Thursday, 27 September 2007

Summing up last week

Another week when there hasn't been much opportunity to write anything here, and not much reading to speak of either. A train journey to Leeds gave me the chance to mull over the first of the Forsyte Saga, A Man of Property, so that I am nearly ready to write about it, while the journey home was spent reading the Interlude between the first and second books. It focused on my favourite character and, although it was a re-read and I knew the outcome, I found it very moving.

The train journeys were noisy but uneventful. My first "proper" trip since June, it should help to prepare me for the imminent venture to London and Devon, and to the vicissitudes of monthly travel until next summer. As ever, I've enjoyed a longer period at home, and begun to think wistfully of self-employment and ways and means for never setting foot in London again. But as the Devon trips to visit elderly parents will continue indefinitely (DV), I may as well resign myself to the joys of the Tube, hot, crowded and sticky even in winter, and the long evenings in a hotel when suddenly reading doesn't seem like the most engaging pastime in the world, and going out to eat an insurmountable chore.

And then there is the packing, of course - doleful dogs skulking at my feet while I pile clothes, papers and laptop into the suitcase, and the dreadful decision: what shall I take to read? Four hours each way London, Devon another 3 hours there and back, 1 night in a hotel, 3 nights with the parents, who go to bed Very Early; there's WiFi on the London trains but I can't work for the whole journey. How many books is that? My room in Devon has an emergency collection: C.P. Snow, Arthur Ransome, Raymond Chandler, all of which can be drawn on in need, and there are a couple of oddments in the desk drawer at work. There are two more books in the Forsyte Saga in the volume I'm reading, so that's a definite, especially as it's good, slow reading. But I'll need something lighter, especially for the Devon train on Friday evening - that one's always a horror, full of people attached to little machines which make noises like canned wasps, so concentration is impossible (I plan to remember my own canned-wasp-machine but, as I won't turn it up in case of disturbing someone else, it's remarkably ineffective against intrusive insects).

The real agony over travel book choice is, what if I don't like one of them? This is a good argument for not taking library books away with you as you can't abandon them if you really hate them. However, we must look on the bright side (why, I've always wondered? it's not in my nature, I am essentially lugubrious): a walk to Charing Cross Road and the Murder One bookshop is not out of the question, and I have discovered that Persephone Books, discoverers of forgotten gems, has its bookshop serendipitously situated between the office and the dentist. Mustn't forget that the journey home has to be undertaken, too!

Booking through Thursday - Friendship

Buy a Friend a Book Week is October 1-7 (as well as the first weeks of January, April, and July). During this week, you’re encouraged to buy a friend a book for no good reason. Not for their birthday, not because it’s a holiday, not to cheer them up–just because it’s a book.

What book would you choose to give to a friend and why?

For most people I would much rather know that I am buying them a book they already want, so it would really help if more of my friends would create wishlists!

On the other hand, I would buy the book I am reading now for almost anyone, it's so wonderful. As soon as I'm finished reading it I'm going to blog about it, in the hope that other people will read it. It's The Bronski House by Philip Marsden. Beautifully written.

Friday, 21 September 2007

The last of the butterflies

There have been very few butterflies here this summer. After a hopeful start to the spring, with more orange tips than I have seen here, the summer, as everyone knows, was a disaster. Many butterflies emerged late, when the weather finally improved and, though there was a flush of peacocks on the buddleias recently, colder nights mean that overall numbers have been very poor. A few painted ladies and red admirals have fluttered and flirted round the garden, but even numbers of small tortoiseshells have been poor. In past years I have loved to see the small dusky ringlets dancing amongst the grass stalks on our evening walks, but this wet year did little to encourage butterfly numbers or such outings. Even the dogs didn't complain at staying in when it rained.

Worse, though, than the lack of butterflies has been the complete absence of moths. Northumberland is not perhaps the best county for variety anyway, but at least the burnet moths and cinnabars on the dunes are always spectacular. The garden mostly offers a selection of small brown or frilly white moths which can be hard to identify. The greenhouse, though, is usually shared with yellow underwings, which zonk about the tomatoes while you are picking them. Not this year, not a one. This year I have seen a mouse moth. That's it. I'm fond of mouse moths, I was pleased to see it, and helped it back outside when it got stuck. But I would have been pleased to welcome a few of its friends.

Devon has been little better, according to my mother. I recall nights in Devon when it was only possible to sleep with your head under the bedclothes, so many creatures were whizzing round the room. Emeralds, garden tigers, elephant hawk moths, riots of colour. Delicate, feather-winged plume moths could be found on the bindweed in the garden. At least in Devon numbers may recover a little next year if the sun shines. Here, I am afraid that time is running out.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Sunshine and Roses

btt button

The reverse of last week’s question:

Imagine that everything is going just swimmingly. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and all’s right with the world. You’re practically bouncing from health and have money in your pocket. The kids are playing and laughing, the puppy is chewing in the cutest possible manner on an officially-sanctioned chew toy, and in between moments of laughter for pure joy, you pick up a book to read . . .

Funnily enough, my choice of book when I'm feeling really good is much the same as my choice when I'm miserable. This is not the time for taking on a huge reading challenge, or a book which risks spoiling the mood. My solution - and this is where things get a bit obsessive - is to have a pile of books saved up that I am particularly looking forward to. For Christmas I will need to have at least 4 or 5 such to feel really secure, though they can be interspersed if necessary with some relatively run-of-the-mill detective novels - a bit of Agatha Christie or Dorothy Sayers, perhaps. This Christmas I shall try to have a Margery Allingham in the pile, probably the next in the Dresden Files series, and perhaps something new that's been highly recommended. Oh, and the last of the Soldier Son trilogy by Robin Hobbs is a contender this year, if I can wait until then. A couple of good cookery books and a really beautiful gardening book make excellent additions. Then I can curl up with a cup of Imperial Spice tea and a small brown dog, and enjoy.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Tempus fugit

I haven't had a lot of time for posting recently, despite my resolve that I would try to do so regularly. In August, my two weeks' holiday was spent on exciting things like creosoting the inside of the garage and catching up in the garden then, just as I was about to get back to work, my son rang to say he was ill again and could I go to Edinburgh to look after him, please? Eight days of fretting later, I was back home and glued to the computer trying frantically to wade through the email that had accrued in my absence. I am only gradually emerging from accounts and conference notices, but at least I managed to spend Sunday morning in the garden again, having virtuously hoovered and scrubbed all of Saturday.

A lengthy battle with a ferocious hedgehog holly at least proved very satisfying, although I think I bear more scars than it does. Planted almost as soon as we arrived here, it's a creature I view with great affection, and it has been photographed in many moods. It's at its best in snow, which is beginning to feel imminent, judging by today's temperature. Despite the cold, opposite the holly is a small triumph - my hibiscus Blue Bird has had more flowers than ever before this year, and I beam at it as I pass. And we finally have a glut of tomatoes! It's gratifying to send The Dormouse off to visit his brother bearing gifts of tomatoe
s and courgettes, I feel I'm caring for him properly, even in absentia.

The paddock has been ploughed and seeded and is greening up again, much to the relief of Senior Dog and The Bolter, who thought they would be denied access for ever. They are less pleased to discover that all the vole holes have disappeared - for them, it has changed from an adventure playground, with snacks, to an arid desert. No doubt it will revert soon enough, unless we can keep up with the mowing next year. I don't recall who it was who mentioned the Flat Pack Tractor in their blog, but I haven't had a moment's rest since I rashly mentioned it to the Other Half. I should have known that he would want one and now I live in dread! Here, in the meantime, is The Bolter, heading in the right direction for once.

Friday, 14 September 2007

Made in Heaven

It was a bit of a risk to start reading her books with this one, but it came highly recommended, and Adele Geras managed the unimaginable: she made me interested in the preliminaries to a white wedding. Unlike many small girls, my daydreams did not focus on walking up the aisle in a fluff of white tulle, yearning instead after black velvet and sophistication (I also couldn't envisage myself agreeing to obey anyone, thank you) so it was a surprise to find that I really cared whether Zannah would ever have the opportunity to wear her dream dress. My sympathies were engaged from the outset by an excellent cast of characters including the quirky Charlotte and her lodgers, the appealing Isis (Geras does children well) and some infuriating men. Although 30-something years of marriage meant that it was fairly easy to identify with Joss's feeling that her relationship, if comfortable, was unexciting, the writing has an immediacy which should make it accessible to anyone. Descriptions are rewarding and the tearoom full of pictures of sinking boats will stay with me.

Because I read so much I take it as the sign of a good book if I think about it when I'm not reading, and this was one I was impatient to get back to. There are more books by this author to look forward to, including her work for children: someone who writes about children with such a deft hand will, I'm sure, write well for them, too.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Booking through Thursday - Comfort Food

Okay . . . picture this (really) worst-case scenario: It’s cold and raining, your boyfriend/girlfriend has just dumped you, you’ve just been fired, the pile of unpaid bills is sky-high, your beloved pet has recently died, and you think you’re coming down with a cold. All you want to do (other than hiding under the covers) is to curl up with a good book, something warm and comforting that will make you feel better.

What do you read?

(Any bets on how quickly somebody says the Bible or some other religious text? A good choice, to be sure, but to be honest, I was thinking more along the lines of fiction…. Unless I laid it on a little strong in the string of catastrophes? Maybe I should have just stuck to catching a cold on a rainy day….)

I think with quite such a concatenation of catastrophes I might not be up to reading anything at all! But no, I am good at nurturing myself through a crisis. A nice cup of tea and a large pile of books will see me through. In the pile? To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis - a recent addition to comfort reading, but a lovely warm one, even if she just occasionally gets English period or idiom wrong; I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith - a book that has got me through many a bad patch, full of innocence and optimism; the Mountjoy novels by Elizabeth Pewsey - much more knowing, full of naughtiness, they will make me laugh if anything can.

For a full-blown disaster, though, it will be Elizabeth Goudge, for her wisdom and moral strength, virtues that endure even in these cynical times. I'm not churlish, though, I turn to her in the good times as well, and always emerge feeling restored and refreshed.