Mrs Miniver Comes Home

I woke this morning shocked to see that the clock had already turned nine because without the clattery, cuddly alarm bell of my little boy, currently staying at his Daddies, it seems my natural body clock favors a long lie in. And so it was that I opened my eyes to the sounds of a lane already humming with the arrival of old men in dark tie's gathering silently to say goodbye to a friend at the church next door and because I could hardly bare to intrude on other peoples sorrow, I closed the curtains again and padded downstairs in fluffy slippers to make rose tea to take back to bed just because I could. The bed was still warm. Although summer has barely passed according to the calender, already my bed is heavy with the blue patchwork quilt that spells Winter in my book, my bedside laden with Sarah Ban Breathnach, as it is my custom to re-connect with her each September: to remind myself what is important, to pick up the strands of a life Summer tramples on in all her giddy glory. And as usual Sarah read my mood, and the first page I flicked to was in Moving On (perhaps now my favorite Breathnach book?) called Becoming Mrs Miniver, in celebration of Kay Miniver, the darling creation of Jan Struthers, and a woman after all our puttery hearts. And there she was, Mrs Miniver speaking the words I could hardly manage to string together but somehow feel instinctively: that Summer steals from us the routines and rituals that sustain us and it is only when Autumn flicks her russet stardust over our days do we really begin to pick up the pieces of the life we feel is really ours.

Before I knew it I was hopping out of bed and scouring the bookshelves for Mrs Miniver, cursing the chaos that is my library of sorts and whooping in quiet joy when I found her lost amongst the Miss Read's as if it is only right that she should now spend her days in Fairacre. And there I sat, right there on the floor, in my silly silky nightie, coming home with Mrs Miniver and finding in her all over again, a soul mate.

While the film is utterly charming, it is the book I feel most speaks to our domestic hearts and thus for your pleasure (and mine) this morning, allow me to share the words with which I started my day....

"It was lovely, thought Mrs. Miniver, nodding good-bye to the flower-woman and carrying her big sheaf of chrysanthemums down the street with a kind of ceremonious joy, as though it were a cornucopia; it was lovely, this settling down again, this tidying away of the summer into its box, this taking up of the thread of one's life where the holidays (irrelevant interlude) had made one drop it. Not that she didn't enjoy the holidays: but she always felt -- and it was, perhaps, the measure of her peculiar happiness -- a little relieved when they were over. Her normal life pleased her so well that she was half afraid to step out of its frame in case one day she should find herself unable to get back. The spell might break, the atmosphere be impossible to recapture.

But this time, at any rate, she was safe. There was the house, as neat and friendly as ever, facing her as she turned the corner of the square; its small stucco face as indistinguishable from the others, to a stranger, as a single sheep in a flock, but to her apart, individual, a shade lighter than the house on the left, a shade darker than the house on the right, with one plaster rosette missing from the lintel of the front door and the first-floor balcony almost imperceptibly crooked. And there was the square itself, with the leaves still as thick on the trees as they had been when she left in August; but in August they had hung heavily, a uniform dull green, whereas now, crisped and brindled by the first few nights of frost, they had taken on a new, various beauty. Stepping lightly and quickly down the square, Mrs. Miniver suddenly understood why she was enjoying the forties so much better than she had enjoyed the thirties: it was the difference between August and October, between the heaviness of late summer and the sparkle of early autumn, between the ending of an old phase and the beginning of a fresh one.

She reached her doorstep. The key turned sweetly in the lock. That was the kind of thing one remembered about a house: not the size of the rooms or the colour of the walls, but the feel of door-handles and light-switches, the shape and texture of the banister-rail under one's palm; minute tactual intimates, whose resumption was the essence of coming home.

Upstairs in the drawing-room there was a small bright fire of logs, yet the sunshine that flooded in through the open windows had real warmth in it. It was perfect: she felt suspended between summer and winter, savouring the best of them both. She unwrapped the chrysanthemums and arranged them in a square glass jar, between herself and the light, so that the sun shone through them. They were the big mop-headed kind, burgundy-coloured, with curled petals; their beauty was noble, architectural; and as for their scent, she thought as she buried her nose in the nearest of them, it was a pure distillation of her mood, a quintessence of all that she found gay and intoxicating and astringent about the weather, the circumstances, her own age and the season of the year. Oh, yes, October certainly suited her best. For the ancients, as she had inescapably learnt at school, it had been the eighth month; nowadays, officially, it was the tenth: but for her it was always the first, the real New Year. That laborious affair in January was nothing but a name.

She turned away from the window at last. On her writing-table lay the letters which had come for her that morning. A card for a dress-show; a shooting invitation for Clem; two dinner-parties; three sherry-parties; a highly aperitive notice of some chamber-music concerts; and a letter from Vin at school -- would she please send on his umbrella, his camera, and his fountain-pen, which leaked rather? (But even that could not daunt her to-day.)

She rearranged the fire a little, mostly for the pleasure of handling the fluted steel poker, and then sat down by it. Tea was already laid: there were honey sandwiches, brandy-snaps, and small ratafia biscuits; and there would, she knew, be crumpets. Three new library books lay virginally on the fender-stool, their bright paper wrappers unsullied by subscriber's hand. The clock on the mantelpiece chimed, very softly and precisely, five times. A tug hooted from the river. A sudden breeze brought the sharp tang of a bonfire in at the window. The jig-saw was almost complete, but there was still one piece missing. And then, from the other end of the square, came the familiar sound of the Wednesday barrel-organ, playing, with a hundred apocryphal trills and arpeggios, the "Blue Danube" waltz. And Mrs. Miniver, with a little sigh of contentment, rang for tea."