The Summer of a Doormouse, by John Mortimer

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The Independent Culture

This entertaining whisp of a book is like a Spectator diary multiplied to 200 pages. Despite its gossamer lightness, the theme is the degeneration of old age.

Mortimer starts the book with the "thundering voice of God": "From this day forth thou shalt not be able to put on thine own socks." Though he acquires a gadget called the Soxon, he finds it impossible to extract his foot from the mechanism. You have to applaud Mortimer's response when a doctor asks if he is now breathless when taking exercise: "I had to plead ignorance, as I have never taken exercise." Increasing decrepitude fails to hinder his progress around Tuscany, Morocco and on the Countryside Alliance march, where his wife gets Norman Tebbit to carry her banner. Only after carrying it for a good distance did Norm realise that the banner read "Labour and The Countryside United".

Physical decay does not prevent Mortimer musing about sexual matters. He notes that the biography of his Oxford contemporary Robert Runcie quotes a university servant: "Mr Mortimer, sir, has an irrepressible member." Most pages provide similar chortles. If Mortimer gets the story wrong about Wellington and Lord Uxbridge at Waterloo, then we shouldn't be too hard on him. After all, the old boy is getting on a bit.

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