Thursday, 25 April 2013

Painter of Silence - Georgina Harding

What a different kind of read this one was. A book where one of the two main characters cannot hear, cannot speak, and cannot read sign language of any kind;  he can only process what he sees.  And what he sees, from childhood, is his mother cooking for the family in the big house, the horses in the stables, the trees in the woods, and his friend Safta, daughter of the big house.   He is Augustin, and his life is odd but sheltered and mostly good.  There are exceptions to this of course, when Safta's mother, for example decides that he can be educated with her children up at the house.  He doesn't take to the German tutor, who dislikes this silent child intensely.  But he continues to do what he has always done - he draws what he sees - and these drawings are his history.
The story is told in reverse for a chunk of the book, with Augustin turning up on the steps of a hospital in Iasi, Romania in the early 1950s.  We don't know it yet, but he is Augustin, and he has come to the city searching for Safta.  
As readers of my blog may know, I do like truth woven with fiction.  From this book I found out how difficult life was for the peoples of eastern bloc countries to exist after WW2 with Stalin's communism reaching out and destroying all that had gone before. Georgina Harding writes beautifully.  This is especially difficult when one of the main characters will never say a word.    But she has got into his head, and we know who he is and what his thoughts are.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

My Policeman by Bethan Roberts

I read this tremendous and heartbreaking novel in two days, reading great chunks at a time.  It wasn't hard to read, but it was hard to bear.  Marion meets Tom, the love of her life when she is in her teens.  He's the brother of her best friend.  They meet when Marion goes to tea, or sometimes in the street, but he has no idea of her intense feelings for him.  They grow up, Marion trains and becomes a teacher; and Tom, after National Service (at that time in Britain you were compelled to serve in the armed forces for a period of two years - a practice that ceased in 1960) joins the police force.  He's back in town and Marion cannot see what the reader can - that he likes her, but has another kind of furrow to plough.  She is desparately in love with him, and there just is no-one else.  They swim, they have a few meals, they go to the cinema; and whilst this is just a platonic relationship on Tom's part, Marion reads so much more into every word, every movement, every touch.  And suddenly, her wish is granted - he suggests they marry.  Tom's best man is Patrick, a museum  curator, smartly dressed, a little older, knowledgeable;  and who is also desparately in love with Tom......
Cover image 
 It is hard to understand the way homosexuals were treated just a short while ago. Homosexuality was against the law, even between consenting adults, and it was not the sort of thing that any policeman would have been able to declare.  In fact, it would be very difficult for anyone who was gay at that time, full stop.  My own memories of that time about gay men are different to many people.  We had a neighbour who's son became a steward on a liner.  His sister came to see my Mum in a panic to tell her that she'd opened her brother's case on his last visit home so that she could unpack for him and found bottles of colognes and other unctions (at a time when working class men - his own background - smelt either of Wright's Coal Tar soap, Carbolic soap or sweat).  My mother's view about people either gay or straight, black or white  was that some are different to others but that didn't make them bad people. A few years later a family who rented the house next door consisted of a weekend drag queen, who was married to a deaf lady and who fathered two lovely children.  These people were just in my life.  So whilst I was reading this moving story, those memories came back, and I thought again how hard it must have been for any gay person to stay "under the radar", hold down a job, keep from being beaten up  in the street, and all those other things that their sexuality would make troublesome for them.

I cannot say enough about this well written book and its subject.  It deserves a wide, wide readership, if for nothing else, so that people find out how hard it once was to just be who you are.  Recommended.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Jonathan Winters - a big, ugly American is dead

I missed a word out there - A big, ugly, funny American is dead.  I remember hearing this sketch probably 30 years ago on the radio.  Searched for it today and it still made me smile.  It's called
"The Shy Guy Returns the Toaster".  Enjoy and smile.


Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Baby Pea Soup

I had some friends for lunch yesterday, and decided on baby pea soup.  I got clean dishes, and smiles, so I think this was a hit, and so easy to do.  This is one of those recipes that you might call "store cupboard food", as most of the ingredients I always have around the house.

This will make 4 good servings depending on the consistency you choose (I got 5 out of mine!)

I x largish leek. Don't use the green end (You can save that and make leek and potato soup another day!!)
I x  medium sized potato peeled
Butter/olive oil
1 x 545 g packet (or similar size) of frozen petite pois peas
1 x vegetable stock cube 
I pint water
Good pinch of rock salt 

Chop the leek finely and rinse.  Place in stockpot or large lidded pan, grate the raw potato and add, together with a knob of butter and a good splash of olive oil.  Sweat over a low heat with lid on, Stir from time to time taking care not to brown the leeks, for about 5 minutes, and then add all the peas, the crumbled stock cube and the water.
Bring to boil, then take heat right down and simmer for around 30 minutes to ensure the potato is cooked.  Remove from heat and using a hand held blender (or if you have a separate blender) whizz it smooth and check that it is the consistancy you want.  I added a little more water and stirred again.  Now taste!  if you like it, off you go.  This is the point I add the salt as baby peas are a bit sweet for me.  Return to heat and bring up to simmer again, after which - Serve.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

A Place of One's Own - Osbert Sitwell

There's no picture to offer you for this one - published in 1941 and what's left of the dust cover certainly shows the austerity things during WW2.  But the content has nothing to do with that at all.  This is a short (70 pages) and imaginative ghost story.  Mr and Mrs Smedhurst, retiring from "trade" in Leeds, have purchased a large house in a seaside town called Newborough ("and such a bargain") and are settling in happily to retirement, lunch instead of dinner, making new friends and generally enjoying a quiet life.  And then, some odd things begin to happen.......

 The writing style shows its age but there's nothing wrong with that - after all, so does Dickens, Thackeray, Elliott etc!  What is wonderful though is the punctuation.  For those like me who hate bad punctuation unless it is intentional; this is a fine example of perfect grammar at that time.. 

Osbert Sitwell was a Baronet;  the middle sibling of Edith his sister who became Dame Edith Sitwell, and Sacheverell Sitwell, his younger brother. Served in WW1, supported Edward VI after he'd met Mrs Simpson and lost a lot of friends..... fascinating - and there's quite a lot on Wikipedia if you want to know more.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

A Life Like Other People's - Alan Bennett

This shorter version of Alan Bennett's biographical memoir "Untold Stories" is the story of his own family - and the tales that every family has.  How people met, married, who died and when; how people conducted themselves.  For example, his Mam and Dad got married at 8.00 in the morning, so
that there wouldn't be any fuss, or splother as his father put it.  Two rather shy people who had two sons, Alan and his brother, and who cared deeply for each other are described;  together with sisters, mothers, and Alan Bennett's feelings about all of it, including the long and interminable wait for death his Mam had, suffering for 15 years  from dementia.  He is not kind-hearted, our Mr Bennett, but he is oh, so truthful.  Tell me you do not see yourself acting in the same way under the same circumstances. He's a great wordsmith and you can hear his soft, Yorkshire tones behind every word.  How did he do it?  My guess is that he is and has always been a diary man.  Life's little gems recorded for "later", and as he admits himself, often turning up in his plays. 

Monday, 8 April 2013

Moloka'i - Alan Brennert

Product Details
This was a book I came across, rather than a book I put myself out to find..... But it was a good "find" indeed.  To find out something you didn't know about the world is always worth it, but this was a something which came as a shock to me, as I had no idea about the existence of a leper colony on the Hawaii'n island of Moloka'i.  The story takes you from 1890 when a small child in Honolulu is diagnosed with leprosy to 1970 when ...... well, read it and see!

Rachel is the small child.  Her mother and father are distraught when that first little mark appears, and they try desperately to cover it up until in a fit of peak, one of her siblings lets the truth out - and within days, Rachel has been taken to Moloka'i and away from her family for the rest of her life.  This is her story - but woven into it are real people, some re-named, some recognisable.  This is not the first fiction about Moloka'i, just the first I have come across, and there are many accounts of visitors' thoughts available, lots of which are listed at the end of the book (which by the way, I urge you to read, but not until you have finished reading the story itself), including Jack London and Robert Louis Stevenson.  

This is not a "pretty" book, despite the rather attractive cover.  Descriptions of the disease are not shied away from; and the heartbreak suffered by some of the staff (many of the carers are catholic nuns) over the life and death of their charges is tangible.  And the heartbreak too, of those lepers who loose friends and partners can only be imagined.  Like any town, the colony on Moloka'i rub along together in all their various forms.  There is sex, violence; family love, true love, first love; jealousy, anger, humour and, in this cross section of life, there are some larger than life characters, some you will love, some you will love to hate.  Rachel herself dominates the book, taking her life in both hands and doing the best she can to live it.  

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Storage in a very small area!

You will have seen this kind of storage box, I am sure.
Fabulous, because you can move the divisions around!

So, this is how you can store a lot of them in that tiny corner your thought you couldn't use because there is something behind it, or by the side of it, that you need access to and attempting to pull out box after box after box to get at it is just not a runner.

Cut a peice of pine (or any heavy duty scrap wood that you have disgarded ) about 1 inch bigger all round than the storage boxes that you want to store.  Add a small strip of wood about 1/2 an inch wide to one of the shorter sides of your wood.  Screw or glue or both.  Up to you.  Then turn over and screw on 4 castors.
Next, don't do what we did!!!  We added half a broom handle on a small hinge, so that it would be easy to pull out of it's storage space, and would fold back in and stay there.   Hahaha!
Here's the finished article and you can see the little ledge which stops the boxes slipping off on the left, and the hinged handle on the right.  The castors are there but invisible in this pic.  D'you know why I laughed when I told you about the broom handle?  Didn't work!  Removed that, drilled 2 holes and threaded a peice of rope through, knotting both ends underneath.  so now you can still pull it out of your storage area, but the broom handle doesn't sock you one when it falls outwards everytime you approach the storage area.

You could try the same thing with smaller toy boxes, or shoe boxes, or whatever, but just remember that if you get "stacking" boxes, they will be more stable.  Anyway, lots of stuff all in a stack and easy to get at.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Downstairs toilet - change of mind, change of colour, change of decor.........

When we first moved to this house, we had a small kitchen extended by 6 ft, and  then we stole half of that for this 3 ft wide downstairs toilet (and cloakroom, but more of that in another post!).  Original colour was a buttery yellow, with tiny green tiles, and the day after it was finished - 10 years ago - I took a dislike to it and have felt the same ever since.
 The little sink was hard to find at that time, and of course there is a great selection of tiny sinks around now, but this fits the space just right, so it's staying put.  You can see the mark where the green tiles were (and the same tiles sat on the windowsill).
 The same space, but a step or two back, which looks empty but gives you the idea of the cloakroom space here (small!)
And here's the window in the original colour with a lovely mark on the ceiling from a leak at sometime from the bathroom which we just lived with for some years.  Doesn't everyone do something like this - admit it!  Anyway, under the window you can see two little dark marks, where a little shelf sat above the cystern. 

Here we are with the paintwork done, and the new tiles on, waiting for redecoration!  Tiles behind the sink are narrower than those on the windowsill, but the same colour, sort of English Mustard (B&Q)

Just a little whim made me have them standing up, as they are really those long tiles fashionable at the moment for kitchens - and I think most people lay then in a brick pattern.    

And then the chance to have the "best dressed" toilet in town!

The colour is true on the wall above, behind the poppy seedheads, and it looks blue (wrong!) when there is lots of light from outside in this shot of the windowsill.  Whatever colour it looks, I love it!

Finally, a few pictures of things that are permanently living in here, including the mirror, which we bought over 20 years ago and is one of the things that we wouldn't part with.  He smiles at you, and so you smile everytime you check your hair, or make sure you are looking good!

A house with no hall or foyer...... where to hang your coats?

I promised to show you our little cloakroom when we revamped our downstairs toilet and you have to go through the one to get to the other.  Here we are at last, and first, in the corner of the dining room, you might spot this interesting little door next to the bookcase.....

 and if you open it - Hey Presto!  here's where we hang our coats, on a custom made coat rack made by dear OH.

....... The next picture shows the same tiny space from the downstairs toilet which you can see right here

and the door to the toilet is here.  Stop!  What's that little basket doing?  That holds hats, gloves and scarves.  Don't know where I got it, had it about 20 years - I think it's make from woven raffia, so it's soft and malable, and holds loads.  Special offer from a magazine perhaps?  Anyone else recognise it and remember?  See below for a closeup!

So - there we are, a place for the coats!  and just in case you missed it, the shelf about holds spare small towels, and my flower vases.  And for the architectural students out there.... the coat hooks?  Beginning of 20th century, around 1911, from a house on Hampstead Garden Suburb, London.

Monday, 1 April 2013

B & B first guest loved my breakfasts!

Well, that's it!  have had my first B & B guest who was as quiet as a mouse, was out walking all day, and told me that my breakfasts were amazing! As she was staying for 3 nights, I decided that 3 different breakfasts were in order, and that I was not going to offer
bacon sandwich "full English" at all, but was going to do something that was not hard
work, and not like everyone else's.  So. The three breakfasts were as follows:

1.  Eggs Benedict
two halves of an muffin, buttered, topped with Parma Ham
and poached eggs served with Hollandaise Sauce.  Toast and
home made preserves.

2.  Sausage Breakfast
Four large pork chipolatas from local farm shop, four hash
browns, and two tomatoes halved and lightly fried, served with
tomato sauce.  Toast and home made preserves.

3.  Bacon Sandwich
Natural yogurt with fresh stewed rhubarb.  Bacon sandwich made
with malted brown bread, no crusts, sliced thin and gently toasted;
four rashers of local, unsmoked back bacon.  Served with tomato
sauce and a side of fresh mushrooms.

I have looked after many friends in my time, and regularly have my sister to stay for a week.  It was therefore interesting, but not hard work to have a stranger in the house.  The only thing I have never done before was do tea and coffee making facilities ..... got a big old tray, decorated it and varnished it, and on it went:

Bottle of filtered water (from our tap, not from shop) - also drinking glass
Container with tea bags, coffee sachets, fruit and earl grey teabags, hot chocolate, sugar.
Mugs, small dish with spoon (handy to put used teabags in)
Small plate in case they bring in food (likely)
Container of milk
Daily small treat (in this case, day one packet of chocolate eggs, day two,  two banana flavoured biscuits, day three, packet of dried fruit and nuts).

Finally, little laminated welcome note telling guests how to switch on TV, what books they can take away if they like, what to do with their towels etc, and to ask if they need anything.  Also, in the bathroom, a little tray with spare toothpaste, spare soap, spare shampoo just in case.

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...