Mem­oir

Country Life Every Week - - Books -

Keep­ing On Keep­ing On Alan Ben­nett (Faber & Faber, Pro­file Books, £25)

I MUST ad­mit I’m an Alan Ben­nett diary vir­gin. This is the writer’s fifth book about him­self and, hav­ing only caught up with him in his seven­ties and eight­ies, I’ve missed a great deal. How­ever, I’m de­lighted with the en­tries and find that Mr Ben­nett moves from sub­ject to sub­ject with ease and ebul­lience. Here he is in 2005: rant­ing about the po­lice killing of the Brazil­ian boy Jean Charles de Menezes; de­scrib­ing neigh­bour Dr Jonathan Miller re­mon­strat­ing with an Aus­tralian for pee­ing in Mr Ben­nett’s gar­den; be­ing vis­ited by Tracey Ull­man dressed as a Botticelli angel; and black­ber­ry­ing in York­shire—all in three pages.

The thing about Mr Ben­nett is that, although his di­aries are waspish, he comes across as good at heart. He meets grandees of ev­ery kind, but never seems in awe of them (apart from, pos­si­bly, The Queen, whom he writes about in his story The Un­com­mon Reader). Vis­ceral hates in­clude the po­lice, Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and most politi­cians, although Chris Mullin gets an award for de­cency and he ap­proves of Jeremy Cor­byn for stick­ing by his con­vic­tions.

Trav­els take him from Ver­sailles to Bet­tys tea­rooms in Ilk­ley. With his part­ner, Ru­pert Thomas, ed­i­tor of World of In­te­ri­ors, he visits churches all over Eng­land armed with copies of the ‘Shell Guides’, which, un­like Pevs­ners, ‘don’t make one feel a fool for not know­ing what a sof­fit is’. They make reg­u­lar trips to the north, buy­ing rum­mers in a Set­tle an­tique shop and Vic­to­rian din­ner plates in a junk shop in Kirkby Stephen. One shop owner dis­misses the pre­vi­ous cus­tomer: ‘There goes some­one with more money than sense.’ ‘I don’t doubt she said the same of us,’ says Mr Ben­nett. He makes me feel at home.

De­spite be­ing more than 700 pages and the weight of an En­cy­clopae­dia Bri­tan­nica, this book is un­put­down­able. Credit must also be given to the in­dexer: Se­cret Life of Cows comes neatly be­fore Se­cret Lives of Som­er­set Maugham. Les­lie Geddes-brown

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