I remember a scene from my childhood as though it were yesterday. I must have been 8 years old, and it was time to catch the train back to school for the term. With my straw boater at a rakish angle and my maroon school tie already dangling off centre, I was sitting in the back seat of a War Office Wolseley.
My oldest brother, Thomas, or Viscount Slim as most knew him, was batman to Air Commodore Sir Spencer Davis-Group, and as Sir Spencer’s chauffeur had taken ill, Thomas stepped in to drive. Sir Spencer had just been ensconced on a plane to Paris, so Thomas had liberated the limousine and so I got a first class trip to the station.
I waved goodbye to Thomas and prepared to board the train to school, where, due to another of my brothers, Oliver, having moved up to Senior School, I would be now called Godden, Major and my younger brother Tristan would be Godden, Minor, whereas prior to Oliver’s Ascension I had been Minor and Tristan had been Diminished 7th*.
Thomas had recently returned from India, where he had been seconded to keep order in a tea plantation called Bara Ringtong. He had formed quite an attachment to the manager’s daughter, one Margaret Cruikshank, whom he hoped was on her way to England via steamer. He pressed into my hands a flask of tea, made from that very plantation.
On the train, I thought about my eccentric Aunt Gwendolyn, who had recently had the frightfully bad manners to be murdered without leaving a will, leaving several family members quite beside themselves. They’d all decided to get together at Waldorf Stadtler Manor and sort it out but, being a child, I was not invited.
I sipped the warm, sweetened tea as the train rattled toward school and my chums.
As the Norman bell tower of St Mundungus hove into view, I felt, as always, that…
Hang on, that’s not my childhood.
I’m 54. I’m Australian, I didn’t grow up in England in the 1930s. Why am I remembering it so incorrectly?
Ah, I realise that the problem here is that I have recently decided to re-re-re-read some Agatha Christie novels.
In this time of doubt and uncertainty, books allow us to slip out of our virus-afeared lives and visit another time, perhaps one that never really existed. These books are old, cheaply printed and, some would say, outdated, but they are the best form of time travel we have.
Those acquainted with the facts will realised that mythical me was drinking a Margaret’s Hope Darjeeling in the story; and, as I’ve just made a pot of that very tea, I think I’ll slip back into The Mystery of The Blue Train.
See you all later, possibly at dinner. Unless you get murdered, of course.