Saturday 19 January 2019

The Mill

I have a sort of thing about mills. We used to live in a railway house called 7 The Mill so presumably one of the bigger houses was the mill.
I don't know. Just that the river was nearby and the big house above it was presumably the mill. There was a bridge across the river. It was one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.  I sold the house within a year of my husband dying by which time I was thirty eight. I couldn't bear to live at this house we had built together. That along with the house where I lived when I was a small child, the farmhouse where we lived when first married and the house I live in now which has all the original fireplaces and a lot of lovely stained glass are my favourites of all the houses I know.
Anyway, back to  mills.  I read a lot of Victorian fiction and mills do tend to come into it. The Mill on the Floss I am about to read. I'm in love with George Eliot at the moment.  I fall in love with a different victorian writer each year somehow. Last year it was Elizabeth Gaskell and before that it was Henry James. Anthony Trollope is my top novelist. He has written a wonderful book called the Vicar of Bullhampton and a mill is the most important building in it.
My great grandfather was a miller in Stanhope. I had forgotten that until this moment. He was also a painter and painted lots of cows and hills. I wouldn't say he was a brilliant painter but we liked his paintings and I like the smell and the look of mills. I've visited many but the one I loved best was the mill where my husband and I used to go to collect our flour in the early days of our marriage. I don't even remember where it was, I think somewhere in Northumberland but it was a sort of pilgrimage. I used to make bread and make all different kinds of loaves. I made a wonderful rosemary plait and breakfast buns which had wholemeal flour in them.
Lately since my children brought me a tagine and a cookery book back from Morocco I've started making flat breads of different types. I haven't done that for years but cookery is back in my life so maybe I will carry on like that, after thirty years of not making much bread I'm addicted once again.
I am rereading Elizabeth David's Yeast and Bread cookery. My old paperback is in a bad way so I'm thinking I might buy a good hardback copy if I continue on like this.
In the meanwhile I need to find a recipe so that I can make bread in the morning. There are certain things which smell so much better than anything else, fresh coffee, a red wine beef casserole, bread baking and basil. All my favourites. My garden is filled with herbs.
I used to treasure my lovely wooden worktops in my kitchen. Now they are all covered in burn marks and rings of stuff which I put down and left. I was going to sand and varnish them but I'm not going to because I'll be so busy filling the kitchen with the smell of fresh bread and chicken with green olives and preserved lemon tagging that I don't care about daft stuff like that any more.

Monday 7 January 2019

Any Day but Sunday

When I was a little girl Sunday was always the best day of the week. Sunday night was rubbish because we had to have a bath and Monday was school but the dawning of Sunday was the best ever.  We didn't have the kind of awful Sundays which other people had, church and silence and being good except when I had to go and spend the afternoon in my father's car with his parents as he drove them around the reservoirs! I soon got out of this and elected to stay at home with my mother since I was always horribly car sick. You can get out of a lot of stuff if you can claim car sickness. threaten to throw up on the leather seats gets you a long way.
Apart from that Sundays were good. My father hated church. I think it had something to do with the idea that he thought his mother wanted him to be a vicar. Thinking back I think he probably imagined this or made it up since his father owned a steelworks and he would undoubtedly end up there but anyhow he had an aversion to church so we never went. Sunday school was awful so maybe I went once or twice but to us Sunday was the day when you did what you wanted.
The Sunday papers took up a huge amount of space, my mother spent her morning peeling vegetables, checking on the roast and helping herself to sherry. I don't think my father did anything much other than read the newspapers
We ate at one or was it two?  Whatever, we were always very hungry by the time we sat down and ate and boy, could my mother make a Sunday roast. We didn't have pudding but you didn't need it. We would have half a dozen vegetables, Yorkshire pudding which my father and sister had first smothered in gravy and white pepper and the cauliflower had white sauce and the meat was always superb. My mother was a farmer's daughter and wouldn't have settled for anything less. We had pork with crackling she had laced with salt, sirloin with horseradish, lamb with garden mint, never chicken. By then chicken had become almost commonplace. We had turkey at Christmas.
On Mondays the leftover from the roast was minced or turned into a frying pan dish with potatoes and onions.
On Sunday evenings when we had tea it was pork sandwiches with sage and onion stuffing and of course my mother made the stuffing.  And in the afternoons she made cakes.
How on earth she found the energy I have no idea.  I was thinking earlier today that we all went to private school and every garment had to have a name tag sewn on to it. She had help but dear God, it must have been tedious. We had a big house, loads of washing and ironing, three meals a day, mostly hot meals though as we got older we had cereal for breakfast which must have been a blessing.
After I married we determined not to have Sunday dinners so Sunday was still the best day of all. We ate in the evening, I made a good dinner every night, no fish fingers and chips for us. we made the best of the day and then ate late with good red wine.
Now Sunday is the hardest day. Living alone makes weekends almost endless, Sunday is empty so you have to fill it with things and sometimes it's too difficult;. Now Monday is my official day off so I like Mondays better than any other day. I don't take the day off. I work early and late and in between I usually go to the spa and toddle up and down he pool and then read. Monday is wonderful, things are back to normal and I stop holding my breath. Every day now is better than Sunday.

Saturday 22 September 2018

What the Dickens?

Victorian literature is my thing at the moment. I have read most of Elizabeth Gaskell and Anthony Trollope, who is my favourite and I am moving on to Charles Dickens. I was put off him at school with Hard Times. Who would not be, it's full of awful people like Mr Gradgrind and the vision of school is about to put you off and I wasn't happy anyway.  I had read David Copperfield as everybody does and that was about it.
I can remember when I was a little girl watching The Old Curiosity Shop with my Dad on Sunday afternoons, they did each story as a serial and I thought poor little Nell.
From the twenty first century I have to say that Dickens was lousy at writing about women, except comic women. Let's face it he was lousy with women. His wife had I don't know  how many unnecessary children, and don't tell me he didn't know what was doing it or it was religion, he was much too smart for that and then he had whatever her name was on the side. Selfish bastard.
I also feel for him that his own children were generally useless but he wanted his end away. Also he got a lot of nasty colds. Being a lots of nasty colds person myself I do sympathise but Little Nell??  Excuse me, these days she'd be Big Nell and kick ass all over the place.  Miss Havisham?  Yes, destroying one to the most loved images of Miss Havisham, who having sat amidst her wedding feast for twenty years, then dies in a fire. Oh, come on. She didn't change her clothes, she didn't eat, she didn't do anything?  Tosh.  My great grandmothers would have got up off their respective arses and kicked those guys into the middle of next week.
Trollope also is a man writing about women and making them obey their 'masters' i.e.their fathers or their husbands. Very funny. Because you marry a guy you do what he tells you?  Unless you have had a very bad childhood with weird ideas I don't think in this country women have ever done such a thing. But hey, it would have spoiled a good many stories and at that time I suppose readers were quite happy with it so I have to take it for what it is.
I am about to embark on Bleak House which pleases me much more. Esther is a very strong woman, the story is a mystery and the construction of the book is just dandy. It might even see me through the autumn. Oh and I have read A Christmas Carol, it's one of my favourites. Scrooge is fabulous and also I think a book about a railwayman. I can't remember the title so in fact the more I think about Dickens the more I have actually read and some of his comic characters are the best in English Literature.

Sunday 19 August 2018

You are what you read

I hope so because I am trying to read the classics. The ideas are better, the whole thing lifts you because the language is choice.  I read Dracula last week. How on earth he thought it up I have no idea but I did wish I could have lunch with Bram Stoker and ask him.  He chose - or it chose him - the most difficult way to write a novel, it's letters and journals and has many different viewpoints. The language is wonderful, the ideas awesome. Yes, vampires were known but I don't think anybody had written anything about them or nothing that I've heard of and he inspired whole generations of people who are smitten with his notions. The only thing is - nobody has made a film which is following the book and it's essentially a suspense novel. If you stick to the book it should work very well.
I watched Atonement the other day, the film I mean. I do find Ian McEwan almost impossible to read. I lose patience with him but his ideas do make great films and for this one the script writer stuck closely with the ideas from the book although they filmed it without all the coming and going which obviously seemed unnecessary  Even so it is a complex affair and an exquisite film. I also loved it because it had it its premiere in Redcar where they filmed the Dunkirk scenes. A wonderful wonderful film, a thousand extras and three hundred crew and you can tell by the film itself that everybody was enthused, I think there can be nobody with more dedication than a film crew, all that patience, all that repetition, all that time and effort and money. Well spent here I think.
Of books - I have moved on to the American by Henry James. I have listened to a version of it on audio though have no idea about the ending because I keep falling asleep but I'm very interested and it was one of his earlier books. James woos me with his meaningful prose.  There was something on Facebook today about who you would ask to dinner if you could have anybody in the world, in fiction or out of time and at any time. I would definitely have Bram Stoker and Henry James, then Elizabeth Gaskell and Charlotte Bronte.
I would take them to my favourite fish restaurant where we could have sea bass and dry white wine.
If I could possibly take a nice man just to even things up I think I would have David Tennant. We could talk about Shakespeare and how things have moved on and have not. I love Hamlet and Lear and it would be lovely to hear his beautiful Scottish accent amidst his and everybody's else's fine intelligence.

Sunday 5 August 2018

I have given this up

I haven't posted here since April when it was obviously chucking it down. We now have the opposite problem and are baking in the worst or best depending upon your viewpoint heat in many years.
I thought well, I must have spilled my guts by now, so having nothing to say other than fictional I have stuck to killing people off in my stories. My daughter was quite upset about the ending of the last one. I wasn't too happy about it myself but as I told her it was nothing to do with me. I don't write the stories, I just sort of tootle along with them and hope for the best. That's the Quarryman's Wife.
One of my reviewers said it was too complicated and had too many characters. Quite right. I kept getting lost off too. You think you have problems, reviewer, I had to write the damned thing, again and again and again.
I'm a book on now and that was like shovelling manure too. I wonder if it's getting harder because I'm getting older. I'll be sixty eight in two months time. I told the optician on Friday that I was seventy six. She did think I looked good for it.So I can't remember how old I am - it doesn't bode well for my marbles.
I am just trying to be a better writer. I am therefore reading what I hope are decent books and have just finished Felix Holt, by George Eliot.  I am accused of writing abrupt endings. My endings are not as abrupt as George's. One minute it's hell and the next  - I won't tell you in case you are intending reading it. I did get a lot out of it. The language was heading in Shakespearian direction for being brilliant. She doesn't plot any better than I do, I didn't know whether to be pleased about that and her agent these days would tell her to cut it by half and get rid of all those characters. Guilty again but oh, if I could write like George Eliot.
I did find her rather serious and Felix has a nasty habit of telling Esther what to do like a lot  more men in Victorian literature. I have never forgiven Mr Palliser in The Palliser chronicles, for regarding his daughter as a pretty plaything. If he'd been in Durham when my great grandmothers were around they would have hit him with a shovel. They were serving pints in bars then and running dairies and undoubtedly not taking any shit. I love this Victorian fallacy that women didn't work and that men took all the decisions. Not here, mate.
When I first found out about feminism I had to look hard at myself and everybody around me. Yes, it's true most women have had a bloody rough deal for years but not in my life then.
I know my father was horrified when I married at twenty two but that was because he didn't care for my choice of husband and almost every father alive has that problem.  He was very pleased when I got a job. And horrified when I gave it all up to stay at home and write. My mother was even worse than horrified, I'm sure they thought they had done something wrong when I announced I was going to start writing novels. Parents have a very bad deal all round.
My father was a big believer in education so it must have been awful because having sent us all to what he thought were good private schools we turned out to be academic idiots. Poor man, he must have wondered how on earth we would survive but like a lot of other spoiled selfish bastards we did okay.
I'm about to start reading Dracula so who knows what will happen in my next novel. I can't wait to find out.

Tuesday 3 April 2018

Are you sitting comfortably?

Well, you shouldn't be.  According to the Guardian, tv presenters and almost everybody on the English speaking planet it is 'sat comfortably.' I must stop trying to wince as the language goes down the drain. 'Twice ' has disappeared. Everything now is  'two times' which is very odd. Your floor is not 'twice as clean' because of the environmentally devouring wretched stuff you are cleaning it with, it is 'two times' as clean. I thought  'two times' was in maths tables only but since we don't seem to have those any more either it has disappeared.
I am assured that such things don't matter. I shall try to be more mature and rise above it. However after a bank holiday weekend where the rain never stopped and we were all so stressed to hell that we wanted to kill one another ( insert 'each other' here if you agree with the tv presenters and the Guardian) I am feeling grumpy.
The tv adverts drive me potty. That one where the couple have a white carpet, a baby and a large dog and then start trying to take the deep dirt from their carpet with some vacuum that throws hot water at it leaves me in despair. They are then sat comfortably and their floor is eighty eight times as clean as it was yesterday when they hoovered until the carpet was threadbare. Why are people so obsessed with germs? If your house is that clean your child and your dog will have no immunity.
I remember someone telling me that my house was so dirty that my child, who was crawling around on the floor with the dogs, would never get anything. Consequently she rarely did succumb to infections. Can I spell succumb,  or am I turning into other people and don't care?
But as an older person I now want clean floors and for my daughter's dog not to take food off the table and not to make muddy paw marks. Life is hell when it's clean and also when it isn't. I mind about so many things that I didn't used to. I wish I could say I was turning into my Mother except that my Mother never cared about germs and floors and an older age hell which I seem to be entering.
Grumpy old person here. Living on my own has turned me into somebody who would have insisted on having ironed newspapers if such things still existed. I am like somebody's great aunt who had a complete weed free drive. Perfection is my aim. How awful.
I hope you are now all sat comfortably because you had a better bank holiday than we did or perhaps you were sat in Stansted airport for hours instead of sat in the sunshine on the Costa del Sol. I shall now take ' sat ' and shove it where the sun don't shine. Oh dear.  I have a feeling that that ought to be 'doesn't' but of course colloquially  - and is that the correct spelling - it don't really matter none, folks.

Tuesday 27 February 2018

Drops Dripped (Kapli kapali)

I'm about the embark on War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, one of the greatest of all books. I have been put off by the length, by the fact that I didn't think I would understand it, by all kinds of prejudices which I cannot explain. I thought it would be dull. There now.
My cousin read it last year and I have never heard anybody say a) that they finished it or b) that they enjoyed it and she is not the sort of woman who would piss you about for form's sake so I duly bought a copy and put it away. Coward! Or maybe just what my favourite psychologist says is procrastination and sometimes procrastination takes you to a better place to begin something.
This afternoon I sat down in the summerhouse and began looking at it. I don't know why I thought I wouldn't like it. I love Victorian novelists, Elizabeth Gaskell, Anthony Trollope. I adore Edith Wharton, I'm gaining on Henry James. There was something so fascinating about their books. Their plots are big and wide and complex and so are their characters. Best of all women feature largely. I don't know about Dickens I think I had him thrown at me at school and therefore don't care for him but that doesn't seem fair. I will give him another shot. Yes, some of his heroines were clots but that was the way some things worked at that time and he does character building like nobody else.Writers are of their time.
My cousin told me that I had to get a good translation, this was the key to success and I think I have. Also I have done some reading and now know a great deal about the man himself, his problems and his failures and his triumphs.
There is great argument about whether it's a novel and about the kind of language which he uses. Apparently in translation, which has many options, a lot of the repetition which he used is scrubbed out or changed. We are taught not to use repetition. The funny thing about it is that last night I restarted my current working effort and the first page is full of repetition, as I meant it to be, it's all about mood and atmosphere.
Tolstoy works on many levels. For a start he writes in Russian, French and German. Then he is actually a historical novelist whereas most people of the nineteenth century seem to write about their own times but he chose the Napoleonic wars. Or it chose him. I'm never quite sure how that kind of thing works.
So it was a new kind of book in that he weaves in and out of the story, he talks about all sorts of stuff, they call it authorial intrusion, I love to use it but generally it's not done. I like that he does it and I look forward to all the methods he makes use of. There are no rules, only some people would like to make them. I remember reading Smilia's Feeling for Snow and it's a mess of a book and blindingly brilliant. I always loved it, all prose and poetry and ideas, weaving in and out all over the place and that's really all that matters. If you are caught up the ideas, then the writer has a successful book be it novel or no.
Tolstoy's parents died when he was a small boy and obviously he needed a good kick up the arse when he was young and lost the family house, a country estate I think, playing cards. I would have clipped his lugs all round the house but of course if I'd been there as his mother he wouldn't have owned the house and couldn't have lost it because I would have sorted it out so that he couldn't. He became a soldier and finally at thirty five ( which is when most men grasp the idea  ) he married and settled down and spent five years writing this book. That's what writers need, a place to be, somebody who loves them, the space which becomes vacant that you write into when you have peace. So it may have been war but Tolstoy was at peace and I'm looking forward to sitting in my summer house over the next few weeks getting to know the joys of this man's prose and poetry. I'm sure he speaks my language.
By the way the title is the translation, literally, of kapli kapali  The bit goes
'Drops dripped. Quiet talk went on. Horses neighed and scuffled. Someone snored.'
Isn't that beautiful?