Books

The Landlady Quintet Chance Encounters and Lasting Impressions

A memoir.

@thelandladyquintet

  • 288 pages
  • 142 photos + 17 illustrations
  • ISBN: 978-1-989243-00-8
  • $29.95 CAN + $15 shipping cost
  • 2020

IN THIS TENDER, witty, affectionate memoir, John Randle introduces us to the remarkable women who rented him rooms and opened his eyes to a wider, richer world as he taught ESL / EFL and studied history on three continents. Teaching EFL in Venice in 1969, John rented a room in Dorsoduro from the very English, highly cultured Christina Thoresby, who took him under her wing. The next year, studying history at McMaster University, in Hamilton, Ontario, John boarded with ‘landlady extraordinaire’ Mrs Fiddler, who oversaw her comfortable home from her well-equipped kitchen. Back in England, Lily Hackforth and her niece An Mines shared with our author their rambling home, memories of Cambridge, and vast garden. Later Diana Bryant’s Edwardian-era flat, near London’s Covent Garden, boasted great food and wine, while she wrote a syndicated astrology column and romantic novels, rented out rooms, even guided tours of London. A flat in the “house behind the shrine” in Tokyo was the purview of the mysterious, multi-talented Miss M. John kept in touch with several of these fascinating women and saw some of them again. While he prepared this manuscript — a long-time dream — surprising revelations surfaced.

WORDS INDEED PUBLISHING is proud to announce a memoir by the veteran EFL / ESL writer John H. Randle. For decades John has regaled friends and family with stories about the lively, supportive, often very witty women on three continents who rented him rooms in the 1970s. His animated tales featured wicked impersonations of his landladies. He sent an enthusiastic classmate some of these tales for a quick peek, but the recipient was a publisher, and you can now read the not-too-surprising dénouement!

“In London in the 1970s,” John recounts, “there was never any other feeling than you were at the epicentre of things. I had been there at the tail end of ‘the Swinging Sixties,’ but swaddled in a hall of residence … [and the] old-fashioned confines of King’s College in the Strand. In the 1970s, in contrast, London seemed to burst with life in every direction.” Elsewhere as well, John felt he “lived on the cusp, between eras … lodging in Venice, before mass tourism; in Hamilton, as steel began to give way to health care; and in Cambridge, in advance of Silicon Fen.”

Prof. Thomas M. Robinson, author of Plato’s Psychology and The Other Olympians, observes of John’s book: “The cities, and often the specific area … are also brought back to life by his lively pen (one thinks of Pico Iyer) … But it is his vignettes of the five landladies which startle. [These memorable] characters … all come to life as people who gave depth to his experience of, and pleasure in their city, and, in his own words, ‘enriched his life.’”

JOHN H. RANDLE, MA, AKC, grew up in Weston-super-Mare in Somerset and studied history at King’s College, London, at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and at Queens’ College, Cambridge. He is a long-time teacher of EFL / ESL and author of more than thirty books, most of them for the EFL market in Japan. John is an accomplished artist, and a number of his sketches and watercolours appear in The Landlady Quintet. He has lived in London for almost forty years, much of that time in Little Venice, on the Regent’s Canal.

THIS WARM YET WITTY MEMOIR chugs back to a kinder age, with a quintet of world cities illuminated by five larger-than-life landladies. These remarkable women are more than city ciphers, just as this wry memoir is more than a period piece. With an historian’s knowing eye and a writerly sense of place, John Randle relishes his role as reporter, and as lodger, confidant, friend, almost family member.

In the words of the author, “writers quite like to think they are living on the cusp” — a gentle undercurrent to this memoir, as persistent as the Venetian tides that reveal both crumbling splendour and signs of future decay. Yet even if Venice is viewed as a time capsule, here the lagoon city is more than nostalgic remembrance. Despite his “room with a view” over terracotta rooftops, the writer relishes Venice as a vibrant, living city, before the cruise-ship crowd moved in. In a lacy-curtained patch of Hamilton, Canada, he finds a city shifting away from steel to services. From “celestial Cambridge” before the emergence of Silicon Fen, we cut to London at the tail-end of flower power and flared trousers. Finally, adrift in frenetic Tokyo, our meditative professor feels most at home in old Japan, marvelling at the priest from the local shrine blessing his landlady’s new house. Surrounded by birdsong and bamboo, soothed by the chanting and the cats, the author curls up in his own shrine of a home.

At the heart of the memoir are the quintet of mercurial characters in Venice, Hamilton, Cambridge, London, and Tokyo. Each landlady offers lessons in life. Patrician Christina, an impoverished socialite in Venice, provides a privileged entrée to a dying world. Tokyo’s landlady, a latter-day Jane Austen, offers serenity behind the shrine, a fitting riposte to frenzied modernity. Much like the memoir itself, London’s landlady is light but never slight, along with her sage advice: “The three most important things you can learn in life are how to make a good pâté, open a bottle of champagne without spillage, and write out an invoice.”

Lisa Gerard-Sharp, travel-writer, journalist, and author based in London, France, and Italy