Thursday, July 22, 2010
London Belongs to Me by Norman Collins
Set in the late thirties, Collins was writing about the London of his day. Unbeknownst to many, war was looming between countries but there were also conflicts brewing on a smaller scale under this roof. And in the charming way of the author he would say 'Step this way and have a look...'
Mrs Vizzard is a lonely widow who rents out rooms in her house. The lodgers tend to be long-term residents and have become as good as family with each other. Mr and Mrs Josser live there with their twenty-year old daughter, Doris. The book opens with Mr Josser retiring from his job and carrying the contents of his desk along with his retirement gift, a huge mantle clock, home on the tram...which he proceeds to drop.
Connie lives with her bird, Duke, and never having much she struggles to make ends meet. Trouble has a way of finding Connie and sometimes she goes looking for it. A quirky characteristic of hers is that if there's a vehicle leaving Dulcimer Street then Connie makes sure she's in the passenger seat whether she has been invited or not.
Mr Puddy is a lazy night watchmen with a perpetually stuffed nose and his dialogue is written as such. His daily grind is pretty much going to work and thinking about his next meal with tinned goods being about as good as it gets. He has a serendipitous moment of glory when he's awarded a George Cross for saving a fireman's life during a drop of incendiary bombs. The thing is...he was crawling his way out of a fire and the fireman just so happened to have grabbed onto him as he went past!
Mrs Boon and her delusional son, Percy...now there's a creepy fellow. A mechanic, he turns to the theft of cars in order to make more money. With an eye for the Josser's daughter he figures the extra cash will go a long way to securing a future with her but things go bad....real bad. There are court proceedings and bad press which bring shame to the boarding house and despair to Mrs Vizzard, who runs an upstanding establishment! Poor Mrs Boon will never see the bad in her son and most of the time a quiet word with the Lord (and a hanky) sees her through.
Doris could care less about Percy in that way. Being a modern girl and wanting independence she rents a flat with her less than pure friend, Doreen. I burst out laughing when Doreen convinces Doris that the extra cash for a phone would be well rewarded by loads of phone calls to do exciting things but the phone never rings because nobody they know has a phone!
A sham of a mystic (is there any other kind?) appears one day in the form of Mr Squales. Now there's a slippery character. He knows all the right things to say and do and in short order has Mrs Vizzard falling in love. She can barely look at the portrait of her dearly departed husband because of the thoughts she has in her head. But 'Qualito' is always on the look out for other lonely widows whose bank accounts are more bountiful. Such a cad!
In the latter bit of the book war breaks out and you experience shelters, rationing, bombings, fighter planes, child evacuation and telegrams. There is also parliamentary talk and some discussion of the Fuhrer so not all kitchen drama in case you're wondering.
Norman Collins is an amazing writer who brought these characters to life for me. There was no nuance too small for him to mention which explains some of the reason for its length at over 700 pages but in no way did this bog things down. If this era, or London, interests you then you must read this book and if you love both...well then, you're in for a treat.