Tuesday 28 May 2024

Keep passing the open windows

'The Hotel New Hampshire' by John Irving came from a brief visit to the charity shop when I popped in to return a couple of puzzles. I have to say that he is redeemed in my eyes now because I loved the family in this book almost as much as Owen Meany. The Berry children are born in quick succession and they become a close knit group of siblings, their shared history becoming important for their future. The Berry parents meet at a hotel in Maine where they have summer jobs, and the tale of their meeting is part of the family mythology. The story is told by John, the middle child, so mostly they are referred to as Mother and Father and it is the relationships between the children that is central, particularly that between John and Franny. The story follows the family as their father tries to run a hotel, first in New Hampshire, then in Vienna, and finally back in Maine. And I felt on reflection that Lilly had something of Owen about her, in her smallness, which endeared her to me. The supporting cast includes Freud the diminutive animal trainer, Earl the bear, Coach Bob, Sorrow the family dog (who hangs around longer than he should have done), Rhonda Ray, Susie the other bear, the radicals and the Viennese prostitutes. I don't want to recite the story, because it was by turns entertaining, surreal, and heart-breaking, the trials and traumas they endure, so here are a few quotes to create the atmosphere.

From the beginning, the family gathered the hear the 'story':
"'Frank, tell us what sex is,' Franny would say, but Father would rescue us all by saying, in his dreamy voice, 'I can tell you: it wouldn't have happened today. You may think you have more freedom, but you also have more laws. That bear could not have happened today. He would not have been allowed.' And in that moment we would be silenced, all our bickering suddenly over. When Father talked, even Frank and Franny could be sitting together close enough to touch each other and they wouldn't fight; I could even be sitting close enough to Franny to feel her hair against my face or her leg against mine, and if Father was talking I wouldn't thing about Franny at all. Lilly would sit deathly still (as only Lilly could) on Frank's lap. Egg was usually too young to listen, much less understand, but he was a quiet baby. Even Franny could hold him on her lap and he'd be still; whenever I held him on my lap, he fell asleep." (p.15-16)

Here Father decides their future:
"Remember: it was night, and the night inspired my father. He had first seen Freud and his bear at night; he had fished with State'o'Maine at night; nighttime was the only time the man in the white dinner jacket made an appearance; it was after dark when the German and his brass band arrived at the Arbuthnot to spill a little blood; it must have been dark when my father and mother first slept together; and Freud's Europe was in total darkness now. There in Elliot Park, with the patrol car's spotlight on him, my father looked at the four-storey brick school that indeed resembled a county jail - the rust-iron fire escapes crawled over it, like scaffolding on a building trying to become something else. No doubt he took my mother's hand. In the darkness, where the imagination is never impeded, my father felt the name of his future hotel, and our future coming to him.
'Wutcha gonna call it?' asked the old cop.
'The Hotel New Hampshire,' my father said." (p.90-91)

This one is because of 'Weltschmerz', and thinking of how much I enjoyed some good German words during my A to Z (and only Frank ever learns to speak German very well):
"Lilly's Weltschmerz, as Frank would come to call it. 'The rest of us have anguish,' Frank would say. 'The rest of us have grief, the rest of us merely suffer. But Lilly,' Frank would say, 'Lilly has true Weltschmerz. It shouldn't be translated as "world-weariness,"' Frank would lecture us, 'that's much too mild for what Lilly's got. Lilly's Weltschmerz is like "world-hurt,"' Frank would say. 'Literally "world" - that's the Welt part - and "hurt," because that's what the Schmerz part really is: pain, real ache. Lilly's got a case of world-hurt,' Frank concluded, proudly." (p.303-304)

I loved them and loved their love for each other, it renewed my faith in siblings, and despite some of the more outlandish events the whole saga felt real. I needed that book.

Sunday 19 May 2024

Small joys

I have finally been back out on my little delivery route this week; I have been going stir crazy in the office for several months. The garden at 8a Mauldeth road has been completely colonised by buttercups and was a delightful meadow of yellow in the sunshine on Wednesday.
And this morning our own private little forest behind Dunk's house was lit up by the sun. The window is north facing so it feels dark inside and the leaves were just glowing outside.
Stay safe. Be kind. Make the most of May.

Thursday 16 May 2024

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day May 2024

A few days of sunshine have done wonders for the garden, I even sat out. All sorts of lovely things are showing off their colours and giving me delight. Besides the campion and forget-me-knots that have taken over several pots here are the other things that are enjoying the spring. Those purple ones above, I can't remember what they are called, but they self-seed quite readily and I am not sure where from because I don't recall buying it.
Below is the ivy-leaved toadflax, another wild thing that pops up all over but that is my favourite, it gets into all the nooks and crannies around the streets too.
Sweet William, that survived the winter and had suddenly come into flower when I went outside to take some photos (it is raining again today):
This is the dogwood, that is now a huge shrub, easily ten feet tall, the biggest thing in the garden. There was one single patch of flowers last year, but it is covered this year with buds on the verge of opening:
The dog rose, which is lovely but the flowers are so flimsy and they last only a few days before the wind or rain knocks all the petal off:
The brunnera that is hiding under the ivy puts out these lovely pale blue flowers, a tine delight by the back door:
And the ajuga has also survived the winter (and last year being swamped by the triffids so I don't know if they did much), it's another lovely one that hides in the shade just quietly doing it's own thing.
Say safe. Be kind. Visit some other gardens too, over at the Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, hosted by Carol.

Sunday 12 May 2024

Big Snow

I have to just drop a note about 'The Big Snow' by David Park because I am getting sucked in to a John Irving novel that I picked up at the charity shop. I only wrote briefly about his two other books that I read but I enjoyed all of them immensely; interestingly Travelling in a Strange Land is also set in an environment swathed in snow. This book seemed to start with some shorter linked stories about separate people set in the same place: a young man with a first crush on an older woman, two teachers who find solace in each other's company and an older woman searching for a wedding dress, and then segue into a longer one about a murdered young woman, and the young police officer who sets himself at odds with his superiors to try and find out who killed her. Like his other books it is very much about the atmosphere, slightly, almost claustrophobic. 

Here Miss Lewis and Mr Peel are making the best of a power cut in the snowstorm. I love the bit that says "happy to display his expertise", it pretty much sums up Mr Peel's character in this story:
"A piece of toast? Yes, he'd like a piece of toast. There was something a shade undignified about it but he hadn't eaten since his breakfast and, after all, special circumstances ... She lit two of the candles before going to the kitchen and returning with a toasting fork and four rounds of bread and a packet of butter, then set the butter on the hearth to soften. 'Allow me,' he said, taking the fork from her hand and spearing the bread. He hunched forward on the chair, glad of an excuse to pull closer to the fire and happy to display his expertise. This was campfire stuff, real campfire stuff. When he had toasted he passed it on to her on the end of the fork and she transferred it to one of the plates and covered it in butter. He had never known a bit of toast could taste so wonderful. This must have been what it was like in the Blitz - people pulling together, people sharing things. Now it was the elements, rather than the Nazis, they were fighting against but the principle was the same. She hadn't pulled the curtains but all he could see outside was a settling greyness and an occasional spit of flake against the glass. Looking at it only served to increase his feeling of snugness and he lingered over the final piece of toast." (p.128-9)

Stay safe. Be kind. Enjoy the sunshine, let yourself forget about the cold.

Thursday 9 May 2024

Stuff in the Garden

The sun has been shining, but that has not deterred the slugs and snails. Slug hunts will be reinstated forthwith. (Isn't 'forthwith' a good word.) Other interesting things going on outside. Lots of aphids on one particular patch of campion, but also ladybirds, who like to eat aphids, so it's all good. I had ants farming the aphids one time, and then I had to rescue one of the Acers from an aphid attack last year.
My plum tree is doing what it did last year, and I have my fingers crossed for a few fruits. I missed the blossom, I think it was washed away by rain pretty quick, but now we have lots of 'potential plums'. Last year they did this ... then they just dried out and dropped off. It is supposed to self-pollinate so we will wait and see.
I potted up the crabapple and the two acer trees and they all seem pretty happy. I think it's safe to have the avocado tree outside now, it really loves the sunshine and the rain. Unfortunately the crabapple has another bout of powdery mildew, so I have chopped off 90% of the leaves.
Other perennials have been shifted around and given the sunny spot in the corner.
Stay safe. Be kind. Get out in your garden.

Sunday 5 May 2024

A to Z reflections post

early cuneiform writing
Language is one of the most amazing things human beings have created. It is something we created over and over again across the world. It feels a good thing that people strive to understand one another. I just tried to find out how many there are, only to find that there are 839 in Papua New Guinea alone. Some countries say stuff so much better than us, no wonder we love to pinch each other's vocabulary. In looking for more information about borrowed words I came across several interesting books: 'Lost in Translation' by Ella Frances Saunders, a lovely compendium of words in other languages that express things we do not have a word for and 'The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows' by John Koenig, which takes another tack entirely and invents words that he feels are missing from our language. It was a bit spur of the moment but I had a lot of fun with this year's A to Z Challenge.

I hopped over and visited lots of new people and enjoyed several new blogs this year, Sarah at The Old Shelter writing about the Lost Generation, Pamela at The Lady of the House Speaking writing about afternoon tea, Wendy at Wendy's Waffle writing about Waltham Forest in London and Get Lost in Literature because we always love some new book suggestions. I hope I can keep up the new momentum and post more regularly in the coming months. Thanks to everyone involved for hosting the challenge ... and see you all next year.

Stay safe. Be kind. Blog from A to Z.

Wednesday 1 May 2024

An abundance of tomorrows

In the spirit of the purpose of A to Zedding I will try and keep my blogging mojo up and not leave this book review for another week (and the library is sending threatening emails) (though they've stopped charging late fines). 'Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow' by Gabrielle Zevin was what I think of as an easy read. I had felt like I was reading too much hard stuff and not enjoying it enough. While I did enjoy it the stuff about gaming, and significantly creating computer games, went right over my head. Not that it spoiled the book to skim read some parts, and the group of characters at the centre of the book were very engaging and believable. I like a book that follows the characters over time, watching their lives and relationships evolve. Sam and Sadie meet in hospital as children, Sam recovering from an accident and Sadie visiting her sister who has cancer. They drift apart and then reconnect at university where Sadie is studying computer game design. Sam's roommate Marx has taken Sam under his wing, and caring for Sam becomes the glue that bonds them together. They create together what becomes a cult computer game, form their own company, move to California, fulfilling the adage 'do what you love and you will never work a day in your life'. Of course stuff has to happen that undermines all the perfect life. It was a weakness in the book that stuff happens, rather than being character driven, and there were element of plotting that were somewhat predictable but on reflection it fitted with the obsessive nature of computer game fandom. John Green gushes about the book on the cover and it was his books that it reminded me of most, very much about the lives of young people and the concerns that they have.

Only have one quote noted down, from the very beginning, and it was just a nice thing, letting you inside Sadie's thinking, telling you about Sadie but also somewhat typical of Gabrielle's style:

"Around lunchtime, Sadie felt hungry and, thus, somewhat less sorry for Alice and sorrier for herself. It was irritating the way Alice acted like an asshole and Sadie was the one who was punished. As Sadie was repeatedly told, Alice was sick, but she was not dying. Alice's variety of leukaemia had a particularly high remission rate. She had been responding well to treatment, and she's probably even be able to start high school, on schedule, in the fall. Alice would only have to be in the hospital for two nights this time, and it was only out of, according to her mother, an 'abundance of caution.' Sadie liked the phrase 'an abundance of caution.' It reminded her of a murder of crow, a flock of seagulls, a pack of wolves. She imagined that 'caution' was a creature of some kind - maybe, a cross between a Saint Bernard and an elephant. A large, intelligent, friendly animal that could be counted on to defend the Green sisters from threats, existential and otherwise." (p.14)

Stay safe. Be kind. Enjoy your tomorrows.