Monday, 5 December 2011

Died then Dried - can Shermouse Holmes lift his flagging career?

Just when we thought this story all but over, your reporter has received another call from Mr Holmes.  It seems that another victim has been found at Pine Tree Cottage.  One of the big ones was vacuuming behind the woodburner getting the room clean and tidy for visitors (why do big ones do that?  why don't they keep their nests clean and tidy all the time?) when it appeared that there was something stuck on the end of the nozzle of the cleaner. A small fieldmouse, very dead, and very dessicated too was found.  She switched the infernal machine off (although in fact it was not this which caused the death) and collected the mumified body and dropped it into her rubbish disposal box!  Not even a decent burial!  And how do we know this, readers?  because Bob, the postmouse - pictured here returning to the local pub, "The Ear of Corn", for a small barley wine after his ardous task of delivering the post, glanced in through the window and slammed the brakes on at the sight he saw!

He called Shermouse Holmes straight away, as of course only seeing the body, and not  knowing that it was dried out, thought that this was a new murder!  A new case for Holmes then, but not a new murder - rather, an old murder!  So Shermouse Holmes is now investigating whether the mouse in question was murdered or died of natural causes (which is what they call a heart attack - although it would be better if all concerned understood that being frightened to death should be called murder under Mouse Law) and again, he will report to this newspaper with any news.  Will the mayhem never end?  Will Shermouse Holmes every regain his reputation?  Was the postmouse telling the truth?  Only your intrepid reporter will be able to answer these questions........

Tongin Cheeeeeek reporting for the Daily Fieldwhiskers. 

Copyright SusanMaclean


Thursday, 1 December 2011

Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont

Product DetailsMrs Palfrey, widowed, and with just a little "capital" arrives to live out her days at a third class hotel in the back streets of West London.  The bed is single, the food is passable, and the company of the other permanent residents is not what she hoped for.  She has no friends, as a great chunk of her married life was spent in Burma, and the rest of it on the coast of Sussex.  Her daughter lives in Scotland, and they correspond but never meet up, and she has a grandson who she loved when he was a child, and now never sees. 
When she falls in the street, and Ludo bounds up the basement steps from his bedsitter, it is not long before she finds herself in love with him, not in a sexual way, but in the way that the elderly appreciate great beauty when theirs is gone.  She pursuades him to call at the hotel, and tells him she will introduce him as her grandson.  Ludo, who spends his time in Harrods banking hall sitting in large armchairs, and writing his novel.  His luck in coming across Mrs Palfrey is that his book is about the elderly. 
Set in the 1960's, this is a fine short novel which observes the elderly and leads us gently where we must all go.   Elizabeth Taylor was an English writer who died in 1975.  Her observation of humanity in all its forms is devastatingly accurate,  and whilst only set 50 or so years ago, you will get the feeling that people of Mrs Palfrey's age will have a much better life now than they did then.  An old phrase came to mind: "old before their time".  Gently but beautifully described, Mrs Palfrey's last days are laid before you. 

Big bedroom make-over - at last! From rubbish to loveliness without too much heartache and if I discount the works done on the walls themselves, this was not an expensive makeover.

This is our spare room.  It was a glory hole with a bed in it and way too much furniture before the makeover. Now its so nice I wish it was our room!  But its nice for guests to have a room that they can swing a cat in....

Corner of door and original colour of wall behind bed.

Sun falls on
                                                                                                     bricked up fireplace.

Street window-
                          see original frame for plasterwork?

Garden window
                                                                                           and what a mess!

So.... that's the befores.  Stripped of old lime plaster back to the stonework.  Plaster only held in place by the old wallpaper, painted over many, many times!  This is the last room we tackled, and as we are in this house 9 years, really did think it was about time!  And now you can see what you think of the room after....
The wardrobe is too intensive to have finished it, but it will be painted the same green as the wall behind it, except for the interior, which you can see I have started in dark red.  The open area is a cupboard, but will have doors on it eventually.  Underneath that is a flap which makes that area into a desk, and under that are 4 drawers, with the hanging space on the right..................

At night....

My lovely mirror - £14 and painted to match the walls.  Then,
 propped up on a piece of solid oak sanded to a velvet touch by him indoors, £2 for a bit of skirting board.
Slightly closer view of the stand for the mirror, and this is why he chose it - the lovely knot hole, perfect!

Bookcase from our previous home, repainted to match wall. 
 Also, a little chair £18 from the Barras, Glasgow, probably 30 years ago.  New seat pad.

The bargain bedlinen!  plus luxy cushions!

Kelly Hoppin eat your heart out.  My own bit of interior design... a pair of shoe trees, Bridport market a few years ago  So beautifully made.

Bed and garden window (see before pics above)

Seat pad on little chair - more of this material later

Street window and now my reading corner when
 we don't have visitors!  Had the little cushions made to match the little chair pad.  The fabric makes me laugh!  Had it for years hoping to use it, and I see its still available at John Lewis.  Local upholsterer did them for me for about £17 each, filling, cover, zip and all!

That little bookcase again!  I love it, the dimensions the colour, and the fact that it now holds all our classical CDs, all my "keeper" books, and a few tringum trangums!  Well, that's it.  But of course it isn't - as him indoors recently said that he "didn't like our own bedroom now" - so back to the drawing board!!                                                                                                                  


Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Just a little makeover for someone who wanted it....

There is no "before" picture here... as it was just a little brown three-legged table, and I didn't think it was necessary.  Anyway, picture no. one is the table after being done over.  Pale grey (I know it looks blue) and she asked for shabby chic, so you can see areas where it has been 'worn' by use, and then she asked for a small bit on design somewhere on it and she likes hearts.  So......
 There's the top, complete with hearts.  Its for someone in my LETS (Local Economy Trading Scheme) group - how to make the world go round without money!!  I'll charge her in our local currency, which is NETs - so 15 Nts it is!

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Shermouse Holmes back with tail between legs

Despite his announcements that he would find the truth - the once great detective Shermouse Holmes and his travelling caravan have returned home.  He has been searching for a body, and that body is obviously missing for good.  Your reporter recently gave details of an interview with the woodmouse twins, who were witness to the removal of the body but Mr Holmes was not enamoured with small boys, and ignored their tale.  Now he is home with a swift "No comment" in reply to every question and the budget for the local police force (who employed him in the first place) is seriously overspent.  And in a recession, too!

This is the very same police force who now say that they have enough evidence to put Fred Maclean away for a long time.  This announcement followed the discovery of a dried woodmouse body behind the woodburning stove last Friday by one of the "big ones" at Pine Tree Cottage whilst running the dastardly dust-sucker all over the floor and in the secret areas.  The body was sucked into the tube, but was just too big for the implement and was therefore removed by the lady of the house.  Sadly, there was nothing to stop her putting the body in the bin, and so no funeral could be held nor could the body be identified.  There have been a lot of harvest mice visiting this last Summer, so he was probably just a Summer visitor.  All the same, we believe he deserved more. 

We also believe that there is no proof that Fred Maclean killed this little tourist, as there is a Mabel Maclean residing at the same address, and no-one appears to have seen the live mouse, or indeed a dead body being taken into the house by either feline.  So we are at a standstill here.  However, the police are confident that he (Fred Maclean) will eventually be caught in the act (although your reporter has his doubts).  As to Mr Holmes - will his career ever reach its former glorious heights?  When he asked me to go easy on him during this final report, your reporter made his excuses and left.

Tongin Cheeeeeek reporting for the Daily Fieldwhiskers. 

Copyright SusanMaclean

The Small Hand - Susan Hill

Never read any Susan Hill before, and never had the inclination - but have read this and its brilliant!  A wonderfully melancholic feel to every page, and a question in the air all the way through.  I read it in one sitting - and that's probably the best way, and thoroughly enjoyed it.  Adam is a dealer of antiquarian books, and has a small collection of his own, which threaten to take over his living space.  On his way home to London one evening, following a meeting with a client, he loses his way and finds himself on a narrow country road unable to find the fingerpost to tell him how to get back on the main road.  He sees a name sign for a house, and decides that where there is a house, there will be people, and people know the local roads, so they will be able to re-direct him.  But the house is empty and derelict, the garden is badly overgrown, and suddenly, he feels the hand of a child in his.......How he deals with the little ghostly presence, and how his life is turned upside down is told in his own voice.  The small hand is the ghost of ..... ah!   Don't let me tell you, get the book to read and see if you like it too - with its final shocking end.
Product Details

Monday, 31 October 2011

The Lost Daughter of Happiness - Geling Yan

The Lost Daughter of Happiness
 I find that I enjoy books that mingle a bit of fact with the fiction....and this is one such.  The author, Geling Yan, left her home country of China following the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1985 and settled in California.  The translator, Cathy Silber who translated the book into English, has done an excellent job, for I knew from early on this was a book that was told from another point of view by someone who speaks in another way altogether.  The book itself has no chapters, and this didn't put me off me one bit - though normally it would; although it does have gaps so that you can make a stop here and there!  It is told from two viewpoints - the narrator's voice, a Chinese American voice who is telling the "lost daughter" how she found her 200 years later whilst researching Chinese immigrants into America; and in the third person the story of Fusang, a girl stolen from her home village in China and transported for sale into prostitution.  If you thought that maybe this was an uncommon occurance, you'd be wrong.  Thousand of girls arrived in America this way, they were young and usually dead in their 20s.  Of course, hundreds of thousands of poor chinese men also flocked to America for a better life (it was they who did the donkey work on the great rail system that opened up the States then).  The white men in general hated them with a vengance; they worked for much lower pay, and because they spoke another language they could not be understood.  White men flocked to the dockside brothels on the Pacific coast however, for the novelty of sex with these strange looking prostitutes and their gentle ways (perhaps read inscrutable for gentle here), and the chinese referred to the whites who visited the chinatowns for women, opium, alchohol as "white devils".
Into this life comes Fusang, with a sweet smile, bound feet, and when awakened, a love of sex whoever pays for it.  But she is haunted for many years by a boy.  A white boy, Chris.  She first sees him when he is twelve, looking in through her window whilst she services a customer whilst holding the boy's gaze.  It is his awakening moment, and he is besotted.  What happens to him, and what happens to her - more separately than together, forms the basis of this haunting little novel.  And at the end, you find yourself asking:  Oriental/Caucasian - will we ever truly understand them and they us?

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Shermouse Holmes reporting on findings

Today this newspaper received a phone call  from Shermouse Holmes, still searching in the West Dorset area for the body of a mouse stolen in July.   "I have found no sign of a body at all", said Sherlock.  "I have found nomouse who can tell me anything at all (or will not tell me anything at all).  This is a worry, because whilst I have heard of mice disappearing, I have never, in my entire career, heard of the disappearance of a body already deceased.  I shall continue to search during the remainder of October, but will return to my office on 30 October, as All Hallows Eve is not a night for wee beasties to be out and about, well, not that I am frightened, but I do need to get my caravan in storage, and my nest insulated for the winter.  I hear it will be a cold one".

Following that phone call, hearing rumours of a small family of mice within the garden of Pine Tree Cottage, your intrepid reporter went out into the field himself.  What he found will make interesting reading.
 Pictured left are Wally and Willy Woodmouse, the twins whose winter home is The Shed. It was difficult to get them to speak, but eventually, in chorus, they spoke.  "That big cat Fred, he did kill the mousie!  and then a Big One put it on a sheet of paper in the porch!  and then a big gust of wind blew it into the garden! And then a big big bird come and pick it up and fly away! And we was so frightened, we only goes out in a pair now!  No single huntin', no single sunbathin' or anything!  And last week another big bird did come and take down a wood pidgeon right in front of us!  Mr Sp'hawke, we heard whispers of his name.  By all that is holy, Gerbil and Harvestmouse, they is the things to fear, the enemy raptors!" 

At that, they scampered off in the direction of The Shed.  I will put this statement to Shermouse Holmes when he returns - perhaps he need never had gone if he had interviewed the Woodmouse twins first of all.

Tongin Cheeeeeek - Reporting for The Daily Fieldwhiskers
Copyright SusanMaclean

Monday, 17 October 2011

Shabby Chic cupboard

 That's a pint of milk there, just so that you can judge the size, and its about 7 inches deep.
Layout of interior, with bowl of lemon slices in situ to take away the smell of old fashioned sticking plasters...

I got this cupboard from my friend Judith - I'd coveted it for years.  It was used as her bathroom cabinet in the house she lived in then, and it was she who painted it the colour it is today, which I am keeping.  I loved it from the moment she had it, she had a crazed white ceramic knob, and I am going to put a knob that looks like a sea urchin on it (Judith kept the ceramic one "in case it comes in handy somewhere else!"). If you catch it in the right light, you can see the outline of a cross, and the inside of the cupboard always smells of old fashioned sticking plasters (you have to be over 40, I think, to recognise this smell!), so it was obviously a first aid cupboard at some time...who? where? what?  Was that its first use? Those little mysteries!  When we moved house Judith asked if we wanted it and of course we did!  It has been hanging in the spare bedroom for 9 years, holding all those tringum trangums that had not yet found a home, and because that room is being replastered it had to come off the wall - and now we have decided it can have a permanent home in the kitchen to take the place of a small group of shelves holding glass jars of dried foods, and the homemade jam and marmalade. So - at least twice recycled, and many years of use ahead.  Judith will smile when she visits next!

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Paperboy - Christopher Fowler

The author of the Bryant and May detective novels, amongst many others, describes his childhood and teen years in this lovely, evocative memoir.  With a father cowed by his own domineering mother, a mother who thought she might come to love the man she married, this lonely child withdrew into the world of books, encouraged by an elderly librarian who let him read adult books provided they were not removed from the library, and cinema, where he learned to love British films.   Like lots of men (I think it is a particularly male practice) he kept lists - notebooks full of lists in fact, and what lists they were, films seen, books read, books to read, ideas for books not yet written, etc.  He also has a photographic memory for things long gone - Spangles, Mivvi's, Saturday morning pictures and the smell of old cinemas, Frys Mint Creams;  he brings a smile to your face because of that, and a tear to your eye for his loneliness both at home and at school.  If you were brought up in the 1950s and 60s, you will remember lots of things here including outside toilets and Barry Bucknell's DIY craze, but even if you are younger, this glimpse into the world of a boy who desparately wanted to write but didn't know how to get going will entertain you hugely.
NB: [from The Guardian, Dec 2010] Last December, Christopher Fowler won the inaugral Green Carnation Award for this book.   Paul Magrs (Never the Bride and others), who is  a lecturer on the Manchester Metropolitan University's creative writing MA, helped set up the Green Carnation prize earlier this year after realising there was no literary award for gay men's books in the UK. He described the lack of such a prize as "scandalous", saying: "There ought to be something that celebrates and publicises the breadth and variety of their work. Writing by gay men can be funny, exciting, harrowing, uplifting and challenging – and it can range right across the genres. It can also be created by men from all classes and races."  The prize, which has no cash value, is named after the green carnation historically sometimes worn as an emblem of homosexuality – Oscar Wilde often carried one on his lapel.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand - Helen Simonson

Wonderful  observation of the human condition in all its forms.  Major Pettigrew is a sixty-something, widowed man with a house, a son and friends at the golf club.  The house looks onto the farmland belonging to a local manor house, the son is a self centred city whizz-kid, and the friends at the golf club are just people who accompany him in a round of golf.  Into his lonely life comes Mrs Ali, shopkeeper of Pakistani descent, widowed, well read, and with family baggage.  It is not long before they discover that they love the same things, and read the same books.  The major has a soft spot for Mrs Ali!  But he is a rather pompous soul, knows what's right and what's wrong, and does not understand the younger generation at all.  Then his brother dies, and his world is turned upside down for a number of reasons.  The village ladies, a cotterie of women led by the vicar's wife, believe that they know what he needs, and leave no stone unturned in trying to persuade him what that is.  One of their number is married to a golf club friend of the Major's, and it is she who is the prime mover in theming this year's dinner and dance at the club - in costume, and with a special theme harking back to the last days of the Raj.  The Major takes Mrs Ali as his guest.......
There were characters I detested, characters I loved, and all the while I was cheering for the Major with his pomposity just waiting to be pricked, his sharp and scathing sense of humour, and for Mrs Ali too, with all her family problems that were not of her making.  Helen Simonson is British, lives in the USA, and is obviously a great observer.  There wasn't a character in this book I didn't recognise.   A great little read for your holiday, an afternoon in the garden, a winter read by the fire.   A lovely story which kept me away from the housework!

Laura Shaine Cunningham's Sleeping Arrangements

I am so glad I found this.  I don't read a lot of non-fiction, and very few biographies, and when I do they tend to be memoirs - just part of a life.  This is one such.  Lily lived with her mother, whilst waiting for the war to be over and her father to join them again.   But although she has a name, its likely that he was never there in the first place, perhaps her birth was the result of a very short affair or a one night stand.  Lily and her mother Rose set up home in a studio flat in a tower block in a Jewish area of the Bronx, New York.  They enjoy life and everything is perfect - until Rose has to go into hospital and never comes home.  Lily is eight years old.  Uncle Gabe, who has been looking after her whilst her mother is away, and his elder brother Len, make up the family unit by moving in with Lily, and have to learn to cook, to do the housework, the laundry ( in some cases with limited success!).  Later, having moved to a bigger apartment in the same block, their mother, and therefore Lily's grandmother, a Russian Jewess who shares Lily's bedroom and is prone to stealing clothes, hairgrips, cheap jewellery and anything else she can grab from Lily, completes the family - or in Etka from Minsk's own words "mein family".
Tuna fishcakes or popcorn for breakfast  - "well, its corn, isn't it?  Cornflakes, cornbread, why not popcorn?"; clothes all sent out weekly to the laundry, and therefore always "fully creased" on return;  Uncle Len cooking in a pith helmet.  This little family is truly eccentric.  And how lucky she was that the uncles were family, or she might have been taken into care and fostered, instead of being loved by this odd couple.  It was a pleasure to read.   I loved it. 

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Shermouse Holmes takes to the road

Shermouse Holmes has taken the road to find the body of Trevor Smallsqueak,  following his murder by Fred Maclean, who is still out on bail.  The body disappeared from a porch in the Big 'uns house two weeks ago, and no trace has been found.  Despite Holmes' claim that he would solve this mystery, it seems certain to everyone but himself that he will not.

He has left his deerstalker at home, and hitched his caravan to his Mini, and is now, quote, "covering every inch of the gardens in the surrounding area".  He thinks it likely that this journey will take some time, but says he should be able to report back within about four weeks. If he finds that body, this reporter will eat his hat.

Tongin Cheeeeeek reporting for the Daily Fieldwhiskers. 

Copyright SusanMaclean

Friday, 12 August 2011

Body missing: Greatest Mouse Detective on the case!

The recent murder of a member of our community by Fred Maclean, currently out on bail, is followed by a mystery.  Who stole the body of Trevor Smallsqueak?  The local police have hired Shermouse Holmes to investigate.

"At present, I have very little to go on" said Mr   Holmes.  "The body was left on a sheet of paper, and the big 'uns were overheard saying that the body had just disappeared before they could give it a decent burial.  This is simply not good enough, bless my whiskers, no!  I have inspected the paper, on which there was no sign of foul play, just a few mousie hairs.  If a huge gust of wind blew the body off the paper, surely the body would be visible to us?  Having looked everywhere in the vicinity, it seems to me that an opportunist was passing and took the body.  After all, Maclean was inside the house warming his godforsaken body by the heating machine, and his sister was also inside.  I am going to speak to the Smallbird Community who live nearby, to see if they can throw any light on this.  They may have seen something.  There are whispers of a Raptor in the area - Mr B Uzzard is a known mouse snatcher, and he may have spotted the body from on high, and swooped".  Mr Holmes has assured the mouse community that he will solve this case later, rather than sooner.  
Tongin Cheeeeeek reporting for the Daily Fieldwhiskers. 

Copyright SusanMaclean

Monday, 8 August 2011

Mouse Murderer arrested today!

 Mouse police reported today that a feline, Fred Maclean,  had been seen yesterday playing with a live field mouse, which two humans managed to remove from his grasp, whilst his sister Mabel looked on.  However, a mouse witness said "even though the big 'uns managed to get it out of the house and hidden in the undergrowth, by the state of him he would have been unlikely to last the night, poor barstard".  Mouse police were moved to apprehend Maclean today when he was found actually clutching the dead body of his latest victim,Trevor Smallsqueak.  Sargeant Michael Moose made this statement:  "Maclean is not the only mouse murderer in the vicinity.  At this time of the year when the grass is long, and we cavort and gamble through the summer, felines are known to adopt the watch and wait policy for hours on end, and we just don't see them, they are so still.  So be on your guard, ladies and gentlemen - and keep those children safe!".
The victim's Aunt Minnie (pictured above) said "Our Trevor didn't deserve this.  He deserved to last until next year, and father some kids as well.  Those Felines are just murderers, out and out murderers".
From the Daily Fieldwhiskers; reporter Tongin Cheeeeeek.

copyright SusanMaclean

Thursday, 4 August 2011

The Royal Opera House chairs, and the new upholstery!

Way back in time I said that I had acquired some pure wool herringbone fabric for £12.50 and was going to have the chairs recovered?
 Before - with damask tablecloth dyed grey and seat pads squashed from 10 years use.....

After, with 100% pure wool all reupholstered........ 

Here's the pattern..... this is the true colour, the other pic makes it look dark for some reason.

And here is one of the chairs in situ in front of the painted cabinet.

And guess what?  There is still some fabric left so what a bargain that was!  The chairs are oversized, because they were stage props originally, (hence the dyed tablecloths of the original covering) but they are so comfortable, we have never sat on better, which is why we have had them recovered.  They will never make antiques, they are only painted rubber wood, but we love 'em!

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Dear Vampa - Ross Collins

Dear Vampa
Is a three minute read worth the aquisition of this book?  OH YES!   What a wonderful little book - beautifully illustrated by its author, Ross Collins. This graphic novel for children is only a few pages long. But those pages are a delight at every turn. The Pires, who live in a large gothic mansion, sleep through daylight hours, in coffins, and are curious, pleased and excited when their new neighbours the Wolfsons move next door. But as Bram, the youngest Pire, writes to his Vampa, back in Transilvania, they love sunshine, they don't understand why the Pires have late- night parties, and they are just so totally different. The Pires themselves are illustrated in black and white with a touch of red (of course), whilst the rest of the illustrations are in full colour - very clever. And whilst it can be read in less than 3 minutes cover to cover, go back, look again, read the words again - there are little jokes everywhere. A book to make everyone smile and a great present for a grown-up  - who can then read it to a child (any excuse!!).

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Queen of the Tambourine - Jane Gardam

First published in 1991 - how did this little gem slip past me?

Never read any of Jane Gardam's novels before, but will be looking out for more since I enjoyed this so much.  The first 20 or so pages made me laugh out loud, the next fifty or so made me sad, and the whole of the second half of the book was  like reading a complicated whodunnit (without a body, thank goodness!).  Eliza is a complex woman, married to a former British diplomat, used to being the kingpin where ever in the world she and the old man pitched up.  But once he is stationed permanently in London, he becomes very withdrawn, and she cannot think why.  Eliza has been writing to Joan, a woman who left the house opposite in a great hurry, leaving her husband, children and dog at the mercy of themselves, and she decides to offer the hand of friendship to the family.  I found this a fascinating little (227 pages) read, and like many other readers, was near the half way mark when I started to wonder whether Eliza was everything she seemed.

This is a fine example of the examination of mental illness, but not in a depressing or bad way.  We can see that Eliza has problems, but not at first, when it is the husband who seems the bad'un, when he leaves her to live with another man.  As she struggles to know where Joan is, and why there is no reply to the letters she writes, she struggles too with the way her neighbours treat her, and how she is going to put her own life back together.  The glue that holds her together in fact, is visiting the local hospice, because there, she has a grip on life and does not feel that her problems are insurmountable judged against the dying.  If this sounds too heavy for you, it is not, it just may be a little strange - but its a beautiful little mystery story, and all is revealed before the final sentence.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Day lilies - are they worth it?

Each flower only lasts a day, so why grow them?  Well ........... this is Hemerocallis "Artic Snow", which is cream with a green mark, and the flowers are huge.I got three all in one day, and there are at least 18 buds to go so yes, they are worth it.  I like a garden that has lots of things going on all year round, so I don't buy bedding plants (although I do have some nasturtiums from seed struggling along!)

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Treasure from trash in a few hours

Here's a bathroom stool that has been hanging around since its purchase second hand  18 years ago.  Other things have been started and finished, so I wonder why this was never looked at poor thing?  When we had the bathroom painted earlier this year, I thought it was time to deal with it, and at last I had a convenient day or 3!  The old cork seat was removed, and the whole thing sanded down so it looked like this:
And then it got two coats of emulsion in the grey, and two coats of eggshell for the cream top.  Finally, a couple of coats of mat varnish and its ready for use and matches the bathroom!

Saturday, 9 July 2011

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake - Jenny Wingfield

Product Details
Set in Arkansas in the 1950s, most of the story takes place within a few acres on the farmland of Calla and John Moses, and starts with the annual family reunion of the Moses clan. One of the family, Willadee Lake, married to Samuel, a methodist preacher, is there with her children Swan, Noble and Bienville whilst Samuel is at the Methodist Annual Conference, waiting to hear where the church will send him this year. The children love their times on their grandparents farm, and this year was to have been no different - but life takes an odd turn. Samuel isn't given a church, and although the Conference does not give him a reason, might it be because he thinks the poor and the drunk are worth saving just as much as the clean and jobworthy? For a man who loves God and wants everyone else to do the same, this is a savage blow for Samuel, as with no money, the family will have to remain on the farm. This summer will be a summer never to be forgotten, with friendships forged, deceits practiced, forgiveness asked and forgiven, cruelty avenged. There are some very dark passages.Some of these involve Blade, a boy from the Ballenger family, the Moses' nearest neighbour. The head of the family, Ras Ballenger, is a horsebreaker and bully, and it is because he treats one particular horse so badly that Blade gets Swan involved in his life. From the slow beginning, I loved this story. The characters are well drawn, you know them, you know how you feel about them and you are rooting for the good ones, and gritting your teeth against the bad ones.

I was reminded of "Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe" - another book I didn't want to put down. I have seen comparisons to Fanny Flagg's books also, and although that may well be right, this story is rather darker, although there are occasions when I could not help but smile - especially when Swan spoke her mind - as children often do.

Jenny Wingfield is a successful scriptwriter, but this is her first novel. She has a lovely style, flowing and desciptive, urging you to read 'just another chapter'. I do hope that she will have more than one book in her, and I look forward to more.

(copy of my Amazon review

Thursday, 30 June 2011

A Monster Calls - Patrick Ness (from a sketch left by Siobhan Dowd)

Another book brought to my attention by fellow blogger Lovely Treez Reads.  It's rare that I buy hardbacks, but this one is going to be a birthday present, so it had to be the fully monty.  And of course, I had to read it first (carefully!) before it was packed.

Conor is a boy whose mother has cancer. (is this a book for children?  Yes it is, keep reading!).  He has a recurring nightmare every night; and spends his days getting his own breakfast, being bullied at school, and worrying about his Mum.  She is on her third or fourth round of chemo, and is getting weaker.  Conor knows she will recover, she always has. 
Then why, just after midnight, does the yew tree in the churchyard up sticks and walk into his garden, and peer in through his window?  He's not asleep - God! he only just woke up from the nightmare, and here is another.  The yew tree has stories to tell.  He is part of the old ways, the green man, the earth itself, and he will tell Conor four stories on the proviso that at the end, Conor will tell him a story, which must contain THE TRUTH.  Conor's grandmother arrives at the house, and it is obvious that she wants Conor to live with her, a move that cannot be contemplated - her antique filled, cold and tidy house is not like his home at all.  And then when he hears his Dad is coming over from America, where he now lives with a new wife, Conor wonders if he will take him back with him.  And regularly, the yew tree arrives for a little chat........

When I first started to read this book, I was unsure whether I was going to rate this book as highly as others, but by the time I had finished, I knew it was a special kind of book.  The truth is a powerful thing, and in Conor's nightmare, there is something that he cannot speak of, even to the yew tree.  But that truth must be spoken of, and in the telling of his own story, he must find the words.   Ultimately this book explains how Conor deals with grief - how might we deal with the same thing?  And yes, it is a book for older children, for young adults, for those of any age who love to read something different.  The book was based on a sketch of the story by Siobhan Dowd, who was suffering from cancer and could not get the book written.  She was posthumously awarded the Carnegie Medal for one of her four books; and Patrick Ness, who took up her idea and made it into this story, has just been awarded the Carnegie Medal for this year for the third in a trilogy of YA books.  Illustrated entirely in black and white by Jim Kay, who brings the darkness necessary onto the pages.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Update - The yellow and white border

Last year (2010) we cleared an area of brambles, put in fence posts and wire for a "see through" fence, and this is part of the border, showing the result of the first year's planting and growth.  Not bad so far! 

Also the first of the day lilies has arrived, so a quick pic of Crimson Pirate as, of course, he will be gone tomorrow! 

Did you know you can eat the flowers of Hemerocallis?      I have never tried myself, but I saw a nurserywoman who specialises in these eating them (she says only first thing in the morning).... but I couldn't do that!  Fancy wanting to eat a flower that only lasts a day...... I want to see the beauty, not taste it!!

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

An Evening with Danny Kaye -1981 Part 1

Got a couple of hours to spare?  Its raining, or you are awake at 2.00 am?  Just go to YouTube and type in the above.  Danny Kaye conducting the New York Philharmonic in 1981, when Zubin Mater was the conductor and director.  It was a fund raising concert, and full of fun and some lovely music too.  So you have to keep on clicking for the next segment?  There are 17 segments - its the whole concert.  You have time for this one.  I loved every minute and it finishes with a John Philip Sousa march that will have you cheering!  Lovely way to (not) waste a little time.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Strings Attached - Judy Blundell

Product Details  Even better than Blundell's first, I think.
Kit Corrigan's dream is to star in a Broadway show. She has a dance teacher who encourages her, and at 17, in 1950, she sets off for New York from Rhode Island with stars in her eyes. A part in a chorus is not long coming, and rooming with other chorus members is fun, even if you are poor. But then her boyfriend's father arrives one day and takes her off to a small furnished apartment with its own front door,and tells her that its for her and Billy, his son, once he has returned from the Korean war. No strings. Oh, but there are! shortly afterwards he turns up again with a small suitcase and asks her just to keep it overnight..... and that's how her payback begins. For she once asked him to do a great favour for her family, and even though she was only 12 then, they shook hands on the deal, and now he wants payback and more...... Billy, her fiance, is a troubled soul with a bad, bad temper from time to time. She loves him dearly, but is frightened of that temper. It's when he comes to her prior to shipping off to Korea that things start to fall apart - although the reader already has some idea of the troubles ahead.

The book roams around between 1946 and 1950, so you do need to concentrate on the date at the top of each chapter, but I didn't see this as a fault - rather as an interesting way of linking happenings up. It's aimed at the Young Adult market, but even my advanced years didn't stop me enjoying this one bit - and I can't see any reason why it should stop you, either. It has a sparse style, so the pace is kept up, and you want to keep reading. A good yarn, a thriller, a love story - with a few shocks to the system along the way.
[copy of my Amazon Vine review]

Friday, 17 June 2011

The Legend of Colton H Bryant - Alexandra Fuller (where truth is uglier than fiction)

  Product Details  Part of the review from The Times Literary Supplement says "... must be read as fiction".  Not because it is fiction, it isn't, it's just the telling of a young man's short life, but the style of the author makes it read like fiction, and for those who do not like non-fiction this is a real bonus, because Colton Bryant's short life is full of small things, and they are described so beautifully that you just have to keep reading. Even his death was a small thing, a fall that could have been avoided with the installation of safety rails for $2000.    I know nothing at all about Wyoming; have no idea at all why anyone would choose to stay in Wyoming:  a state full of wind that kills people, empty of much else except money makers (oil now, previously coal) and those who help to make them their money.   And it seems to me that having read the book I know a little more about Wyoming, and those who like wide open spaces must love what's left of those spaces,  even after the oil men have sliced off the topsoil and moved on.  The total disregard of their workforce by moneymakers all over the world is well described here, the conditions on the rigs, and in the dormitories for the workers, the disregard also for health and safety measures,  but it is woven together like magic with the story of Colton Bryant at school (not the place he wanted to be), in his teens (fun with other teens), and his marriage and short life, thoughout which his mantra was "if you don't mind, it don't matter"
I had tears in my eyes for the last couple of chapters, even though I knew before I started that he was dead, but it is in truth, two stories; first, the carelessness of American big business and the amount of profits involved, and second but much more importantly, a love story involving Colton, his best friend Jake, and his family.  I was glad to have made the boy's acquaintance.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Lust in the dust: In search of a new genre

The day I saw a book cover of a cowboy with a large stetson, his shirt open to the waist, and a glistening six pack on view, I wanted to find out what this was!!  So with the help of some friends, I decided on three titles to gain an insight into a new (for me) world.

First I attempted  The Twelve Month Marriage Deal by Margaret Mayo.  This is not a cowboy romance, but I think it needs to be said that we have to have something to compare the other two with, and that isn’t hard, as it is probably the worst written piece of drivel I have had the (bad) luck to get my hands on for years, if not ever.  Her thong was discarded with a flick of the wrist” is a real sentence in this book,  and it’s one of the better ones.  The story of Elena, a Spaniard home to Seville from Los Angeles because her sister has just run away from her fiancĂ©  the dark and handsome banker Vidal Marquez,  has to be read (or not, is my recommendation) to be believed!  Hearts beat so hard that they nearly leap out of chests, gasps are common, whooshes of pleasure are experienced  (I kid you not),  emotions are all over the place, and so is the author.  Considering that all but one of the characters are Spanish,  I found it very odd that for a breakfast business meeting Elena and Vidal chose to eat toast  in a cafe in Seville...... With the odd Spanish word or three, the idea that these are Spanish characters are conveyed, but all you need to know is that she is asked to take the place of her errant sister and marry Vidal to save her parents’ bank. I gave up at page 70 because it was so bad, and skipped to the last sentence just to see what had happened.  Dear reader, I leave it to you to decide whether you want to read this pile of old tosh or not, complete with errors of all kinds (was the proof reader drunk?).
Next came  Cinderella and the Cowboy by Julie Christenberry.  No sex in this one, but lots and lots of kissing, which made hearts beat faster, and made our hero  Jack more determined to win Elizabeth than ever!  Very large print which meant it was all over in two hours, but unlike the book above, was not badly written;  it was just written for a certain kind of reader (who is not me, but I gave this one a chance).  It involves a widow arriving at her father-in-law’s house, with the clothes she and the two kids stand up in after the death of her errant, rodeo star husband.  Her father-in-law takes her in, and is glad to do so, not least because with the two children he has a ready-made family now, and someone to leave the farm to.  Jack, his foreman and close friend, falls for Elizabeth as soon as he claps eyes on her, but she’s having none of it.  Having experienced life with her  ne’r  do well husband, who didn’t stay round much and left for ever straight after the announcement Elizabeth’s second pregnancy, she cannot possibly become involved with another man.  It is enough that her father-in-law knows how badly his son behaved, and wants his family with him.  Light and fluffy nonsense, and no sex before marriage (except for the kissing).
Finally I read Marriage, Outlaw Style by Cindy Gerard.  A quick dip into this and I knew I must expect lots of sex.  A heavy sigh, a pleasured groan, and the sensual journey of lips and breath and stubbled jaw began a downward descent”.  Well, don’t all cowboys have stubbled jaws,  I thought as I started at chapter one?   There’s more of the same:   burning, sizzling, hot, sweet, etc.... you get the picture!  Written by someone who really enjoys describing  sex, but isn’t quite as good at writing a book... too many references to Stetsons (I know this is America, but the guy is a builder, for gawd’s sake, not a cowboy!), feelings that cannot be stated, steely eyes, grim determination – and from this you   have probably realised that the two main characters love each other but just don’t know it.   Even a week up in the mountains in a log cabin with no transport can’t get them to see it!  Not as bad as book one, and I did get to the end by skimming over the oft repeated denials  of love in the loneliness of the dark hours of the night until, like all of those books beloved by people who are romantics at heart, realisation dawns for the two lead characters.  I made it sound so good you nearly wanted  to read it, didn’t you?!   Although the author has won several romantic writing awards in the US, for me it was badly written, repetitive,  and  I must be wrong because obviously there is a good living to be made out there writing this kind of dross.  I can’t recommend it, although the lusty bits might give some people ideas.......
Will I read any more of the like?  NO!  It was the discovery of that book cover that made me think there was a whole new genre out there.  But I think not.  Mills and Boon and similar publishers (Marriage, Outlaw Style was publised by Silouette Desire)  have always  had themed stories:  Doctors and Nurses, Executives and Secretaries etc, I just missed the fact that a man in a Stetson has a great appeal to the readers of these books!

Book  1 scored half a point out of a possible 10 and that because it is a book.
Book 2 scored 5/10 because believe it or not, there was a half decent story in there.
Book 3 scored 3/10 because there was a story.
The opinions expressed in the above article are purely my own and are not aimed at any author in particular.  In advance I apologise for any hurt my opinions may cause, and now I am going back to reading some good stuff.  Hallelujah!

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Those of a squeamish disposition, look away now as I am about to describe the great mousie mystery at Pine Tree Cottage!

I was on holiday in Portugal at the beginning of May, and two friends came to have a holiday in our house and to cat-sit Fred and Mabel.  When we returned, Lou asked me, with a smile, how often I cleaned the floor in the dining room.  As I had cleaned it the day I left, I wondered why she'd asked.  She said she had found a dead shrew near their food bowls.  I thought that a great mystery, but thought no more about it.  Then, a couple of weeks ago, in the living room, I found a dead house-mouse without a mark on him.  Searched for signs of infestation, but found nothing, so I don't think he was living here prior to his untimely death!  Certainly he must have been in the house overnight because the cats are locked in at night, and there he was, at, dead as a dodo.  And now, today, Mabel is giving me a good shout about something whilst I am at the computer.  She had a good breakfast, so maybe she is thirsty?  I rinse out the water bowl and refill, and whilst I am placing it on the floor, I spot a small object in the corner next to the food bowls.  Further investigation reveals a perfect pigmy shrew - dead, of course.  And that's him/her above.  Deceased but perfectly formed and photographed for posterity.  Size?  the body is as long as the short side of a credit/debit card.   Soooo ....... is it Fred, or is it Mabel?  Because someone in this house is a mouse murderer.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

News from the garden!

Tree peony in full bloom but sadly one of the things that suffered with too much heat too early.

Well! after thinking that the game was up with all that sunshine but no rain, things are improving. The heat in Spring made things come into flower too early and they didn't last long. The rule in my garden is that I don't water. I do break that rule sometimes of course, and all new stuff is well watered for a few days, but I could see a few established things wilting, so had to break the rule this time. Anyhow, with a few big storms and quite a lot of rain, things are on the move bigtime! In the yellow and white border, the tangutica clematis Lampton Park is just covered in buds, with a few flowers out... probably more than 100 buds, and this is only its second year. A lovely clump of astrantias are in full bloom and will last for ages, because they have flowers which go dry and remain on the stems.

On the other side of the garden, the last peony to flower is showing its colour for the first time - a deep carmine pink, with ruffled inner petals; so beautiful.  And,  joy of joys, all the day lilies (Hemerocallis) are budding up including a newly planted white one Arctic Snow - the blousy ladies of the Summer are on their way.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Goodnight Mr Tom - Michelle Magorian

Willie Beech is evacuated to the countryside as the Second World War breaks out. A sad deprived child, he slowly begins to flourish under the care of Tom Oakley. But then his mother summons him back to war-torm London..... will he ever see Mr Tom again?
Republished in 2003 under the Puffin Modern Classics for children, this is a must read, even if you never read children's books, and can't understand the attraction. Its not the best written book ever, but it made me want to devour it, hour after hour. Willie Beech, aged 9, arrives with a train full of evacuees, stitched into his underwear for the Winter, wearing thin, shabby clothes and plimsoles, and covered in sores and bruises. He is taken to the home of Tom Oakley, a man in his 60's, widowed at 20, and a loner ever since, except for his dog, Sam. He takes the boy in only because with war approaching, it's his duty. The boy is shocked to get a room of his own, and he sleeps under the bed the first night, because "beds are where the dead are laid out". Persuaded to sleep in the bed, he wets it for every night for a long time, and cannot understand why Mr Tom does not thrash him for this 'sin'. His abuse was not only that of the flesh. The things his Mother told him and threatened him with make it very difficult for Willie to understand why he is not punished on a daily basis. He can't read or write, but he can draw really well, and Mr Tom encourages him in this whilst helping him to recognise his written name and how to write it before he goes to the village school. At school he finds that not everyone is a bully, and that there are boys (and girls) there who want to be his pal. Amongst those children is Zach, another evacuee, a Jew whose parents are actors, and a boy who has his parents' gift - seen by the other children of course as just plain "showing off"! Zach becomes his closest friend, calls him Will because Willie might be misconstrued and begins to draw him out of his shell.
The second half of the book is somewhat darker - he is sent back to London at the request of his Mother, who is not well. When he returns home on the train, he is torn between Mr Tom who he does love, and his Mother, who he knows he should love, but has never ever given him a reason to do so. What he finds in London is horror and violence and a Mother who is obviously mentally unbalanced. Mr Tom becomes increasingly worried and eventually takes the train to London himself to find out if Will is still alive. What he finds at the house filled me with such sadness that I sobbed aloud, and although this is fiction, I know that real life for some children is the same. This is not a book with a completely happy ending, although it ends well for Will - but for a child reader, it introduces them to many things that they will not perhaps have experienced. The joy of companionship both animal and human; education and teachers who care; good food as an intirely new thing; a little sex education; the horror of death and loss, the realisation that everyone has a worth. And other people's lives woven together, which makes us all what we are.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Holy Pictures - Clare Boylan

Set in Dublin in the 1920's this is Nan and Mary Cantwell's story. Nan, 14, and living with adolescence, and Mary, loving the cat, the hen, the hedgehog and Nellie the maid unconditionally, watch their parents' life. Father, who runs a corset factory, and acts like the Indian Army officer he once was, the the bully he still is; Mother, who likes to smoke and read mysteries are both people the girls don't really understand. Father takes in waifs and strays for short periods of time to help them "make a new start", and Nellie does very little except prepare food and leave the washing up for the girls to do when she goes home at night. And then, one day, an exotic visitor arrives on the doorstep and it isn't long before she is occupying the marital bedroom, with Father in the spare room, Mother in the girls' room, and the girls sleeping in the kitchen. Life is starting to unravel.....
Clare Boylan has a beautiful way with words. You can hear the voices, see the clothes, understand the undercurrents. I enjoyed this very much, and recommend it.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Mr Rosenblum's List by Natasha Solomons

Sadie and Jacob Rosenblum arrive in England in 1937 - Jewish refugees from Berlin. The first thing they are handed is a list, published for the use of refugees to familiarise themself with the new country, and to make integration easier. Mr Rosenblum's first name is quickly changed to Jack, and the original short list is added to regularly by Jack who aspires to become a real "Englishman". He sets up a small carpet factory, and quickly becomes successful, whilst Sadie dreams of those she has left behind in Berlin, and never wishes to become integrated at all. Jack has only one dream left - to join a golf club. This proves difficult because he is Jewish (although every club he applies to leaves this unsaid); so, in the end, with the purchase of a run down cottage and 60 acres in Dorset, he decides that if he can't join, he will build his own. In the course of his endevours he and Sadie become different people, and the Dorset country folk who at first looked at these incomers with the kind of indifference that can only be guessed at, warm to this little man who asks for nothing else except that his golf course be finished by Coronation day - the Coronation of Elizabeth II.

I also like the serendipity of Baumtorte, a cake mentioned many times in the book, where each layer is a memory of someone, (when Sadie offers it to the ladies of the Coronation committee, they taste her sadness) - against the cake in "The Peculiar Sadness of Lemon Cake" (see review below), where a child tastes her mother's sadness for the first time.

I finished with Mr Rosenblum with a tear in my eye - after laughing many times. I am familiar with the part of Dorset described, and could conjure it up in my mind's eye. A glorious short read, a little bit of fantasy and the love of the countryside. All you could ask for a Summer read.

Monday, 9 May 2011

One Dog and his Boy - Eva Ibbotson

Eva Ibbotson's last ever book and just the kind of children's book that makes reading worthwhile. A real adventure, involving runaways, circuses, and some grownups who are not as likeable as they should be. Hal is a little boy with rich parents. His father is always away on business, and his mother is too too clean and hygenic, and loves shopping. For both of them there is really little room in their lives for their son. Everything is OK as long as he doesn't make the house untidy, and appreciates all the money they spend on presents for him. But he only wants one thing - a dog. And eventually, to keep him quiet, his parents rent a "Tottenham Terrier" for the weekend presuming that, like all children, he will soon tire of the dog. But of course, Hal and Fleck are made for each other, and when he has to go back to the rental shop, they are both distraught. By a fluke, fate arranges a breakout at the shop and the adventure begins! [copy of my Amazon review].

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Just back from a week in Portugal. Mixed weather, good company

Ladies in tiaras, the night of the Royal Wedding - just prior to dinner!

The cast of the Murder Mystery - me (cross-dresser and murderer!) far left.
Some of the stars below:

The Deputy Mayor of Casablanca!

 The fabulous femme fatale and art dealer all the way from Denmark.

The very naughty (and haughty) Contess from somewhere east of Prague!

Mr Oily-Cart......a spy in disguise!

The jealous Spaniard who loved the man I murdered.

A rather nasty Nazi.......
And a slapper in disguise (the deputy Mayor's wife with several men friends!)

That damned Yank - and whose side was he on anyway?

The deputy mayor's daughter hamming it up again - no comment!


from pool down to courtyard

Lovely spot (picture is the garden from the pool down to the courtyard) in a tiny hamlet about 30 minutes from the coast at Faro, and about 10 minutes to the nearest town for shopping.
( We had 4 days grey, 3 days sunny - but no cold winds or bad rain. I took three books, once of which I was already reading, and managed to finish on the plane coming home. It was like watching paint dry - wish I'd never started the bloomin' thing, but ah, well, its done now. It was Deceits of Time by Isobel Colgate, and although she wrote The Shooting Party, I'm afraid I didn't care for it at all.

Early One Morning - Virginia Baily

I was attracted to this novel purely by the cover (as I suppose this is meant to happen!) and it has very little about the contents on the b...