Spam Tomorrow by Verily Anderson
Spam, that wartime standby, might not be the first choice to name a novel, but this is an eccentric novel of life for one woman and eventually her family in the Second World War. Full of eccentric humour, this book first appeared in 1956, but has more recently been republished by the excellent Dean Street Press in their Furrowed Middlebrow series. Verily Anderson was a prolific writer who kept a diary from childhood, and this book has therefore got all the immediacy of recording events as they happened. Far from a romantic stiff upper lip atmosphere, this book is full of incidents of muddle and confusion, ranging from trying to arrange an instant wedding, through being over treated by enthusiastic volunteers, to the difficulty of getting three tiny children downstairs during a suspected air raid. Full of memorable characters ranging from dodgy lodgers to offhand but secretly thrilled grandmothers, this is wartime life taken at speed. There are points of fear, mainly during serious illness and persistent bombing, but also moments of gentle humour, such as dealing with an ex- Windmill dancer turned drunken Nanny. With a loving but sometimes bewildered husband, Donald, and small children to contend with, this is an all too true story of frequent house moves, illness under fire and the small challenges of living in wartime. I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read this brilliant book, left breathless by its pace, and fascinated by one woman’s ability to not only cope with humour, but also record it with such flair.
The book begins with Verily taking a phone call from Donald, her boyfriend, asking for her ring size. Sending a telegram in response “P DARLING STOP YOUR ADORING V” alerts the army Captain she is driving to possible fifth columnist activity. She had joined the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (F.A.N.Y.S) at the first opportunity to be part of the war, but the complications of a swift wedding means that she leaves suddenly, which was possibly a good thing in the light of her previous arrest for a misunderstanding in the house of a family friend. She comes from a large family, some of whom do not return from service, and there is a very real fear of invasion, which leads to her mother burying sardines. A bout of German measles finds her confined in an infection hospital, being visited by an alderman friend in a “sparkling Rolls Royce”. It is these little phrases that lighten what could be tragic, such as her tears “falling into a fire bucket”. After a traumatic birth she does not feel fear as much as disappointment that she was not sitting up in bed with a baby in an artfully arranged nightgown. Having a small child who was apparently excited by air raids was unhelpful, so she must find a house at a safe distance, and deal with a financial crisis that had her taking some unusual holidaymakers with varying success.
This book represents an excellent slice of social history, as a woman tries to contend with everything thrown at her and her family. As people arrive in her life she describes them in a few but effective words, reflecting the transitory nature of wartime life and her enormous skill at capturing characters. I truly enjoyed this book, partly for its honest descriptions of life, but also the realistic humour that is never laboured, but completely natural. I would love to read more of her writing and would thoroughly recommend this wonderful read of life for a woman in the most unsettling of circumstances.