According to LP Hartley, "The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there." For the English upper classes in the middle of the last century, the past wasn't so much a foreign country as a whole other planet. This memoir, spanning almost a century, makes the reader acutely aware of how much times have changed. And what an engaging read it is!
Baroness Trumpington writes with a simple honest charm, telling us about her privileged (though latterly impoverished) upbringing when children were brought up by their nannies and presented to their parents for a goodnight peck on the cheek. That was about it for physical or emotional contact - and even at the age of 91, she doesn't seem to have ever recovered from her mother's lack of warmth. But then, we never get over our parents, do we?
Nevertheless, the Baroness has enjoyed the most amazing life and loved virtually every minute of it. She herself is the first to admit that she's been remarkably lucky. But plucky too. And her courage combined with a sense of mischief, infectious good humour and a positive attitude to whatever life throws her way has brought her not only many friends but also countless work opportunities. She has seized every one of them. She talks a lot of sense and sounds the most tremendous fun.
Trumpers is a good storyteller, with a good story to tell in this light and quick-read memoir.
Her energy for life shines through on every page, and her larger-than-life character is evident throughout.
Her style is matter-of-fact for the most part, although she speaks emotionally about her husband and family at times.
Coming from a well-connected family she rattles off her views and anecdotes about many- from Lloyd George to Enoch Powell, Robert Mugabe to Harold Macmillan, Jackie O to Mrs Thatcher and Rab Butler to Sam Cam and Jack Whitehall.
She tells of her family losing everything in the '29 crash, moving to the country and eventually returning to London. Trumpers starts work at Bletchley Park and moves to New York before marrying her husband, Barker. They settle in Cambridge and after her full-time role as an Headmaster's wife and local councillor in Cambridge, she is London-bound, admitted to The House of Lords, and subsequently working for a number of government departments in the Thatcher era.
It's a good read but more of her personal insights into many she met would have been nice. A really small point is her use of the word `deplaned' near the end of the book- I can't believe for a minute it's a word she would use!
So, if you're looking for depth and analysis of her life and times, don't start here.
But if you do want a candid memoir that is emphatically told, in an authentic voice, by a good raconteur, then look no further.
Baroness Trumpington, now in her early nineties, has experienced a long and interesting life and she has now decided, or been persuaded, to share that life with us in this very readable and enjoyable memoir. Born in 1922 as Jean Campbell-Harris, the daughter of an officer in the Bengal Lancers and an American heiress, Trumpers, as she later became known, was part of a wealthy and privileged family who moved in all the right circles - her grandmother was great friends with the Lloyd George family, her mother was very friendly with one of his daughters, Lady Carey-Evans, and Jean and her two brothers and the Lloyd George grandchildren were "all sort of brought up together." The Liberal Party leader, Jeremy Thorpe, and Jean spent quite a lot of time together as children, but Jean thought him a rather horrid little boy and they had terrible fights. In common with most children from a similar background, Jean was brought up by a series of nannies and as a young child spent most of her time in the nurseries on the top floor of the large Georgian townhouse in which the family lived; she tells us how she used to lean out of the top floor window with a penny wrapped in paper to throw down to the muffin man and at night she would watch out for the man who came to light the street lamps. However, childhood, she tells us, was not her happiest time and although she never told anyone she was unhappy, her mother worked it out for herself when she turned up at Jean's boarding school unannounced and was greeted by the headmistress with great surprise as Jean had told everyone that her mother had died two weeks previously.
Fortunately life improved as Jean became older and although she left school at fifteen with no qualifications and never took an exam in her life - not even a driving test ("I learnt to drive in the war, when we were all given licences without having to take a test") - Jean didn't let a lack of formal qualifications hold her back. After a spell at finishing school in Paris, Jean came back to England just before the outbreak of WWII and became a land girl on Lloyd George's farm in Surrey, which she found so desperately dull that she decided instead to try a secretarial course, but was hopeless at shorthand. Jean was then, through a friend of her father's, offered a position at Bletchley Park, a job which, she tells us, was a mix of the deathly dull and the thrillingly exciting. "When we weren't working hard we were being extremely naughty." After the war, Jean returned to Paris and worked for an international organization set up to put the inland transport of Europe back together and where she went out with 'various chaps' but, after two years, returned to England and had a succession of jobs, including a stint in Peter Jones. After a period working in America, where for fun Jean tap danced on tables, she met her future husband, Alan Barker, a master at Eton who was in the States on a fellowship to Yale University. They married in London in 1954 and her husband took up a history fellowship at Queens' College, Cambridge, and was later made headmaster of The Leys School in Cambridge where, Jean tells us, she spent the happiest and most settled years of her life. In the early seventies Jean became a magistrate, around the time of the Cambridge Rapist, she later became Mayor of Cambridge and then started her career in politics, but I shall leave the details and the remainder of Baroness Trumpington's story for prospective readers to discover for themselves - and there is a lot more to this memoir than I have revealed in this review.
Filled with interesting characters and situations, and with some lovely photographs of the author and her family and friends, I found this memoir an enjoyable, engaging and entertaining read. Born at a time when most young girls of her class were expected to go to finishing school, get married, have children and give parties, Jean did all of that, but thankfully she was fortunate enough to be able to do a lot more besides. A long life, well lived.
Here is a list of just some of the things Baroness Trumpington has done; Played strip poker, avoided unwanted attention in taxis, tap danced on tables, played Scrabble when it was new, rushed to change out of her swimming cossie when the King of Tonga popped round unexpectedly, been on quiz shows, gained a vote by admiring dahlias effusively and been on the first and last Concorde flights. You can’t tell me you don’t want to read more about her life after reading that list! I adored this book, the author is so full of gratitude for those who have been kind, is quick to own up to her faults and modest about her successes. She is also very entertaining and sometimes silly. She has met some very famous figures and has some lovely little insights and tales.