Thursday, 19 April 2018

The Fair Weather Gardener - Springtime in an Inherited Garden

Springtime is exciting! There are at least 16 varieties of flower in my garden at the moment and I've done nothing to encourage any of them since last year. As I've lived here less than three years I'm still discovering things as I get more on top of the place, which was hugely overgrown when we arrived.

These are all native - I mean as opposed to being introduced to the garden by me :-

Heather, a largish (for heather) bush of dark pink flowers has been in flower since early December. It's nearly over now and going brown, I may need to prune it.

Camellia, covered in vivid rich pink flowers has been flowering since the end of the cold spell in March, the flowers are browning now and starting to fall, but still lovely. I thought I didn't like pink ...

Forsythia is a glorious blaze of rich yellow spires up to eight feet high, after having not a single flower last year - I had pruned it heavily so probably my fault, never had Forsythia before so I didn't know.

Kerria Japonica Pleniflora - is covered in pretty yellow multi-petalled flowers and I didn't even know I had this shrub! Last year I cut down a load of winter Jasmine in the corner where this has appeared.

Snowflake - white flowers like tall snowdrops on very long stems, these have been in bloom since January, almost over now.  The problem is they produce huge amounts of tall, densely packed leaves which swamp smaller plants, so I'm cutting them back as they finish flowering.  I will dig quite a lot of them out as they're spreading, unbidden.  There was a small clump of proper snowdrops too, much prettier but they didn't flower for so long - I still prefer them and will transplant some more.

Hyacinths in white and pink have been planted (not by me) in random parts of the garden - they keep falling over but do smell nice. I'd guess they were originally gifts, in pots, planted out after flowering.

Bluebells, the gorgeous little cousin of the hyacinths, are just coming out - a few of them are white.

Tall Daffodils are just finishing and being eaten by snails.

Primroses, the pure yellow variety, very pretty rosettes of leaves too, but I need to control where these appear they can cause allergies.

Tulips in yellow and red - some even striped - are dotted around, I may try to move them into clumps for better effect - or just plant lots more.

Grape Hyacinths - or muscari to you!  Delightful little purple/blue flowers beside the path and also  popping up in unexpected places. And the bees like them too.

And the following I have planted in containers and pots:-

Rosemary - there are two small bushes in separate pots just starting to flower, I've also planted one in the ground as I want a decent size shrub by the lawn - this one not flowering yet.

Miniature daffodils (Tete a tete) are still doing quite well in their pots, away from the snails. I'll put them in the ground later.

Magnolia 'Susan' - a shrubby variety with long slender purple flowers - it has survived in a pot for 8 years in the cold north, is now burgeoning in the south, though still in its pot. Should I liberate it? I'm tempted but not sure where to plant it.

Fritilleries - I planted these as bulbs early last year in pots and tubs, they've come up for the second year running and were looking wonderful until the sun came out. Then I saw a few holes in the blooms and thought damned snails. Today I saw the beautiful scarlet of several lily beetles... two of them were mating. Oh well, the fritillaries were fun while they lasted. I refuse to use insecticides.

Viola - super little variegated purple and white ones which I planted in springtime last year, in the same tub as some of the fritillaries, and they haven't stopped flowering ever since!

Hydrangea - a deep pink one which starts as variegated buds, very pretty, bought in Morrison's. Deserves to be planted somewhere...

Oxalis - pink flowers just beginning to come out. But it's very invasive, I keep trying to pull it all out... oxalis you have been warned!

White Heather is lucky. It's in a pot and I will plant it once I've decided where...

... and then around the lawn there are glorious golden dandelions which the bees are very keen on, and lovely little white daisies with yellow centres and deep pink rims to their petals. You might call them weeds, I just weed around them.


Sunday, 25 March 2018

...if nobody speaks of remarkable things...

... is a 2002 novel by Jon Mcgregor.

I picked it up because I'd heard his name and heard of his 2017 prizewinner, 'Reservoir 17'.  I'll read that next, just ordered a copy,

but back to ...remarkable things... 
“This is ecstatic writing..” said the TLS reviewer of this book and they are exactly right.

This is a Breughel painting of a story, set in a street in a Northern English university town. The writing seems straight from the mind in free flow, freefall even, it reads as uncensored, unedited, unaltered and I hope this is so. When the ideas, the words just pour from the mind and onto the page and keep coming and keep coming it is a kind of ecstasy. Most writers will then take it apart, edit, adjust, re-arrange into something more conventional, more deliberately structured. More ordinary. This book is extraordinary. It’s not perfect, it is remarkable. I will read it again once I’ve got my breath back.

That's how I feel about the quality of the writing, as a writer myself. I'd like to think non-writers can enjoy the book just as much, it isn't a difficult book. I'm sure I would have loved it 30 years ago before I considered myself a writer. It's a rolling wave of a book, carrying you along for almost it's whole length with the anticipation, then breaking suddenly and shockingly, even though you were expecting a shock, before dumping you on the beach, feeling forlorn that the ride is over.

The storyline holds so many characters, few with names, but their lives on a street during one summer day are so empathetically detailed that you feel you know them all: 

The little boy with a red scooter who travels joyfully and up and down the pavement of the short street. The graduate student slowly and methodically packing his somewhat bizarre collection of possessions before moving to another student house. The married woman whose resident in-laws have gone out for the day and who goes to bed with her husband for a short joyful interlude  while their children play cricket in the street. The mischievous twins who spy on a neighbour doing his exercises in the nude... There are students, young couples, families, old couples... all play a role in the narrative. 

If I mentioned all the characters I would write another book. One girl student's narrative weaves through the others in first person and leaves the short, one day timeline, although all the observations are not hers. This was the one part of the book which I found slightly less satisfactory, her story was perfectly good, I just found it distracted from the ride. However it tied in with the ending. 

I won't say more, no spoilers. I love this book! Do read it if you haven't.

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Amsterdam by Ian McEwan - review

This story begins at a woman's funeral and I soon wished it had begun 20 or so years earlier when that entertaining sounding lady was very much alive and bounding around between all her lovers. She was probably engaging which is more than you can say for the lovers, and the husband, who congregate at the funeral.

Coincidentally another novel, also by an Ian, although with an extra i (Iain) also begins at a funeral. Here is the first sentence of both novels:-
"It was the day my grandmother exploded."
"Two former lovers of Molly Lane stood waiting outside the crematorium chapel ..."

The first is the opening of Iain Banks' delightful mystery "the Crow Road," Banks remains one of my favourite Authors. The second is, obviously, from Amsterdam by Ian McEwan and the entire book is not up to the author's best standards. The writing is probably clever, his writing usually is, but the characters are so unlikeable that one doesn't give a damn, I had to make myself go on reading.
The portrayal of composer Clive Linley shows a convincingly vain and self-centered man convincing himself of his own genius (even while acknowledging that
the term is over-used) and blithely disregarding his responsibilities to his friends and to a stranger who he witnesses being attacked. He is only obsessed with completing his masterpiece, his millennium symphony which will premiere in a few day's time. There are some good descriptive passages on his surroundings in his chaotic home and when he goes hiking up towards Scafell Pike.

Meanwhile Vernon Halliday, insecure editor of upmarket newspaper 'The Judge', is less rounded as a character. His surroundings are hard to visualise, although an office is an office is an office - maybe that's the author's point - and his motivation is muddled. One thing he is clear about is his desire to bring down Julian Garonwy, the Foreign Secretary. Garonwy is equally unlikeable though even less detailed.

The end is surprising unless you're paying attention early on, which I admit I wasn't really, but it's not a shocking finale unless you cared. I didn't. Oh yes, Amsterdam is the location of the story's denouement, otherwise it's totally unimportant.
Ian McEwan's position as one of my favourite authors is in danger of slipping. This is actually my second attempt at getting through this story of arrogant men, being arrogant. There's meant to be some humour here, but it's hard to spot, there is room for so much more. 


That's my review published on GoodReads - for some reason I can't get this blog to link directly to the review, so I've copied.

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Friday, 23 March 2018

My Desert Island Discs - the first is ‘Black, Brown and White’ by Big Bill Broonzy

There should be eight tracks (not Albums) chosen to accompany you, if you have the misfortune to be cast away on a desert island (and just happen to have with you a wind up gramophone). It’s a barmy premise, but so are many methods of selection and this one was invented for a radio show which began on the BBC Forces Programme on 29 January 1942 and has been running ever since.

When I was a young child there was always music on the radio, including Desert Island Discs. There were, always LP’s around, some with fascinating, brightly coloured covers. We had a big radiogram in England, a smaller more portable record player when we moved to Aden. The records came with us and we accumulated more, from the Naafi, from Bhicajee Cowasgee which was the biggest department store in town and from passing ships, which included American warships.
Some of the records were by smooth solo singers such as Sinatra and Nat King Cole, which bored me.  Also there were soundtracks from musicals, ranging from obscure ones like ‘Kismet’, based on the music of Russian Composer Borodin and ‘Irma la Douce’ (a French stage musical which my parents must have seen when it was on at the Lyric Theatre in London) to Hollywood blockbusters such as ‘Oklahoma’ and ‘South Pacific’. I could probably sing along reasonably accurately to one or two of those soundtracks if they were played today.

But then one day in Aden my dad brought home ‘Big Bill’s Blues’, a compilation album of Big Bill Broonzy’s songs. One song stood out and I was old enough to understand. It was the beginning of my awareness of what was happening in the world, not only immediately in my surroundings in Aden, but also in America and around the world. ‘Black, Brown and White’ is Big Bill Broonzy singing, in a very deliberately calm, laid back way, about his experience of racism;
"They says if you was white, should be all right,
If you was brown, stick around,
But as you's black, m-mm brother, git back git back git back."
I've never forgotten those lyrics or the impact they had on me. So this song is my first choice for my desert island sojourn, just to remind me about the reality that I was missing, full of irrational prejudices and abuses.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Reading Habits Regained

My reading habits have changed drastically over the past ten/fifteen years or so and I 'm trying to put my finger on exactly why. I used to live for books, I could read novels at the rate of ten or a dozen every month - as a teenager it was probably double that, I read my way through the entire science-fiction sections of two public libraries before I found real boys were more engaging than robots and dystopias...but what teenagers do is a different story.

Over the past five-seven years my novel reading fell to about zero. I'm trying to rectify this. January  illnesses (mine and another's) kept me largely indoors, so I've begun to make a conscious effort to get off facebook, get off the news sites, get off-screen entirely (if briefly) and to read fiction - read actual books made of paper. I've got enough of them, what's the point of keeping them if I don't read?

Found I still like Barbara Vine, The House of Stairs was completely compelling, finished it at three in the morning then couldn't sleep. Come February I had to travel north, a long train journey there and back to see how far it is - just as far as I remembered but I can read on trains.

I actually bought a new novel, Gail Honeyman's prizewinning Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, expecting a Bridget Jones type scenario and finding something better, darker and much more unexpected. If I get around to putting it into my Goodreads listings it will go onto my 'might-read-again' shelf. It's currently sitting on a bedside table in a place too far away to care.

So back to the south, back to Barbara Vine.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Haiku in October - only one day late!

Sun shines on small children      

in Greenhead Park, muddy boots

bounding through leaves.

Sun glints on Greenhead

drakes, who float on silver pond   

and wait for spring.

Sun glows through oak trees,

 slow without warmth, raining gold

 and bronze at dusk.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

'Dead Famous' by Ben Elton, Book Review

There's been a murder in the Big Brother house, only it's not called the Big Brother house, because the fictional TV show is called House Arrest. The plotting is clever, keeps the reader in suspense, but apart from the inevitable, cynical old cop, the characters are not sufficiently different to always know who is speaking.

But my main objection to the book is nothing to do with how well or badly it's written. It's just that, I thought of it first!  Big Brother was obviously asking for a murder, or even several!  I'd conceived a parody of an Agatha Christie style murder mystery, but hadn't committed anything to paper before Ben Elton came along with Dead Famous... dammit!

Is it worth reading? Maybe not. This isn't Ben Elton's best book and Big Brother became a true parody of itself long ago so, really, who cares?