Tuesday, May 29, 2007

What to read next?

I've finished reading The Woodlanders and am itching to start another book. But which one? I've whittled down my choice to Death's Jest Book by Reginald Hill, because I liked Pictures of Perfection. Or it could be Disgrace by J M Coetzee, or No Saints or Angels by Ivan Klima, both recommended by a friend. Alternatively I could go for Fruit of the Lemon by Andrea Levy, recommended by another friend, currently travelling round the world (at present in New Zealand). Thanks to both of you for the suggestions - I'll get to them all eventually if not now.

Or I could plump for The Lollipop Shoes by Joanne Harris, which I bought on impulse. Or maybe it's time for something completely different, such as Shakespeare, the Biography by Peter Ackroyd because currently we're planning to see Macbeth at Stratford, although the dates are a bit difficult.

D reminds me that I should start reading Wilberforce by John Pollock because our next Book Circle meeting is in a fortnight when we will be discussing this book. It's long and looks very detailed. We chose this book as it's the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade. So maybe I'll read this one next - and one of the others as well.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Cotswolds Visit Part 2

St Mary's Church, Painswick Church

The oldest part of the church was built in 1377, with the tower added in 1490 and the spire in 1632. The view of the yews hits you on entering Painswick and the spire can be seen for miles around.

Marks of the cannon shot by the Royalists in 1644 during the Civil War are clearly visible.

There are reputedly 99 yew trees in the graveyard, planted in 1792. Legend has it that the Devil killed off the hundreth tree. Yew trees were planted in churchyards as a reminder of everlasting life, because they are evergreens. We didn't try to count them. It would be impossible. As you can see they are planted between avenues through the churchyard and some have grown together with their branches intertwined forming arches.

The church has some beautiful stained glass windows, as well as 17th century graffiti carved by a Puritan soldier during the 1643 seige of the village. It reads 'Be bolde, be bolde, be not too bolde', from Edmund Spenser's The Fairye Queene.

The Stocks

These are just outside the churchyard. They were in use until 1840, date from the early 1600s and are made of iron - called spectacle stocks, because of their shape. When we were there the effect was rather spoilt by the cars parked to the sides and in front.

Painswick Beacon
If you visit Painswick and like walking you must climb the Beacon. The view at the top at simply wonderful - some of the best panoramic views we've seen. When I went up Snowdon it was raining, so no view and it usually rains when I go to Wales or the Lake District, so it was really surprising it didn't rain when we walked up the Beacon. The highest point is 283 metres or 923 feet above sea level and from there you can see five counties, the River Severn, the Welsh Mountains and the Malvern Hills - stunning on a such a clear day, even though it did cloud over and threaten rain, none fell.

This photo shows the worn path up to the trig point, inside the ancient hill fort. It was very windy up there and I felt as though at any moment I was going to be blown off. This is where a beacon is lit for national celebrations.

They play golf up here. The hill fort is a scheduled Ancient Monument and has existed for over 2000 years. It is open common land, with registered commoners rights. As well as the many wildflowers which have meant its inclusion as a Site of Special Scientific Interest it is also the home of a golf course founded on the hill over 100 years ago.

A Little Meme

Danielle has posted a little meme. The rules are that you "Grab the book that is nearest to you (no cheating), turn to page 161, post the text of the fifth full sentence on the page, post the rules and tag three people."

"She was saved - 'it was nearly all over with your old Daph', she wrote to Tod - by the M & B drug."

From, of course, Daphne by Margaret Forster, which I finished reading over a week ago and is still in my mind (and on the desk). Please consider yourself tagged if you want to join in and let me know, so I can read your quote.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Cotswolds Visit Part 1

On our recent visit to the Cotswolds we stayed at a small cottage at Well Farm, Wick Street, near Painswick on the old main road from Gloucester to Cirencester. We really enjoyed our stay, thanks to a cottage full of character in beautiful countryside, walks that were not too strenuous, a very interesting church and amazing graveyard, picturesque buildings and literary connections.

First a touch of historical background - I like to know the background and set things in context. In 1819 a new turnpike road was built along the west side of the valley as Wick Street was too steep for carriage traffic, thus taking the main traffic away from the ancient route that follows the spring line crossing the valley south east of Painswick. The photo shows Well Farm (with the tall chimneys) behind the cottages.

Well Farm is on the east side of the road overlooking the valley. The main house is a beautiful late medieval building with a late 17th century front; there is a mid 19th century northern extension. The earliest known owner was Edward Seaman and he was hanged for murder in 1636. The house then was probably a small late-medieval house, consisting of a kitchen and dining room, maybe with a timbered front to the road.

The cottage we stayed in was originally one of the agricultural buildings belonging to the farm and was formerly used either as a cowshed and or as a milking shed. The stone built cottage stands sideways on to and above the road, opposite the red roofed building ( a cowshed) on the opposite side of the road. Six Gloucestershire Old Spots were ranging freely in the fields opposite. Knowing next to nothing about pigs we thought they were vastly entertaining. These pigs are unlike any others I have seen, with faces that look as though they have been squashed in and how they see is a mystery to me as their ears flop down apparently completely covering their eyes. They trotted round the fields, often following each other in a straight line. They pushed and shoved each other, squealing and grunting at each other and of course loved rolling around in their mud baths - apparently they each had their own favourite spots. The largest sow is called Hinge and her sister is of course Bracket. Hinge was the noisiest of the lot, especially when the boar was getting interested in her. He is only young and about a quarter of her size.

Whilst we were there four cows were moved from the cowsheds back to the main farm. This was accomplished in two trips and much mooing! It was a lot quieter after they left. But it wasn't completely quiet as just outside the kitchen window was a bird feeder stand visited by bluetits, great tits, nuthatches, chaffinchs, a robin, blackbirds, and a couple of pheasants eating the seeds dropped by the other birds.

However, as well as birds, this was visited by two squirrels as well, who rapidly devoured the bird food.

The cottage has a red metal spiral staircase up to the“solar gallery” with a view overlooking Painswick Valley. It was very comfortable, with a coffee table and two very large easy chairs. I enjoyed sitting up there looking at the view, reading and playing Scrabble. There was an interesting selection of books at the cottage - you can just see the bookshelves to the left of the painting on the stone wall - several books on the Cotswolds; on Stroud, a town just down the road; a booklet giving the history of the Farm and cottages; as well as books on local walks and novels, such as Lord Jim, For Whom the Bell Tolls, a Jilly Cooper novel (she lives in Gloucestershire, not too far from Painswick I believe) and Cider with Rosie, by Laurie Lee, a native of Slad - where we stopped for a drink at the Woolpack Inn on one of our walks. I didn't have time to read any except the local books and had brought several of my own with me. I swapped between reading Hardy's The Woodlanders (still to finish) and Anita Shreve's Body Surfing, which made good contrasts being complete opposites, although with similarities in that both are essentially about the love triangle between two men and a woman and both are melancholic. They also write so lyrically about the locality, setting the scene so well - Hardy in Dorset and Shreve in New Hampshire - that they make me want to visit both.

So, it looks as though Dorset could be the next place we visit and New Hampshire will have to wait, who knows.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Little Fleece Bookshop, Painswick

During my stay near Painswick I visited the Little Fleece Bookshop owned by the National Trust. I have to admit that this bookshop was one of my reasons for staying in the area and it certainly lived up to my expectations. Unlike other National Trust properties there is no entry charge, well it is a shop. And there are no leaflets on the NT either. It is an excellent secondhand and antiquarian bookshop in a 17th century building, which has been very well restored. It took a bit of finding and we spent some time walking round Painswick looking for it and when we did it was closed. It's only open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, so fortunately we were able to return on Thursday. As you can see the entrance is through a small doorway leading into a narrow passageway, which is lined with bookshelves . A bell rings as you enter and soft music is playing in the background. The main area of the shop is a wonderful conglomeration of books, in bookcases, on tables and piled up on the floor, just begging to be picked up and read.

I was spoilt for choice, with plenty of books on the Cotswolds and on Gloucestershire as well as on art, architecture and the usual mix of fiction and non-fiction. There was also an interesting pile of old maps which caught my eye. I spent quite some time wandering round the books whilst I made up my mind what to buy. This was really difficult as there so many that appealed. I was looking for Laurie Lee's Cider with Rosie, about his childhood in Slad, not far from Painswick. However, the Little Fleece did not have a copy. In the end I bought a biography of Virginia Woolf by Lyndall Gordon. I hadn't read any of Virginia Woolf's books until I read Mrs Dalloway when I was doing an Open University course on Literature in the Modern World. I don't know much about her life, although I recently read a fictionalised biography, But Nobody Lives in Bloomsbury by Gillian Freeman, so I'm looking forward to reading this. I think that this is the biography Susan Hill referred to a while ago, and it has a different slant on her life.

Cottage holiday

I've been away for a week - just got back yesterday and trying to catch up with everything. We stopped at our son's on the way home to watch the cup final. But this was not a good game, with Manchester United losing to Chelsea - best not to say any more about that.

So, just a short post for the time being.

We stayed in a beautiful cottage in Gloucestershire and had a really relaxing break. Although I took lots of books to read and a cross-stitch to do I only read one book - Body Surfing - and did no stitching, because we went for several walks, did lots of sightseeing, had several good pub meals and were entertained by squirrels on the bird feeder outside the kitchen window as well as the birds, and by a group of Gloucestershire Old Spots (pigs) in the field across the road - more photos to follow.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

House History

Danielle and Simon have recently posted photos of the views from their windows. As I've posted before the view from my window is shown at the top of the blog. It's very wet now and the buttercups are starting to fade now, so the view is a bit different today. I'm not sure how old this house is and I'm researching its history. It was certainly built before 1870, possibly in 1848 as one of my neighbours in a similar house has a poster dated 1848 advertising the sale of two "newly built cottages" by auction.

It's one of a group of 8 cottages set in pairs in a square around an old apple orchard three miles from a small market town, some 40 miles away from London. Some of the old apple trees are still growing in my neighbour's garden. Originally it was a one-up-one-down cottage, which has had extensions over the years. It was part of a large landed estate dating back to the 11th century and is still in a quiet backwater away from the busy main road, even though that is at the top of the lane. I have seen records in the National Archives at Kew detailing the people who lived here in the early 1900s and want to look at the Census Returns to see how far I can go back to find out who else has lived here. My aim is to write about the house and its owners/occupiers.

I have one of Cassini's historical maps, which shows the area as it was in 1822 - 1834 and although it is on a small scale it looks as though the cottage was in existence at that date. I shall be visiting our local County Record Office to see what else I can find out from maps and other documents.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Not quite a stampede

We had a minor panic here last night. I came upstairs to work on the computer and glanced out of the window when I saw that the cattle in the field opposite were sprinting across the field. This was not too unusal as they haven't been out long and on their first appearance they appeared at a trot in a close group inspecting all the field boundaries.

Then to my amazement one bullock came running loose down the lane and then came dashing back. There is a public footpath between the cattle field (the one with the buttercups shown in the photo at the top of the blog) and the next field (containing a few sheep), so that the path is a narrow path enclosed between fences. Well, the bullock then ran up the footpath, but I knew he couldn't get out at the other end as there is a gate - it's open at our end. So, back down the path he came gathering speed, whilst the bullocks in the field were also galloping around. I think they were trying to get out as well, but fortunately they didn't find the escape route. He saw us looking at him and jumped up onto our front lawn and wandered around there until D went out and waved him off.

The poor bullock then ran up and down the road and the footpath getting more and more agitated. It was a good job that he didn't go further up the lane than the entrance to the footpath otherwise he would have ended up on the main road, which is a busy road with traffic coming out of a 40 mph restricted section.

I phoned the farmer, who came out looking for the bullock. By this time it was dark and it took some time to get him back safely. The escape route must have been closed off as the cattle were back peacefully gazing in the field today.

PS the photo is dark but I think you can see the bewildered bullock and what looks like a ball at his feet - not a football though but a spot of rain on the camera lens.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Puzzles versus Books

Puzzles please as well as Books.

Not only am I a bookworm, now I have become an avid Alphapuzzler (if there is such a word). I bought a tear-off daily calendar of these puzzles in January. I had never heard of them and disappointingly found the first one somewhat difficult. As a consequence I cheated and looked at the answer, which is printed on the back of the next day's puzzle. From then on I was hooked and I look forward each day to solving the puzzle, whilst drinking a cup of coffee.

On Saturday I did 4 puzzles the daily one from the calendar, two in the Daily Express, which I don't normally buy, and the weekly Enigma Code in the Radio Times. Most enjoyable and relaxing, also doing them stops me from doing boring stuff like cleaning windows etc. The downside is that they stop me from reading and blogging.

They don't take too long to do, which is also a point in their favour. They can be done anywhere without any equipment, other than a pen or pencil, don't take up any space and can be done whilst watching TV if the programme is not too taxing, unlike jigsaws - although I can listen to the radio whilst doing a jigsaw.

But - books are best.

My main read at the moment is Margaret Forster's biography of Daphne du Maurier. It's the centenary of her birth this year - I didn't realise that until I started the book. Radio 4 broadcast an adaptation of My Cousin Rachel on Saturday, which I listened to doing a jigsaw of Turner's Fighting Temeraire - a good combination of puzzles and books. Today I missed Radio 4's Afternoon Play The Alibi, by Du Maurier (I went to the tip!) I must remember to listen to it later as you can listen on online for 7 days after the broadcast.

I'm jumping between books again, having finished The Giant's House, deciding what to read next. I'm still reading The Woodlanders, just a few pages at a time until it grabs me completely and it looks as though it will soon. I've picked up and put down a library book, Blessings, by Anna Quindlen and will have to decide tomorrow whether to renew it or return it to the library - I hope it can be renewed.

Other books clamouring for attention are recent buys include-

  1. The Observations - Jane Harris, set in Scotland in 1863, promising to have "all the necessary ingredients for a Rebecca-like absorption" according to the blurb. How could I resist it?
  2. Human Traces - Sebastian Faulks - "an epic of a novel", ranging from England to Africa, with pioneering psychiatrists and an ex-patient from the 1870s up to the First World War. Psychiatry, philosophy and late 19th -early 20th century period - Penelope Lively says "Faulks is extremely good at capturing the voice of another century." Intriguing.
  3. Chocolat and
  4. The Lollipop Shoes - both by Joanne Harris, because I enjoyed Gentlemen & Players so much.

I've got way behind with the Thomas Hardy biography and Stephen Fry's Ode Less Travelled has had to be put on hold for the time being.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

The Giant's House

I'm not sure of my reaction to The Giant's House. It is a touching account of the relationship of Peggy Cort, an introverted librarian and James Sweatt, who she meets when he is eleven years old and who grows up to be the tallest man in the world. Peggy lives in a small world of her own; an orderly and precise world devoid of men. During the course of James’s short life he changes Peggy’s life forever. I found it to be an unlikely romance with a slightly disturbing edge to it.

As a former librarian I found the descriptions of Peggy’s library and her thoughts about librarians to be realistic, so I wasn’t surprised to read that she used to be a full-time librarian:

“I am a librarian and you cannot stop me from annotating, revising,

“People think librarians are unromantic, unimaginative. This is not

“A good librarian is not so different from a prospector, her whole
brain a divining rod. She walks to books and stand and wonders: here? Is the
answer here? The same blind faith in finding, even when hopeless. If someone
caught me when in the throes of tracking something elusive, I would have told
them: but it’s out there. I can feel it God wants me to find it.”

“Never jump to conclusions when trying to answer a reference question.”

“My job was to show people – even people I liked – how to use the
library, not to use it for them.”

Although explaining how the library worked was satisfying, I always felt restricted as a librarian that I was not the one doing the research. However, it is good to be able to search for information, even it you’re not the one using it and it is an extremely useful skill to have.

The most poignant parts of the book are when Peggy expresses her longing to be with James. She is envious of his school friends and the times they have together listening to music, dancing and enjoying being together: ”Some nights I could not bear all that youth and possibility: I’d hear laughter through the door and I’d turn around and leave.”

She doesn’t like to be touched and comments on the dancing “I saw through the window a boy and girl dancing – or should I say, embracing while revolving in tandem. The music was slow treacle … Other people’s happiness is always a fascinating bore. It sucks the oxygen out of the room: you’re left gasping, greedy, amazed by a deficit in yourself you hadn’t ever noticed.””

The descriptions of James however, left me feeling as though I was a voyeur – from the descriptions of not only his height but also of his whole body such as the condition of his feet encased in shoes that he had quickly grown out of so that he couldn’t feel his feet, which were “meaty”, with an acrid smell, and the “toes were the worst: the nails curled around their own toes, or knifed into their neighbors …”

Similarly the account of his “giantism” left me feeling uneasy, with its emphasis on being a freak; perhaps that is Elizabeth McCracken’s skill in writing leaving me with this discomfort about mine and others’ reactions to people who are physically different. But it is not only James who is different Peggy is also a misfit: “Oh, I was a scandal … they talk about me in this town. I have passed into legend.” Yet I found it easier to read about Peggy’s difficulties than about James’s.

All in all, this book has given me much to think about. The characters are well delineated, and even the minor ones, described with economy, are distinct. Peggy as the narrator gives a cool, precise account and I liked the humorous touches. The ending is a little surprising, although some of it was signalled in advance. The final chapter worked well for me in concluding the story.

Thursday, May 03, 2007


Monarchy has just arrived from Amazon and it looks as though I'll have to start reading it straight away, even though I'm in the middle of several other books. Elizabeth, also by David Starkey is an absorbing account of Elizabeth's early life, so it'll be interesting to read about her in this book.

I watched Monarchy when it was on Channel 4 and D says do I have to read the book walking slowly?

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Bluebell Walk

Sunday was sunny, perfect for a Bluebell Walk at Rushall Farm. We went with our son and his family and friends to celebrate our grandson's birthday last week.

The children had a lovely time and enjoyed looking at the chickens, lambs, pigs, cattle, donkeys and of course, the farm machinery. Finally we had tea and cakes in the barn - all in aid of the Multiple Sclerosis Society.

April - Books of the Month

"Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body" - Richard Steele 1672-1729

This has been a good month for reading. The first since I left work, so it's not surprising that I have increased the amount of books I normally read in a month by about 25%. I read 13 books, 7 of them were library books (well I was a librarian once), 1 was borrowed from a friend, 2 were recent buys and the others were books I 've been meaning to read for a while.

One was non-fiction, an autobiography When I grow up byBernice Rubens, with rest being fiction. Rubens' book was enjoyable, easy to read and was an example of a very different childhood from mine.I am making slow progress with Tomalin's Thomas Hardy, The Time-Torn Man as I decided to read more of his books first. I'd read The Mayor of Castorbridge, The Trumpet Major, Jude the Obscure, and Tess of the D'Urbervilles many years ago. During April I finished Under the Greenwood Tree and I'm currently reading The Woodlanders. Another classic book I finished was Charles Kingsley's The Water Babies - first read when I was a child, although I think the version I read then must have been adapted for children and it was illustrated.

Of the other books The Secret of the last Temple by Peter Sussman, Hallucinating Foucault by Patricia Duncker stand out in my mind. Although not at all alike, I was completely engrossed in both. The Sussman book, because of its intrigue and mystery - a fast action book moving between time and location from Jersualem in AD70, Germany in 1944 to present day Egypt and Israel. One to re-read.Hallucinating Foucault is also a compelling read, for different reasons. It's both a love story and a story of obsession. The scene in the asylum is particularly memorable and disturbing in its depiction of the inmates. The book explores what it is to be "mad" and the relationship between the reader and the writer:

"All writers are, somewhere or other mad. Not les grand fous, like Rimbould, but mad, yes, mad. Because we do not believe in the stability of reality. We know that it can fragment, like a sheet of glass or a car's windscreen. But we also know that reality can be invented, recorded, constructed, remade. Writing is, in itself, an act of violenceperpetrated against reality." (page125)

Also well worth reading, in my opinion are Emotional Geology by Linda Gillard; Gentlemen & Players by Joanne Harris; and On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan. I enjoyed all the books I read, but then I don't finish any I don't like - life's too short.