In the post office he picked up more or less at random a small packet of airmail envelopes and made for the counter. Here he found he was standing next to a kind of elderly small boy dressed like a conscript in some half-starved oriental army. When an unsmiling glance of recognition had come his way he identified this person as the dreaded Popsy, girl-friend of Bunty, his niece by marriage. She seemed to be daring him to speak.
Popsy appeared in her turn, soon enough to effect briefly the larger illusion that the two might have been hob-nobbing at the bar for the last couple of minutes. She was wearing an ungathered greyish dress suitable for a stage production designed to suggest some unlocated limbo about the time of the Dark Ages. Taking from his unresisting hand the glass Harry had been carrying, she said, ‘Ah, a Campari soda if I mistake not – a sadly underrated concoction,’ and drank the top half of its contents in a single swallow.
commentary: We found in the last entry on this book that nice girls wear corduroy (and I have since found a picture of an actual nice-girl corduroy skirt that I owned in the era – though that’s not me in the photograph.)
Popsy is most certainly a very nasty young woman, and so her clothes are quite other than corduroy skirts.
And then there’s Piers in
a suit of morello-coloured flannel, cut perhaps by the best man in Rio de Janeiro – striding forward with splayed hand…Amis always has an eye for the details as shown in his clothes descriptions. And an ear, too – the conversations are very good.
There is an absolutely extraordinary scene where Harry tries to explain to Bunty’s husband how a Lesbian might feel, act and react, using schoolboy friendships as a metaphor. It’s extremely hard to work out what exactly he is saying, what the point is of this, and after a certain amount of thinking about the scene, I thought ‘don’t go there’.
There’s a dog called Towser - a word that the blog has followed from Joyce’s Ulysses to Lucky Jim and further:
In a line of the utmost poetry, Joyce says:
And with that he took the bloody old towser by the scruff of the neck and, by Jesus, he near throttled him.This has its similarities with a line from Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim:
The bloody old towser-faced boot-faced totem-pole on a crap reservation, Dixon thought.If you look it up at Merriam-Webster online, you find towser defined as a large dog or a large rough person -- and one happy reader adds to the Ulysses citation by saying ‘in 101 Dalmatians (the cartoon version), the old gentleman wonders why no one names their dogs Towser anymore.’
There is a Sgt Towser in Joseph Heller’s Catch-22.
I do love a bit of (loosely-defined) research on the blog.
The covers of modern editions of The Folks That Live on The Hill feature a very strange description of the book:
Harry Caldecote is the most charming man you'll ever meet, a convivial academic who devotes his life to others. He is on call when his alcoholic niece falls into strange hands, when his brother threatens to emulate Wordsworth, when his son's lesbian lodger is beaten up by her girlfriend. He endures misplaced seductions, swindles and aggressive dogs just to keep the peace at the King's pub in Shepherd's Hill.(the next line is a pointless spoiler).
This is one of the worst descriptions of the book that I could imagine. The first line is complete rubbish: he is not charming to the reader (the only person in the book who considers him charming is the out-and-out vile Desiree, who is in the next line going to say he is completely ruthless). He is casually kind, but most certainly does not devote his life to others. He is not an academic.
Two of the three events in the next line are misdescribed, and by no stretch of the imagination is Harry ‘on call’. The third sentence is again complete rubbish. The paragraph would lead you to expect a quite different type of book.
So – ignore the description, enjoy the book.
All the pictures are from fashion magazines from the book’s era. I think I have been generous to Popsy in the outfits I have given her.