"Among the funniest [letters] ever dispatched in the vain hope of steering a black sheep onto something like the straight and narrow." —The Wall Street Journal
Nostalgic, witty, and original, Dear Lupin by Roger Mortimer and Charlie Mortimer tracks the entire correspondence between a father and his only son. When the book begins, Charlie, the son, is studying at Eton, although the studying itself is not a priority, much to his father's chagrin. After Charlie graduates and moves from South America to Africa and eventually back to London, Roger continues to write regularly, offering advice (which is rarely heeded) as well as humorous updates from home ("Your mother has had the flu. Her little plan to give up spirits for Lent lasted three and a half days"). Roger's letters range from reproachful ("You may think it mildly amusing to be caught poaching in the park; I would consider it more hilarious if you were not living on the knife edge") to resigned ("I am very fond of you, but you do drive me round the bend"), but his correspondence is always filled with warmth, humor, and wisdom that offers unique insight into the relationship between father and son.
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About the Author
ROGER MORTIMER was commissioned into the British Army in 1930. He fought in Dunkirk in 1940 and was taken as a POW for the remainder of the war. After resigning from the army in 1947, he became a racing correspondent for The Sunday Times, where he worked for thirty years. He and his wife, Cynthia, had two daughters, Jane and Louise, and one son, CHARLIE MORTIMER, who is the co-writer for his book Dear Lupin.
CHARLIE MORTIMER is the co-writer for Dear Lupin.
Read an Excerpt
Dear Lupin ...
Letters to a Wayward Son
By Roger Mortimer, Charlie Mortimer
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2011 Charlie and Roger Mortimer
All rights reserved.
The Sunday Times
I hope all goes well with you. I never seem to hear of you unless some disaster, major or minor, has taken place. Owing to lack of communication on your part, I have not the remotest idea of what is going on at Eton or how you are progressing, if at all, in your work. Jane has not come down this weekend and I have no idea what she is up to. Nor do I know where she is living: she might be on the run from the police judging from the rapidity with which she changes her domicile. I had a bad and painful attack of gout last week and now I have a throat infection and am partially deaf. Getting old is revolting and I hate it. Poor David Gundry, who stayed at Barclay House a couple of times, was killed in a car accident last week. He went off the road at 90 mph and that was that. A tragic waste of a young life. We are now off to lunch with the Hislops. Last week we went to the theatre and saw 'The Secretary Bird, which is very light but by no means unamusing. Inspector Barlow and the man who plays his boss were sitting just behind us. I had to drive to Doncaster and back last week which was rather tiring. Louise is home and seems in good form. She is the one member of this family that gives me no trouble.
Best love, D
I am now fifteen years old and enjoying a somewhat undistinguished career at Eton College. In an end-of-term report, my Classical Tutor sums up the situation thus: 'Nero was content to roll in the dust in order to collect his laurels. Mortimer however seems merely content just to roll in the dust.'
It was nice to hear from you again after rather a long interval! I'm glad to hear that life seems to be going reasonably well. What has happened to Ordinary Faulkner to make him so cheerful? The prospect of getting rid of you, I suppose! I am going over to Eton if I can tomorrow for Charles Gladstone's Memorial Service. I woke up this morning with the house stinking of oil and full of smoke. One of the boilers had gone all wrong and a chimney was on fire, too. I switched the boiler off, opened the windows and went to bed. I saw a hideous car pile-up on Saturday. Two cars – a Zephyr and a Cresta – were upside down and one had gone over a ditch and into a field. Two people were killed. Louise and Jane come home tomorrow. Thank God it is slightly warmer today. I have had a couple of barmy letters from Gar. One of Mr Luckes's cows got loose in the garden and was a great nuisance. Are you keen on pictures by Toulouse-Lautrec? If you are I will send you a book on him. I think in future I shall call you 'Lupin' after Mr Pooter's son in 'The Diary of a Nobody'. I'm sure Mr Kidson would agree it is very suitable for you.
Yours ever, D
And so I take on the name of Lupin, the disreputable son who was the source of much of Mr Pooter's worries.CHAPTER 2
Your mother came back rather sad and depressed after seeing you yesterday. You may think it mildly amusing to be caught poaching in Windsor Great Park; I would consider it more hilarious if you were not living on the knife edge, so to speak. I know there is always a temptation for boys who fail to make their mark at work or games to try and gain a reputation as a lawbreaker and a defier of authority. I trust you will not give way to that particular temptation. If you do, judging from your past record of folly, you will end up with the sack from Eton or with gaol. Doubtless you regard me as a monumental bore, tolerated at times only because I fork out some cash, but senile as I am I probably know a bit more about you and your friends than you seem to realise; and what I know, I do not necessarily like. As you are so clearly reluctant to discuss your future with me, I have written to Mr Addison to ask for his advice on that point. I have suggested you are wasting your time at Eton. I shall also ask whether in his opinion you are sensible enough to be allowed at large in Paris with Soames. I hate writing to you like this but I do care so much for you and it is distressing for me and your mother to see you making such a hash of your opportunities. No doubt you resent my advice and reproaches now; perhaps in ten years' time you will realise that I was trying, possibly ineffectively, to help you. I'm not God and my advice is not necessarily right, but as I care for you I must do what I can within the limits of human error. At least you have parents that love you; some people do not even have that consolation.
I am quite happy with my little escapades although nobody else is. 'The knife edge' referred to is the fact that I am on a final warning following a flogging from the headmaster as punishment for visiting a certain 'Denise Bunny' in London one night. A couple of appearances in Maidenhead magistrates court for riding a 750 cc Ariel motorcycle without a driving licence or any other paperwork haven't really helped much either.
The Sunday Times
My Dear Charles,
I am writing to you in confidence so please do not discuss this letter with anyone. That silly young ass Simon Sandbach has got himself into a real muddle and is now in a mental hospital, where he will remain for at least six months. I think he has been drinking and sampling drugs, too. It is really very sad. I have known people do very stupid things at Eton with regard to drink, sex, gambling and, more recently, drugs. I implore you not to experiment even in the mildest way with drugs. Probably you have not the slightest intention of doing so, but it is quite easy to be tempted by others who may regard the experiment as harmless which of course it is not. I think on the whole you have plenty of common sense but as you grow older you may tend to find life at Eton tedious and restrictive; if you do, don't commit some act of folly that could have dire consequences for yourself. It would be much better if you left and did a job of work if you honestly felt that Eton was no longer of any benefit to you and that you were no longer of any benefit to Eton. Perhaps this letter is unnecessary, but it is a worry to me when a boy like S. S. suddenly goes right round the twist. It is all too easy to go off the rails at Eton and once off it is not simple to get back on again. I rely on your common sense to keep within the bounds of decorum!!
Yours ever, D
Any letter starting 'My Dear Charles' is generally well worth avoiding. This particular letter contains much excellent advice, all of which goes totally unheeded.CHAPTER 3
I assume you got back safely last night. Time is running short so do try and get through this half without disaster and without a chorus of disapproval and despair from the unfortunate masters who have to try and teach you something. Unless Mr Addison and Mr Kidson can provide strong arguments to the contrary, I propose that you leave Eton at the end of the summer. After all, you are not interested in work or games and you have no ambition to assume responsibility in your House or in the school as a whole, so what would be the point of staying on? I suggest that on leaving you either go into the Army for three years or alternatively I will give you a single ticket to Australia and £50 and you go and earn your living there for a couple of years. I think you need to stand on your own feet and not rely on the efforts of others. Before you go into business, you must learn a little about life so that you have something to offer an employer. I have just had a letter from Aunt Joan asking me whether you received a Christmas present from her as she has received no acknowledgment. As in other matters of life, you are childishly idle about writing letters, thereby giving the impression that you are both ill-mannered and ungrateful. If people can bother to give you a present, the least they can expect is that you rouse yourself from your customary state of squalid inertia and write and say thank you. It was disgraceful that you were still writing thank-you letters on the last day of the holidays. Surely you can see for yourself that your idleness and refusal to do any little task that is in the slightest degree irksome renders you totally unfit for adult employment? I am very fond of you but you do drive me round the bend.
Dad is getting rather stressed out. The idea of joining the Army or going to Australia for a couple of years is not really what I have in mind.
We really must formulate some plans for the future. Various questions have got to be settled.
1. Will you leave at the end of the Summer Half or would it help you to stay on?
2. If you leave, where are you going in September? A definite plan is essential. I am not keen on crammers as most of the pupils are undisciplined louts who have failed to make the grade at school.
3. Is it important for you to have A levels? If so, are you more likely to obtain them by staying at Eton or by having tuition elsewhere? By elsewhere, I do not mean London or any other place where there is not strict supervision.
4. What is your objective to be? What are you aiming for? What qualifications do you require?
Perhaps you could discuss these matters with your Modern Tutor?
Not much news. Old General Scobie died from a heart attack. He stopped Greece going communist in 1945. Your mother has had flu. Her little plan to give up spirits for lent lasted 3½ days. Pongo has chewed up a rug and had very bad diarrhoea in the kitchen. Six Indians were killed in a car crash in Newbury.
Best love, D
Unfortunately for Dad making plans is not on my list of priorities unless it involves the procurement of fairly large quantities of mind-altering substances. Obtaining qualifications is of scant interest.
The Sunday Times
My Dear Charles,
Thank you for your letter. Very well then, you can leave Eton at the end of the Summer Half. Make the best use of the little time that is left to you there and don't do anything stupid. Perhaps I ought to have realised much earlier that you are not really suitable material for Eton and that a smaller school would have suited you better. I cannot pretend that your career there has been anything but a bitter disappointment to me and at times a source of profound anxiety. Both your House Tutor and your Modern Tutor agree that you ought to leave as you seem to have no future as a specialist.
The next problem is to find something for you to do and a place for you to go when you leave. I have a poor opinion of crammers. The pupils tend to be boys who have failed to make the grade morally or intellectually at school and the same can all too often be said of those who teach there. There is some truth in the old saying that there is no cad to equal a crammer's cad. Your Modern Tutor holds an even lower opinion of crammers than I do and is well aware of the type of conduct so often rife at those institutions. Great care, therefore, must be taken to find a place which will not encourage your tendency to play the part of the little lawbreaker. In particular I do not wish you to go to the same place as one or two of your less responsible Eton friends. Your Modern Tutor has asked me to go and see him and with his help no doubt something can be worked out. I think you must realise you have come to a crossroads in your life. If you elect to take the wrong road now, the consequences could be very grave indeed. As you grow older, people are less willing to laugh off delinquency.
I am all in favour of you getting a couple of A levels but what worries me is that in ten years of costly education, you have never had a good report and have never got down to hard work. What assurance have I got that you will work harder and be more responsible away from school? Plenty of boys seem to get A levels at Eton without working themselves into a state of collapse. Why not you?
You can rely on me to do all I can to help you but you can hardly blame me for being cautious, even sceptical, after some of the incidents of the past year. Our family all tend to be late developers and I think you come into that category, too. I think you have it in you to lead a useful and happy life but very soon you must take yourself by the scruff of your neck, shake yourself and determine to get down to work and be less self-indulgent.
Jane is here and sends her love. She is going to France at Easter with some people I have never heard of. Louise has a ghastly cough and Solly has picked up an infection and is thoroughly unwell. A girl was stabbed in Yateley outside Janice's home. The Camberley Art Centre in Camberley High Street has been burnt down; arson is suspected. I saw one of your nicer friends, Higgins, at Kempton. Mr Parkinson is showing signs of marrying again. I hope it will be third time lucky.
Yours ever, D
P.S. Never forget that your mother and I love you very much and perhaps that is why we worry so much and I feel compelled to write long and probably pompous letters of admonition and reproof. We both long to see you happy and settled, and whatever mistakes we make over you, they are made with the best possible intentions.
Clearly my time at Eton has been a disaster all round. Despite my poor parents' supremely good intentions I am not the ideal candidate for England's premier public school.
I enclose £12 for leaving presents. Please deduct 10/ and have your hair cut. As by the end of the week you will no longer be a school boy, there is no necessity for you to look the part any longer.
Naturally I am distressed at you leaving Eton so suddenly and with so little accomplished, but you have evidently been determined to leave and of course you have got your way. What next? I simply don't know. Most unfortunately – and perhaps this is my fault – you cannot communicate your thoughts, fears and hopes to me, and in all but the most trivial matters we are strangers. Because of this I cannot help you as I should like. Something seems to have gone very wrong somewhere, but I am almost entirely in the dark. I think, and those who know you best at Eton agree, that you have been unfortunate in the past year in your choice of friends. Naturally I am worried about you, desperately worried, possibly because I know so little of the true situation. Perhaps we can sort something out when you come home but you will need to be franker and more communicative than in the past. Possibly I am less unsympathetic than I appear on the surface; my own adolescence was beset with problems and I made many mistakes. I cannot direct your life; at the most I can guide, advise and perhaps help in a few small ways but to carry out those functions I must have a little help from you.
I suppose the process of growing up is difficult, confusing and sometimes painful for you; it brings sometimes grief and worry to parents, too. I feel very sad when I think of the fun we used to have in the old days. Perhaps something can be salvaged from the wreck before the gulf between us gets impossibly wide.
I wonder if you realise how lucky you have been in the last year in having a House Tutor and a Modern Tutor who both like you, have always been at pains to emphasise to me your best points and always speak up for you. When you are older, you may realise you owe them a considerable debt.
Best love, D
Largely oblivious to the distress and disappointment of my folks I simply cannot wait to leave. The term after I depart, a boy in my house is caught smoking. When the housemaster punishes him he objects: 'That's not fair, sir. You allowed Mortimer to smoke.' 'Now,' says my old House Tutor with suitable gravitas, 'there was a boy who really needed to smoke.'
I enclose for your attention my telephone bill (Jumbo size). Please note calls to Hurt at 8/0, 11/4 and 18/. I think no further comment is needed but please be temperate in this matter. I don't think I overcharged you!!
Thank you for your card, you cheeky monkey! I hope you are settling in and that the crammer is not too hopeless!
The Gaselees are staying here tonight and a man of eighty-four with a beard comes to lunch tomorrow. I am off to the Derby Dinner tonight + visit General Fisher en route. Nidnod is in a flap and keeps losing £5 notes; I think she is under the impression that I pinch them. I have paid for your shares – Woodfall Trust – keep an eye on them. I'll get you the receipt, don't lose it, it is very important as regards tax. Some men are putting down carpet in the W.C.
We had a disgusting dinner in Newbury last night.
Be reasonably good, D
I am now lodging in Brighton with Joyce Walker, a friend of my parents. She has a wonderful voice crafted over the years from generous quantities of untipped Virginia cigarettes and Gordon's gin. I attend a crammer daily in the vain hope of finally reaching the heady heights of knowledge required to bag a humble Maths O level.
Excerpted from Dear Lupin ... by Roger Mortimer, Charlie Mortimer. Copyright © 2011 Charlie and Roger Mortimer. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Table of Contents
Preface – A Tribute to Mr Pooter,
A Bit of History,