One of the dangers of re-reading something that you loved the first time around is that it doesn’t live up to the memory. I remembered gulping down Cold Comfort Farm many years ago (early 90’s maybe) and thinking it hilarious. Having read Christmas at Cold Comfort farm in December – short stories by Stella Gibbons, and then Starlight a few months later – this was a book that had found itself back on my TBR. My month of re-reading therefore has given me the perfect excuse to read it again. I did enjoy reading this one again – big relief – finding it gently funny and utterly charming. I really rather love dear Flora Poste – interfering girl she may be – but she is very good at it.
For those who don’t know the story – Flora Poste finds herself at the age of twenty orphaned and without any visible means of earning a living. While staying with a friend Mary in London Flora hatches a plan – to live off the kindness of one of the various relatives she has scattered around the country. With this in mind she writes to all the candidates. Her cousin Judith Starkadder from Cold Comfort farm replies hinting darkly of an injustice done to her father – and how Flora should come and claim her rights. Her interest piqued Flora sets off for Cold Comfort Farm. It is a world rather different to the one she was living in London.
“The farm was crouched on a bleak hillside, whence its fields, fanged with flints, dropped steeply to the village of Howling a mile away. Its stables and out-houses were built in the shape of a rough octangle surrounding the farm-house itself, which was built in the shape of a rough triangle.”
The Starkadders are a peculiar bunch tied to the farm they are feel they are unable to leave – because old Ada Doom would go mad if they did – she once saw something nasty in the woodshed. There’s Rueben who wants to run the farm – but Amos who loves nothing better than to go preaching to The Brethren - won’t yield it too him. Then there’s Seth Flora’s brooding handsome cousin who can think of nothing but the talkies. The hired girl Meriam is again in the process of giving birth – an annual event. The beautiful Elfine is promised to her much older cousin Urk – but has been spending time with local toff Richard Hawk-Monitor. Flora soon begins to get the measure of things at Cold Comfort – and decides to take things into her own hands. Flora’s interfering has startling results for everyone. Flora takes everything she sees and hears in her stride – she is wonderfully practical, sweeping in to Cold Comfort farm she sets about turning everything on it’s head.
One passage left me stunned. Only because I was amazed I hadn’t remembered it. It is so bizarre.
(Flora is on the telephone with her friend Claud in London)
“"Claud twisted the television dial and amused himself by studying Flora's fair, pensive face......She could not look at him, because public telephones were not fitted with television dials.
I was floored – Cold Comfort Farm was written in 1932! (Not that such things exist now even) I found the answer by flicking forward. At the front of the book we are told that the story takes place in the near future. Of course reading it now – there is nothing else very futuristic in it – some mention is made of Clark Gable films being 20 years in the past – but that is all. I’m amazed I hadn’t remembered this futuristic element – as it does jar a bit – it seems pointless and I wondered what Stella Gibbons objective was in doing this. That is a minor gripe though. I must say that Cold Comfort farm is good comfort reading. I am so glad I gave myself the time to re-read it. I now very much want to read Conference at Cold Comfort Farm – which I have seen mixed reviews of.