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Literature / The Day Thou Gavest

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It's morning – not in America: in Wildest Wiltshire. Cider for breakfast, anyone?

Thoroughly British Slice of Life novel published in 2016 by GMW Wemyss: the third in the Village Tales series, following on from 2013's Cross and Poppy and early 2016's Evensong.

Being Exactly What It Says on the Tin, it chronicles the events: brewing, baking, the operating of railway trains, farming, archaeology, the fire brigade, worship, death, policing, birth, quarrels, reconciliations, and all: from midnight to midnight on a January 2016 Friday, in the Woolfonts and District and in the adjoining Downland parishes, with a few brief excursions to check in on the Taunton Estates Office in London, how Rupert and Jamie are getting on at Oxford, and how the ancient Lord Mallerstang is faring.

There's much more there than you might expect.

A character sheet for the series is in preparation. Main and recurring characters here are the meddlesome Charles, Duke of Taunton; his Grande Dame sister-in-law Lady Crispin; his niece Hetty and nephews Rupe and Jamie; the Anglo-Catholic Rector and young widower, Father nowadays Canon Noel Paddick SSC; Noel's curates Fr Paul Campion and Fr Gilbert Bohun; his RC colleague Mgr Tim Folan; Sher Mirza, Deputy Headmaster of the Beechbourne Free School; Sher's uncle the Nawab of Hubli and Sher's parents Alam and Emily Mirza; Mr Viney, the ducal butler, and all the rest of the Wolfdown House staff; Irish-born retired England cricketer Brian "The Breener" Maguire and his Welsh wife the Hon. Gwen, who runs the Woolbury Stud; foodie star and local councillor Teddy Gates, "The Hipsta Chef," and his husband Edmond Huskisson now a JP, a retired Premier League footballer turned LGBTQ+ activist; Fr Paddick's mum and dad and his former in-laws the Stamfords; archaeologists Professor the Baroness Lacy and Professor Dennis Farnaby; local GP Emily Witchard and her new medical partner Dr Lee; Police Sergeant Alice Fay; the Towers at the Home Farm; and in fact numerous characters.

The tropes common to the series are being listed on that page. Additionally, The Day Thou Gavest provides especially notable or specific examples of:

  • A Day in the Limelight: The whole of the District: postmen, milkmen, shopkeepers, farmers....
  • A Death in the Limelight: Mrs Agnini, of the ice-cream and restaurant family.
  • Affectionate Nickname: The Woolfonts & Chickmarsh Railway has one we hadn't known about in prior volumes:
    "… the W&CR … in the immemorial fashion of railways, had picked up a bye-name from the initialism: the old original line, never fully completed, had amused young bloods and rural humorists alike in the days of the Queen-Empress by being called as 'The Whenever-and-Chancy', whilst its new iteration, midwifed as it had been by the duke and Sir Thomas Douty, was jocularly known as 'The Well-bred-and-Cricketing'...."
  • Against the Setting Sun: Played with. Loyalty pledged against the setting sun? It's a Friday in January. That means a 7:00 p.m. Mass and Vespers for Mgr Folan; Evensong for the Anglicans; the Maghrib prayer for the Mirzas at local sunset; and of course, a little before 4:30 p.m. …
    "Melanie Salmon, a precious and individual droplet in an everlasting and ever-flowing stream, a light in a procession of lights without beginning and which shall never end, lit the candles and welcomed the Shabbat, honouring the day and affirming the Law, bringing as ever she brought the harmony to that most harmonious of households: domestic peace, shalom bayit. … The words are ancient, and do not change, and shall not, though the accents vary, even unto the voice of an Old Bedalian. 'Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu Melekh ha-olam, asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu l'hadlik ner shel Shabbat,' recited Melanie, quietly and with love. Blessed are You, O Lord, our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to light Shabbat candles."
  • All Jews Are Ashkenazi: Averted, lampshaded, and deconstructed. Lew Salmon, reflecting on what he owes to London (where he was "in the City" before retiring), muses:
    "He himself could count amongst his forefathers diamond merchants and physicians and, in time, bankers from Iberian Jewry (and, ultimately, a few Maghrebi Jews from Spanish and Portuguese claims in North Africa, driven to the Low Countries when the Iberians who had expelled them then marched upon their shelters in exile), Sephardim all, as well as Ashkenazim from the Baltic, who had traded timber and amber with Scots factors and the merchants of London and Amsterdam. Melanie, too, could claim kinship with Rhineland bankers and Dutch jewellers even as she called cousins at some remove the great Sephardic families of London and the City (and one very unlikely C of E bishop). … The City had done that: not Amsterdam, not Jerusalem the Blest, but the City of London, where ideas and philosophies were traded as freely as were wheat and timber and bullion. The City, the place of Exchange."
    • He sees himself as owing, even in a rural retirement, filial duty to the City: having been a Common Councilman of the City, for Vintry Ward, and Member of the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee, and remaining a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths and a Freeman of the City of London.
    • Truth in Television in that London, and, to an extent, Amsterdam, saw a great deal of Sephardic-Ashkenazi intermarriage in the 17th and 18th Centuries. There weren't enough of either to provide spouses within a particular tradition who weren't far too closely related.
  • All-Loving Hero: Fr Paddick, of course. It's an occupational requirement, shared by his curates and by his inter-faith counterparts.
  • Anchored Ship: Sher and Noel remain resolutely a Chastity Couple, as their beliefs require.
  • Apron Matron: Edmond's mum Nora Standeven (and for that matter his sister Betty Crabtree: they're both tough Yorkshire nurses).
  • Arcadia: With the "et ego" very much in one's face, with its skull-like grin.
  • Barsetshire: A particularly Arcadian and peaceable version in this volume, and, like the original, focused on the farmers, the villagers, the C of E clergy, the gentry, and the local peerage.
  • Big Eater: The Breener. And his and the Hon. Gwen's new twins are taking after him:
    "The twins, after all, although blessedly dowered with – thus far – her more equable temperament (Máire more than Eoin), were certainly possessed, rather demandingly, of The Breener's outsize appetite (Eoin more than Máire). Little greedyguts, thought she, fondly, as she let them nurse."
  • Big Friendly Dog: Fred Beckett the water bailiff has Toby the Flat Coat Retriever; working sheepdogs and Old English Sheepdogs bred by Lady Crispin also qualify. Unless you mess with their flocks, of course.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Latin, inevitably; and a passage from The Count of Monte Cristo, untranslated.
  • Birth-Death Juxtaposition: It's a Day in the Life of three villages, adjoining parishes, and three nearby market towns. Of course an OAP at a care home is going to die of old age and a village couple are going to welcome twins over at "the Beatrice" (the Salisbury District Hospital Labour and Post-Natal Ward).
  • Bookends: Starts and ends with the clock ticking over at midnight (Thursday to Friday at the start, Friday to Saturday at the end) and the Duke, "a bachelor of upright life," snoring away without disturbing a bed-partner.
  • Burns Nicht: Imminent, and dreaded by Lady Crispin, not least because Everything's Louder with Bagpipes. And because a fair bit o' Rabbie Burns' poetry consists of Stuffy Old Songs About the Buttocks and Intercourse with You.
  • Call to Agriculture: Farming is a vocation, and don't you forget it. The Duke is busily offering tenancy places at all his holdings to farmers likely to be screwed over by HS 2.
    • The Duke honestly thinks this of himself. And yet, every time, he's the one placing the Call to Adventure.
      • He worries a good deal, though, about local lads and lasses who do want to farm like their families, even if they could go off and find metropolitan success if they preferred, and who may not get the chance to farm due to what he considers governmental meddling.
    • Detective Inspector Brockway is a proud copper, but he's a good deal prouder that he's won his "share of prizes for veg. in the Cottagers' Class."
    • The Best-Kept Station competition on the Woolfonts & Chickmarsh Railway is savage. Every stationmaster does that job because he loves it, but every last one is a competitive gardener at heart. Guard your hanging baskets!
    • And of course Cousin Agatha (Lady Agatha Prothero-Fane) lives "in the wilds of Wye, beyond Builth Wells," so as to keep winning the Royal Welsh Show. She's one of those women who "traded veg. with Lady Strange and poultry tips with Debo Devonshire."
  • Close-Knit Community: Set in one. Or two, if one counts separately the Downland parishes now added to the Woolfonts in the same benefice, and being slowly integrated as of Evensong and this volume. And then there are adjoining Beechbourne and Chickmarsh....
  • Cock-a-Doodle Dawn: Subverted. Crowing is not linked with dawn per se, and every farmer knows it. Although farmer Dan Burtt still has his doubts about those dratted noisy Scots Dumpies his wife keeps. Bloody racket....
  • Cordon Bleugh Chef / Lethal Chef: Supreme Chef Teddy, being the local County councillor, has to go to a civic luncheon which some fool had had catered by a crony. He's not pleased: "Tasted like … Fray Bentos soaked in Friar's Balsam."
    • A rough US equivalent would be a Swanson's beef pot pie with Absorbine Jr. sauce.
  • Creator Provincialism: And proud of it.
    • The Agnini and Basile families are staunchly Roman Catholic, swear by the Neapolitan patron St. Gennaro, make the ice-cream and run their restaurants in the market town, have been in the District since Victoria's reign (many Neapolitans didn't appreciate Italian unification when it cost Naples its role as a capital), and are as Thoroughly British as Mr Kellow down the Boar.
  • Darkest Hour: Subverted. High drama? Dire doings? No, just when farmers and train drivers get up, and the postman and the milkmen, and the 0520 Shipping Forecast and Farming Today are awaited on the BBC.
  • Day in the Life: The whole point of the book.
  • Eagleland: And two new named and spotlit Americans in the series. Once again, even though one is a conservative (a half-Hispanic Texan who went to VMI and is a Marshall Scholar) and one an SJW Rhodes Scholar (they don't get on with each other), they are both mixed examples, tending strongly towards Type I. We see them in the narrative excursions to Oxford, where Rupe and Jamie are up.
    • Travis Bolling Martinez-Henderson III, AKA "Wolf-Brand" (his great-uncle, "Lobo" Martinez, was one of the first Hispanic Texas Rangers, a protege of Ranger captain "Lone Wolf" Gonzaullas), is regarded by Ms Anderson-Harris as a Ted-Cruzian Antichrist; he tries not think of her at all.
    • Even as Ms Anderson-Harris is delivering her "The Reason You Suck" Speech (see Soapbox Sadie, below), Wolf-Brand is telling Rupe and Jamie that she only thinks she's too sophisticated to think we all live in America and that she's above Values Dissonance, and that they should watch their backs, because she has more in common with George W. Bush than she thinks.
    • Whereupon there's an Ironic Echo Cut to Poppy and India, who just got the whole "The Reason You Suck" Speech before Ms Anderson-Harris stomped off, as they congratulate themselves on making an American patriot of her after all. Followed by …
    • An Ironic Echo Cut back to Rupe, Jamie, and Wolf-Brand, and Rupert's response to the warning he's just been given:
    "My dear Wolfie. She may be undereducated, over-enthusiastic, and over here, but … she's an American, not a Roman or a Norman. And we, historically, don't often allow ourselves to be colonised and occupied and ordered about: we've tended in the main to do unto others. Perhaps it is not our back which wants watching. Now, what about Evensong, and then a pint, hmm?"
    • It was a well-meant warning, but impertinent.
  • Easily Forgiven: Subverted. Despite something of a Heel–Face Turn or at least surrendering the Jerkass Ball, Edmond is not yet trusted to remain on the strait and narrow way by most characters: a sour assumption which has its (fortunately mild) consequences....
    • Mild mostly because the Rector intervenes, being ex officio an All-Loving Hero.
    • Admittedly, a consequence of Edmond's having in the past inadvertently cried "wolf" by backsliding from prior bouts of penitence.
  • Eating Lunch Alone: Lew Salmon. Subverted in that, although he'd quite like his wife to be home for lunch, he is extremely grateful not to be hosting the Duke, who would make inevitable jokes about the local poacher, the water-bailiff, and Lew, as the dish of the day chez Salmon is … poached salmon.
  • Firemen Are Hot: Well, the Fire Brigade chaplain certainly is: Noel was made just that, at the brigade's request, back in the first volume, after he saved Sher from an arson fire. He doesn't think of it, least of all when, in this volume, he has to bless the newest fire engine.
  • Free-Range Children: As the Woolfonts are set in a Close-Knit Community, all the children are free-range. All the adults have an eye on them, and any dodgy behavior is met with the warning that the offender will be reported to the Headmaster or the Village School teachers; to their parents; to the Duke (which is frightening, even though he is a Friend to All Children); to the Rector (also a Friend to All Children, but whose disappointment would be terrifying); and to Old Miss Hart at the sweet-shop, who, most horrifyingly of all, would embargo the erring child for a week.
  • Gratuitous Latin: In addition to the usual series trope of Smart People Know Latin, the chapter divisions are the canonical hours. In Latin. With their English, Anglican equivalents.
  • Hidden Depths / More than Meets the Eye: The latest characters to get this treatment are Jemmy Dally and Ernie Bellin, the milkmen whose round covers the Downland parishes. They only look like Those Two Guys. Because of the terrain, they can't use electric milk floats in the Downlands, so they're horse-drawn. Turns out that, with sponsorship funds from the Duke, they're competitive carriage drivers who compete in the Windsor Horse Show.
    • And then there's the casual bi mention by Professor Farnaby, surprising even his colleagues, that when he was Edmond's age, he was marching in demos with Peter Tatchell and breaking up with his first boyfriend. Evidently he at the very least Experimented in College. As a young professor.
  • Historical Domain Character: Usually in company with a(n) Historical In-Joke, as in this description of one of the stations on the Woolfonts & Chickmarsh (heritage steam) Railway:
    "… Sharpington of the riotous canopies, an effusion of Strawberry Hill Gothic Revival which, it was generally suspected, had been filched from Johnson of Birkenhead and run through (in the words of Kenneth Clark) three bottles of port, a volume of Ruskin, and a committee (likely comprised of Barlow, Woodward, and Deane)."
    • One of the Duke's In-Universe godfathers was Sir John Betjeman; among his mother's best friends (In-Universe) were Alec Clifton-Taylor, SR Badmin, and Kenneth, Lord Clark ("of ''Civilisation''"); and he was very close to Debo Devonshire.
  • Lower-Deck Episode: To the series, owing to its focus on allowing everyone, down to the milkmen, A Day in the Limelight.
  • Meaningful Name: Edmond's no-nonsense, Yorkshire-tough mum, Nora Standeven, nurse, midwife, and union bigwig:
    "… it was no accident that she was known to quite half the West Yorkshire Team of NHS England North as 'Bloody Nora', and there were plenty of her colleagues who suggested – wisely in whispers – that her surname ought by rights to be, 'Batty'."
    • And the twenty-something cam-boy in the Yarncombes is surnamed "Revel."
  • Morning Routine: Made, well, awesome. Not least because of the differences in it, and attitudinal differences, between, oh, postmen, farmers, teachers, clergymen, peers....
  • Mundane Made Awesome: By the time the day ends, the reader will know a good deal about running a heritage steam railway, farming, what goes into keeping a Great House going, railway signal boxes, racing studs, thatching, being a water bailiff and Environmental Officer, archaeology, pubs, greengrocers' businesses, the canon law of the Church of England, malting, brewing real ale, running a hotel, running a bakery, running a tea shop … and it's epic. E.g.:
    "In season and out, the maltings did not sleep, though they necessarily responded to the seasons' cycles and rhythms. And day in and day out, the careful, ancient craft went on: steeping; casting from the steep to the malt floor; floor-malting, chitting, and the recapitulation of the early life of the grain as it is levelled, turned, and ploughed; kilning and roasting, and always, always, at every stage the keen-eyed and keen-nosed evaluation of the malt, by Adam Ford in Chickmarsh and Lawrence and Martha Partman in the Vale, and the final judgement of Jack Stamford, the court of last resort, the Caesar to whom appeal was taken.... … Proper British beer from proper British malt from proper British barley. After five thousand years of brewing, it was no surprise they did it well."
  • or,
    "The sizzling, intoxicating smell of hot metal, the glare and the spark, the mysterious alchemy which was in sober fact un-mysterious chemistry and metallurgy, the man-made stars in the man-made darkness, the ring and reverberation of metal like distant bells: there is always magic of a sort in a forge or a workshop, and specially so when it is connected with the romance of the railways. … The Locomotive, Carriage, and Waggon Department of the W&CR were a happy lot, the volunteers and apprentices as much as the permanent paid staff, and contrariwise: for every woman jill and man jack of them was hopelessly enamoured of and enchanted by that romance of the railways."
  • and,
    "The sizzling, intoxicating smell of hot metal, the glare and the spark, the mysterious alchemy which was in sober fact un-mysterious chemistry and metallurgy, the man-made stars in the man-made darkness, the ring and reverberation of metal like distant bells: there is always magic of a sort in a forge or a workshop, and specially so when the forge is that of the farrier, the smith, Weyland; even if the forge is a mobile one, in the back of a white van. And there is a special magic in horses, and in racehorses most of all."
  • The Napoleon: The Duke is short – or, rather, concentrated. Edmond's Apron Matron mum, standing in at just five foot, is distilled.
  • Not a Morning Person: Young Ant Burtt, a farmer's son. And of course Sher Mirza:
    "Sher Mirza slept, deeply and profoundly, looking like nothing less than an Endymion by Praxiteles. Like many of those whose lives centred upon literature, and music, and art, he embraced sleep, and dreams, and dreaming, with the abandoned passion of a lover; and lived his waking days yet gently tethered by the tendrils and filaments of gossamer dreams."
  • Preppy Name: Or, rather, Sloaney name: Poppy van Meteren and India Charlton.
    "… a celebrated double act in their own right: flighty debs at first glance, of the most modern, Glasto-going sort, political and social chameleons who had no principles, only fashions, and who dwelt at the intersection of celebrity, Society, and pop culture. They were the sort whom the inattentive presumed to be pretty-but-dim, charming but easily led; the sort who quite probably modelled a bit, out of vanity and for sexual display, and not for money: second-generation Sloanies, in fact." (Hint: they aren't. They're safe bets for Firsts.)
    • Lampshaded by Poppy and India themselves, to Soapbox Sadie Rhodes (Must Fall!) Scholar Ms Anderson-Harris. They note that the real old crusted backwoods hereditary peers still hand out Margery and Violet and Torquil and Mark at the font, it's the upper-middles who get Cressida and Benedict.
  • Quirky Town: Zigzagged: the villages aren't all that quirky, but they are indulgently used to the eccentricities of various residents (and the Duke).
    • Although no one blinks an eye at some of the regulars on the local bus service: Sher's cat, visiting anyone fool enough to feed him, and old Mrs Padfield's elderly dachshund, who just likes to see the countryside without waddling, and slips aboard once a fortnight for a leisurely round trip of sightseeing while Mrs Padfield's lunching at the Village Hall. Which may qualify as sufficiently quirky.
  • Soapbox Sadie: Of the post-graduate, SJW variety: the American Rhodes Scholar and Rhodes Must Fall activist Ms Anderson-Harris. Who, whatever one may surmise of the author's own politics, gets some great lines, including a towering "The Reason You Suck" Speech which begins with a general "You know what? Fuck all y'all," goes through every British institution and all of British history with a chainsaw, culminates with a "Fuck your High Society and your class distinctions and your silver spoons. Fuck you, and your Ethical Threads and your Beulah London and all your fake-ass concern draped over your Aquascutum and your Hermès and shit, and your fake-ass Guardian-reading when you go off and vote Tory, and your Chunky Ethnic Jewellery and Peasant Chic and treating other cultures as a costume and your fucking Mumford & Sons," and ends with a nuclear "And fuck all this fucking tea."
    • And when she leaves, India and Poppy congratulate themselves on having made an American patriot out of her by provoking her. Which either proves or destroys her point … or both at once.
  • Steam Never Dies: At least not in the Woolfonts. The Woolfonts & Chickmarsh Railway is a roaring success, and everyone is an anorak. Besides, The Rector's father and brothers-in-law (well, his sisters' husbands and the brothers of his late wife) and his late wife's family have all been brought down to work either for the W&CR or for the community real ale brewery which does its Rail Ale scheme, out of sheer Rail Enthusiast devotion. And get much page time in this volume.
  • Take That!: The Duke gets a specially good one in:
    "'No trippers, and if you see Dan Soddin' Brown prowlin' about [Castle Camserney, his Perthshire holding] at any time – shoot the bugger'."
  • 24-Hour Trope Clock: The structure of the volume.
  • Weather Report Opening: The Duke listens without quite waking, every 0048, to the Shipping Forecast. Most people in the admittedly agricultural District listen to the 0520 broadcast of the same, along with Farming Today, for agricultural reasons duly lampshaded.
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: Rupe and Jamie, at Oxford. Clever, and wise, too:
    "And yet, somehow, the two were always a pace apart and aside from their fellows and contemporaries – or several miles, if something adolescently stupid were being planned or begun. Both possessed humour and wit; but their sense of fun was different to that of the common run, their gods were not the gods of others."