Thursday, 17 August 2017

There and back again

The second stretch of the Pennine Way has been planned since the first one two months ago, so yesterday Monkey and I took the train to Glossop and retraced our steps across the troll bridge and up the boggy valley to what is known as Doctor's Gate and rejoined the Pennine Way to cross Devil's Dyke and Shelf Moor towards Bleaklow Head. From there we followed the precipitous Clough Edge and descended to the chain of reservoirs that led us, via the Trans Pennine Trail, (finally) to Hadfield. On the map it is big loop, but we didn't quite go in a complete circle as the train home bypassed Glossop.
This time we were armed with a newly acquired map cover so there would be no struggling to check the route:
and we paid close attention to the stone arrows, though they are not necessarily as frequent as you need and you still have to sometimes just follow your nose.
The previous walk's cottongrass had been superseded by the heather:
and instead of the carcass of the aeroplane we discovered this skeleton; at first glance I thought was a rabbit, but on closer inspection it appears to be a large bird of prey, the flesh rotted away but clumps of feathers still obvious in the mud:

The handy Pennine Way distance calculator tells me we walked over twelve miles, and climbed again to nearly 2,000 feet.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Pipe Dream

Building my own home is my pipe dream. I have had a crush on Kevin McCloud ever since Grand Designs started eighteen years ago, that's a lot of years of watching other people build their own houses. Though in fact mostly builders build them, and the people just swan around in hard hats. I don't want to swan around in a hard hat, I want to create a place to live by my own effort, I figure it will be the only way I will ever afford to do it. I have no money, but I have to start somewhere so I decided to start learning more systematically about eco design and house construction. Will Anderson's 'Diary of an Eco-Builder' started as a series of articles in The Independent, and it tells of the trials and tribulations of building a timber framed house on a tiny plot in Clapham. This is not what I have in mind but there is always plenty to learn from other's experiences and he gives lots of advice and links to suppliers and so on. He is a real purist and works very hard to build the most ecological home he can. I liked what he says at the end, because I very much agree:

"Very occasionally, when the accumulating evidence of global climate breakdown saps my optimism, I wonder what difference our radical eco-specifications will actually make. But I have no such doubts about acts and works of beauty. After all, if we cannot sustain a delight in life itself, whatever future we face, what is it we are fighting to preserve?" 

This book is also available as a PDF download
I have been doing much more reading here, The Mud Home. My parents used to live in a house made of cob, and it was four hundred years old, so it seems like a reliable material. All I need now is a plot of land ...

Black Dogs

I picked 'Black Dogs' by Ian McEwan off the shelf because I knew that judging from his other books I have read (that apparently all predate the blog) I would love it, and I have.

Black Dogs is narrated by Jeremy and tells the story of his parents-in-law, Bernard and June; their marriage, their political and philosophical beliefs and the gulf that separates them despite a passionate love. He explains in the preface his own situation and his unusual habit of adopting other people's parents, which explains the close relationship he has with his wife's. The story hops around a bit from the immediate post-war era when Bernard and June married and their enthusiastic adoption of communism, to June's later life, dying very slowly in a nursing home, and later still to the dying days of communism and the fall of the Berlin Wall. The incident with the black dogs is referred to repeatedly, and you sense that the book is leading you to this significant moment in June's life, but he keeps backtracking and deviating, giving what feels like extraneous details about their lives. But maybe they are not. What I like about Ian McEwan is that his books are small, at least the ones I have read are; about very small incidents, and the impact that they have on people's lives. The stories about about the stones, but also the ripples. I keep coming back to the sense that you do not notice good writing; characters become real and individual by osmosis as you read, you cannot put your finger on what the writer is doing to achieve this. I liked and identified with Jeremy, and you feel you get to know him well, even though the story is not about him, he reveals himself as he describes his parents-in-law and their lives. 

This is June's life, reduced from the (to me) idyll that she inhabited in the bergerie to the drawn out end in a remote nursing home:

"When she was satisfied that I had brought exactly what she ordered, I stowed the goods, except for the ink which she kept on the locker. The heavy fountain pen, the greyish-white cartridge paper and the black ink were the only visible reminders of her former daily life. Everything else, her delicatessen luxuries, her clothes, had their special places, out of sight. Her study at the bergerie, with its views westward down the valley towards St Privat, was five times the size of this room and could barely accommodate her books and papers; beyond, the huge kitchen with its jambons de montagne hung from beams, demijohns of olive oil on the stone floor, and scorpions sometimes nesting in the cupboards; in the living room which took up all of the old barn where a hundred locals once gathered at the end of a boar hunt; her bedroom with the four-poster bed and french windows of stained glass, and the guest bedrooms through all of which, over the years, her possessions flowed and spread; the room where she pressed her flowers; the hut with gardening tools in the orchard of almonds and olives, and near that, the henhouse that looked like a miniature dovecote - all this boiled down, stripped away, to one free-standing bookcase, a tallboy of clothes she never wore, a steamer trunk no one was allowed to look inside, and a tiny fridge." (p.36)

During the same visit, revealing himself as he watches another resident. A beautiful subtle moment, he does not say what he is thinking, only leaves you with the impression of thought:

"I offer to make her tea and she assents by lifting a finger off the sheet. I crossed to the handbasin to fill the kettle. Outside, the rain had stopped but the wind still blew, and a tiny woman in a pale blue cardigan was making her way across the lawn with the aid of a walking frame. A strong gust could have carried her away. She arrived at a flower bed against the wall and knelt down before her frame, as though at a portable altar. When she was down on the grass on her knees, she manoeuvred the frame to one side, and took from one pocket of her cardigan a tea spoon, and from the other a handful of bulbs. She set about digging holes and pressing the bulbs into them. A few years ago I would have seen no point at all in planting at her age, I would have watched the scene and read it as an illustration of futility. Now, I could only watch." (p.44)

This book was published in 1992 but I came across this next quote, where Jeremy first meets his wife, and in it he manages to encapsulate the casual and everyday misogyny that is finally being acknowledged and (occasionally) challenged:

"In October 1981 I was in Poland as a member of an amorphous cultural delegation invited by the Polish government. I was then the administrator of a moderately successful provincial theatre company. Among the group were a novelist, an arts journalist, a translator and two or three cultural bureaucrats. The only woman was Jenny Tremaine, who represented an institution based in Paris and funded from Brussels. Because she was both beautiful and rather brisk in her manner, she drew hostility from some of the others. The novelist in particular, aroused by the paradox of an attractive woman unimpressed by his reputation, had a racing bet with the journalist and one of the bureaucrats to see who could 'all' her first. The general idea was that Miss Tremiane, with her white freckled skin and green eyes, her head of thick red hair, her efficient way with her appointment book and perfect French, had to be put in her place. In the inevitable boredom of an official visit there was a good deal of muttering over late-night drinks in the hotel bar. The effect was souring. It was impossible to exchange word or two with this woman, whose sharp style, I soon discovered, merely concealed her nervousness, without some of the others nudging and winking in the background, and asking me later if I was 'in the race'." (p.105-6)

The incident with the dogs happens when June and Bernard are on honeymoon. Already pregnant and already feeling ambivalent to her commitment to the communist party, June walks ahead of Bernard and finds herself confronted with two large feral dogs. For June it becomes a defining moment in her life, one that alters everything, and one that you feel Bernard never understands. The tension of the situation is drawn out and visceral, but without being overly dramatic, another example of engaging writing. But it is Bernard's moment that I want to quote last. There is an undercurrent in the book of references to the war, and its lasting impact on both individuals and the world itself. Here the political idealist Bernard is suddenly struck by an aspect he had not appreciated previously, after an encounter with a woman watching a stonemason working on a war memorial:

"This sombre incident remained with them as they struggled up the hill in the heat, heavy with lunch, towards the Bergerie de T├ędenat. They stopped half way up in the shade of a stand of pines before a long stretch of open road. Bernard was to remember this moment for the rest of his life. As they drank from their water bottles he was struck by the recently concluded war not as a historical, geopolitical fact but as a multiplicity, a near-infinity of private sorrows, as a boundless grief minutely subdivided without diminishment among individuals who covered the continent like dust, like spores whose separate identities would remain unknown, and whose totality showed more sadness than anyone could ever begin to comprehend; a weight borne in silence by hundreds of thousands, millions, like the woman in black for a husband and two brothers, each grief a particular, intricate, keening love story that might have been otherwise. It seemed as though he had never thought about the war before, not about its cost. He had been so busy with the details of his work, of doing it well, and his widest view had been of war aims, of winning, of statistical death, statistical destruction, and of post-war reconstruction. For the first time he sensed the scale of the catastrophe in terms of feeling; all those unique and solitary deaths, all that consequent sorrow, unique and solitary too, which had no place in conferences, headlines, history, and which had quietly retired to houses, kitchens, unshared beds, and anguished memories. This came upon Bernard by a pine tree in the Languedoc in 1946 not as an observation he could share with June but as a deep apprehension, a recognition of a truth that dismayed him into silence and, later, a question: what possible good could come of a Europe covered in this dust, these spores, when forgetting would be inhuman and dangerous, and remembering a constant torture?" (p.165)

I will leave it there, because what more is there to add.

Sunday, 13 August 2017


A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. This is even more of a quickie than the other two today. Jill Fisher started reading this book aloud at an EO gathering years ago and I have been curious about it ever since, so I put it on my 101 books list. I was somewhat disappointed by it. Maybe if I had been reading it to the kids I would have enjoyed it more but although it was quite well written it lacked any subtlety in the story and the references to god put me off. I feel disappointed by my disappointment, because I wanted to like it, she is  much admired children's author. I think Philip Pullman has spoiled me.

Puzzles and Profiteroles

After about two months we are finally getting a regular supply of tomatoes ... when I say regular I mean I am eating one every time I pass through the porch, sometimes we have as many as four or five ripe at the same time. But they are delicious, you can taste that they are home grown.
While Dunk is away the mice will play, and we really know how to live it up in our house; the girls and I have passed the week living on takeaway food and doing a puzzle while watching a marathon of all eight Harry Potter films. 
There have been some minor indulgences, yesterday I conjured up some profiteroles. I used the choux pastry recipe in my very ancient Marks and Spencer cookery book, but Delia's instructions are pretty much identical. 
And we also took a much anticipated trip to Countess Ablaze, a new yarn shop and dye studio that opened a while ago in the Northern Quarter. They dye all their own yarn and fibre for spinning. This one is for a scarf/cowl to go with my turkish coat:
This one is for Monkey, possibly socks, and Tish has plans, and yarn, for an octopus hat.

Buxton and Blackberries

Buxton is an unassuming little town, its main claim to fame is the Buxton water, that you can still drink for free from St Anne's Well, but it was to Poole's Cavern that Dunk and I ventured for our annual day out. It has been a tourist attraction for many centuries, visited, it is claimed, by Mary, Queen of Scots during her imprisonment by Elizabeth I. Dissolved limestone from the rocks above has dripped down into the cavern for a few hundred thousand years and you can go down in the cold and admire the stalagmites (on the floor) and stalactites (on the ceiling).

We had some lovely lunch courtesy of the food festival and then popped along to Scriveners, that claims to be the largest second hand bookshop in Derbyshire: 
and the Green Man Gallery that had this wonderful staircase waterfall among its exhibits:
A lovely low key excursion; there and back on the train for the princely sum of £15.30.

Blackberry season has started early this year, and the berries are in abundance. 
Not just abundant, the bubbling berries were pretty enthusiastic too... here is the floor:
and the ceiling:
Today Monkey and I picked and bottled. Ten pounds of fruit picked, just four of which became twelve pots of jam. I am out of empty jars so the rest are in the freezer for now.
More catch up posts to follow.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Sorry Doris

On my parents bookshelf when I was a teenager was the book 'The Four-Gated City: Book Five of Children of Violence' by Doris Lessing. I was curious about this book title for years, but they didn't seem to own parts one to four, so in the end I bought them myself when I was a student. I had a bit of a Doris Lessing phase for some years and consider myself a great admirer. Mum said I could keep her copy of 'The Golden Notebook' because she didn't care for Doris much any more. I have started to read it twice, I'm sorry but this one is not for me.


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