Jonathan Raban’s last hurrah

Jonathan Raban, who died earlier this year, left this memoir almost complete. It tells two stories, artfully braided. One concerns the first three years of the author’s parents’ marriage, when Peter Raban was abroad serving in the second world war. He rose to become a major in the Royal Artillery, fighting in France and Belgium, evacuated from Dunkirk and proceeding to North Africa, Italy and Palestine. The second is about the author’s stroke in 2011, aged 69, his rehabilitation in a neurological ward where, on his first morning, a nurse asked ‘Do you want to go potty now?’, and the start of a new life as a hemiplegic. Raban had

I knew I was right about private schools

The Hunstanton Lawn Tennis Tournament has become an annual fixture in the Young household. Known as ‘Wimbledon-on-Sea’, the week-long competition takes place on the Norfolk coast in August and attracts hundreds of entrants. I’m not a contestant myself, but my two youngest are and five years ago my wife won the ladies’ doubles, meaning she’s now much in demand with the Norfolk silver foxes hoping to enlist her as their mixed doubles partner in the junior vets. This year she got as far as the semi-finals, which pleased the 59-year-old KC she was playing with, and was the runner-up in the women’s round robin. Don’t be fooled into thinking Caroline

The Norfolk manor house that inspired Virginia Woolf

Many English country houses lay claim to literary legacies. Blo Norton Hall, however, has more right than most. In the summer of 1906, while in her early twenties, Virginia Woolf rented the Elizabethan Norfolk manor house with her older sister, artist Vanessa. The seven-mile journey there from Diss station, through isolated countryside, and their arrival at the secluded, moated site made a deep impression on Woolf. She wrote in her diary: ‘Every mile seemed to draw a thicker curtain than the last between you and the world. So that finally, when you are set down at the Hall, no sound whatever reaches your ear; the very light seems to filter

Mitfordian mischief: Darling, by India Knight, reviewed

It takes chutzpah to tackle a national treasure as jealously loved and gatekept as Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love. Purists greeted last year’s television adaptation much as cat-owners might welcome a partially eviscerated mouse. I avoided watching, because the Wes Andersonification of my greatest literary succour seemed likely to burst every vein in my eyeballs. Can India Knight pull it off? The bones remain intact. Beautiful, guileless aristocrat Linda Radlett falls disastrously in love with a rich banker and then a broke radical before finding happiness with an urbane Frenchman. But plot was never really the point. The delight is in the details. Knight’s are bang on, and there’s

The scourge of the beach tent land grab

‘Ah,’ says my husband at the top of the cliff path at Overstrand, ‘it’s just like a Shirley Hughes illustration.’ There are sandcastles, wooden groynes, children and dogs running in and out of the waves. Then his eye falls on the first land grab of the day. Three generations of the same family are hard at work constructing their citadel: popping up polyester tents to form a wide arc, shovelling shingle into the flaps to secure them, unfurling windbreaks across either end to mark the outer limits of their encampment. We – like the family in a favourite Hughes picture book from my childhood, Lucy and Tom at the Seaside

The real Norfolk: Stewkey Blues, by D.J. Taylor, reviewed

D.J. Taylor is a Norfolk native who, un-usually, has stayed put. These stories, written during the pandemic, are all set in that county, though the author is largely uninterested in its more fashionable acreage – the strip of coast so popular with Sunday supplements and London owners of second homes. He writes instead about the ‘other’ Norfolk, which is comparatively unmonied, flat as a map, and barely gets a look-in from the SUVs speeding north. Most of these stories feature men, often young men, though in ‘New Facts Emerge’ a harried City businesswoman finds her Christmas plans imperilled by the obstructions of a sexist superior. She finally snaps when the

My 46 days on the road with John Woodcock

Although it was a miracle that he survived until a few weeks before his 95th birthday, the death of John Woodcock, the unrivalled cricket correspondent of the Times from 1954 to 1988, has left an enormous hole in many people’s lives, not least my own. I first met Wooders, as he was known to one and all, at a party at the old Hyde Park hotel in Knightsbridge in May 1962. Two days later as a result of our conversation, I found myself at the Bat and Ball ground in Gravesend on behalf of the Times, without ever before having written a word in anger, trying to put together 500