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Archive for the ‘J B Priestly’ Category

I have just finished a grand book by J B Priestly, called The Good Companions—a cheery and engaging story set in a lovingly described England of the 1920’s, that difficult time between the wars. The characters meet in a wily bit of plotting: three people have, for very different reasons, run away from their ordinary lives to go walkabout, and they come together in a teashop where a concert troupe (AKA Pierrot Shows, see link) —the wonderfully named Dinky Doos—are having a farewell tea, their manager having done a flit with all the money, leaving copious debts in his wake. Somehow, the three wanderers decide to join the troupe and save the show, changing the name to the Good Companions.

This lively book is perhaps more of a picaresque adventure than Great Literature—and indeed, there is a sort of ongoing joke about the young Inigo Jollifant, determined to write a grand novel, who regards his brilliant gift for creating and playing irresistibly appealing music as worthless frivolity. “But he was not a writer and never would be. Try as he might, he only succeeded in putting honest words on the rack, leaving them screaming.” I wondered if the author didn’t base this character on himself somewhat, in a mildly self deprecating way.

Then there is Jess Oakroyd, an absolutely delightful Yorkshireman, who always speaks in dialect: “One o’ t’ Good Companions, eh? By Gow, I’ll have a do at it, I will an’ all.”. . . “Nivver thowt I’d end up as a the-ater chap! This beats t’band, this does.”

Concert Party TroupeThere is plenty of gentle humour and careful observation of people, which rings very true. Joe, the huge baritone, was once a prize fighter: “It cannot be denied that Joe was a very wooden vocalist. He stiffened his massive body, clenched his fists, and roared until he was purple in the face. It was not so bad when his themes were nautical and it was his duty to point out the various perils of the de-ee-eep, but when he tried to turn himself into a melodious victim of the tender passion, when he declared that he heard you whisper his name among the roses or admitted that he had been standing ‘neath your window in the moonlight or confessed that he thought of nothing night and day but two bright eyes and two white arms, and stood there bellowing, fifteen stone of taut muscle and stiff bone, with his big chin jutting out, his forehead gemmed with beads of perspiration, and his two fists apparently ready at any moment to deliver a knock-out, then it was very hard indeed not to smile at honest Joe.”

Mr. Priestley was involved with theater, and knew exactly what he was talking about. He gets the tone of their conversations and concerns just so. And he spares a glance for the grim factory towns –and the despair of the working men whose jobs were vanishing in the post war depression – though he gives us a happy ending, all’s well that ends well.

This, by the way, is a big book, 635 pages—and it says a lot for the charm of the thing that I was willing to tote it in my back pack for a couple weeks. And I’m sorry to finish it, though welcoming the considerably lightened load of a morning.

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Delight, by J.B. Priestley

Joy gave me an absolutely lovely little book for my birthday: Delight, by J. B. Priestley. It consists of a hundred or so short pieces describing things that delighted him throughout his life. Silly things, wonderful things: “Fountains”, “charades, “smoking in a hot bath”, “fiddling while Rome burns”, “quietly malicious chairmanship”—just moments in a life when you think, what joy. We all have moments like this—or at least, I hope we do!

In his forward—’The Grumbler’s Apology’—he says that he has always been something of a curmudgeon, and that this is his “bit of penitence, for having grumbled so much, for having darkened the breakfast table, almost ruined the lunch, nearly silenced the dinner party, for all the fretting and chafing, grousing and croaking, for the old glum look and the thrust-out lower lip. ”

I love that he is moved by the charm of small things, the power to delight that for instance the smell of bacon in the morning has: “We plan, we toil, we suffer – in hope of what? A camel-load of idols’ eyes? The title deeds of Radio city? The Empire of Asia: A trip to the moon? No, no, no, no. Simply to wake just in time to smell coffee and bacon and eggs. And, again I cry, how rarely it happens! But when it does happen – then what a moment, what a morning, what delight!”

A picture of the man emerges from these little pieces. He is of the last century, served in the first world war and then worked in radio during the second. Famous as an author and playwright, whose works, I am ashamed to say, I have no familiarity with. These charming pieces seem a good introduction; I shall look for further works.

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