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Jane Gardan

The Tribute” is slightly harsher, a little more acrid than most Gardam tales. It’s also a little more cynical, angrier, and puts its pointed, unequivocal cards on the table right from the off. Gardam is always happy to make the most of the least promising characters but here she sets up some not very pleasant old ladies, once surrounded by opulent wealth and servants to tidy up after them, for a fall and then shoves them over the edge. It’s highly satisfying, watching the descent, but the build up is far more interesting.

The women in question, incidentally, have fallen on comparatively hard times. Once wives of globetrotting government officials used to planning voguish parties in foreign embassies, they now harmlessly occupy humble residences in nondescript parts of London. We join them as they compare thoughts about a former nanny they shared and who seemingly spent many years with each of them. The nanny, “Dench,” has just passed away and they ponder, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, a small tribute in the Telegraph. They are, clearly, far from particularly moved about the death, and seem still to lack much in the way of self-perception. They have cultivated ideas about themselves that the passing years and dwindling fortunes have not diminished.

Mabel Ince picks up the other two ladies — Fanny Soane and “Lady” Nelly Benson — one Thursday morning for a meeting at Harrod’s with not-particularly-dearly-departed Dench’s niece, who has been in touch with Nelly regarding items to be left to all three ladies in Dench’s will. She drives to the houses of both Fanny and Nelly and, in doing so, unfussily and unquestionably illustrates their latter near-destitution. Fanny lives in a small house with a gone-to-seed, gin-soaked husband; Nelly in a dirty-windowed, dilapidated townhouse which has been divvied up into flats she now housekeeps (I think). The ladies are, though, completely delusional, or in denial, or both, and bicker and throw barbs at one another as though from long-vanished lofty perches.

Heaving the shopping bag ahead of her, Nelly climbed in alongside and said, “I remember that hat. Always reminded me of a dead blackbird,” and laughed at this all the way along Kensington High Street.

Fanny said, “I think perhaps we are out of the fourth form now, Nelly,” and Mabel did not speak.

“Where are you now?” Nelly asked when she had stopped laughing. “What’s become of you, Mabel? I heard you had to sell the castle.”


“Suppose old Humphrey lost his money.”

“Oh Nelly, be quiet,” said Fanny in the back.

“Horses, I suppose. He always lost. I remember the Marsa Club in Malta. My word he flung it about. Where d’you live now?”


“Bit near the course, isn’t it?”

“He watches on television,” said Mabel, negotiating the Kensington traffic lights with knuckles of ice.

“You can do that anywhere — watch the television. Unless you’re like me — can’t afford one. Where d’you live, Fanny?”


“Oh dear, that’s a pity. A long way from London. Further than Newbury in a sense.” She began to laugh again.