I have been reading “Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand” by Helen Simonson in the last couple of days. It is a gentle, intelligent love story about a retired Army Major, Ernest Pettigrew, and the widowed owner of the village shop, Mrs. Ali. Their surprising romance calls into question the obligations and traditions which their very different backgrounds enforce upon them.
I have been desperate to get home in the evening to read more. There is something immensely comforting about Simonson’s style so that, even when she is making you think about the unsettling subjects of racism, class or ageing, you feel as though you are standing on very solid ground. And she writes the most beautiful sentences, lifting this above a mere sun lounger read: “The waves flopped dirty foam onto the expanse of quilted brown sand…” took me to the beach at Netley on a grey day. I wondered if she had such a pure way of describing England because she has lived abroad for so many years.
I really wanted to be glamorous and edgy in my early twenties: I worked in media, partied hard, and aimed to date someone who was a bit ‘different’…which could just mean a bit of a shit. I used to think that the women in my office who were hovering around thirty were affected in their desire to party less and develop slightly more domestic interests. But I’ve noticed that, in the last year and a half, a desire to settle has been creeping up on me too.
When I was little, we always had the same Friday nights – bath and clean pyjamas, oven pizza and salad, and watching ‘Allo ‘Allo all cuddled up together on the sofa. Dad would stand up in the last ad break and ask who wanted a cup of tea and a couple of Mint Matchmakers. I crave this sort of routine now – it makes me far happier than wild nights out where anything could happen. It’s just a bit of a bummer that I’m not going to meet the man of my dreams sitting on the sofa in my pyjamas with oven pizza dribbled down my front.
I wonder if there is a general feeling that quieter lifestyles are inherently a good thing. I think that a lot of people feel a bit bashed and bruised by the past few years. Rather than dinner in an expensive restaurant, some of us would prefer to sometimes eat at home with people we love, and close our door to the scary world outside. And that’s what is so great about “Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand“. It is a reminder – a postcard – sent from a more structured yet gentler way of life. It’s done my heart good to read it.