Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Just for the Record

The garden is declining into hibernation mode, though the view from my window always lifts the spirits. High sky and the slopes of Wytham Woods, the great pine tree more visible as the tulip trees scatters its gold on the grass, the twin-spired holly determinedly solid, the low sun illuminating the silvery-grey bark of the soaring branches of the eucalyptus both at dawn and sunset.  Gladys, Edith and Maisie didn't know quite what to make of the first frost, but I put a thick fleecy rug over the top of the hen-coop and under the waterproof sheet that covers that half of their closed run in the hope that it would be a little less chilly of a night. Still three eggs a day, regular as clockwork. There is nothing quite like the warmth and softness of the early morning just-laid egg.
I'm at St Deiniol's again, but four days of staring at what feels unconscionably bad writing has had a dispiriting effect. Maybe the trouble is that I have been doing too much reading among the ponderous scholarly articles on aspects of the fifteenth century, and it has infected my style. I am writing good history but bad fiction. Retreat and regroup:  I read through all the excellent advice on writing fiction I'd garnered, and rearranged my now vast library of photocopies in a more logical order. Then I ordered up a couple more history mysteries from amazon and promised myself a diet of them when I get home. Although Christmas is nearing, I'm determined not to let it drop as it is so hard to gather together forward impetus. Point of view is a major problem. The book I began and have now relegated to number two in the series was far more bouncy and vivid - I was then not taking Alice's P of V. So maybe I should go back to her being seen from a distance [cf Gladys Mitchell]. More light and laughter needed. OR an total rethink: a quite different non-fiction group biography along the line of Phyllis Rose's brilliant C19 Parallel Lives: the interlaced stories of Alyce, Cecily Neville, Margaret Beaufort, Jacquetta Woodville, Duchess of Buckingham. Could be rather fun! Assembly of Ladies/City of Ladies??No, neither right . . .
Also strayed into the modern literature section - all manner of distracting treasures, including RS Thomas galore, Tolkein, Goudge, C S Lewis. Settled on Seton's Katherine as the nearest to appropriate reading
Interesting people here as ever - one put me on to a book called The Library at Night. I looked it up on the internet and found this review from the Observer 2008 and promptly orderd both it and the author Alberto Manguel's History of Reading.  So coming home should be a cornucopia of good things - to say nothing of continuing to listen to Naxos's magnificent new unabridged Kim, wisest, funniest and most haunting of books.


The grandchildren have been a great delight - it was Fox's 1st birthday on 7 Nov and I went to Tilly and Tom's house in Isleworth so that we could all go up together. Ben scooted with magnificent aplomb alond the embankment, past the Tower and to Browns, where the tea party was happening. A fortnight later they came down to ride on Cumbria, a steam train from Furness that was visiting the Wallingford and Cholsey Railway. Great fun had by all.

Granny Thursdays have been going well to - I am now much less ambitious about what I do with Sam and Olivia, and have realised that there are quite enough adventures to be had at Nutwood itself without making extra excursions. Wonderful chaos ensued from my bright idea of letting them cutting open the huge and unhandy compressed bag of wood shavings for lining the hencoop all over the kitchen floor, so that we could bag it up again. Everyone and everything was soon soused in the curiously adhesive stuff. S&O decided that they were chickens themselves and laid eggs [popped quickly under them by me] vigorously. Most days it has been fine enough to get a little gardening done - the bulbs they planted last month are already foolishly snouting through the earth, and the broad beans are over six inches high. The castle Ian found in a charity shop is also proving most popular.
Bridge thrives; Robin's and my thinking on play coinciding nicely, and we distinguished ourselves in duplicate at the Ferry the week before last apparently, winning two bottles of wine. Surely some mistake! I will miss Edward's amusing and instructive lessons on Friday morning, but now that Thursdays are lost, I can't afford another morning off. I'm aware that I'm probably losing myself too much in bridge, but for the moment, during this year of recovery, it seems no bad thing. A great gains are my new Mondays at the Taylorian with Fiona: a study buddy seems to do us both good; she battling with Salome, me with Alyce.

I am beginning to see the shape of next summer - a trip to the Channel Islands in June to look at gardens, and a camping punt adventure on the Thames - to see how far beyond Lechlade I can get. Good web contact with John Eade, whose magnificent Thames guide site Where Smooth Waters Glide I have already been enjoying. His book list, under Resources, is dangerously seductive. The punt is now in the I hope gentle care of Oxford Cruisers - though getting it there was not without incident. It was so contrarily-windy and fast-flowing in the wrong direction that the boss decided to help me with a tow, but thrashed past at such a lick in a narrow boat as he tossed the rope [I standing on the foredeck]shouting 'hang on tight!' that a wiser bird wouldn't have attempted to catch it. I did, then saved my skin by dropping flat on my face on the deck. Luckily my feet hooked around the edge of the deck, otherwsie nothing would have stopped me plunging into the fast-flowing and icy water. The sensation was not unlike water-skiing. I managed to get a better purchase on the tow rope by belaying it rhough the ring on the foredeck, but didn't dare attempt much more. At last we were in the calmer waters of the marina and I thankfully let go and poled Dulcibella onto the slip. Note to self: don't be quite so foolhardy. I should have let go a] straight away or b] as soon as I realised that I was in dire straits. On the plus side, I did it!
Very enjoyable time recording introduction and links for Pleasures of the Garden, the 4 CD anthology of gardening writing from Genesis to Jekyll at a little studio in Stonesfield on 30 November. It'll be out in April. And a Woman's Hour Christmas special to look forward to pre-recording on 18 December. So life is full of good little things, even if my dreams are a little bedraggled.

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