Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Garden, midsummer 2017

 Some years are better for certain plants than others. This has been a stupendous year for day lilies..... an apricot one here;  and for crocosmia (formerly mombretia) too.  Sometimes the weather plays a trick on you before you can do anything about it!  The horizontal blue in the pic on the left is Russian Sage.... after two days or pouring rain and a gale force wind - and because I had not tied it up this year. 

I have more pictures of all the new day lilies.... but cameras and computers?  They transfer the pics and then hide them.  For the life of me I cannot find that last set of pics.  Never mind, plenty of summer colour here.


Below some lovely Hot Pokers - lovely because of a mini-heatwave this summer so at the time of budding and blooming, no slugs!  Some years I don't get a bloom!

I had a new bed to fill this year - and I filled it as much as I could with an assortment of red, orange and yellow   That little geum has been flowering non-stop since the end of May with careful deadheading. 

  So... two of the new day lilies in the new border, red cosmos and a white delphinium there too.

  The orange in the centre of this pic is a perenial mimulus (hardy-ish), so have planted amongst other stuff that is hardy to protect it from frost.

And below, just before it flowered, a new crocosmia from a private garden open to the public  (The Yellow Book).  The leaves have a grey shading, and this is echoed in the yellow flowers too.  And it is a baby one!  Sorry I don't have a name for this one.

Finally the big boy!  Here's crocosmia Lucifer, which gives a lovely show from the house (100 ft away) because of it's red brilliance.  Some might say "common as muck" and never have it, but I love the show. And to the left, Moorland Sunset, which is half the height of |Lucifer and has bright yellow stamens.

I think I have been very lucky this year.  Loads of colour and more coming.  Clematis Bill MacKenzie is flowering his heart out but I think that's because he heard me telling someone that he has to be moved - he has completely taken over an ornamental tree and several perennials!

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

A House Unlocked - Penelope Lively

 Because of divorced parents, Penelope Lively spent whole summers in Somerset with her grandmother in a large Lutyens-style house which she has almost photographic recall of.  Her memories become a small but fascinating historical document, her memory jogged by items within the house.  Her grandparents moved into the house in the early twentieth century. and her grandmother died towards the end of it.  Lively remembers the house and it's inhabitants from the 1940s onwards, but with the aid of photgraph  albums and items around the house, she recalls the history of the house and of course the family for around 70 years of the twentieth century.

And so this book becomes a small but telling history of that century and how the influences of the past are echoed in the house.  A whole chapter about the garden will inform you about plant collectors, garden designers and ha-has; another about the Church and it's place in society.  There are reflections on hunting, Alice in Wonderland and the class system.  A sideways look at life after the Russian revolution of 1917, and kindertransport from Germany in the early days of WW2.  Her unmarried and eccentric aunt was an artist whose ironwork still remains in a small village church in Somerset, and the grand piano remembered from childhood is still in possession of the family somewhere in North London. 

A short read at just over 200 pages, it's a fascinating insight into a time now gone, but a time that left so many memories - the way good manners were so important, mode of dress (gloves must be worn) and how it has changed,  and her thoughts on the changes she herself has seen.  Her own grandchildren join her in bed for a breakfast "cuppa", but this would have been unheard of when she herself was small.

Fascinating reading if recent history is something you want more of.  I enjoyed it!


Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Dead Sand - Brendan DuBois

Shortly after a 40 year old corpse is found in the sand dunes at Tyler Beach, various nasty things start to happen.  First the body of a teenager is found hanged in a holiday cottage on the shoreline.  Then an old fisherman dies when his boat blows up early one morning after arranging to meet  Lewis Cole.  His friend, Diane Woods, is the only detective on the local force and cutbacks and spending elsewhere combine to ensure that whilst there should be a second, it's unlikely, so she's certainly overworked.   Cole tells her he has a "column to write" and becomes involved in the investigation from a distance, made stranger because an acquaintance, Felix Tinios, is a small-town mobster with Mafia support. 
Set on the New Hampshire coast, here's a great read for a beach holiday, (or a holiday at home), in fact wherever you choose to read! I saw somewhere in a review about this book that the style was somewhere between Dashiel Hammett and Mickey Spillane.  Mmm.  DuBois certainly has for a hero a laid-back guy on the surface, but underneath he is a man of mystery and certainly there are a few nice one-liners. But the style is his own.  His hero, Lewis Cole,  has several scars on his body, the cause of which will not become clear until later in the book.  He has a past life, which we know about but his characters don't, and he loves his little house on the coast. He keeps several guns, all loaded and ready.  He was in love - he isn't now,  and he writes a monthly column for a tourist magazine based in Boston, Mass.   So how does he live?  how can he afford his coastal house, his car, his meals out?  You'll find out the back story as you read, and that back story will help you understand the man he is and  how he got there.
This isn't a cozy; it is a proper murder mystery.  But it doesn't have the blood and gore of a lot of modern police procedural novels which is great for me as I am totally uninterested in how the CIS team finds out the trajectory of any given bullet through a body!   For me, this is the best kind of  detective story.  Flawed hero, man with a past, and with other characters who you want to find out more about.
This was the first of the Lewis Cole mysteries from 1994, and the last (and tenth) in the series so far  was published last year.  So if inclined, you can read your way through the rest and keep tabs on Cole; or you can just read this one and enjoy it.  I certainly did!
A big thank you to Nan of the blog Letters from a Hill Farm where I found this book in the first place.  Nan has a smallholding, six retired sheep, a donkey, a husband and three grandchildren.  She may blog about them, or her monthly floral arrangement, a recipe she's tried, or books she has read.  She shows a list of blogs she visits too, and as you do when browsing the Internet, you may find yourself sidetracked off to one of those other bloggers.........


Wednesday, 2 August 2017

From understairs glory-hole to a smart corner of the house PART 2

THE REVEAL - as they say in the USA!  For me, Mrs Mac, I just say "here it is then".  Not 1st class pics, but then I mostly blog about books and I can steal pics from elsewhere on the net to show you the covers.  Here it has to be all my own work.....

Wooden blookcase removed, new metal cupboard and shelves fits right in!

And finally a real home for the printer - and wait till Mr Mac makes a "pullout" for it, too!

That top shelf there..... I could treble park a lot of paperbacks up there if I wanted!!

How it fits in..... very nicely - and you can get to all of it without moving anything else! 

A closeup of the panelling which was installed plank by plank, not just a sheet of MDF.

 So there it is!  The floor has to be tiled, we can get same-size tiles at B&Q but we will do that in the autumn - this is far too busy a summer!  But what a joy it is to have all the stuff that might require a spare bedroom or a whole corner of another room in one tiny place, and to have been able to "tidy up" that corner for good! 
 And at some time in the distant future, when someone else takes over our little house, perhaps this will become a reading nook.... my measurements tell me that a large comfy chair or a small sofa with a little table for a cuppa would certainly fit well in here!

And Major Tim?  He's a little light which plugs into the pc and comes on when you switch on.  You can turn him off if he gets on your nerves by closing his visor, but he was a wee present to myself for only £9.99!  Here he is floating in front of the screen ........

Metal cabinet and shelves from IKEA's Hindo range of outside furniture at a total cost of £90; and the shelves come with 4 matching hooks, which can be removed or moved around.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

From understair glory-hole to a smart corner of the house Part 1

So - the "office" before the makeover, tiny make-do desk, paperbags, printer on a make-do shelf, stuff all over the place!
200 years plus means lots of holes for hooks, screws, etc.

Desk (the proper one this time) is  a bit untidy too!
If you put a shelf up using just a big nail, this is what happens when you remove it all ...
And if you paint round a shelf, when it goes this is what you get!

But if you start the panelling......

.... and add new paint when you've finished, this is what you get


So at last, 15 years after we moved in, the space under the stairs is done.  Panelled, painted and with a new hold-all piece of furniture next to the desk, here we. are.  Done!

The underneath of the stairs has had a coat of the same blue,  also the half bookcase, which sits right under the stairs full of shoes because we have no hall, now also has a new blue jacket.  You can see what it looked like originally in the top pic, bottom right corner.

The first few brushstrokes were a bit of a shock.  The colour is the same as our living room, so we are used to it, but in this little space?  It's a wowser!  Once finished we loved it.   We added a new piece of furniture which holds all our files, paperwork, the printer, travel and language books (oh, and the bag of jiffybags and polythene wrapping).  The vacuum cleaner is no longer on display and everything is clear, clean, tidy.  Yay!

Monday, 31 July 2017

Comma butterfly spotted late July

Comma - Chaldon, Surrey 19-March-11
So lucky!  just at the end of July and I have spotted another new butterfly in the garden.  Now when I say new, I mean new to me.  They may have been flitting around for years, but I don't think so - and this is the new sighting - The Comma.

This is the female, pretty wings, the underneath a good disguise looking like a dried up leaf.  See below - and also below the reason it's called the Comma.  See the white "comma" on the underneath?

Comma female - Belstead Brook Park, Ipswich 2-Aug-2013
Photo © Vince Massimo
Polygonia c-album - Family Nymphalidae Rafinesque 1815. 

PS - also today, a Gatekeeper, but that was not new to the garden as I posted about this butterfly last Summer.

Gatekeeper (female), Hog Wood (23 July 2011)
Photo © Mark Colvin

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Keeping Henry - Nina Bawden

Just back in print with a lovely new cover, this is a children's book fit for adult readers too, and a lovely one at that.  Henry is a red squirrel; a baby brought home by the youngest of three siblings and kept as a pet.  The book is set during WW2, when their father is away in the Atlantic, Chief Engineer of a merchant ship, dodging German submarines and transporting food across the ocean.

 In his absence, the two boys and their sister (who tells the story in the first person ) are decamped from London to live in a couple of rooms in a farmhouse on the Welsh Border.  They help out on the farm and in exchange get fresh eggs amongst other things, and learn country ways, and start to grow up.  The older brother James, is brilliant at maths but dyslexic with words (it does not use that word but you quickly realise how he is), Charlie, who brings the baby squirrel home is the youngest, the cheekiest, the naughtiest, but the one who loves Henry the most.  They all learn about country practices, animals, birth and death, injury and much more.  A good all round education for them and the reader too.

I know the age range is quoted for 7-11, but I read it and thoroughly enjoyed it.  I recently read and reviewed here The Peppermint Pig by the same author - different entirely but a lovely style.  With only 160 pages, a young reader will not get bored, and I think will get much pleasure from Henry's antics.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Mrs Mac suggests - a book for AUGUST

A few days early for August, but I am a busy woman!

Take yourself off to the Southern Hemisphere this month.  

Anywhere south of the Equator is my suggestion - because there's a lot of choice.  But I am not being lazy......... I have a huge list of ready made suggestions, and this was on the list.  So go on! Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Botswana, Argentina.... just a few there.  Here's my suggestion for you.  A book set on a rugged and lonely part of the Australian coast, a woman who married the wrong man, a man who needs to hide.  A great read - and a great author too.  If you have not come across him, try this one and then try Cloudstreet.....anyway here it is, my suggestion for August:

Dirt Music - Tim Winton

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikrey - Gabrielle Zevin

Now here's a lovely book!  For me, anyway, a person who always enjoys a book about books.  I had already read a book by this author, Elsewhere, a book about a 16 year old who wakes up elsewhere.... I thought it a brilliant concept, but when I read this book I didn't connect the two, nor did I remember the author's name.  No matter.  All the dots are joined now and so let me tell you about AJ and his bookshop on Alice Island, Mass., USA.

AJ Fikrey is a widower, his lovely wife having been killed in an accident some time previously.  But the book does not start with that accident, and it is only mentioned in passing, for the important thing is now.  Now - today, when AJ finds a two year old girl with a label round her neck left behind in his bookshop.  The child knows her name (Maya), she knows her age, but that's about it really, and AJ certainly does not want this problem on his doorstep.  But the problem is not going to go away  because the social worker will not be able to arrange foster care over a weekend.....

When I first started reading, I laughed out loud several times, and read huge chunks out the the hubs.  It just enchanted me.  It is the story of a man and his life and loves.  So simple, so touching, and written with real feeling.  I loved it for two reasons.  It made me laugh at the beginning, smile in the middle and cry at the end.  That's the first reason (I know there are three things mentioned but trust me here!).  The second reason is that this is a book about books as well as the story of AJ.  And the titles of those books are woven into the narrative so nicely that I kept smiling every time I came across one (many of which I had read).  Also, at the beginning of each chapter is a little chunk about a short story, and why AJ chose to tell Maya about that particular one.  If you love books and love to read, like me, you will enjoy the journey through all those books, as well as the narrative of AJ's life.


Saturday, 22 July 2017

The Watery Part of the World - Michael Parker

Here's an odd one.  My, I found it difficult to read - it hops about in time a bit, and whilst I usually enjoy that kind of novel, this one took some sticking to; and to be honest, at first  I only wanted to read it because it is set on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and having been there on holiday a few years ago, this one captured my interest.

But read it I did, and found it rather unsettling, but also haunting and beautiful.  The book starts with the shipwreck and survival of Theodosia Burr, daughter of a former US vice president, Aaron Burr.  She is on her way to meet him in New York when the ship is taken by pirates, and she is the only person left alive. She's eventually rescued by someone in the pay of the pirate captain, Daniels, who's land HQ is at Nags Head on the Outer Banks.  Her rescuer eventually frees her from Daniels, and takes her, secretly, to a small island further down the Banks.  There they live for some years, eventually becoming lovers, she bearing him several children.  That's the historic part of the book.

In the present, two sisters, descendants of Theodosia are the last two white people on the same island, together with a black couple, who they have known all their lives.  How eventually they are all gone from the island is really the entire heart of the book.

I said at the beginning that I found it difficult to read.  Well, I had to concentrate a little more than usual, although that didn't make it a bad read.  Not at all, it was certainly worth the time spent.  You can use Google Earth to look at this part of the world - and if you type in Nags Head Outer Banks North Carolina you will find yourself looking at the Outer Banks, and you will understand the title of the book.  Scroll down a little until you find Morehead, on the mainland, and between those two points the book is set.

By the way, Aaron Burr existed.  His daughter Theodosia also, and she was lost at sea (or not, if you choose to stick with the fiction of the book!).

Sunday, 16 July 2017

A Gentleman in Moscow - Amor Towles

I am a little bit in love with a Russian. Never thought that would happen until I met Count Alexander Rostov. He is the star of this wonderful novel, and from 1922 until the early 1950s, Count Rostov is living in the Hotel Metropole, in the middle of Moscow, under indefinite house arrest, deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by the Bolsheviks.

 In those thirty odd years, he meets two children many years apart and loves them both. He is seduced by a beautiful woman and loves her too. He makes good friends of the Maitre'D and the Chef of the finest restaurant in Moscow, he becomes the head waiter in that restaurant, he is kind, well mannered, and known by all. Visitors to the hotel become friends too, over the years, and his life is rich, even though he has lost almost everything. But he has not, of course lost much at all if you omit the loss of liberty. For in loosing so much, he gains so much more.

A couple of years ago I read Towles' first book, Rules of Civility, which I liked at the time, but now cannot remember a thing about.  This, on the other hand, I am unlikely ever to forget.  I cannot thank  enough the friend who recommended this to me after she had read it.  She said she loved the Count's company, and on the strength of that I acquired this beautiful read, one that will stay with me, There are heroes and villains too, in this book.  you will find little bits of real history inserted into the pages, which, if you are interested makes the tale even better embroidered.  If you are not, it doesn't matter a jot!

Just Imagine.  The life of an aristocrat who somehow was not killed during the Bolshevik revolution which resulted in the death of the last Czar and his family;  imagine going from a life of luxury where you lived for a time in a whole luxurious suite in the Hotel Metropole to a tiny attic room in the same hotel.  Imagine your days, confined but not imprisoned.  How the Count managed this was by realising that possessions are not everything, but friends are.  And by the way, towards the end, a little frisson of excitement makes a perfect ending.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Large Skipper sighted in my garden!

Highslide JS Photo © Peter Eeles

I found one of these little fellas on my washing yesterday in the sunshine, and sent a message to my butterfly expert, "Ian of Weymouth" asking what had I seen?  because if you look closely you will see that the formation of the wings is unusual, sitting on top of each other rather than one below the other.  He sat for about ten minutes at eye level on a white pillowcase - what a joy to be able to observe him.  I went back several times to have another look because ancient as I am, I had never ever seen one before!

So.  He is a Large Skipper, genus Ochlodes, family Hesperiidae 

Saturday, 8 July 2017

A Thousand Days in Venice - Marlena de Blasi


This is not a guidebook to Venice.  It is a memoir of a woman who fell in love with the city whilst falling in love with a Venetian who spotted her one day in a coffee shop and left her messages to "meet me tomorrow" etc.  The difference here is that she (a non-Italian speaker) was already middle-aged, with a golden career in America, two grown children and a nice home - and he? a non-English speaking bank manager of a small branch, same job for 30 years, no excitement, no family, an apartment he bathed and slept in and no chance of change.

Suddenly, for both of them, there was a chance of a new life, a total change in everything, and for her a change of country too.  He seemed a rather morose man, and certainly full of the Italian trait of knowing that things cannot be changed; if it takes three months to arrange to pay a bill, then it takes three months.  And into his life comes this woman who is desperate to understand this, desperate to make him (and herself) happy, and in reading it, your hope that they will succeed.

The descriptions of places and people made me smile and laugh, and read bits out to the hubs so that I could enjoy them all over again.  The way the smoking civil servant inhaled smoke into her nose as well as her mouth and exhaled just a tiny puff at the end;  the old fruit seller who, in the winter, set a fire in a coal scuttle to keep herself warm, and roasted apples in the embers of that fire, and so many more things.  A delight to read even though I wanted to shake the Italian, who was not only morose but dictatorial.... until I realised that he didn't know what joy was, really, until he met her.

Friday, 30 June 2017

Mrs Mac suggests - What to read in JULY

Here in the UK we had a really hot spell in June followed by several very rainy days indeed..... nearly switched the central heating back on!!  So now the season for Day Lilies is on us, and I really would like some sun to show them off at their best!  Ah.  Weather.  We all get it, and we all talk about it.

So what shall we read in July?  How about

 something with a drink in the title

 - after all, if I get my wish I will certainly be reading in the garden, and a nice cool something or other will do just fine for company.  Here are a few suggestions, but whatever you choose, Cheers!

The Wine of Angles - Phil Rickman
Cider with Rosie - Laurie Lee
Gin Glorious Gin: How Mother's Ruin Became the Spirit of London - Oliva Williams

and finally, one I have read and enjoyed myself:  

Campari for Breakfast - Sarah Crowe

Monday, 26 June 2017

The Lie - Helen Dunmore

When Helen Dunmore died recently, the booky website where I serve as a moderator  had several members who agreed to read one of hers.  This was my choice. When I'm going to write about a book I always look at the one star reviews on Amazon, and this was no different.  Today it was 11 of those against 140 five stars.  Of course everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but I found the reasons for not enjoying the read were odd to say the least (although I have heard the same comments many times before).  "It wasn't going anywhere".  Well, no, it isn't a thriller, it is the experience of a man who saw his best friend die in front of him in WW1.  "Birdsong is better" - well yes, it may be, but again it may not.  Both books are about WW1 and the tragedy of it all - but please, negative commenters, review the book!

This is not the first of Dunmore's I have read, and I have more on my shelves which I shall certainly read.  Her books tend to be on the shorter side (this one is 292 pages), but they are always worth the read.

Dan comes home from the war with a few scrapes; a little thinner than when he went out to war, but physically not too bad at all.  He comes home to find his home gone, for his Mother died when he was in France and his home was rented.  Landlords want rent now, even though Dan was fighting to protect the country.... it didn't matter.  And so he is taken in by Mary Pascoe who lives in a one roomed cottage just outside town.  She is elderly and ill, and Dan takes over the garden, growing food, milking the goat, collecting the chickens' eggs, sleeping at night in a lean to-shelter, which whilst basic, is better than a dugout in the trenches over the Channel.  Mary becomes sicker, and eventually dies.  But not before telling Dan that she does not want to be buried in town in a churchyard "shoulder to shoulder" with others; and also that the cottage and land are now his.  So he does what she asked.  He wraps her carefully in canvas, digs a proper grave, and buries her at the top of the garden with a boulder rolled at her head.  He cleans the cottage and, after the turmoil of the war, starts to try to live again.  And doesn't tell anyone, nor register the death.

He is haunted by Frederick, his best friend's ghost, who appears, mud covered, and with his back to Dan at night.  He re-makes his friendship with  Frederick's sister and her child and maybe life will be better.  But all the time he is possessed by the demon of that dreadful, awful war and the things that happened.  The first 17 chapters have headings which are taken from real publications which are not called "How to fight and win a war" but in their nonsensical wordings could well be.  The description of how to throw  a hand grenade whilst walking single file in a trench made me so cross I had to stop reading and shout quite a lot.... it is just pure nonsense.  But those are the kinds of things that were published.  Honestly, if it didn't make you laugh it would make you cry.  I certainly wept for Dan, knowing that whatever happened in France, his mental suffering would never be over - and there were many thousands like him at the end.

I found this a heart-rending tale of a broken man, seeking redemption for all that he had seen and done, not knowing how to put things right, and not knowing how to move on, whilst all the time trying desperately to do so.  And so all I can say to the negative remark that this one "wasn't going anywhere", I can only say it doesn't need to.  Heartbreaking but brilliant.