I am a big fan of Miss Read or, to give her her real name, Dora Marie Saint. She wrote ‘Village Diary’ in 1957 and it tells of a village school with two teachers, Miss Read and Miss Clare; Miss Clare is the older of the two and has recently retired from teaching. She returns to the school when needed. The book is beautifully illustrated by J.S. Goodall.
In this excerpt, Miss Read is going to have tea with Miss Clare. Why don’t you escape with me into the dreamy world of Fairacre, for just a few moments and read about life in a bygone age?
‘Miss Clare invited me to her cottage for the evening. She refuses to let me fetch her or run her home in the car, but cycles, very slowly and as upright as ever, on her venerable old bicycle.
As usual, the best china, the snowiest cloth and the most delicious supper awaited me.
Miss Clare’s cottage is a model of neatness. The roof was thatched by her father, who was the local thatcher for many years. She has an early-flowering honeysuckle over her white trellis porch, and jasmine smothers another archway down the garden path.
In the centre of the table stood a cut-glass vase of magnificent tulips, flanked by a cold brisket of beef on a willow-pattern dish garnished with sprigs of parsley from her garden, and an enormous salad. The freshly-plucked spring onions, were thoughtfully put separately in a little shallow dish.
‘It’s not everyone that can digest them,’ said Miss Clare, crunching one with much enjoyment, ‘bu my mother always said they were a wonderful tonic, and cleared the blood after the winter.’
Miss Clare’s silver was old and heavy and gleamed with recent cleaning. How she finds time to keep everything so immaculate, I don’t know. Her house puts mine to shame, and she has no one to help her at all, whereas I do have Mrs. Pringle occasionally to turn a disdainful hand to my affairs.
After we had consumed an apple and blackberry pie, the fruits of Miss Clare’s earlier bottling, we folded our yard square napkins – which were stiff with starch and exquisitely darned here and there – and washed up in the long, low kitchen, while the coffee heated on the Primus stove.’
When life gets frustrating, I pick up one of Miss Read’s excellent books. She has written two series about village life plus other stories and is always a joy to read. My favourite of the two series is Fairacre, which is written in the first person. I pretend that I am Miss Read, when I read the stories and live through all the ups and downs of village life along with her. The other books are about Thrush Green. Miss Read herself, preferred these. I suppose it is easier to write in the third person. I read them all regularly.
For those of us who live the village life, or try to! it is nice to dip into these books for inspiration. I encourage you to give them a try if you feel so inclined.