Monday, 31 December 2012

Happy New Year

Something to brighten up a dark, gloomy, and very wet day. They are filling the room with gorgeous scent.

Monday, 17 December 2012

A few recent reads

Need to catch up on comments about books I've recently read. Michelle Paver's Dark Matter is a really haunting ghost story, set in Svalbard in the early 1920's and excellently written. Jack is poor and lonely, although he has been well educated. An offer to be the wireless operator on an expedition to an isolated part of Svalbard is too good a chance to miss, and he sets off with four other men, and several huskies to spend many months away. One by one, the other men are compelled through circumstance to leave, until Jack is finally facing an Arctic winter alone, execpt for the huskies. But there is apparently someone or something else at Gruhuken.  The feeling of tension and despair build up gradually but inexorably; I found this a frightening read even on a fine sunny day.

John Galsworthy's The Man of Property is the start of the The Forsyte Saga, which was televised a long time ago, and is still a really good read. Although I remember watching the series, I hadn't read the book, and as it was sitting on my shelves, picked it up and was engrossed. The story is mainly concerned with Soames and  Irene, his highly prized possession and wife, and the house he has built by Philip Bosinney, a young unknown architect. The introduction of various members of the Forsyte family and others of their ilk is slyly done - Galsworthy describes them as a tribe, who are all similar, and occasionally pokes fun at them. But the main emotional feeling in the book is tragic, as Irene falls in love with Bosinney, who is engaged to June Forsyte, her husbands neice.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

I finally finished reading Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamasov, and it almost felt like losing an old friend when I reached the final page. The characters seemed so real, their lives so fascinating, that I felt somewhat bereft. But I still have the book, of course and could always re-read it in the future.

Autumn to Winter in the Cantal

We;ve been here in the Auvergne for over a week now, and have had the most variable weather.The English complain about the variability of their weather, but this region in France seems to outdo that. The day we arrived and for a few more, we had a gale force wind, fortunately from the south, so not too cold., but with gusts of 80 kilometres an hour. The French meteo warned about this.

Eventaully the wind died down, then it rained for a bit, and last Saturday night it snowed, and on Sunday there was a strong, cold north wind. Happily the weather here has improved since then, with clear sunny days, which are still fairly cold, but calm. Other parts of France have had extensive flooding, especially at Lourdes, in the Pyrenees. The day before the weather broke, we went up the vallley of the Maronne, and then up to the Puy Violent. The view from the  top of the Puy was amazing, over valleys and puys for miles. We went for a short walk along the valley road on Monday, meeting some elderly residents out for their constitutional; we returned through the woods, which are now passing quickly from autumn to winter. The path was deep with beech and hazel leaves, very pretty golden bronze colours underfoot.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Wifely reads

Good Wives: Mary, Fanny, Jennie and Me, 1845-2001
   I recently read two books about wives, the first Good Wives? by Margaret Forster and the second Joanna Trollope's The Soldier's Wife. Although written over a decade apart, they do have themes in common, such as is a wife able to use her education and abilities to develop her own individuality, or must she subsume her life into that of her husband. Good Wives? looks at the lives of three very different women, Mary Livingstone, wife of David; Fanny Stevenson, wife of Robert Louis, and Jenny Lee, wife of Aneurin Bevan., as
well as Margaret Forster's own married life.  All from different periods in history, all married to men for whom career was all-important and which were also of national  and international interest and significance. Margaret Forster also includes herself in the reflections about wife-hood, whether Mary, Fanny, Jenny or herself were good or bad wives. The lives of these women and their husbands were full of stress and anxiety and in the public view not all were always 'good' wives. Some of the problems they faced are still present today, such as , if you or your husband  works abroad, does the partner without the job in a foreign country stay at home and carry on with their career, or join their partner abroad. And when children arrive, such complicated decisions become even more so. Health, either of husband or wife, is an important aspect of married life and Margaret Forster gives several examples of wives protecting husbands for the sake of their health, but fewer examples vice versa. Although at times a slightly frustrating read, it is still of interest, as the topic of what makes a good or bad wife will doubtless go on changing over time.

Joanna Trollope's The Soldier's Wife tells the story of Alexa  Riley and her husband Major Dan Riley. He is about to return from a tour of duty in Afghanistan, and when home finds it difficult to talk about his  and his troops experiences there. Meanwhile Alexa, daughter of a minor diplomat and with a first  class languages degree, has applied for a job at a local private school. Isabel, Alexa's eldest daughter is unhappy at her boarding school, feeling she is missing out on family life at home with her young twin sisters. The friendships of Army wives on a camp are somewhat sketchily drawn,  balanced against the support that the returning men provide for each other. Joanna Trollope is good on the details of an occasionally chaotic family life, which highlights the lack of communication between Alexa and Dan. However, support from grandparents and somewhat surprisingly the Army lead to a more-or-less satisfactory ending for the troubled family.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

September round up

Having settled back at home for a while, I have finished a few books but not posted about them.
Aimee Bender's The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is the story of Rose Edelstein who discovers aged nine that she is able to taste feelings and emotions in food, that is the feelings of those who made the food. This is first revealed when she tastes a slice of lemon cake made by her mother, and is almost overwhelmed by the sadness she felt which her mother was experiencing when she made the cake. The descriptions of the various foods that Rose eats and her response to the emotions revealed in their taste are numerous, and eventually leads her to rely on food which is , as they say, untouched by human hand, although even this food reveals  its origins to Rose. Her family although apparently an average American one, are rather detached from each other, and become increasingly so as Rose grows up. This is a beautifully written story, so much so that its writing almost hides the strange bleakness of Rose's family life. For me, there were some resonances of Audrey Niffenegger's novel The Time Travellers Wife, which I found a really intriguing and memorable read.
Heather Gudenkauf's debut novel, The Weight of Silence, is written from several points of view. Calli is seven years old and selectively mute, but also very bright. One morning she and her best friend Petra disappear. The story of what exactly happened that day, the lead up to it and the consequences for both families and others involved in the events is told by Call's mother, Toni, her brother Ben, Petra's father and the local sheriff, a former boyfriend of Toni's. Calli's voice is the only one we don't hear. The others are all written in the first person, using the present tense, which gives a more intensely dramatic effect, while what happens to Calli and what she is thinking are written in the third person and past tense. An interesting and successful debut novel.
One classic story I had never read was William Thackeray's Vanity Fair. This was a Book Club read, so the discussion was fairly wide ranging, from the humour of the names ( Lady Bareacres), to how sympathetic we felt towards Becky Sharpe, and also to John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress and thence to the book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament of the Bible. Several of the group had read it before, mostly as teenagers and felt that on re-reading it, their opinion of Becky had changed radically. I found it an easy read, humorous despite the tragedies that happened to the characters, and it left me wondering just how much human behaviour hadn't changed at all in 150 years. Most of the group enjoyed the story, even those who hadn't finished reading it.
Robert Macfarlane's Mountains of the Mind is an essay on what affects mountains have had on human imagination. From a history of how we came to view mountains as adventurous places to go , instead of being avoided, to descriptions of Mallory and Irvine's attempts to climb Everest, and how that mountain was discovered and eventually measured, the beautiful descriptions of glaciers, mountains and people carried my imagination along. I read my copy on Kindle, bought as an offer earlier, together with his The Wild places, which I read some time ago.

Monday, 17 September 2012

A bird in the chimney

Picture from Google images

Back home from France late Saturday evening, on Sunday morning I heard strange rustling noises in the kitchen. Eventually realised they were coming from the kitchen chimney, just behind the boiler and it was a bird of some sort. After a snack lunch and mowing the rather long grass in both front and back gardens, DH ( Dear Husband) decided to investigate, which meant clearing all the cookery books from the kitchen mantelpiece first. Finally the bird more or less fell out of the chimney ( there is a small opening, usually closed by a sliding piece of metal), flew to the other side of the kitchen and then out of the window which we had left open. The bird was a collared dove, who often inhabit our garden, along with lots of plump wood pigeons. The kitchen needed a good clean after that,  just what was needed after returning from a trip away.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

A Day Out

The plateau de Trizac
For a change, and as the weather looked fairly promising yesterday, we took a trip out, first going up to the Col d'Aulac and exploring some of the tracks up on the Plateau de Trizac. The tracks are unmade up and lead nowhere but to the summer pastures for cattle.. The Grand Randonnee 4 and offshoots from it cross part of the area, and the whole area is a popular with hikers and ramblers, especially in the spring and summer. ( video of a hike here)The pastures are dotted with wild flowers still, though not so obviously as in spring. There are also the remains of burons, the former cheese- making places, where in the past, men lived for the summer, milking the cows and making the cheeses for which the Cantal is still well-known. A very few are still active, some have been restored and put to other uses, such as a restaurant, or a gite, but most have been simply left and are falling into ruins.
From the plateau, we rejoined the road to Trizac, and then continued to Saignes, described in the Michelin Green for the Auvergne Rhone Valley as a summer resort. It is in a very pretty setting, in the valley of the Sumene river (which joins the nearby Dordogne) and is surrounded by gently rolling hills, yet it is not far to the Monts de Cantal. There are a few pleasant looking brasseries for meals and some attractive shops,  and an intriguing-looking chapel perched on a small hill, but is a very quiet place.  We plan to visit again another time.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Planting a cross

On Sunday last, this cross was put up, to replace an older one, now disappeared, which apparently commemorated an English parachutist who landed in the area during the Second World War. It is called Le Croix de l'Angle, and adds another cross on the skyline of the vallee du Mars. The cross is simply made of wood and cemented into a group of rocks. After everyone had driven up to the plateau, then walked down to the place where the cross had  been planted, all returned down to the village salle polyvalente for a simple lunch, provided by M Joncoux, the proprietor of the land on which the cross stands. Many of those who went up to see the cross were fairly elderly,  ( a few I know are well into their eighties) but found no trouble in walking up and down the steep rough ground to get to the site of the cross. Lunch was a basic meal of dried ham and sausage, followed by aligot, then cheese and finally fruit tart, made by the ladies of the village. The weather was good, fortunately, sunny but quite windy up on the montagne. The original plan was to have had lunch up on the mountain, but the coolness and strength of the wind thankfully put paid to that idea.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Auvergne summer

Summer came to the Auvergne in August and it was very, very hot, up into the 30's Centigrade. We drove down on a hot, sunny day and it got hotter and hotter. No one moved much, as moving seemed not worth the effort. People sat under trees for shade and to try and catch any little breeze that was available. The late evenings were full of people in the village sitting outside their houses, chatting with friends and families in the cooler darkness. The weather was perfect for the kermesse held in mid-August, with a church service for St Ferreol, followed by a sale of home made patisserie, and a fete with a lottery(3 tickets for 10euros), in which I won a voucher for 20euros worth of flowers,(winnings shown above) then a meal for everyone, with bread and patisserie made by members of the local hunt ( la Chasse) who used a bread oven belonging to people who have a house overlooking the village.
A couple of weekends later , the village held its final Marche du pays, an evening event when local vendors of sausages, aligot (an Auvergnat speciality, recipe here) omelettes, bourriols ( a type of local pancake made with buckwheat flour) and local Auvergne wines and soft drinks. Everyone buys a bit of what they fancy and sits down at long tables and benches in front of the Mairie and eats and chats, generally socialising with friends and relatives. There are usually a small group of musicians playing local music on the bagpipes and accordian, to add to the gaiety.

Our latest outing was a coach trip to the national Museum of the Resistance, followed by lunch on a boat which started  and ended its trip on the Truyere river just beneath the Viaduc de Garabit. Lunch was a four course meal, with a starter of salad, pate de foie gras, then duck leg and vegetables, followed by cheese and either apple tart or ice cream, and finally coffee. A long day which began with the coach party leaving at 6.30am, before sunrise, which we watched as the coach made its way to Mont Mouchet, with a short pause for a coffee just as we went on to the A75. The site is interesting, with a monument, walks in the surrounding forests, and a well-laid out and informative small museum.

The visit to the Garabit Viaduct, built by Eiffel,was interesting, as at  the end of the trip, the boat went almost right underneath it, perfect for taking photographs. We finished our day out with an hour's stop in St Flour, in the old town, and paid a brief visit to the cathedral, before having a quick coffee on our way back to the coach. A grand if somewhat tiring day out.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Summer reads

I recently re-read Jane Gardam's Old Filth for a book club meeting, swiftly followed by The Man in the Wooden Hat. I first read Old Filth about 4 years ago and thought it a wonderful read. I enjoyed The Man in the Wooden Hat just as much, as it did give further enlightenment about the central relationships in Old Filth. Discussing Old Filth without revealing what happens in the next book was a bit complicated, as many of the others in the group had not read it, although one or two had, and I don't like to give away the plot when talking to people who haven't read a book under discussion, unless perhaps they have no intention of reading it.
I have a certain sympathy with Edward Feathers, sent home to England from his Malayan childhood, even though that childhood was very deprived, as I too was sent to a boarding school in England, while my parents were working in West Africa. But Old Filth, as he is usually referred to, had no mother and was ignored by his shell-shocked father ; the aunts to whom he was ostensibly sent merely passed him on to a couple who were cruel and uncaring of the children in their home. Old Filth's first school seemed to be the saving of him, as the headmaster cared deeply for the boys in his charge. Edward makes friends with another boy, Pat Ingoldby and becomes almost adopted into his family, spending many holidays with them, until the outbreak of the Second World War. His experiences during this event varied from the horrendous to the faintly ridiculous and obviously marked him for life and affected his relationship with his wife.
Although I had read Old Filth a few years ago, I seemed to have forgotten some of the details of the story, so was glad to re-read it - as a general rule, I don't do a lot of re-reading, even though it can bring out much more of a book than a first or second read can.
Another re-read was Anna Sewell's Black Beauty, last read, I think, was as a youngish child. Again, I obviously recalled some of the main characters, both human and horse, and several incidents, but I had forgotten quite how didactic in tone this story is, both about human behaviour to animals and also to each other. It is still a perfectly readable account of a horse's life and is still a suitable read for a child.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Ann Tyler

Ann Tyler's Ladder of Years was a recent Book Club read.. Billed on the cover of my edition (bought new) was "her best book yet", Since this title was published in1996 and she has written several more books, all well -received by critics, this comment is merely publishers hype. It was a good read, though, and a good introduction to Ann Tyler for me, as I've yet to read more of her work. The story is centred on Delia, youngest of thee daughters of a Baltimore doctor. She starts a relationship with Adrian Bly-Brice, despite having been married to her father's successor for many years, and later, while on the annual family holiday at the seaside, Delia starts walking along the beach and just carries on, leaving children and husband behind. After being given a lift by a young man in a borrowed vehicle, Delia ends up in a small town, where she finds herself  a room and a job, and begins to do things she has never done alone before, such as eating a proper meal in a proper restaurant.
Delia is having difficulty with her children, who are growing up and leaving home, a stage of life which she had never actually gone through, as her husband took over the family home as well as the doctor's practise, and her father remained in the house until his fairly recent death, as has one of her sisters. Delia's emotional difficulties were a rich source of our discussion of this book, and caused many to think about exactly how independent we were as modern women. I look forward to reading many other titles by Ann Tyler.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Holiday reading

I've recently read a number of pleasant books, not regarded (yet) as great literature, but good reading all the same. The first of these was Rosie Thomas' The Kashmir Shawl, a story set in two different times and different generations of women on whom Kashmir has an effect. Mair, while clearing out her mother's home after her death, finds a package containing a beautiful shawl , a photograph and a lock of dark hair. This eventually leads her to travel to Kashmir, the origin of the shawl, and where her grandmother Nerys and her husband led remarkable lives as missionaries during the late 1930's and the war years.  The somewhat stultifying and socially rigid lives of the last of British raj are well described, as is the beauty of Kashmir itself. Mountainous parts of the world figure as the background to peoples lives, with Mair and her grandmother growing up in north Wales, spending an important part of their lives in Kashmir, and for Mair finding herself in the Bernese Oberland at the end. I've read several of Rosie Thomas's novels  and have always enjoyed her writing.
Another writer whose stories are consistently enjoyable is Libby Purves, and whose broadcasting and journalism I also enjoy. Her novel Love Songs and lies, picked up in the library, was up to standard. The story of Sally and her housemates in Oxford in the 1970's, and how Sally, a vicar's daughter, falls for the only male housemate, graduate student Max Bellinger. The ramifications of Sally's relationship with Max and the rest of his somewhat difficult family are the basis of the story, which follows Sally and her housemates from Oxford into various careers, motherhood, and marriages. The story is told by Sally looking back from middle age to her younger days, which  has the effect of distancing everything, including Sally's own emotions, and possibly making for a gentler read, despite some of the shock in the story.
I had enjoyed Natasha Solomons first novel, Mr Rosenblum's List, so looked forward to reading her second, The Novel in the Viola. Elise Landau, daughter of artistic Austrian Jewish parents, but with no special gifts of her own, is sent to England in 1938, as a housemaid, in order to escape the coming threat of war. She is sent to Tyneford, an Elizabethan manor house near the Dorset coast. Elise eventually settles into the life of a housemaid, until the son of the house, Kit, returns from Cambridge and is obviously attracted to her, despite being regarded as an obvious 'catch' by the young ladies of the neighbourhood. War eventually intervenes, to the detriment of Kit and Elise's relationship, as well as to Tyneford itself. This novel is again written from the point of view of looking back over life long afterwards. The descriptions of the beauty of the house and surrounding countryside and coast are delicious and make you feel the warmth of the summer sun, the breeze and salt air of the beach, as well as the varying interiors of Tyneford House itself.
Jean Auel's The Land of Painted Caves is a long read and continues the story of Ayla, the prehistoric women first met as a girl in The Clan of the Cave Bear. I enjoyed reading the series, which has taken the author a long time to produce, although did find some parts of this last book a little repetitive in places. I started reading the series when they were first published, in the 1980's, and although haven't reread any, can still remember enough to be able to make sense of the last book. Jean Auel does give lots of background as reminders, so catching up with books read decades earlier is not too hard.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Back in the Auvergne, last week we went out for lunch to this restaurant, along with a group of people from the local  commune of Le Vaulmier. Lunch was fairly simple, but good and not expensive. The view from the balcony of the restaurant was superb, as was the weather.  It made a lovely change after a week or so of working on the house, cycling (my husband) or swimming (me, usually or occasionally both of us) and shopping in Mauriac, our nearest town.
We also took a trip to Aurillac, the main town in the Cantal departement., to a vide-grenier ( a bit like a car-boot sale). Unfortunately the weather was cool, wet and very cloudy and the vide-grenier disappointing, with few stalls and not much on those that were there. We found somewhere for lunch, then decided to drive home via the Cere valley, which has several picturesque villages and is a touristy place in summer. We stopped at Le Lioran to have a look around, as it is a ski resort in winter, with several lifts up to the mountains, and also a great mountain biking area in summer, with some of the lifts adapted to hold bikes. There is also an historic water tower, a reminder of the days of steam trains, at the station. Here is a picture of it. We were glad to reach home after a terrifying drive up to the Pas de Payrol, as it was covered in cloud, making visibility almost down to a car length in front of us.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Recent reading

I seem to have read quite a few books recently, but not commented on them. One read was Cannery Row, by John Steinbeck. Set in California, cannery row was a real place based on sardine fisheries and canning factories. However, the characters in the novel are fictional, although probably a mix of people that Steinbeck had known. Doc, the owner of a small laboratory supplying sea creatures to other laboratories and academic departments for study, is one of the few people with a regular job. Another is Lee Chong, owner of a store selling almost anything and everything. Other characters are Mack and the boys, a group of vagrant types who work from time to time in the canning factories and who take over an old store of Lee's and turn it into a home from themselves. Ther are some wonderful set pieces of comedy in the story, such as the party which mac and the boys plan for Doc when he returns from a gathering trip, but Doc is late and the party happens without him. Another wonderful event is a frog-gathering expedition by Mack and the boys; the frog collecting is successful, but the money it was intended to raise is less easy to keep a hold on.
The effect of the novel is partly comedic, but as the period in which it is set is the Depression of the Twenties and Thirties, partly heroic in the way in which people get on with their lives.

Emily Bronte's only novel, Wuthering Heights is a totally different type of book to Cannery Row. Set in Yorkshir, with vivid descriptions of the wild landscapes and winter weather, as well as the houses inhabited by the characters, the story is based on the lives of Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, the foundling child brought home by Catherine's father and adopted into the family. Cathy and Heathcliff eventually form an amazing passion for each other, which is never requited. Catherine marries Edgar Linton, the son of a neighbouring landowner, while Heathcliff disappears for a time, returning to Wuthering Heights with all the appearance of a gentleman. Heathcliff's distress at Cathy's marriage leads him to revenge on his former adopted family, with severe consequences for Cathy and her brother Hindley.  The story is told by two narrators, Lockwood, who rents neighbouring Thrushcross Grange from Heathcliff, and Ellen (Nelly) Dean, a servant who has worked for both the Earnshaw and Linton families.  This was a re-read for me, as i first read and studied it many years . This time it seemed more of the entertainment as which it was initially published. The power of this story lie in the depictions of the characters and their emotions.

Another very different read, Rosy Thornton's The Tapestry of Love is set in the modern day Cevennes, a wild, very rural and beautiful part of the Massif Central, bordering the Languedoc region. The heroine, (another Catherine) a divorcee with grown-up children, decides to leave England and settle in France, and start a business as a seamstress and upholsterer.  Her nearest neighbour, a rather enigmatic Frenchman is the main love interest, but there are several trials and tribulations that Catherine undergoes before he declares his feelings and she hers. The wild and beautiful landscape is clearly described, as is the sudden changeability of the mountain weather. Catherine's family, her children and sister all visit her in her rural hideaway, with varying impact on her new life. A worthwhile read.

The Other Family by Joanna Trollope is one that escaped my attention until I chanced on it in my local library. The story of Chrissie and her three daughters, Tamsin, Dilly and Amy. Her partner, Richie, a singer and musician dies suddenly, and Chrissie and her daughters find that their once secure life falls apart. Richie had had another family, a wife whom he never divorced and a son, now grown up, both still living in Newcastle, Richie's home town. All are affected by Richie's death in a variety of ways, and it is how Joanna Trollope interweaves the stories of Richie's two families and how they come to interact with each other that makes for an intriguing read.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Back home from France, and we seem to have brought some sun with us for a while. Last Saturday and Sunday were both sunny enough to get out and do a bit of much-needed tidying up in the garden. And back home to a heap of post, with lots of interesting journals to read, such as newbooks magazine, and the Persephone Biannually, from Persephone Books. And an email from a book Club member, with a new list of titles for the next few months. So I'd better get reading.

Saturday, 12 May 2012


One of the things we usually like about coming to the Cantal, and to the Vallee du Mars in particular is the changeability of the weather. Being a mountaineous area, the weather seems to change hour by hour or on some days minute by minute. The day can start off clear and sunny, become cloudy before lunch, and end with a  beautiful clear sunset. Or it can start miserable and stay that way for the next week - just like England. During our three weeks here we have had so far, rain, snow, hail, thunderstorms, gales, and a very few days when it has been dry and sunny all day. It has also been very cold for much of the time, and overcast and miserable.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

A serious read

I've recently finished reading David Willetts "The Pinch: How the Baby-Boomers took their Children's future and why they should give it back."( reviews here and here) As a baby-boomer (born 1946) myself, this was an intriguing read. Some of the assertions David Willetts makes don't seem to apply to me, although many do. I think, when he asserts that there was a rise in women's increased access to higher education, he overstates the case somewhat. I entered post 18 education in the later 1960's, and not all my school fellows went on to university (as I didn't) but to other forms of higher education, such as teacher training college, colleges of commerce or advanced technology, where the qualifications they were aiming for were more vocational in nature than a degree. Most of these type of higher education institutions later became or were absorbed into universities. The actual rise probably came a bit later, in the 70's. The first chapter, however, does give a quick and interesting potted social history of marriage and property in England
I found the number of statistical tables interesting, although sometimes a bit overwhelming., and occasionally the saying "there are lies, damned lies and statistics" came to mind. Willetts also states that educated middle class women have taken jobs that might previously have been done by working class men, thus reducing social mobility. But many of the old working class jobs in heavy industry, such as steel-working, mining, car-making, and similar have disappeared, as those  industries have been sold off or consigned to history. And although Willetts gives perfectly valid reasons for the baby-boomers to give their children a future, he doesn't, as far as I recall, say exactly how this should happen.

As an antidote to this serious stuff, which is nevertheless perfectly readable, I 've just read Michael Wright's follow -up to C'est La Folie, titled Je T'aime a La Folie, and which I enjoyed just as much as the first book.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

May Day walk

At last we have had some reliable(ish) sun and warmer weather here in the Cantal, so took the opportunity to go for a walk, having invested in some new walking boots and jackets, courtesy of trip to Decathlon. We walk from Le Vaulmier along through the woods to St Vincent-de-Salers and back by the same path. A nice not too long or difficult walk, a good test of new boots. Walking is very popular here in the mountains, the Hotel des Voyageurs in Le Falgoux caters for walking holidays, some through various travel companies, some just for individuals.

As there has been lots of rain recently, the streams and waterfalls along the way were all full and quite impressive..This one we had to ford, but it was easy.

 We also saw a ruined barn or possibly house.

This waterfall is at the entrance to St Vincent, but not easily visible from the road; you have to walk up a little way to appreciate it.
We also saw lots of woodland flowers along the way - orchids, violets, lungwort, viper's bugloss, cowslips and so on. All just coming out after the cold weather of the past few weeks, just like the people.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

I've recently finished reading A S Byatt's The Children's Book(interview/review here). I have to admit this is the first Byatt I've read, although I did get about a third of the way through a library copy of Possession, before it had to be returned, and I didn't for a variety of reasons  reserve it again. However, The Children's Book is one of the most amazing, absorbing and engrossing reads I've experienced. The cast of characters seems huge but in fact is a few families, the timescale seems immense but is in reality that period at the end of the 19th century, ending just after the First World War, and the setting is basically London, Kent and later Germany in the beginning of the 1900's..I found the references to the art of that period easy to visualise, as I'd watched the recent TV programmes on Art Nouveau, called Sex and Sensibility, presented by Stephen Smith, which was both very interesting and informative. Unfortunately I read this on my Kindle, so missed having the beautiful cover to look at whenever I closed the book, as it would have added to my enjoyment. I think the hugeness of this book comes from the range of emotions described and felt by both characters in. the story and the reader, as well as from the range of events and characters.
Another fairly long read was Vere Hodgson's wartime diaries, Few Eggs and No Oranges, published by Persephone Books. Social history at its best, as Vere describes the Blitz, doodle-bugs, V1 and 2 rockets and other bombs that fell on London and elsewhere in the country from 1940 to 1945. She also describes the difficulties of getting food as well as household necessities such as saucepans, kettles and sheets, when setting up her own flatlet. It brought back memories of my grandmother's stories of the Second World War. She lived on the Isle of Wight and though there was some bombing there, they were under the flight path of bombers aiming for Southampton and Portsmouth, both badly damaged during that time.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Winter again

Here in the Auvergne, winter or something very like it, has returned. There is snow up on the montagnes above us, although lower down in the valley, the grass is green and trees are coming into leaf. Some of the cattle are out in the fields. Yesterday we went for a drive to Salers and back down to the Vallee du Mars via the Col de Neronne, which was only just about open. We met a snow-clearing lorry on our way down; fortunately we'd stopped for a moment at a pull-in, otherwise there wouldn't have been room for both vehicles I don't think we'll be repeating the trip until the weather clears up a lot, or we our next visit later in the year. There has been almost non-stop rain for the past week, apart from a couple of afternoons when it has dried  up a bit. Most mornings the cloud level is not much higher than the houses in the village.

Monday, 16 April 2012

A little light reading

As an antidote to reading books narrated by young boys, I picked up Katie Fforde's Summer of Love on a recent visit to my local library. I like Katie's books, they are light, cheerful and have a happy ending. I know that people in the book world are saying that chick-lit is dying but Katie fforde has been writing fro quite a long time and shows no sense of slowing down - long may she continue. Chick-lit was only a name dreamed by someone who possibly had never read it - and I'm not sure the "lit" bit applies to much of it, entertaining as it is. Summer of Love is vintage Katie Fforde, with a single mother, Sian Bishop, as heroine, running her own small business and moving to the countryside to provide a better school for her son. She eventually meets Gus Beresford, her neighbour's explorer son, recently returned from his latest adventure. But Sian and Gus have met before, so the twists and turns of the plot begin. Great fun.
Michael Wright's C'est La Folie was recommended by a friend, after she had read his articles in the Telegraph newspaper. As he lives in France in the Limousin region, next to the Auvergne region, I thought it a very sympatique read. Much of the life he describes is rural, somewhat isolated and very different from English city life. We are heading off to the Auvergne ina few days, so it had many resonances.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

A bit of craft

I made some of these little lavender-filled strawberries for a charity lunch and they were very popular. The original pattern came from Selvedge magazine, (issue No 31, Nov/Dec 2009)but I've seen a variation in Mollie Makes magazine (issue No 2, June 2011) and also in Martha Stewart's Encyclopedia of Sewing and Fabric Crafts, although these latter are designed as pincushions. I filled mine with home-grown lavender from the large bush in my front garden. The lavender bush also supplies the wherwithal to make these lavender pottles, which I tuck into drawers to help scent the contents and protect against the increasingly voracious clothes-moths.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Catching up

I know its now March, but not having blogged for a while, ( have been catching up with gardening and so on),  it's time for a catch-up. So what have I been reading recently? Julian Barnes The Sense of an Ending is a slight book , physically, but its impact is much greater than its size, although I do feel ambiguous towards it. A story about memory of the past and how events are remembered by others as well as oneself. Tony , retired  from his somewhat dull job, is recalling events from his schooldays, and particularly one incident in which one of his schoolmates hung himself after getting a girl pregnant. At university, a fellow schoolmate, Adrian, talented and clever, goes out with Tony's girlfriend Veronica and later kills himself. Although I didn't particularly like any of the characters in this book, yet I felt some sympathy for them and the positions they found themselves in. I think the clue is in the section where Tony writes that " we are all damaged" and goes on to expound about how people cope with the damage that life inflicts on us in different ways. When we discussed The Sense of an Ending at a recent Book Club meeting, the talk was concentrated for almost the whole of the meeting on this book , instead of wandering off on to a variety of vaguely associated subjects, as often  happens.
A couple of reads seen through the eyes of ten year old boys followed on from each other. The first was Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman. I liked Harri Opuku, recently arrived in Peckham, together with his older sister Lydia and mother, father and baby sister Agnes left behind in Ghana. Harri is at school where his best friend has ginger hair, his would-be young girlfriend blonde, so the atmosphere of racism is present, along with, increasingly, violence. Gangs, a schoolmate called Killa, the death of an older boy in a seemingly random stabbing all lead to a growing sense of menace in Harri's life especially when he and his ginger-haired friend Dean decide to play detective na d find out who killed the stabbed boy. The pigeon which Harri feeds and which he looks after and by which feels he is watched over is also an important character in the book.

Annabel Pitcher's debut novel, My Sister lives on the Mantelpiece is narrated by ten-year old Jamie, who has moved to the lake District with his Dad and older sister Jasmine to make a fresh start, after their Mum left, and after sister Rose has died., killed by a terrorist bomb. While Dad has difficulties in moving on, Jamie has difficulty in remembering Rose, as was only five when she died. Jasmine and Jamie try to support each other and their father, while also trying to deal with the changes in their own lives - new schools, different friends to find, how to cope with bullying, racism and the absence of their mother. Ultimately this story is one of hope, as despite a particularly mad idea of Jamie's, life does begin to change for the better.

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Reading about reading

I've recently read a couple of books about reading, its influence on us as readers and how it can change us. Having read all my life - I can't remember actually learning to read, and had a career as a librarian, the subject of reading is fascinating to me, the why and how and what people read. Needless to say, the reasons people read are as varied as the people.  Stop What You're Doing and Read This is a collection of essays by a number of well-known writers, with a variety of views. Most had been avid readers since childhood, some could even remember learning to read and the approval of adults at achieving this skill. Some articles relate the influence certain books had on the authors' lives, while others discuss and describe the influence of libraries, or of reading more generally. The concluding article poses questions about the influence on our brains of modern technological innovations. Alan Jacobs' The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction also poses this question, which is , as yet, unanswered. We humans have since time began had a love of stories, and many men who seem to have a problem with reading a physical book  are reading all sorts of stories on Kindles, i-pads, tablets and similar reading devices. I bought a Kindle last year, to enable me to take more books away with me than I could cram physical objects in my suitcase, and find that when reading on it, I think I concentrate on the actual text more than I do when reading a physical object book.
Alan Jacobs' book is a more academic work, although not in a particularly academic style. He concentrates on the idea of reading for pleasure, at Whim,as he describes it, so is not a fan of reading lists. A book such as A 1000 books to Read Before You Die is one of his worst nightmares, as he reagrds ploughing through such list as drudgery, and I found myself agreeing vehemently. One of the most disappointing books I have is How To Read and Why, by the critic Harold Bloom. Apart from the few pages of the prologue, this is a list of books, poems and plays you should read and why they should be read. Nothing about reading these for pleasure, although Bloom does give this a mention in his prologue. One of the most useful aspects of libraries is the opportunity they give for serendipitous dipping into books, and chancing on something unexpected but which is intensely interesting., serendipity being another aspect of reading for pleasure which Alan Jacobs recommends.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Past Imperfect

Past Imperfect by Julian Fellowes

Julian Fellowes second novel Past Imperfect was chosen (by me) as a light read over Christmas for my reading group. But it's not as light a read as its choice for Richard and Judy might appear. The plot concerns a search for the mother of an unknown child, and there are frequent visits to the past to accomplish this. The narrator is commanded by a former friend, Damien, now dying, to find the child he never knew he had, in order to pass on his extremely large fortune. The narrator, whose name is never revelaed, was part of the debutante season of 1968, and invited Damien to meet his fellow debs  and debs delights. The story shifts back and forth in time, setting the scene of the past and also bringing us up-to-date with how the sameprople are living their lives now. There are many comparisons with past and present, and also how we change as time goes by.  Comments such as " We generally end up with lives that are the products of our choices" and " Anyone with any brains gets nicer as they get older" reveal that the narrator feels this is true of himself as well as others of his acquaintance. His search for Damien;s child returns him to several former female friends, some of whom he knew well, others less so. Some of the reading group felt the above comments and others on life in the 1960'swere a bit too moralising, and that the author went on a bit too much in this vein. Most thought the book as quite a good read. With its constant refernce back to the past of the late1960s, a time when i was growing up myself and finding my own way in the world, I found some aspects of this book made me reflective of my own past.

Friday, 20 January 2012

The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby by F Scott FitzGerald is regarded as one of the great American novels. First published in 1925, it has probably been in print ever since.  As a read, it is a wondrful one, with its beautiful, spare but lyric prose; not a word or phrase is out of place or excessive. The description of both people and places is quite precise; we can almost hear Daisy Buchanan's voice and see Tom Buchanan's physical presence. Despite the fact that none of the characters seemed to be particularly likeable,they were interesting and reading about their lives fascinating. The story of Jay Gatsby and his rise to riches and search for his first love, Daisy, in a society where that was the measure of success is compelling. The emptiness of Daisy's life is soon made apparent- her marriage to wealthy, faithless Tom Buchanan, her almost non-existent relationship with her infant daughter,  her friendship with Jordan and also with Nick Carraway, who narrates the tale and is Daisy's cousin. Nick is also the observer of events, but is also the only one who seems to have genuine feelings of compassion for the people that Daisy and Tom damage through their actions. Despiet being strongly of its time, this novel is a modern morality tale as well.

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