Of Service (2020)

I responded very strongly to the visual prompts for the Kick-About #15, particularly Eric Ravilious’ image of the high-end interiors shop, A Pollard. It says more about me, I suppose, that I detected some shadow at work in these nostalgic images of these well-to-do shops.

Eric Ravilious, 1938

I can’t quite put my finger on it, but the flicker of immediate associations included the animated series, Mr Ben, the production art for Disney’s 101 Dalmations and H. G. Wells’ The Magic Shop. I was struck too by the inter-war period, and it got me thinking about ideas of luxury and leisure time, and how doomed it all was, given what was looming on the horizon, but also about how wonderful it would be to discover a shop like Pollard’s on your high street, and the sorts of people it would attract, and the tensions in a small community it might produce.

It doesn’t always happen – and it rarely happens when a clock is ticking – but the resulting story just wanted out – and out it came. In Kenneth, the story’s protagonist, I find shades of Eleanor Vance, from Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House (1959), a character I’ve always found to be incredibly moving in her neediness to be needed.

You can find a ‘large print’ PDF version here.

5 thoughts on “Of Service (2020)

  1. I had a very similar reaction to the Ravilious “High Street” images. As a “baby Boomer”, (dirty words these days) it was my parents generation Ravilious was talking to. Sadly wandering into a high end fir boutique was well beyond my parents means, but it evokes that slightly mythological “Britishness’. It, and Ravilious himself, were about to be consumed by a world war which would change everything. My musing followed that trend. What happened to Mr Pollard and his shop, his patrons and those of the other shops on the high street?

    It was to the cinema of the late thirties and the war years that I went. For some reason “Brief Encounter” came to mind and then “In which we serve”. Noel Coward as the thinly disguised Lord Louis Mountbatten. “The way ahead” which gave a rather more working class take on the infantryman’s experience but still told from a middle class perspective. Both were propaganda, moral boosting efforts, but widely accepted as being generally reflective of the society depicted. They took me to my all time personal favourite, made seven years after the war “The Cruel Sea”. I was about to say the stereotypes were still evident, but they were not stereotypes, that was the order of society and it continued well into the 1950’s despite a Labour landslide in 1945.

    It usually takes more than one generation to upend a class system, unless there is a revolution of course. I well remember the last echo’s of deference to the better off when I was a small boy. My musing finally brought me up to date. Could Mr Pollards furriers shop be the cause of Brexit? Boris Johnson has systematically pursued a pseudo Churchillian speech pattern with phrases like “Sunlit uplands” borrowed shamelessly from the famous Battle of Britain speech and echoed by many of his cabinet. It has also coloured his approach to the pandemic, watching Europe engulfed by coronavirus the attitude seemed to be “it could not happen to us”. It has even resulted in a new phrase, “British exceptionalism”. Could it all be mr Pollards Fault???????????

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Kevin, thank you for this! I really enjoyed your musings here, bringing things bang up to date. It’s strange isn’t it, the way things just dovetail – I’ve always been baffled by UK’s tolerance for/affection of the aristocracy – that mixture of servility and contempt; admiration and spite. You only need look at the current government and its demography to see that playing out all over again.


    1. Hi Phil, yes i think you have encapsulated the paradox in the British psyche. But I believe there is a difference between then and now. Then the ruling classes genuinely believed they had a duty to rule, rightly or wrongly. Today it is often all about greed with no sense of responsibility.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Again, I think you’ve nailed something there – a sort of ‘born to rule’ without the patrician element, now it’s born to rule in order to lock-up wealth and keep it there. 😦


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