Thursday 26 May 2022

101 books

Many years ago I made myself a '101 Books' challenge. I totally failed to complete it but the list sits there to taunt me. I recently read a review of 'Who was changed and who was dead' by Barbara Comyns and since it was on the list, I got it from the library. It reminded me most of 'Cold Comfort Farm', something of the rural atmosphere, and the slightly surreal characters, including the dominating elderly relative. The book starts with a flood, which gets the village all up in arms, and then people start dying, in random and unseemly ways, causing some measure of mass hysteria, all of which is observed rather bemusedly by Emma and Hattie and Dennis. It engaged me very much with the portrait of this somewhat secluded community and how it copes with disaster. 
Here is the grandmother, plotting, but confined by the fact that she has vowed never again to set foot on land she does not own, so she has to take her enjoyment in the situation as best she can:

"The old lady picked some beeswax out of her teeth as she pondered ways of putting her son in his place and brightened up a little when she decided to put the maids on to spring-cleaning his room. He couldn't sit up there in haughty isolation under those conditions. She chuckled to herself and felt happier. But if only she had been free to wander in the village and hear the screams coming out of cottage windows and perhaps even help nurse one of the unfortunate afflicted. She would dearly love to see someone who believed they were being pursued by monsters. So far there had only been five cases, but there would be more; she was confident there would be more. One of the maids might become a victim, or even Old Ives. The thought of Old Ives being devoured by imaginary monsters cheered her up considerably, and she trotted off to the potting shed to see if he looked at all queer; but she found him looking very well, sorting out some seeds he had been drying. She wasn't very pleased with the way he looked at her and asked how she was feeling." (p.87-88)

The other library book is '100 Prized Poems - Twenty-five years of the Forward Books', a celebration of works that have been published by Forward and won their poetry prizes. (If you have a few minutes, go and read this, (explanation here of what the poet, Nicole Sealey is writing about) the winner last year of the single poem prize). It has been some bedtime reading over the last few weeks, with many surprises and thought provoking moments, a few familiar names too. I give you this, War Poetry by Kate Clanchy. I loved the description of the broken nest, but also it feels somehow appropriate to the current world situation:

The class has dropped its books. The janitor's
disturbed some wasps, broomed the nest
straight off the roof. It lies outside, exotic
as a fallen planet, a burst city of the poor;
its newsprint halls, its ashen, tiny rooms
all open to the air. The insects' buzz
is low-key as a smart machine. They group,
regroup, in stacks and coils, advance
and cross like pulsing points on radar screens.

And though the boys have shaven heads
and football strips, and would, they swear,
enlist at once, given half a chance,
march down Owen's darkening lanes
to join the lads and stuff the Boche - 
they don't rush out to pike the nest,
or lap the yard with grapeshot faces.
They watch the wasps through glass,
silently, abashed, the way we all watch war.

Stay safe. Be kind. 

Wednesday 25 May 2022

Garden developments

The 'ladder' planter arrived Monday (thanks to Dunk who came over and waited for the DHL man for me), courtesy of GardenWoodUK on Etsy. I have planted two of the steps with some of my plants from Rosybee. I found their advert in the Gardener's World mag and they specialise in plants for pollinators. I am so thrilled with what they sent, the plants were large and sturdy compared to the plug plants that I got from Marshalls last year, none of which flourished. I have also put in some chard seedling that Julie gave me in another step. Some of the seedlings that are currently indoors will probably go in the bottom step. 

All sorts of other things are doing so well and I am excited to get home and see what else is popping up.
This is a beauty that mum gave me in the autumn, will have to check with her for the name:
The violas made it through a second winter and have started flowering again. They were such a joy last year, putting out flowers all summer :
Lots of seedlings are doing their thing outside as well as on the windowsills indoors. These are poppy seedlings just ready to pot up:
Bees are arriving too:
This, I think, is a self-seeded geranium, just quietly getting on with making the garden more beautiful:
This weed appeared back in March, it has the most lovely tiny delicate flowers, and is now so tangled around the bench that I hardly have room to sit:
The lettuce Claire and I planted a month ago is coming on a storm:
so Tish and I had some for dinner the other night:
And apparently in Japan pretty much everything has to have a mascot:

Stay safe. Be kind. Get out more (you know you should).

Saturday 21 May 2022

Whispers of Adzuki Beans

'Sweet Bean Paste' by Durian Sukegawa (who has neither a website, nor a Wikipedia entry) (though the film of the book does) is a lovely tale of friendship and redemption. Sentaro runs a dorayaki stall, rather half-heartedly it seems, until he encounters Tokue, who teaches him how to make his own sweet bean paste filling rather than using the packaged flavourless stuff. It does not lead him to become suddenly successful, to fix the problems with his life, because it is the other things she teaches that are more important. Tokue had had her life stolen away by contracting leprosy as a young girl and being confined by draconian laws, despite being cured. Her attitude to life contrasts starkly with Sentaro, who has wasted his own, spending some years in prison and then drinking his time away. He resists being drawn in by Tokue but can't help himself. They become a little trio with the addition of a schoolgirl Wakana, one of a group of regular customers that Tokue befriends. Just a nice book, people caring about people and making the world a better place to be.

"On the occasions when Sentaro had attempted to make bean paste, he always left the beans on the stove to cook until they were soft. Not Tokue, however; her method was completely different.
To begin with, she immediately added more water as soon as the water was about to boil. She did this several times, then drained the beans in a strainer and threw away the cooking water. After that she returned them to the pot to soak in fresh lukewarm water; that would remove the bitterness and astringency, she said. Next she stirred when gently with a wooden spatula, taking care not to squash them while letting them simmer thoroughly over a low heat. At every stage in this process Tokue kept her face so close to the beans it was enveloped in steam. What was she looking at, Sentaro wondered. Was she watching for some kind of change? He moved closer to examine the adzuki through the haze of steam but couldn't see anything significant.
He watched Tokue holding the wooden spoon with her gammy hands as she scrutinised the beans, observing her side-on. Sentaro hoped that she wasn't going to require the same level of enthusiasm from him. Just the thought of it made his spirits sink.
Without quite knowing why, however, Sentaro found himself also drawn to gazing at the beans in the pot. He watched them jiggle about, covered by the water; not a single one lost its shape." (p.24-5)

Stay safe. Be kind. Watch those beans.

Monday 16 May 2022

Why do we own silver polish?

Sadly last night I knocked a bottle out of the cupboard and smashed my lovely purple teapot, that my sister bought me probably seven or eight years ago. That's a pretty good lifespan for a teapot. I improvised overnight with a pyrex jug and a small tea plate as a lid, but then rode over to our favourite Hope Direct Charity shop on Chorlton road this morning. I could pretty much guarantee to find a replacement:
also they have en excellent selection of puzzles:
and my teaspoons at work keep 'disappearing' so I thought I would just buy a whole stash and be sure to always find one:
I got all excited when I spotted this George VI one; alas, it is only nickel silver ... but I gave it a good polish anyway: 
The rain is stopped now so I can go and do some pottering.
Stay safe. Be kind. Polish your silver.

Sunday 8 May 2022

K is for Kimono

Here are Tish and Monkey with their friend Flossie wearing kimono about 23 years ago (ha, ha, just trying to make those girls feel old). I believe they belonged to Flossie who had previously lived in Japan. 
And over the weekend Monkey went with friends to one of the sensei's homes to try on some kimono:
Apparently kimono are always silk, if they are made with cotton they are called yukata.
And they visited another temple (lots of outings to lots of temples, she barely mentions going to classes). I loved this photo that shows how the temple has a pathway that leads directly to the sea. It reminded me off the Foss Way, a roman road that we used to live adjacent to that was had long stretches as straight as this:

Stay safe. Be kind. Contemplate the distant horizon.

Thursday 5 May 2022

G is for Gargoyle

Much delight arrived this morning in the form of this gargoyle from BrighthelmStone on Etsy (I was looking for planters but got distracted). We haven't named him yet but he has a lovely spot among the purple flowers and out of sight of any thieving back-lane-loiterers.
Much more delight in the garden as the self-seeded campion has taken over last year's sweet pea pot and looks fabulous:
and I spotted a lurking ladybird, which is great because we had quite a lot of aphids last year so hopefully she will set up home and have lots of babies:

Stay safe. Be kind. Don't forget to vote (before they take your rights away).

Sunday 1 May 2022

Dead stuff

I took back to the library 'Everybody died, so I got a dog' because it was tedious and 'Hurricane Season' because it was too violent, but I knew I would love 'A Line Made by Walking' by Sara Baume because I read 'Spill, Simmer, Faulter, Wither' six years ago (almost exactly). In that book she was plainly fascinated by death and dead things, and in this one Frankie is similarly interested. Frankie has had some kind of minor breakdown and retreats to her deceased grandmother's mouldering house to gather her thoughts.

Lots of quotes coming up, a surefire sign of an excellently written book. I liked this one because it reminded me of a very old post on another blog:
"I knock the mud from my boots against the doorstep, lever them off with the mahogany shoehorn. I never used a shoehorn before I came here; I never needed one. But nowadays I deliberately leave my boots half-laced so have no choice but to ram the tiny paddle down and shovel up my heel. It's a way of nodding to her customs, of recreating the rituals of her day. I find my grandmother in the shoehorn, and again, as I wash my hands, I find her in the kitchen windowsill curios. In a row above the draining board, there's a weathered wood St Joseph, a plastic flamenco dancer, a three-legged camel, a panda-bear-shaped pencil sharpener, an oblong pebble painted with the features of a mouse and each one of these onlooking objects are immeasurably precious to me, because my grandmother can be found in them."

And this one, because it reminded me of the dandelions:
"And every time I ate a banana, I had to ask it a question. It was a trick Mum showed my sister and me when were were kids. We'd ask the banana something with a straightforward yes/no answer, then she'd chop the very tip off with a sharp knife to reveal a black shape that was either a clear Y or an indistinguishable smudge which stood for no. Of course she couldn't possibly have predicted I'd become obsessed with the wisdom of banana skins. Over and over, I turned to them to settle arguments with my conscience; I obeyed the Y or smudge irrespective of sense, of consequence." (p.80-81)

Frankie takes photographs of dead things, pictures that are reproduced in the book, but she doesn't kill things:
"Only once in all my driving years have I created my own piece of roadkill: it was early autumn, the height of the harvest season. It was pecking spilled grain from the tarmac, and I must have been concentrating on something else or not concentrating at all, because my unthinking instinct was to accelerate. I hope that I also unthinkingly assumed the pigeon would fly away safely before I reached it, that it's untimely death was no more than a tragic miscalculation. I'd like to believe, as everyone does, that I am innately good; innately wired to do good.
But maybe I innately wanted to see the pigeon burst against my windscreen, a miniature piƱata." (p.123)

This is how artists think, or maybe she's just a hoarder:
"Every time I take the train, I buy a coffee from the snack trolley and the trolley assistant asks me the same question: 'sugar or milk?' And I reply: 'no, neither, thanks.' And he or she then presents me with, alongside my coffee, a stirring stick. I probably wouldn't have noticed if it had happened only once, or if it was always the same attendant, but this is not so. Whoever it is, every since time, they make the same mistake.
I've been gathering these sticks for seven years now. I keep them all together in a paper bag. They don't seem to take up much space even though they are too many to keep count. They are a project. I have not yet decided how to display them, but they are a conceptual art project about the way in which people don't listen, don't think." (p.152)

Here Frankie recalls her downstairs neighbour:
"On this carpet, again I remember the old one. Its cider-shade and the tin soldier who lived beneath and how he used to drum on his furniture. He was quite brilliant at it. With only his hands and domestic surfaces, he drummed up an endless variety of rhythms, and it wasn't even annoying; it was curiously lovely. What bothered me was that he was the one who was supposed to have purpose; purpose enough for both of us. What bothered me was all of the time he wasted by drumming, and all the time I wasted by listening to him drum, by taking pleasure in it, for pleasure is almost always a waste of time." (p.209-210)

Like the man in 'Spill, Simmer, Faulter, Wither' Frankie meanders around alone pretending to her family that she is managing, but the calm, and collecting the dead things appear to help, but the book as a whole has the same sense of pointlessness of life. Here she is watching a nature programme:
"There's a gentle whirr of crickets, but over the whirr the bird call is clear. It comes in twos and has a buzzing quality; the sound of the arrival of a text message, a second in quick succession.
The presenter explains how the corncrake we can hear is a male who has flown all the way from Africa, looking for a mate. He stays up very late, listening. 'I guarantee that when I get up in the morning,' he says as he zippers his tent for the night, 'the corncrake will still be calling.' They are almost extinct, he explains. Because of the intensity of modern farming practices. Because at the same time of year the female lays her eggs, the farmer cuts the hay and the nests are destroyed. The male is calling, the presenter says, because he can't see through the long grass; because he doesn't know that there aren't any females left to hear." (p.278-79)

The grandmother's cottage is a safe place from her childhood that Frankie hides in. She dips her toe in and out of the outside world, but in the end her grandmother kicks her out. Another book that is all atmosphere, nothing much happening, just watching a person live. 

Stay safe. Be kind. Find a safe place.

Travelling Hornplayer

I like books with gradually emerging connections, where the characters are linked over time, sometimes the reader knows more than they do (or can see it coming). 'The Travelling Hornplayer' by Barbara Trapido was just such a book. Her name felt familiar when I found this book but I am not sure why because I have not read anything else by her. 

Catherine and Jonathan's daughter Stella is quite a handful, she has absorbed all their energy ever since she was born. She discovers the cello and leaves for Edinburgh where she takes up with Izzy, her artist housemate. While Catherine lost herself in being a mother to Stella, Jonathan, her writer father, has been having lunches with his sister-in-law and an affair with Sonia. Ellen and Lydia are sisters, Lydia is killed outside Jonathan's London flat, while Ellen reappears as another Edinburgh housemate. We get a little of everyone's back story and a smattering of eccentric relatives, what's not to like. I have been busy with the A to Z so did not get around to the review, so that's all I got.

Here Stella has discovered Izzy has been fucking someone else and she abandons him and returns to Edinburgh. I have fondness for this character because Monkey has a good friend called Peregrine (he is not named in this quote) (and our Perrie is nothing like this one):
" 'Where's Ellen?' Stella says. 'Is she asleep?'
'Ellen's gone,' he says. 'I took her to the airport late last night. Her sister's been killed in a road accident. In London.' Then he says, 'She's distraught. They were terribly close. She was beside herself.'
'Oh, Jesus,' Stella says, going cold all over. She bursts into tears.
'Oh, for Christ's sake.' She cries and cries. She can hardly believe that life can be so horrible, so malicious, to her and to Ellen. And all in a single day.
She began to tell him about Izzy and Grania, and about her father and the woman in  Fortnum's. She tells him as she watches him pack. His stuff is already folded on the bed, his trunk open on the floor, his things folded sleeves to middles in neat, flat, square parcels, classified in groups. They look like items in an old-fashioned gentleman's outfitters. He puts dirty things in a linen drawstring bag marked 'Linen'. He has special cloth bags for his shoes. He has a wooden box with shoe polish. Putting the things into his trunk takes him five minutes. Then he folds his duvet carefully and puts it on top of everything." (p118-9)

Stay safe. Be kind. Pack your stuff.