It's a lesser known fact that when I'm at work and the clock strikes one or thereabouts, I hang up my metaphorical work hat, head for my car if I'm not already in it, and whizz two minutes up the road onto Dartmoor. I have several favoured parking places where I can eat my lunch and read for about thirty minutes or so. This might seem acutely anti-social but to be frank when I've been listening and talking to people all morning I'm a bit fed up with the sound of my own voice.
Time to give it a rest, make myself leave my desk and disappear off into another world.
I might listen to some of the news but it's all ever-so slightly depressing and seems at odds with the beautiful view, though I do like to hear Martha Kearney put someone on the rack and turn the screws. She does it so nicely and politely but to lethal effect.
The books need to be small and the reading has to be of a particular variety because my mind can only be allowed to descend into temporary respite before I have to crank it up again, the diversion can't afford to be too great, so a complex novel is hopeless. I don't have enough time to pick up the thread and proceed.
Barbara Pym is proving to be the perfect lunchtime companion as is H.E.Bates, and following his recent rehabilitation in my mind with The Triple Echo I have really enjoyed more in the shape of The Yellow Meads of Asphodel, a collection of his short stories.
Initially I had assumed they might be slightly Pym-like in their style and substance,but how wrong I was as things rapidly became darker and increasingly sinister and with an undisguised slightly risque edge. I don't associate risque with H.E.Bates, thinking Larkins, but perhaps I haven't read enough and am therefore guilty of pigeon-holing him very incorrectly?
There's that subtle dissection without anaesthetic going on as H.E.Bates strips away the surface layers and reveals those red-raw layers beneath which sting and smart when exposed to the air for the first time and the story of the title is one.
John and Virginia Claridge, more like man and wife than the seemingly devoted brother and sister they are, who have never argued and call each other darling until a suitor arrives on the scene to court Virginia and suddenly they both revert to type. The spats between the siblings finally begin and John's insane jealousy looks set to spoil Virginia's party.
Then the scatty Miss Shuttleworth, the bemused recipient of mysterious doorstep gifts of surplus garden produce, the cantaloupe melons, nectarines and asparagus. She too has a suitor but can he get the words out or do his exotic vegetables have to do the talking?
This is a tiny slip of a book full of great big huge surprises and I could so easily have missed it, but for anyone else who needs a little lunchtime escape or the short commute read, here's one perfect solution.