The Coronavirus Diaries, 12th September 2020

A chipless evening last night, but one spent outside in the garden in a social gathering. Two social gatherings actually, each of three people, but from time to time we linked up and even shared olives. The curious fox came back. We decided collectively it’s a female. I still didn’t have my camera with me, but B took some photos which she may share. It was all very jolly, though as the light went it was a lot cooler.

For most of lockdown I found it impossible to concentrate well enough to sustain reading what I would classify as a good book. My attention kept wandering. I was ok with light reading, undemanding stuff, but something stopped me from losing myself in a book the way I usually do. So it’s good to be reading again. I attended my first book group by Zoom to discuss our summer long read, Homeland by Fernando Aramburu. I enjoyed the novel, but my reservations about Zoom as a medium for book group continue. Michèle wasn’t there, her computer won’t do Zoom, so it may have been that which left me feeling less than satisfied with the whole thing. I always enjoy book group more when she is there with her extensive knowledge of literature and her insights.

The next book is Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams. I’ve only read ten pages and my first impression wasn’t favourable, not because of the quality of the writing, but she opens with an all too accurate description of a smear test, which is something most women do not anticipate with any enthusiasm. So that’s my fictional for the next while. I am reading another memoir, this one by Margaret Drabble, and my respect for her grows with every chapter. I read her novels a long time ago, and although I enjoyed them, I don’t remember anything about them other than the titles. This memoir has made me warm to Drabble. It is scholarly and never pompous. She comes across as an interested and interesting person, a kind person who is unshowy and reflective. Michèle, who knows her, says I should write to her to tell her I am enjoying the book. Maybe I shall. I also have Diary of a Teenage Naturalist which I bagged at the library the other day. I am guessing others will reserve it, so I should get a move on and read it. There was an extract in the Guardian some months ago and the writing was extraordinary. Luminous, and lyrical while also scientific. Continue reading

The Coronavirus Diaries, 9th August 2020

The forecast when I looked on Saturday was for today to be warm and tomorrow cooler. Now tomorrow is going to be warm as well. I need to get home, so shall try to complete the journey after rush hour and before it gets too hot. First thing today I thought it was going to be a much cooler day than yesterday, but the sun soon burned off any hope of that. there was however a welcome breeze, so I took my walk before lunch, heading over to Burwell Fen. These pictures are from yesterday. I have managed to upload them, but the internet connection keeps dropping so I shall leave today’s until I am home.

Bullrushes

There was a horse tethered on a track parallel to te path. It had water but no company, no possibility of shade. I went to say hello to it. Its eyes and muzzle were plagued by flies. I waved them away, stroked its nose, spoke to it. It seemed defeated by its circumstances. I wanted to pull the tether and take the horse away, but where? In the end I sent a text to the RSPCA, but as it was bot in danger from traffic, had water and grazing, there was little hope anything could or would be done for it. Poor animal.

Please identify

The other animals I saw were wild, a muntjac deer trotting carefully through tall grasses, a bird, probably a kestrel, sitting on a gate, a goose, strangely solitary, enjoying a swim, ducks and swans.

The ridge path

While I was watching the deer, a man on his bike pulled up and watched it with me. There were lots of cyclists. I wished I had access to one here as well.

Greenery

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Books, glorious books

I am supposed to be reading Under the Wire by Iris Murdoch, and in fits and starts I am. It’s our book group choice for this month, and we meet again next week. I am just under halfway through and it’s a slim volume, so in theory there wouldn’t be any difficulty.

However, this week sees publication of Hilary Mantel’s new novel, the third and final part of her Thomas Cromwell trilogy. It began with Wolf Hall, continued with Bring up the Bodies, and concludes with The Mirror and the Light. The excerpts and reviews I have read confirm that this is going to be wonderful. Not even knowing how it all ends badly for Cromwell, a man who prior to reading Wolf Hall I thought of with an inward shudder, but who now, thanks to Mantel’s sympathetic, human portrayal, I feel a great sympathy, even affection for, will stop me from reading it.

I preordered my copy last May, but now it turns out I shall have two, as Celia and I have booked seats to hear Mantel on Friday at the RFH and our expensive tickets include a copy of the novel. In Under the Wire‘s favour, The Mirror and the Light is not a slim volume, and so I shall be unlikely to be tempted to carry it with me to and from work. But then Coronavirus is affecting my work. I haven’t caught it, but I am freelance and much of my work is with people from abroad. The cancellations are rolling in.

I returned another wonderful book to the library on Tuesday – Rose Elliot’s Complete Vegan. I have renewed it five times, but now finally ordered my own copy. I didn’t intend to borrow anything, but these two books caught my eye. I borrowed them both.

Front covers

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Christmas is Coming

Crumbs. We’re already a third of the way through December. Funny to think that tomorrow it’ll be two weeks since I left New Zealand for home. In some ways it seems like a lifetime ago; in others I still feel in my head that I am there. A sort of bicultural existence. I think it’s called processing. Most days I find myself thinking about Lyn and Malcolm, about Nadia. Nadia and I exchanged a few WhatsApps about a book I gave her; Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss. Nadia and I became friends when we attended the same mosaics class, but there is more than mosaics to our friendship. Nadia writes. One of these days I am going to be crowing about her novel, which will be published after she has edited it for the millionth time. OK I exaggerate, but the draft I read years ago was pretty polished in my opinion, and I am getting impatient too see it in Waterstome’s. We share an interest in literature. Good books inform our lives, improve our lives. There was a moment on the train into Wellington when I was telling her about the book group I belong to. Nadia has resisted book groups. Like me, she has felt they are not necessarily A Good Thing. I explained how our book group works, and told her it is particularly good when M, a respected novelist, attends.She is extremely knowledgeable, never patronising, and keeps us on task. Nadia’s eyes widened. It turned out that M is one of her favourite writers. If only she still lived in London she could join us. On the other hand, I shouldn’t have seen Wellington with her and through, to some extent, her eyes.

I am still percolating my New Zealand holiday. Odd things come to mind to be examined and considered from a distance in time and place. Nadia introduced me to a police drama series that one of her friends writes for. It’s called Brokenshaw. It’s dry, well written, funny, but not comical. I loved it. It turns out it’s on here too, on the Drama Channel, a channel I have never watched. So I settled down to enjoy an episode, only to find it was one I had seen in Wellington. It doesn’t seem I can watch others on catch up. Darn. Lyn and Malcolm like a programme called The Chase. It turns out that it’s a British programme, broadcast here on daytime tv. Since coming home I have seen several trailers for it. Funny I had never heard of it before visiting NZ. Continue reading

Of Margaret Atwood, the Arts, and Why Both are Vital

Margaret Atwood is often described as a difficult interviewee; an intimidating writer of great intellect who can be openly disdainful of a luckless interviewer. She doesn’t play the game, the game that most play when invited onto chat shows or whatever when they have something to promote. I can only think she likes Alan Yentob. He evidently likes her. The result was a fabulous interview broadcast on Monday night but only watched by me this evening.

I’m not sure how I came across Atwood. I know it was in the 80s, and it wasn’t because of The Handmaid’s Tale, though I read that later. I think it was probably that she was published by Virago. Feminism and feminist literature were (and still are) very important to me for a mixture of reasons, one of which being a relationship that fortunately ended with a man with whom I am now mystified why I spent more than five minutes. Make that seconds. Or nano-seconds. So authors published by Virago, or the Woman’s Press – motto: Steaming ahead! complete with a sketch of a steam iron – had a particular attraction. Continue reading

Friday 13th

I have been out and about a good deal this year, mainly work, but some treats including last night’s trip to the pantomime at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, and, at the other end of theatrical experience, to see Juliet Stevenson and Lia Williams in Mary Stuart at the Almeida Islington. But more about them perhaps in another post.

Now I have a free day, am at home and the evidence of my comings and goings is all around me in unfolded clothes and unread newspapers. Of course I could put those unread papers straight into the recycling, but I have missed quite a lot of the news this week. Octavia filled my astonished ears last night with the Donald Trump/Meryl Streep story as we travelled home from the panto. So actually reading some of the papers this morning seemed a good reason to gather my strength and make a plan.

So I am a bit more up to date with what goodies are on the way in the arts, though I realise I have already missed some. I am hoping SSGB which I saw being filmed in Greenwich at the end of 2015 will be on when I am in Northern Ireland next month and I get to watch it with Cousin. I have flicked through the cookery supplements and consigned them to the scrap heap. The recipes look delicious, but the long list of ingredients for each one makes me tired before I start. In last Saturday’s Guardian magazine I found several gems. Clive James very much on form, quite like the old days; a restaurant review containing the words ‘the food is to subtlety what Trump is to interior decoration, but the effect is blinding’.

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An Urge to Post

I had no intention of blogging tonight. I should be on my way to bed, it’s an early start tomorrow. But I read Outward Hounds latest and it reminded me of why I have stuck this blogging mularky for so long. There are bloggers out there whose writing is sublime. Their pages may not garner as many hits, likes or comments as others, but bloody hell, it’s amazing to be able freely to read their output.

I love the way that the internet has put me in touch with people from the other side of the world, people who I shall probably never meet, never have a conversation with other than via the keyboard, yet with whom there is a connection. Thank-you Tim Berners-Lee. Continue reading

A Good Literary Haul for September

I am halfway through the book group novel for next week. Or it may be the week after. Anyway. It's The Queen of The Tambourine by Jane Gardam. I love Jane Gardam's writing and I have read loads by her, including, I thought, this novel which I thought I had on my bookshelves. I didn't, so I bought a second hand copy which fortunately arrived minutes before I left the. Smoke for das Boot yesterday.

I started it today, and from page one realised I had not read it before. I began by being amused by the Hyacinth Bouquetish character of Eliza. Then that palled, but before I could think I might give up the novel stepped up a gear. Unobtrusively. Jane Gardam is the most understated of writers. Don't expect big scenes; crash bang wallop chapters; shock horror revelations. It's the detail that matters in her books; the tiny shifts in behaviour, attitudes and thinking. Nothing and everything happens. She is not for the skim reader.

I'm loving it. And it was a tough gif after The Tidal Zone which introduced me to Sarah Moss. I think she has written about five novels so far. So I have been a bit slow on the uptake. I blame the library service. If you know me and my hobby horses, this will not come as a surprise.

Time was I'd go to our local library, small but with an admirable stock of books. I'd prowl the shelves and come home with a haul of novels by people of whom I had never heard. My horizons were widened. Then someone in some library service somewhere decreed that libraries should stock best selling novels by best selling authors and any book not borrowed n a six month period should be cast into outer darkness. So suddenly we found ourselves with libraries that stocked the same books as our supermarkets. Writers who I had discovered before the six month rule disappeared from the shelves. I am grateful that my reading was widened by earlier more enlightened library administrators, but it's a bugger these days. Continue reading

Wonderful Words

Some great reading this week. At the weekend I finished Penelope Lively’s Ammonites and Leaping Fish, A Life in Time. It’s a memoir, but being Penelope Lively she bypasses all the clichés. It’s a social history as well as her history; beautifully written which is a given with her as an author, and absorbing. It’s perceptive, observant, sometimes funny, sometimes poignant. There is a little impatience with the ageing process but never self-pity. The only time Penelope Lively has disappointed me was Spiderweb, which I think was written not long after her husband Jack’s death, so might be forgiven as a potboiler.

I won’t go into all the structure of Ammonites and Leaping Fish. There are lots of reviews you could read. I rather like this one. But this is how the book begins:

This is not quite a memoir. Rather, it is the view from old age. And a view of old age itself, this place at which we arrive with a certain surprise – ambushed, or so it can seem. One of the few advantages of age is that you can report on it with a certain authority; you are a native now, and know what goes on here.

I borrowed my copy from the library, but there is so much in it that I want to return to it will soon be on my shelves. Continue reading

In Praise of Literacy

Jeanette Winterson. Amazing. Have you read her memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? If not, I am almost jealous of you, because you still have it to savour for the first time. An extraordinary book about an extraordinary life.

 

I’m glad she chose happy.

She certainly looked happy on Thursday night.

Celia and I trekked from the wilds of Se17 where we have only recently stopped painting ourselves blue, to the self-consciously sophisticated quarter of Notting Hill to hear JW talk about her new book, The Gap of Time, a reimagined version of Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale.

It was more than a talk, more than a reading, it was a performance. At first the sound system was overwhelmingly loud, but fortunately they got it sorted.

Naturally I want to read the book now, having passed up the possibility to buy it along with my ticket. The trouble is, my bookshelves are groaning. It doesn’t seem to matter how much I cull them, how much I try to restrict my book habit to library copies, there are always disorderly piles of them on every surface. Continue reading