In Tearing Haste, By Deborah Devonshire & Patrick Leigh Fermor

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The Independent Culture

This collection of relaxed epistles between two chums is packed with gossip, creaky jokes and gadding about. Fans of Patrick Leigh Fermor's books, such as A Time of Gifts, will enjoy his traveller's tales, which include the Himalayas, the Pindus Mountains of Greece and swimming the Bosphorus: "I had beaten all records for slowness and length of immersion". The adventures of Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire (née Mitford), are equally impressive, if less far-flung. When she meets the President, "Jack [Kennedy] asked what I do all day. Stumped." The remarkable cast that crops up in their missives are treated with a blasé nonchalance that only the very grand can manage. An embarrassing encounter with the Queen Mum, known as Cake by Deborah Devonshire due to her fondness for a slice, is described as "nought of great interest". She regards Jackie Kennedy as "a queer fish. Her face is one of the oddest I ever saw."

Leigh Fermor is whisked off to a film set in Africa, where the party includes the producer Darryl Zanuck ("demented"), Trevor Howard ("drinks like Hell, starting at breakfast") and Errol Flynn ("sex rules his life"). DD was impressed by the three marble basins in her bedroom at Sandringham: "The first said HEAD & FACE ONLY, the next HANDS and, good heavens, the last was blank so what can it have been for?" All but the most resolute of inverted snobs will enjoy a cheery time in these pages.