Tag Archives: In Tearing Haste

The It girl and the war hero

A young and beautiful Debo

What the trigger-happy, book-hating Duchess of Devonshire said to Patrick Leigh Fermor

Kate McLoughlin

From The Times Literary Supplement November 26, 2008

Deborah, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire – known as Debo – was the youngest of those prototype It girls, the Mitford sisters; in faint and possibly euphemistic praise, the editor of this book of letters, her niece-by-marriage Charlotte Mosley, also describes her as “the most well-adjusted”. In this collection of letters, Debo comes across as jolly, plain-spoken and, where animals are concerned, murderous, her gun having taken her “from Sussex to Devon, from Anglesey to Norfolk and home via Northumberland”. Debo tends Chatsworth (the Devonshires’ stately home in Derbyshire), which she endearingly refers to as “the dump”, and engages in country pursuits. When asked by President Kennedy what she does all day, she admits she is “stumped”. A disarmingly simple soul – “I now prefer horse shows to lovers & I’ve never liked drink” – the Duchess is at her best on varieties of gooseberry and rare breeds of cattle. A running joke in this correspondence is her anti-intellectualism in general and antipathy to reading in particular. Invited to a literary lunch in Leamington Spa, she plans to tell her audience, “BOOKS how I hate them – as an avid non-reader it is awful to have added to their number”. The reader of her letters may be forgiven a wry smile.

The recipient of the Devonshire dispatches is Patrick Leigh Fermor (known as “Paddy” and occasionally “Whack”): war hero, author of travel books such as The Traveller’s Tree (1950), Mani (1958), A Time of Gifts (1977) and Between the Woods and the Water (1986), and the recipient of many honours, including a knighthood for services to literature and Anglo-Greek relations. During the Second World War, he was posted to Crete to support the local Resistance and led the successful abduction of the German commander on the island, an exploit that earned him the DSO and was later filmed as Ill Met By Moonlight (1957). Fermor attends the making of the movie and is enchanted when Dirk Bogarde portrays him as “a mixture of Garth and Superman, shooting Germans clean through the breast from a dentist’s chair, strangling sentries in an offhand manner”. From his letters, Fermor emerges as charming and whimsical, with a delightfully childlike imagination offsetting an annoyingly schoolboyish sense of humour. Still entranced by what he calls in A Time of Gifts “the glamour of fairy stories”, he hears the sea roar “like angry lions at feeding-time”, sees hills crowned with “tea-cosies of mist”, watches blackbirds mass “as if someone had rashly opened a pie”. In the best of his travel writings, Fermor combines a similar sense of wonder with local colour, an eye for ridiculousness (including his own) and vivid description in rangy sentences remarkable for their buoyancy. There is little of this soaring prose here: although some lengthy descriptions of travel are included, Fermor is reduced to telling his reluctant reader which passages she may skip.

Fermor and the then Deborah Mitford first met at a regimental ball in 1940. They bumped into each other at parties from time to time over the next decade but the first letter in this collection is a six-liner dated March 21, 1954, from Debo, now married to Andrew Cavendish, eleventh Duke of Devonshire, to Paddy saying that she hopes he will come and stay with them at Lismore, their house in Wexford. This sets the tone for the correspondence to follow: invitations are extended and accepted, thank-you notes are then sent. Too intermittent, the letters are unsatisfying records of festivities long finished. Although Charlotte Mosley claims to have excised plans for meetings, reports on health, grumbles about the weather and the slowness of the posts, the weeding out has not been thorough enough.

Another of Mosley’s claims in support of the correspondence is that the participants are indifferent to politics. It is difficult to decide whether this indifference is another instance of charming whimsicality or just unforgivable negligence. The exchange of letters is too sporadic to allow for political themes to be developed at length, but politics are not entirely absent. Andrew Cavendish was Harold Macmillan’s nephew-by-marriage and served in his government, later becoming an early member of the Social Democratic Party.

In 1958, with Macmillan a year into office, Debo “talks secrets with the PM” and finds it “most jolly and educational”. Much later, John Major “exudes goodness”, Tony Blair is “the wretched little Prime Minister”, Cherie “frightful”, and John Prescott “looks like a bare-knuckle fighter . . . from the East End”. This animosity may have been partly caused by the hunting ban, brought into force by the New Labour government in 2005, and the slaughter of livestock following the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. In their strongest expression of political feelings, Paddy calls the passing of the anti-hunt bill “a day of mourning” and Debo describes the cull as “truly ghoul”.

These references apart, the correspondence is largely devoted to the dramatis personae of high society, mostly long-gone minor aristocrats about whom Mosley provides rather more information than necessary in her footnotes. The Queen Mother, whom Debo calls “Cake”, having been lastingly impressed by her enthusiasm at a wedding when the cake was cut, puts in a few appearances, memorably crying “Oh God” and making a dash for the Royal Box when the conductor unexpectedly strikes up “God Save the Queen” at an opera gala. Princess Diana visits Chatsworth and Debo is stuck for what to give her to eat “as she prefers the fridge to the table, I’m told”. In other sly thrusts, Jackie Kennedy’s face “is put together in a very wild way” and Somerset Maugham’s is “so discoloured and green that it looks as though he has been rotting in the Bastille”.

Old age arrives suddenly for the correspondents – the long gaps between the letters mask the passing of time – but they sound the same as ever, still playing with the same phrases (“I freely admit” is one of Debo’s, much repeated by family and friends), the nicknames (Nancy Mitford is “the Old French authoress” and “the Ancient Dame of France”), the in-jokes (Debo’s supposed illiteracy), still “v v excited” about things or finding them “frightfully good”. Their lack of self-pity as they age is impressive and appealing; there are jokes about failing eyesight and “Dr. Oblivion” but, even though they have reached the stage in life when Paddy is constantly writing obituaries, they maintain good cheer. Twenty-first-century life fails to disconcert them. “There are marvellous entertainments called car-boot sales”, writes Debo. “You can buy a Rembrandt for a few quid in any old field. So why not sell a few?”

Did they love each other? Debo is “funny, touching, ravishing and enslaving”, Paddy tells mutual friends. In a letter of 1957 he rebukes her: “I wish you didn’t love everyone else more than me – it wouldn’t matter if I didn’t rather love you, as I suppose I do, otherwise I wouldn’t feel so selfish and possessive [. . . .] I do adore you”. His adoration is clear in his letters, which outnumber Debo’s: he chides her for not writing often enough, he delights over her average prose, he sends her long travelogues that she replies to with short letters about gooseberries. But her fondness and admiration for him are also evident, and a photograph in the volume of them aged ninety-three and eighty-eight shows a pair close together but not touching: a couple of old friends.

In one of her letters to Paddy, Debo marvels that the University of Texas has paid $10,000 for her sister’s papers: “They’ve got all Evie [Waugh]’s stuff, & Osbert [Sitwell]’s, & letters saying things like ‘Arriving on the 2.14 on Saturday so much looking forward to seeing you’ are put under glass and revered”. Similar feelings are induced by In Tearing Haste. The volume diminishes its subjects by preserving their off-the-cuff remarks and, in Fermor’s case, prose that does nothing to suggest that his finest writing is spectacular. It is good to know that the two are corresponding still, but it might be for the best to save their last letters for their own private pleasure.

The Duchess of Devonshire talks about Patrick Leigh Fermor

The Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, the youngest of the legendary Mitford sisters reminisces about her life and her correspondence with the charismatic Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor, considered to be the finest English travel writer of his generation. An evening filled with wit, eccentric characters, and a celebration of courage and friendship. Charlotte Mosley, her niece and editor, joins the Dowager Duchess in conversation.

This was filmed on November 10 2010 at the Frick Collection in New York to mark the US publication of In Tearing Haste and her new memoire, Wait for Me

Paddy is mentioned at the start and she discusses her friendship with him from minute 35

Paddy visits the wonder that is Ohrid

I suppose it is a good thing to aim to be objective in life. It shows wisdom and maturity, and an ability to balance all the arguments. For me however, all objectivity vanishes when I think of Ohrid! The setting of this beautiful city on the edge of the vast and wondrous eponymous lake is simply stunning.

Although he does not state it specifically, I believe Paddy visited Ohrid and its environs when on a motor tour from France to Greece with Joan in her Sunbeam Rapier in 1960. He tells the story to Debo in a letter dated 23/24 October 1960 (see page 67 of In Tearing Haste). Paddy describes visiting “Serbian Macedonia and wonderful lakes with frescoed Byzantine monasteries on the shores … (which) held us up for days.” There is little doubt in my mind that he is referring to Ohrid, and having been there myself I can understand why; it is a wonder that he ever left!

It is said that Ohrid, Macedonia, once had 365 churches although there are now only around twenty-five which remain open. Its name means City of Light and it has over 220 days of sunshine each year. The town creeps up the hillside surrounding a central esplanade and harbour dominated by the statue of St Clement, who was the student of Saint Cyril and his brother Methodius. They were the authors of the Cyrillic alphabet (approx 864 AD) which was created by the Byzantines to bring the Slavic nations into the Orthodox Church rather than let them fall under the influence of Rome during the early days of the schism between the two churches.

Ohrid is full of Byzantine history. The influence of the Empire can be seen everywhere from the statues to the fortress but principally in the churches and the ancient Basilica. The original church of St Clement was destroyed by the Ottomans who built a mosque on the site which has a clear view of the Lake. Clement’s relics were secretly moved by the Christian citizens of Ohrid to the smaller and less important Church of St Mary Psychosostria. Over time this church became known as the Church of St Clement, but the confusion is now ended as in 2000 the Macedonian authorities rebuilt the Church of St Clement on the original site. His relics have been moved back there to rest in peace. The site includes the remains of original Baptistry, and there are many mosaics all in very good condition.

The Church of St Mary is a wonder. Built in 1295 by the deputy Progon Zgur who was a relative of the Emperor Andronicus II Paleologus, it has twenty-nine scenes from the life of the Virgin around the walls. These frescoes are in generally excellent condition with little of the wear or defacement one often finds elsewhere. The reason for this is that most of the frescoes were obliterated by soot from candles. They were cleaned and restored only since 1960. The have to be seen to be understood. The ‘keeper’ of the frescoes is an amazing Macedonian lady with long black hair, with braided pigtails; the church and the frescoes are her passion, probably the centre of her life. She has produced a long book and the frescoes were the subject of her PhD. She says that the fresco of the Virgin that dominates the Apse is painted from lapis lazuli originating in Afghanistan. That one fresco would have cost something in the order of one kilogramme of gold (at today’s prices that is roughly $56,000).

Opposite the Church is the national Icon museum of Macedonia with over forty masterpieces. All this within just a few yards of each other!

If you ever get the chance to visit you will find all this and more. You will also meet friendly people, find good quality low-cost accommodation, and a wealth of Byzantine architecture and art. This CNN video shows many of the places I have written about and I know you will like it. If you do ever visit Ohrid, please contact my friend Katerina Vasileska who runs a tourist business in Ohrid called Lost in Ohrid. She will be happy to arrange good accommodation, local tours, and generally be of assistance during your visit.

Finally, don’t forget that for the intrepid there is an opportunity to walk through Albania to Ohrid in May of 2011 with the Via Egnatia Foundation. See my recent post Walking back to Byzantium along the Via Egnatia where you can find out more and how to register your interest.

Click to play … there is a 30 second ad before the Ohrid movie starts.

A Traveler’s Tale: On Patrick Leigh Fermor

by Wes Davis

First published in The Nation, December 2010

At a Chelsea-to-Richmond boating party held sometime in the early 1950s, the Duchess of Devonshire, then a beautiful young woman of 30, met a dashing man, some five years her senior, who was dressed as a Roman gladiator and armed with a net and trident. It was a look she thought suited him.

The fancy-dress gladiator was Patrick Leigh Fermor, a former officer in Britain’s Special Operations Executive (SOE), a covert unit that aided resistance movements throughout occupied Europe, and an up-and-coming writer best known at the time for kidnapping a German general during the war. He had crossed paths with the duchess before and remembered her clearly from a regimental ball in 1940, when she was still Deborah Mitford—the youngest of the soon-to-be-famous Mitford sisters. She was then engaged to Andrew Cavendish, a tall naval officer and younger son of the Tenth Duke of Devonshire who had no expectation of inheriting his father’s title until the war took his older brother’s life four years later. Leigh Fermor had watched the couple dance their way through the evening, “utterly rapt, eyes shut, as though in a trance.” Mitford had not noticed him.

But when they met again—as duchess and gladiator—Deborah Devonshire and Patrick Leigh Fermor struck up a friendship that has endured for more than half a century. In Tearing Haste, a collection of their letters newly available in this country, gives the impression that the conversation that started at a boating party so many summers ago has never stopped. Spanning 1954 to 2007, the volume reads like an accidental memoir of a disappearing world stretching from the manor houses of the English aristocracy to the olive groves of Greece, its people and places rendered with a kind of care that’s becoming scarce in our age of helter-skelter communication. At the same time, the book’s title, a phrase deriving from Leigh Fermor’s habit of dashing off messages “with a foot in the stirrup,” captures the vigor and bustle of the lives that nourished the correspondence. I once happened upon the manuscript of a chatty letter Leigh Fermor had written in 1944 to an Englishwoman stationed in Cairo. Amusingly composed and illustrated with a witty hand-drawn cartoon, it closed with Leigh Fermor mentioning offhand that he was in hiding on occupied Crete and that an undercover runner was waiting outside to receive the communication.

In Tearing Haste is engaging from start to finish. There isn’t a dull letter among Charlotte Mosley’s selections. Even her annotations, often incorporating information from the book’s two correspondents, are as surprising as they are informative. One biographical note on the painter Augustus John includes Deborah Devonshire’s recollection of meeting him in London: “He looked me up and down and said, ‘Have you got children?’ ‘Yes.’ Another long look. ‘Did you suckle them?'” More than anything else, the collection is important as an addition to Leigh Fermor’s body of work, both because his letters constitute a larger portion of the volume and because the writing in them harmonizes with the books that established his literary reputation. But let it be said that the Duchess of Devonshire is no slouch either. Her letters, though generally shorter and less frequent than Leigh Fermor’s, share his wit and many of his interests—a fascination with language, for example, or with the byways of English and European history. She puts a charming twist on these topics while adding a few bright threads of her own to the correspondence.

Deborah Devonshire’s books—beginning with The House (1982) and The Estate (1990)—focus largely on the management of Chatsworth, the massive estate in Derbyshire that she and her husband put into charitable trust and opened to the public in 1981. (The house was a stand-in for Mr. Darcy’s Pemberley in a film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, and throughout the letters Leigh Fermor refers to it as “Dingley Dell,” after Mr. Wardle’s house in The Pickwick Papers.) As a writer, she is best when describing the seasonal rhythms of country life (the arrival of the year’s pullets, say) or assessing the gamut of rural arts (from drystone walling to mushroom gathering) and tilling their linguistic soil. In Counting My Chickens, a collection of notes and essays published in 2001, she remembers leaving Leigh Fermor “stumped” by the meaning of words gleaned from the glossary of a pamphlet about sheep. “One sheep disease,” she recalls, “has regional names of intriguing diversity: Sturfy, bleb, turnstick, paterish, goggles, dunt, and pedro all are gid.” On the same page she can be found rhapsodizing over “the glorious language of the 1662 prayer book, with its messages of mystery and imagination.”

She takes any opportunity to undercut the preconceived notions one might have about a duchess’s likes and dislikes. “I buy most of my clothes at agricultural shows,” she says in Counting My Chickens, “and good stout things they are.” For the playwright Tom Stoppard, who contributed an introduction to the book, this was one of her most characteristic revelations. For me, a close runner-up is her discussion of flower gardening on a grand estate, where she admits, “I prefer vegetables.” Many of her stories turn on a similar blend of unexpected rusticity and unflagging old-school civility. In an essay about the life the Mitfords led for a time on the island of Inchkenneth in the Hebrides, she describes traveling by train in the company of a goat, a whippet and a Labrador back to her sister Nancy’s house in Oxfordshire when the war broke out. “I milked the goat in the first-class waiting room,” she confesses, “which I should not have done, as I only had a third-class ticket.”

For all her modesty, the duchess isn’t embarrassed to mention boldface names that have sailed in and out of her social circle. (They range from Fred Astaire to the Queen Mother, the latter called “Cake” when she appears in the letters.) The humor in one anecdote depends on knowing that John F. Kennedy was intimate enough with the duchess to employ her nickname. This caused some confusion when her uncle Harold Macmillan, then prime minister, found himself involved in a telephone conversation with the American president about matters involving Castro, SEATO and NATO. It took him a moment to switch tracks when Kennedy asked, “And how’s Debo?” (Evelyn Waugh, a friend of hers, might well have written the scene.) In the letters, Kennedy is counted among the “bodies to be worshipped,” and several entries describe the friendship that developed between JFK and the duchess in the years between his inauguration and his death.

Her relationship with Leigh Fermor has many dimensions, its ardor fueled by humor, charisma and delight in a good tale. The revealing joke that runs through In Tearing Haste is that Devonshire is not a reader and that despite her lively correspondence with Leigh Fermor, she can’t manage to read his books. She praises one of his letters not for its vivid language but because it has instructions about which parts to skip. Leigh Fermor takes revenge in another letter, marking a set of passages with notes “don’t skip” and “ditto.” The bit he wants her to see—a foray into history by way of language—might well have been lifted from one of the books that made him famous: “The inhabitants are Koutzovlachs who speak a v. queer Latin dialect akin both to Rumanian and Italian. Some say they are Rumanian nomad shepherds who wandered here centuries ago with their flocks and never found their way home again. Others, more plausibly, say they are the descendants of Roman legionaries, speaking a corrupt camp Latin, stationed here to guard the high passes of the Pindus, miles from anywhere.” Continue reading

GAGINONANUS SPEAKS

After a long, indolent summer chasing dragonflies, and an extended sojourn in the south of France courtesy of ‘Les Sans Coulottes’, the time has come for the winner of our OPRIG GAGINONANUS challenge, Marion Worsley to collect her prize. A full report will follow!

To celebrate this forthcoming event I thought we should enjoy the poem that the marvellous John Wells wrote and sent to Paddy after he too received a copy of Paddy’s drawings.

GAGINONANUS SPEAKS

By John Wells

Before the earliest burning light
Before the world that once was his
Hung turning the day to turning night
Gaginonanus was and is

Gaginonanus, mightiest Lord,
Whom all the Seven Kings obey,
At whose high uncreated word
Preadamites were prone to pray

Great God of Gods, all nature’s grail,
The inward soul of every thing
Behind the Maya’s rainbow veil
Withdrawn, within, inhabiting

New gods and false as empires rise
Are worshipped, spires fall and climb,
All-seeing and with placid eyes
Gaginonanus bides his time

Like leaves the centuries are born
Like leaves are born to bud and die.
Gaginonanus smiles to scorn
The drifting aeons as they fly

Ignored, unknown, forgotten still
Gaginonanus sees their play,
The awful working of His Will
Until His dreadful Judgement Day

*

But now, O Prig! O Lax! O Loose!
That hour is come! O sunk in crime!
Your garages in constant use,
You dare not park at any time

His awful Name is manifest!
No cloud-etched letters skyward burn
The Blessed Ones who love Him best
Know their Great God will soon return

Winning entrant Marion Worsley in Market Mews

Behold, in those condemned last days,
Gaginonanus, Lord of All!
As saints and sages dumbly gaze
His Name is written on the Wall.

Related article:

OPRIG GAGINONANUS

OPRIG GAGINONANUS – a winner!

Never Marry a Mitford

The title is taken from a sweater that Andrew Cavendish, 11th Duke of Devonshire used to wear around his Chatsworth estate in Derbyshire. However, just like us he must have been fascinated by the Mitford sisters. In this lengthy article entitled Elvis, Chatsworth, JFK and me, Deborah Cavendish, The Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, and the last of the Mitford sisters, talks about her extraordinary life.

By Jessamy Calkin

First published in the Telegraph 12 Sep 2010

The Dowager Duchess of Devonshire Photo: Emma Hardy/East Photographic

If you give the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire a fiver, she’ll show you round her house, an old vicarage in Edensor, Derbyshire. It would be tempting to think that she pocketed the money, but it goes towards the church roof fund. The occasion is the annual village fete.

‘It’s true,’ she says mildly. ‘What people love is the shoe cupboards and the lavatories and all that. And sometimes they say, “You’re very brave to do this,” and I say, “You’re very brave to come,” because there’s always a queue. So funny.’

Debo, as everyone calls her, was 90 this year. Having greeted me in her pretty garden, shaking my hand and looking me directly in the eye, she leads me into the apple-green-walled and flagstone-floored hall – ‘Do put your bags down, no burglars here’ – and shows me into her sitting-room, which has an extraordinarily nice atmosphere, and we take to the floral sofa, where she positively lounges, looking at me brightly, waiting to be amused.

There have been countless books about the Mitfords, both biographical and autobiographical, and now her own memoirs, Wait for Me!, are about to be published. (She has written several books, mostly about Chatsworth, her former home.)

Debo says she was motivated to write about her life because she had offers from other people to do it for her, and she didn’t really want them ‘to fiddle about with it’. She was appalled by some of the books about her sisters – in particular David Pryce-Jones’s book about Unity, and the books about Diana, who married the fascist Oswald Mosley. ‘They are so full of inaccuracies,’ she says. ‘No one ever really got my sister Diana, and she was such an incredible person. It was always a delight for me to see somebody who was prejudiced against her sitting by her on the sofa like you and I are now and… melting, absolutely melting.’

Debo became close to Diana, who was 10 years older, only later in her life, but now, she says, ‘hardly a day goes by when I don’t say to myself, “Oh I wish I could tell Diana that, she’d laugh so much.”’

It wasn’t an easy book to write; it has taken her four years. Debo suffers from the eye condition macular degeneration and can’t read at all, but she can write; she says it’s because she knows the shape of the words. She does all of her writing in bed, early in the mornings (‘My sheets are covered in ink’) and then her assistant, Helen Marchant, reads it back to her. ‘And you feel guilty asking someone to read it back three or four times but that is what I had to do to try and get it right. Helen in her genius way can translate it into ordinary English, because I don’t know grammar and she knows grammar.’

The book is full of stirring anecdotes, such as when a wounded soldier repatriated from Italy during the war brought home a lemon. ‘Such a luxury had not been seen in the shops for a long time and it caused a minor sensation when he put it on the post office counter at Ashford-in-the-Water and charged tuppence a smell – proceeds to the Red Cross.’ Or the dinner at Calke Abbey, where lived the Harpur Crewes. ‘The dining-room table was set with candles – the only light in that high-ceilinged room, which I imagine had not been used for years. The first course was melon; it was followed by cold beef; then melon for pudding.’ Her host, Airmyne, whose best friend was a goose, then took her up to meet ‘Nanny’ who, they said, used to be the Kaiser’s nanny, a tiny, ancient creature who was fast asleep in bed. It was the strangest evening she had ever had. ‘The Harpur Crewe siblings,’ she writes, ‘were the only true eccentrics I have ever met.’

Can this be true, I ask her. I imagined her life must be full of eccentrics. ‘Well, if you don’t count all my sisters, but I never thought of them as eccentric. I suppose my father was a bit outlandish; he was the source of all jokes in our family.’

The Mitford family

The Mitfords – there were six sisters and one brother – were a defining family of their time; Debo says now that they always thought they were ordinary, but their celebrity and influence has endured. Extreme behaviour seemed to run in the family. David Freeman-Mitford (Farve), later Lord Redesdale, married Sydney Bowles (Muv) in 1904.

Their eldest child, Nancy, wrote several historical biographies and eight novels, the most famous of which, The Pursuit of Love, was, in her own words, ‘an exact portrait of my family’. There was Pam, the least well-known sister, described by John Betjeman as ‘the most rural Mitford’. There was Tom, who used to pay his sisters a shilling an hour to argue with him and went on to become a barrister, but was killed in the war in 1945.

Diana married young, then left her husband for the British Union of Fascists leader Oswald Mosley, and was put in prison for three years for her beliefs; she was also one of the few people who knew both Churchill and Hitler. There was Unity, who moved to Germany in 1934 at the age of 19 and became devoted to Hitler, whom she got to know well; her dual loyalties to the Führer and her country caused her to attempt suicide by shooting herself in the head at the outbreak of war. Continue reading

OPRIG GAGINONANUS – a winner!

Garage in Constant Use

When the challenge to solve the mystery of OPRIG GAGINONANUS was laid down less than two weeks’ ago, I did not think we would have a winning entry within two days! Marion Worsley from Sussex emailed me from her Blackberry with an accompanying photo to tell me:

“I am standing in market mews, surrounded by garages and 10 signs to remind any fool who had not spotted the continuous double line that also every garage door is “No Parking.  Garage in Constant Use”.  This is however the only one with a concertina mechanism.  I’m afraid no cat. Could send you a picture of a blue tee shirt hanging out of the window instead? I am now going to walk away as I can see coming towards me the slightly perplexed postman who very kindly directed me to Market Mews but then went on to ask what I was looking for. I vaguely mumbled that I was looking for garage doors, smiled, thanked him and walked on. leaving hanging in the air a question mark over my sanity. I will send you more pictures this evening.

Marion Worsley

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device”

Winning entrant Marion Worsley in Market Mews

Remember the challenge was to try to find the location that Paddy had sketched in his letter to Debo Devonshire and if possible photograph the same combination of letters that faced Paddy in 1992. Extra marks were to be awarded for a photograph including a cat.

Later Marion mailed me with more pictures:

Hi Tom

Here are the other photos from Market Mews. Slight artistic license for the cat… but did send you a picture of the tee shirt. I got a tourist who spoke very little English to take the picture.  I think that if I had tried to explain to him why I wanted a picture of myself next to a No Parking sign, he would have been even more confused. He will no doubt go back home and tell his friends that it is true that the English are a little mad. The entire mews consists of garages. I have added pictures of a few more should you want to add them to your Garage picture Collection. For the purists, the concertina garage is between No 9 and No 11 Market Mews.

Kind Regards

Marion”

The concertina doors from a similar perspective to Paddy's OPRIG sketch

From the other angle

It is no surprise that one or two things have changed; the doors seem to have been painted over and the cat has probably passed away. However, I was so pleased that a blog reader was inclined to be more than a little crazy and take up the challenge with such style. The ‘cat’ was a piece of improvised genius.

Very well done to Marion. We are planning an official presentation ceremony ‘on location’ later in the autumn. As you can tell she is a lady with some pretty mad ideas, one of which includes the possibility of walking some of Paddy’s route on 2011. Watch this space!

(For garage door enthusiasts I have posted all of Marion’s photographs in the photo section. It is clear that we are not alone in our obsession with OPRIG. Just Google OPRIG and look at images! I have placed some of these in the photo section.)

Related article:

OPRIG GAGINONANUS

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OPRIG GAGINONANUS

Here is something completely ridiculous, a challenge for you all that recalls Paddy’s late night walk through Shepherd Market, London in early October 1992.

In a letter to Debo Devonshire dated 6 November 1992 (see page 293 of In Tearing Haste), Paddy writes to tell her of a strange experience just before he left for a trip to Antibes to collect a French literary prize for A Time of Gifts. Paddy and Joan had dinner with Magouche Fielding (Xan’s second wife). Joan left early and Paddy decided to walk home … “through Shepherd Market – my old haunt when young * – and into Market Mews. I had only gone a few paces when, on a wide black surface on the left side, I saw a strange message in huge letters in White:

‘OPRIG’, it said,

And underneath,

‘GAGINONANUS’

What could it portend? It looked simultaneously insulting, enigmatic and vaguely improper, especially the message below.”

Paddy enclosed a sketch.

Paddy's first sketch - OPRIG

It was only when he stood four square in front that all was revealed – click here to see the picture.

The challenge therefore is for those of you who live in London, or who are visiting this month, to see if you can find GAGINONANUS. There are enough geographic clues, and to add to this Paddy further writes to Debo, “If on leaving your front door, passing the Curzon Cinema, and turning right into the Mews, you’ll [see it].”

Let’s hope that like for Paddy the concertina doors will be ajar so that you can see it just as Paddy did. Perhaps they have been painted over? Do they still exist?

If you find GAGINONANUS then send me a photograph (tsawford[at]btinternet.com) with a brief retelling of your search. Special merit if you can include a cat in the picture!

The prize? Well, the satisfaction of ‘being there and having done it’ and a first edition copy of Words of Mercury for the first person to send a picture.

I shall personally resist the temptation to find it until the end of August. If we have had no responses by then, I shall go on a search myself.

* Paddy had lived at 43 Market Street before he departed on his journey in 1934

Book review: In Tearing Haste: Letters between Deborah Devonshire and Patrick Leigh Fermor from The Scotsman

First published in The Scotsman 13 September 2008

by Roger Hutchinson

THE MARVELLOUS THING ABOUT yours [books],” wrote the Duchess of Devonshire to Patrick Leigh Fermor in May 1974, “is that they never appear.”

Deborah Devonshire professes a pathological dislike of reading. Somewhere in the unfathomable depths of that eccentricity may be discovered the contrary reason for her having been, for over half a century, the favourite correspondent of one of the greatest British authors of the 20th century.

Debo and Paddy had been swapping letters from various parts of the globe for 20 years when she congratulated him on the paucity of his output. When he received that letter he was in fact just finishing A Time of Gifts, the first volume of the travelogue through Europe in the 1930s which would cement his reputation. If we are to believe the Duchess, she has never read a word of it or any of his other works.

This does not mean that their collected letters, expertly compiled by Charlotte Mosley, is entirely non-literary – there are plenty of gems here for the student of the Leigh Fermor oeuvre. It means rather that their friendship was established on broader grounds.

The youngest Mitford sister, Debo Devonshire, clearly possesses oodles of her siblings’ trademark charm, without the family handicap of being mad as a meat-axe. Patrick Leigh Fermor saw and fell for her at an officers’ ball early in the Second World War. She did not so much as notice him until several years later. By the early 1950s Paddy Leigh Fermor was difficult not to notice. Handsome, polyglot, rakish, wildly itinerant and with a war record straight out of a John Buchan novel, he fell upon London society like a wolf on the fold.

He must have been able to pick off debutantes at a hundred paces. But Deborah Mitford was made of sterner stuff. She had set her sights on a duke. PLF would have to settle for best male friend. We should say, one of her best male friends. Her roster of masculine admirers is extraordinary. President John F Kennedy tops the chart, but it winds down through almost every eligible and ineligible man in the developed world. Debo’s good fortune – and now that this engaging anthology has been published, ours too – is that not a single one of them was half so good a writer as her faithful Paddy.

Naturally, most of the words in this collection were authored by PLF. But if Deborah Devonshire has been a foil, she was a perfect one. Chatty, witty, teasing, gossipy, relentlessly cheerful and with more than a hint of modest good sense, her short replies bounce off his beautiful essays like volleys of tennis balls off a cathedral. Continue reading

The Duke of Devonshire’s obituary from The Independent

Andrew Cavendish was the 11th Duke of Devonshire, Debo’s beloved husband and a close friend of Paddy for over half a century. Paddy and Andrew shared many long walks and expeditions together some of which are detailed in the book of letters ‘In Tearing Haste’ whilst the most comprehensive account of one of their shared journeys is ‘Three Letters from the Andes’ published in 1991 during which Paddy described his own responsibilities as ‘looking after the primus stove’. 

First published in The Independent Thursday, 6 May 2004 

 Rescuer of Chatsworth and reviver of the family tradition of patronage 

“I am a very rich duke, a most agreeable thing to be, even in these days,” said the hero in Nancy Mitford’s 1945 novel The Pursuit of Love. Her brother-in-law Andrew Cavendish, when he succeeded five years later as 11th Duke of Devonshire, had every reason to disagree. 

Andrew Robert Buxton Cavendish, landowner: born London 2 January 1920; MC 1944; styled 1944-50 Marquess of Hartington, succeeded 1950 as 11th Duke of Devonshire; Mayor of Buxton 1952-54; President, Royal Hospital and Home (formerly Royal Hospital and Home for Incurables), Putney 1954-91; President, Building Societies Association 1954-61; President, Lawn Tennis Association 1955-61; Chairman, Grand Council, British Empire Cancer Campaign 1956-81; Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations 1960-62; Minister of State, Commonwealth Relations Office 1962-64, and for Colonial Affairs 1963-64; PC 1964; Chancellor, Manchester University 1965-86; Steward, Jockey Club 1966-69; President, National Association for Deaf Children 1978-95; Chairman, Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association 1978-81; President, RNIB 1979-85; Patron in Chief, Polite Society 1991-2004; Vice-President, London Library 1993-2004; KG 1996; married 1941 The Hon Deborah Freeman-Mitford (one son, two daughters, and two sons and one daughter deceased); died Chatsworth, Derbyshire 3 May 2004.  

Born a second son on the second day of 1920, he grew up with no expectation of becoming a duke. His father’s premature death in 1950 left him with huge death duties to pay, and the extra liability of palatial Chatsworth, at a time when smaller houses were going down like ninepins. How he overcame all these difficulties, making Chatsworth habitable and a source of widespread enjoyment, discovering in the process new ways of helping all manner of people and institutions, as well as reviving the family tradition of enlightened patronage, is one of the success stories of our time. 

The Cavendish family roots were in Suffolk, but “Bess of Hardwick”, founder of the dynasty, was born in Derbyshire, in 1518. Successive marriages, the second to Sir William Cavendish, enabled her to expand her property. Quarrels with her fourth husband, the Earl of Shrewsbury, led her to leave the house she had built at Chatsworth, and build another, even larger, at Hardwick itself. Her sons built on this foundation, the second becoming father of the first Duke of Newcastle, the first buying back Chatsworth and created Earl of Devonshire in 1618 (the title came not from any territorial connection, but because it had just become vacant by the death without issue of the previous holder). 

They were royalists in the Civil War, when the family wealth was diminished – save in the library, watched over by Thomas Hobbes, the philosopher. The fourth Earl, of imperious disposition, fell out with the Stuarts and retreated to Chatsworth, which he rebuilt and enlarged. He supported William III, who elevated him to be the first Duke of Devonshire. His son, Steward of the Household to Queen Anne and later to George I, was the first great virtuoso of the family, and built up the collection of old master drawings at Chatsworth. He was the first, too, to succeed on the Turf, buying Flying Childers, “the fleetest horse that ever ran at Newmarket”. 

The second Duke’s son and grandson were both Lord-Lieutenants of Ireland, and between them remodelled the grounds at Chatsworth, the fourth Duke commissioning James Paine to build the new stables. By his marriage to the only daughter of the great Earl of Burlington, architect and connoisseur, more came to Chatsworth, from the Boyle Irish estates to the drawings of Inigo Jones. His son, husband of the famous Georgiana Spencer, was himself a notable figure. Their only son, the sixth Duke, the greatest collector of all, made Chatsworth what it is today. 

“He appears to be disposed to spend a great deal of money,” said the family auditor to his father. “So much the better,” was the memorable reply. “He will have a great deal of money to spend.” He did, enlarging and beautifying Chatsworth with the help of Jeffry Wyatville and Joseph Paxton. He bought wonderful books, marble and antiquities, including a fifth-century bronze head of Apollo, commissioned sculpture from Canova, and for him Paxton built the splendid conservatory at Chatsworth, forerunner of the Crystal Palace. 

But he remained the “Bachelor Duke”: dying childless in 1858, he was succeeded by a cousin who had fortunately inherited much himself, including the wealth and books of the scientist Henry Cavendish and the Compton family estates on the South Coast. He himself invested in industry, built up Eastbourne and gave Cambridge the Cavendish Laboratory. His son reverted to politics (he was the only person to refuse the premiership three times) and horse-racing. The ninth Duke became Governor-General of Canada during the First World War, when Chatsworth was inevitably neglected. All the plants in Paxton’s conservatory died and it had to be pulled down, but gradually life returned to normal. 

So Lord Andrew Cavendish grew up between the wars, when the hereditary peerage had not become a political plaything and leisure was a way of life, not a profession. Devonshire House in London had gone, pulled down to make way for a motor showroom, and so had Chiswick House (now in the care of English Heritage), but the family still owned four other great houses besides Chatsworth and Hardwick. The footmen still wore full livery (lemon coat, dark blue breeches and white stocking) if there were more than six to dinner. 

It was 1938 when his grandfather died, aged 69. Andrew’s father was Under-Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs and abroad, and Andrew was about to leave Eton for Trinity College, Cambridge. He had taken neither very seriously. His father worried about this, as about his occasional flutters on and off the Turf. But an old friend said to him, “Surely you wouldn’t like your son to get good reports?”, and Newmarket turned youthful diversion into an abiding passion. Neither overcame an earlier, deeper and even more long-lasting love of books and reading. A year later his elder brother William, now Marquess of Hartington, came of age, with a series of parties – the last at Chatsworth in August 1939. Then came the war and goodbye to all that. 

Both brothers went into the Coldstream Guards, to be “sorted out” like many others by drill, boots and sergeant-majors. Caterham was varied by escape to London, where Andrew would take Deborah Mitford, the youngest of the six daughters of Lord Redesdale, out to dinner; in April 1941 they married. Then came posting abroad, via North Africa to Italy, where he first saw action; unable to sleep the night before, he read Nigel Balchin’s The Small Back Room, just out, from cover to cover. In the fierce fighting north of Rome in July 1944, he was awarded the MC. His company captured a hill south of Strada, and held it despite being cut off on all sides. The citation records his “endless cheerfulness, energy and disregard of danger”; he himself said, “I got it for being cheerful”, a characteristic self-depreciation. 

That same spring his elder brother married Kathleen Kennedy, sister of the future President of the United States; only four months later he was killed in action in France. This was a crushing blow, still remembered with pain almost 60 years later. Used, by gentle warning from his father, to accept the minor, less demanding role of a younger son, he now found himself pitchforked into new responsibility. When he left the Army, he dutifully stood in the Conservative interest for the neighbouring seat of Chesterfield in 1945 and again in 1950. 

Adjusting to post-war austerity and high taxation was another problem. His father, well advised like his forebears by Currey & Co, made over the estate, the gift dependent on his living for five years. In November 1950, 14 weeks short of this term, he died, aged only 55. 

His estate was then valued at £5.9m, and at the current rate of 80 per cent death duties came out at £4.72m. It was clear that huge economies would have to be made; the question was how to make them without diminishing the sources of revenue needed to maintain what was left. The 11th Duke and his Duchess counted their assets: they were both 30, young, energetic and, untrammelled by conventions now out of date, were prepared to do something different. Time was on their side, and Chatsworth, hitherto more a place just to visit, proved to be the key to the future. Continue reading

But he went for a Burton instead …

I am still thoroughly enjoying ‘In Tearing Haste’ which is my ‘train’ book, read as I travel up and down to London. I am nearing the end but want to share some of my favourite bits. Here are a couple of impromptu PLF rhymes that he passed on to Debo in a letter dated 12 August 1958.

In early August 1958 Paddy and Joan, with Alan the Spy (is this Alan Pryce-Jones who had once been engaged to Joan?), and Roxanne Sedgewick climbed Mount Olympus in Greece. The climb was tough and Joan said that she was to be buried there if she fell down a crevasse. She did not want to be lugged down and placed on a train back to Athens. Paddy wrote her an epitaph:

Bury me here on Olympus
In the home of the lonely wall-creeper
But don’t take me back to Athens, please,
Stretched out on a second class sleeper …

Later that week upon their return the group grew to include Coote Lygon (Lady Dorothy (Coote) Lygon 1912-2001) who was in the WAAF during the war. As she smoked a cigar she told a story using all the regular RAF slang which inspired Paddy to write this:

‘What’s happened to Winko?’ asked Groupie.
The Mess Corporal wagged his old head:
‘He said that he’d fancy a Bass, sir,
But he went for a Burton instead …’

Ind Coope Burton Ale

A Review of In Tearing Haste: Letters between Deborah Devonshire and Patrick Leigh Fermor from the Spectator

by Anne Chisholm

First published in The Spectator Wednesday, 3rd September 2008

Deborah Devonshire and Patrick Leigh Fermor proof reading In Tearing Haste

Towards the end of this hugely enjoyable volume of letters, selected and edited by the skilful Charlotte Mosley from half a century of correspondence (1954-2007), Deborah Devonshire, by now in her mid-eighties, writes a postcard from Chatsworth to her friend, Patrick Leigh Fermor, aged 90, who lives in Greece. ‘Did you know’, she asks ‘That the Vikings called Constantinople Micklegarth? Well, they did. Much love, Debo.’ To which he replies: ‘I did know, and have written fruity paragraphs about it in that book called Mani. It’s really Micklegard’, going on to explain that grath, gard and grad all denote towns and that Harold Hardraada, the Viking hero, had visited the place many times before invading England, only to be killed by ‘our King Harold’ shortly before William the Conqueror arrived in 1066. ‘I’m still surprised’, Debo writes back ‘I can see you aren’t.’

This exchange contains much of what makes their letters so beguiling and so British. Both are more interested in facts, jokes and stories than in feelings; there is no soul-searching in this fat volume.

Both stay firmly in character: she the non-intellectual, resolutely unimpressed by foreign culture, he the erudite polymath, bursting with knowledge. Linked by deep affection and with many friends in common, they live different lives in different countries, have different tastes, use different language; what they have in common, and what these letters so wonderfully demonstrate, is an unfailing appetite for life.

Having first encountered each other during the war, when Paddy was a dashing soldier and Debo, the youngest of the spectacular Mitford sisters and newly married to Andrew Cavendish, the younger son of a duke, they met again in the mid-1950s. By this time she was 36 and Duchess of Devonshire, châtelaine of a castle in county Waterford and a palace in Derbyshire, helping her husband with his unexpected inheritance and beginning the revival and transformation of Chatsworth. He was 41 and a compulsive traveller, famous for pulling off one of the more dashing exploits of the war by kidnapping a German general in Crete. He was also beginning to be known as a writer, having published a novel and his first travel book. This time they fell for each other, and, one suspects, almost into a love affair; almost, but not quite, as Debo already loved Andrew and Chatsworth and Paddy loved Joan Eyres-Monsell and Greece. She was settled and he was a wanderer, and although they met as often as possible over the years on his visits to England it was on paper that their relationship really belonged. Continue reading

PLF’s car ‘blown sky high’!

“In Tearing Haste” is such a good read. As time passes Debo’s letters become better and better. She is so funny. Highly recommended. Is it heresy to say that she is starting to pip Paddy?

One learns so much in this book, which in effect is the closest to an autobiography we are likely to get for Paddy’s post war life. Got to p175 of my paperback version today when out of the blue I read this:

Mayday 1979                                                                                                                     Athens

Darling Debo,

Last Sunday night – Easter Sunday in the Orthodox Church – our car was blown sky high with an explosive charge and a length of fuse, with a red poster with hammers and sickles. I think they’d got the feast confused with Ascension Day. I think it’s all part of an attempt of ours to erect a modest bronze plaque to Fallen Comrades in Crete. It was to go up at a certain Abbey in the island. The Abbot and monks all consented, there was a feast to honour the decision, but a week later it was withdrawn: four men in cars had turned up, Communists from Heraklion, and frightened and threatened the monks. The same thing happened at another monastery, where our submarines used to surface on the same coast. Then a splendid village said they’d have it, and shoot anyone who tried to disturb it; and a few days later, BANG! At our doorstep. There is quite a powerful Comm. Party in Eastern Crete. The West is all OK: shows what a minority can do. The amount of telephone calls and telegrams from Cretan pals and Greeks in general – indignation, sympathy, etc, has made it almost worthwhile. But not QUITE, as insurance pays nought for Malicious Acts. Bugger them all.

Tons of fond love from

Paddy

This rivalry with the Communists goes all the way back to the time of wartime operations on Crete. See “Ill Met by Moonlight” and the threats and betrayals by the Communist Andartes. Is there a seamless link on to the 8 June 2000 assasination of Brigadier Stephen Saunders, 53, the British military attaché in Athens?

A biography of Paddy by Artemis Cooper?

There are some tough jobs around, but few could be tougher than writing a biography of Patrick Leigh Fermor. However, according to the acknowledgements section of “In Tearing Haste” by Charlotte Mosley, Artemis Cooper is apparently doing so; ‘… to Artemis Cooper, who is preparing a biography of Paddy’. Artemis of course edited “Words of Mercury” (2003).

Given that we have been waiting twenty four years for “Vol 3” what are the chances of Artemis’ biography being published before that volume? Not great I would have thought. But what a challenge to write about the life of one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century. I wish her the best of luck!

The Moss Conundrum

I have been reading ‘In Tearing Haste: Letters Between Deborah Devonshire and Patrick Leigh-Fermor’ (2008), edited by Charlotte Mosley. It is really quite good and gets better as Debo writes more often to Paddy; she is very funny.

On page 22 of my paperback version in a letter from Paddy written on 26 August 1956 he writes:

“I was asked by W.S.M. (William Stanley Moss – his partner in the Kreipe kidnap escapade – see Ill Met by Moonlight) to a meal of reconciliation and amends, where we met as affable strangers. It was really a gasbag’s penance and I, having learnt the hard way, vouchsafed little more than a few safe monosyllables.”

Well what does this mean? It is clear something had caused a breakdown in what was once a good friendship. They had been through a lot together and to feel like this, there must have been something terrible to cause such a rift. Was it the way Moss portrayed the events of the Kreipe kidnap? The fact that Moss married Sophie? Who knows?

If anyone knows please add a comment to this article.