Saturday, December 27, 2014

Reality Check

In May I went to Appleton woods with Meg, Ben
and their father Tom, and found this sea of bluebells
I'm not longer going to apologies for failure to add to this notepad during the year, but instead to accept the reality of this being, probably, an annual catch-up/look back. It's a measure of the laid-back feel of this Christmas that I started writing on Christmas Eve, but because of the able assistance and innovations of the Christmas Elves [aka Gillian and Phil, who have abandoned their usual interactive computer designing to fiddle with a chestnuts and pancetta dressing for the sprouts, and apple and prune stuffing for the Bird.  But what's been happening? My first literary anthology Pleasures of the Garden was published in March, and seems to be doing rather well. Next March sees the publication of Pleasures of the Table and the year after that Pleasures of Nature. It's great fun roaming through my ragbag attic of literary memory, as well as combing my own shelves and those of the London Library for inspiration.
I'm now working flat out on a book I've long wanted to write, a survey of books about the Thames of all kinds, some early chronicles and seekers after the picturesque to gritty modern day psychogeographers. The Thames has threaded its way through my life from childhood, when I crossed it at Richmond to get to school in Hampton, walked beside it to the ice-rink of a Saturday, shook to the Rolling Stones on Eel Pie Island and learnt to sail in a Merlin at Tamesis Sailing Club, to now, when I have a British Moth sailing dinghy and my camping punt Dulcibella to play with on the peaceful waters above Oxford. To be published by the Bodleian Library in 2016, Writing The Thames  will be similar in approach to my Writing Britain.

In April, I met up with Fran, Gillian and other friends and contemporaries for the 50th anniversary of our arrival at Newnham College, the turning point of my life. Strange occasion, struggles to recognise life-worn contemporaries, and full of startling flashbacks to our blithe Then, - we're so much wiser now.
Early in May, I had a little Lake Country spree - being filmed on locations around Coniston and actually on Peel Island for a Location Featurette on the DVD of the remastered 1974 film of Swallows & Amazons. 
In June, I enjoyed exploring George Herbert's country around Salisbury, after having been inspired by John Drury's wonderful Music at Midnight. Then I went to a conference about Helen Waddell. Both are writers who, like T H White, remain enduringly important to me.
I had a lovely intense week working at Gladstone's Library in June; took a day off walking in Anglesey and found this lovely gate: I also revisited Plas Y Newydd, enjoying the Rex Whistler wall paintings and memorabilia. It is a tragedy that he died so untimely in the Normandy landings.
Old age caught up with me in July, I developed a lurgy of the innards that sent me to hospital and knocked me out for six weeks; cancelled trip to Norway and Baltic cruise with brother Peter. All is now well thankfully.

Once recovered, as well as working on the Thames book, I had a great summer on it: punting more often than sailing, lunching moored on the boom by the Henley finish line in a punt made by John Eade (creator of Where Thames Sweet Waters Glide)), who knows far more about the river than I ever will.
Gardening was also productive, especially for potatoes: having just enjoyed the film Despicable Me, I was delighted to unearth this vegetable minion. The grandchildren aid and abet.
In September, Henry Eliot, who organised the Malory Caper a year or so ago and is now making a living as a literary walker, organised a Lake Poets weekend. We stayed at Greta Hall, once the home of Robert Southey and S T Coleridge, now an excellent B&B. Everyone took on a literary character, then we tramped hills and dales quoting relevant poems. We all took turns to cosy into these huge wooden hands; they can be found on the western shore of Derwentwater, just north of Manesty.

In October, Fran and Meredith and I took the Waverley steamer to Southend; it was a wonderful way of seeing the estuary, the part of the Thames I know least well. Waverley  is lovingly maintained by volunteers, and have been restored to her original grandeur, with tea-, dining- and drinking-saloons, gleaming mahogany benches and lloyd loom chairs. Most spectacular of all is her engine, a jungle of huge steel pistons, brass dials and copper wires. She leaves from Tower Pier and returns at night: the bridge opens for her, which is especially fine at night, when the bridge looks hung with diamonds.

In November, I went to stay in Venice with Gillian and Phil; they met me at the station with wellies as there was an 'acqua alta', as exceptionally high tides are called. Halfway through my visit we went to Ravenna, as I love the mosaics at Torcello, and was keen to see the  famous much earlier ones at Ravenna. I hadn't realised how strategically important it once was, hence the splendour of its churches. The mosaics have been amazingly preserved/ restored, surely a mark of how much they have been loved. Next year, I'm going in June, so I can go out on the lagoon in Granseola, their newly acquired vintage boat.

Later that month, proud granny watched seven-year-old Olivia being the inn-keeper's daughter in the English National Ballet's Oxford production of Coppelia; she was chosen because she is a star of her theatre club. She bustled about in a very composed manner, and even came on all alone dancing in a whirl with another small boy. Curtain calls were made very diverting by her bouncing up and down in delight.
Finally, we held our annual family get together at brother John's house this year; Peter couldn't be there as he has just remarried and is in Cape Town. But ten of our children and an ever-increasing third generation were there. No picture as yet, but here's the 2013 one, which was held at my house, to be going on with.