My rating: 7/10. The epitome of light reading; pure vintage fluff. A nice diversion from the snow whirling round outside!
Elizabeth Portal rather smugly contemplates her thirtieth season as the leading star in the Watermouth Regis amateur operatic and dramatic society. She’s aging marvelously well, looks more youthful than her undeniable fifty, and only an unkind person would raise an eyebrow at Elizabeth’s coming performance as schoolgirl Yum-Yum in The Mikado. But when the other two of the Three Little Maids are Elizabeth’s daughters Louise and Anna, more than a few sarcastic smiles are hidden behind politely shielding hands.
No matter – Elizabeth is on top of the world. Her eldest daughter, Anna, is about to marry the Watermouth Regis mayor, one Hubert Briggs, a man of varied experience: one-time jockey now turned respected undertaker after a riding accident ended his turf career and sent him back to take over the family business. People like Hubert, hence his election to the mayor’s chair; he’s unremittingly cheerful, and the funerals he presides over rocket right along, a relic (people whisper with a wink) of his sporting career and fondness for speed. Anna’s a bit of a drooper, true, but maybe marriage will pep her up?
Louise already has plenty of pep. A gorgeous young woman with a passion for tennis and swimming, Louise has attracted many admiring glances but so far has not returned the masculine attention of the local swains with anything other than polite amusement. Louise is ripe for love, ready to fall for the right man, who so far hasn’t appeared on her horizon. Or has he?
One day a rather battered sailboat, the Ayacanora, appears from nowhere and anchors just off the Portal’s private beach. Aboard is dashing sailor Richard Hardy, taking a break from his round the world voyaging, hoping to replenish stores and maybe engage in a little amorous relaxation. Lovely Louise swims by, and Richard’s interest is definitely aroused, especially when Louise glances back in her turn. Could something be about to happen?
Young Charlie Rogers, employed under the Portal patriarch Henry’s supervision at the Watermouth Regis town treasurer’s office, shows up to play the piano for the female Portals’ rehearsals. It has suddenly occurred to him that the questions his prospective employer asked him about his piano playing abilities were not so random after all. Charlie sees Louise, and fireworks go off inside his modestly manly heart. But could such a strong and vibrant girl ever look with even the remotest interest on an unathletic, sensitive and insecure (though undeniably good-looking) junior clerk?
Well, I’m thinking you can guess the answers to all of those, and I’m betting you’d be getting them all right. Shake these all together, add a generous handful of eccentric aristocrats and comic townspeople and ex-chorus girls and snobby upper-middle-class matrons, and here you have the ingredients to make a happy few hours reading.
The comeuppance of Elizabeth and the romantic flowering of Louise, plus the side stories of a nicely varied group of secondary characters makes for a narrative which dashes along at a very good pace indeed.
This one was picked up on a whim for the Gilbert and Sullivan quotation on the frontispiece: “Fickle moment, prithee stay!” Having a weakness for Penzancian pirates and Lord High Executioners and the rest of the G and S panoply of characters, my interest was piqued, especially when a closer investigation revealed a publishing date of 1948 and a Wodehousian sparkle of dialogue within.
I must say, if you’re not a devotee of The Mikado, you may find many of the scenes mildly confusing, but if you are, you will snicker along with the townspeople of Watermouth Regis at Elizabeth’s dramatic excesses.
Peter Blackmore was obviously a theatre lover, which assumption was confirmed when I researched him after reading this book and discovered that he was quite a well-known playwright and film screenwriter in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Fickle Moment also appeared in dramatic form as a play called The Blue Goose, and a play called Miranda, featuring a captivating mermaid being paraded about in a bath chair as an invalid, was made into a very successful comedy movie, detailed here. Most intriguing!
I’d never heard of Peter Blackmore before, but you can bet your sea boots I’ll be watching for his name now. Though I somehow doubt I’ll soon come across another of Blackmore’s books at such a ridiculously low price – 25¢ at the local Salvation Army’s bargain book sale. Perhaps it will average out the next one I just might have to seek out online at a probably much richer price!
I’ll be looking for Miranda on film through the regional library system; this is just the thing that our wonderful librarians like to acquire and share. Please let me know if any of you are familiar with Blackmore; I’m really interested now, and the internet is strangely uninformative, save for the playwright designation, a few Miranda discussions, his dates – 1909 to 1984, and his British nationality.