Dear lumpy
Thursday, 16 May 2013

DEAR LUMPY

For years, Roger Mortimer wrote heartfelt, humorous letters to his beloved, but disobedient, daughter Louise – aka ‘Lumpy’. Here, she shares some of the best, touching celebrations of the joys of putting pen to paper

My father, Roger, was born in 1909 and educated at Eton and Sandhurst before taking a commission in the Coldstream Guards. He was a captain when his platoon fought a desperate rearguard action at Dunkirk in 1940. Unconscious, he was taken prisoner and spent the remainder of the war in prison camps running the camp radio. Many of his friends in later life were those he met as prisoner-of-war no. 481 in various Oƒflags and stalags. After the war he served as a major in Trieste, before resigning in 1947 to become racing expert for The Sunday Times and the BBC, the same year he met my mother; within six weeks he had proposed, and they had three children: me, aka Lumpy, my older sister Jane, aka Miss Bossy Pants, my brother Charlie, aka Lupin.

On 12 January 1957, I arrived in the world. My father had been at the Newbury race meeting, commentating for radio. My mother wrote in my ‘baby book’: ‘Louise Star Mortimer, like Charles, was born at Barclay House. The day was spent getting any last-minute things ready. I took to my bed at 4pm and Louise arrived at 8.27pm. She was wonderfully round and pink-faced with a shock of dark hair. Roger came upstairs immediately to have a look at her. After announcing that he thought she looked as though she had character, he took Dr Had˜field (our family doctor and friend) downstairs for a drink.’

When I went to boarding school 12 years later, my father began writing me a series of highly amusing letters containing advice and updates on family, friends and pets. They continued until he died in 1991. Here is an edited extract from Dear Lumpy, the companion book to Dear Lupin, a collection of letters he wrote to my brother.

Dear Lump quote

Louise Mortimer (Lumpy)

1969 The Flappings

My Dearest Lumpy,

I hope you are settling down well and have not been moistening your pillow with hot tears. Settle down to some steady work and kindly refrain from doing anything really foolish. I miss you very much here and so does Cringer. Have you had a letter from the man with the Rolls- Royce yet?

You have now got to the age when most girls have clashes of policy and opinion with their mothers. I shall be surprised if you prove an exception. My advice to you is to play it dead cool and decline to be drawn into long and acrimonious arguments. Your mother is devoted to your interests but like other mothers she is not always reasonable; nor, of course, are you.

I greatly enjoy having you at home but think there are grounds for improvement in your manners with people (not your parents) older than yourself. Your attitude sometimes borders on the oafish and if visitors make the effort to be agreeable to you, you must reciprocate. At times you seem to make no effort at all; possibly from shyness, more probably from sheer laziness and a disinclination to exert your mind at all. I shall anticipate marked improvement next holidays!

How is Snouter? I trust you will look after him during the winter. One of our big trees has got elm disease and has got to be cut down. Your sister Jane has been attacked by fleas and mosquitoes in Greece. The new people came into the cottage on Saturday. Pongo has sore feet and is very smelly.

Best love,
D

Snouter was a gingham toy pig bought from a local fete.


Dear Lumpy

1971 Budds Farm

Dearest L,

I hope you are in robust health and that you are satisfying Miss Birchnettle (or whatever your Head Mistress is called). Your sister Jane is back from Greece and moves up to Yorkshire at the end of this week. I believe your fond mother is going to drive her up. Jane is shortly due to take her driving test, which ought to give at least one hearty laugh to all concerned. Your erratic brother Lupin is down here for one night. Alas, your ever-loving mother is in one of her little moods and has never stopped nagging him and giving him totally unwanted and very ridiculous advice…

Caroline Blackwell stayed here for a night and the Bomers and Parkinsons came to dinner. Your mother talked without ceasing and no one else got a word in. Your mother starts her bridge lessons on Monday. I shall be mildly surprised if she keeps them up. We had dinner last night at that pub in Overton where I once took you. Do you still like your new dormitory? I trust you are kind to the unfortunate new girl!

Best love,
D

The unfortunate new girl, Kate Evans, becomes my best friend and with no family in England she is welcomed with open arms by both my parents as a surrogate daughter.


Louise with her brothr Charlie, nicknamed Lupin. Right: 1985, Roger Mortimer with his wife Cynthia 'Nidnod' - in CreteLouise with her brothr Charlie, nicknamed Lupin. Right: 1985, Roger Mortimer with his wife Cynthia 'Nidnod' - in Crete

1977 Budds Farm
By 1977 I had met my future husband, Henry Carew: aka Hot Hand Henry, HHH.

Dearest L,

I hope you are fully recovered after what was doubtless a fatiguing weekend. There certainly seems to have been plenty of incident! Your mother arrived back with a strange man who stayed the night. I wonder who he was. I gather your mother had the best of three falls with Mrs Carew and I strongly suspect that both were well and truly sloshed. Mrs Carew does not seem to fancy you very much but I hope you will not be required to see a lot of her in the future. It is very wet and cold here and Pongo has got the shivers. I hope arrangements for the wedding are going well. We must keep your mother and Mrs C well apart at the reception.

Can it be true that the best man is going to wear a kilt? I don’t take weddings all that seriously but I don’t want him to come in fancy dress and mob the whole thing up completely. I trust Henry is behaving himself and has not destroyed many more of his employers’ cars.

Best love,
D

At the age of 19 I secretly married Henry at Fulham Registry Office. A year later, shortly before what was to be our proper wedding, we had to tell them the truth. Both my parents were extremely shocked and upset. It would be an understatement to say my father was not HHH’s greatest fan from the beginning of the relationship. When the drama had died down my affinity returned to that of the youngest sibling and throughout my marriage Dad
showed me nothing but support and affection.



1977 Burghclere

Dearest L,


...Your mother has had a fairly stiff letter from Mrs Pope, which she is sending on to you as it is only right and proper that you both know what our old friends feel about the whole business. Lupin has been ill with dysentery while staying with the Guinnesses. Major Surtees crowned the Jubilee Queen of West Ilsley and then fell off the platform, injuring the right cheek of his bottom.

Your affec. father,
RM



1977 Budds Farm

Dearest L,

Thank you so much for your letter. I’m pleased to hear you are coming for Christmas and I shall rely on you to keep your mother more or less under control. She has been in one of her most tiresome moods lately and has given Lupin a bad time this weekend. Thank God I am getting increasingly deaf! We are just off to Newbury for a curry lunch party given by Willy Carson and Dick Hern. Your mother is going on to the Lloyd Webbers afterwards to hear some music. I shall have a good sleep after reading about half a page of The Sunday Times.

It has been very cold here and I’d like to turn the heating on but it is impermissible to use oil so early in the autumn. I only hope I do not expire from hypothermia. I think I shall go down to Brighton for a few days and stay with Cousin John. It will be less amusing than in the summer as the flat commands a wonderful view of the nudist beach and he has a telescope in his front room.

Mr and Mrs Randall [the gardener and his wife] had an enjoyable holiday in Austria; last week they were at the Horse of the Year Show. They have a far larkier time than we do.

Best love to you all,
D

Unfortunately, Chappie, my dog, took a liking to Andrew Lloyd Webber and attached himself to his leg and had to be physically removed. I am not sure who was the most embarrassed.


Dear Lumpy

1985

Dearest L,

...Your mother is in poor form and complains that the house is damp. Aunt Joan is 78 on Nov 18, I am 76 on the 22nd. There is something rather horrible about old age… An extremely large cat has taken up residence in the garden here. I think he is quite capable of eating both the dogs. I have a nasty feeling that something is wrong with our drains. More expense! I had a nice two days at Brighton with Cousin John who is slightly eccentric but very rich.

Best love,
D

My father loved to escape to his cousin’s luxury penthouse flat in Brighton, complete with an extremely inebriated butler.



1986 The Miller’s House

Dearest L,

I hope all goes well with you. I expect London is depressingly grey and chilly. It has been a shade warmer here and the garden is crawling reluctantly to life though quite a lot of herbaceous plants are in fact dead. Your sister and her sons came for three days. Piers managed to lock himself into his room and we had to get the local fire brigade to release him. Piers has a lot of quiet charm but Nicholas is too much of a mother’s boy at present. For God’s sake don’t tell Jane that or she’ll get Colonel Gaddafi to bomb The Miller’s House! Nidnod [my mother] has a bad leg, which makes her a bit crusty. The east winds play havoc with my temper and I don’t suppose I’m any too easy to live with… Major Surtees is staying near here and there are rumours that his presumed impending marriage (his 3rd) is after all unlikely to take place.

Is Henry taking part in the London Marathon? I am thinking of lining up for a ½ mile sponsored walk for certified Kintbury geriatrics.

Best love to you all,
D

I had my first daughter, Rebecca, aka Beccie, in 1978. Seven years later, in 1985, I gave birth to my son, Benjamin aka Ben.



1986 Kintbury

Dearest L,

Thank you so much for your letter and the photographs, both greatly appreciated. Benjamin looks a very cheerful character. Possibly I did at that age. In 1910 there were very few cars, about six aeroplanes that looked like bicycles with wings. The British Navy was easily the strongest in the world.

I had two world wars ahead of me, fi ve years in prison, men walking about on the moon, the threat of the atomic holocaust, the decline of this country into third-rate power! I was brought up with seven or more indoor servants, including a butler and a footman. Now at 76 I do the grate, fill the log baskets, clean my shoes, make my bed, cook and wash-up my breakfast, wash my car, do endless weeding fatigues in the garden, dig up huge piles of ground elder, join huge queues at the surgery. Quelle Vie de Dog!...

Love to all,
D


Dear Lumpy

1986 The Miller’s House

Dearest L,


...Yesterday Nidnod drove me to lunch with Mrs Cameron in my car. We missed a crash (her fault) by inches at a roundabout and when we reached our destination she removed much of the left hand side of the car when parking it. It will costs hundreds to put right. I can’t understand how she did it as it was before lunch, not afterwards!

We have been invited to a posh lunch at Ascot on Wednesday and Nidnod is polishing up her chestnut wig. On the other hand I am in dire need of a haircut…

Love to all,
XX D

Some years earlier, my mother had taken to wearing a wig. This is my brother Lupin’s favourite story about her wig: he and his partner Tim were staying. My mother, having had quite a few too many, wobbled outside (as only my mother could wobble) with her chihuahua, Danny. Several minutes later Danny reappeared without my mother and promptly ‘killed’ her wig on the sitting-room floor. On further inspection my mother was found head first in the hedge at the bottom of the garden.


1987 The Miller’s House

Dearest L,


Thank you very much for your saucy card, which I greatly enjoyed. Nidnod drove me to London and we gave Aunt Joan a birthday lunch at the Turf Club where the chef must have been having an ‘off’ day. The trifle was like a mauve cowpat. Aunt Joan is pretty good for 80 and has never needed a pair of spectacles. I look forward to seeing you on Nov 27.

I have ordered an uncomplicated lunch in the hope that the chef cannot make a cock of it. I had a Christmas card today from Basil Madjoucoff, as usual a very holy one. I am tempted to send him a cutting from Playboy.

I am in for a merry afternoon, having some false teeth fitted (at hideous expense). I expect after a fortnight I’ll give them to the Boy Scouts jumble sale (white elephant stall).

Best love,
D

Basil Madjoucoff was my father’s interpreter during his time in Palestine before the Second World War. He never failed to send my father all his news every year, for some 60 years.


1988 The Miller’s House

Dearest L,

Thank you for your letter. I’m delighted to hear the children are flourishing. Your mother is hunting with the Vine and Craven today but it is very wet and there is talk of cancelling the meet. Brig. Lemprière-Robin is staying here but has a fearful cold. I’m glad I didn’t go to Cheltenham; I believe it was hell, especially on the Thursday. The poor old Queen Mother was forcibly embraced by an inebriated butcher from Roscommon. Democratic days!

My few remaining teeth are all falling out and I can hardly bite into a blancmange. We had a very good lunch on Sunday with Miss Pope and Nidnod made sheep’s eyes at an old major from the 17th/21st Lancers. We looked at the hospital Nidnod is going to. It appears clean from the outside, which is something. It is not a very pleasant operation but she is facing up to it with her usual pluck.

I went to a big lunch at the Hyde Park Hotel and sat next to a very agreeable MP (Labour) who is member for a Newcastle constituency. He is nuts on golf and thinks Willy Whitelaw is marvellous. Cousin John is very lame with a poisoned bunion.

Best love to you all,
D


PS:

Just over a year after my father’s death in 1991, the family gathered for The Roger Mortimer Memorial National Hunt Novices Race at Sandown, one of his favourite racecourses. Dear Lumpy

My mother and Lupin were invited to join the Queen Mother for lunch in her private box. Towards the end of lunch, the Queen Mother and the other guests’ attention was drawn towards the balcony where my mother was jumping up and down, shrieking in support for jockey Gardie Grissell (a family friend) who was neck and neck on his way to winning the Memorial race. Unfortunately my mother’s wig ˆ flew o‰ff her head. Unabashed she picked it up, placed it back on her head and carried on as though nothing had happened. Rather generously the Queen Mother and Lupin agreed between them that as this was my father’s race, my mother should be allowed her moment. I am told the other guests in the box looked on in horror.

Edited extracts from Dear Lumpy… Letters To A Disobedient Daughter, by Roger Mortimer and Louise Mortimer, published by Constable, priced £12.99.


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