Spam Tomorrow | Verily Anderson #DeanStreetDecember

“Long-distance call for Bruce,” a F.A.N.Y. sergeant, soured by the years of peace between the wars, looked into the commonroom and addressed me in the third person. “It can be taken in the office but must be short. Personal calls are not encouraged during a state of emergency.”

What a delightful way to spend a hectic December – with Liz @Adventures in Reading and a stack of Dean Street Press books. Dean Street Press is a small independent publisher in the UK dedicated to “producing, uncovering, and revitalizing good books” that began publishing in 2015.

In 2016 they introduced the Furrowed Middlebrow imprint “dedicated to women writers of the early and mid-twentieth century.” I am particularly drawn to this imprint. I’ve had Spam Tomorrow, Miss Carter and the Ifrit and The Native Heath on my TBR stack for a couple of years after reading reviews for them (& other FM books) over at Liz’a blog (links take you to her posts for each book). At the time I simply selected three that had a wartime setting and tried to pick three authors I had not read or heard of before.

Verily Anderson (12 January 1915 – 16 July 2010) wrote a number of memoirs about raising a family in the UK during and after WWII. Spam Tomorrow was the first.

She was a late starter: her breakthrough as a writer came in 1956, at the age of 41, when she published Spam Tomorrow, a deft and frequently uproarious account of her wartime experiences on the home front. Critics hailed it as a new kind of memoir, one of the first to explore the lives of women in wartime.

Verily Anderson Obituary | The Guardian | 30 July 2010

Although it is not mentioned in the book (unless I missed the reference, which is likely atm), spam is a type of tinned meat (pork), not an email problem. Sourcing fresh meat during and after the war was a problem, spam saved the day and fed a nation. Perhaps the only thing it shared in common with it’s modern day namesake was its ubiquitous nature.

But I digress.

Spam Tomorrow is nothing like canned meat – it is utterly delightful at every turn. It’s a war time memoir full of British stiff upper lip and cheeky humour in the face of adversity and the travails of daily life. We first meet Verily with her FANY unit (First Aid Nursing Yeomanry) during the early stages of the WWII. It’s not really her thing, but she has already realised that being busy and involved is better than sitting around waiting.

My heart had never been in the F.A.N.Y.s until Dunkirk.  The community life did not suit me.  Discipline did not appeal.  I was not a good F.A.N.Y., either technically or socially.  Could it be patriotism?  Knowing myself, I felt there must be some more selfish motive behind it.  Then I remembered telling Lucy I should feel safer right in the war.

That was it.  Anything might happen now, not only to my brothers and friends in the navy, the army, the air force, but to my parents, to Rhalou [sister] with her little family, and to Lorema [another sister] still at school.  In the F.A.N.Y.s I should be safe from the impact.  Somebody else does your thinking for you in the army, and even your feeling. 

But then along comes Donald Anderson with a marriage proposal she cannot refuse.

At this point in the story she circles back to the beginning. Giving us a brief but hilarious rundown of her early childhood, her father’s unusual naming protocols for his five children, her time in Paris and the various odd jobs she did after finishing with school. Her family did not initially approve of Donald as he was a much older man, so a secret, hurried wartime wedding was arranged. The upside of marrying an older man though, was being deemed unfit for active service. Donald spent the war working for the Ministry of Information instead (as an aside, he spent most of the 1920’s travelling around Australia).

Verily captured the uncertainty and fear that those at home felt about the war. Worrying about their loved ones who had enlisted and were fighting overseas, worrying about the bombs falling on London, would Hitler’s forces make it all the way to England? Not knowing how long the war would go on for or who would win, despite the morale-boosting announcements from Churchill over the wireless.

I had no idea how long this would go on. In spite of the table-talk at The Barrens, I had no idea of what to expect beyond a liberal share of Churchill’s blood, toil, tears, and sweat.

In amongst all of this fear and anxiety, lives were lived. Daily dramas continued on regardless, babies were born, meals were prepared and work had to be done.

Verily’s first pregnancy was a charm right up until the delivery. As can happen at such times, things did not go to plan. She spent quite a bit of the next year or so in and out of hospital with various unexplained female problems, until a surgeon told her the only possibilities left were a hysterectomy or pregnancy. She chose pregnancy.

Housing was a constant issue, along with the constant bombing and sleeping in air raid shelters, from tube stations, to cupboards under the stairs and cellars. With two young babies, the stress began to take its toll. They found a small cottage in the Cotswolds and started to take in lodgers.

Donald commuted, only coming home on the weekends while Verily muddled along with various friends, renters and US soldiers sharing her daily concerns. Her home sounded very chaotic but happy. Towards the end of the war, she decided to take in holiday guests, to help with family finances. Naturally she had no idea what she was doing, resulting in an almost Fawlty Towers style farce.

The final few pages herald in the quiet joy and relief that VE day brought to an exhausted nation. They listen to the announcement on the wireless, Verily telling her four year daughter to remember this day for the rest of her life. They hang bunting on their front gate. In London the next day, she and Donald join the crowds strolling around at leisure.

In the West End of London the traffic had stopped, and Londoners in summer clothes walked slowly about the streets. Their pace, physically and emotionally, was that of a Sunday stroll. There was no excitement, no frenzy….As I passed Buckingham Palace, a gentle roar went up in salute of the King and Queen coming out on the balcony. Their slow waving acknowledgement echoed the exhausted relief felt by everyone.

Verily went on to write several more memoirs about her domestic dramas. Hopefully DSP and Furrowed Middlebrow will get around to publishing the remaining memoirs as well. I for one, will be lining up on publication day.

  • Our Square (1957) her post-war memoir
  • Beware of Children (1958) that details the time when they opened “their stately manor home in Sussex as a holiday home for children.”
  • Daughters of Divinity (1960) Verily’s school days
  • The Flo Affair (1963) Life after Donald
  • Scrambled Egg for Christmas (1970) Life in London

Out of curiosity I did some duck, duck, going to find out a little more about her life story. Her first cousin was Walter Falcon Scott — the famous “Scott of the Antarctic.” Charles Darwin was a g.g.g. uncle. Florence Nightingale was a g.g.g. aunt. Her known family ancestry dates from 932. As well as her memoirs, she turned her hand to writing children’s stories and later in life, family history style biographies.

I found this lovely statement about her writing style, which also seems to sum up her approach to life.

As far as Verily is concerned, she’s a writer, and that’s the long and short of it. The bit of fame that she enjoyed was good, but was never the point. She writes whether she is published or not – and not to do so, or to wonder what it might have been like to have followed a different path, is incomprehensible.

Is the writing life worth it? | The Guardian | 19 Feb 2009

Related Posts:

A note on the cover design. It appears to be a detail from the original cover (see Scott’s post above). My edition also includes a lovely Introduction by her daughter, Rachel Anderson.

Title: Spam Tomorrow
Author: Verily Anderson
ISBN: 9781913054212
Imprint: Furrowed Middlebrow (FM32)
Published: 2019 (originally published 1956)
Format: Paperback
Pages: 226
Dates Read: 7 December 2022 - 12 December 2022
This post was written on the traditional land of the Wangal clan, one of the 29 clans of the Eora Nation within the Sydney basin. This Reading Life acknowledges that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are our first storytellers.

16 thoughts on “Spam Tomorrow | Verily Anderson #DeanStreetDecember

    1. One of our regular suppliers at work brings in book from the UK – I ordered them that way, although I noticed that in the back of the book it says they were printed in Australia. So perhaps they are a ‘print on demand’ title. Either way it was easy and relatively cheap to get them in.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. This sounds wonderful Brona; I’ve never read anything by her but I’d love to pick this one up. I read A Chelsea Concerto by Frances Faviell, which is a similar memoir except that she was very hands on in her duties as a VAD and other things–an eye opener in some ways, about all that had to be done and faced. Fear and daily life going hand-in-hand, like in this one.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: 2022 | The Books

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