Last year I discovered the delights of reading Beverley Nichols' writing, based mostly around the commentary of life as lived by the British. And yesterday, in desperate need of having something to smile over, I picked up the second book in his Merry Hall trilogy, Laughter on the Stairs, and settled in as the news on the telly gave dire predictions of an oncoming storm.
One needs those little pleasures, after all.
Now that he has renovated a good deal of the Georgian house, Merry Hall, in the suburbs of London, you would think that author Beverley Nichols would find the spirit to sit back and relax for a while. But no, he's determined to continue his polishing of this Georgian mansion that has fallen on hard times.
Especially as to what to do about a monstrosity of a stained glass window. He hates it with a passion, his neighbors, Our Rose, and Miss Emily, adore it. Everyone exclaims over it, with delight or horror, depending on his or her taste. But as with life, a tragedy occurs and the window is broken, which sets off a curious sequence of events -- thieves enter through the mermaid's bottom.
Soon enough, a series of mixed blessings descend upon Merry Hall. Could it be that the ghosts of the property are making themselves known?
There is Miss Mint, a woman of uncertain age, with a gentle manner, who is one of Nichols' neighbors, who sets off a conspiracy involving a well and a piece of property. The arrival of a fellow writer in their small village, with very mixed results. Another arrival, that of a new cat -- 'Five' -- who sets off a feline showdown in the drawing room.
Along with the newcomers, there are some old favourites as well. Gaskin, Nichols' good right arm, and of course, Oldfield, are here. Miss Emily and Our Rose, two rivals and friends return as well. Marius and the somewhat sinister, all-knowing Bob are here too. And it simply would not be a Beverley Nichols' book without 'One' and 'Four.'
But what really caught me with this book is Nicols' delight and growing interest in his home. A goodly portion of the book is spent in describing various rooms of his house, and how he is polishing them up. Such as trying to fit out his drawing room with his motley collection of things that have managed to survive World War II, and realizing that they're somewhat run down. On acquiring a set of antique chairs, he makes a comment that resonated so strongly that I am going to quote it here:
If you possess even one beautiful object it teaches you more, by its constant proximity, than a hundred visits to museums.
When I got to this line, I had to stop and read it again. And realized that yes, that Nichols was absolutely right here. That craving -- and enjoyment -- of something perfect is buried in all of us, and in our age of mass-production and plasticky sameness, we tend to skip by the more prosaic and emphremal things in life, such as the work of an artist or craftsman of long ago, or the beauty that can be found in our own yards and nearby woods.
This philosophy runs through this volume. I was captivated by Nichols' description of birds in his garden, or trying to create a musical illustration of 'One's uniquely Siamese howl, or the wonders that Oldfield manages to coax out of the garden. It's that ability to stop and fully take in the moment that I envy him, and how he is able to bring his dreams and visions to life. A very few of us have that opportunity to do so, and Nichols is indulging it as far as his limits -- not to mention pocketbook -- will allow him to.
Originally published as a set of magazine articles, Nichols compiled this collection of vignettes into three autobiographical volumes. Laughter on the Stairs is the second one, with Sunlight on the Lawn being the third one -- and one that I will be adding very soon to my collection.
This new edition is published by Timber Press, Inc., and is a facsimile of the original 1955 edition, which also has wonderful black and white illustrations by William McLaren. There is a new introduction by Roy C. Dicks, and an index of all of the various plants that are mentioned in the text tucked away in the back.
While you can read this without having read the first volume of tales in Merry Hall, I do suggest to take in that book first, as there are some ideas and people that need to be introduced properly as so to fully enjoy them in this narrative.
Joyously recommended, with a very solid five star rating.