Thursday, 16 April 2015

The Impatient Rester

The exertion of moving house and all the work it has entailed has knocked me for six; it is the worst ME crash in years and my word how impatient I am to be back on my feet!  I am so bored of resting, of aching with tiredness and having to say "no" to things I really want to do.  Days seem to float past, each one much alike and it is hard to keep from getting depressed by the situation.  Now I do know that compared to many people I am incredibly lucky to be able to so much, but somehow that is never enough is it?  I want to be getting stuck into church things, helping out, inviting people over, going places, exploring, making, gardening.  The gap between what I can do and what I want to do is vast, a canyon, so if I say, "yes" to something or suggest doing something, then have to pull out, that is why.  In terms of energy my eyes are bigger than my energy reserves.

I am trying to stay positive, to take each day as it comes, be grateful for what I have, for the peace and chance to recover, but I am human and do not find it easy.  Maybe my calling right now is just to be?

A new arrival is helping make this time of resting bearable, I have adopted a small black cat named Willow from a local shelter.  She is about six, affectionate, determined, funny, sweet and loving.  There is nothing she likes more than a lap for the afternoon, cuddles by the hour and will sit on me in such a way that I cannot do anything else except sit, which for someone who struggles to rest, is invaluable.  I wish I had had a cat years ago, they offer great companionship.  I look forward to getting up now so I can go downstairs to see her.


Perhaps I should write soon about what I have been knitting while I have been resting?  For now it is time to head back to the sofa.

Friday, 3 April 2015

The Year in Books - the first two months

Alas moving house has absorbed all the energy (and some) of the first three months of the year, so I am catching up on the first two months' books in one post, then I will do another post for March and April.  First off is January's book, which was The Country Life Cookery Book by Ambrose Heath, originally published in 1937 and republished last year by Persephone Books.  It is arranged seasonally around the months of the year, each month starting with a wonderful illustration by Eric Ravilious and a short guide to what to do that month in the kitchen garden.  Heath's intended audience seems to be the relatively affluent country-dweller, who relies on what is available in local village shops and in the kitchen garden; and it is assumed that both are well stocked.  With an increasing connection now being made between growing and cooking vegetables, for example in some of the books published by Nigel Slater and programmes such as Kew on a Plate, it is interesting to see a writer ahead of his time in his insistence that there should be a greater link between kitchen and garden.  In arguing for this he draws on the work Vegetable Cookery by a Mrs Elizabeth Lucas, who "offers the revolutionary theory that the gardener should be under the direction of the cook".  While most of us today lack both servants, but his remarks on the vegetables to grow (or buy) and eat are still relevant and useful.  Unlike many gardeners of his day he argues against going for size and large quantities of a few crops, in all things he is driven by taste.  This comes across in his recipes, he writes with almost greedy interest and definite conviction: one of my favourite lines comes at the end of a recipe for an apple pudding, "Bake until the top crust is brown and crisp, and eat it with gratitude."

The second book, for February, is a novel, A Song for Issy Bradley by Carys Brae.  At risk of straying into cliché, I found this hard to put down and was utterly absorbed in its world.  However, it is one of those books that it is hard to review without giving too much away.  In short it deals with the effects of a tragedy on a Mormon family living in the North West of England and observes the events through the eyes of different members of the family in turn.  Throughout the family's faith both helps and hinders their grief and the novel explores the tensions of being a family living by different rules and beliefs to that of the community around them.  I rarely read modern fiction, generally having too much of the back catalogue to get through, but heard the short story the novel started off life as on the radio and needed to read the rest of the story.  It is beautifully written, cathartic (I did a fair amount of weeping), but not mawkish or depressing, do read it.

As ever you can see the other entries in The Year in Books here

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

More on change

So it's been over a month and I have managed to miss last month's book, though it could be rather dull, I have mostly read technical booklets lately, on thrilling subjects like how to work the oven or what insurance covers.  But I thought an update was long overdue.

I am finally living in my new house, after a long period of doing things and sorting out, it is not totally sorted yet, some of my furniture has yet to arrive and the books have yet to make the big move.  Although I never thought I'd manage to pack them all up, took nearly 40 boxes in the end.  There have been hiccoughs like the heating breaking down twice and rodent related issues I wish I did not have to deal with, let us just say that Rentokil are expensive but lovely.

All the work involved has been horribly hard on my health, ME, fibromyalgia and moving house do not mix well at all, I have been more tired and sore than in ages lately.  Emotionally it is weird too, I am not some who deals well with change: last time Waitrose moved stock around I nearly had a panic attack.  So a major life change like moving out on your own is good, but also feels odd, weird, strange and scary.  There simply is no turning back and going home and being the same, I cannot let myself and there were lots of reasons I needed to be out, but staying means being brave again and again and again.  Of course there have been happy times I have enjoyed, being able to welcome a friend to my place for the first time, exploring a new area (fantastic greengrocer up the road), being able to shut the door on the world, meeting a friendly local cat who insisted on exploring the house for himself.  There are things I am looking forward to like planting the garden or having friends over for dinner for the first time.  But there are also times when I start at every noise (not helped by aforementioned rodents) or wonder, "what next?" and "what am I doing here?".

Throughout the long process of finding, buying and moving in I have been praying about this move, there have been a lot of questions about whether this is right and am I doing the right thing?  And prayers that I would use this house to God's glory, to bring his kingdom here, to make people feel welcome and bless others.  Even now I am having doubts about the whole thing: leaving the familiar, even uncomfortable familiarity, is unbelievably hard.  I feel so shook up and strange, sometimes I look around and wonder what I am doing here and when the real owner is going to come home.  On top of this I am beyond exhausted and having to take a couple of days' off to recuperate.  Yet other people are so excited for me, which is lovely, but makes it hard to articulate how I feel at times.  In a way it seems ungrateful: this should be fantastic, instead I feel all mixed up inside.

I am trying to pray, to lean on God, to let him be my stability in rapidly changing times, prayer can be such a challenge sometimes.  He brought me through to here, he will keep being with me, I know he will, even though I feel a bit lost now.  The best way forward I suppose is to try keep praying and to take each day at a time and if that seems too long, take each moment at a time.  It will get easier, right?

Saturday, 17 January 2015


Sorry for the radio silence, life has been rather hectic (for someone with ME anyhow!) as I am preparing to move out into my own place! It's all very exciting and we picked up the keys yesterday.  In a lovely piece of timing today I turn 30, so it is a lot of change at once.  To be clear about how bad I can be with change, I have come close to having a panic attack when Waitrose moved its fruit and vegetable section around before, so this whole process has been challenging.  God has been good throughout though, without Him I would never have coped thusfar.  Here is to a new decade, in a new place (about a mile and a half away from here and closer to church), with the same God and no doubt a lot of knitting!

I'm going to miss this chap, hopefully I'll meet a new robin in my new garden.

Last year I read this poem by Dylan Thomas, written about his 30th birthday and loved it so much I decided I would post it here to mark my 30th:

Poem in October

It was my thirtieth year to heaven
     Woke to my hearing from harbour and neighbour wood
        And the mussel pooled and the heron
                Priested shore
           The morning beckon
     With water praying and call of seagull and rook
     And the knock of sailing boats on the webbed wall
           Myself to set foot
                That second
        In the still sleeping town and set forth.

        My birthday began with the water-
     Birds and the birds of the winged trees flying my name
        Above the farms and the white horses
                And I rose
            In a rainy autumn
     And walked abroad in shower of all my days
     High tide and the heron dived when I took the road
            Over the border
                And the gates
        Of the town closed as the town awoke.

        A springful of larks in a rolling
     Cloud and the roadside bushes brimming with whistling
        Blackbirds and the sun of October
            On the hill's shoulder,
     Here were fond climates and sweet singers suddenly
     Come in the morning where I wandered and listened
            To the rain wringing
                Wind blow cold
        In the wood faraway under me.

        Pale rain over the dwindling harbour
     And over the sea wet church the size of a snail
        With its horns through mist and the castle
                Brown as owls
             But all the gardens
     Of spring and summer were blooming in the tall tales
     Beyond the border and under the lark full cloud.
             There could I marvel
                My birthday
        Away but the weather turned around.

        It turned away from the blithe country
     And down the other air and the blue altered sky
        Streamed again a wonder of summer
                With apples
             Pears and red currants
     And I saw in the turning so clearly a child's
     Forgotten mornings when he walked with his mother
             Through the parables
                Of sunlight
        And the legends of the green chapels

        And the twice told fields of infancy
     That his tears burned my cheeks and his heart moved in mine.
        These were the woods the river and the sea
                Where a boy
             In the listening
     Summertime of the dead whispered the truth of his joy
     To the trees and the stones and the fish in the tide.
             And the mystery
                Sang alive
        Still in the water and singing birds.

        And there could I marvel my birthday
     Away but the weather turned around. And the true
        Joy of the long dead child sang burning
                In the sun.
             It was my thirtieth
        Year to heaven stood there then in the summer noon
        Though the town below lay leaved with October blood.
             O may my heart's truth
                Still be sung
        On this high hill in a year's turning.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Merry Christmas!

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas full of hope and joy.  I feel this poem sums up some of the majesty and mystery of Christmas and forms a counterpoint to the delights of turkey, tinsel and trimmings; it reminds us why we are celebrating.  I love the last lines, they are a reminder that God has intervened and brought His kingdom into our world, the curtain between the two has been torn and the new time has already begun.  Rejoice!


This was the moment when Before
Turned into After, and the future's
Uninvented timekeepers presented arms.

This was the moment when nothing
Happened. Only dull peace
Sprawled boringly over the earth.

This was the moment when even energetic Romans
Could find nothing better to do
Than counting heads in remote provinces.

And this was the moment
When a few farm workers and three
Members of an obscure Persian sect.
Walked haphazard by starlight straight
Into the kingdom of heaven.

U A Fanthorpe

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Fourth Sunday in Advent

December has been flying by, as it always does, so here is the fourth poem, another serious one, but shorter.  This poem brought me up short, it has overtones of Sleeping Beauty, but a better happy ending.  As Joseph says to his brothers at the end of Genesis, "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good", I find God's ability to bring good out of bad a great comfort.

The Wicked Fairy at the Manger
by U A Fanthorpe

My gift for the child:
No wife, kids, home;
No money sense. Unemployable.
Friends, yes. But the wrong sort –
The workshy, women, wimps,
Petty infringers of the law, persons
With notifiable diseases,
Poll tax collectors, tarts;
The bottom rung.
His end?
I think we’ll make it
Public, prolonged, painful.

Right, said the baby. That was roughly
What we had in mind.


Friday, 19 December 2014

The Year in Books December

Naturally my book for this month is Christmassy, how could it not be?  I am not sure how I stumbled across Christmas with the Savages by Mary Clive, but it is exactly the sort of book I would have adored as a child, gentle, funny and giving a window on the past.  It is an account of a child's Christmas in a big country house at the turn of the twentieth century, observed with a quiet humour and that rare ability to remember how things feel and look to a child.

Mary Clive photographed by Cecil Beaton at around the time Christmas with the Savages was published. Image National Portrait Gallery Collection
Mary Clive was one of the sisters of the social campaigner Lord Longford and was recalling her own childhood Christmases in the book.  Her life seems to have been heavily overshadowed by the two world wars, in the first her father was killed, devastating her mother and her husband died in the second.  Despite this she seems to have been a woman of great spirit and I would love to read her account of life as a debutante and her autobiography.  The illustrations are lovely and truly deserve printing on better paper to make the most of them.  Definitely a book worth reading.

I also thought, as it was Christmas, that I would share a few of my favourite Christmas books, first those for children and then those for adults.  However, there is no reason why the adults should not read the children's books, why should they get all the fun?

Picture books
The Snowman, Raymond Briggs - I read and watch this every Christmas, essential, see also his Father Christmas
Mog's Christmas, Judith Kerr - Mog gets scared of the walking, talking Christmas tree
Lucy and Tom's Christmas, Shirley Hughes - a gentle, London Christmas, I also want to read Alfie's Christmas and The Christmas Ghost
A Christmas Story, Brian Wildsmith - lovely retelling of the nativity story with pictures reminiscent of medieval manuscripts
The Jolly Christmas Postman, by Allan and Janet Ahlberg - packed with little surprises and wonderful illustrations

For older children
I love Noel Streatfield's descriptions of Christmas in books like Ballet Shoes* and Gemma, if you can get hold of it second hand she did an anthology, The Christmas Holiday Book, which is well worth looking for.
Likewise the Christmas in Little Women by L M Alcott is very special.
Just William At Christmas, Richmal Crompton - hilarious, I dip into this every year.

A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens - I'm not particularly a Dickens fan, but this is a gem and even if you feel you know the book from the numerous versions of it, it's well worth reading the original.  The descriptions of Victorian London at Christmas are wonderful.
Christmas Pudding, Nancy Mitford - very funny as she always is
The Everyman Book of Christmas Stories - a lovely collection and beautifully produced book
The Virago Christmas Book - a mix of writing about Christmas, not all soft and fluffy
Treasure on Earth, Phyllis Sandeman - out of print, but still available, autobiographical account of  an Edwardian Christmas at Lyme Park in Cheshire.  It is a delight and makes a nice companion to the Mary Clive book.

Finally, I would love to read Michael Morpurgo's Christmas stories, am hoping for P L Travers' recently re-released Aunt Sass and this year also plan to read Dylan Thomas' A Child's Christmas in Wales, as well as re-acquainting myself with the Paddington Christmas stories in the free copy of More About Paddington that came with the Radio Times.  While researching this I did find that Penguin have released a lovely looking collection of Christmas classics including Anthony Trollope's Christmas stories.

You have probably realised by now that I love Christmas books, what are your favourites?

I have thoroughly enjoyed The Year in Books series by Circle of Pine Trees, you can see the other December entries here.  I look forward to seeing what she suggests for 2015, certainly I shall continue to write about books, I do enjoy it.

*Try to get an edition with the original illustrations by Noel Streatfeild's older sister Ruth Gervis, which Streatfeild apparently felt had captured the book perfectly.  With such a perfect partnership between author and illustrator it seems a pity to me ever to change them, it would be like publishing Roald Dahl without Quentin Blake's illustrations.