Sunday, 30 June 2013

Bee Food!

We have a large area of grass - it's not a lawn, but it's nice to have, and we do nothing to it except cut it, and from time to time dig weeds out of it.  We don't water it in hot weather, we don't feed or re-seed, and every year, there will be a flush of wild flowers.  This year we had huge patches of clover, which bees love.  Couldn't bring ourselves to deny the bees, so here is our answer:  a very bad picture (!) taken from the bedroom window, showing the two patches of clover we left for the bees.   Every day we have at least 12 bees on each patch, constantly, throughout the day, buzzing away.  And of those bees, there are many different sizes, shapes and colours....... a bee follower would be fascinated! 

If you have clover in your grass, why not be creative, and provide nurture for these lovely creatures.  They are in such a bad way in the world just now.... every gardener could help just a little.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Black Elder, or Sambuca Nigra "Black Lace"

I was out yesterday, looking for screening ..... for the garden.  We will have our  summerhouse up and ready to use in a few weeks, and its aspect is our garden (lovely!) and neighbour's garage (not so lovely!).  So thinking ahead, I want to plant a few big shrubs or small trees to screen the neighbour out.  I have a few things in mind, and this is the first .... 
Lovely, I think and quite, quite different.  The common elder is green leaved, and plain, not split leaves like this, and a very ordinary green, whereas this is dark dark reddish black - fabulous, and the flower heads are pink, not white.  I bought the biggest I could find (the picture is not mine but at least mine is around 4 ft high already, so I am hoping that within a couple of years it will be up at 10 ft. It will sit on my boundary, where I plan to have a few more trees (silver birches are nice and have catkins at the end of winter) and shrubs.  When we moved here 10 years ago, it was a 100 ft blank canvas.  We had the hedges, and the remains of a border near the house.  Over the years, I have planted, moved, split and done the usual things, and at last it is beginning to be a garden I really like!  And the lovely thing about gardening is that it's like painting a picture - if it doesn't look right you can always change it!

Monday, 17 June 2013

Bilgewater - Jane Gardam

Front Cover
If you are a Jane Gardam fan, you may just have let this slip past you because it was written with young adults in mind and you've perhaps thought  it wasn't for you.  Oh, change your mind, please!  And if you have never read any of hers, maybe you should start with this 200 page novel.
  When I found this recently in a second hand bookshop I felt I needed to read it - and so glad that I did.  She writes beautifully, wordy but never boring or condescending and you don't have to be in your teens to appreciate the feelings described.  You don't need to have any knowledge of boarding schools either (the book is set in one).
Marigold Daisy Green was born and her mother died.  A lumpy child with curly and unruly hair, thick lenses in her glasses, a father who is a housemaster at a boarding school in the North East of England and is one of those vague men who say little on every occasion.  So Marigold is brought up by Paula, the house matron, who spots the child's intelligence, and coaxes her along, teaching her to read, telling her that self pity is not something acceptable and dressing her in old clothes.  Paula, who hails from Dorset, is a lovely character, who knows what's right at all times -  and Paula is in love with Marigold's father.  The blurb on the back of this edition says "....falls in love three times...... Twice it is disastrous, but she is less ridiculous at the end than at the beginning......"   Gardam takes us on that adolescent journey, reminds us how it feels to grow from childhood to adulthood with all it's knocks and uncertainties; and when a crisis occurs in the adult world, reminds us that even academic children can do the right thing.  A lovely, lovely read.  Oh!, and Bilgewater? Marigold's father's name is William, or Bill, so she is Bill's daughter or Bilgewater to all the boys at school.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

The Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat

Putting yourself in other women's shoes is always interesting - and if you're male, don't let that put you off, because the author is a man, and he has managed to fill those female shoes spectacularly well!  Earl's All-You-Can-Eat is a diner in Plainview, Indiana and three of it's regulars are The Supremes - not the pop group, but three African-American women who have been sitting at the same table at least once a week since the 1960s, when the owner gave them their joint nickname. They've watched their town through the diner windows, they've exchanged news and gossip, they've told each other their secrets. Well - some of their secrets.

Now Odette has cancer, and is supported throughout her chemo by the other Supremes, piano-playing Clarice with her handsome, strong and cheating husband; and by Barbara Jean, recently widowed and drinking a lot.  During the course of the book, Odette takes some of the chapters and tells the story, whilst the rest of the chapters are written in the third person. An oddity, but doesn't make the book unreadable at all. And it hops back and fore in time, from school and teenage, to the present as the women get into their 50s.

These woman are the best of friends, the kind that support each other through thick and thin, who know what makes each of them laugh, and cry. There are more secrets to be discovered as you read on. Some may shock, some make bring laughter and tears. There is a description of a wedding that was the best tonic I've read for years because it is soooo awful that you can see every bit of it and just know what the next bad item on the agenda is going to be. Sex is mentioned - not lots, but enough to be real - especially the whoring lapdancer who arrives at a revival meeting to be saved but not before she has given the assembled congregation a blow by blow description of what she was up to at the moment she was moved to attend the service and ask for redemption!   And there are the ghosts..... that follow Odette around because she is not long for this world.  Her Mama, Barbara Jean's husband, Eleanor Roosevelt......

The back of the cover says "perfect for fans of The Help; Steel Magnolias, and Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe". Maybe, maybe not. But it's a wonderful read, whether you are black or white, male or female. You'll meet some great characters too, besides The Supremes. I laughed out loud a few times, and a shed a few tears too. Maybe you will! Read it and find out, but most of all enjoy this lovely read.

[copy of my Amazon review]

Sunday, 9 June 2013

At Seventeen - Janis Ian and a wonderful picture of teen angst

Listening to the radio tonight I heard a song I had never heard in my life - but I recognised the name - Janice Ian....... from my own early years, perhaps?  Couldn't place it at all, so the wonderful internet came to the rescue, and as soon as I saw the title "At Seventeen", it all came flooding back  - that feeling that everyone is better, prettier, thinner than you are.  What a great song (you can hear it on youtube) and here are the lyrics.

I learned the truth at seventeen
That love was meant for beauty queens
In high school girls with clear skinned smiles
Who married young and then retired.
The valentines I never knew
The Friday night charades of youth
Were spent on one more beautiful
At seventeen I learned the truth.
And those of us with ravaged faces
Lacking in the social graces
Desperately remained at home
Inventing lovers on the phone
Who called to say come dance with me
And murmured vague obscenities -
It isn't all it seems
At seventeen.

A brown eyed girl in hand me downs
Whose name I never could pronounce
Said, Pity please the ones who serve
They only get what they deserve.
And the rich relationed hometown queen
Married into what she needs
A guarantee of company
And haven for the elderly.
Remember those who win the game
Lose the love they sought to gain
Indebentures of quality
And dubious integrity.
Their small town eyes will gape at you
in dull surprise when payment due
Exceeds accounts received
At seventeen.

To those of us who knew the pain
Of valentines that never came
And those whose names were never called
When choosing sides for basketball
It was long ago and far away
The world was younger than today
And dreams were all they gave for free
To ugly duckling girls like me.
We all play the game and when we dare
To cheat ourselves at solitaire
Inventing lovers on the phone
Repenting other lives unknown
That call and say, come dance with me
And murmur vague obscenities
At ugly girls like me
At seventeen.

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...