Monday, May 19, 2014

Great weather, great reading

Well, I tend to overdose on weather reports even when there isn't much weather.  But now, when we've glorious conditions, several consecutive days of blue skies and sunshine, perhaps 24 degrees today ... well, I can't let that go unobserved, can I?  Sure as eggs are eggs it won't last forever, and I see that tomorrow will be cooler and Wednesday onwards will probably be wet; but, just now, it's perfect.  And to complete this bucolic idyll, the horses yesterday were let loose into a field of new grass which I'd been saving for them, so all's even better in their little world.

A further pleasure yesterday was seeing my review of 'Dearest Jane' in the Sunday Racing Post supplement.  We're all vain, and we all like to see our work in print.  You'd think that I'd be past that by now as I've been doing it long enough; but  I'm not.  Or, rather, while there's no novelty in having my words published because several thousand of them are every week, only a very small portion fo my output goes into the Racing Post, so it's always good to have something in there.  Anyway, I think that I've mentioned this book previously; and, as I say, the article was in yesterday's Racing Post.

However, I'm aware that times are tough, and that the £2.40 cover price is beyond many people's means.  Therefore, especially as this is a very good book and it and its author both deserve to have as much publicity as possible, I'll reproduce the article here.  The
chapter's illustrations, of course, are completely unconnected to these words; they are just some of the delightful sights which we've been enjoying over the past few glorious early summer's days.  All these photographs were taken yesterday, bar the final one of Gus on his morning tour of inspection today.

Here goes:-

Mortimer lovingly recalled in beautiful biography

Most Racing Post readers will have been inspired over the years by articles written by their favourite journalists.  For many, particularly those over 40, the late Roger Mortimer, for many years racing correspondent of The Sunday Times as well as author of several classic racing histories, ranks very high on the list of journalists to have fanned the flames of their passion.

In his obituary in December 1991, The Times wrote: “No one chronicled the events and people of the racing world more lucidly and accurately than Roger Mortimer.  He was one of the most refreshingly candid journalists of his day and the author of outstanding books on Turf history.”  Those books remain as informative and entertaining as when they were written, while a superb portrait of their author is now provided by his daughter Jane Torday’s recently-published book, Dearest Jane … My Father’s Life and Letters.  In recent years we have been presented with two insights into Mortimer’s private life, Dear Lupin and Dear Lumpy, which consist of excerpts of his letters collated by his other children.  Dearest Jane goes much further, providing a beautiful biography of a special man.

While racing men think of Mortimer as a sublime writer and Jane Torday thinks of him as a wonderful father, there was, of course, much more to him than that.  Born in 1909, he was in his late 30s and had lived nearly half his life by the time that he adopted those roles.  As with all of his generation, the Great War had overshadowed his childhood and the Second World War dominated his adulthood.

Roger Mortimer went to the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst straight from Eton, and had been an officer in the Coldstream Guards for a decade by the outbreak of war in 1939.  The previous year he had written: “Those bloody dictators never let up on one for a second; they have already almost entirely ruined soldiering as a pleasurable profession and in spite of the rumours, I do not believe their power shows any sign of being on the wane.”

Wounded and captured in the retreat towards Dunkirk in May 1940, Mortimer spent the next five years in a succession of German POW camps and suffered all too many bleak hours of captivity in which he could reflect on the accuracy and understatement of that prophetic observation.

Having left the army in 1947, Mortimer went on to become “Roger the racing writer; Roger the husband; Roger the father; Roger the friend.  And throughout, Roger the wit.”  As this book shows, he played each role in his own special way.  While clearly bemused by the ways of the next generation, his loyalty and fatherly love shone through his semi-tolerant strictures to his teenaged daughter. “Try not to get into debt or any other sort of foolish trouble,", he wrote.  "If you do, let me know and I will help; that is what parents are for.”

Many will be familiar with William Boyd’s novel Any Human Heart, in which excerpts from the fictional diaries of the central character collectively form a beautiful portrait of a life.  Dearest Jane comes from the same mould - except that this is real life, not fiction.  Furthermore, this is not just a portrait of any old human heart: it is a lovely and lovingly told tale of a very special, very human heart.

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