It's odd how things come together. Yesterday, to make space for a new piano, I had to find a place for everything that currently lives in a large and accommodating chest of drawers. And in a small house, that means sorting and throwing and finding new containers for things that fit perfectly well in their current home but seem utterly wrong anywhere else. 

I wasn't full of joy about my task. And the sun was shining so warmly that it seemed ungrateful to be indoors, so I made a strong espresso and told myself briskly that after a short break I'd get back to the job with no more excuses. Grabbing a well-thumbed copy of Barbara Pym's Excellent Women from the pile of books that no longer had a home, I settled on a bench outside. 

It was a full two hours later when I rushed back in, full of guilty zeal, to fling books and boxes into at least an approximate order before making a dash to collect Joel from school. I'd been charmed again by the voice of Mildred. Regarding herself with that particularly English form of self-deprecation and reluctant self-knowledge, and others with an eye that vacillates between dutiful generosity and sharp accuity, she's a perfect guide through a small slice of post-war English life.   

And then, while hastily sorting a drawer stuffed with cards and notebooks I came across an old postcard that I picked up years ago. I'd bought it solely because I was amused by the text. Who was the rather imperious, leggy Cynthia and why need Joan buy her stockings? But coming straight after my reading of Pym's book, it was as if the characters had come to life. I immediately imagined that Joan was a sort of Mildred; living alone in a relatively smart address, but perhaps in a small series of rooms, with washing drying on a rack and simple suppers that she resented eating. And Cynthia her glamorous friend, too busy with her romantic dramas to buy something so banal as stockings.

The synchronicity pleased me and made me feel that my distraction had a higher purpose. Rather a satisfactory day after all. 


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Reader Comments (5)

Oh, Excellent Women. Good fun. Whenever I think of the novel I think of Mildred buying the tube of lipstick in the department store. Hawaiian Fire, indeed! I smile just thinking of it.
March 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDenise | Chez Danisse
Hmm, maybe Joan works in in a hosiery shop and gets a discount there? Because Cynthia buys seconds usually, she probably can't afford the better ones. She doesn't want Joan to know that, so she claims it's because she can discard them then (and mending is expensive)...
I don't know. Makes you wonder, certainly!
March 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnja
This made me smile. I have a guilty pleasure when I'm working from home and lacking motivation where I tune in to watch 'As Time Goes By' on public television. I make myself epresso which I have with a touch of milk and laugh for about 1/2 hour. Only after that do I feel motivated to do the task at hand. I like what Anja had to say—it does make you wonder. And I really had no idea that there were two schools of thought over nylons...
March 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTracy
Denise, Hawaiian Fire will now take on a talismanic quality to be used as a mantra to dispel irritation. Anja, your interpretation makes complete sense: Joan probably worked in the large department store that is still in Sloane Square. I feel much better disposed towards Cynthia now! I smiled at your guilty pleasure, Tracy. And I had no idea about any school of thought about nylons, though intrigued by the change in use for fishnets...
March 16, 2012 | Registered Commenterlittle house
What a wonderful tale, and such an intriguing postcard...
March 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnnie

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