Saturday, 20 December 2014

An English Christmas in New England

An English Christmas would not be complete with a good murder or two.
My friends in Connecticut, Jon Buller and Susan Schade, are having something of an English Christmas this year. Jon and Susan are 'les chatelains de Mont Becket' to whom I dedicated The Templars: History and Myth.

The idea began with Susan who was making the decorations for the Christmas tree.  Her decorations are miniature covers of books, all of them in English and from the British Isles.

Not surprisingly many of the covers are from children's books; Susan and Jon write and illustrate children's books. And others are from detective novels; when not writing children's books, Susan reads vintage detective novels.  For example, the tree is decorated with the cover of Hangman's Holiday by Dorothy Sayers.  An English Christmas would not be Christmas without a good murder and Hangman's Holiday is a cracker full of murder mysteries.  

Jon has contributed a Rupert Bear Annual but otherwise he is not well represented on the Christmas tree as he reads things like A la recherche du temps perdu which Marcel Proust wrote in French.  It is a book in which nobody gets killed.  In fact very little happens at all. 

Bertie Wooster stories first published in 1923.
The tree is also hung with the covers of Burns' Poems, The Recipe Book of the Mustard Club, Dylan Thomas' A Child's Christmas in Wales, and Ruthven Todd's Space Cat on Mushrooms

I got curious about some of these titles and looked into them more.  As I might have guessed The Recipe Book of the Mustard Club was anonymously written by Dorothy Sayers in 1926 when she was working as a copywriter for S H Benson, the advertising agency handling the J & J Coleman mustard account.  The editor was Sayer’s husband Atherton Fleming who wrote newspaper columns under the name ‘Gourmet’ and originated and tested many of the recipes. The contents include Fish Stories by Miss Di Gester; In Praise of Pig by Lord Bacon; Mutton and Beef by the Baron de Beef; Fair Game and Fowl by Augustus Gusto; Good Cheese and Good Cheer by Signor Spaghetti; Sandwiches by the Mustard Club's Travelling Correspondent; Sauces of Domestic Happiness by Lady Hearty; and Pickles by One of Them. 

The first James Bond novel 1953.
It took me a while to wake up to the connection between A Child's Christmas in Wales and Space Cat on MushroomsA Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas grew out of a BBC radio piece of the 1940s and was finally published under its own title in 1955, two years after Thomas died of alcoholism in New York at the age of thirty-nine.  Ruthven Todd, a Scots poet who also wrote detective novels and children's books, was a close friend of Dylan Thomas' and was with him at his death, about which he wrote a harrowing account.

Not really on mushrooms.
With Space Cat on Mushrooms either Susan is pulling our leg or someone is pulling hers; the real title of Todd's book is Space Cat Meets Mars but encouraged by the mushrooms which belong to the original cover illustration someone has tinkered with the title.

Anyway, one thing led to another, and no sooner did Susan have her tree decorated than she thought she and Jon would have a Christmas Eve dinner at which everyone could come as a character from the sort of books decorating the tree.

Salman Rushdie tie.
So far they have Simone showing up as Irene Adler from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes story A Scandal in Bohemia, Aven coming as Mina Harker from Dracula, Lynnie as Agatha Christie, and Ellanora will come as Matilda's mother in the eponymous children's book by Roald Dahl.  Jon is thinking of wearing his bookshelf tie and coming as Salman Rushdie.  
A dose of insanity for a merry Christmas.