Saturday, 29 March 2014

Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker

Miss Hargreaves

There is a little bit of magic within the pages of this book. The modern term would be magic realism.... but when written back in 1940, probably better described as supernatural.  It's a republished classic if you like, in paperback from The Bloomsbury Group who are, like Persephone and others, finding books that should be republished and enjoyed, having been lost for a while.  Indeed I see that they are publishing Paul Gallico's Mrs Harris books; a joy I intend to revisit.

Back to Miss Hargreaves (which must be pronounced Hargraves, the author is keen to tell you).  Set in the 1930’s, two young men find that a character they have invented over a beer or three has turned up as large as life in their town.  But did they just invent her?  For here she is, living and breathing, with her little dog, her parrot, and there she goes, causing havoc among the people of the fictional cathedral city Cornford; which could be Winchester, which Baker knew intimately, or Chichester, or Salisbury..... if you know of a cathedral and its staff, its choir, its way of sitting above the town, you will recognise Cornford.  It's set around 1930 when Norman and Henry, two young men of the town take a holiday in rural Ireland.  Whilst out and about they are caught by a storm in a small country church and, whilst chatting to the sexton (and as youth does, making fun of him without him catching on) they invent Miss Hargreaves.  And when the storm clears, on their way to the pub, and of course, in the pub, they fill in their invention.  Her age, her looks, her history, her belongings.  They love the thought of the old trout so much that they write to a fictitious address and invite her to stay in their town when they get back from their holiday.  It comes as rather a shock to Norman, the teller of this tale, to find a telegraph awaiting him at home, acknowledging the invitation, and asking that he meet Miss Hargreaves when she arrives at the railway station!

It did flag a wee bit in the middle, and if this was a new book, I suspect the publisher might have asked the author to cut around 50 pages - but don't be put off.  It's easy to read, and is witty and amusing.  However, rather like The Monkey's Paw, Norman should be careful what he wishes for.
Recommended as a different kind of read.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

March's challenge (and very late, a lot going on here!)

So sorry, forgot to give you a challenge for March!!

 Read a book with fish in the title  e.g.  Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Thank you Mr Bissell! (for your hand held steam cleaner)

This is a pic of the fabulous Bissell Steam Shot 2645
I had been thinking about a steam floor cleaner, but rather than spend a lot of money outright, I bought a hand held steamer as an experiment to see if a) if did the cleaning, and b) if I liked the idea..... Oh.  Wow. And also My Goodness!  Yes, it cleans, and Yes, I like it!

I'd better make it clear that I am not being paid for this blog post, and in fact Mr Bissell, if he is actually still around, will have no idea I am writing this, but it is a long time since I got excited about household goods!  This little beauty has cleaned the tiles in my kitchen, the doors of the cupboards in my kitchen,  the fridge (inside and out), skirting boards, removed dirty marks on walls, and I haven't even started yet..... It is simple to operate, comes with loads of attachable nozzles (although I did most of my cleaning with the neck you see in the pic) and a huge length of flex making it easy to get anywhere you want to go.  It also comes with 2 e-cloths, which take grime off easily.  I kept both on the go in a bowl of warm water with a little bit of Oxy something or other to get the dirt out.   When I'd finished, the water was d.i.r.t.y. and everything else was clean.  Score!

And the best thing of all about it?  NO soap; NO detergent; NO bleach.  Hardly any elbow grease either, and it runs on a half a cup of water at a time, which gives you steam for ages and ages. You have to wait a few minutes when it's empty before you remove the top and refill with water (but you can always stop for coffee (after all you will have done loads already!).  Yes, you have to plug it in to the electric to get the water hot for the steam, so if you are "green" minded, this could prick your concience, but as the only power you use is for heating the water and keeping it up to temperature you will soon realise that it's worth it's weight in gold (or rather in steam), especially as it has a thermostat so it only switches itself on when you have used some steam, so that it can create more, and then the light goes out again.  And no nasty stuff entering the water supply, or clogging up your drains.

I got this from Lakeland, where it is £10 cheaper than Bissell's own site.  This just might be my buy of the century!

Friday, 14 March 2014

Goodbye to Berlin - Christopher Isherwood

One of those books I thought I ought to read.  Now I have, I'm glad I did.  The stage musical and film "Caberet" was based on parts of this book.

Isherwood lived in Berlin for four years from 1928, and was certainly in the right place to observe the changes in Germany at that time.  It's rather oddly put together as it was to be part of a grand novel about pre-Hitler Berlin which never materialised: and in Isherwood's own  words, this little book is made up of "..... short, loosely connected sequence of diaries and sketches".  If you want to know more of Berlin particularly in the years before Hitler came to power, you might find a few hours in the company of this book refreshingly different - although ultimately depressing with the gift of hindsight.  Divided into six sections, you could choose to read them as 6 short stories; I just ploughed straight through and he was right about the loosely connected sequences.  I always question how the majority of Germans fell under Hitler's spell, and this short book gave me some things to consider about that question.  At one of the lodging houses described here, his landlady has a large apartment in Berlin, but by 1930 has fallen on such hard times that she rents out every available space and sleeps on a couch behind a screen in her own living room.  He also lodges for a time with a family who just have nothing at all, and live in filth and poverty.  Of course, parts of other large cities were like this, and around the world this kind of poverty still exists ...... but if someone comes along and says follow me and I will right the wrongs of the past, might you not follow?  Because Isherwood is English, his view of Berlin is rather different, and making his meagre living as an English teacher, he observes life, and people.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Garden: Helenium and Sparaxis

Sometimes, in the middle of winter, gardeners yearn for a blast of colour out there.... I try to ensure that there is something or other out every month of the year - currently, lots of minature daffodils, and some  Helebore (Christmas Rose), which of course are not roses at all.  But when perusing those catalogues for temptation in January, I always find something bright and lovely that I haven't got yet.  These arrived today - 100 bulbs of Sparaxis, and 5 plantlets of the Helenium

Sparaxis tricolor
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Sparaxis - a bulbous perennial with star shaped flowers of orange, red, white, yellow and copper on a delicate stem in spring if grown in pots, Late Summer and Autumn if planted direct into borders.  1 foot high.  Good for cutting.

Helenium 'Double Trouble'.  Late Summer flowering hardy perenial, will grow to 3 feet high 


Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Guttering: system of open pipes on a building that collects and carries away rain

It's been raining a lot in the South West of England.  For a long time.  Climate change?  Maybe, maybe not.  If you are reading from outside of the UK, just google "Somerset Levels Flooding" and you will see just a little of the problem that we've had this winter.  Further south than Somerset, here in Dorset, our flooding has not been so traumatic, but water goes a long way and sometimes here in the confines of our little cottage, things happen!  In July 2012, we had a short but intense adventure because of a heavy storm here.  Now, two years later, a little something turned into a rather big something.  I'll try and make a long story short, but I blog this by way of a warning.... you'll have to read to the end!

On 23 December, we had water in our bathroom (no really, not from the taps!!) when rainwater started to run down the wall between our bathroom (added in 1900) and the original housewall probably built around 1800.  No-one does much over the Christmas holiday, but we managed with saucepans and towels until mid January, when it stopped raining for a few days to allow workmen up the scaffolding.  We've had new lead lining in the gulley between us and next door and we had an "end" put on next door's  guttering, as that was where the water was actually coming from. We didn't know that the end of that run of guttering was missing... it's at the back of our house, and because of the layout of the terrace, it is not something we thought to check.  Ever.  Anyway, we paid for a new "end" to next door's guttering (a few £s only for that, the cheapest bit of all the work but the cause of some heartache and a hole in the bank account.......!)

Next the plasterer, to work on the ceiling of the archway which was formed by cutting though the original house wall when the newer bit of the house, now the bathroom and kitchen, was added in 1900.  The house walls are around 21 inches thick - solid stone.  The plaster on the ceiling of this opening had to come off, as half of it had fallen down when the leak was at it's worst.  So he chipped it all off.  What he exposed was the original lintel, a 3 inch thick piece of oak (thank goodness it was oak, read on!).  The water egress had been happening for far longer than any of us imagined - Two thirds of the lintel was wet rot, and above it, the rest of the house wall!  Imagine!  The thing is...... our house, built in around 1800, with mortar would have been lime mortar.  When you centrally heat a house with old lime mortar eventually it dries out and crumbles. And what was above that rotting oak?  several large stones in the original house wall, with nothing holding them up at all, the mortar having crumbled.   EEEK!

Thank goodness, the plasterer is actually an all round builder.  He brought in an acroprop (huge peice of metal that holds up ceilings when people knock walls down), shored it up and fitted a concrete lintel.  Then re-mortared all the stones (not with lime).  And finally, when we were talking about the roof space which was never insulated, he asked me if I wanted it done whilst there was a hole in the bathroom ceiling?  Yes I did!  So we are now safe from falling masonry, have a fully insulated roof space, and tomorrow will have everything covered by a new coat of plaster.

We are happy, warmer,  and several hundred pounds poorer.  BUT THE POINT IS:  see what a missing bit of guttering can do?  Check around your house ASAP!!

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

A time of Angels - Patricia Schonstein

A triangle - two men who love the same woman, one her lover, one her husband, and friends since childhood.  And when that woman is seduced by her lover into leaving her husband, things start to go wrong, little by little.  Add to that the arrival of Lucifer in answer to a spell gone wrong when Primo attempts to get his wife back and you can see that this is not your ordinary story.  Pasquale, the baker, sausagemaker and cook; owner of a small but successful cafe in an Italian enclave in Capetown, South Africa, loves Beatrice, and was her lover before she accepted the proposal of marriage by Primo, who is a magician and soothsayer.  Primo has always loved Beatrice - since childhood - and marriage makes him whole.  He's not too worried about Pasquale, who has many lovers.  Why should the removal of one make any difference?

Set not too long ago in modern Capetown, but in a part of town few might recognise, this is a beautifully odd tale with a moral ending, written in a flowing and poetic style, which for that alone makes it worth the read.  Also worth it to hear about Lucifer (the light holder), who far from being the devil we know, has a specific and very hard job to do.  So when Primo conjures him up whilst casting a spell over Pasquale to pay him back for stealing his wife, things soon go awry, and other people are affected, in ways they don't understand.

 Lucifer's explanation of God took my breath away, especially as Lucifer's specific job was a knock-on effect of human-kind's warring ways.  So don't be put off if you come across this short novel, read to the end.  Enjoy.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Blog Challenge of the month - March

How about this.......

For March, read a book with a position of royalty in it's title

e.g. When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka
        Little Princes by Conor Grennan

The Novel in the Viola - Natasha Solomons

Product Details
First the cover(s).  At the top the original, which I found so attractive, and perfectly fitting to the story, and the second, issued I am sure to help book sales.  If I had seen the second in a bookstore, I wouldn't have given it a second chance (I bought the book on recommendation).  Still, one man's meat and all that....
Natasha Solomons' second book is rather more sombre than her first, Mr Rosenblum's List, but still uses the problems of Jews as immigrants.  It also uses a real location (although the name is slightly changed) -  the now abandoned hamlet of Tyneham on the Dorset coastline, once full of laughter and tears, work and play, and a beautiful Elizabethan manor house;  which was requisitioned for the war effort - a place where soldiers could train to fight the enemy during WW2.  At the end of the book there is a short explanation of how the village was taken over, and what happened to this glorious little piece of history.  Don't leave out the author's note when you get to the end of the novel.
Elise Landau, a Viennese Jewess, only nineteen, is told by her parents that she must apply for a domestic help's position in England.  Being the baby of the family, and always having been pampered, she is shocked when the reply arrives to tell her that she has the job and is expected.  She leaves behind her mother and father in Vienna;  her sister and new husband having already been granted exit visas to America. She arrives in Dorset and is taken by horse and cart to the house where she is to work - from the sparkle and music of Vienna, from a life full of music, dancing and parties, to scrubbing floors, polishing tables, and eating in the kitchen with staff.  It's hard.  But harder still is the non-arrival of her parents to Britain, for they cannot obtain exit visas.  Her employer, widowed Christopher Rivers, and his son Kit, are differing personalities, but both kind and welcoming, and it is Kit that Elise soon falls in love with.  It is his father who attempts to raise enough money to pay the bribe for the exit visas.
Reading the first page or so, I was reminded of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, with it's haunting first line "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again"; and although the story is very different, it does have that same quality.  It has laughter and tears, a beginning, a middle and an end, and in that way, will be welcomed by many readers as a proper story.  Elise herself, a very spoiled child-woman at home in Vienna, turns into something entirely different during the course of the book. I savoured it all whilst weeping inside for the fate of not only all those lost in that war, but also the fate of a tiny slice of Dorset, which I knew of, but never saw.

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...