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Mr Golightly’s Holiday by Sally Vickers


Rating: (Recommended)


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Sally Vickers’ new novel, Mr Golightly’s Holiday, presents an opportunity for doubling your reading pleasure. Read the book twice. Read first, remaining inquisitive about Mr Golightly’s identity. Then reread, with the knowledge you’ve gained after you realize his identity. Both experiences will be pleasurable, especially if you read while on your own vacation. Vickers’ knowledge of literature allows her to pepper the book with long passages that relate or present the fine writing of classical writers. Were I better read, I would have caught more of the references. While confident that I missed many of them, that recognition subtracting nothing from the pleasure of reading this book. Here’s an excerpt, all of Chapter 3, pp. 17-23:


           Spring Cottage was named for the natural water supply which seeped up through the Devon soil and occasionally made its way through the porous walls of the old dwelling. The cottage stood in a run-to-seed garden, which looked across to hills and ran towards fields which sloped down to the River Dart. This, thanks to recent rains, was roaring like a hungry lion when Mr Golightly stepped outside his back door the following morning.


It was early, not yet six; the stars had vet to disappear and the near-full moon hung still, like a yellow paper lantern, in the west. Over the hills, black clouds made portentous shapes suggesting Eastern tales: dragons. strange-beaked birds, perilous cliffs. Behind the clouds, a veined-marble sky was streaked dim green and pearl. An experienced watcher of weather could have predicted that the day would he a bright one, for beyond, in the east, a thin patina of gold hinted at imminent light.


Mr Golightly snuffed the air like a hunter, It smelled to him of animal life and sappy growth, of burgeoning country things which gave a lift to his heart. All hearts need a lift from time to time and Mr Golightly’s was no exception. He had come to Great Calne to take a holiday. It had been many years since his duties had allowed such an indulgence, but for some time he had been thinking that a project he had started long ago was due for reappraisal. Quite why Great Calne had been chosen as the place to set about this project was a question that Mr Golightly himself may not have been able to answer. But he understood, perhaps better than most, that all important questions are unanswerable.


The intricacies of the World Wide Web were still a mystery to Mr Golightly who, despite his business experience, with many other pressures and concerns to attend to, was not yet practised at using it. (One of his valuable aides had entered his requirements — - Holiday let in peaceful rural setting’ into the search engine, Alphaomega, coming up with Spring Cottage via Nicky Pope’s website.


So far the result appeared satisfactory. In any event, Mr Golightly did not give the impression of being a choosy sort. On the contrary, he emanated some sense that all places were alike to him. He gave every sign of being content with the simple accommodation a bedroom (referred to in the website details as the master)  which was almost filled by the iron, black-painted double bedstead, a boxroom (bed­room two) stuffed with old curtains, rnagaz1nes  rugs, a fender, an exercise hike and supermarket bags full of the late Emily Pope’s correspondence with the taxman, which Nicky Pope, who as a single mother had her hands full already, meant to get around to when she could only find a moment.


Downstairs, there was a parlour (lounge-diner) which boasted an oak gateleg table, a couple of floral-covered comfy chairs, a spine—challenging orange sofa bed, bought by Emily Pope during a short mid-life crisis in the sixties, a black-and­ white TV and the state-of-the-art wood-burning stove from Norway also a narrow scullery (fitted kitchen with mod cons) which housed a microwave oven, an erratic hob, some Formica cupboards containing a medley of crockery and a whining fridge which, as Nicky Pope had had to run off before she had quite seen that all was in order, still contained a tub of low-cost margarine, a dried-up half of a lemon and live of a ‘six-pack’ of Cokes, a legacy of the Clapham woman’s stay.


In the days before planning permission, the scullery had been tacked rakishly on to the side of the cottage and roofed, in a slapdash manner, with corrugated asbestos, which now­adays would have drawn down imprecations from a dutiful Health and Safety inspector. Lucky, then, for Nicky Pope, that Mr Golightly had none of the Clapham woman’s self-preserving assertiveness; or it may have been that health and safety were not issues for him.


When the rain fell it made a timpani of the scullery roof, a sound which Mr Golightly had yet to discover whether he found enchanting or distracting. A rickety fence, with a wicket gate let into it, which led through to the garden, ran beside the scullery. But this morning Mr Golightly was troubled by none of those things: he stood listening to the Sound of the rushing brook, which ran through the lower meadows, and noting how the hills formed a gentle cleavage through which the River Dart found its way to the sea.


Grazing in the field, to which the untidy garden sloped, was a stocky brown horse with a white flash down its nose. Beyond, hounded by a beech hedge, where the leaves inde­pendently maintained their autumnal rust, lay further fields, where young spring wheat was forming a green glaze over the soil.


A batch of rooks was already out scouring the earth for food, while a hand of their less diligent kin sat in the bare-fanned branches of an ash tree, making clean silhouettes against the gathering light. As Mr Golightly watched, a pair of magpies swooped gleaming down, balancing with their long tails and settling among the rooks to add a touch of Old Master cachet to the scene.


‘One for sorrow, two for joy.’


Mr Golightly spoke the words aloud. It as an ancient saving, old as any of the works of man, and he could not now recall when he had first heard it. But, like many country-bred people~ he did not let reason oust superstition the sight of the swaggering piebald birds gave an added fillip to his spirits.


And now, as if to add fuel to this fire, a sliver of sun appeared above one of the breast-like hills, a mere slice of orange which rapidly grew to an incandescent globe. Rifts of glowing red infiltrated the green-grey sky which began to take on further intimations of light.


‘Be praised!’ said Mr Golightly.


He did not speak aloud, but as if to a beloved intimate whose understanding had no need of outward hearing.


Samson, the horse, perhaps catching the drift of the unspoken words, made its way up to the wire which formed a boundary to Spring Cottages garden. “Hello, old boy.” Mr Golightly ran a finger down the long plush nose and wished he had thought to bring sugar lumps. The cardboard box he had brought was packed with some of the items he might have difficulty finding in the average English village shop: tins of anchovies, jars of pickled walnuts, Marmite, a pot of moist Stilton, chillies, pine kernels, a French sausage, Frank Looper’s Oxford marmalade, sugared almonds but despite these latter items Mr Golightly did not, in general, have a sweet tooth. He had not been raised on sugar and consequently it did not form part of his regular diet.


‘Sorry, old chap.’ He spoke regretfully: he liked to indulge animals who rarely bore resentment if one failed to do as they wished.


As if in response to his apology, a ribald cackling made itself heard and Mr Golightly turned away from Samson and towards the direction of the noise. The next-door garden was fenced by heavy barbed wire. Through the wire Mr Golightly could see a female figure among white geese with glistening orange hills and some farmyard ducks.


Mr Golightly was naturally courteous; hut he was con­cerned, too, to establish peace with his neighbours so that there should be no threat to his tranquillity. His work had too often been a battle; he had no wish for his holiday to be marred by warfare. War between neighbours, he knew from long experience, is often of the most disruptive kind.


‘Hello,’ he said, and offered his hand across the barbed-wire fence.


The other said nothing hut only stared. It was the kind of stare which might have perturbed anyone with an uneasy conscience; but if Mr Golightly’s conscience was uneasy he didn’t betray the fact. He held the gaze steadily till the woman relaxed and held out a hand.


‘Watch the spikes on the fence.’


‘Good fences make good neighbours.’


Mr Golightly could not have explained why he had made this remark. He was not in the modern habit of constantly enquiring into the workings of his own mind hut tended to say whatever came into his head.


‘Ellen Thomas,’ said his neighhour, apparently ignoring his comment, and turned away.


Golightly’ said Mr Golightly, looking after her; the grey eyes of Ellen Thomas were those of a creature in pain.


Back in the cottage~ he unpacked the box of provisions and arranged these tidily in the Formica cupboards. He looked about for a kettle which he eventually found in the cupboard under the sink. No plug. Better make a shopping list, he decided.


Up in the bedroom he completed his unpacking. His possessions were simple: a couple of nightshirts, a pair of slippers, some woollies, a number of warm shirts, wool socks, underwear. His zip-up sponge bag, rather the worse for wear, was already in the avocado bathroom. No tie this was a holiday. Among the other items there was a small traveling photograph holder which framed the picture of a young man with a piteous face.


Mr Golightly looked at the face as he placed the picture beside the bed. Love is the price of love, he thought. as, observing the warning on a note tacked up by Nicky Pope, he minded his head down the steep stairs to the parlour where he prepared to do combat with a hook of instructions lying beside the Norwegian woodstove.


Books of instructions were things with which Mr Golightly had little patience. He opened the booklet entitled ‘Norpine Stoves: the extra modern way to he old-fashioned’ and read: The flue towards the left-handed side of the upper orifice is to be unclosed while the material fires is being laid down.


What the hell did all that mean?

Vickers’ descriptive language is terrific, and often poetic. Enjoy a respite of your own by joining Mr Golightly’s Holiday.

Steve Hopkins, May 25, 2004


ă 2004 Hopkins and Company, LLC


The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the June 2004 issue of Executive Times

URL for this review: Golightly's Holiday.htm


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