Vintage Hardcover Leaves in the Wind by Alpha of the Plough, c1930
Vintage Hardcover Leaves in the Wind by Alpha of the Plough, appears to be a 1930 reprint of the original 1918 edition. The spine has some damage which is reflected in the reduced price and there is no dust jacket.
‘Alpha of the Plough’ is not the author’s real name. Alpha is, in fact, A.G. Gardiner who chose the name when writing for The Star, as several contributors were named after stars. Gardiner covers a great number of jovial topics – from his companions of a bus to giving up tobacco, from smiling in the mirror to famous conversationalists – but there is also a hefty portion of the book given over to soldiers and war. Difficult to avoid during wartime, and perhaps it is only to the 21st-century reader that the combination of the frivolous and fatal seems incongruous. Gardiner was nearly 50 when the First World War began, and did not see active service in it – but he is a kind, insightful observer of soldiers, blinded neither by patriotism nor cynicism:
A dozen youths march, two by two, on to the “up” platform. They are in civilian dress, but behind them walks a sergeant who ejaculates “left – left – left” like the flick of a whip. They are the latest trickle from this countryside to the great whirlpool, most of them mere boys. They have the self-consciousness of obscure country youths who have suddenly been thrust into the public eye and are aware that all glances are turned critically upon their awkward movements. They shamble along with a grotesque caricature of a dare-devil swagger, and laugh loud and vacantly to show how much they are at ease with themselves and the world. It is hollow gaiety and suggests the animation of a trout with a hook in its throat.
A central thread of Leaves in the Wind is humanity in the midst of war – the minutiae amongst the vast and awful. The collection would be worth hunting down for that alone. But I don’t want to give the wrong impression of Gardiner’s tone – because Leaves in the Wind is very often an amusing book too, and wanders onto the sorts of topics in which A.A. Milne would have delighted in his pre-war sketch writing days. Such as gentlemen’s fashion:
I am not speaking with disrespect of the well-dressed man (I do not mean the over-dressed man: he is an offence). I would be well-dressed myself if I knew how, but I have no gift that way. Like Squire Shallow, I am always in the rearward of the fashion. I find that with rare exceptions I dislike new fashions. They disturb my tranquillity. They give me a nasty jolt. I suspect that the explanation is that beneath my intellectual radicalism there lurks a temperamental conservatism, a love of sleepy hollows and quiet havens and the old grass-grown turnpikes of habit.