Guardian Review bookish links

In Saturday’s Guardian Review section there’s an article by Ben Blatt that might interest you, it’s about the favourite words of particular authors, the words they most use and what they tell about that author. You can read it here.

There’s a review by Colin Kidd of a new biography of Oliver Cromwell by David Horspool. Oliver Cromwell: England’s Protector. An interesting read, although I’m not a mad royalist – I can’t stand Cromwell who didn’t just cause mayhem in England, he spread it up to Scotland too, doing much the same as certain contemporary people of his type are getting up to in the Middle East nowadays, but even more so in Ireland, where he is still hated.

We had a very busy weekend, donating boxes of books to a second hand bookshop for re-sale on Saturday, then travelling miles to go to a second hand booksale on Sunday, and buying another twenty books or so! But more on those books another day.

One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes

One Fine Day cover

One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes was first published in 1947 but my copy is a 2011 Virago, how I hate those new Virago covers, bring back the original green ones, please.

This book was written in 1946, a time when everyone was trying to adjust to a normal life without war, it’s not made easy by the fact that everything post-war has changed, especially for those who had had some money and were used to servants looking after them. It’s a day in the life of Laura, a middle class wife and mother of Victoria, a ten year old. Laura’s not terribly domesticated and she’s a bit of a dreamer so she’s struggling to cope with cooking and mending.

Laura Marshall’s husband is getting into the routine of commuting by train to London from Wealding in Sussex every morning, but he’s also constantly worrying about the state of his garden and house, there’s no help to be found anywhere and it all seems to be crumbling around him.

This is so well written and observed, Panter-Downes has Laura comparing the differences between her middle class husband’s standoffish attitude to his own daughter and a local working class man’s obvious adoration of a young relative. They’re poverty stricken and slovenly, but happy. Of course Stephen had gone off to war, leaving a small girl behind and he’s having trouble recognising that wee one in the self-contained ten year old that she has become while he was at war for five years.

When Laura makes a visit to the local ‘big house’ she thinks:
All those windows, she thought in horror. For the rest of her life, now, she would see things from the point of view of cleaning them. Confronted by a masterpiece of architecture, she would think merely, How much floor to sweep, how many stairs to run up and down. The world had contracted to domestic-house size, always whispering to the sound of somebody’s broom.

There’s quite a lot of humour in the book, often in the way that the ‘lower orders’ express themselves. But Angela Huth who wrote an introduction to the book seems to have missed some of it, as she’s under the impression that the big house is being turned into some sort of institution.

In fact the family in the big house has decided to hand it over to the National Trust and retreat to a self-contained flat in the property, as many such stately home owners did around that time. Perhaps Huth didn’t understand the ‘joke’ that the charlady gives the information that National Trusses will be taking over the big house. Most of the humour is from the way the working class people speak but it isn’t really in any nasty condescending way.

It’s a very enjoyable read and I just hope that I can get my hands on more of her books. You can read her obituary here.

The Family from One End Street by Eve Garnett

The Family from One End Street cover

The Family from One End Street and Some of Their Adventures by Eve Garnett was first published in 1938 and it won the Carnegie Medal that year. That must have been particularly sweet for the author, who also illustrated the book, as it was rejected by at least eight publishers.

Those publishers were probably put off by the fact that the book is so unusual in that it is apparently the first book to feature an ordinary working class family. The Ruggles family is a large one – seven children with mum Rosie taking in washing and ironing and the dad Jo being a dustbin man. They live in a small town in Sussex – as did Eve Garnett.

With so many children around there’s always something going on but to begin with we’re told how all the children appear and how they get their names.

The neighbours pitied Jo and Rosie for having such a large family, and called it “Victorian”; but the Dustman and his wife were proud of their numerous girls and boys, all -growing-up-fine-and-strong-one-behind-the-other-like-steps-in-a-ladder-and-able-to-wear-each-others-clothes-right-down-to-the-baby, so that really it was just two sets, girl and boy, summer and winter, Mrs Ruggles had to buy, except Boots.

I found this to be an entertaining read and as until it was published children’s books always featured very middle class children with ponies, bikes and boats and no thought to the clothes that they wore, it must have been a bit of an eye-opener to some people to realise that there were others who couldn’t afford to buy a school uniform for a child who was bright enough to get into the grammar school, and who were constantly taking their shoes to the cobblers to have them mended.

The author herself had a very comfortable upbringing but when she was asked to illustrate a book called The London Child by Evelyn Sharp she was appalled by the conditions that she saw, presumably when she was doing research for her illustrations. It led to her writing this book about an ordinary family struggling to make ends meet, but they’re a happy bunch and I’ll be looking out for the other books detailing their further adventures.

Guernsey Style knitting

It’s ages since I did any serious knitting, in fact I’ve done very little in the way of crafting since we moved house almost three years ago. So I decided to get stuck into some knitting – a jumper for Jack, and if you think that the word jumper is weird and unknown to you, it’s also known as a sweater or jersey, presumably that word jersey is originally from the Channel Island of that name, just as Guernsey or gansy as they are sometimes known – is.

Knitting

I think this knitting pattern is called Guernsey style because ‘real’ Guernseys are knitted using a circular needle, that’s something I’ve never used so I was happy to tackle this one which uses the two needle method.

Well, I say happy but to tell the truth I was a wee bit daunted by the pattern because it is set over twenty-four rows and I wasn’t at all sure that I would have the concentration to tackle that, but it turned out to be fairly easy to do. I’m quite pleased with it so far, but I’m not really looking forward to knitting the sleeves, keeping the pattern right at the same time as increasing the stitches might be a wee bit tricky!

The Casino by Margaret Bonham

The Casino cover

The Casino by Margaret Bonham is a collection of short stories published by Persephone Books. I had never read anything by the author before. I’m not averse to short stories, I think they’re especially good for bedtime reading, but I wasn’t too impressed with this collection, although I think towards the end of the book the quality of the writing improved.

To me the earlier stories were mainly uninteresting, verging on the boring or meh as they say nowadays. I have no idea when any of the stories were written but I’m assuming that the later ones were written when she had more experience as they are better.

I read the preface which is by Cary Bazalgette, the author’s eldest daughter. It is a mini biography of her mother and she paints such a ghastly portrait of her that I think I was really put off. Margaret Bonham was one of those women who abandon one husband and family to run off with a man and start up another family – only to repeat her actions again. That and her eight bottles of gin a week habit that didn’t ever stop her from driving – I found rather off-putting. I KNOW, very judgemental of me – but there you go, or there I am. On the other hand, some of her stories are quite entertaining.

Bookish Guardian links

I recently enjoyed reading Helen Dunmore’s book The Betrayal, the first book of hers that I’ve read. So I was sad to read that she is seriously ill with some form of cancer that has a poor prognosis. She has written an article about facing mortality.What do we leave behind when we die? she asks.

There’s a new book out about Raymond Chandler and his work called Raymond Chandler: The Detections of Totality by Fredric Jameson. You can read an article about it here.

The author Elizabeth Strout writes about her working day here.

The retired MP Roy Hattersley has written an article comparing Brexit with Henry VIII’s break with Rome. You can read it here.

And just because I love Bogart and Bacall below is a still from The Big Sleep.

Bogart

Casting Off by Elizabeth Jane Howard

Casting Off cover

Casting Off by Elizabeth Jane Howard was first published in 1995 and until a few minutes ago I had thought that it was the last in the Cazalet series, but apparently the last one All Change was published in 2013, the year before Howard died.

I know that a few blogpals are intending to read this one soonish so I don’t want to say too much about the storyline that runs from July 1945 to 1947.

You would think that people would be relieved beyond belief that the war in Europe was over, but of course for lots of people it meant the end of a time when they had plenty to do, they had had a sense of achievement or importance as they had been needed in the various voluntary organisations helping the war effort. Everyone is trying to get used to the changes although of course some things aren’t changing quickly enough, such as the rationing which is getting worse.

Members of the Cazalet family are beginning to move back to London instead of all being at the family country home – Home Place. Relationships are changing, some might not survive.

Three quarters of the way through this book I was feeling quite depressed by it as I really didn’t like the turn things were taking, and I couldn’t see how the author would get the many loose ends tied up by the end, and I had been under the impression that this was the last book.

I ended up being fairly well satisfied with it, especially as the characters that I particularly disliked seemed to be getting their richly deserved come-uppance. I’ll now have to get the last in the series All Change.

I’m thinking about buying the DVDs of the BBC series because I didn’t see it when it was on TV. Did any of you watch the series and if so did you enjoy it?

Spring garden in Fife, Scotland

It seemed like Spring arrived early this year with everything beginning to bloom sooner than expected. Well it has mainly been a very mild winter with very little in the way of snow, and what we did get melted very quickly.

crocuses

The crocuses above are multiplying each year, but they only look their best when the sun is shining on them. Typically we got the heaviest of snow after everything began to flower and I thought that the delicate snowdrops, aconites and primulas would be flattened, but they’re not as fragile as they look.
snowdrops

When warmish weather appeared after that I had intended to get stuck into the garden and clear away the winter debris, but suddenly the wind seemed to be coming from Siberia again and it was just too cold to brave it. I can’t wait to start gardening again though.

The winter aconites below are already seeding themslves around the garden, I always feel so lucky when that happens, flowers for free, just because they’re happy.

aconite
The clump of primulas below really needs to be split up, I must remember to do it when they stop flowering, which probably won’t be for another month or two. They’re such good value.

primula

I’m never sure if my hellebores below are Christmas roses or Lenten roses as they always flower in between the two festivals.
hellebores

Isn’t the snowdrop below a beauty? They’re clumping up nicely but this one below seems to be a bit of a loner, splendid in its isolation. It reminds me of a wind turbine, and I mean that in the nicest possible way, as I happen to think that wind turbines look elegant.

snowdrop

Last week I received my free tree and dog rose seeds from The Woodland Trust in the post, and they’re germinating already. Exciting times! I’ll keep you posted on their development.

Recent book purchases – Mary Stewart

I’ve been looking for these Mary Stewart books and although I had been hoping to find hardbacks in a secondhand bookshop, I decided to settle for the copies in the photo below when I found them in a Stockbridge, Edinburgh bookshop. The covers are so of their time. Airs Above the Ground is a 1967 reprint, it was originally published in 1965. Mr Brother Michael was published in 1959 but this reprint was published in 1971 – the eighth impression.
Mary Stewart
I did read a lot of Mary Stewart’s books way back in the 1970s but I think that I missed Airs Above the Ground and My Brother Michael back then, so I’m really looking forward to reading them soon – for the Read Scotland 2017 Challenge of course.

If you are a regular visitor to ‘Pining’ then you’ll realise that Stockbridge in Edinburgh is my favourite stamping ground for books, but when I’m there I never take any photos of the place, I’m too busy perusing book and charity shops and also it’s quite a busy area so it would be impossible to take photos without getting a lot of people in them. So if you want to know what Stockbridge looks like have a keek here.

The Heart of a Garden by Rosamund Marriott Watson

Heart of a Garden Book Cover

I recently bought The Heart of a Garden by Rosamund Marriott Watson. I had never heard of her before but she was a poet, nature writer and garden writer, and The Heart of a Garden contains poems as well as descriptions of particular gardens. Sadly this book only has black and white photographs of gardens (obviously not colour given how old it is) but I had hoped that it would have lovely watercolour illustrations as many books of this type have. It was first published in 1905 but my copy is a 1907 reprint.

I must admit that I saw the book online and decided to buy it just because I loved the cover – yes, shallow I know! But luckily it looks like it’s going to be an interesting read anyway.

I was amazed to discover that despite the fact that the author was born in 1860 and died in 1911 she led what I would call quite a ‘fast’ life. She and her first husband divorced, she later eloped with an artist, then divorced him and ran off to live with a novelist whom she never married.

That’s the second Victorian woman in a week that I’ve read about who led a somewhat irregular life and it didn’t seem to reflect on their lives in any sort of negative way. Mind you I think that if people had money then they were probably judged entirely differently from those in the so called lower orders, maybe they still are!