I didn’t make it to the beach yesterday so I went earlier today, desperate for a wash of calm. Talking of ‘calm’, that reminds me, once more, of my future friend, Lady Carnarvon! How could that possibly be? Well, when I saw her being interviewed on her ‘park bench’ apropos lockdown Highclere-style, she mentioned the words ‘O still, small voice of calm!’ which, together, happen to be the last line of my favourite hymn of all time, ‘Dear Lord and Father of Mankind’. Harking back to schooldays, we had Prayers every morning at 8.30am and, whilst oblivious to the readings and announcements, most of the time, we never tired of singing the hymns. Our well-worn hymn books were testament to their use and our repertoire was vast but ‘Dear Lord and Father of Mankind ‘was always special to me. It’s the tune. The music, written by Hubert Parry, is captivating in its poignancy possessing a haunting quality which touches one’s soul. I loved it from the first and I love it still, forever taking me back to that wood-panelled hall, steeped in history and commanding of both respect and an acknowledgement of the great privilege with which we were all endowed … I, actually, just went to the bookcase to pull out both my old hymn books, convinced that I still remembered the number, 245. I was mistaken. Oh, well, even practically perfect people can be fallible sometimes!
‘Dear Lord and Father of Mankind’. Of course, I chose it as one of our wedding hymns, although Pop was all for ‘Fight the Good Fight’! Some prophecy. I had no idea he could see into the future. Anyway, my sister – bridesmaid – sniffled all the way through it, behind me, and then went on to choose it for her own wedding five years later! My brother? My cousin? How to set a trend! The irony is, for me, it was my favourite hymn, regardless of its suitability for a wedding. ‘Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, Forgive our foolish ways’? On the other hand …
Shall I endeavour to make this shorter tonight? I, forever, question whether I shall have anything to write at all, so quiet is life just now but, somehow, one little thought leads to another and the words just ‘keep on keeping on’! I suppose one could liken it to shopping, in some ways. Returning from the beach, earlier, I decided to pop into the local farm shop for some more of the goats’ cheese to which we have become addicted. One thing! So why did I end up at the till with a basket sufficiently laden to require the purchase of their large bag? You could be forgiven for thinking that I must have been one of those guilty of stock-piling toilet roll five weeks ago. You would be wrong!
Opening my notebook, I see beneath ‘O still small voice of calm!’ the name Mrs Miniver. It is the title of a wonderful old black and white film; one of the many classics I loved to watch with my mother on a Saturday afternoon. Made in 1942, it stars Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon in the story of a very English family in their bid to survive the onset of WWII. Greer Garson is Mrs Miniver whose eldest son, Vin, joins the RAF leaving behind his fiancé, Lady Beldon’s granddaughter. In the quintessential English countryside, one is afforded a glimpse into the lives of the English gentry at the time, supposedly – I, for one, was captivated. A twist ensures an unexpected and sad ending, however, as Lady Beldon’s granddaughter is killed, caught in a bombing raid the day before the annual village flower show. Lady Beldon always wins the prize for the best rose at said flower show but, this time, one of the much-loved villagers, Mr Ballard, has an exquisite entry in his bloom, the Miniver Rose. Deserving of the highest accolade, Lady Beldon, for the first time ever, ignores her own name as the recipient and presents the cup to Mr Ballard. Not a dry eye in the house!
Fast forward almost seventy years – help – to Downton Abbey and I watched that very scene re-enacted on Sunday night; that of Series One in a oner! I recognised it straightaway as being taken from Mrs Miniver. Substitute Maggie Smith, the Dowager Countess, as Lady Beldon (Dame May Whitty) at the annual Downton Village Flower Show and it is a direct copy of the 1942 classic. The Dowager Countess takes everyone by surprise by presenting her cup to the most deserving rose instead! Interestingly, however, on googling Mrs Miniver, I found an article from The Guardian (Peter Bradshaw,10/11/10) which refers to complaints in the press that certain aspects of the Julian Fellowes’ series bore too close a resemblance to other works: in particular, the scene to which I refer. Sadly, Mr Fellowes is not honourable in his retort claiming only that ‘memories might have lingered in his subconscious but that this criticism was just carping from “the left”.’ Look, if one is caught red-handed, at least have the decency to take it on the chin!
There you have it! Almost 900 words later following a mere trigger of one: ‘calm’. There must be another for the ability to derive so many from so few but, for now, forgive me if I just call it talent!
‘It’s as important to marry the right life as it is the right person.’
Jan Struther (author of ‘Mrs Miniver’, the book upon which the 1942 film was based.)
This is Trish, signing off.