The Lady In The Van


Today, Jackie drove me to and from New Milton for me to travel to London for lunch with Norman. There was not one available seat on the train until I had a stroke of luck. In search of any possibility I walked through to the third packed carriage of the five that comprised this morning’s transport vehicle. Other hopeful travellers walked towards, and past, me in their own fruitless hunt. Suddenly a young man rose to his feet and retrieved a violin case from the luggage rack. He didn’t sit down again. In response to my enquiry he replied that he was leaving the train at the next stop. As I relaxed into position I reflected that, had he been my maternal grandfather, he would probably have uttered the rhetorical question: “would you be in my grave as quick?”.

Five more carriages were added at Southampton Central where we learned the reason for the crush. It was, of course, Wimbledon week. This also necessitated an additional stop for the tennis.

Preston Road

From Waterloo, I travelled by Jubilee and Metropolitan underground lines to Preston Road, and walked down that street to

The Preston

The Preston, where Norman was waiting, and we each enjoyed the same acceptable lunch of gammon steaks followed by Eton messes. We shared an excellent bottle of Fico Grande Sangiovese, followed by lukewarm double espresso coffees. The one and a half staff on the bar did their pleasant very best.

Alan Bennett

On my outward journey I finished reading Alan Bennett’s ‘Keeping on Keeping on’.

This massive tome written in Bennett’s idiosyncratic style includes diaries from 2005 to 2015; short essays and newspaper articles; two playlets; and his experience of filming The Lady in the Van.

The diaries are fascinating for the author’s take on years still in my own memory. Of the plays I preferred ‘Denmark Hill’ ‘a darkly comic radio play set in suburban South London’ which has particular appeal for one who grew up in Wimbledon.

This is Wikipedia’s opening section on The Lady in the Van:

‘The Lady in the Van is a 2015 British[2] comedy-drama film directed by Nicholas Hytner, written by Alan Bennett, and starring Maggie Smith and Alex Jennings. It tells the true story of Mary Shepherd, an elderly woman who lived in a dilapidated van on Bennett’s driveway in London for 15 years.[5] Smith previously portrayed Shepherd twice: in the original 1999 theatrical production, which earned her a Best Actress nomination at the 2000 Olivier Awards[6] and in the 2009 BBC Radio 4 adaptation.[7]

Hytner directed the original stage production at the Queen’s Theatre in London, while Bennett adapted the screenplay from his 1999 West End play of the same name, which was nominated at the 2000 Olivier Awards for Play of the Year. The film was shown in the Special Presentations section of the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival[8] and received largely positive reviews from critics.’

Having seen and enjoyed this delightful film I was pleased to find the book closing with Bennett’s filming diary of the production.

The Lady In The Van

The successful and versatile artist David Gentleman was a neighbour of Bennett’s when the author lived in Camden Town’s Gloucester Terrace. He has produced some charming vignettes for this section of the book.

My reading on the return journey was Spirit of Love by Ramanlal Morarjee. I am enjoying this novel and will comment further when I have finished it.


  1. I saw Maggie Smith perform on stage in one of Alan Bennett’s ‘Talking Heads’ and became a AB fan. I’ve read of the lady in the van in another playwright’s autobiography; forget who now. I must get that book.

  2. what a great playwright if a bit of an arsehole as a man or at least that’s the way he came across in a couple of interviews recently with Nick Hytner. Still he is a national treasure so I mustn’t diss him, must I?!

  3. A train trip and having a comfortable seat is a nice way to travel. I often use the train to travel to Melbourne from Geelong , however the carriages are often very crowded. Ahh, the similarities, made me smile.

  4. Fantastic book excerpts. I am a bit familiar with the author and loved the film. I may look up this “tome”! I liked the picture created of your seeking a seat and your brief interaction with a violinist on the train. (I am NOT at all certain what your maternal grandfather must have meant…!)

  5. Hello Derrick! I’ve added the Lady in the Van to the ever lengthening book list. Enjoyed reading about journey. Hope you are well

  6. I haven’t read The Lady in the Van, nor have I seen the movie, but the minute I heard Maggie Smith was involved, I promised myself I would do both. I enlarged the print in the book, and was able to read it. Good, wry writing! “As they park, so do the educate”…so true, so true.

  7. I enjoyed you post and the peak into the book. His questioning if his intentions makes him come across as a decent guy (not the asshole another reader suggests), but I guess one can come across well in one’s own writing.

  8. It sounds like a wonderful day–you even got a seat on the crowded train.
    I haven’t read the book, but I like those illustrations. My husband and I enjoyed the movie.

  9. I like the story of your journey and have liked the Bennett I have read. Just bought a small book with both The Clothes They Stood Up In and The Lady in the Van. Hope to get to it when I finish A House Among the Trees… Thanks for the review of the diaries.

  10. I have long suffered and cherished the absence and chance materialisation of a vacant seat as a daily commuter in Mumbai.The surge of exhilaration at an occupant rising to leave at an approaching station is akin to finding a precious stone among pebbles.

  11. Sounds like a good trip, and nice to be able to read at the same time – time spent reading (on trains or in hospitals) always makes the time worthwhile. We use that expression about eager chair poachers too. Another favourite is “there are no pockets in a shroud”.

  12. I liked the way you described the book and film from a short story in Alan Bennet’s book. Thanks for letting me know it was worthwhile since I have liked Maggie Smith since “The Prime of Miss Brodie.” She is a fine actress and this strange story of her living on his property for 15 years intrigues me. Thanks, Derrick. šŸ™‚
    Your meal and wine with Norman sounded delicious! The setting looks quite nice. Jackie is a dear chauffeur and it is probably nice when you share the book you are reading with her, telling her the anecdotes.

  13. Oops, as frequently late to read, I missed your being dropped off at the train and your reading didn’t probably include Jackie. Silly me! Although, I’m sure you fill her in on anecdotes and stories, along with the two of you watching the film. . .

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