Mrs Lorimer’s Quiet Summer

A review of Mrs Lorimer’s Quiet Summer by Molly Clavering

Three confessions: this is not my normal reading fare, I have never read Molly Clavering before, and this was a pre-publication copy provided by the excellent Dean Street Press. I like to think I am catholic in my tastes, perhaps drawing the line at science fiction and erotica, and was happy to give this a go. It was an easy read, Clavering having an almost conversational style, a wry sense of humour and a propensity to use a memorable turn of phrase, making this an ideal comfort read.

Molly Clavering had a good innings, dying in 1995 at the age of 95, and this was her eighth novel, originally published in 1953 and now reissued by Dean Street Press. Published in the States under the more prosaic and certainly less ironic title of Mrs Lorimer’s Family, it is probably her best-known work. She lived in the Borders’ town of Moffatt, a near neigbour of Dorothy E Stevenson and the book is considered to be a tad autobiographical. Both the eponymous Mrs Lorimer and her close friend, Grace Douglas, nicknamed Gray, are writers, the former more commercially successful than the latter. It is easy to see Stevenson in Lucy Lorimer and the slightly envious spinster Clavering in the unmarried Gray and that Threipford is Moffat.

It is a truism that you can choose your friends but not your family. For parents and grandparents the prospect of the extended family descending on you for a week, which stretches to ten days, can be a prospect to savour and look back on with affection but the reality can be fraught and trying.  Mrs Lorimer is faced with the prospect of entertaining all of her children together with spouses and a gaggle of grandchildren in a house which is not large enough to accommodate them all. Gray, indeed, has to kindly provide overflow accommodation.

Her daughter, Phillis, is a tempestuous, rather spoilt, over-dramatic woman who feels that she is being neglected by her husband in favour of his car. It is easy to sympathise with the poor chap. Phillis raises the emotional temperature of the house and eventually writes hubby’s car off. Towards the end of the book, she leaves her husband in another fit of pique, but her father makes her see sense.  

Mrs Lorimer’s youngest son and favourite, Guy, arrives having discovered that his love interest, Ivy, has done the dirty on him and married another with him suffering a further indignity by having to be in the guard of honour at the wedding ceremony. On the rebound he falls for the charms of a girl who has just moved into the village with her father. They have the unfortunate surname of Smellie and much, rather juvenile, humour is made at their expense. Lucy vehemently disapproves of the growing romantic liaison and it is left to Gray to make her and Mr Smellie see sense and let love take its natural course.   

There is a frisson of concern when Lucy’s old beau, Richard, appears on the scene after an absence of thirty-two years. As often is the way when you meet an old flame, the encounter brings home to you precisely why you did not pursue the relationship. Her husband finds solace in his dog but steps up to the plate when he is needed. He comes across as a warm, slightly well used comfort blanket. Through all the turmoil Gray provides a shoulder to cry on, a sounding board and the purveyor of words of wisdom. We all need a friend like that.

It was an enjoyable if undemanding read and one that will encourage me to seek out more of her books.

Bridge Of The Week

The bridge at the junction of Gregson and Peabody streets in Durham in North Carolina is not known as the can opener bridge for nothing. It has a healthy appetite for the roofs of large lorries and many an unwary trucker keeps on feeding it.

Most bridges in North Carolina have a minimum clearance of fifteen feet but this bridge, built over a century ago and over which trains pass, has a clearance of just 11 feet 8 inches. So frequent were the accidents that the authorities in 2019 reluctantly raised the clearance by some 20 centimetres. Three weeks after the bridge was reopened, a lorry hit the beam and lost a piece of its roof in the process.

Jurgen Hen, whose office window affords him a front row view of the mayhem, has set up a website in which he posts footage of each accident. There have been 167 since he started filming and he doesn’t look likely to run out of incidents to record in the near future. Despite signage warning of the impending danger, it still seems to keep the unwary driver unawares.

Take a look by following the link:

Device Of The Week (3)

One of the admittedly few blessings of the pandemic is that the pavements have, for the most part, been clear of those irritating smombies who are so intent at staring at their mobile devices when perambulating that they are oblivious to other pedestrians, oncoming traffic, and street furniture. I must admit I used to smile with some degree of satisfaction when I see them come a cropper but this source of amusement may soon become a thing of the past if South Korean industrial designer, Minwook Paeng, has his way.

His Third Eye takes the form of a translucent plastic case that is fixed directly to the wearer’s forehead with a thin gel pad. Within the case is a plastic eye, a small speaker, a gyroscopic sensor, and a sonar sensor. When the gyroscope detects that the user’s head is angled downwards, the eye’s plastic eyelid opens and the sonar monitors the area in front. If an obstacle is detected, the wearer is warned before it is too late via the connected speaker.

Thankfully, it seems that Minwook sees his device as a wake-up call to those who seem glued to their phones rather than a solution to their problems. Satire, though, is a dangerous form of humour as these days as many have lost their ability to think critically. Still, if people do adopt the Third Eye  and it doesn’t work, at least there is something between the user’s forehead and the obstacle they walk into.

The Devil’s Dictionary (3)

The back, according to Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary, published in book form in 1906, is “that part of your friend which it is your privilege to contemplate in your adversity”. If you have experienced some form of humiliation, you may be tempted to do some soul searching and even indulge in some backbiting. This, Bierce tells us, “is to speak of a man as you find him when you can’t find him”. You may even curse the day that you were ever born, birth being “the first and direst of all disasters”, one perhaps leading to beggary, a beggar being someone “who has relied on the assistance of his friends”.

Two types of man to avoid. First the bigot, one who is obstinately and zealously attached to an opinion that you do not entertain”. Then there is the blackguard, “a man whose qualities prepared for display like a box of berries in a market – the fine ones on top – have been opened on the wrong side”.

Those who may lament about the quality of our politicians may be cheered to note that not much has changed since Bierce’s day. In discussing the brain which he defines as “an apparatus with which we think what we think”, he notes that “in our civilization, and under our form of republican government, brain is so highly honoured that it is rewarded by exemption from the cares of office”. Perhaps they are all cabbages, defined as “a familiar kitchen-garden about as large and wise as a man’s head”.

And finally, something to chew over. A cannibal, Bierce asserts, is a “gastronome of the old school who preserves the simple tastes and adheres to the natural diet of the pre-pork period”.

Cambridge Dry Gin

Ah, Grantchester Meadows. When I was an undergraduate at Cambridge, I used to, with apologies to Pink Floyd’s ode to that tranquil, bucolic space there, lay me down in the lazy water meadow. I was there much too early to take myself down to 20, High Street in Grantchester, now the home of the Cambridge Distillery. The brains behind the enterprise are William and Lucy Lowe, not forgetting Darcy the distillery dog.  

Innovation is very much the buzzword in the environs of Cambridge. Spurred on by a desire to create a space for themselves in the crowded marketplace created by the ginaissance, the Lowes have imbibed long and deep from the well of innovation. Their first foray into the world was a Japanese Gin launched in around 2014 but their take on a dry gin that is Cambridge Dry Gin draws its inspiration from the hedgerows and pastures of the Meadows as well as their garden. With the exception of Macedonian juniper, the other botanicals which go into the mix, including blackcurrant leaf, basil, rosemary, lemon verbena, rose and violet petals and Angelica seed, are either foraged during their walks or grown in their own garden.

The botanicals which represent all four seasons of a Granchester year are individually distilled in volumes of less than two litres, under vacuum to ensure that they remain at their freshest. The technique used has been devised by the Lowes themselves, a sign of their commitment to put their own stamp on their gin. Traditional distillation techniques such as using a copper still can destroy the flavours of all but the most robust botanicals, the reason why the base botanicals of most London Dry gins are remarkably similar. To create a gin which uses more delicate, less robust botanicals without resorting to adding them afterwards artificially required a different approach.

If further evidence was required that the Lowes were committed to producing a first-class product, then you need to look no further than the elegant, stylish bottle. Rectangular in shape with a flat shoulder leading to a short neck and a glass stopper, it makes good use of the famous Cambridge light blue on its labelling with fresh, clear print and an illustration of botanicals on the back of the label at the rear of the bottle, which rather like a piece of Laura Ashley wallpaper, can be seen through the front of the bottle. The label on the neck of the bottle I bought from my local Waitrose store which has now begun to stock it tells me that it is bottle 532 from 600 from batch 149.

This care mixed with no little skill is reflected in the price. It is not a cheap gin, even by so-called premium artisanal standards, and is unlikely to be an impulse buy. More reason, then, for it to produce a distinctive and satisfying drink. This the Lowes have achieved.

On the nose it has a very floral and fruity aroma, not overpowering but enough to put the juniper into the shade. It is a crystal-clear spirit, and, in the glass, the floral and fruit botanicals continue to hog the limelight, the earthier, spicier elements emerging as you swill the drink around your mouth and the aftertaste is prolonged and surprisingly spicy. The addition of a premium tonic seemed to enhance the floral elements. I was surprised by the citrus I detected, presumably from the lemon verbena, given the absence of traditional citrus elements.

Although I far prefer my gins to be distinctly juniper led, I found this a very refreshing and moreish drink, ideal for those warm late spring and summer evenings and with an ABV of 42% it packs a bit of a punch. The Lowes have achieved their objective of developing a distinctive gin, one which sits more comfortably in the contemporary gin space and deserve to succeed in their endeavours.

Until the next time, cheers!