Just a Glimpse of the Orient


On Monday D and I went for a walk with a friend alongside the Wendover Arm of the Grand Union Canal. It was a beautiful, sunny day and we enjoyed these views. This is the start of our walk.

The Wendover Arm was first constructed in 1797, but as sections of it leaked it was “de-watered”. From 1989 onwards it has been restored and this is what it looks like today.

Kingfishers can be seen along the canal, but we didn’t see any on Monday. There were lots of other birds though, ducks, moorhens, coots and dabchicks (otherwise known as little grebes), busy diving and collecting nest material.


The ducks were in fine form, taking off a high speed and then landing with legs flailing before splash-down.

Further along the canal we saw a swan sitting on a large nest over on the other side.

 

The canal opens up into an area known as the Wides, with areas of grass and shrubs with a tiny island on the far side. Trees have invaded what was once open water and without management the canal would disappear in a few years.

Then came a surprise – a pair of mandarin ducks. I’d never seen these before; they looked very different from the other birds on the canal, but just so beautiful. The male has very distinctive chestnut brown and orange fan wings sticking up above his body, whilst the female is a duller brown with white spots. They were swimming together in and out of the trees. When I came home I looked them up in our bird books. Originally from China these ducks like streams and overgrown lakesides in broad leaved woodland and they nest in tree cavities. The canal is the perfect place for them.

 

Writing Challenge – Booking Through Thursday

This week’s Booking Through Thursday question is another variation on the page 123 theme post I did yesterday! But it needs more thought!

Pick up the nearest book. (I’™m sure you must have one nearby.)
Turn to page 123.
What is the first sentence on the page?
The last sentence on the page?
Now . . . connect them together’¦.
(And no, you may not transcribe the entire page of the book’“that’™s cheating!)

Well, actually, the nearest books are a pile of unread books on the desk and because to answer this question I need to understand what has gone before page 123 I’m using the nearest book that I have read, which isn’t in the pile (it’s in another pile). It’s The Secret Garden and I wrote about that too yesterday (see here) and I haven’t put it back on the bookshelves yet.

The first sentence on page 123 is: Very soon afterwards a bell rang, and she rolled up her knitting.

The last sentence is: Colin was still frowning.

This is the scene in The Secret Garden the morning after Mary had met her cousin, Colin, whom she didn’t even know existed. She had found him the night before when she had heard him crying. He believes himself to be an invalid and has been allowed to do just what he likes all his life. The “she” in the first sentence is Martha, Mary’s maid. Martha and Colin’s nurse are both astonished at Mary’s effect on Colin and that he wants to see her. The nurse tells Martha that Mary has bewitched Colin and that he has demanded that she visit him again as he has been thinking about her all the morning. Mary goes to see him and tells him that Martha is terrified that she will lose her job because Mary has met Colin – his existence was being kept secret from Mary. Frowning, Colin orders Martha to be brought into his presence and is still frowning when Martha comes in shaking in her shoes in fear of what he will do and say.

He could easily fly into a tantrum, hates people to look at him and all the servants feared his rages. He has the power to dismiss them from his father’s house.

Of course you’ll have to turn the page over to read what happens next.

The Secret Garden


The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, first published in 1911, my copy is a Penguin paperback published in 1958, 254 pages.

For the Heart of a Child Challenge

I read The Secret Garden several times as a child and the story has stayed with me ever since. For years my picture of the ideal garden has been a walled garden, just like the secret garden. The story can be read on different levels. As a child it seemed to me to be a straight forward story of Mary Lennox, orphaned after her parents died of cholera in India. Up until the age of nine she had lived a cosseted life looked after by servants, in particular her Ayah, ignored by her parents. After their death she was sent to live at Misselthwaite Manor, on the bleak Yorkshire moors, with her uncle, who was a hunchback recluse, who took little interest in her. Soon after Mary’s arrival, her uncle went abroad leaving her again in the care of servants. These were very different from the servants in India and Mary struggled to adjust.

Soon after she discovers she is not the only child in the house, when she finds Colin, her cousin, a hypochondriac, unable to walk, who believes he won’t live to grow up. Both Mary and Colin are selfish children, hating both themselves and the adults in their lives. Both also hate the outdoors, but encouraged by Martha, her maid, Mary wanders in the gardens of the Manor house and comes across a walled garden, which apparently has no door. There seems no way to get inside it – until guided by a robin, she finds an old key buried in the earth. I loved the descriptions of the Yorkshire countryside, the garden and how under the influence of Martha and her younger brother Dickon and even the grumpy gardener, Ben Weatherstaff, Mary blossomed as the year progressed along with the garden.

Reading it now I can see it is full of symbolism using nature, the Bible and myths, that I never noticed as a child. The image of the garden is used as both paradise lost and paradise regained. As the garden is nurtured and begins to blossom so do Mary and Colin, through springtime and into summer, culminating in the autumn when both are brought to full health. Dickon is accompanied by a young fox, a lamb, a crow and tame squirrels, reminiscent of St. Francis of Assisi and plays his pipe to charm the animals, like Pan. His mother, Mrs. Sowerby, is a plain-speaking down-to-earth Yorkshire woman, full of common sense and wisdom, who through Dickon and Martha helps the children, feeding Mary and Colin with both her words and wholesome food. At times I thought the language becomes over sentimental and a bit syrupy (I never thought that as a child). But there are descriptions that still appeal to me, such as this description of the roses in the garden:

And the roses – the roses! Rising out of the grass, tangled round the sundial, wreathing the tree trunks, and hanging from their branches, climbing up the walls and spreading over them with long garlands falling in cascades – they came alive day by day, hour by hour. Fair, fresh leaves and buds – and buds – tiny at first, but swelling and working Magic until they burst and uncurled into cups of scent delicately spilling themselves over their brims and filling the garden air.

 

Above all it is the power of Magic that is invoked in this book. The magic of nature, that makes plants and people grow and develop, the magic of the power of positive thinking and prayer, of the healing power of the mind, and of laughter and love. Sometimes it seemed too simplistic and yet at the same time I was swept along with the sentiments and enjoying the experience of re-reading this book.

A Good Hanging – Page 123 Meme


I was tagged by Zetor for this meme – pick a book at least 123 pages long. Open that book to page 123.Find the fifth sentence and post the next three.

I picked this book by Ian Rankin, as it’™s the next book I’™ll be reading for the Celebrate the Author Challenge (it’™s Rankin’™s birthday in April). It’™s a collection of twelve stories and this story, the 6th one in the book is the title story, ‘œA Good Hanging’.

On page 123 the fifth complete sentence is:

A pencil lay on the typescript, evidence that Charles Collins was taking the critics’™ view to heart himself and attempting to shorten the play as best he could.

The next three sentences are as follows:

Peter Collins’™ room was much more to Rebus’™s personal taste, although Holmes wrinkled his nose at the underwear underfoot, the contents of the hastily unpacked rucksack scattered over every surface. Beside the unmade bed, next to an overflowing ashtray, lay another copy of the play. Rebus flipped through it.

I’ve enjoyed the Rebus stories on TV, so I’m looking forward to reading the books.

If you haven’t done this meme and would like to please consider yourself tagged.

Sunshine and Cats Please Today

The snow has gone, so I’ve put a sunny picture back in the header. The cattle aren’t back in the fields yet – I took this picture last year, but it is a sunny morning here today.

This is a non-book post and I’m off out for a walk in the sunshine (hopefully it’ll last for a while). Meanwhile, here is a picture of Lucy I took this morning. She’s sitting on the post at the bottom of the stairs – one of her favourite spots.

Below her on the stair post is this rat. The one she had previously fell to pieces, but she’s not interested in this one.

She prefers this stratching post,which she has had since she was a kitten.

Consequences

Penelope Lively’™s Consequences follows the lives of Lorna, her daughter, Molly and her granddaughter, Ruth. I like Penelope Lively’™s style of writing, richly emotional but still taut and concise. Although I think that it is more than a love story I think this quote from the book jacket is not a bad summary:

‘œAn enthralling examination of interweaving love and history, Consequences pinpoints the moments when three women in very different times find love.’

It starts in 1935 when two young people, Lorna and Matt meet quite by chance in St James’™s Park in London. They come from very different backgrounds but are instantly attracted to each other and despite opposition from Lorna’™s parents they get married and move to a cottage in deepest Somerset. As the title indicates the predominant theme of this book is how events follow on from chance meetings and how our lives are changed because of the decisions we make. For some time now I’™ve been interested in the Second World War period and although I wasn’™t alive then it seems to me as though this book captures the atmosphere of that period. There is a nostalgic feel to the settings, looking back to how things were and how the war inevitably changed people’™s lives and expectations.

Lorna and Matt had a daughter, Molly, then the war began and Matt was called up. I won’™t say too much as I don’™t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’™t read it. It’™s full of such quotable extracts, such as this in defining happiness Lorna realises that it is ‘œanother condition, of a different quality, a state of being that lifts you above ordinary existence, that pervades every moment, that confers immunity.’

The future is always the unknown: ‘œ ‘¦ you are always standing on the brink, in a place where you cannot see ahead, there is nothing certain except what lies behind. This should be terrifying, but somehow it is not.’

This message of hope pervades the book despite the tragedies and difficulties that happen. Life continues after the war, and the changes in society are reflected in the attitudes of people towards each other:

‘œThis was a bizarre new society in which class barriers were not broken down but subtly eroded ‘¦ You still placed a person by their voice ‘¦ but other things mattered too. Confidence, efficiency, sang-froid; selfishness, greed, shirking.’

People no longer knew where they were and where they belonged: ‘œThis was a world divided into them and us, with many subtle and significant sub-divisions.’

Molly grew up in this society and having gone through university, took a job as a librarian ‘œbecause someone had left a copy of the Evening Standard in the tube’ advertising the job and she thought why not? Thus setting in motion another train of events. In this section I particularly liked the descriptions of the library and of books (I used to be a librarian). Here are just a few examples:

‘œFiction is one strident lie ‘“ or rather, many competing lies; history is a long narrative of argument and reassessment; travel shouts of self-promotion; biography is just pushing a product. As for autobiography ‘¦’

‘œThat is the function of books: they offer a point of view, they offer many conflicting points of view, they provoke thought, they provoke irritation and admiration and speculation. They take you out of yourself and put you down somewhere else from whence you never entirely return.’

‘œThe surface repose of a library is a cynical deception.’

Molly became a confident, determined and self-sufficient character, finding it exhilarating to cope with the challenges in life. For her work is the determining factor, being a wage earner. Molly refused to marry James, Ruth’™s father and Ruth enjoyed the James’™ presence in her life as ‘œa sort of benevolent patron on the fringes of everyday existence.’ For Molly, as she contemplated her life and the consequences of the choices she had made, Ruth’™s ‘œemphatic presence seemed to make sense of chance, of happenstance.’

Ruth was also an independent character, whose marriage to Peter failed and their children alternated between them in their two flats. She reflected:

‘œEvery conception is fortuitous, every birth. That said, Ruth always saw her own existence as perhaps peculiarly accidental, spun from the odd conjunction of two people whose meeting was an unlikely chance. ‘¦ Only now, in mid-life ‘“ for that was where she was, after all ‘“ did she see this background, and her very presence, as a distinctly precarious event. This put you in your place, somehow.’

The book ends with her search the cottage in Somerset where Matt and Lorna lived. I loved the description of her journey to the cottage in such simple and direct language which perfectly conveys the scenery. Once she left the motorways and main roads she was into the countryside lanes:

‘œYou burrowed into this landscape, she saw. The motorways rushed through it, and the A this and the B that, but as soon as you abandoned those dictatorial highways you had slipped off into another sphere. You were in the lanes, you were in narrow tunnels between high hedge banks, routes that also knew quite well what they were about and where they were going but that was their own immemorial business, and you were now in their domain. You went where they went and that was that.’

You feel as though you’™ve travel through time and place in reading this book. Penelope Lively has a website with information about the other books she has written. I thought I’™d read most of them but I see there are some I haven’™t come across. More treasures to find and read!

Oh Yes – another Challenge – Soup’s On!

This Challenge is hosted by Ex Libris (Sharon). It runs from April 1, 2008 to March 31, 2009. Sharon writes: All you have to do is select six cookbooks to read (enough to give an overview of the book) and make at least one of the recipes. These can be any cookbooks of your choice – brand new ones, old stand-bys that you can’t live (or cook) without, or even heirlooms. You do not have to decide on the cookbooks ahead of time (unless you want to, of course).

I love cooking, that’s my reason for joining this challenge. I’m always buying and looking at cookbooks, and watching TV cookery programmes. I’ve only written a couple of posts on cooking, so this is a great way to write more. I’m not sure yet which books I’ll be writing about between now and the end of March next year but it could be these:

The Ration Book Diet by Mike Brown, Carol Harris and C J Jackson, because I bought it a few months ago, scan read it and thought oh yes I must cook some of these recipes, but haven’t done so yet. It’s full of information about the Second World War years in Britain, photos and cartoons from the Forties as well as beautiful modern photos.

The Good Food magazine 101 Meals For Two. This is a great little book and I’ve made a few of the recipes, but lots more to try out.

How To Eat by Nigella Lawson. She’s one of my favourite TV cooks and I love this book, even though it has no photos.

Great British Menu from the first TV show of that name. Extravagant ingredients, but fantastic food.

After Work, a WHSmith publication. Another favourite book with quick recipes that work.

The Country Kitchen by Jocasta Innes. I’ve had this book for years; it’s full of information about cooking with cream, butter, game – trussing and plucking a pheasant, making raised pies, terrines and galantines and preserving food. I haven’t ventured much yet out of this book, but I’d love to have a go.

I’m looking forward to reading all the other reviews!