We can ask and ask…

The title comes from A Month In The Country by J L Carr. I have read this slim novel twice now. I also recently found the film on Prime – one of the free ones, of course. It was so old I didn’t recognise Kenneth Branagh as one of the lead actors till half way through it. I kept thinking Why does that chap look familiar?

The quote comes from the last page and I am going to type it out in full, partly because it chimes with what seems to be happening in my country right now, but mostly because it’s great writing:

We can ask and ask but we can’t have again what once seemed ours for ever – the way things looked, that church alone in the fields, a bed on a belfry floor, a remembered voice, the touch of a hand, a loved face. They’ve gone and you can only wait for the pain to pass.

Having recently been accused of Nostalgia – which in the course of the three years since the Referendum has become seriously politically incorrect, or at any rate a laughable aberration – I gave myself over to a few thoughts on the matter. I wondered what it was that made me able to re-read the lyrical, romantic, A Month In The Country with great pleasure, and yet suddenly find myself unable to stomach a non-fiction work of 1968/70 – John Hillaby’s Journey Through Britain. 

Journey Through Britain is about the long walk from Land’s End, Cornwall, to John O’Groats at the top of Scotland. Completing this trek by whatever means – walking, cycling – even naked-cycling once – I saw the photo – is one of the challenges foolhardy and/or energetic Brits have traditionally set themselves, like swimming the Channel, climbing all the ‘Wainwrights’, ie all of the 214 peaks (‘fells’) listed in Alfred Wainwright’s seven volume Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells, and the 182 mile Coast To Coast walk (also devised by Wainwright).

Was it something about the book itself? Partly. Grubby and second-hand to begin with, it has an unattractive cover and has not aged well; too many house moves, too many winters stored in a damp garage have done for it. Though I only read it once, and treat my paperbacks with care, the spine was broken and its crumbly, brown-tinged pages were beginning to fall out, as too was a dull but prolific interleaving of black-and-white photo illustrations.

So, Journey Through Britain had become an uninviting object, but that wasn’t it. “It” was Brexit. Somehow, as the ghastly process grinds on (and on) I have entirely lost any hankering for either our geography or our rural past, and particularly the wandering-hippie 1970s kind.

And yet I had no problem reading A Month In The Country for the second time, or sitting through a film of the same with the ubiquitous, and miscast, Kenneth Branagh in it. I came to the conclusion that A Month In The Country is not really a love song to rural England, though the county of Yorkshire, still largely unspoiled in the 1920s is so ever-present it is essentially another character in the book. It could in fact have been set anywhere quiet and remote, in any summer month, anywhere in the world. A Month In The Country is about youth and memory, healing and loss, and the speaking of one artist to another over the centuries.

It is as if – and this is hard to explain – a whole swathe of my country’s past has now ceased to be accessible to me. It is as if I can no longer allow myself to escape in that direction. The Past never really seemed Another Country to me before, but now it does.

I was trying to write it down last night, if only to get it out of my head so that I could get to sleep. But I couldn’t really capture it, this post-Referendum, pre- (possibly) Brexit sense of desolation and dissolution and the sheer numbing tedium of it all. At this point MacArthur Park sidles back into my brain again – someone left the cake out in the rain, all the sweet green icing – etc., etc. When will that dirge go away?

Maybe in the next post I will type out a few of the more comprehensible of my midnight Brexit Angst jottings. That done, perhaps it will leave me in peace for a bit. I might even write something about Poor Wet Dogs In The Middle Of The Road, or The Coming of Autumn, which I recently had to explain to a computer helpdesk operator in, if I remember correctly, the Philippines.

Yes, it’s the one when all the leaves fall off the trees. No it happens before the Winter but after the Spring… He said they only had two seasons in his country and was fascinated by the idea of four. I suggested maybe he could come over and live in my country for a year, and then he would experience all of our many seasons at first-hand. Yes he said wistfully. But very expensive to live.

My Kindle Fire is still un-helped, woefully un-fixed by Mr Philippines although he did his best. Irretrievably and infuriatingly dead, it is. All now rests on this giant, clunky old desktop and a mobile phone with a dodgy battery and a superiority complex.

Pas de cherry-peeking, Breets ridicules!

Now that’s set your teeth on edge, hasn’t it, proper French speakers?

I had a very unoriginal thought today.  I googled it and discovered that it was in fact even more unoriginal than I imagined. I was looking at my books, all 2,000 of them piled vertically now (for cat fur/ease of hoovering reasons) into a high stack of de-shelved book cases.  It suddenly struck me, if I had to take the complete works of a very limited number of authors to a desert island with me – say, ten – which authors would I choose?

Now this isn’t as easy as it seems. It would be no good taking to a desert island a book with a thrilling but memorable plot, for example. However good it was, what would be the point of reading it again?

No good taking anything too distinctive, either. Harry Potter, for instance. I loved reading Harry Potter, each new book as eagerly anticipated as if I had been thirteen and three quarters rather than middle-aged. But once you’ve read them the surprise is gone out of them – they were whizz-bangs when they landed on our bookshelves but now… they’ve fizzled.

Not really much point in taking thrillers or detective novels, for the same reason. You might not think you remember whodunit but as soon as you start to read, you will.

And humour probably wouldn’t travel well. Only so many times you can laugh at a conversation between Bertie Wooster and Jeeves whilst fishing in the sea with a piece of string and an improvised hook, or trying to persuade yourself that shredded palm leaves are edible. Jokes are best not repeated – to the same audience – yourself.

No, the books would have to be kind of meaty. The sort that, though they may be a bit of a struggle to get into, pay dividends on later reflection. Also books with plots so labyrinthine that it is impossible to remember them on re-reading.

But you’d also need an element of comfort reading. So some of your books would be there just because they reminded you of home in some way – winter afternoons by the fire and snow falling outside; long walks down country lanes kicking autumn leaves with your wellies – whatever.

I’m thinking that, as with Desert Island Discs, a few ‘master’ works should be taken for granted – found in a deserted cabin, chewed a bit by moths but still perfectly readable, say. I believe Desert Island Discs allows castaways to assume The Complete Works of Shakespeare and a copy of the Bible, and I would add the Complete Works of Dickens. (It’s my island, I can make Dickens be in the deserted cabin if I want to. Maybe I’ll put the skeleton of the previous inhabitant in there too…)

Of course, the books you take may also reflect the age you happen to be when cast away. If you are twenty, say, you will have longer to savour the books of your choice, but also longer to get heartily sick of them. If you are ninety-five you might want to be more rigorously selective still, or take rather more spiritually-inclined reading matter.

So this is my list, in no particular order Still a work in progress. As you will see at the end I still haven’t managed to whittle it down to ten. I did consider simply putting the total up to twenty, but that seemed like cheating.

  1. Isaac Asimov
  2. A S Byatt
  3. Neil Gaiman
  4. Annie Proulx
  5. Charlotte Brontë
  6. Rose Tremain
  7. Alice Munro
  8. George McKay Brown (non-fiction, comfort reading)
  9. Ellis Peters (comfort reading – how could you be on a desert island and not have Cadfael for company?)
  10. ….

And here’s where I’m stuck. I feel I should take at least one author that I always felt I should read but only ever got round to reading around the edges of – so I’m torn at the moment between George Eliot, Anthony Trollope and Aldous Huxley. Maybe Huxley would be a bit dated? Trollope would certainly be meaty but… as well as Dickens? And Eliot – is she perhaps one of those authors you feel you ought to read but Life’s Too Short for – like whoever perpetrated Moby Dick and War and Peace? Not to mention Ulysses. I carted that fat paperback of Ulysses around with me for years when I was a student: never managed to get beyond the first page.

I don’t know… I don’t know… And remember you have got to take all their works – pas de cherry-peeking, Breets ridicules! as I like to imagine they would say in Brussels. So you can’t take Howard’s End and leave the posthumous Maurice behind, or take the whole of Neil Gaiman except American Gods which is just too long.

To digress slightly. Having just discovered (after how many years?) that I can watch more or less unlimited dramas and TV series on my Kindle Fire for absolutely-free merely by tapping on that dull little icon top right – who knew? – I launched into American Gods on video, thinking I might find it more digestible.

They were putting each other’s eyes out! Severed limbs were flying through the air! I don’t remember that, in the twenty percent of the book I did manage to get through. So I plumped for The Night Manager.

To digress again. I read a comment on the internet by a girl who felt it should correctly be deserted, not desert island, since how many islands do you find in the desert? Duh! An island with nothing on it but a lot of desert-type sand and perhaps a wobbly palm tree and a man in faded rags with several weeks-worth of stubble – not an island rising majestically from the sands of the Sahara.

Anyway, enough. What would be your ten desert island authors? Or just the first one on the list…

A step too far?

 

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William: large-and-in-charge (when awake)

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Small, fluffy and ferocious: Frizzle, another Wild One from the cat sanctuary

Photos were aiming to be ‘moody and atmospheric’.

Suspect I may have taken a step too far, into ‘grainy and unrecognisable’ territory.

I do have another post in mind, just haven’t had time to write it yet.

Purrs and dribbles to all. 🙂

All the right words but not necessarily in the right order

My friend who-shall-be-known-as Daisy keeps sending me words for an app called Words With Friends. Now that I have a Kindle Wotsit I’m sitting target for apps. Words With Friends is more or less Scrabble, and as I suspected I am just as hopeless at the teensy-weensy electronic version as I used to be at the large cardboard-and-plastic version. ‘You’re good with words,’ people say, ‘so you’ll be good at Scrabble’. Alas, I’m impatient, and hopeless at strategy; I can’t resist a long, showy-offy, low-scoring word when a three-letter triple-word-thingummyjig would have been wiser.

When I was at Junior School teachers used to say ‘You’re tall – we’ll put you in for the 100 yards on Sports Day’. Since when does being tall mean you can run without banging your knees together and falling over your feet? Since when does being tall mean you give a rat’s patootie whether you stagger across some arbitrary white line first or last?

I was hoping Daisy might enlighten me as to another game app-thingy called Dark Echo which I foolishly downloaded in order to practice app-downloading, and because it was free.  How I wish I hadn’t. I just don’t understand. I mean, you’re in the dark, right? And there’s these little white clickety footsteps, right? And they clatter along, scarily, like a pair of foolish high-heels in a midnight underpass, giving off these little lines, which presumably represent echoes, only visible. And that’s supposed to help you find your way out, if the monsters don’t get you first. I haven’t met a monster yet. If you click on the little white feet it sends out a whole starburst of little lines, which seems to equate with noise, although it’s no noisier than the little white clickety feet themselves, and it is this hypothetical, visual noise that may attract a monster.  I think.

I did find my way out, once, but I don’t know how. It was an accident. And when I was out it was just as dark as when I was in, so what’s the point of being out? My little white footsteps go backwards and forwards, creepily retracing their steps, marking time at invisible walls, backing off, retracing the steps before the steps before, and I don’t know why. Is there some proper way to play Dark Echo? Why are there no instructions?

You can tell I’m tired, probably. Perforce, I’ve been doing housework all day – with breaks for this new electronic Scrabble-thingy – since it’s the first of my two Open Houses on Saturday. To get the house looking anything like presentable I shall be doing housework all day tomorrow, too. It’s done my hip in. You know you’re getting old when you start to realise you have hips – and knees – at all – because they hurt. The cats have temporarily lost the raggle-taggle saggy old beds they used to be able to flop into all over the house, and dirt-boxes have been strictly rationed. Net curtains are festooned everywhere to dry. Tomorrow they’ll have to go back up. I shall have to remember not to whip the bedroom curtains open to greet the dawn, in case I amaze the down-hill neighbours.

‘I am playing all the right notes but not necessarily in the right order.’ Eric Morecambe 1926 – 1984, English comedian.

 

 

Where have all the widgets gone?

Well, today, or to be strictly accurate yesterday at around 4pm, I finally entered the… what century are we in, now? That century.

The Amazon delivery man arrived with my Kindle Fire.

To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure what it would do. I had a Paperwhite, for reading books, and I thought that was pretty swish, but this…

My niece has got one, you see – the one with the kidneys/dialysis. I hardly ever see her but she has taught me, unwittingly and by example, a number of useful things. Or maybe I just mean I copy her. Yearning for my long lost youth. She showed me once how to drape one of those chequered Arab scarves round one’s neck and look like an art student. In her less seriously ill days, at any rate, she wore Doc Martins with skirts, and tattoos, and jewellery in her tummy. And you never knew what colour her hair would be. I remember at Dad’s funeral it was neon pink. She used to make me wish I’d been born a couple of decades later. Well, she has a Kindle Fire.

Apart from niece-envy, there were a couple more grown-up reasons. I had it in mind that anything resembling a computer, however mysteriously little, would cost £squillions, so I didn’t even bother to check. When I did check – although technically nothing is affordable – it was within my grasp. And then there was the failure with the smart phone. I think a smart phone is probably a step too far. It’s just too small, and scary. And the one I got – I don’t know – it just didn’t match my brainwaves. I do things one way, the smartphone did it another.

But as soon as I got started on the Fire I knew we were going to be friends. Ridiculous – because it has all the things a smartphone has – apps and whatever. I wasn’t even sure what an app was (though my nephew designs them for some hi-tech company – they snaffled him straight from university) until I started downloading them. Most important was the WordPress one, but I also found BBC i-player, Zoopla, Heart radio, a thing where you could tune into classical music from all over the world and something called Spotify.

So, at 2 o’clock in the morning I was still wide awake, tapping and swiping away and going “Aha – it does this” and “Aha – it does that” when it occurred to me that the delivery man, in bringing this little black box to my door, has in fact made obsolete in one fell swoop my television set, my generic mp3 player, my desktop computer and who knows what else? Maybe even the microwave.

Although of course I’ll still need the desktop for my 90 mph blog-post typing in Word (I prefer to cut and paste – less chance of losing the whole lot). And I’ll still settle down in front of the TV set with the cats of an evening. It’s just that now – I can watch TV anywhere! If I want to. I can check my emails anywhere! I can…

But how long my blog posts look, scrolling down and down and down. And it took me a while to work out where all my widgets went – all those neat little mini-programmes on the right hand side – Calendar, Category Cloud; Most Popular and Most Recent Posts. I mean, it’s not absolutely intuitive to turn a computer on its side.

Is it?