This is the usual view of a bat flying – in the dark, but I was surprised yesterday afternoon to see a little bat flying in the garden in bright sunshine. It swooped down over the back fence and flew to the flowering cherry tree in the middle of the lawn, where it flopped down to the ground at the base of the tree. Before I could get there Lucy, our cat, was there like lightning, most interested in the little bat. I called her off, but the bat seemed to be stuck at the bottom of the tree, with its wings spread out wide. We tried to move it gently away from the tree and it flapped its wings feebly and then folded them around its body and crawled slowly along the grass.
I’ve given all the books I finished reading in July a five star rating and have thoroughly enjoyed all of them, for different reasons. I’ve already mentioned Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin and Northern Lights by Philip Pullman, both excellent books.
I also briefly referred to Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner, which he based on the letters of Mary Hallock Foote. This book won the Pullitzer Prize for fiction in 1972. It is the story of Lyman Ward, a wheelchair bound retired historian who is writing his grandparents’ life history and also gradually reveals his own story. It’s a long book, but completely enthralling.
I now know much more about the early days of the opening up of America’s western frontier than I learnt from TV cowbow series and films such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid etc. The story is of Oliver Ward’s struggles with various mining and engineering construction jobs, contrasted with Susan Ward’s efforts to support him against great difficulties. This is made more difficult when she compares her life with that of her New York society friend, Augusta.
There are long letters from Susan to her friends which I think are taken directly from Mary Foote’s own letters and these are such descriptive letters that I could imagine what life was really like at that time and place. My only criticism is that I felt the ending came too quickly and was too compacted. I wanted to know more about Susan and Oliver. It was as though Lyman became too disappointed with how their life turned out, or maybe it was because he was too engrossed in his own problems, his illness and difficulties in his personal life. Ted suggested I’d also like Crossing to Safety, so that’s also on my to be read list now.
I interrupted my reading of The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman and Arlington Park by Rachel Cusk to concentrate on reading JK Rowling’s final (?) book of the series – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I finished all three last week whilst staying at Twilles Barn.
D and I drove to Woolhope, near Hereford last Sunday. The weather was fine, with blue sky and fluffy clouds, a welcome change after all the rain that had drenched England in the last few weeks. There had been floods in Gloucester, which was on our route to Woolhope, but when we got there the roads were clear. I was reminded of the poem I used to recite as a child, beginning ‘Glad that I live am I’ and the lines:
We arrived at Twilles Barn in bright sunshine and it looked beautiful, in an idyllic setting, next to apple orchards, overlooking the Herefordshire countryside.
The garden is large, with lawns sloping down to the building, a timber framed brick barn conversion, with a modern conservatory on the side and a crazy paving patio bounded by a small brick wall. The patio was the perfect place to sit and read, sipping a glass of wine. The apple orchards to the side and front are also the home of numerous sheep, all noisily calling to each other as they forage among the grass, constantly trotting or ambling around the apple trees.
Birds flock to the bird feeder in the centre of the side lawn, with the greater spotted woodpecker having precedence over the other birds. One morning I walked into the conservatory and was surprised by the sight of a female pheasant preening on the patio wall with the male strutting proudly around the tree behind her.
The weather was perfect – all week it was hot and sunny, just like summers used to be. On Monday we went to Hereford, on the banks of the River Wye. It has been a cathedral city since about 700AD. We had lunch in the Cloister Cafe, in the Cathedral.
The Cathedral was built over the centuries, and contains examples of architecture dating from Norman times. There are massive Norman pillars dividing the 12th century nave from the 14th century north and south aisles. The stone and marble tomb of Thomas Cantilupe, who was the Bishop of Hereford and Chancellor of England, canonised in 1320 is one of the best preserved medieval shrines in England, according to the description in the Cathedral guide.
The most interesting part of the Cathedral for me is the medieval Mappa Mundi and the Cathedral’™s Chained Library. The Souvenir Guide states “the map can be dated to the late 1280s, certainly after 1283 when work began on the building of the castle of Caernarfon, which appears on the map.” I am fascinated by the thought that this map has survived all these centuries since then.
Well, after last week’s record-breaking number of responses (92 last time I checked – an all-time BTT record), I was tempted to use this week’s question to ask what you all thought about Harry Potter 7 – but since a decent proportion of you weren”t going to be reading it at all, that seemed unfair. So instead . . .
Who’s the worst fictional villain you can think of? As in, the one you hate the most, find the most evil, are happiest to see defeated? Not the cardboard, two-dimensional variety, but the most deliciously-written, most entertaining, best villain? Not necessarily the most ‘evil,’ so much as the best-conceived on the part of the author – oh, you know what I mean!
This is a difficult one to answer – there are so many candidates. A currently topical one is Voldemort. Then there are Dracula (Bram Stoker), Mr Hyde (Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde), Richard the Third (Shakespeare), Sauron (Lord of the Rings), Hannibal Lecter (Silence of the Lambs) and Jack Torrance (The Shining).
Of these I think the most evil, the one I’d be happiest to see defeated it would have to be Hannibal Lecter, with Jack Torrance running a close second – or even a dead heat. I haven’t actually read Silence of the Lambs, but Anthony Hopkins was at his most chilling as Hannibal. I have read The Shining and found Jack to be a scary, evil character but that was nothing to Jack Nicholson’s performance in the film – even though I knew the story it really shocked me.
The most deliciously-written, most entertaining, best villain is probably Richard the Third – I think this is because of the RSC performance I saw at Stratford with Henry Goodman as Richard. He was the most believable hunchback and brought Shakespeare’s words to life.
Not necessarily the most ‘evil, so much as the best-conceived on the part of the author is again Richard the Third. Richard is a fascinating character and opinion is divided on whether he did really kill his nephews. Two books on this subject are The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey, a novel in which Grant, a policeman in hospital exercises his mind in reviewing the evidence; and The Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir in which she studied the contemporary accounts as well as modern works and eventually concluded that Richard did murder the two princes.
Last weekend we went to stay with friends in Helmshore, Lancashire, just north of where we all grew up together in Cheshire. It was a long time since we’d got together, so there was a lot to catch up on. Lancashire is not just large industrial cities but also has some beautiful countryside, as these photos show.
This is the weir at Waddow, still looking just as I remembered it.
I know many people are in the middle of Harry Potter fever and reading the lastest book and I will get to that next week, but in my opinion Philip Pullman puts J K Rowling into the shade. Northern Lights is the first book in his trilogy His Dark Materials and it is brilliant. I can’t think why I’ve not read it before now. It is set in a universe similar to ours, but different. It begins in Oxford, ever so like our Oxford to tempt you into thinking it is our Oxford and moves from there into a different London and along the canals, with the “gyptians”, eventually travelling to the far north, all so beautifully described that you are convinced of the reality of this universe. Lyra, the main character, is a real child drawn into terrible dangers, helped by Pantalaiman, her daemon, amongst armoured bears and witches. The book deals with many themes such as the relationship between the body and soul; the nature of friendship; loneliness; and the corruption of knowledge.