Cold Cream: My Early Life and Other Mistakes by Ferdinand Mount

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Cold Cream: My Early Life and Other Mistakes by Ferdinand Mount

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Category: Autobiography
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Van der Kiste
Reviewed by John Van der Kiste
Summary: A memoir by the writer whose career includes political journalism, fiction and non-fiction, but most famously a few years as head of the policy unit in 10 Downing Street during the early 80s.
Buy? No Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: March 2009
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
ISBN: 978-0747596479

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Some books start well, then run out of steam. Less frequently, in my view, they begin pleasantly, and only really come alive rather later on. Had I not been reading this for review, I'm not sure I would have finished it. I persevered, and about two-thirds of the way through my patience was rewarded.

Next, let's put the author into perspective. As befits a man related to Labour peer Lord Longford and Conservative leader David Cameron (as well as novelist Anthony Powell), Ferdinand Mount is one of those characters who seems to have been at the centre of British politics for so long that it took me a few clicks of the mouse to check my facts prior to reading. It confirmed that he has been a journalist, editor and political commentator for some years, is writer of a few non-fiction works but primarily a novelist, head of the policy unit in 10 Downing Street during the early 80s, and although regarded as being on the One Nation wing of the party, wrote the 1983 Conservative general election manifesto.

In the opening chapters he writes at great length – maybe a little too much so – of his early days. The accounts of life with his parents, especially the early death of his mother and his widowed father's melancholy decline into a state of sodden sweetness are moving enough. Nevertheless I found this part of the book rather unfocused on the whole. Brief acquaintances with the likes of Siegfried Sassoon, Oswald Mosley, Miriam Margolyes and David Cornwell, his German teacher who later became the spy thriller writer John le Carré, make interesting reading, though one has to wade through much to reach them.

When I reached the mid-1960s onwards, it improved noticeably. Perhaps it was sheer coincidence; the time that Mount entered journalism and the political arena, admittedly on the sidelines, was around the time I started taking an interest in politics and current affairs. I'm as cynical about politicians across the spectrum as anyone else, but still take an interest in learning what makes them tick. He never made it further towards Westminster than a journey from the Conservative Research Department to the candidates' list, only to be turned down by one MP as unsuitable for being incorrigibly wet. By the way, that same MP was soon afterwards appointed governor of Bermuda, and a few weeks after taking up his post he was assassinated. Nevertheless this opinion was reiterated years later by a newspaper proprietor, who said that Mount was so wet one could shoot snipe off him.

Some of his accounts of life close to the corridors of power, and insights into the political process and civil service, are almost pure 'Yes Minister'. I was amused to read of Margaret Thatcher being so keen to avoid one particularly tiresome member of staff that on being warned of his imminent appearance she shot behind the sofa at Downing Street, beckoning Mount to follow her, and emerging once the man had gone, giggling so much that she seemed less like the Iron Lady than one of the Queens in 'Blackadder'.

The main narrative ends by recounting a discussion with an eminent historian at the Brighton 1984 party conference, about the killing of Archduke Francis Ferdinand at Sarajevo in 1914 and other cases where assassinations had not turned out exactly as intended – followed ironically hours later by the Grand Hotel bombing which killed and injured several, and narrowly failed to kill the Prime Minister herself.

It comes as something of a relief when the book ends with a separate, very short chapter on the incident when Mount, as a small boy, fell off the cowshed roof and just missed being impaled on the horns of a particularly irascible bull. He long remembered the cold cream of the title which helped to soothe the abrasions on his arms and legs – not to mention the luck which had saved him from a worse fate. As he concludes, the luck is the bit that counts.

Our thanks to Bloomsbury for sending a review copy to Bookbag.

If you enjoyed this title, also try Below the Parapet by Carol Thatcher and The Remarkable Lives of Bill Deedes by Stephen Robinson.

Buy Cold Cream: My Early Life and Other Mistakes by Ferdinand Mount at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Cold Cream: My Early Life and Other Mistakes by Ferdinand Mount at Amazon.co.uk


Buy Cold Cream: My Early Life and Other Mistakes by Ferdinand Mount at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Cold Cream: My Early Life and Other Mistakes by Ferdinand Mount at Amazon.com.


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