Perverse and foolish

I was a voracious reader as a child; I read all the book sin our house, and all the books in the children’s library, before borrowing my mum’s library tickets and having a go at the adult section. However, I would go back to the children’s books for my favourites, and ones I read and reread many times were the Green Knowe series by Lucy M. Boston.

There were six novels,

  1. The Children of Green Knowe
  2. The Chimneys of Green Knowe
  3. The River at Green Knowe
  4. A Stranger at Green Knowe
  5. An Enemy at Green Knowe
  6. The Stones of Green Knowe

… but I think I only read the first three, as the latter ones were published in 1961, 1964 and 1976. Green Knowe was an old house, full of ghosts and spirits which the children in the story had adventures with… actually, I really ought to read them again as I have forgotten much of what the stories were about. Green Knowe was such a magical place, I have such a strong sense of it, and I never realised when I read the stories as a child that it was based on a real house.

Lucy M. Boston is a fascinating person, and I’m reading her biography at the moment, ‘Perverse and Foolish’. if only I had known when I was young and reading the stories, that green Knowe was actually The Manor, a house I had passed dozens of times in Hemingford Grey where our cousins lived! I may have well passed Mrs Boston in the village street!

In another curious thing, I was talking to friends of ours who live just down the road, and it turns out that they also had relatives in Hemingford Grey, and on one occasion, they met Mrs Boston who invited them into the Manor to look round! The house, it seems is open to visitors, so next time we are in the area, I am going to ring in advance and arrange to visit… I will read the novels again before I go!

Midnight in Peking

I was just thinking about a favourite bookshop, and a book I really want to re-read…

‘Midnight in Peking’ is a book by Paul French, subtitled ‘The Murder That Haunted the Last Days of Old China.’

There is rather a comical story attached to me buying the book in Waterstones Weston-super-Mare, but it’s only really funny if you know me! The bones of my story of buying the book is that I’d heard an excerpt of it read on BBC Radio 4 and decided to get a copy. However by the time I got to the shop I had forgotten not only the name of the author but the name of the book as well.
“Hi, I wonder if you have a copy of a book set in China before the second world war… it’s not fiction, it’s a true story about the murder of a young English girl.”
Helpful assistant: “What is the title?”
Me: “Um.. something like ‘Murder in Old Peking’ … it’s written as a story but it’s true, and it’s really gripping; I heard it being read on the radio.”
Helpful assistant: “Who is it written by?”
Me: “Sorry, no idea, but it was an ordinary name like John or James or Richard somebody.”
Helpful assistant: “On Radio 4? We get a list of their books, I’ll have a look.” She consults the computer.
I mumble more stuff and then she calls over the handsome assistant.
Handsome assistant: “I think I’ve heard of that, just a minute…”
Both are now furiously tapping away at their computers while I witter on irrelevantly.
Handsome assistant: “‘Midnight in Peking?'” he reads a précis. “Who killed Pamela Werner? On a frozen night in January 1937, in the dying days of colonial Peking, a body was found under the haunted watchtower. It was Pamela Werner, the teenage daughter of the city’s former British consul Edward Werner. Her heart had been removed…?”
Me: “Yes! That’s it!”
I follow the handsome assistant through the store and he finds the last remaining copy…

It is a fascinating, and heartbreaking story. As a parent I was riven by what Mr Werner had to go through, appalled by the corruption of the various police investigators, disgusted by the cynical cover up of the British establishment trying to ‘save face’ before the Chinese…  ‘Midnight in Peking’ paints an intriguing and detailed picture of life in China before the war as the Japanese invaders were approaching, the decadence and depravity not only of the low life in the rough area known as the Badlands, but the duplicitous depravity of the ‘respectable’ American and European professionals.

Paul French has done an incredible amount of research which sits lightly on the narrative and yet informs and intrigues… and horrifies!

Happy birthday, Charlotte Brontë!

Happy birthday, Charlotte, what a long time ago since you were born – two hundred and one years to be precise! I know you are quite elderly, but you will be pleased to know you are very popular today, and not just because you are on some exam syllabus somewhere, but because people love and read and reread your books!

You were born in Thornton, in West Yorkshire, the third daughter of your father, Patrick  and mother Maria. Your big and oldest sister, Maria must have thought you were an early second birthday present for her – she was born on St George’s Day, and also Shakespeare’s birthday, 23rd April. Your other sister was Elizabeth, born between you and Maria.

Your family moved to the vicarage in Haworth, and what a busy place it must have been, because a year after your arrival, your brother Branwell was born, then the next year Emily, and last of all, in 1820, baby Anne arrived. After all the happiness and excitement of the safe arrival of you six children, tragically, your mother died when you were only five years old.

Your life had many very sad, heart-breakingly sad times; you were bereaved by all your sisters and your brother, and you yourself died before your time when you were just thirty-eight, leaving your father to mourn his family.

However, on your birthday, let’s celebrate your life and be thankful for your wonderful legacy, your poems and of course your novels, Jane EyreShirleyVillette and The Professor.


Life, believe, is not a dream
So dark as sages say;
Oft a little morning rain
Foretells a pleasant day.
Sometimes there are clouds of gloom,
But these are transient all;
If the shower will make the roses bloom,
O why lament its fall ?

Rapidly, merrily,
Life’s sunny hours flit by,
Gratefully, cheerily,
Enjoy them as they fly !

What though Death at times steps in
And calls our Best away ?
What though sorrow seems to win,
O’er hope, a heavy sway ?
Yet hope again elastic springs,
Unconquered, though she fell;
Still buoyant are her golden wings,
Still strong to bear us well.
Manfully, fearlessly,
The day of trial bear,
For gloriously, victoriously,
Can courage quell despair !

Charlotte Brontë



Mark these rounded slopes

Poetry month… one of my all time favourite poets, whose  work I loved before i knew anything at all about him, W. H. Auden. Apparently this was written in Italy in 1948.

In Praise Of Limestone

If it form the one landscape that we, the inconstant ones,
Are consistently homesick for, this is chiefly
Because it dissolves in water. Mark these rounded slopes
With their surface fragrance of thyme and, beneath,
A secret system of caves and conduits; hear the springs
That spurt out everywhere with a chuckle,
Each filling a private pool for its fish and carving
Its own little ravine whose cliffs entertain
The butterfly and the lizard; examine this region
Of short distances and definite places:
What could be more like Mother or a fitter background
For her son, the flirtatious male who lounges
Against a rock in the sunlight, never doubting
That for all his faults he is loved; whose works are but
Extensions of his power to charm? From weathered outcrop
To hill-top temple, from appearing waters to
Conspicuous fountains, from a wild to a formal vineyard,
Are ingenious but short steps that a child’s wish
To receive more attention than his brothers, whether
By pleasing or teasing, can easily take.

Maybe you will be interested in this:

The seasons beautys

April so far has been a lovely month, and although there is still a chill in the air, it’s lovely to walk round with bare arms and bare legs and in sandals and shorts. In our little village, the bluebell field is more glorious than ever, I can’t remember seeing it so blue, so very blue, with just a dappling of cowslips and late primroses. My featured photo is from last year, by the way!

It’s poetry month, so more from John Clare’s Shepherd’s Calendar:

The seasons beautys all are thine
That visit with the year
Beautys that poets think divine
And all delight to hear
Thy latter days a pleasure brings
That gladden every heart
Pleasures that come like lovley things
But like to shades depart

Thy opend leaves and ripend buds
The cuckoo makes his choice
And shepherds in thy greening woods
First hears the cheering voice
And to thy ripend blooming bowers
The nightingale belongs
And singing to thy parting hours
Keeps night awake with songs

With thee the swallow dares to come
And primes his sutty wings
And urgd to seek their yearly home
Thy suns the Martin brings
And lovley month be leisure mine
Thy yearly mate to be
Tho may day scenes may brighter shine
Their birth belongs to thee

Absent in the spring,

Poetry month, and I came across some suggestions for the ten best poems about spring:

  1. Spring – Gerard Manley Hopkins
  2. A Cold Spring – Elizabeth Bishop
  3. The Waste Land –  T.S. Eliot
  4. Today – Billy Collins
  5. The Trees – Philip Larkin
  6. O were my love yon lilac fair – Robert Burns
  7. Sonnet 98 – William Shakespeare
  8. In Perpetual Spring – Amy GerstlerI
  9. Young Lambs – John Clare
  10. The Prologue to The Canterbury Tales – Geoffrey Chaucer

I’m not familiar with all of them, but here is one I am familiar with:


From you have I been absent in the spring,
When proud-pied April dress’d in all his trim
Hath put a spirit of youth in every thing,
That heavy Saturn laugh’d and leap’d with him.
Yet nor the lays of birds nor the sweet smell
Of different flowers in odour and in hue
Could make me any summer’s story tell,
Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew;
Nor did I wonder at the lily’s white,
Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
They were but sweet, but figures of delight,
Drawn after you, you pattern of all those.
Yet seem’d it winter still, and, you away,
As with your shadow I with these did play.


Mixed feelings… yes, it’s another book club book!

The Trouble With Goats and Sheep‘ by Joanna Cannon… We’re reading that for our next meeting on the first Sunday in May; it seemed such an interesting book that I plunged in and I’ve read it already! I say ‘seemed’ which sounds a bit half-hearted – it is a good book with an intriguing story told from several different points of view, but mostly by a precocious ten-year old girl called Grace. The book is set during the ferociously hot summer of 1976 when Britain was seared by heat and lack of rain. However, the roots of the narrative go back nine years to events which happened in the small cul-de-sac where Grace and the other characters live.

It is an intriguing story – and I do, without reservation, recommend it… however… as usual, it’s me that has the problem, not the book… it is written in a certain way and in a certain style, which at first I thought was clever and amusing, but I began to grow tired of it, and in the end it became a barrier to my enjoyment. For example, in the first few pages, this delightful sentence: ‘People drove their cars with the windows down, and fragments of music littered the streets’…  I really liked that, and there were more similar sentences and phrases and descriptions, but in the end it was like eating too much of something too sweet… and I became really irritated… so by the time I was near the end and read ‘A parade of people joined together by tedium and curiosity, passing each other’s misery around between themselves like a parcel’  … I just heaved a sigh. It seemed to me there was too much clever writing, and it distanced me from being fully engaged

It’s a great mystery story, well-paced and with little hints and nudges towards the answer to what happened and who did what to whom, and the characters are very believable. I’m looking forward to meeting my reading group friends to see what they thought of it, and one other little niggle… did any of them find the ending flat and really disappointing (and not very clear) ?

Before I buy another book by Joanna Cannon, I’ll really look through it because if it’s written in the same style – ‘quirky’ was mentioned on the back cover, then I will probably give it a miss!