Parliamentary historian, chronicler of Titanic’s sinking and Churchill’s ascent, annotator of Kipling and of Kenneth Grahame: GMW Wemyss is, admittedly, these, but much more is he the West Country’s beloved essayist, the wry, fond observer of rural humour, chalk-streams, proper gardens, and real ale; village cricket, Evensong, and Lib Dems in their natural habitat.
These collected essays tell of the great themes and small doings of the Valley of the River Wylye, the twenty-st- … er, twenty-scone Baker’s Daughter and her dreams of an empire of the Higher Nosh, river and village, trout and change-ringing, funerals and fêtes. His jewel-like essays, ‘The River’ – charting the rise of the Wylye and its course to the sea – and ‘The Village’, analysing with wit and learning the development of British settlement patterns from Downton to the Palæolithic, are pride of place in this volume.
Yet trout on the dry-fly and ghostly terrors, scrumpy and silver bands, poets and pubs, rascals and Remembrance Sundays, all receive their equal due in these warm, wise, and affectionate observations.
As he observes, ‘townies think Thelwell a caricaturist: we know he drew from life’; and here the England of Sir John Betjeman and Miss Read, Barbara Pym and SR Badmin, lives on, in secret corners of country lanes, beneath a skylark’s skies. White horses in the chalk, the downs and the cathedral’s spire, heritage steam trains and off-spin hit for six: here is a feast for mind and senses.