Eight years ago, I put up a video of Alabama Shakes, whose lead singer was Brittany Howard. She has just gone out on her own, and oh man, is she ever good! Listen to what James Corden says to her at the end!
Tuesday, October 15, 2019
Gladys begins her summer chapter thinking about friendships, and ponders how they have changed in recent times. Her book was publshed in 1974, which was wrought with divisive politics.
You may remember when I wrote about Susan Hill's spring, I talked about how we can't even talk about the weather now without it being polarizing well, in Gladys' summer she says that weather is about the only "safe" topic people can talk about!
The Vietnam war has been blamed for many things ... for we now tend to keep conversation superficial in case that other person does not agree with our policy. We keep our cool, as we say, by talking about the weather, and sometimes I imagine all of us in some balmy climate where it never changes. What would we find to discuss? Would we sink into a tropical silence?She proceeds to talk about how this situation isn't true with our true friends.
This has nothing to do with real friendship, of course. A close, warm friendship is as rugged as a fishing boat going out to the wild sea on a dark day when the tide is high. My own dearest friends do not agree with me on many things, but we can talk about anything and argue and argue, and there is benefit for both sides. For at the core of this relationship is a community of feeling which is basic and has nothing to do with disagreements about politics, going to the moon, or whether we need a new development in the middle of town.
We love and trust a true friend for what he or she is, and living is more enriched by the relationship than words can express. There is in each of us, I think, a deep loneliness, and friendship eases it immeasurably. How sad to think it is growing so scarce nowadays when we need it most.Wow! She could have written that yesterday. I've heard of friendships breaking up in our current times. I've actually heard people say they could not be friends with someone of a different political persuasion. I told someone recently that our best friends are completely opposite to us in their politics but that matters not a whit. We don't talk about politics because we don't need to. We have way more important things to discuss like our lives and our families. These are the people whom we love, and they love us for who we are, period. We are so lucky and so thankful.
She ends her writings about friendship with these words.
I hope deep friendships will become less rare in our time, especailly since this world has become so impersonal, so much a matter of computers and ratings and machinery. We are not Social Security numbers; we are all individuals, no two alike, every one a whole being needing to experience real relationships and to have the blessing of mutual trust and friendship as we make our common journey through life.Just a few years after this was written, Bob Seger sang, "I Feel Like A Number". There was this young man singing her thoughts. Gladys is ageless and timeless.
I expect at least a few of you just must hear the song now that I've put it into your heads, so here it is:
Then without skipping a beat, Gladys begins talking about preserving the flowers of summer with potpourri.
It was used in the very early sixteenth century by queens and princesses - partly, we have to admit, because with the lack of sanitation and plumbing the ancient castles were anything but sweet-smelling.She describes how to make it, and how her eleven year old granddaughter "invents her own combinations". And then Gladys reminded me of something I've done only once, but am encouraged to try again this year!
Simply take a good orange (or lemon) and stick cloves in it all over, as many as you can possibly poke in. Then tie a ribbon around the whole fruit and hang it from a hanger in the closet. The spicy odor is a treat. As the fruit dries, it becomes more fragrant, and it lasts a long time.She writes of the wonder of fresh corn.
Once you have picked your own corn and rushed to the house with it and shucked it and dropped it in already boiling water, something new has come into your life.So very true! This summer has been glorious with fresh corn for many suppers.
New Englanders are used to tourists, then and now, and it was interesting reading what Gladys had to say. I have written about the kind of love/hate relationship all of us have with tourists. We love them, they support the local economy, and in some cases keep it going. We love seeing and meeting new people. But we hate the traffic, the crowds, and the occasional not-so-kind encounters. Not much of which has anything to do with me. I don't work. I'm mostly home. But I do have some young friends who work in the service industries that have had some difficult times with tourists. And I've occasionally heard about some of the trash left behind in our pristine areas. But I've heard nothing as bad as what Gladys writes! She begins by saying that most are "thoughtful, gentle people we are proud to meet".
... they appreciate everything about New England that is different. (I remember one man who said to me with awe, "I never saw an old house before.")
My own horizon is widened as I hear about their home places and just what the weather is like in January.
It is a sad commentary that the vast numbers of these visitors we enjoy so much are not counted, whereas the small number who are obnoxious are made the main topic of conversation. Unfortunately, it is bad news that makes headlines because it is more dramatic.Same as it ever was! But then she gives examples which horrified me.
What we notice in midsummer tourist season is that all the roads are suddenly strewn with garbage tossed from departing cars and that kittens and puppies wander crying along the highways, dropped off en route. [I am sure this was as hard for her to notice and write about as it was for me to read] Raw holes appear where someone has dug up a treasure to take home. Roadside signs are torn up; lawn furniture left near the roadside vanishes. Mailboxes are knocked over.
Our first sad experience was when the wrought-iron Stillmeadow sign by the picket fence disappeared. It had come from a special place in Maine and had a really beautiful wrought-iron cocker in the middle of it. I've often wondered just where the thief could put it or whether it was finally thrown away.
I have done a lot of wondering about many things, but I have decided as far as summer tourists go that the explanation is simple. Wherever you go, you take yourself with you. You pack your suitcases, close the house, arrange with the neighbors to pick up the papers and the mail, cancel the milk delivery, and so on. Then you drive off down the road. ... There is no solution to this problem for those of us who live with a summer season. After Labor Day we can get the community to clean up the roadsides, take the trash to the dump, put up new road signs, fill in the holes, and so on.Here is a picture of the sign.
Gladys goes on to write of August's heat, and dreaming of snow and icicles. And then she writes of a subject dear to my heart.
There are two theories in my valley about defeating the heat. One is to keep all the windows shut all day, open them at night, and shut them at sunrise. The other is to leave every window in the house open and let whatever breeze there may be drift lazily in. I prefer this, for I love open windows.Well, I have always, always been the latter. I'm an open window girl. But I am the living example that you can indeed teach an old dog new tricks! As I wrote here, we got some window air-conditioners, and they have really changed my life. Even if they are not used every day, those hot, hot days are now bearable to me. I can continue with my life instead of feeling limp and half dead. And really, I must thank my daughter and her husband for the example. Matt is a keep-all-the-windows closed kind of fellow, and I had to admit that their house was a lot cooler than ours on the stifling days. And then they put in a couple window ACs, and man, the difference was even more marked, so I gave in, and am so happy I did!
And because of this new way of living, for the first time in ages I could feel the words of Shakespeare which Gladys quotes. "Summer's lease hath all too short a date." I loved this summer.
I was pleased when she wrote
I am happy to say a good many experts now feel even dieters should eat some potatoes, because they have something no other vegetable has. And they also do something to raise the spirits in a special way.An interesting side note is I was watching an episode of the 1990s British television show, Pie in the Sky, when a man who had been two years sober tells a friend that he is having a bit of a hard time, and so he eats pototoes! They somehow give him a bit of the feeling he got from alcohol.
You may know that Gladys' house was built in 1690! It has a "coffin door" in the cellar. It was so coffins could be carried downstairs and out to the waiting wagons.
I believe a very old house holds its memories of all the lives that have been spent there. Some of them must have been sorrowful and some happy, some difficult, some easy. But there is an overtone of happiness in this house which most people feel as they come in. ... Houses all have personalities, at least to me, quite apart from the furnishings and décor and style, but this sturdy, ancient farmhouse has a special gentleness built into it. It is one reason we never felt restless. I said traveling is all very well if you can get home at night. I would be willing to go around the world if I came back in time to light the candles and set the table for supper.That could be me talking. This woman who lived from 1899 to 1980 is as alive to me as can be.
Saturday, October 5, 2019
Monday, September 30, 2019
Susan Hill's "Spring" chapter in The Magic Apple Tree may just be the best writing I've ever read about English country life. It was so beautiful that I almost couldn't believe she was talking about a real place. It sounded like a fictional Eden. But this was her real life in the early 1980s in a town called Barley. Even that name! It sounds made up, but England is full of interesting town names.
I know that she is living somewhere else now, but I would so love to read her reflections about that town now. I'd love to know about any changes she sees in weather or birds or outdoor work or the people living there.
As Giles Wood wrote recently in The Oldie magazine,
Weather has certainly become less enjoyable to discuss.And that's really the truth. Weather is now political, like most everything else it seems. I love hearing about weather in the past. I like to see how much it was like now, or was different. Giles again, quoting an 1878 nature diary by Richard Jeffries,
Summer cold in June. Shivering in the parlour with lilac and flowers in the grate and apple blossoms in the garden. Yet cold, and all the green things dripping.I recently read an entry in my mother's diary from the early 1970s, I think, where she was lamenting that it was 80 degrees in the morning!
Memory is just not reliable. Tom keeps a weather diary, and it is a good thing for us all to do. "It hasn't rained this much in July ever" someone might say, but unless we look at the facts we don't know if that is really true. And now when we hear someone talk about the weather we either think it is an example of global warming (which Mr Wood says scientists are now calling global heating, "as warming sounds too agreeable"), or the listener is reminded of a period of time just like that years ago. It's a funny old world just now.
All this is a long-winded preface to talking about Susan Hill's words from nearly 40 years ago. I liked reading them without any political connotation. The weather just is.
The weather is grey, it is cold still. The blossom looks like snow against the sky. And then, one morning, there is snow, snow at the very end of April, five or six inches of it, after a terrible stormy night. ... And another day, just before the blossom withers and shrinks back into the fast opening leaves, there is the softest of spring mornings, at last it is touched by the early sun, and the apple tree looks as it should look, if the world went aright, in springtime.Does anyone use that wonderful word "aright" anymore?
May, which can be the most perfect of all months, has crept in miserably, while we still light fires and draw the curtains early, still wear winter woolens and despair of early seedlings coming through the cold stone ground. People talk of how summers used to be, in their childhood, long and hot and golden. But I notice that it is the springs that are no longer what they were.On an early morning bicycle ride about town, she ponders,
But the same pair of swallows come back five thousand miles, year after year ... Migration, and this sort of regular return across so many thousands of miles of sea, is the sort of common, mind-boggling fact of nature which seems more incredible the more we find out about exactly what happens, but I often wonder what the country people of hundreds of years ago thought; not too many of them can have had any idea about what happened to all those birds that appeared in their villages in March or April, and were gone again at the end of every summer. Did they speculate, or guess accurately, or have folk-tales to account for it?She writes of the swifts,
Around and above the church tower are the swifts, soaring high and circling and diving, screaming all the time. When we lived in Stratford-Upon-Avon, the arrival of the swifts, which come in huge numbers into the town, and their departure during the first week of August, put inverted commas around the summer.And decades later she laments the loss of the swifts and other small birds in
Jacob's Room is Full of Books.
A wonder of this book is that Barley is only five miles from Oxford. Amazing that such a bucolic life was being lived in such proximity to this city. Again, I wonder about now. I've read about the rural English properties which are being bought up by the very rich, which is what Chris Wood is singing about in The Cottager's Reply, here.
Susan goes out for a morning bicycle ride, and sees birds and flowers and farmyards. And then she writes
I stop and get off, climb on a gate and look over it, and away down acres of sheep field that slope steeply towards the last, flat acres of meadow before the main road, a mile away. Here it is quite quiet, the sun is getting up a little, warming my back, there are dewdrops trembling on the spider-webs that are draped over the wooden gate, and a thistle is glinting with moisture. Here, there is no sound, no sign of human life at all. Down there, beyond the sheep and their lambs, what gleams silver is metal, the roofs and mirrors of cars and lorries, silent because what breeze there is is blowing in the other direction, taking the rumble of engines away from me. But, when the wind blows uphill, and especially if the trees are bare between, you know, just here, that you are on the very edge of the city, and all the pastoral remoteness is an illusion.
And there, five miles off and beautiful against the sky, are the dreaming spires, ethereal, glittering, insubstantial in the pearly, misty air of this early spring morning...Our Windy Poplars Farm is three miles exactly to our little town. I can't imagine what it might be like - two miles further to be in Oxford!!
I don't think there is anything more quintessentially English to the Anglophiles amongst us than a "bluebell wood." Maybe there are bluebells in this country, but I've not seen them. A few here and there, but not a "wood" of them. Maybe they grow in warmer climates than here?
By the gate to the bluebell copse, I stopped, just as Stanley stops the car at the end of every day when he reaches this point, and gets out to look and to smell, while the ground is a sea of that magical blue, and the scent is so fresh, under the encircling trees. ... I have memories of bluebells, perhaps everyone who has lived in the country has them; mine are of walking through Raincliffe Woods near Scarborough with bluebells all around me and stretching away, like another ocean, of bluebells up to my middle, of lying down in them and of pulling them up by their sappy stems until my fingers were wet and green, unable to learn the repeated lesson that they would not last, would droop and wilt so sadly long before home. There is no sadder sight than armfuls of bluebells thrown into the ditch and left to rot because someone has felt cheated and not even bothered to get them home.I think I have finally learned my "repeated lesson" when it comes to some flowers. Lilacs, in particular. There is nothing more fragrant and beautiful as the end-of- May lilacs. For years and years I would bring in bouquets and they just didn't last. Now I spend time at all the bushes, just taking deep breaths and enjoying the moments rather than putting them in vases.
She speaks of cowslips
this sort of old grazing land is the last haunt of those increasingly rare flowersGardeners' World this year had a program on bringing back meadows, and cowslips are one of the flowers being planted! I am always elated to hear such good nature news.
And the rabbits! Do you have rabbits where you live? We don't. We'll occasionally see one, and I thrill to it as if it were the rarest animal in the world. I have such a love for them. When we brought the kids to England in 1992, we stayed in a house in Forthampton. In the evenings, we would walk out on a dirt road to the very end where there was a gate. We would stand there and watch the rabbits cavorting in the field. I so wish I had taken a photograph, though the sight is etched in my mind.
Almost every morning in March, I had looked out across this field, and the Rise that leads up from it, to see hares behaving in that legendary way, going mad, racing around in circles, the males boxing one another to impress the females.I can only imagine such a sight in one's daily life.
Along with the lesson about picking certain flowers to bring indoors, there is another lesson which often takes a long time to learn, for many of us. And this is the lesson of planting vegetable seeds later in the season, when the ground has warmed up.
In my experience, you rarely gain anything by sowing too early, but, instead, lose rather heavily, in both seeds and labour. ... Mr Elder, a good, old-fashioned country gardener, was in hospital last spring, for almost six weeks, and when he was fit enough to be out and doing again in his garden it was May. Even I had sown most things by then and they were coming on well enough, whilst his plot still looked bare and brown. In a couple of days, in his quiet, unhurried, steady way, born of seventy-odd years' practice, he had accomplished more than takes me a couple of weeks, and by the end of June his crops were further forward than mine. My beans and peas had simply been sitting in the cold soil waiting to germinate when the sun eventually shone, his went straight into the nicely warmed-up ground and came through within days.Susan Hill also tells a tale that is familiar to me, and maybe to you, as well. When we first garden, we grow everything. I well remember planting cabbage, for example, a vegetable I use maybe half a dozen times a year for coleslaw, period! Our gardens are also often huge - way bigger than we can take care of! These are things we learn over time until we reach that perfect garden, growing only what we love, and in a space we are able to keep looking relatively good throughout the summer. You also have to learn your weather. For example, she can't grow anything taller than three feet because of the winds. This is always a consideration here, too. Tom had to use wooden stakes to hold our tall tomato cages, even more important in the new garden which is more exposed.
Potatoes may be hard work, too, in the planting-out and earthing-up stages, but after that they are no trouble, and they don't seem to mind what sort of soil they grow in, nor how hard it rains, or blows, though they are vulnerable to late frosts.The joys of having one's own potatoes are worth any amount of sweat ...To which I say, yes! We didn't even "earth-up" the potatoes this year, and still we got lots and lots.
Lettuce is one of my favorite foods - the big leaved, Bibb or Butterhead types. I don't care for the many "spring mixes" that are available now. And I don't use dressing. And I prefer eating it by hand all by itself, like those rabbits I love so well. However, we just can't seem to get it right when it comes to planting it and picking it. But in a gardener's mind, there is always next year, and I think I have a good idea from Susan Hill.
Lettuces I do in succession thoughout the spring and early summer, from a packet of mixed varieties, including Cos and Webbs and Butterhead kinds, and, although I try to sow them thinly, I never thin the seedlings themselves out at all until they are quite big, and as dense as parsley. Then I use half a dozen at once, when they are in young, tender leaf. Whenever I have thinned them early - a dreadful job, in any case - and let them grow to full, individual heartiness, lettuces in this garden have come on too slowly, and become tough, snail-and-greenfly-ridden, and inedible.So, I will try this next year. This kind of planting is very familiar to me from British gardening shows and books. In the US, most gardens, especially flower gardens, are planted with a plant, then a space which is weeded, then another plant. It all looks very neat and tidy, but it is not my way. Everything I have seen and read from England encourages planting close together, like those cottage gardens I love so much with plants intermingling, and sometimes hanging onto one another for support. I love that, and have done it for years in the flower gardens, but never thought of doing this with the lettuce. Am quite excited, to tell the truth!
In her "People" chapter, Susan has a lovely description of the old and the young, which I now, thankfully, know so well.
That close proximity, in a small village like Barley, of the very young and the very old, is a fine thing, especially for a child like ours, who does not have grandparents to hand. Small children will talk to anyone, once the guard of shyness has fallen, and they have, like the elderly, a sense of immediacy, a need to say or do something, now, now, the minute it is thought of, combined with that other sense, of the complete irrelevance of time.I'm sorry to be writing "out of season" but it has been quite a full spring and summer, and now with Tom's mother and step-father settled into the assisted living facility, and the grandchildren all in school, pre-K for Indy, and Kindergarten for Hazel and Campbell, I have more solid time to not only read, but also to be more thoughtful about my reading.
Saturday, September 28, 2019
I don't know if you've heard this story, but here is a video of it. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex and baby Archie went to Africa. It is a bit hard to hear, but worth trying.
There is an article about the visit here. Sorry about all that junk on the sidebar, but this was the best account I read.
There is an article about the visit here. Sorry about all that junk on the sidebar, but this was the best account I read.