Sunday, September 30, 2012

See How They Run

Lippy on - check, Fruit & Nut Dark in my purse - check, Deacon made comfortable - check.  We're off for an afternoon of laughs and entertainment.  Back soon with my review of Elizabeth Taylor's The Wedding Group but I'll just quickly say that I really enjoyed it!  See you...

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

i Am Reading, Really i Am...

My birthday isn't for another couple of weeks but you know how it is when you go out on a 'research' browse.  Like the times we've gone to look at puppies with a deposit in our back pocket.  Who ever walks away from a litter of puppies empty-handed?  I digress.  The Nano that I bought over four years ago to drown out my *cough* vocally-impressive neighbour turned out to be a turning of the tide for me.  The beautiful classical pieces meant to provide a soothing background for reading sessions on the patio were hardly ever played.  I had discovered the world of BBC podcasts and how exciting a thing it was!  Why I don't have an English accent by now I'll never know, I must put in at least two hours a day while walking the dog and more if it's housework day.

While I miss the old technology, my Nano was beginning to do silly things...sometimes frustrating things.  It was time for an upgrade.  It wasn't love at first sight with the new device.  I said quite a few bad words in the early stages, like when it was telling me that my password was wrong.  Over and over again.  How was I to know that the little arrow pointing up meant 'shift' for capitalization?  Needless to say, the packaging sat on my dining room table for a couple of days until I had absolutely made up my mind to keep the %^#* thing. 

Signing out the latest copy of iPod touch for Dummies (yes, that's me) provided me with little help initially.  Once my podcasts were all sorted out though I was seduced by the idea that one must have as many apps as possible to fill in the lovely screen when it's turned on.  The ability to download ebooks was a possibility but I've never been tempted to read stories that way.  I like to travel long distances to scour bookshelves, get head spins from all the bending up and down, delight in the aroma of a sooty chimney from 1947 wafting from the pages of a cloth bound book.  Then I remembered a site talked about in the blogsphere many moons ago called girlebooks.  They had a copy of E. M. Delafield's War Workers and it was free. after some flipping through my instructional book for dummies and some google searches and a lot of crossing fingers, hoping and praying, I was excited to the moon to find my download had worked! 

I can't tell you how alluring the sensation is to simply click a few buttons and have a book on my shelf.  Reading it is another thing, the screen seems way too small and I can't imagine getting through a whole book in that state.  But nevermind, I am merely a USB cord away from adding Rebecca West's Return of the Soldier and some short stories by Katherine Mansfield.  Just the thing when faced with nothing to do but check my cuticles or stare at the numbers whipping by while my husband pumps gas into the car.  So far I've resisted the urge to add Angry Birds but who knows just how crazy I just might get? 

For a woman with an inner-downstairs girl, born in the wrong century, and one of the last people walking around my community without a cell phone this is all ridiculously appealing.  Not to worry though, I am still very much looking forward to a good 'down on my hands and knees' poke around the bookshops on Charing Cross Road next month. 

 Anyone have a favourite app or ebook site to recommend?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Season of Change and Mini Review

Let's hope there is a bit of Indian summer in the days ahead as the change in weather has been all too swift.  In the blink of an eye I have gone from shorts and 'light as a whisper' tops to layering up and pulling the hood of my fleece over my head on morning walks with Deacon.  Last night I came in from the dark, which is way too early these days, and fell straight back in to a tradition at our house - look for the nearest person to torture with your freezing hands.

The garden that we worked on to the point of exhaustion during one of the hottest summers I can remember is wilting and the squirrels are eating up everything in sight.  The Sun Valley maple tree that we planted is showing hints of the red flame meant to be the last hurrah of the garden before everything is naked and covered in frost.  Squirrels are collecting stores of fruit and nuts, lately we've seen a few struggle with crab apples larger than their little head across the road and between cars.  I hold my breath the whole time and cheer when they make it safely to the other side.  Would you expect anything less from an animal lover who has to tell herself that small furry things lying motionless on the side of the road are really just taking a nap?

I was a tiny bit disappointed with my last read, Beautiful for Ever by Helen Rappaport.  The story of Madam Rachel in Victorian London selling snake oil creams and lotions to wealthy society ladies sounded fascinating but I was a bit bored by the end.  It read more like a newspaper story to me and lacked the atmosphere I was hoping for.  More description of sooty walls, jostling carriages, foggy nights, whiffy side streets and clanging chains in Millbank to put me firmly in the scene would have been welcomed in a story tailor made for me.  Perhaps I've been spoiled by the wonderfully animated and delightful Lucy Worsley and a passionate Amanda Vickery.  A cup of tea and some spare time spent watching clips of either historian on youtube are joy unconfined!  To Helen Rappaport's credit though I now have a reference for the character of Mother Oldershaw in Wilkie Collins' Armadale which I'm really looking forward to reading sometime this winter.

The photo above was taken last weekend in front of The Potting Shed, tiniest and most quaint floral and gift shop you could ever image.  R and I were in Toronto last weekend and while we were walking out of the parking garage we passed a couple getting out of a car with plates from New York.  "You're a long way from home" I said.  "We are from much further than that!" came the reply.  This couple were on holiday from France and had driven from New York to Niagara Falls and then decided to continue on to Toronto.  Quite the journey.  At the end of October I will be making a journey of my own back across the pond - chocolate, books and tea, oh my!  

Monday, September 10, 2012

The British Character

With a bright blue sky and a nip in the air, R and I picked up some friends and made our way north to a large outdoor flea market.  The kind that attracts all sorts of eccentric collectors of everything from the just about useless to the fascinating and everything in between.  Old tubes of Tinkertoy, wicker sewing baskets, massive hairdryers that look like brain-sucking pods and retro Corningware made us laugh along a route that felt a bit like we were visiting a museum collection from our youth.  I was like a moth to a flame every time I spied a cloth-bound book and my efforts did pay off in one particular treasure.

This red 1954 edition cost a mere two dollars and provided me with a delightful half-hour of smiles as I flipped through its 'musty but in a nice way' pages and sipped a cup of tea.  Speaking of tea, I loved the above image.

And this one.  No matter how many times a day I tell myself to restrain my exuberant nature it's absolutely no use so I'll just have to admire this trait from afar.

This illustration is the one that made me laugh out loud as I recognize the tactic when at movie theatres...minus the grumpy face, of course.  We had the strangest experience once when a woman walked straight up the stairs and plunked herself down next to my husband.  We were the first two people in the whole place but our new friend said 'It's just going to fill up anyway so I might as well sit next to you'. 

This book is an absolute joy, I only wish it were ten times longer than its 120 pages.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Manservant and Maidservant by Ivy Compton-Burnett

You wouldn't recognize it at first glance but I have a little competitive streak.  I rate Elizabeth Bowen as the highest and Simon hasn't yet seen the light although he has as much as issued a pledge to try one day.  Knowing I had a book on my shelves that he trumpeted about I issued a teensy challenge to see who would read from the other camp first.  "Game on" was his reply.  So unless Simon is prepared to share his views on To the North or any other title by Bowen within the next few hours, I think it's fair to say "I won, I won!"

Knowing absolutely zilch about Compton-Burnett other than her writing is an acquired taste I was expecting something a bit odd or eccentric.  And this book is ever so slightly that....but in a good way.  Luckily for me I love dialogue because Manservant and Maidservant is completely stuffed with quotation marks.  Line after line, page after page - it reads more like a play.  Well actually, in a play you would have more description of scenery than you get with this intriguing production.  What is lacking in descriptive phrases about wood panelling, threadbare carpets and views from the windows is made up for in the intensity of characterization.  Although, a little warning that a couple of days had gone by before starting the next conversation would have been most welcome at times.  Every now and then I had to double back a few lines when I realized we had left the kitchen and were now in the garden listening in on a completely different family.

Published in 1947, this story is about the Lamb family living in a draughty ramshackle house bustling with children and servants.  At times I had images as rustic as those in I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith.  Horace married the money they do have but keeps a tighter than tight rein on the family budget.  His meanness and strict disciplinarian ways have turned his children against him...

"Is there a candle?" said Marcus.  "I need one for my private purposes."
"You may fetch one from your room," said Nurse, "if you are not going to waste it."
"It will melt," said Avery, as his brother set the candle near the fire, and Nurse watched him without confidence.
Marcus took the candle and moulded the wax, and a recognisable image of a man took shape in his hands.
"Now where are the pins?" he said, with a twitch of his lips.
"They will not be wasted.  It is an honorable purpose for them."
Jasper drew near at the sight of a practical measure.
"Why are you doing it?" said Avery.
"If you put pins into an effigy of someone, the person feels pain."
"But you don't know who this is," said Tamasin.
"It is Father," said Marcus, in an incidental manner.

Some people might find this scene slightly demonic but I laughed my head off!  And there were plenty more scenes every bit as witty.  Which is not to say that Manservant and Maidservant is altogether humourous, there are issues of infidelity, theft and even some premeditation of  misadventure, shall we say, found within its pages.  Another character, Miss Buchanan, can't read, the poor thing.  My heart broke for her with each instance that presented itself in which she was called upon to quickly disguise her handicap.

Despite writing that she had had an uneventful life, Compton-Burnett's life was quite sad in parts.  Her favourite brother died of pneumonia, another brother was killed on the Somme and two of her sisters killed themselves in a suicide pact on Christmas Day, 1917.  Interestingly, of the eight girls in her family none ever married which at a time when it was almost expected seems extraordinary.  A biography might be an interesting next stop if I can find a good one, any recommendations?

You can read Simon's review of Manservant and Maidservant here.  He may write a lovely review but I won this reading smack pressure, Simon!