‘Mrs Grindle-Jones in a very emotional state this morning. She stormed into my study and clapped down her register, hissing that “Those Widmerpools are away again, every one of them . . . Her eyes were brimming and her neck was a peculiar mottled red. . .
At the time I was in the middle of giving an infant the Schonell Diagnostic Reading Test. Despite the storm breaking around him, he went on stolidly reading, t-r-e-e- . . . s-i-t . . . b-u-n – etcetera. Eventually he reached his limit at i-s-l-a-n-d, pronouncing it as it was spelled and looking baffled. ‘Issland, i-s-s-l-a-n-d,’ he kept repeating, as I explained to Mrs Grindle-Jones that I also deplored the way the Widmerpools milked the state . . ‘
After reading A Month in the Country, I decided to read J. L. Carr’s other books. The Harpole Report has gone straight onto my list of favourite novels. It is never entirely clear who is compiling the Harpole Report, which through journal entries, the school log, letters, and other means gives an account of the hapless George Harpole’s first term as acting Deputy Head at a primary school in the Fens. It is set in the 1970s and though some things have changed in education, George’s tussles with bureaucracy, with difficult parents, and above all with with his ill-sorted crew of teachers and caretaker are timeless. Carr spent his career as a primary school teacher and head and it shows. The book has important things to say about education, and it’s a bit of love story, but those are incidental: above all, it is just very, very funny.