On 22 August 1939, just a few hours after Adolf Hitler had delivered a speech to his Wehrmacht commanders laying out his plans to invade Poland, the 17-year-old Joan Wyndham, staying at her grandmother’s chilly Victorian country house in Wiltshire, was throwing herself into that night’s parlour game. Guests had to say what each person reminded them of in several different categories. In her diary, Joan recorded: ‘I ended up as a cross between Burne-Jones, Vivaldi, apricot soufflé and Just William. V. flattering but not quite how I see myself, apart from William – I’ve always wished I was a boy.’
Joan Wyndham was not about to let such a disagreeable thing as a world war get in the way of having a jolly time. It is not that she didn’t take the war seriously – after art school she volunteered as an auxiliary nurse and then served as a WAAF officer – just that she was determined to get on with the things she enjoyed: shopping, dancing, learning to sculpt, curling her hair in pipe cleaners, swimming in the Serpentine and lying in bed all morning in a silk kimono with her feet on a hot-water bottle.
She was certainly not going to let anything interfere with the important business of falling in love. Over the course of the war, recorded in two volumes of diaries published when Joan was in her sixties as Love Lessons (1985) and Love Is Blue (1986), she falls in love – madly, passionately, all-consumingly, but often for not much more than a week – with a succession of ever more unsuitable men.
There is Macrae who looks after her grandmother’s horses, smells of wet ferns and hasn’t had a bath in years. Gerhardt, a long-haired sculptor in corduroy trousers. Jo, who visits her Chelsea studio, steals all her paints, eats her sausages and tries to take her virginity. Rupert, who looks like a Greek God and tells her that he has never met a girl who wears such unattractive undergarments. Petya, a Slav, who insists on alar
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