The Charming Quirks of Others – Alexander McCall Smith

My final light reading choice for the holiday is one of my favourite authors with one of my favourite characters.

“The Charming Quirks of Others” is another Isabel Dalhousie novel.  In this episode Isabel is asked to look into the backgrounds of three candidates for the prestigious role of Principal at one of the local schools.  As usual she cannot refuse a request for assistance.

She also has home issues around her relationship with Jamie and the unwanted attentions of a young cellist.

With all of the Dalhousie novels I find myself taken by the gentleness of the stories and by the light philosophising that the author does through her.  It is the only book of the three light reads that inspired me to take notes, and here they are:

Isabel and Jamie’s son, Charlie, is now beginning to speak quite clearly.  This is a stage close to my heart at the moment as Master Oh Waily is now in the beginning phase of this.   Here is a wonderful observation made by Isabel on Charlie’s use of language.

His past tense, Isabel had noticed, had a special ring to it.  ‘It is a special past tense he uses,’ she said to Jamie. ‘It is the past regretful.  The past regretful is used to express regret over what has happened.  All gone is a past regretful, as was Ducks eaten all bread.’

I loved this idea as one of our first key phrases we have taught both our children is “All done” – meaning, I’m finished or it is finished.

A little later Isabel muses on the topic of babysitters.  Also close to home for me as we will be in the market for one when we relocate later this week.  The key part of this musing, for me, is the explanation about Goldilocks and the Three Bears.  Sadly I must admit to not seeing the moral of the story clearly before.  So here’s the background and the moral of the story as per Isabel.

Isabel wondered what they would do.  Babysitters usually watched television, or that is what householders assumed.  But when they came in pairs… She recalled reading somewhere about a babysitter who was found taking a bath when the parents returned.  Why not?  Student flats, in which many babysitters lived, had uncomfortable baths and not enough hot water.  Visiting a house with a good supply of hot water and clean towels might be just too much of a temptation.  And yet there was an element of trust involved;  one did not imagine that a person left in one’s house would open drawers, for example, or read one’s correspondence, or even run a bath.  That was what the story of Goldilocks and the three bears was all about:  breach of trust.

Then we move on to a personal failing of mine, exposed beautifully.  The background here is a presumptuous letter from Isabel’s erstwhile enemy, Professor Lettuce, offering to do a review of her other nemesis, Christopher Dove’s new book.  She has not known how to respond to such bald cheek.

She had not put him off; she had not written to tell him that she would not have room to publish it, and now she was more or less barred by inaction.  And that, she thought, was how people became trapped; they let things slip, they put things off, and then the landscape around them changed and they found themselves in a cul-de-sac from which there was no easy escape; and the cul-de-sac could so easily become a redoubt.

Oh how tremendous is that as a description for a self-imposed corner-creator.  I love the idea of those nasty procrastination induced corners being described as a cul-de-sac.  It makes it almost liveable, except for the fact that they do often become redoubts from which one cannot back down easily.  I think I may need to make a sign, “Inaction leads to culs-de-sac.”

So, as always, I can warmly recommend another visit to Edinburgh and the world of Isabel Dalhousie.  It is always a gentle and thought provoking visit.

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