Friday, 28 January 2011

Pym, Barbara

I realise as I work out this post that I am truly fascinated by Barbara Pym. It was quite by accident that the title Excellent Women was even found in the dustiest section of the university library last year. Literature isn't a big course at Jordanstown, and I hadn't ever shelved there before, as I haven't since.

I married at thirty, and suspect that the single woman in me rejoices loudly at the triumphalism of single women in her books. As I said here, I can't think of another feminist writer who celebrates the single life in this way. Admittedly I haven't read enough feminist writing by far- I brought myself up on 1980s Cosmopolitan columnists. (As distinct from present day Cosmopolitans!)

Since last year I've read Excellent Women, Some Tame Gazelle and now Jane and Prudence. Not in precisely the right order, I know, but I think I will be carrying on through the list. What I loved most about the first two was the sparkle: the sharp, crystal decanter and stockings at dawn sparkle and crack of satirical observation. And the down to a crisp starched linen summer dress of a reflection of church politics!

Last Friday night we had January's Book Club. I brought the sherry, Niqi brought the crackers and fish paste, Lorraine served tea and cucumber sandwiches from fine china. We do like to theme our catering around the book! It was, I think, the best night we'd had yet!

But Jane and Prudence is different. It's sad. The overall tone is of the "ravenous hours" eating away at Jane's life. Square peg in a round hole- acknowledged by all to be rubbish at her job of vicar's wife. I decided that the regret stems from the fact that the protagonist's perspective is that of a married woman. The resident singleton (is Bridget Jones as good as it gets now for triumphant single women?) ultimately fails. The spunk here comes from the determined, oh so schemingly determined, Jesse Morrow who amazingly wins the delphinium blue eyes of Fabian Driver.

It is definitely the deepest of the three. The secondary characters are undoubtedly more rounded than in the previous two. I found that the village landscape reminded me of nothing more than Hardy's bleakly symbolic surroundings.

But I miss the sparkle! (Another late Alphabe-Thursday post!)

Friday, 21 January 2011

Our Wind in the Willows

What a wonderful week I have had! Thank you to all who are posting right now- do visit everyone: the list is just to your left! For my own little contribution towards this fun and merriment I'm going to hand over to my final two guest writers!

Mattman: Wind in the Willows is one of our favourite games. I always like Ratty, and I like Mole.

Jo: I like Badger a wee bit, but I like Toad the best in the game.

Mattman: It is the wintertime and Badger is sleeping in his nice, cosy home in the Wild Woods.

Jo: I moved him because he didn't look like he was in the trees, and I took a picture of him with my DSi!

Mattman: Toad always gets into trouble; sometimes he gets into jail. Toad is one of the silliest people in Wind in the Willows.

Jo: It was very funny because Toad fell down when Mattman was trying to put him up straight.

Mattman: Toad is very happy back in Toad Hall and he is swinging on his happily ever after swing!

Jo: Toad is a wee bit nervous of going on a hunt again to fight. (!)

Mattman: Ratty is my favourite character because he is nearly as wise as Badger, and he is so awesome. Ratty is very brave, as well as Badger and Mole.

Jo: Ratty looks a bit weird when he is inside a sledge when it's not even Christmas!

Mattman: This is Toad, Ratty, Badger, no Mole, all together and Toad is in the background hugging Badger and Rat. With no Mole.

Jo: It is very sad that Mole isn't there, and it is very happy with them all together, except without Mole because he is sleepy in his house.
Mum: They've left me speechless, all these guest writers- they really have!

Thursday, 20 January 2011

OH-- WHAT a day I'm having!

Thanks Mags for asking me to post a guest blog on foodie things. Have to say I am a total blog novice but here goes...

The Mole waggled his toes from sheer happiness...
WHAT a day I'm having!' he said.

Hold hard a minute, then!' said the Rat... after a short interval reappeared staggering under
a fat, wicker luncheon-basket.

What's inside it?' asked the Mole, wriggling with curiosity.

'There's cold chicken inside it,' replied the Rat briefly;

'O stop, stop,' cried the Mole in ecstasies: 'This is too much!'

I love picnics of any shape, form, and, for any occasion.

When the children were small and we lived near about half a dozen fantastic beaches we spent summers having picnics everywhere. Sometimes they were the complete deal and others consisted of a packet of bought biscuits and a bottle of juice thrown in to the car at the last moment, but to my mind they all worked.

My friend, Janet T has to be the one person I know who can really make it all happen. She is Ratty! A day out with her involved everyone arriving and bringing their own picnics which we had and had a great day and just when you thought it was all over and time to get tired, exhausted hungry children home, she would throw open her boot and there would be sausages, baps and a bbq. In no time at all we would be having hot dogs and anything left over from the first picnic. It was fantastic, and transformed what would have been a bit of a nightmare trying to take exhausted hungry children home and then cooking tea and getting them to bed into something so much easier on everyone and meant an extra hour outside.

There is something so carefree about a picnic and yet it needs some organization for a really good one; I just love it. My main riverside picnic happened at the end of a lovely holiday in Devon. We were staying with friends, Anita, Gavin, Saiorse and Finbar – the dog - and it was our last day. The weather was beautiful, really hot and we decided to go to a nearby river where you could swim. Can’t remember anything about the food except for a bulghar wheat salad Anita made with mint, lemons, cherry tomatoes and feta.

We had such good healthy food and then lying around in the sunshine with good friends. The boys were playing – I do think everyone behaves better outdoors – so, so nice , I couldn’t bear to leave . Not only was it so, so lovely but it was the last day of our holiday and we had to leave from this idyll to drive up the main road from Devon on a busy, busy road in the hot, hot weather with no one wanting to even get into the car. So I stalled and stalled until finally even I could stall it no longer and we set off. Up the road when we realized we were under pressure time wise and we put the car under more pressure until a tube burst and we missed the boat! Oh boy – total disaster, stuck on the side of a motorway with a car hissing all over the place and 4 children under 8 in the back seat. Thank goodness for Holiday Inns – found one and had a family room and got off the next day. The boys thought it was the best night of their holiday staying in a hotel so all was not lost.

My complete obsession is to have a really proper picnic in a wood with enough space for a table and chairs, a table cloth and proper plates and cutlery. Have to say I’m still working on that one. It just hasn’t happened yet but will do some time. All I need is Ratty!

(Today's post was brought to you by my favourite Cooking Catherine! Thank you! Tomorrow is Wind in the Willows Day so tell us in a comment if you'll be posting about or around Willows and we'll add you to the Blog Roll for us all to visit and enjoy!)

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Le Vent dans les Saules...

... The Wind in the Willows, in French! When Mags first suggested that I post something typically French for her Wind in the Willows week, I started doing a bit of research, which led me to the library in our southern French market town.
There I found, to my delight, the full set of the French 'take' on the Wind in the Willows, neatly held together with a big rubber band, as it can be borrowed as one book. Excellent. It's out on Son 2's ticket, and I think he'll enjoy reading it now I've taken my photos!
To understand this French version, you need to know that the French take everything seriously.
You may not believe me - it's not the popular stereotype. But I think it's true. Sometimes it's annoying - we cycle every day in our family, but we are not considered proper cyclists because we only use our bikes to get places. REAL cyclists don 500€ worth of lycra on a Saturday morning before getting on to 1000€ worth of bicycle to cycle 50km for no particular reason. (Do you detect a note of bitterness? Sorry, so do I. Need to work on that.)But sometimes this taking everything seriously is a supurb trait. No art or craft is considered a 'poor relative' to other art-forms - cinema is as important as the stage, street dance is as important as the ballet, and comics ('bandes dessinées' or BDs) are taken seriously, as real art.
That's how the French-speaking world produced stories as good as Tintin and Asterix, I think - no one thought their creators should 'grow up' and produce 'real' books or pictures. So it's not terribly surprising that, as well as the more traditional translations, the French artist Michel Plessix has created a very charming bande dessinée of our favourite story. It was published between 1996 and 2009 by Delcourt.
To me, the sweet illustrations and careful use of the original text work very well. How does the opening page (above) strike you?
Many of the illustrations are incredibly beautiful, and draw you into the sense of nature that is so important in the original stories.
This page shows the influence of what we in the UK might call 'real art' on the art of the BD. There's a credit on the front page: 'Remerciments à Monet, Manet, Van Gogh et Klimt pour leur collaboration involontaire et bienveillant à la page 23'. Cheeky!
I'm really drawn to these nature illustrations, and I think Kenneth Grahame would have approved.
All in all, I think they combine what's best in the original stories with what's best about the art of the BD. But there are some wonderfully BD touches, as well, which you won't find in the originals:
'Tune in next week...' style questions at the end of each book.
Gratuitous bosoms (essential, although very toned down to match the subject-matter and readership).
Fantastic French onomatopoeia! (That's one of Toad's car crashes, of course.)
But all in all, a really successful French treatment of a much-loved English classic.
Can't wait to see what my boys make of them...
I'm very grateful to Mrs Tearful Strawberry for the opportunities to a) visit the library, which I don't do often enough and b) rediscover this sweet story in a new form. And I'm really looking forward to Friday, when I hope to have the time to visit all of you, and to join in myself, with your Wind in the Willows posts!

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Home sweet home.

Home sweet home.

‘Home! That was what they meant, those caressing appeals, those soft touches wafted through the air, those invisible little hands pulling and tugging, all one way!’

Imagine little Moley, tramping along on a cold evening, in Ratty’s wake, and suddenly scenting something familiar…his old home. He hadn’t been there for a long time, being busy with Rat (just messing about in boats) , and now the longing almost overcame him with the need to go back

Excitedly he persuaded Rat to turn back, and together they found the little door which read Mole End. Outside there was a tiny courtyard, a little garden area, a pond,….but when they went inside he was bereft. Dust had fallen on everything. There was little food in the cupboard, and he was ashamed of how small and mean his home must feel to Rat. He sat in a heap and sobbed.

Dear old Rat put all things right with his enthusiasm. ‘I say Mole old chap, what a jolly little house this is, so conveniently arranged’. He bustled around, exclaiming over everything, and in no time he had a fire going, and food found in the cupboards.

Their evening was rounded off by a visit from the Fieldmice who sang Carols to them, and warmed their paws by the fire.

Mole had found his home, and knew it would always be there for him to return to.

I sometimes feel a bit like Moley….a longing for my home country, England, where life is familiar, where I know how it all ‘works’. If I close my eyes I can take myself back to my childhood home, back to tea by the fire, to a cosy home where everything was ‘so convenient’, and understand Moley’s wish to ‘come back to this place which was all his own, these things which were so glad to see him again and could always be counted on for the same simple welcome’.

Thank you, FL, for inviting me to be one of your guest writers on this lovely subject!

Monday, 17 January 2011


(Today's guest post is from Angela at Tracing Rainbows- thank you, Angela and Pom Pom! Tell us if you'll be willowing on Friday too!)

Mags asked me to find out some facts about Kenneth Grahame – I’d hoped to share amusing and witty anecdotes. But there aren’t any.

Just thought I’d warn you – don’t read this if you want lots of jolly gypsy caravans and messing about in boats!

The Clever Men At Oxford…
…know all there is to be knowed
but they none of them know one half
as much as intelligent Mr Toad

So wrote Kenneth Grahame in the amazingly conceited Toad’s Song.

Until Mags asked me to contribute to her Wind In The Willows Celebration, I had only the sketchiest knowledge of Kenneth Grahame’s life – I knew the Bank of England was in it somewhere, but that was all. What seems sad to me is that Grahame himself dreamed of being one of those ‘clever men’ – but his ambitions were cruelly thwarted.

He was a gentleman of great intelligence, wit and literary ability, whose creations, especially the characters of The Wind in the Willows, have brought pleasure to countless millions - and yet his own life was one of dreadful sadness.

He was born in Edinburgh in 1859, but tragically scarlet fever came into the household five years later – and Kenneth, his mother, and new born brother all contracted the disease. Sadly his mother died, and Kenneth himself was very ill, and was to suffer throughout his life from the effects. His father never really got over the loss of his wife and became an alcoholic- Kenneth and his three siblings were sent off to live with his grandmother. He went to school in Oxford [later writing “Oxford through a boy’s eyes”] but when the time came to leave, his uncle, now in charge of the boy, refused to finance his studies at Oxford.

Kenneth applied instead for a job in the Bank Of England – achieving 100% in the Bank Entrance Exam – a feat unheard of before or since. He worked conscientiously, and in his spare time, wrote stories for “The Yellow Book” a popular quarterly literary periodical. He published two collections of stories – The Golden Age and Dream Days – semi-autobiographical stories about a family of orphaned children. The stories were hugely popular when first published- but almost forgotten nowadays.

Kenneth met and married [in 1899] Elspeth Thompson – at last there was some joy in his personal life. But that too was very short-lived. When their only son, Alastair was born prematurely the following year, he was found to have serious visual impairment – and only of ‘average’ intellect. Kenneth and Elspeth could never accept these facts, and believed he was really a gifted child.

They nicknamed the shy child “Mouse” and Grahame was inspired to write The Wind In The Willows by the bedtime stories he read his son. One evening, when Mouse was four, his parents were due to go out for dinner. Waiting for her husband in the hall, Elspeth sent the maid for him. ‘He’s with Master Mouse, madam,’ said the maid, ‘He’s telling him some ditty about a toad.’

Before his fortieth birthday, KG became the youngest ever Company Secretary of the Bank – but five years later, he was confronted in the bank by a deranged gunman. Grahame was unhurt in the incident – but took early retirement shortly after as his health broke down. The family moved out to Blewbury near Didcot in Oxfordshire.

He continued work on writing Wind in the Willows – but initially nobody would publish it. But President Teddy Roosevelt was a fan of the earlier books, and campaigned on KG’s behalf till finally Methuen agreed to publish. The critics rejected it – “not as good as the earlier books” – but the public loved it – it went to reprint after reprint.

Elspeth and Kenneth were financially very comfortable, and able to send Alastair to Rugby, then Eton – neither school suited him – but they managed somehow to get their partially sighted son, with mediocre intelligence, into Christ Church, Oxford. In his second year, his tutor wrote the words ‘Pass or go’ next to his name in the college records; if he failed the exam again, he would have to leave. Soon after, the poor lad was found dead by the railway tracks. The official verdict was ‘accidental death’ – but many felt it was suicide. Elspeth and Kenneth were devastated. Kenneth wrote hardly anything after the tragedy and he and his wife spent most of their time abroad – and although when in England he made frequent trips to Oxford, he never visited London again. He died in 1932 and was buried with his son.

I wish I could end with something positive – but the truth is that this man who brought so much joy to the childhood of so many was himself someone whose own childhood – and experience of parenthood - was full of sadness.

At the end of Wind in the Willows, Toad sends the gaoler’s daughter, who helped him to escape, a thank-you letter and a gift. The gift is “a gold locket, set with pearls”. I often tell my pupils how pearls are created - the oyster takes the bit of grit which is sharp and irritating, and making life a misery - and converts it into something beautiful.

I like to think that Kenneth Grahame chose not to wallow in self-pity over the sadnesses of his life – but rather devoted his energies to writing this charming tale in order to bring laughter and happiness to others.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

The Mole Had Been Working Very Hard

The 21st of January is the big link day, when you can link here and Mags will host the happy Wind in the Willows "lots of posts" event.
I, a humble and silly mole, am honored to begin our river party.

Hello! This is Pom Pom Mole welcoming you to some Wind in the Willows fun!

Mags is brilliant and found mention of Kenneth Grahame's masterpiece on several different blogs. We're a homey bunch, us blog people. Did you know that Kenneth Grahame was a bank secretary and was actually shot at by an intruder who came into his bank? YIKES! It is thought that this scary "what's the world coming to?" event sent him deeper into the "woods" as he created a blissful tale of animals who spoke and behaved like people, far from the cold, cruel world.

All these intriguing pictures were found on Google Images.

But this. This is my first glimpse of The Wind in the Willows. My dear sister received it as a gift over forty years ago and she shared with me. I knew she would still have it and today, so far away in Washington State, she found it for me, photographed it and sent the pictures. I love her.

Hello, good book. It's SO nice to see you again after such a long time!

Have you seen this production of The Wind in the Willows?

Here's my river. I miss it. I rode over the bridge in my mother's station wagon many, many, times. Everyone needs a river.

I'm so thankful that Kenneth Grahame wrote this soothing, encouraging tale of friendship, adventure, and ultimate snugness.
"The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring cleaning his little home. "
Thank you, Mags!
Stay tuned for a wonderful post tomorrow. Angela from Tracing Rainbows will NOT disappoint!

Happy St Patrick's Day!

  I hope you've had a lovely 17th March! The weather was glorious here today, and legend tells us that this must be because St Patrick h...