Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Foreigners by Leo Walmsley

Review by Rayner Heppenstall in "Now And Then" in 1935.

As we progress helplessly towards complete centralization and standardization in our social and political life, it becomes more and more true, in the world of books, that everything good comes to us out of some well-marked region, out of some part of the British Isles which still preserves something of its old seperate way of life. Mr. Walmsley's books are testimony to this truth.
'Bramblewick', the North Yorkshire fishing village of which he writes, is situated (we were told in Phantom Lobster), roughly somewhere near Whitby; and Whitby, again is not so far from Staithes (pronounced 'Steers'), of which the legend persists that still, at the approach of a stranger, the tom-toms start beating. And 'foreigners', of course, are what we call 'comers-in' in the West Riding, people (born anywhere outside The Village and are necessarily treated with scorn and suspicion unto the third and fourth generation.
Mr Walmsley's new story is told by the young son of such foreigners - an artist and his wife, choked with poverty, who eke out their existence in Bramblewick with portraits of the visitors in summer, photography and coffin-plates in winter. The boy's only friends in Bramblewick are foreigners like himself: 'Chicken', the dirty, talkative schoolmate at the one-roomed, one-mastered country school, and Mike Regan, an Irishman, the best fighter, best fisherman, and almost the best drinker, in a place of fisherman who are all good fighters and good drinkers (Mike is posing for the artist father's Academy picture).
With the boy, we go 'scattering' for valuable jetsam at low tide on the scaurs, bird-nesting, fishing, fighting, poaching; with him, we suffer the anguish of sins committed against a religiuos mother and the aspirations towards virtue which lead (after a Temperance Service and the exhibition of an alcohol-bleached liver, and as an act of devotion to the lovely lady who sings the temperance songs) to the destruction of a barrel of - not beer! vinegar; and through his eyes we see the adult comedies and tragedies of the place - the struggles of his parents, in horror of the fisherfolk's ways; the sad end of Mike Regan; the Major, who comes as a visitor and defrauds all the wealthier natives; the reformation of 'Boozer' Lingdale. And all this is told with such rare simplicity that one would be tempted to speak of 'classical restraint', had not the phrase done, by now, such long and bad service.
A fine story.