-speaking peoples IN LATIN. HYPOCRITE! Can’t trust the mainstream Chronicles. Sad.


Sad loser monks saying I’m unstable. Total lies. We’ve got the greatest stables in Mercia. They’re HUGE. All the horse, so many. Clip clop.


Sad false Chronicles and mainstream bards keep lying. Gonna set the tapestry straight. Court wenches will embroider THE TRUTH. Gonna be great!

As handsome and as lively as ever

He looked as handsome and as lively as ever, and was talking with interest to a fashionable and pleasing-looking woman, who leant on his arm, and whom Catherine immediately guessed to be his sister…he had not behaved, he had not talked like the married men to whom she had been used; he had never mentioned a wife, and had acknowledged a sister…and therefore instead of turning of a deathlike paleness, and falling in a fit on Mrs Allen’s bosom, Catherine set erect, in the perfect use of her senses, and with cheeks only a little redder than usual.

Jane Austen being delightful in Northanger Abbey, perfect reading for this time of year and parties.

…treated me from that moment on with frosty distaste

Uncle Tommy’s marriage to my mother coincided with my sixth birthday. I did everything I could to wreck the show, fidgeting and picking my nose, till an aquiline creature, later identified as the famous Margot Asquith, knelt down in the aisle to comfort me. I decided she was a witch and again and again informed the congregation in a shrill treble of this discovery. I was removed and Uncle Tommy, forever politically sensitive, treated me from that moment on with frosty distaste.

David Niven – The Moon’s a Balloon


Backlisted is a podcast I’ve recently become so hooked on that I am forcing it on everyone I meet. Three friends in publishing meet every two weeks to talk about what they’ve been reading and a forgotten or neglected book that their guest has chosen.

The result is what can only be described as a rollicking 60 minutes of childhood memories, barely-legal gossip, and laughter. Matthew Clayton’s embittered memories of childhood trips round the south England folk scene had me nearly crying with laughter, whilst the authors they choose seem to have specialised in outrageously unbelievable lives. Erskine Childers was hailed as a true patriot by Churchill and later killed by firing squad as a traitor, Denton Welch decided to go into drag in 1930s China whilst visiting his dad on an escape from boarding school, and Nigel Balchin found time between working on national food policies and writing a novel for NASA to produce the Aero, the Kit-Kat, Black Magic and the screenplay for Cleopatra.

In between such gems are insights into publishing life, heated debates on how to make a really good pastiche, and a pile up of possible memoir titles: Devastating Boys,  Bourbon and Surnames and A Puffin in my Porridge are all on standby.