‘The Marlows and the Traitor’, Part Five

Thursday Afternoon (2): Shipwreck

Now we’ve gone back a few hours and are with the children and Foley on the Talisman. (I should note that the non-linear narrative and shifting point of view are being used very effectively to increase the tension.) First we see Peter’s perspective. An hour into their trip, Peter has finally and unhappily realised that Foley is not taking them back to Oldport, as he claimed he would, but is up to some traitorous business that will likely end in the Marlows being killed – and even worse, Peter is helpless to prevent their deaths. On the other hand, he does bravely think that:

“At least they were a drag on Foley that he hadn’t bargained for. The microphotographs and the formulae were still within reach. If only they could delay Foley…”

Peter has a snoop around the cabin in which he and Ginty are locked (Nicola’s up on deck due to being seasick) and finds some charts which suggest Foley has been meeting enemy ships at sea – so it seems likely that the children are being taken to the enemy ship to be interrogated and then killed. As Peter tries in vain to think of a way to sabotage the engine, Foley comes in to plot his course on the charts, leaving Nicola to continue steering the boat. Except … Nicola isn’t keeping to Foley’s original course. Peter can see from the compass that Nicola’s sailing them back to Oldport! Go, Nicola! Then the engine dies!

Now we switch back to Nicola’s story. Poor Nicola is violently seasick at the start of their trip and Foley kindly gives her his coat and some brandy. Feeling better, she asks what they should do with the dinghy when they get back to Oldport, but Foley makes it known, without actually saying it, that they aren’t going to Oldport at all. Nicola, unlike Peter, accepts that Foley is The Traitor at once, but she’s also more optimistic:

“She began to feel more cheerful. If she wasn’t going to be sick again, nothing would be so bad. Not even sailing with a traitor to an unknown destination.”

In many ways, the plot of this book is no different to the Famous Five battling smugglers or spies, but what elevates it, apart from the quality of the prose, are all the detailed, astute descriptions of the characters’ reactions. Nicola swings from fear to despair to optimism to curiosity within a few minutes and it’s all completely plausible in this situation.

Foley goes downstairs to the cabin to plot a course with his charts and leaves Nicola at the tiller. But Nicola realises this is an opportunity to swing the boat around gradually. Although she knows Foley will eventually realise what she’s doing, “just for the moment it was glorious to have done something that would at least bother him a bit.” She starts humming Robert’s song and then thinks … Sugar in the petrol! And she’s still got the sugar in her pocket for feeding the pony! She can sabotage the engine! (Clever plotting, Antonia Forest.)

Nicola isn’t merely brave, she’s also smart. She waits as long as she can, allowing them to get much closer to shore, then drops the sugar in the petrol tank just as Foley returns. And there’s more good character observation here, when she thinks that:

“…even though Foley was a traitor, it was probably rather mean to wreck his ship when she was still wearing his jacket and he had given her brandy and been really rather kind.”

But then Foley hurls Peter into the cabin wall when Peter tries to stop him reaching the tiller and Nicola stops feeling sorry for Foley. Indeed, “his fury and the glimmer of panic behind his eyes made her feel very cool and confident.”

Serves you right for underestimating Nicola, Foley. The boat crashes into the shore – and what an amazing coincidence, they’ve arrived at Foley’s Folly Lighthouse!

Thursday Night (2): The Lighthouse

I probably don’t need to say that Ginty has been entirely useless during their trip and she continues to be useless when they arrive at the lighthouse. Foley locks himself in the lighthouse to transmit a message to the U-boat while the children empty the beached Talisman of its stores. Peter does have the good idea of stealing the keys for all the upper lighthouse rooms and throwing them into the sea so Foley won’t be able to lock them in. Over dinner, Foley announces he will sail off on the Talisman in the morning and the children will eventually be rescued from the lighthouse. He tries to convince them that no one will believe their story because they’ll have no evidence and anyway, no one knows he’s been at Mariners so the authorities won’t realise he’s disappeared. The Marlows feel “very young and foolish and helpless” – and that’s before Foley drugs their cocoa with sleeping tablets.

As they sleep, Foley goes out to check the condition of the Talisman. He’d told the U-boat crew he’d meet them the next morning and they’d given him instructions for murdering the children. Luckily for the Marlows, Foley “had never taken kindly to obeying orders” and while he acknowledges to himself that he is “guilty of treason”, he knows he’s “never had a bent for cold-blooded cruelty”.

Unfortunately for Foley, the Talisman is wedged on the rocks and gets torn to pieces when the tide comes in. He remembers the thunderbolt two days ago as a sign of doom – it was immediately afterwards, shaken by his narrow escape from the storm, that he’d passed Peter and Nicola on the beach and made the mistake of ignoring Peter. He also acknowledges that he’d made an error in kidnapping the children. He should have pretended he was taking the microfilms to the police, then disappeared at once. Now it’s inevitable that he’ll be unmasked as a spy, one way or the other, and his foreign ‘allies’ will have no use for him when he no longer has access to navy secrets. Foley sees “his death quite clearly”. But then he reconsiders:

“Thunderbolts and fate were all very well, but he didn’t really believe a word of it. He had been in corners as tight as this before, and had always escaped disaster.”

But how is he going to get out of this, now that his only means of transport is gone? He contacts the U-boat again. The navy fleet exercises over the weekend mean the U-boat will now pick Foley and the children up on Sunday. Foley changes his mind again:

“He was certain now that, rationally speaking, he and the children would not be alive by Sunday evening.”

This could all be avoided if he surrendered to the British authorities. The children would be saved; he would go to prison as a traitor, but he’d avoid death. His pride will not allow this, though:

“…trial and imprisonment was something he would not face; the children’s safety could not weigh against that … He had always told himself that he would prefer death at the hands of the people he had served to the justice of those he had betrayed…”

And this is a CHILDREN’S BOOK! This portrayal of a villain involves a level of subtlety and psychological complexity that you don’t even find in a lot of adult spy novels of the time.

Now, I don’t think that Antonia Forest is going to kill off any of her child characters. (I would, but probably not in the second book of a series.) Still, things are getting very serious here.

Next, Friday Morning: Breakfast at the Lighthouse

‘The Marlows and the Traitor’, Part Four

Thursday Afternoon (1): Lawrie Runs for It

This book may be an action-packed thriller, but there’s still room for some droll humour. In this chapter, it’s revealed that Lawrie’s grand escape is actually the result of her accidentally tripping over while daydreaming, falling into a hollow and getting separated from the others by the thick fog. I also liked film-obsessed Lawrie’s reaction to the initial appearance of Foley:

“…to meet a man with a gun in an empty house seemed to Lawrie a perfectly possible thing to happen. Really, when you remembered the number of times it happened in films, it was only surprising that it hadn’t happened sooner. She was, she found to her annoyance, a bit scared, because even though spies and gangsters always came to a sticky end in the last reel, the innocent people quite often came to stickier ends before that. All the same, in spite of being scared, Lawrie, in an odd way, was rather enjoying herself. She kept thinking: ‘This is how it feels–this is how my feet go–when I’m in films I must remember this.’”

I am rather disturbed to find myself having something in common with Lawrie, because this is exactly how I’ve reacted to crises in the past, except my thoughts tend to run along the lines of ‘I must remember this for when I write a scene like this in a novel.’

In a rare burst of common sense, Lawrie restrains herself from running after the others and instead waits till they’re safely out of earshot, then climbs over a wall (unfortunately landing in a tangle of nettles and brambles). She also remembers to check whether the others are somewhere on the foreshore, perhaps bound and gagged, before going for help. But that is the end of her level-headedness. She stumbles back to Farthing Fee, convinced by her overactive imagination that someone is following her and that even when she reaches the hotel, she won’t be safe:

“You couldn’t tell, when it was a matter of spies and gangsters, who mightn’t be in league with the enemy. Suppose the hotel manager was? Suppose by now Foley had got in touch with him through his secret transmitter? Suppose they were waiting for her when she got in and pretended to let her telephone and then drugged her or something? Lawrie had seen plenty of films where that sort of thing happened and she wasn’t going to be caught like that.”

What she is caught by is the conductor on the bus, because she hasn’t brought any money with her, even though the children were planning to catch the bus back from Farthing Fee after their visit to Mariners – presumably Lawrie always expects Nicola or one of the others to pay her fare. The situation is not helped by an interfering passenger who is “fat” and wears “too much lipstick” (Antonia Forest really does have issues with women who wear colourful clothes or make-up). Laurie tries to explain she’ll pay later, gives her name and explains she’s staying at the Majestic Hotel, and is bewildered when the others don’t believe her:

“But if she could have seen herself–scratched, grubby, her shorts and cardigan torn, her jersey stained green–she wouldn’t have wondered. She didn’t look in the least like the sort of child whose parents might be staying at the Majestic.”

Mind you, even though she looks grubby, I presume her clothes are expensive, her accent is upper-middle-class and her sense of entitlement is pure Marlow, so I’m not entirely convinced by the adults’ reactions in this scene. It doesn’t really matter, anyway, because Lawrie wrenches away, dashes off across the road and is immediately knocked unconscious by a car. Robert Anquetil turns up as the ambulance arrives and confirms that she is a Marlow staying at the Majestic – except he thinks she’s Nicola. Interestingly, this is the first time anyone’s ever confused the twins. Even at school, where they wear the same clothes, no one ever seems to get them mixed up. They do have very different personalities and mannerisms, though, so it’s not surprising that Robert wouldn’t be able to distinguish unconscious Lawrie from Nicola, especially if he doesn’t even know Nicola has a twin.

Thursday Night (1): Midnight Conference

This is a very exciting chapter, full of big revelations. Robert Anquetil works for Naval Intelligence! He’s just been pretending to be a fisherman! Except now he’s pretending that he’s a plain-clothes policeman to poor Mrs Marlow, who’s just arrived at the hospital to find one of her children having emergency surgery and three others missing, possibly dead. Well, that’s what happens when you leave Ginty in charge. Mrs Marlow does explain the injured child is probably Lawrie because “Lawrie would be more likely to forget her bus fare.” Okay, I did laugh out loud at that, despite the seriousness of the situation.

Robert has summoned his boss, Commander Whittier, to the police station, where they discuss the situation. Robert has already searched Mariners and found a scrap of code that was left behind, but no Foley or Talisman. Robert then helpfully explains the background of the case to Whittier (and us), even though Whittier’s read the file. A year ago, the British Navy discovered that a clerk called Ida Cross was stealing naval secrets and sending them out of the country. Meanwhile, some U-boats (that is, German submarines) had been spotted near the coast and a Baltic agent reported that some Nazis wanted for war crimes were being forced to carry information (presumably by the Soviet Union, but this isn’t explicitly stated). It’s also thought that these Nazi agents are using U-boats to travel to Britain.

Still, the Navy couldn’t work out how Ida Cross was handing over the secrets to the Nazis. But the intelligence people discovered the U-boats were hanging out near the St-Annes villages, Robert Anquetil’s boyhood home. So he moved home and pretended to be a fisherman, until finally he happened to spot Ida Cross making her way to Mariners. And then he realised – Ida was passing the secrets to Lewis Foley, who used the Talisman to meet with the U-boats and hand over the secrets.

Before I get onto further revelations about Foley, I have a number of questions. The author’s note states this book is set in the late 1940s and it was first published in 1953. So – why Nazis? Robert says the Nazis, who were “SS men, three guards from various concentration camps [and] a number of minor Party officials […] had been given their lives on condition they acted as go-betweens”. Would Russians who’d experienced the horrors of the Battle of Stalingrad actually allow Nazis to live, let alone trust them to carry secrets from the West? Would Nazis really become spies for their sworn enemies, the Communists? Given that Western powers would be more likely to show leniency than the Soviets, why wouldn’t the Nazis pretend they were picking up secrets, then go to the British authorities and offer to tell all they knew in return for immunity from prosecution? Why is there no mention of Britain’s actual Cold War enemy, the Soviet Union? Now it’s true that there were Germans who spied for the Soviet Union during this period (for instance, Klaus Fuchs) but these were people who were life-long Communists and fervent anti-Nazis, who’d worked for the Allies during the war.

I find it hard to believe that Antonia Forest was fervently pro-Communist and therefore wanted to avoid casting the Soviets as the bad guys. So why complicate things with this implausible post-war Nazis-as-bad-guys plot? Maybe she thought her child readers were so used to equating ‘Nazi’ with ‘enemy’ that they’d get confused by non-Nazi enemies? Maybe she just wanted to use U-boats in her story? Possibly I’m missing something obvious here. However, I was impressed to see her description of the Portland Spy Ring eight years before it was actually uncovered. Ida Cross, the “plain creature” who uses her job as a clerk to steal secrets, bears a remarkable resemblance to Ethel Gee, the “spinster” filing clerk who stole secrets to pass on to a Russian agent and was arrested and sent to prison in 1961.

Robert also discusses Foley, who

“…has no loyalties, only enmities. I don’t think for a moment he’s an ardent Communist. I think he’s only in it, because he gets a peculiar kick out of being on his own against the rest of us. He always did.”

Foley’s sounding a bit like Guy Burgess, a contrarian from a ‘good’ naval family who worked for the Foreign Office until 1951, when they realised he was a Soviet agent and he fled to the Soviet Union.

There’s a bit more discussion about whether Foley is likely to have killed the children in cold blood. Robert thinks this is unlikely, although Foley has “a shocking temper for about thirty seconds at a time”. It’s also unlikely Foley has handed them over to the enemy, because how could he have had time to arrange a rendezvous with the U-boat? The Marlows were an unexpected complication for him.

But then, dramatic news! The coastguard has found bits of wreckage of the Talisman!

Next, Thursday Afternoon (2): Shipwreck

‘The Marlows and the Traitor’, Part Three

Thursday Morning: Return to Mariners

In yet another example of the Marlows’ permissive parenting style, it is perfectly okay for Nicola to wander about the quay at dawn by herself and hang out with strange fishermen, including with the “local disappointment”, Robert Anquetil. Robert achieved a Double First at Oxford and had a distinguished wartime record in the Commandos, but is now happily being a fisherman instead of “bother[ing] himself with being Prime Minister or anything of that sort”. Nicola helps him clean up his boat, then over breakfast he helpfully supplies her (and us) with information about his childhood acquaintance, Lewis Foley. The Foleys are a “sad, mischancy lot” who keep to themselves and “always die at sea”. A Foley ancestor did use their lighthouse for wrecking and when the villagers came to stop him, he threw himself off the top of the lighthouse into the sea (and broke his neck, because unfortunately it was a shallow bit, but I suppose technically he died at sea). Robert explains how the lighthouse is on a tiny island surrounded by rocks, with a secret shortcut known only to the Foleys and Robert, which I’m sure will turn out to be significant. The lighthouse does work, though, because it was lit up for the Victory Celebrations at the end of the war.

Incidentally, there are a number of references to the Second World War in this book, whereas Autumn Term’s setting, in terms of era, was very vague. But I suppose if you’re going to write a book about spies and traitors, it helps if you set it firmly in a particular time and political context so that you can identify the enemy.

Robert has a number of disquieting things to say about Foley, who was “tremendously proud” of his wrecker ancestor, tried to kill anyone he fought with and seems almost to have a split personality. Robert also warns Nicola not to return to Mariners because “Lewis can be very unpleasant”. Given the title of this chapter, I assume she will ignore this warning and disaster will ensue.

Oh, Robert also teaches her a song, which I’ve made a note of because it will probably turn out to be a secret code:

Injuns on the railroad
Russians on the spree
Sugar in the petrol
And up goes she!

Which is about Russians invading Germany via the River Spree and how sugar in petrol can be used to sabotage engines. Could Robert be the Traitor? Maybe he’s lying about Foley? But Nicola likes Robert and Peter likes Foley, and Nicola has better judgement than Peter does.

Back at the hotel, Ginty thinks that being left in charge is “a quite extraordinary and frightful thing to have happened, for Ginty loathed responsibility and always looked the other way at school when there were new girls to be taken in tow or anything of that sort.” Although Ginty is “intelligent, charming to look at, good fun and excellent at games”, Karen once called her a “very light-weight sort of person” (to which Ginty responded by pretending not to hear and rushing off to play tennis). So Ginty now decides that Peter, being a boy, should bear all responsibility for the siblings. Not that she bothers to tell anyone this, least of all Peter. So far, Ginty and Lawrie are my least favourite Marlows. (Actually, I don’t much like Giles, either. Rowan and Nicola are the best.)

Nicola tells Ginty, Peter and Lawrie what she’s learned about the lighthouse and the Foley family, but to her dismay, they decide to visit Mariners. She reluctantly joins them, because if “they were going to be caught by Foley, and if there should be a frightful row, she thought she would rather be there than not”. Also, like Peter, she has a horror of being thought cowardly by the others – even though, in this situation, it would be braver to take a stand and insist they stay away from Mariners.

They hike over to Farthing Fee, visit the hidden sea and climb up to Mariners’ crow’s-nest, whereupon a fog rolls in. Peter starts to feel uneasy, but they continue exploring the house all the way down to the cellars. It is revealed Ginty has panic attacks in enclosed spaces, especially underground, because during the war, their house in London was bombed and she was trapped alone in the cellar for hours until they dug her out.

Okay, now I feel a bit of sympathy for Ginty.

(I am going to ignore all the children’s references to “Little Black Sambo” and “nigger minstrel”, used whenever they get dirty, because I have already made my thoughts on this sort of period-specific racism known. For the record, this book was first published in 1953.)

Ginty acts as a look-out upstairs while the others investigate a part of the cellar that seems to be inhabited – and turns out to be the hiding place for a box of microfilms and complicated formulae and photos of torpedos. As they’re arguing over whether the police will believe them about this evidence of spying or if they should take it straight to their father, Ginty hears footsteps coming toward them. “Weak with terror”, she joins the others, pretending that nothing’s wrong.

Now, although this is not a particularly sensible thing to do, it’s understandable for someone in the middle of a panic attack and certainly in character for someone who hates facing up to unpleasant realities, so I’m not too disappointed in Ginty.

And really, what action could Ginty have taken that would have saved them, because it’s Foley and yes, he really is the Traitor. Peter actually pushes the microfilms over to him and starts to explain until Peter realises Foley is pointing a revolver at them. Foley snatches up the microfilms and herds the four Marlows off through the fog to the foreshore, where he forces them into his dinghy. At this point, he realises one of them is missing. Lawrie is gone!

Lawrie is now their only hope of rescue!

In other words, they’re doomed.

Next: Thursday Afternoon (1): Lawrie Runs for It

‘The Marlows and the Traitor’, Part Two

Wednesday Afternoon: The Hidden Sea

Back at the hotel, Mrs Marlow, usually unflappable, goes into the “most wowing kind of flap” when she hears about Peter and Nicola’s near-death experience on the cliffs. I’m relieved to hear this, because so far, the Marlow parents have seemed hands-off to the point of near neglect. But Peter thinks “how absolutely extraordinary it was that it was always the very people you thought you could depend on absolutely who were always the ones who let you down.” Hmm, what does that tell you about your judgement, Peter? But Peter is too busy feeling guilty and cross to do any self-analysis. He snaps at poor Johnnie Thorpe, then at Lawrie, although by lunchtime, he’s in a slightly better temper. Ginty and Lawrie are competing in the hotel’s ping-pong tournament, so Peter and Nicola decide to take the bus to a mysterious-sounding place called Farthing Fee. This turns out to be a boring collection of bungalows at the end of a road, but then Nicola discovers an overgrown lane marked ‘Footpath to Mariners’, which sounds more promising.

Walking along the hedge-hemmed lane towards the sea, they wonder if Lieutenant Foley has an identical twin (“If sometimes he’s all right and sometimes he’s peculiar, that would explain it”) and they feed a pony (the Marlows “always carried sugar on walks in the hope of meeting friendly horses”). After an offhand remark from Nicola, Peter attempts to catch and ride the pony, despite the pony’s firm resistance to the idea. Peter seems to have some absurd and dangerous ideas about How to Be a Proper Man, no doubt reinforced by his father, his brother and his school, but Nicola is astute and kind enough to rescue Peter on this occasion by deliberately frightening off the horse.

Then, suddenly, they come across ‘Mariners’, an old and apparently abandoned house, which they decide to explore. Now, I’m a bit confused about Nicola’s moral values, because she wouldn’t even consider taking a train without paying the fare in Autumn Term, yet has no hesitation about breaking into a stranger’s house in this book. Isn’t trespassing worse than fare-dodging? Regardless, there’s a nice description here of how different Peter and Nicola are. Nicola seems braver because she simply doesn’t think about the consequences before jumping into action (or into a deep, dark coal cellar with a busted trap-door). Peter feels obliged to act in a brave manner, but usually stops to consider what might go wrong:

“His first thought had been that he ought to jump after her. His second and more sensible one, that if Nicola had damaged herself, or if the door on the inside wouldn’t open, he would be more useful where he was. He heard Nicola begin to move about and felt relieved. At least he hadn’t got to cope with a sprained ankle or something cheerful like that miles from anywhere…”

So perhaps Peter really is braver, because he feels fear, then acts anyway? Meanwhile, Nicola has wandered off into the depths of the cellar without telling him – and then is surprised that he’s cross with her when they’re finally reunited.

Anyway, they investigate the silent, empty house, “handsome in a cold, symmetrical sort of way”, and eventually find their way to an amazing crow’s-nest on top of the roof, complete with telescope. Whereupon we discover that Peter is secretly terrified of heights. So, he has vertigo and he doesn’t like the sea and he tends to freeze in a crisis. And he’s training to be a naval officer. Oh, Peter.

But the really cool thing is that they spy a hidden sea and a strange lighthouse – which is called ‘Foley’s Folly Light’! Could Mariners be Foley’s house? Could the Foley family have been wreckers, luring ships onto the rocks with a false light?

Peter, now thoroughly rattled, gets into one of his ‘upsets’ (“When he was in an upset he got rather white and angry-looking, and as Nicola knew from experience, it wasn’t a bit of good asking him what the matter was”) and he storms off down the lane by himself. He feels

“furious with himself, as he always did when a hidden uneasiness made him kick out at whoever happened to be around. A fine officer he was going to make if he bellowed at his subordinates every time he got in a flap – if he ever was an officer.”

Antonia Forest is so good at writing child characters with complex, realistic anxieties and ambitions. Poor Peter, he’s probably under far more pressure than his sisters, regarding his future prospects. I mean, their parents didn’t even bother to send Nicola and Lawrie to school until they were twelve.

Meanwhile, Nicola has gone off to look for the hidden sea. She finds a mooring buoy with the name of a boat on it – Talisman – and sees the boat returning. For a moment she considers waiting to talk to the owner but “then suddenly, for no reason at all, she knew it was Lieutenant Foley coming from the sea” and in a panic, she runs away before he can see her. On the bus with Peter, she decides she over-reacted – but Nicola’s instincts tend to have some basis in fact, even if she isn’t conscious of it at the time, so I think she was probably right to dash off. (Mind you, I know the book is about ‘The Marlows and the Traitor’ and Nicola doesn’t.)

Finally, back at the hotel, Lawrie announces their mother has gone off to join their father, so Ginty is in charge of them till next week. Let me say that again. GINTY IS IN CHARGE OF HER THREE YOUNGER SIBLINGS FOR A WEEK. I take back what I said earlier about Mrs Marlow being a responsible parent. Also, Lawrie pretends that they all missed out on being shown over the Fleet by their father (which is one of Nicola’s greatest desires) because Nicola was late back, and Nicola believes her. But ha ha, Lawrie was just trying out one of her acting voices! Lawrie, I’m liking you less and less.

Next, Thursday Morning: Return to Mariners

‘The Marlows and the Traitor’ by Antonia Forest

'The Marlows and the Traitor' by Antonia ForestI’ve just handed my latest manuscript over to my editor, hooray, so I’m rewarding myself with the second of Antonia Forest’s Marlow series, The Marlows and the Traitor. As with Autumn Term, I’ve decided to blog about it as I read. You might want to avoid Memoranda for the next week or so if you’re planning to read this book, because it sounds as though it will be a thriller with lots of exciting plot twists.

In fact, I was a bit wary of picking this up because my next planned book (not the one I’ve just sent off for editing, a different one) is also about spies and traitors and is set in England during the Cold War. However, I suspect Antonia Forest and I have quite different views about patriotism and the FitzOsbornes are not really like the Marlows, so it should be all right. (However, I would just like to note here that I worked out my plot long before I’d heard of The Marlows and the Traitor.)

Anyway, in Autumn Term we learned that the Marlow family consists of Commander Marlow, Mrs Marlow and eight Marlow offspring – Giles (junior naval officer), Karen (head girl of Kingscote Girls’ School), Rowan (the sporty, sensible one), Ann (kindly Guide Leader), Ginty (giant pain), Peter (Dartmouth cadet) and identical twins Nicola (awesome protagonist) and Lawrie (drama queen). In this book, the four youngest Marlows and their mother are on holiday in a seaside town and the story begins with a chapter ominously titled ‘Wednesday Morning: Encounter in a Thunderstorm’.

Peter wakes at dawn to the clap of thunder, having spent the night fretting about a humiliating incident at school that he refers to as ‘the boat thing’. He’s worried it might happen again and then he might get “kicked out of Dartmouth because he was a useless worm” and “apart from the quite scorching humiliation of being thrown out, he would have to go back to being an ordinary schoolboy at an ordinary school”.

Oh, the horror of being treated as ordinary when you’ve been born a Marlow! But with his father and his only brother in the navy, there’s probably quite a lot of pressure on poor Peter. To remind himself of how brave and daring he is, he grabs his favourite sister, Nicola, and they go for an oceanfront walk in the storm, noting a small boat making its way through the tempest-tossed sea. It is then revealed that Peter doesn’t like the sea and sailing-obsessed Nicola always gets seasick. They also discuss their fellow hotel guests, the Thorpe family, which is made up of “quiet, bald Mr Thorpe and his cheerful noisy wife and two daughters who all wore trousers much too tight and too brightly coloured for their various shapes” (the brazen hussies) and also seventeen-year-old Johnnie, who is well-intentioned but loud and clumsy. The Marlow children “in the politest possible way” exclude Johnnie from their activities, despite their mother’s protests that he’s nicer than his mannerisms suggest (“It’s his mannerisms we’d be with,” Lawrie points out). This is a dilemma because Mr Thorpe has invited them out on his boat, which they don’t feel they can accept if they’re ostracising his son. Peter and Nicola also chat about the upcoming fancy dress dance at the hotel and Peter becomes relaxed enough to tell Nicola about ‘the boat thing’.

It seems Peter, convinced he was a brilliant sailor, became complacent and careless while sailing and caused a fellow cadet to get knocked into the sea. Worse, Peter froze in a panic and failed to turn the boat around to rescue the poor boy. Lieutenant Foley, their instructor, had to fish the boy out, then gave Peter a dressing-down in front of everyone else. Nicola shows what an empathetic listener she is and then asks about Peter’s friend Selby. Selby is significant because he’s the first nice, normal boy Peter has ever befriended:

“All his life, he had had a talent for taking a fancy to the most unpleasant people, from his very first friend at the local kindergarten, who had been an angelic-looking little boy called Esmond who bit people without provocation and ran at them with open knives …”

Selby continues to be nice and normal, but he has had a strange encounter with Lieutenant Foley, who gave Selby a lift back to school one afternoon and behaved in a very “queer” manner – being inappropriately happy, asking what Selby would do for him and telling Selby that naval discipline was excessive and needed to be changed. Selby, rattled, tells his house officer, who apparently tells Foley(!), who later makes a snarky remark about Selby’s “outsize conscience”. But Selby continues to feel “as if things ought to be all right, but, aren’t really”.

Peter likes Foley, so thinks Selby is imagining things, but Nicola is inclined to believe Selby. Listen to Nicola, Peter! She’s a lot better than you are at human relationships! Maybe Foley really does want something sinister from Selby …

Peter then becomes aware that he has led the two of them along a cliff path that he’s been warned is dangerous, in the middle of a violent thunderstorm:

“The rain streamed down their waterproofs and the sea creamed around their gumboots, while the sky grew steadily more copper coloured as if a fire had been lighted behind it. And then, suddenly, the sky cracked open above their heads, and a ball of light rushed along the horizon and fell into the sea: the thunder bellowed, the hail came down like a white wall and the sea swirled about their thighs.”

Even Nicola, who is completely fearless, becomes concerned they might slip off the cliff path and Peter “agree[s] with some relief, feeling rather a fool”. At which point Nicola is nearly washed into the sea, saved from almost certain death by Peter grabbing her. Soaked to the skin, they stagger back to the promenade, relieved to see that at least that little boat has made it back to shore safely. Then something very odd happens.

A man walks past them on the promenade – and it’s Lieutenant Foley! Except he ignores Peter’s polite greeting, as if he’s never met Peter before in his life. Peter, feeling even more foolish, decides that he, Peter, must have been so drenched he was unrecognisable, but Nicola says Foley’s eyes flickered in a moment of recognition “like in The Thirty-Nine Steps”.

Okay, so Lieutenant Foley has appeared in three different incidents in this chapter and in two of them he’s behaved very strangely. Using my extraordinary powers of perception, I predict that Lieutenant Foley will turn out to be The Traitor.

Unless The Traitor is actually that ginger cat on the promenade, which is also mentioned three times in this chapter and the second time it saw the children, it “stared at them with blank yellow eyes as if it had never seen them before” and it also acts treacherously by kicking Nicola’s arm after she’s spent ages diligently rubbing behind its ears.

Unless the cat IS Lieutenant Foley, in disguise. I don’t think this is that sort of book, though.

Also, I was disproportionately amused that the Marlow children use “goop” to mean “a complete idiot.”

Next, Wednesday Afternoon: The Hidden Sea

Miscellaneous Memoranda

– Here’s a good article by Anna Pitoniak, editor and debut author, on what her editing job has taught her about writing.

– And here’s an important lesson about the perils of ambiguous punctuation: ‘Lack of an Oxford comma could cost company millions in overtime dispute’.

– The Copyright Agency has funded research into teenagers’ reading habits and found that most Australian teenagers prefer to read print books rather than ebooks – although, worryingly, those who prefer ebooks tend to read ‘free’ (that is, pirated) versions.

– Here are the some sheep and here are the no sheep – but where is the green sheep? I loved this article about Australia’s quirky old maps, courtesy of the National Library’s Trove collection. (Have a closer look at Tasmania in the second map. Poor Tasmanians.)

– Still in Australia: ‘Massive spider claims six seats for itself on busy Melbourne train’. The Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews, has criticised the spider as being ‘that one passenger who puts their feet on the seat’. The situation is being blamed on passengers no longer reading paper newspapers and therefore being unable to put inconsiderate arachnid commuters in their place (on the floor).

– That’s not to say that people have stopped reading newspapers. They’re simply switching to the digital versions, especially in the United States, with a huge surge in subscriptions to The New York Times, The Washington Post and other ‘old fashioned’ newspapers (‘How Donald Trump, President of the Twitterverse, gave ‘old media’ new lease of life’).

– Finally, some sage observations from Wondermark on those social media commenters who are outraged by political correctness (“You can’t talk like you’d normally talk, full of all the invective and slurs you’d normally use, without the objects of that invective feeling belittled and dehumanized by it!”). And anyone who’s ever run a blog would recognise the Sea Lion.

‘Growing Up Gracefully’, Part Five

Before I discuss etiquette for engagements and weddings, a small digression. I was curious about Nancy Spain, the writer who was so entertaining about Eating for England, because her name was vaguely familiar to me. I’d thought she was a journalist, possibly a war correspondent, and I was half-right. She did work as a newspaper columnist and broadcaster, but was a Wren rather than a writer during the war. After the war, she became famous for writing a series of detective novels set in a girls’ school (called ‘Radcliffe Hall’), for writing a biography of her great-aunt, Isabella Beeton (the Mrs Beeton of Household Management fame) and for getting sued, twice, by Evelyn Waugh for libel. Plus, she had a scandalous private life:

“…she lived openly with the editor of ‘She’, Joan Werner Laurie (Jonny), and was a friend of the famous, including Noël Coward and Marlene Dietrich. She and Laurie were regulars at the Gateways club in Chelsea, London, and were widely known to be lesbians. Spain and Laurie lived in an extended household with the rally driver Sheila van Damm, and their sons Nicholas (born 1946) and Thomas (born in 1952). Nicholas was Laurie’s son; Thomas was also described as Laurie’s youngest son, but may have been Spain’s son after an affair with Philip Youngman Carter, husband of Margery Allingham…”

Rose Collis has written a biography titled A Trouser-Wearing Character: The Life and Times of Nancy Spain, which clearly I need to read.

But let’s return to getting engaged and married. Noel Streatfeild looks back at a Victorian-era etiquette book, which included advice such as:

“When a man marries, it is understood that all former acquaintanceship ends, unless he intimates a desire to renew it, by sending you his own and his wife’s card, if near, or by letter, if distant. If this be neglected, be sure no further intercourse is desired.”

This is because bachelors are known to “associate freely enough with those whose morals and habits would point them out as highly dangerous persons to introduce into the sanctity of domestic life.”

Miss Streatfeild goes on to point out the many ways engagement and matrimony have changed in modern times, starting with the fact that many young people are unable to find a place of their own in an era of post-war housing shortages, and are therefore forced to live with their parents. There’s also the sad fact that most young people will not have a large number of servants to look after their household, nor enough space to hold the vast quantities of furniture, linens, silver, pots and pans that were traditionally given as wedding gifts.

Mr Alroy Maker then looks at the people who are getting engaged, sighing over so many young people making unsuitable friends:

“Goodness knows this is no time to be snobbish, but it is understandable that when parents have tried to bring their children up carefully, often sending them to expensive schools, where they should have made nice friends, it is annoying when they insist on choosing such peculiar types. Frequently ill-kempt, often without an aitch, sometimes dirty, addicted to the strangest views on politics, religion and manners …”

It is good manners for a young person to refrain from bringing their peculiar friends home, especially if they are Communist friends who look like tramps. However, if parents are forced to host the young Communist tramp, they should be tolerant and polite, confining any criticism to “the privacy of their bedroom”. Hopefully, their offspring will go on to marry a more suitable (and non-Communist) person.

Miss Streatfeild and Mr Cecil Notary then discuss how to solve the many problems that arise when two young lovers decide to plight their troth. What should they do if they want a quiet registry wedding, but their parents want a huge family affair? How do you avoid hurt feelings when choosing bridesmaids and, worse, bridesmaids’ frocks? Who should be the best man? (“The gay friend of countless riotous evenings is not necessarily the man to trust…”) Should the bride’s stepmother be allowed to stand in the receiving line? Do you need to hire a private detective disguised as a wedding guest to guard the display of wedding presents? All these and many other vital questions are answered.

Miss Streatfeild then concludes the book with a chapter addressing “late questions that could not be fitted into this book” (except here she is, fitting them in). She explains in detail how to tip when travelling first-class – for example, you must never tip receptionists or lift-boys, but porters and chambermaids require varying and very specific amounts, depending on their level of service. While she’s at it, she advises on London taxi drivers:

“There is no such thing as a threepenny tip. All taxi tips start at sixpence. Myself, I keep to sixpence until my fare reaches two and ninepence, when the man gets ninepence. After three shillings and sixpence, he gets a shilling …”

It goes on, until I started to think it would be a lot easier to take the bus. But woe betide any taxi driver who questions the amount Miss Streatfeild has given him. She says to him, quietly but firmly:

“Sixpence, or whatever it is, is a very good tip, and please remember your manners and say thank you.”

'Taxi Tips', illustration by John Dugan

She concedes this sometimes causes anger on the part of the taxi driver, but she has a strategy for that, too:

“While the taximan roared I removed the offending money from his palm, looked in my purse for the exact fare, and put it in his hand. ‘Since you do not like my tip,’ I said, ‘there is no need why you should have it.’ And I went into the house and shut the door firmly. I admit I trembled a bit at the knees, but nothing happened. After a good deal more shouting he got in his taxi and drove away.”

Did you know you are also supposed to tip hairdressers? I have never tipped a hairdresser in my life. Maybe that’s why my hair always looks so disorderly.

Miss Streatfeild also gives advice on how to get out of doing something you don’t want to do (“keep as close to the truth as possible” so “you can speak with what sounds like real regret”) and the right way to get up and leave a social gathering.

There is certainly a lot to remember if you want to grow up gracefully! But as Miss Streatfeild kindly points out,

“…the eyes of the world are far less on you than you think, because even the grandest person is often looking inward, as it were, studying themselves. So if on some occasion your manners slip, do not go over and over it in your mind, blushing when you think of it, the chances are fewer people noticed than you think, and those that did are not, as you suppose, making your blunder the sole topic of conversation. The great thing is to mark your slip, remember how it happened, and be determined it will never occur again.”

You may also be interested in:

Growing Up Gracefully, Part One
Growing Up Gracefully, Part Two
Growing Up Gracefully, Part Three
Growing Up Gracefully, Part Four

and

The Years of Grace: A Book For Girls

‘Growing Up Gracefully’, Part Four

If there’s some logic to the sequencing of the chapters in Growing Up Gracefully, I’ve yet to figure it out. Following Miss Laski’s philosophical discussion of the nature of eccentricity, we jump to Mr Martin Parson on the etiquette of letter-writing. He says a thank you letter should be written whenever you have been entertained, keeping in mind “they have to be sent whether you have enjoyed the hospitality or not”.

'Letters', illustration by John Dugan

He acknowledges it can be difficult to compose other letters, such as letters of congratulation when someone gets engaged, married, receives some important award or has a baby. Especially the baby situation because:

“…what on earth is there to say? You haven’t seen the baby, you are not interested in what it weighs, and anyway, all babies look alike.”

Luckily new parents are too busy with their newborn to care much about what you write.

Mr Denzil Batchelor then explains ‘When and When Not to Make a Fuss’. This is complicated, because as Noel Streatfeild says in her introduction, “Most British people look upon making a fuss in public as the worst possible bad manners.” However, sometimes your conscience will demand you speak up. For example, imagine you are listening to a conversation and someone says something that you know is a lie. If the liar is a known fool and no one is likely to be harmed by the lie, it’s best to keep quiet. But what if the liar is maliciously spreading suspicion and hatred?

“Your conscience should force you to make a fuss whenever you hear an innocent person being traduced in his own absence, or your country attacked by somebody who just enjoys running down his own side – it’s surprising how many asses of that sort there are – or whenever you hear malicious mouths attack the religion you happen to believe in.”

I doubt I’d rush to the defence of my country or my (lack of) religious beliefs, although I’m sure lots of others would. In fact, a great deal of Twitter content seems to consist of this sort of fuss. However, Mr Batchelor does note that any fuss should be made immediately and you must keep your temper.

Apart from conversational outrages, it can also be appropriate to make a fuss over social interactions involving unfairness. For instance, if you’re at a café and the waitress brings you a cracked cup (“the surest collecting-place for the army of germs that beset our good health”), then “politely but firmly insist on being given another” cup. If you’re on a date at a restaurant, check the bill and if you’ve been overcharged, make a fuss! (“If your girl friend thinks it all very embarrassing, get another girl friend.”) And if you buy a “pair of nylons” and they ladder the first time you try to put them on – take them back to the shop and make a fuss!

However, if you’re the victim of an accident (for example, a waiter spills soup on you), you must smile sweetly and accept apologies with good grace. This is easier to do if you’re Australian, rather than British:

“I’m told the last time the Australian cricketers were in England, Lindsay Hassett, their captain, was the victim of just such an accident. The horrified waiter was profuse in his apologies and begged to be allowed to remove the cricketer’s coat and get it dried and pressed. ‘How kind of you,’ said Hassett, ‘but as a matter of fact the soup went over my trousers too.’ And without–well, he was a cricketer, let’s say without batting an eyelid–he removed his trousers also, revealing the most elegant pair of striped silk underpants. And in shirt and pants he sat down, without moving a muscle of his face, and finished his dinner as if nothing had happened.”

Lady Barnett, the author of ‘Presents – Giving and Receiving’ does not comment on Australian gift-giving habits, but does note how beautifully wrapped American parcels are, “as pretty as the gifts they enclose”. (This is absolutely true. Every American gift-giver I know does a superb and creative job of wrapping, with gorgeous paper and ribbons and hand-made labels. Do they teach this skill in American schools?) Lady Barnet feels that giving presents should be fun for both giver and receiver, whether at Christmas or birthdays or weddings, or just “to say ‘Thank you’ or to bring joy to a sick friend”. A present doesn’t need to be expensive, it simply needs to be thoughtful. And, of course, if you receive a gift, you need to write a thoughtful letter of thanks.

Mr Donald Wolfit then discusses ‘Manners in a Place of Entertainment’. He concedes that the British have not always been well-behaved at the theatre, particularly in Georgian and Victorian times:

“The quantity of liquor consumed, both before and during the performance, often led to high words, as a result David Garrick was eventually responsible for excluding the patrons and nobility from having seats on the stage at benefit performances. It is on record that on one occasion when playing King Lear, when he had laid the dead Cordelia on the stage in the final scene, he had to reprove a member of the party who thought having the actress’s body near him was an admirable opportunity to strike up an acquaintance with her, he even attempted to disarrange her corsage.”

Things were just as bad in America, during a performance of Macbeth:

“Macready records in his diary that asafoetida, vegetables, fruit and even the carcase of a dead sheep, were thrown at him from the auditorium.”

'Theatre Manners', illustration by John Dugan

While dead sheep are no longer hazards of theatre-going, modern-day patrons light up pipes and cigars, unwrap crinkly chocolates, have coughing fits and (if they are school students forced to watch the classics on stage) engage in nudging and whispering and spit-ball fights. This is very bad manners.

In the final section of Growing Up Gracefully, we will learn all about well-mannered engagements and weddings.

‘Growing Up Gracefully’, Part Three

Each chapter of Growing Up Gracefully has a short introduction by Noel Streatfeild and her introduction to ‘Manners Abroad’ contains the following sage advice for those travelling to Australia:

“I remember being surprised when, on my arrival at Menzies Hotel in Melbourne, the lift-boy took my book from under my arm, read the title, and said casually, ‘I’ll have a read of that when you’re through.’ But a very short time spent in Australia showed me his were not bad manners, as I had first supposed, but merely new manners with which I was not familiar. The boy was asserting in a friendly way that he might be a lift-boy, and I a guest in the hotel, but we had tastes in common.”

Miss Streatfeild also experienced some differences between British and American manners:

“One of the freedoms on which Americans most pride themselves, for which, in fact, many of their forebears left the lands of their birth to become Americans, is the right to speak their minds on any and every subject … We may sometimes think more guarded speech would be better manners, but Americans do not feel like that. They believe speaking out is good manners, and keeping your thoughts to yourself hypocrisy. Maybe they are right. But right or wrong, what we consider good manners when abroad remains unchanged, so whatever we may think of foreigners and their countries we must Keep Our Thoughts To Ourselves.”

'Manners Abroad', illustration by John Dugan

Miss Virginia Graham then provides lots of useful hints for travelling abroad, which can often be challenging:

“A lot of irritating things will happen to you when you are overseas, and you will feel rather superior and will long to say to somebody that at home we manage these things much better…”

However, you must remember that foreigners don’t like hearing their countries criticised and can often understand English:

“So accept your sausageless continental breakfast with a smile, enquire, more as if you were seeking information than complaining, why it is that when you pull the plug nothing happens, tip with grace, wait quietly for those trains which never come.”

She explains how to manage tipping and taxis, how to clean your clothes and order breakfast in a hotel, how to manage cutlery in France and cheese in Holland and bathrooms in Italy, and how to avoid dropped bricks (“Although you are probably too young to remember much about the last war, it is quite a good thing to know which side the country you are in was on …”).

After that comes Mr Sidney Form’s ‘Guests and Hosts’. In her introduction, Miss Streatfeild takes a moment to rejoice in the evolution of manners since the war:

“A mother, as it might be your own, calling on a friend’s mother in calling-card days, had to leave three cards – one of her own and two of her husband’s. If it happened that the called-on was a widow, she only left two cards, one of her own and one of her husband’s. In any case, however many cards she left, she had to turn down the right-hand corners inwards, to show she had delivered the cards herself and not sent a servant with them. This turning down corners ritual went on even though the people on whom the mother called knew perfectly well there was either no servant, or the one that existed had far better things to do than going round delivering calling-cards…”

However, there are still difficulties to be overcome when hosting parties, says Mr Form. He thinks big parties are easier, because you can hold them outside your home, invite everyone you know, and let the caterers deal with the food, drink and clean-up. Small parties require skill when selecting the guest list (he advises you to find a celebrity and “implore him or her to attend”) and you might need to make it a cocktail or sherry party (if you have a lot of drab guests with nothing much in common, “clearly they won’t be an easy lot to get going at square-dancing”).

There are also challenges when guests stay overnight in your home, beginning with the state of your guest room (“where no member of the family has slept in them they do not know its horrors”). Then when the guests arrive, they will need to be entertained. Some hosts declare, ‘You must take us as you find us’, which is fine as long as the regular household routine is sufficiently organised and amusing. Others set up a strict and stressful activity schedule. Mr Fine believes that “perfect hosts are those who entertain tactfully, but not too much.” He also provides advice for house guests, including how to escape when necessary (fake an illness or arrange for a friend to telephone about an ‘emergency’).

'Take Us As You Find Us', illustration by John Dugan

Miss Marghanita Laski then discusses ‘How Eccentric May I Be?’

“By the time you come to read this book, the question is probably settled; you’re either going to accept the world as you find it or else to reject it – perhaps to make a better one and perhaps not. Both rebels and conformers are necessary. Both can be the salt of the earth, and both can be the most intolerable nuisances and bores.”

Rebellion is the natural state of young people, she believes, although she distinguishes between rebellion against the previous generation’s rules and true eccentricity, which is rare:

“A real eccentric is a person so much divorced from the social life around him or her that the opinion of others doesn’t matter at all. He directs his life entirely by his own thoughts and wishes which seldom happen in any way to coincide with the thoughts and wishes of other people. By the lights of the world, he is almost certainly a madman. He may be a mad genius, like Blake, or he may just be mad. It is to the highest degree improbable that this is the kind of eccentric you are.”

In fact, a lot of ‘rebellious’ teenagers are simply copying each other (‘Teddie-boys’ are again used as an example). But if you come into conflict with your parents about say, your religious or political opinions, she advises that you first determine whether you know you are absolutely right in your beliefs. If so, then it’s up to you to decide:

“Will you save your own conscience at the cost of outraging theirs, even if it’s only outraging some purely social value that they believe to be a matter of conscience? Or will you decide to conform outwardly rather than upset them, in which case your own conscience is in no danger at all, and you’re undoubtedly an unusually kind and mature young person?”

Often parents are concerned about your choice of friends, or your clothes, or whether you drink or swear or read certain books, because they worry it will lead you to become an unhappy adult, rejected by society as “immoral or criminal or grossly irresponsible”. Perhaps you are right or perhaps they are. Perhaps they refuse to compromise. Regardless, you have a right to your own views, but also a duty to ensure they are thoughtful views of your own, not copied from those you admire or put on to outrage those you dislike. Miss Laski concludes with her answer to the question of how eccentric you may be:

“As eccentric as you can reasonably manage without permanently damaging yourself or gratuitously hurting other people.”

As for the practicalities of this, perhaps they are dealt with in the next section, which includes a chapter on ‘When and When Not to Make a Fuss’.

‘Growing Up Gracefully’, Part Two

In ‘Correct Dress’, Mr James Leasor explains how much “good manners in dress” have changed since the war. Wartime clothes rationing meant most people had to ‘make do and mend’; nighttime bombing raids popularised utilitarian garments such as the siren suit; coal rationing led to theatre-goers and diners wrapping themselves in rugs and blankets to keep warm. Still, some things remain the same:

“What, in today’s world, is correct dress? Though no one now dresses up for every occasion, the rule about dressing is unchanged. You wear as nearly as possible what is being worn by the rest of the party you are with.”

So, it is “atrocious manners” to, say, visit a foreign church wearing shorts, a strapless dress or no hat. It is also bad manners to wear slacks and a jersey to dinner at a friend’s house, unless you know your host will be wearing the same – just as it is bad manners to put on an evening frock if no one else is wearing one. The only time you can dress as “gaudy and grand as you like” is at a wedding. Young men should wear morning suits and grey top hats, while for women, “no hat is too gay or too amusing”.

Mr Leaver also makes the important point that your clothes should suit your personality. If you hate drawing attention to yourself, don’t wear outrageous clothes. In general, “wearing clothes as an attempt to look conspicuous is nearly always a sign of an inferiority complex” and he gives the example of gangs of Teddy boys and girls, who “dress up to try and kid themselves that they are braver than, in fact, they are.” However, he makes an exception for artists, who tend to wear extraordinary outfits – that’s simply how the creative temperament expresses itself. He gives the example of two art students he recently saw at an exhibition:

“He wore an orange pullover over velvet trousers, and he had a beard; she wore tartan trousers, and a short sheepskin coat.”

'Artistic Dress' illustration by John Dugan

And they didn’t even realise what a sensation they were causing among onlookers! It all comes down to self-confidence:

“I sometimes think that the superb sang froid of a cat is due to its fur. Of course other animals have fur, but few wear it with such an air as does a cat. It is soft, usually a beautiful colour, and always a divine fit. All cats feel, I think, slightly superior to humans, and this may be based on the certainty that they are always perfectly turned out for every occasion.”

I thought Growing Up Gracefully had already covered polite conversation, but Miss Emily Hahn now contributes a chapter called ‘Conversations’, all about how young people can manage when they’re forced to talk to boring grown-ups. She reminds the young that older people are often not as confident as they seem and can be very sensitive. So don’t, for example, discuss their age or weight: “A remark like ‘I saw a woman yesterday who was even fatter than you’ does not go down well.” Try not to look at your watch or the door when they reminisce about the olden days. If stuck for conversational topics, talk about sport, the weather or the family. And remember, “truth isn’t always the first consideration in social intercourse.”

Miss Caroline Ball then provides advice on ‘Manners at Work’, beginning with how to apply to a job. A good letter of application is vital:

“Some employers judge candidates on their handwriting, style of letter, notepaper and neatness of folding it, quite as much as they do on scholastic achievements … Avoid scented notepaper … If you send a typewritten application, it is a good idea to enclose a specimen of your handwriting. It can take the form of a postscript to the effect: ‘I am adding this so that you may see what my handwriting is like.’ Stamps should be stuck on straight … Special note to girl applicants: don’t leave lipstick on the back of the envelope when you lick the flap!”

Miss Ball then gives detailed advice for the job interview – for example, “don’t even think of lighting a cigarette or producing a powder-puff.” Of course, clothes require careful consideration. Girls should avoid huge earrings and gaudy make-up; boys should resist the urge to wear “loud check sports jackets, flashy pullovers, wild ties and even wilder socks!” Instead, Miss Ball recommends the three Ns: “Nice. Natural. Neat.”

This is followed by hints for starting your first job, such as being pleasant and responsive, turning up on time, not resenting chores such as “carrying round teacups”, and not “sitting with your eyes riveted to the clock from five o’clock onwards”.

Presumably once the young person has been employed for a while, they will be able to afford to travel. Then they should consult the next section, which includes advice on ‘Manners Abroad.’