Life in the Garden by Penelope Lively

Life in the Garden cover

Life in the Garden by Penelope Lively was just published earlier this year and it has also featured on BBC Radio 4 extra, you might still be able to listen to it here if you’re interested.

I loved this book and this time of the year made it a perfect read for me as it has suddenly got too cold to do anything in my garden, reading this was a good way of dealing with my withdrawal symptoms.

Penelope Lively was born into a family of keen women gardeners and from them she inherited the genetic tendency to plan and plant gardens wherever she could. Her first garden experiences were in Egypt where she grew up but eventually her family moved back to England where her grandmother, a very wealthy woman, gardened on a grand scale. It sounds like it must have been a wonderful place but as is often the way with gardens, it no longer exists, having been built on. I think that this is something that all gardeners realise – no matter how much work you put into them, in the end they’re very ephemeral and all it takes is a few seasons of neglect and that garden begins to disappear back into a wild state.

Penelope Lively talks about the various large gardens she has planned in different parts of England before settling in her vintage years in a small London garden. It’s a bit of a memoir of the gardens she has known and the books she has read. This is one of those dangerous books that mentions lots of other books and I found myself noting titles down for future reading, in fact I’ve already purchased one of them, English Flower Garden by W. Robinson, but a lot of the fiction books she mentions because they feature gardens. They’re mainly classics and most readers have probably read them all – Alice in Wonderland, Tom’s Midnight Garden, The Secret Garden. Authors such as Beatrix Potter, Edith Wharton, Virginia Woolf, Vita Sackville-West and lots more.

She talks about the changing fashions in plants, and roses of course feature quite heavily. She mentions that as she’s now 83 she can’t do everything in her garden herself and sometimes has to rely on getting a man in to do some jobs, with some disasters ensuing. She has admiration for gardeners in other parts of the world who aren’t lucky enough to have a climate such as Britain’s as we don’t have to cope with really awful low temperatures.

I really enjoyed this one, I’ll give it 5 stars on Goodreads I think, the only gripe I have about it is that although it’s a hardback and has an attractive cover, it was published by Penguin and has been bound so tightly I found it quite difficult to hold it for any length of time. I was the first person to borrow this one from the library so probably it will ease up eventually, but the actual paper used isn’t very good, I don’t think it will age well. Having said that I will probably buy Life in the Garden at some point as it’ll be great for dipping into during bad weather.

If you haven’t tried Penelope Lively’s fiction you should give her books a go!

Guardian links

Here we are at another Saturday already, I can’t believe how quickly each week flies past nowadays, there’s another Guardian review section to read today, and I found quite a few interesting articles in last week’s that you might find worthwhile reading too.

If I find a novel features a house to such an extent that it becomes character then that’s usually a big plus for me. I love houses in books, art, crafts, bookcovers — whatever, I’m right there in that house, so I enjoyed this article about famous fictional houses, there are a lot more than Manderley. Do you have a favourite fictional dwelling? Or just a favourite house? Do tell!

I’ve never read anything by Louise Welsh but I read this article about her working day. I hadn’t realised that she lives in Glasgow, near our old stamping ground.

The American author Robin Hobb features in the interview, interesting although again I haven’t read anything by her.

There’s a good article on picture books and novels for tots to teenagers. Although I don’t have any small people in my life nowadays (well not in this country anyway) I’m still drawn to children’s books and sometimes I just have to buy them if the illustrations are particularly gorgeous.

Sarah Dunant’s article is amongst other things about how the historical research that she used for some of her books hadn’t been done 25 years ago. Mainly though she’s writing to promote a BBC Radio 4 podcast – When Greeks Flew Kites, and I believe that anybody in the world can listen to the radio programmes in general.

I, Claudius by Robert Graves

I, Claudius cover

You will probably notice that my copy of this book is the 1977 tie in to the BBC dramatisation of I, Claudius. Shockingly it has taken me 40 years to get around to reading it! The book was originally published in 1934.

I really enjoyed reading I, Claudius although I’m not sure if I would have enjoyed it so much if I hadn’t watched the BBC drama – twice over the years – as there are so many characters thrown at you. Mind you often they didn’t hang around for very long as so many people were poisoned or otherwise given the chop.

It’s a very readable history of Rome, up to A.D. 41 supposedly written by Claudius, a disabled, stammering, twitching grandson of Augustus who was despised by his entire family, but inside his less than perfect body there was a clever and quick witted brain which helped him to survive when all the rest were being murdered or banished to tiny islands.

This book won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize as did the sequel Claudius the God which was published in the same year. Possibly they were originally published in one volume.

If you want a more in depth review of this book then hop over to She Reads Novels and Helen’s review of I, Claudius.

This is one of my 20 Books of Summer.

For once I think that the TV programme was just as good if not better than the book, Derek Jacobi was brilliant as Claudius and John Hurt as Caligula was unforgettable. Sadly he died earlier this year. Have a look at this excerpt where Caligula who has decided he is the god Jove has taken on his enemy Neptune.

Celtic Connections, Glasgow

Since the 21st of January Glasgow has been hosting Celtic Connections. The festival goes on until the 5th of February and as the programmes are on the radio I think they are available for people outside the UK to listen to. If you’re interested have a look here anyway.

Celtic Connections gets bigger every year and there are some amazing people performing this year, from all over the world – even Olivia Newton-John! Glasgow has become a real Mecca for fans of folk and traditional music.

TV – a great new season – so far

There have been times fairly recently when I thought I had really fallen out of love with television as I never seemed to bother to watch most of the new things which were being broadcast. I gave up on Downton Abbey because of the greed of ITV which meant that there were more commercials being screened during Downton time than actual Downton Abbey. It put me right off commercial TV altogether.

I’ve always enjoyed watching The Bake Off. I’m not a big fan of Paul Hollywood, I don’t find him objectionable though, I am quite a fan of Mary Berry however, since watching her on a TV cookery programme which was on in the afternoons in the 1970s. It was partly her old-fashioned oh so proper Englishness (but not snooty) which I liked, but now I like her for being so positive and determined to try to say something good about some aspect of the contestants’ efforts. I’ve come to realise that in life one of the most important things is to be kind, or at least not to be vicious, some people seem to think that that’s entertainment, pulling someone’s best efforts apart, but it’s not my idea of comfy viewing.

The Bake Off is the only thing of that sort which I’ve watched. I’ve never seen ‘Strictly’ or any of those jungle/island/Big Brother things, frankly I’d rather do just about anything else. I sometimes feel a bit odd, not quite part of society as all these types of programmes feature so highly in day to day living, but I don’t even recognise most of the names of the people involved in them.

So I was watching very little of ‘new’ TV and was almost always watching re-runs of old programmes if anything at all, but I’ve been drawn into new things this season and really enjoying them, despite sometimes being quite determined not to like them. The programme which comes under that category is Cradle to Grave which is apparently about the teenage years of the DJ/entertainer Danny Baker, never a favourite of mine, but it has been a really nostalgic step back into the 1970s for me, the time when I was a teenager too.

Doctor Foster was well trailed as a must view so I gave it a go, mainly because I really like the actress Suranne Jones, and I’ve not been disappointed although I just have to shout advice at her on screen, she’s not taking any of it though!

The new series of Doctor Who is fab, Missy played by Michelle Gomez is wonderful and I’m warming to Peter Capaldi as the Doctor. I love it when they both start speaking in their normal Scottish accents, but David Tennant will always be my favourite Doctor.

I’ve been enjoying watching Boy Meets Girl which is about a young chap who happens to start dating a transgender woman/man. It’s funny and very well acted, with an actual transgender person acting in it. It’s very brave apparently for the BBC to take on this subject, brave it might be but it’s definitely entertaining.

Countdown to Life: The Extraordinary Making of You is a series about how foetuses develop and what happens when the development goes wrong, fascinating for the science and the people involved who have gone bit wonky in the womb but it hasn’t got them down.

I see that on Wednesday there’s a new Simon Schama series – The Face of Britain which looks like it’ll be interesting. There’s a book to go with the series and you can read the Guardian review of it here.

On Thursday BBC 4 there’s Oak Tree: Nature’s Greatest Survivor, a year in the life of an oak tree.

On Friday BBC 1 – The Kennedys has been tipped by the Guardian as a pick of the day. The setting is again the 1970s, so I think it’ll be another nostalgia trip.

It looks like I’ll be doing nothing but watching the telly, but I promise you I’m still getting plenty of reading in, just don’t look at the state of my house!

Have you been watching anything good on TV recently?

Arbuthnott, The Mearns, Aberdeenshire

One of the places which Peggy was keen to visit was the Lewis Grassic Gibbon Centre at Arbuthnott in The Mearns, Aberdeenshire. So one fairly fine day we drove up there to the centre which is really a cafe with a small exhibition at the back of it, telling the story of Lewis Grassic Gibbon who wrote the Sunset Song books amongst others. Those are the ones which most people have heard about though as they have been dramatised for TV a few times.

It’s years since I read the three books which make up The Scots Quair, but I remebered The Mearns which is the area they are set in was depicted as being a harsh and grim place but as you can see in these photos it’s rather lovely, in the spring/summertime anyway.

Arbuthnott River Bervie 1

The wee river is the Bervie and it meanders across the fields which are just down the hill from the church where Lewis Grassic Gibbon was buried just days before what would have been his 34th birthday.

Arbuthnott Gorse

Standing on a wee wooden bridge which spans the river you can look over to this field of gorse or whins as it is called in Scotland, and see a bank of primroses still blooming in late May, everything is at least two or three weeks later in flowering than in the south.

Arbuthnott Primrose bank

If you look closely you’ll be able to see the primroses again in the photo below.

Arbuthnott River Bervie

Grassic Gibbon had a hard life, having to join the army just to save himself from starvation at one point, and it’s sad to think that although he did eventually find success in writing, he died way down south in Welwyn Garden City, a town which I lived in for a short time at the back end of the 1970s, not a place of beauty as I recall.

I’m sure that I took some photos of ruined houses which were standing either side of the rough track which leads down to the River Bervie, but again they don’t appear on my camera, I think it’s a temperamental beastie – that camera of ours.

It’s the 1971 version of Sunset Song which I remember most fondly and I’ve discovered that someone has kindly put it on You Tube. I might just wallow in some nostalgia. I must have been 12 when it was first broadcast and it led to me reading the books.

McFlannels United by Helen W. Pryde

I mentioned in an earlier post that we had visited a bookshop in Fort William just before closing time and in the five minutes that we were there we all bought books, well I, Peggy and Evee did but Jack was more reticent.

Anyway one of the books I pounced on was the third in Helen W. Pryde’s McFlannels series which is called McFlannels United and was first published in 1949. These books were originally written for radio and were very popular during World War 2 and I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed this one.

The McFlannels are a typical Glaswegian family, the children are grown up now and their daughter Maisie is a teacher, so she has joined forces with her mother Sarah to try and change her father Willie into something more genteel than he has any intentions of becoming. Decades of correcting Willie’s broad Glaswegian have had no results but they don’t give up.

The family is still plagued by Uncle Matthew who is a sort of failed black marketeer or dodgy dealer. Rationing is still very much to the fore and at one point every member of the family is convinced that they are going to be carted off to prison for wee bendings of the rules.

The son Peter brings his girlfriend Ivy home to meet his family, Sarah and Maisie are convinced that it means he’s serious about her, but Ivy has other ideas.

I found this one to be a hoot, I think it was better than the second one, The McFlannels See it Through, although that is still well worth tracking down.

I read this book as part of the Read Scotland 2015 challenge.

Jamaica Inn on the BBC

Were you one of the many people who struggled to hear the dialogue in the new BBC adaptation of Jamaica Inn? Apparently people were thinking that they must be going deaf, but we didn’t hink that because it isn’t the first time that we’ve had trouble hearing things on TV. I don’t think it’s anything to do with the sound engineers, it’s just that some actors are rotten at speaking, how they get the parts is beyond me. You would think that being able to make yourself heard would be the least that could be expected of an actor. Lots of people ended up switching on the subtitles to understand what was going on.

But apart from that I think that the whole thing was just very disappointing. I read Jamaica Inn as a 13 year old and again some 20 years later, so it’s a good long while since I read it but I do know that the BBC failed to conjure up the dramatic and dangerous atmosphere of the book. Then for some reason they chose to film a lot of it in the Lake District rather than Cornwall and the two places are not really alike. It’s as if someone just said – one patch of green is much like any other – which just isn’t true.

The character of Uncle Joss just bore no resemblance to the one in the book and the fact that you couldn’t hear what he was mumbling meant that there was no way that he was going to be able to act his way into being more like the character which Daphne du Maurier wrote.

All in all I was very disappointed by the whole thing and I just feel that I’ll have to re-read the book to get a proper dose of du Maurier. But was I one of the 800 or so people who contacted the BBC to complain? – I hear you ask. Well, no I didn’t think to complain, I just moaned at Jack and he mumped back, but we were more audible than any of those actors.

Burying News

I was listening to the radio in the car this afternoon and it was a discussion about yesterday’s Budget. In the course of the chat one commentator came out with the information that it was also the day when Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London was given permission to buy a couple of water cannon for use on London streets against any future demonstrators!! Obviously that day was chosen so that the news would be well and truly buried amongst all the Budget shenanigans.

I can hardly believe that Britain has changed so much that things like that can happen, but apparently it has. Water cannon hit people with such force that it can and does knock their eyes out, break limbs and generally maim human beings. Next time you see that blond mop on the TV don’t think to yourself – ‘ah doesn’t it make you proud to be British, when we can have such an eccentric as London’s mayor‘. Do think that wolves often come in sheep’s clothing! Boris is not a lovable eccentric, he’s downright evil.

In the UK we can’t have spontaneous demonstrations nowadays, you have to get written permission from the authorities to hold any sort of gathering, and you are likely to end up being ‘kettled’ by the police for hours on end. In other words – treated far worse than they would be allowed to treat animals.

It amazes me that the British public in general are so docile, we put up with far more nonsense from our governments than any other nations do. It has always been that way, our governments always want to punish the ‘little’ people, you and me. It’s the reason that rationing went on for years after World War 2. Keep them hungry, keep them down!

If you put on your TV for the news on any day, you will almost certainly see a demonstration in some foreign country about something, usually they want more freedom than they have, but in reality a lot of those people have more freedoms than we have here. They’re free to demonstrate for one thing.

My parents, that generation who ‘fought for freedom’ would be wondering why they bothered, if they had lived to see the Britain of today.

It could be another reason for Scotland going independent, just to disassociate ourselves from the barbarisms of England and London in particular.

Antiques Fair at Ingliston

Today we went to the antiques fair at Ingliston, Edinburgh. It was really busy, probably because they only have four of them in the year now, and there seemed to be lots of people buying, so for once the stall-holders weren’t all moaning about how slow things were.

We were just going to the fair for something to do really, it was a chance to get out of the house and away from all the boxes which are engulfing the place, preparations for our big house move in April are now in full swing.

My favourite stall was there though, so despite the fact that I had told myself and others that I was just going for a mooch around, I ended up buying more art deco things. Two vases, one planter and a large decorative wall plate were purchased from that stall. Then I bought an old jigsaw puzzle, from the 1950s I think, it’s of an old car race. The last thing which I couldn’t say no to was a length of Sanderson fabric, with a design of cute wee houses, trees, park benches, lamp posts and more, very sweet, a bit pinker than I would normally go for and I have no idea what I will make with it.

Anyway, as you can see, they were filming Bargain Hunt while we were there. It’s actually quite annoying when they’re doing that because they seem to get all over the place and block the passageways a lot. However obviously some people are more worried than annoyed about it because apparently there was a notice in the loos saying that if people didn’t wish to appear in the background of the programme then they should go and tell them, and they would make sure they would be edited out!

I never thought of an antiques fair as an illicit trysting place, but it sounds like it might be for some people.