Thursday, 23 July 2020

What I've been reading during the Covid Spring and Summer of 2020 when I haven't been blogging

 I had ordered Hilary Mantel's The Mirror and the Light a good while before our Lockdown*, but had been more than slightly daunted by the size of it! I was daunted as well by that fearful anticipation you suffer when the last episode of anything comes out, and this one had been so very long awaited! It turned out however to be the perfect Lockdown read: long, consuming and a very good place to hide during my early Lockdown very sleepless nights. Not that I'm sure the court of Henry Tudor would have been a good place to hide at any time of the day, as dear old TC did indeed find out. Why couldn't he have just retired to Launde? It reminded me of the very little that I recall from my English degree - the idea of the overreacher in literature from around that time. How do you know when much is too much? Tome though it was, this much of Mantel is definitely not too much. I thought she closed the saga beautifully. Thank you, Hilary. It was worth the wait.

 I read Ali Smith's Spring just before Lockdown, but brought it to my At Home At Hay digital festival week because Smith was one of the many fabulous events that I had booked to stream from my makeshift festival tent. Instead of the usual conversation that other authors set up with the very serious Peter Florence, the sparklingly original Smith shared an extraordinary film of still images narrated by that scintillating word play that lights up all her work. An absolute gift of thirty minutes exploring the "and" of these covid times. Up until the film I had been thinking what a broadside covid had been since the seasons books are being written in real Brexit time, but not quite real enough for covid. Smith is obviously not so easily defeated. I'm not sure if the film is available anywhere yet, but it's worth looking out for. And after all those blissful events in my bookish haven, what did I read first out of all the erudite discoveries from this monarch of literary festivals? Pyramids by Terry Pratchett as recommended by the classicist Stephen Fry himself!

 My boss brought me two books when we had a socially distanced cuppa in the garden as soon as that was allowed back in early summer. I read Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens first. Sad; beautifully sad; but sad. I was slightly distracted by the changes in pace. Measured, gentle telling of the first chapters. Then into the segmented sequences of crime and detection. Then all of a rush of the rest. Glorious twists and turns and eddies and roars. And achingly sad. I posted the Crawdads to Catherine in Glasgow. My boss is religious about recycling.

By which time homeschool was out for summer, and they opened self-catering accommodation and the National Trust rang us to say we could after all have our lakeside cottage for four nights at the start of July and we went. Feeling very brave despite the fact that we took everything we could possibly need in the way of food and all else to obviate the need to visit a shop. I took my Boss' second book, as she reassured me that this would not have me in a constant state of tension. She was wrong. Where Crawdads was sad but beautifully sad sad, Kate Atkinson's Big Sky is depressing, but interestingly depressing. Admittedly it does turn out to significantly less distressing than you fear and from the little I know of her work, Atkinson does write the most eloquent detective fiction I've come across. I read When Will There Be Good News because it was intriguingly on the A-Level Literature syllabus. Jackson Brodie, interesting guy, and the nanny from WWTBGN is one of the main characters in Big Sky, so there was enough of a continuity to intrigue. Also interesting, and mostly very accurate, commentary on National Trust members like us.

I left Big Sky in the cottage with other novels that previous guests had left behind. I thought my Boss would approve, and sent her this picture to tell her that I was exchanging her book for a German novel. I have a German-teaching, Germanophile friend who would appreciate a German read, I thought. I am still wondering if that lies within the etiquette of holiday cottage stays. I somewhere reasoned that there really couldn't be that many German-speakers booked into deepest, darkest, wettest Fermanagh this summer?
 And here we are, moving inextricably towards whatever level of normal the Assembly wants us to reach. And I am reading Bill Bryson's The Body: a guide for occupants. I'm missing the rip-roaringly laugh-out-loud-in-public funny of Notes from a Small Island, but then since I'm not much back in public yet, that's ok.
 This is next on the pile of To Be Read, and it's an ambitious pile because of Hay "purchases" and having had a birthday. I don't know how you're feeling right now, or what sort of a boat you're using to sail through this same storm that we're all apparently in. I'm a bit fed up with that image, to be honest. All the different boats seem to do is either sail too close to each other just to try to sink that sort of a nonsense fearful excuse for a vessel, or sail circuitous routes around anyone approaching in that silent ballet that we've been dancing round each other for four months now. I'm in the second boat. Don't rock it! Apparently Bernardine Evaristo's Girl Woman Other is utterly devoid of punctuation to make it easier to swim into. I'd be happy enough to swim through the rest of this storm as hardily as I can if the sea could be utterly devoid of boats at all.

I have learnt one thing from Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, in all these months. The word egregious. He used it last week and I will confess that I had to look it up. Isn't it interesting that the archaic meaning is the complete opposite of what it means now. That seemed to me to be a better image for These Strange Times than boats. I know how shockingly bad these months have been for many of us, maybe most of us; but for us here, they were most remarkably good. And that does indeed feel archaic now, as we inch our way slowly and quietly out on to The Other Side.

*Lockdown for us started on Thursday 19th March which was the boys' first day of school being closed, earlier than the blanket closing from London as schools here began moving teacher training days to that week in the expectation of the inevitable announcement. Prince Charming started working from home two weeks later, and we have spent four months now healthy, with everything we need, privileged with space and digital devices and wifi enough for four sets of online needs. It has been remarkably good indeed. I do most sincerely hope that you and your families have all found happiness and health in the midst of your circumstances.

Saturday, 18 July 2020

A cheerful little tale after many months of These Strange Times

Once upon a time there was a little dream. It really was a very little dream. Round like a creamy pearl it had trundled through the days and weeks and millennia even, scuttling quite happily along to the left and the right with a still small voice smiling in the background and telling the dream that this was indeed the way to be going.

It had admittedly bumped into lots of unpleasant obstacles along the way. But the smudged tarnishes rubbed off eventually, and the little pearly dream trailed joy happy ever after for the rest of the day and all eternity.

Happy St Patrick's Day!

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