Quite a Lot A Memoir Author:Dominie Nicholls In 1911 Dominie Vlasto is born in Liverpool to one of England's grandest and most cosmopolitan merchant trading families. Ninety years later – by now Lady Nicholls, widow of one of Britain's most able diplomats and comfortably retired at her home in Saffron Walden, Essex – she reflects on a life well-lived. — On the surface it all sounds predicta... more »ble enough – as solidly unsurprising as the sober exteriors of her grandparents' huge, bourgeois Sefton Park house and her parents's home in Fulwood Park. The surprises begin when we penetrate its interior. Here, amid exotic Levantine furnishings and the whiff of Balkan Sobranie, we're invited to share Dominie's sometimes heartless upbringing in a well heeled community of expatriate Greeks still adapting to English ways while clinging to their Hellenic heritage And it is they who make this book irresistible.
One by one, in Liverpool, London, Rome, Geneva and Athens, we meet grand-parents, parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins in a vast extended family who, together, comprise some of the most gifted, congenital eccentrics of their age. These are people who would no doubt have preferred to have lived modest lives unobserved. Yet by their sheer force of character and brilliance they betray themselves. One by one, across Europe, they turn up to play key roles in great events, despite themselves.
Quite A Lot starts by tracing the roots of her father's Vlasto family, her mother's Pallis family and the Ralli family to which both her grandmothers belonged. This involves a light trek through more than two thousand years in Byzantium, the Balkans and the Aegean. It then briefly explains the tragic circumstances that made refugees of so many of them in the early 19th Century following the Greek War of Indpendence and the Massacres of Chios. But its greatest merit is the amused and amusing – often bemused and astonished – account it offers of strong-willed and brilliant foreign mis-fits in their earnest attempts to become English.
Thank God so many of them found being 'European' or 'English' so hard and that their exotic Byzantine, Levantine and Aegean roots were so resilient.
Along with their profound and unselfconscious eccentricity these mis-fits achieved – to a man and woman – astonishing success as academics, writers, philologists, naturalists, revolutionaries, soldiers, explorers, musicians, silver-smiths and code-breakers...
The title derives from a remark made by one of the author's elderly aunts when talking of the Vlasto family: "They knew what they were worth – and it was quite a lot". The worth of this book is that it goes far further than describing a family.
In Quite A Lot we have an enchanting, fascinating and amusing account of extra-ordinary people whose 'lot' was often to find themselves involved in bizarre events in peculiar circumstances – more often than not in out-of-the-way places – and always at the centre of events. What's more, they never seem to have forgotten who they were, where they came from – nor indeed what they were worth.
Christopher Long, 2002