Visitors to the Holroyds' retirement bungalow in Hove are usually struck by the extreme austerity of the furnishings. It will be readily observed, for example, that the carpets are nearly threadbare, the kitchen linoleum is so ancient that feet stick to it in hot weather, and three of the conservatory windowpanes are reinforced with brown paper. As for the sofa on which Mr Holroyd, clad in a much-mended sports jacket and heel-less slippers, occasionally reclines to watch cricket on his tiny portable television set, this is believed most recently to have been recovered in 1972.
A similar frugality attends the Holroyds' culinary arrangements, which are legendarily spartan. A visiting grandchild once reported back to its parents that the bill of fare consisted of a breakfast of milk-free, home-made porridge, a midday meal of luncheon meat and diced cucumber, and a supper of grilled sardines and mashed swede washed down with glasses of water. The last person invited to "have a drink", at Mrs Holroyd's 80th birthday party, found the options to consist of an elderly bottle of Warninks Advocaat and some elderflower cordial.
People who do not know the Holroyds may well wonder why they consent to live – indeed, appear to flourish – in these conditions. Are they impoverished? Does all their money go on spendthrift children? In fact, the explanation is very simple. Born in the late 1930s, they belong to one of the last generations to have been raised during the Second World War, and accepted its privations as a matter of routine. Spam sandwiches, Woolton pies, raspberry jam made of dyed turnip – all were, literally, meat and drink to the infant Holroyds, and conditioned them to a lifestyle whose shackles they have never discarded.
The consequence, 70 years later, is an almost complete detachment from the liberality of our consumer age. None of the Holroyds' children would ever dream of throwing away uneaten food in the aftermath of a Christmas dinner, for their mother would produce a Tupperware box and bear the scraps home for supper. To deplore their inability to enter this modern paradise of second helpings and fresh coats of paint would be a mistake. A world of properly heated houses, decent meals and undarned pullovers would fill them with horror, and nothing, as Mr Holroyd always insists, is quite so spiritually sustaining as self-denial.
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