It’s not often that I do a reading from my latest book at one of our dinner parties, but last night on New Year’s Eve I could not resist it, and the company was in stitches. First published in 1959, Lantana Lane was Eleanor Dark’s last book, and it is a wonderfully comic portrait of eccentric rural Australians, Aussie battlers living on the back-blocks of rural Queensland.
This is the passage I read to my friends:
What Mrs Herbie was interested in was interior decoration. She was always surrounded by very shiny and colourful magazines describing, illustrating and extolling a state known as Gracious Living. This state was to be attained, they said, by acquiring picture windows, free-standing fireplaces, piazzas, cocktail bars, barbecues, and a great deal of glittering gadgetry for the kitchen. It was also a help if you made one wall of your living-room lime green, and the others shocking pink; and it was of vital importance that you should remember to call the room where you slept with your husband the Master Bedroom.
Herbie really couldn’t do anything about picture windows and free-standing fireplaces, but he felt he could at least co-operate in this last matter. By that time he was sleeping in the other room, though, and rarely entered the Master Bedroom except to take trays to his wife, so he suggested that the Mistress Bedroom would really be a more accurate phrase; of course the words were no sooner out of his mouth than he realised they didn’t sound right at all, and Mrs Herbie’s expression clearly showed that they weren’t. Poor Herbie often put his foot in it when he tried to take an intelligent interest in Gracious Living.
Perhaps his worst blunder was over the board. The magazines, although indulgent enough about the naming of houses, made it clear that The Trend was towards numbers – which, however, must not be displayed in figures, but as words. So Mrs Herbie asked her neat-fingered husband to paint the word THREE on a board for her, which he was very glad to do; but he argued that their place was the second in the Lane, and should therefore be TWO. When she explained that the odd numbers went on one side, and even numbers on the other, he wanted to know how she knew they were not FOUR, seeing that none of the other houses had numbers you could go by. To this she replied rather tartly that they were going to be THREE because it looked nicer than FOUR, on account of being longer, and if any of the other places wanted to put up numbers they could just fit in with hers, so would Herbie please get on with it, and do it with that black shadow effect which made the letters stand out.
It so happened that she had a bad turn afterwards, and Herbie, desirous of having a really nice surprise ready for her when she was better, bethought himself that SEVENTEEN was even longer than THREE, and he worked late into the night producing a board that would have done credit to the most accomplished professional signwriter. His wife wept when she saw it, and said it was done lovely, but it wasn’t any use. When Herbie, in great distress and bewilderment, asked why, she wept harder, and said there weren’t seventeen places in the whole of the Lane, at which Herbie scratched his head and pointed out that there weren’t any numbers either, so why couldn’t she have any one she liked, and she’d said the longer the better? ….
Eleanor Dark, Lantana Lane, Allen & Unwin House of Books, 2012, p. 23-4