It’s cold and wet, I’m miserably cold, and not very sleepy. The cat is hogging the mohair blanket, glaring balefully when I try to appropriate half of the warmth. Winter weather does not bring out the best of the cat’s nature.
So, the best remedy for a chilly bedroom and a hostile cat is a dose of comfort reading. What to choose off the shelf? I pull out my de luxe, collected works of Beatrix Potter, in one glorious compendious volume.
Turning the glossy pages is, in itself, restorative.
Furthermore they are pristine and unmarred by small sticky fingers, because I bought this lavish book for myself as a huge treat when I turned 58. The publishers shrewdly realising that probably only the middle-aged would have the inclination and income for the ENTIRE collected works of Beatrix Potter.
Here is Tom Kitten bursting out of his little blue jacket. His sisters perch on the garden wall with him, and manage to discard their bibs to the curious geese below who appropriate the kittens’ clothing and dunk it in the duck-pond. The kittens are soundly smacked and confined to the upstairs bedroom, which they promptly set about wrecking, whilst Mrs Tabitha Twitchit is trying to hold a genteel tea-party downstairs.
In the next book Tom Kitten nearly gets cooked as a kitten roly-poly for Mr Samuel Whiskers’ dinner and is saved only by the slimmest of chances. There are wonderful line drawings of the kitten rolly-poly’d in the pudding dough. When the dough is removed, it is thriftily made into currant dumplings so as not to waste the dough, and the currants handily disguise remaining bits of soot that resulted from Tom Kitten’s adventures in the kitchen chimney.
Then there’s Mrs Tiggywinkle anxiously washing, starching, ironing and goffering the miniature garments of the Potter world : Squirrel Nutkin’s red tailcoat (minus the tail of course – remember his impudence with old Mr Brown and the dreadful results) teeny pocket hankies, Mr Jeremy Fisher’s long froggy trews; Henny Penny’s bright yellow stockings and Miss Moppets mittens that are only there for
the ironing because she does all her own washing, of course.
And of course, the escapades of the rabbit tribe – ranging from the wickedness of the Fierce Bad Rabbit who has a very narrow escape in a whirl of lost whiskers and tail via a hail of buckshot from the gamekeeper. Which brings us to that arch villain, Mr McGregor, guardian of the vegetable garden and all that lovely lettuce – the lettuce that makes the Flopsy Bunnies soporific (I know just the feeling, but
mine is not induced by lettuce) and leads to Peter Rabbit nearly meeting a terrible fate. So awful that we will not speak of it.
But my favourite – and oh the agonies of choice – is the Tailor of Gloucester. Poor old man, impoverished, aged, and cold, served by the sulky Simpkin, his scheming cat, who has imprisoned the mob-capped pretty mice under the teacups and jugs on the sideboard. Poor old tailor who needs only one more hank of cherry twist silk before starting to sew the most gorgeous of outfits for the Lord Mayor on his wedding day; lying in his four-poster muttering “I am worn to a ravelling” – shades of Wm Shakespeare lamenting “Alas, alas I am undone” – it’s the same tragic theme. He falls ill, and the wicked Simpkin hides his cherry silk twist by way of revenge for the absent mice, released from their china prisons by the Tailor.
But the old man is saved by the scampering mice who sew (with the tiniest of stitches) the entire Lord Mayor’s outfit save for one buttonhole, leaving a helpful note pinned to the coat announcing “No more twist” whereupon the remorseful Simpkin – forgiving his master for the loss of the imprisoned mice, and because its Christmas Day and the season of goodwill – hands his master the missing skein of cherry silk . All is forgiven, the outfit is finished, and they all live happily ever after. And the illustrations in the softest of rich colours, (roses and pansies and poppies and corn-flowers worked in silk on the coat) have to be the most charming in the world. Now what could be better than that ?
Softness,humour, beauty, charm: provided on every page.
With just enough adventure so as not to be dull. And I still have the pleasure of re-reading The Tale of Jemina Puddleduck (lucky possessor of a divine Indian silk shawl), not to mention the epic adventures of the wicked Squirrel Nutkin. They’ll keep for another cold wet night. And so to sleep, soothed and enchanted by Beatrix Potter.