So there I was, minding my own business in Waterstone's bookstore, when I noticed a paperback edition of all four books which make up the tetralogy of Parade's End by Ford Maddox Ford, the subject, as you all know by now, of a TV series scripted by Tom Stoppard. Well, as I explained to the Memsahib when she caught me trying to smuggle it into the house - I am strictly forbidden to buy any more books - I didn't intend to buy it . . . but . . . as it was there, in front of me, well, I just had to pick it up and read the first bit, as you do - a glacial stare was the only response so I hurried on - and when I read the first two paragraphs, that was it, I just had to have it - and like every old lag you ever saw up the Old Bailey I went on - it wasn't really my fault, I'm just a slave to my desires, a helpless puppet, what I need is therapy . . .
Of course, none of it had any effect and I am now on domestic 'jankers' which is only marginally easier than the army's variety. However, these are the two paragraphs to blame:
The two young men - they were of the English public official class - sat in the perfectly appointed railway carriage. The leather straps to the windows were of virgin newness; the mirrors beneath the new luggage racks immaculate as though they had reflected very little; the bulging upholstery in its luxuriant, regulated curves was scarlet and yellow in an intricate, minute dragon pattern, the design of a geometrician in Cologne. The compartment smelt faintly, hygienically of admirable varnish; the train ran smoothly - Tietjens remembered thinking - as British gilt-edged securities. It travelled fast; yet had it swayed or jolted over the rail joints, except at the curve before Tonbridge or over the points at Ashford where these eccentricites are expected and allowed for, Macmaster, Tietjens felt certain, would have written to the company. Perhaps he would have written to The Times.
Their class administered the world, not merely the newly created Imperial Department of Statistics under Sir Roger Inglebeby. If they saw a policeman misbehave, railway porters lack civility, an insufficiency of street lamps, defects in public services or in foreign countries, they saw to it, either with nonchalent Balliol voices, or with letters to The Times, asking in regretful indignation: 'Has the British This or That come to this!' Or they wrote, in the serious reviews of which so many still survived, articles taking under their care, manners, the Arts, diplomacy, inter-Imperial trade, or the personal reputations of deceased statesmen and men of letters.
Well, I ask you , m'Lud, ooops, sorry, I mean, my friends, who could resist the temptation after a delightfully sly, humorous opening like that? Well I couldn't! I have been warned that Ford structured his books according to the avante guarde of his day and thus Time flits to and fro, but what the hell, if he keeps up that sardonic tone I will be happy - and I can always double-check with Stoppard's version to keep me, er, on the rails, so to speak.