These delightfully funny and affectionate portraits of the two most influential male figures in the author’s life conjure up two strongly defined characters and the times in which they lived.
The two could hardly have been more different. Denis’s maternal grandfather, though surviving sturdily into the reign of George V, was to his grandson a character from the ‘warm, gas-lit, stable-smelling past’ of the Victorian age and symbolized everything that was convivial and straightforward and reliable. His father Stephanos Constanduros, however, was flamboyant, melodramatic and full of grand ideas for solving his perpetual financial problems at a stroke – a tendency which ultimately led to disaster.
The first of these memoirs paints a beautifully subtle and amusing picture of Grandfather and his household in Kensington Gore, with its visiting aunts and its below-stairs characters. The old man with his feet up before the fire after a day’s hunting; stumping on his short legs through the hushed galleries of the Royal Academy; perusing the obituary columns of The Times; or pouring a glass of what he called ‘sherry wine’ – My Grandfather is much more than an evocation of an endearing yet tough old party. It is a portrait of an age, and has the texture of life itself. Father, Dear Father, Denis’s account of his own childhood, published for the first time with some newly discovered line drawings, catapults us into an entirely different world, full of characters who could have come from one of his aunt Mabel Constanduros’s comedies. Propped up by Grandfather’s largesse in a hideous house in Sutton, this was a household in denial, and no one more so than Denis’s father, with his bookmaker’s bills and money-making schemes. It couldn’t last, and gradually the whole farrago collapsed in a way that was both ludicrous and poignant. My Grandfather and Father, Dear Father were loved by listeners when they were read on Radio 4. It’s easy to see why: they are so fresh, so entertaining and pitch-perfect.
‘Slightly Foxed Editions are, as I’ve mentioned before, utterly dependable when it comes to insightful, moving, and often rather laced with nostalgia – albeit invariably for a past I have not myself experienced. The two-for-one set of memoirs by Denis Constanduros gives an interesting spectrum of childhood experience and reflections – although also something of a self-contradictory portrait.’ Stuck in a Book
‘Excellent choice of contributors . . .’
'I have just been reorganizing my library at home; not enough shelf space and totally disorganized. Now my SF magazines and books are in order on two shelves. This got me re-reading SF magazine no....Read more
Chapter VIII ‘A Few Oughts’Read more
Sherry Wine and Roses
Not long after we launched the Slightly Foxed Editions, we came across a little gem of a book, first published in 1948 and long out of print, which we decided we must reissue. My Grandfather, as its...Read more
My book arrived in super quick time and what a gorgeous little book it is. Just the right size, lovely paper, and the embossed logo on the cover sets it off very nicely – and it’s lovely to hold.
I’ve only just started reading it and feel I have quite a treat in store.
Thank you Slightly Foxed for being there. I’m sure I’ll be returning to browse and buy and read more lovely little classics.
This is thrilling. Dennis was my mother’s first cousin. The Grandfather must be my Great Grandfather, as I know my Grandmother was brought up in Kensington Gore. Your reviews suggest I am going to find out a lot about the family history, and I know my mother will enjoy this book too.
The icing on cake is Mabel (Auntie Pix) to the family I think, supplying a recipe. We are going to try it – Mum will be thrilled as I think she knew Mabel quite well.
Thank you so much
Thank you so much for your comment. How wonderful to have a family connection. I do hope the book – and the recipe! – brings back happy memories. Best wishes, Olivia
Many thanks for choosing Denis Constanduros’ My Grandfather and Father, Dear Father for SF #20. Wonderfully crafted portraits of episodes with his grandfather and father; so easy to close your eyes and see the family life portrayed as though eavesdropping unseen.
I finished it on a flight back from the US last week. Looking around me I was the only person in my area reading an actual book. Kindles and their clones abounded, or folk were watching the postcard-sized screens. No temptation on my part to swap whatsoever (for a start, you can’t sniff a Kindle and smell the handicraft – that is a secret, guilty pleasure of mine).
I have just been reorganizing my library at home; not enough shelf space and totally disorganized. Now my SF magazines and books are in order on two shelves. This got me re-reading SF magazine #1; it brought back all the memories of when I got that first edition from you. I promptly went on to ABEBooks and ordered second-hand copies of Attic in Greece, Coming from Behind, Beer in the Snooker Club, The Mandala of Sherlock Holes and Mango and Mimosa. And so to #2.
So now you can guess why I needed new book shelves and all was in disorder. And it requires considerable perseverance to keep up with my wish lists that grow ever longer from reading SFs.
Your celebration that you are now entering your 10th year is wonderful news to the many readers, such as me, who now have such a long and rewarding reading list because of your excellent choice of contributors who dig out hidden gems for us.
Off to the US again shortly and saving The Real Mrs Miniver for the flight. Haven’t even sniffed it yet.
Browsing through an old wartime cookery book today, I found the following recipe. It is supplied by Mabel Constanduros, aunt of Denis. It is from a collection of recipes by famous people in order to aid the war effort during the Second World War, called “The Kitchen Goes to War” .
Potatoes, Parsnips and Artichokes, Carrots, Turnips (Or a choice of these vegetables)
Method: Take cold, cooked vegetables, cut them up into rather small pieces – season with pepper and salt and mix with some brown sauce. Arrange in a pie dish and cover with a suet crust. Bake in a hot oven until the pastry is cooked – about half an hour. N.B. – to avoid the waste of mineral salts, cook the vegetables in a very small quantity of water, or, alternatively, steam them.
I think it sounds repulsive! It is promoted as “a good, nourishing and satisfying dish for the children’s midday dinner”. Poor children. By the way, I met Hazel recently at the Slightly Foxed evening at Heffers. She was charming, and it was a pleasure to have met someone who loves James Lees Milne just as much as I do.
Happy Christmas Eve! It seems the right time for a Slightly Foxed memoir – and another Reading Presently candidate, since this book was a birthday present from Mum and Dad.
Slightly Foxed are, as I’ve mentioned before, utterly dependable when it comes to insightful, moving, and often rather laced with nostalgia – albeit invariably for a past I have not myself experienced. The two-for-one set of memoirs by Denis Constanduros gives an interesting spectrum of childhood experience and reflections – although also something of a self-contradictory portrait.
When the good people of Slightly Foxed were sorting out a reprinting of Constanduros’s My Grandfather (first published in 1948) they discovered that there was an unpublished sequel of sorts – yes, you’ve guessed it, Father, Dear Father – both of which were read on the radio in the 1980s. They are very different creatures.
My Grandfather is, as it sounds, a depiction of Denis’s grandfather – centre of his home, where myriad women (his wife, sisters-in-law, maid, housekeeper, cook, and daughter) fit in with his ideal of the home – the only other male being Denis. In the hands of a tyrant, this household would have been miserable – but Grandfather could scarcely be less of a tyrant, at least through the eyes and memory of Denis. Through this lens, Grandfather is the jolliest, most amenable man imaginable. Good-nature and kindness line his every thought, as do childlike delight – even if it is for hunting. He is a creature of routine, and Denis’s documenting of Grandfather’s weekly meetings with a lifelong friend, and the conversations they repeat every time, is really rather lovely.
It was lashings of cosiness and niceness, filled with character and vim (it is no coincidence, surely, that Grandfather loved Dickens dearly). And then everything changes when we get onto Father, Dear Father. Unlike the first memoir, it isn’t really a portrait of a single man – indeed, I came away from reading it with very little idea what Father was like, except that he liked sports and thin-lipped masculinity.
The book is quite sad and sombre, even when describing eventful days and happy occasions – you can tell, throughout, that Constanduros did not have an easy relationship with his father, and it didn’t come as a great surprise when it was revealed, towards the end, that he didn’t see his father after he was a boy – at least not until shortly before Father died. The most curious scene is the one shortly before Constanduros’s parents get divorced – he seems to believe, still, that it was related to a practical joke that went awry. The scene is given – seemingly unintentionally – through the uncertain and fragile eyes of a child who mixes up causality and thinks himself in some way to blame for his parents’ incompatibility.
I still enjoyed reading Father, Dear Father, because Constanduros is a good writer – but I can’t feel the affection for it that I feel for My Grandfather. It is as though they were two different childhoods – and, indeed, I cannot understand how they fit together, since it seems throughout My Grandfather that Constanduros and his brother live in the grandfather’s house, yet it clearly isn’t the case when you read Father, Dear Father. Would I be too much of an amateur psychologist to think that he compartmentalised his memories of childhood into the happy and the sad, aligning each with a different home and household?
Having not quoted from the book(s) yet, I will end with a lovely passage which is relevant to almost every book I read, and which I think will bring nods of agreement from most of you:
Sometimes it seems that only the tremendous is worth writing about, that everything one reads or writes should be full of mighty catastrophes or upheavals and that nothing less is worthwhile. Earthquakes, wars, tragedies and triumphs have stretched our compass to such an extent that the sheer ordinariness of ordinary people and their lives seems absurdly trivial by comparison. But there is a virtue in triviality. I remember looking into a dog’s eye when I was a child and being surprised to see reflected, not only myself, but the whole garden. There it all was, complete and exact, in brilliant miniature.