Some time ago I had started to read Making Conversation by Christine Longford as one of the Great Unread on my Persephone bookshelf and was struck dumb by the first paragraph...
"Here is a little present for you Ellen," Said Martha Freke. "We got it on the pier."
Ellen, the cook-general, undid the wrappings, which revealed a small cardboard box, and in it, on a bed of cotton wool, a brooch which said "Ellen," in bright gold, written in a cursive hand, with a line below it and a full stop after it.'
What follows, when Martha inadvertently reveals that it had cost 'only sixpence' quite took me aback...
"You little idiot," said Mrs Freke. " Now she won't think anything of it. People like that don't, if you tell them the price. Never do it again."
Struck dumb because in my mind was the notion that I had definitely seen something similar as a child in my mum's jewellery box. I could visualise the brooch, my mum's name Vera, and all wrapped up with it the memory of my mum telling me that my dad had bought it for her on a pier somewhere during their courting days.
First port of call was the jewellery box...
...complete with nail varnish remover damage on the lid. I adored it then and still do.
There was nothing of great value in there, but it was all treasure to me. However, whilst the box remains, the jewellery seemed to have been scattered and what followed was the most almighty rummage and upheaval (maybe even a days-worth in total) before the Eureka moment. Once I had thought of it I had to find it.
The photo suggests something a bit hefty but in fact it is barely an inch long and the wire is very fine. A bit of research reveals that the lower loop may have been a place to attach a stone but I have no recollection of it and I have searched through the albums in vain to find a picture of my mum wearing this brooch. But I'd like to think it was on one of these shore-leave excursions that my Dad bought it, and knowing my mum, and thinking of the opening of Making Conversation, sixpence is probably the most she would have allowed him to spend, or maybe a shilling given that this picture was taken in 1947 (the book was first published in 1931) just as my Dad had arrived home from the East Indies. He had sailed in mid-1945, after VE Day, fully expecting to have to fight to the death with the Japanese but of course by August of that year the war was over and his ship's task had involved bringing back the prisoners-of-war from Burma... something which my Dad never ever forgot.
Thankfully it all seems miles away from the joy of this picture taken in Portsmouth I think and note my Dad, ever the chivalrous one, carrying my Mum's coat neatly folded over his arm.
And so that all began with a paragraph in a book which I never managed to finish after the Brooch Diversion because somehow I had diverted too far off the track and couldn't find my way back in.
Looking back on my notes (January) I see that Christine Longford was a strong-minded 1920's blue stocking, 'precociously clever' and with a circle of influence that included Rose Macauley, Noel Coward and Lady Ottoline Morrell. Invitations to Lady Ottoline's rural abode at Garsington also drew E.M.Forster and W.B.Yeats into Christine's orbit. Marrying into the titled Longford family (the more famous Frank was a brother-in-law) Christine's fiction apparently sets about dissecting the Anglo-Irish landed gentry to which she now belongs. The Longford's history and home at Tullynally Castle in Co. Westmeath clearly providing plenty of fodder for Making Conversation.
It is September 1911 and Martha is eleven, precocious and unphased by adults and thought to be 'in danger of becoming a very unhappy little girl,' for her out-of-the-mouths-of-babes pronouncements. I was finding her endearing, naive and innocent though I noted at the time that I was 'occasionally as confused as Martha'. I really must return and finish this book.
If you have read Making Conversation please do share your thoughts, perhaps you can steer me back with your enthusiasm.
And I wonder if single and seemingly insignificant moments, like a brooch in a book, can lead you off on an unexpected trail too...