I’ve written before about my love of Miss Read. Her books are so evocative of the English countryside in the 1950s & 60s, just at that point of change when the modern world was intruding on traditional rural ways. It’s an idealised world but not sentimental. Miss Read’s love of nature is unmistakable & is one of the delights of reading her books.
Summer at Fairacre takes place over a period of months from late spring to the first hint of autumn. Everyone delights in the warmer weather as winter finally ends & nature walks & gardening are the order of the day.
The unseasonable and chilly weather suddenly changed, and May became ‘the loveliest month’ which the poets praise.
Sunlight flooded the ancient schoolroom, and chalk dust danced in the slanting rays. The massive brass inkstand on my desk gleamed like gold, and little rainbows glanced from the glass over the photograph of our Queen, centrally placed on the rear wall, in the most honoured position…
The cherry tree in the Post Office garden dangled white flowers, and everywhere, it seemed, the fruit trees were breaking into a froth of blossom and tender green leaf. The lilac bush in the most sheltered corner of my garden was in full bloom, and the heady scent floated up to my bedroom window in the warm nights.
Miss Read is spared the threat of her house being given a good spring clean & bottoming by Mrs Pringle’s bad leg flaring up. However, when this means that Mrs P decides to give up her job as school cleaner as well, Miss Read has a dilemma on her hands. Allow hopeless Minnie Pringle to wreak havoc or begin the search for a new cleaner – for her own house as well as the school. Mrs Pringle may be tyrannical & obstinate but she’s an excellent cleaner & will be very hard to replace.
Miss Read’s friend Amy decides to give her husband James a taste of his own medicine & takes herself off without warning for a few days. James is distraught &, on Amy’s return after a relaxing time at a spa resort & in Scotland with her niece, Vanessa, becomes much more attentive. Henry Mawne, on the other hand, knows exactly where his wife is. Elizabeth has gone home to Ireland to try to convince a cantankerous aunt to leave her inconvenient house & go into a nursing home. Henry, meanwhile, is lonely & at a loose end & takes to visiting his single female friends in the evenings, causing gossip & upsetting their routines.
The Coggs family has its share of misfortune. Feckless Arthur is sent to prison & then Mrs Coggs is taken ill & goes into hospital. Miss Read’s pupil, young Joseph, stays with her at the schoolhouse & they both enjoy the company. The school’s Sports Day is a great success & Miss Read is secretly thrilled when Joseph wins a race. Miss Read is apprehensive when she’s asked to give a talk on children’s literature, especially when she learns that one of the other speakers is to be Miss Crabbe, a woman with very decided ideas on children’s education who she’s clashed with before.
The village jumble sale results in the usual drama & vying for prized positions among the ladies who run the stalls. Jumble sales always remind me of Barbara Pym but Miss Read’s jumble sales have none of the subversive humour & gentle sarcasm of Pym. Miss Read is thwarted in her desire to buy a gorgeous chocolate cake but manages to buy a fruit cake instead. She witnesses Mrs Pringle’s very decided ideas about selling shoes & watches a newcomer defeated in her attempts to get the better of the redoubtable Mrs P. The baking summer weather is broken by a tremendous thunderstorm that fills the water tanks & refreshes the gardens although its fury isn’t appreciated by everyone,
The first distant rumblings of thunder came as the children played after school dinner. Then it came nearer, and vicious lightning cracked the skies. I called the children in, just as the first spots of rain began to fall.
Within ten minutes there was a deluge. Raindrops spun like silver coins in the playground, and the chalky dust at the edge of the field was first pock-marked and then turned to silt within seconds….
The noise was tremendous and awe-inspiring. Thunder crashed and lightning flashed, and I could hear some wailing from the infants next door. My own class was scared, but silent, under the onslaught. I pitied anyone caught in the storm. One would be drenched to the skin in a matter of minutes.
The end of summer resolves everything & life returns to normal with the approach of autumn. Miss Read’s world is a very reassuring one & I love visiting Fairacre & Thrush Green from time to time. The beautiful illustrations in my Houghton Mifflin edition are by J S Goodall.