Tuesday, 22 September 2020

Escape to France

 We eventually escaped to France for a visit to our house and for a break from English news. The weather was beautiful, warm and sunny mostly, with few rainy days, and we felt we could relax. I could swim in an outdoor pool without having to make an appointment, my husband go for a cycle ride  without having to deal with city traffic to reach countryside, and we could actually visit a supermarket together. The whole area is usually fairly quiet, except in August when a lot of people come and visit families, but this year it was exceptionally quiet. 


On the 7th September we went for a walk up towards the Col d'Aulac (1288m) from the village of Le Vaulmier, and could see some of the preparations being made for the Tour de France which was due to pass through the village in a few days time. The local association of young farmers, Les Jeunes Agriculteurs de Salers, provided the manpower and the hay bales, arranged eventually in the shape of a cow's head. (The view from the helicopter shown on the TV broadcast is much better, showing the completed head)



the Tour passes through Le Vaulmier

This stage of le Tour, Stage 13 finished at the Pas du Peyrol, altitude 1588 metres, and passes over the local roads we are very familiar with. The men in red teeshirts in te picture above are Les Jeunes Agriculteurs, madly ringing cowbells as the caravane passed, throwing out freebies, and as the cars and cyclists flashed by. As soon as the last of the cyclists and following vehicles had sped through the village , everyone rushed over to the little temporary bar and television, set up for the afternoon, to watch the final push. The evening finished with a barbecue in the nearby field and eventually fireworks. A day to remember for all.

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

How do you choose what you read?

When I worked in public libraries (seems a lifetime ago) we used have displays with accompanying posters, flyers and leaflets,  which went round different libraries, called "Well Worth Reading". The comments that went with each title were short and to the point, aimed at encouraging readers to pick a title and read it. Most displays were based on a theme, such as "A Child's Eye View" with relevant recent titles. They were usually successful in that readers could easily find something fresh to read; one of the most successful was one containing humorous novels, which came to the library one rather bleak February - those display shelves were almost empty in a few days!
  I recently had to choose some books to take to France while visiting our house there, and while I find a Kindle e-reader very useful, I still like having access to some printed material. I could buy French paperbacks in the local town, but would find reading them fairly hard work , and would miss out on some English reading. I usually visit my local public library and take a few likely titles out, I download a few titles from A***** and can choose more from that source if necessary. I've just read dovegreyreader scribbles ,  who recommends The Literary Review as a source of information on the next good book to read. 
   Another useful source of reading matter is charity shops; some are better than others, depending on the area in which you live, but many have collections of paperback books, and if you're lucky, some new or at least new-ish titles.
   Personally I prefer a serendipitous approach to finding something new to read, and don't have a huge pile of to-be-read books by my bedside. There are titles in which I'm interested and would like to read, but don't always feel I must read it now this instant - sometime in the future will do.
I have a list of a few sources of information about books on the page "a few links to help choose books"

Sunday, 1 September 2019

A visit to a chateau

Whilst staying in France this summer, I took the opportunity to actually visit one of the local chateau open to the public, the Chateau de la Tremoliere, at Anglards-de-Salers. I've occasionally driven through this village and past this chateau, but never stopped to visit.

Although only a very small building by chateau standards, it has a small collection of tapestries, dating from the latter part of the 16th century. They were made at Aubusson and Felletin ( which is not far from Aubusson) using locally produced wool, and dyed with natural dyes, produced from plants from the area. The exhibition has a small sample of plants and the colours they produce on wool. The tapestries were discovered in the attic of the chateau in 1860, after the building had been acquired by the local commune to house parish clergy. They were apparently in a poor state, and were sent to Gobelin in 1923 for restoration and preservation. A dozen were sent, but only 10 returned.
Because of the subject matter of the tapesteries, the collection is known as Le Bestiaire Fantastique: (the Fantastic Bestiary) most contain some sort of animal, real, imaginary or mythical.

Because visitors are not allowed to take photographs, and the lighting is kept at a relatively low level, I didn't take pictures, but bought the small booklet which shows the tapestries along with details from parts of them; a useful aide-memoire.
There is also a garden attached to the chateau, Le Verger de Deduit, laid out along medieval lines and based on the Romance of the Rose, a medieval poem. It is very pleasant to wander in, and there is a handout giving details of the planting.
Each the chateau also hosts an exhibition of contemporary art; this year the artist is Gael Davrinche, a French painter and sculptor.
There are a few small chateau in the Vallee du Mars, but all are private homes, not open to the public.

Sunday, 7 July 2019

A year of reading (to be continued..)

Since I last wrote anything on this blog, almost a year ago, I've not stopped reading, but just didn't feel inspired to write about the books I have read.at the time. Much of my reading is picked pretty much at random from my local public library shelves - I look for authors I may be familiar with, but have a newish title I haven't yet read, or I will try an author whose work I've read reviews or blog posts about and which look interesting.  I enjoy catching up with new authors, but I don't feel compelled to read a new author/book the minute its published.

Some of the more memorable reads of the last few months have been Tim Pears West Country trilogy, beginning with The Horseman, continuing with The Wanderers and ending with The Redeemed. I loved the quality of writing, which although seemingly slow and gentle yet describes some violent actions and emotions quite plainly.Since the novels are set in the period just before, during and after the First World War, some of the events described are quite dramatic. He also seems to be able to imagine how life was lived at that time; how most people rarely went further than a few miles from their farm or place of work, how they communicated with each other without any modern methods, only talking directly or writing letters.

Another writer who has a similar quiet way of telling a story is Kent Haruf, several of whose novels I have read in the past. His last book, Our Souls at Night, is the story of Louis and Abbie, neighbours in the small town of Holt. One evening Abbie asks Louis if he can spend the night with her just for company. Their relationship develops slowly and gently. During the summer Abbie's grandson Jamie comes to stay with her, as his father Gene is divorced from Jamie's mother. However after a fall in which Abbie breaks a hip and is hospitalised, she moves away to be nearer Gene and her grandson. Both Addie's son and Louis daughter seem to be unhappy about the relationship between Abbie and Louis, which brings them both much happiness and joy in their later years.
Is this disapproval because the young cannot conceive of older people having an emotional life,of finding happiness and joy in the company of a member of the opposite sex to whom they are not married, or is it perhaps jealousy at their parents happiness, while they themselves are feeling upset and unhappy?

I picked up Salley Vickers The Librarian as soon as I saw it appear o the library's shelves, and although I enjoyed it, I finished it with a slight feeling of disappointment. Sylvia Blackwood, a young, recently qualified librarian, arrives in East Mole, a middle England country town in 1958. She is very enthusiastic about her role, re-arranging the children's library to make it more user-friendly, giving talks to local schools, and encourages any child she meets to join the library. She befriends Millie, her neighbours daughter and urges her to join the library.
One of the themes of the story is the impact of the 11+ on children of that era, and their future life chances. ( There are still a few local authorities in England who administer the 11+ exam)
Sylvia has an affair with a married man, who very bright young daughter leads Sam, a local lad ,somewhat astray, but all turns out well at the end.
I have to say that this book left me with some unanswered questions., despite its enthusiastic support of children's librarians and all they did and still do to support and encourage children to read widely and with enjoyment. This may be because I can remember some of the things Salley Vickers describes, although my career in libraries started a decade later n 1968 and things were beginning to change.

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Some Summer Reading

Although I haven't written about what I've been reading these past few months, I have read a fair selection of books, mostly novels. Some are more memorable than others

Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin tells the story of Angel Tungazara, a Tanzanian now living in Rwanda and running a small business making cakes for special occasions, parties, weddings, anniversaries and the like. The stories that people tell her about themselves as they choose their cakes form the basis of the book and also reveal the complexities of life in a modern African state, which has suffered a civil war and an AIDs epidemic. Although the tone of the writing is fairly cosy, this in some ways highlights some of the darker side of the tales Angel hears from people ordering one of her cakes, as well as some of the more difficult aspects of her own life - she is bringing up her grandchildren, as both her son and her daughter, their parents, are now dead. Nevertheless, there are several lighter tales in the book, such as how to ensure the tailor does not measure one too tightly for a new dress, so it fits more comfortably on one of traditional build!.

I'm a bit late to the party in reading James Rebanks The Shepherds Life: a tale of the Lake District, which came out to excellent reviews in 2015. It begins with young James Rebanks in school, listening to a teacher expounding on the Lake District, talking about the 'wild' landscape, but without really mentioning the farmers and other local workers, whose families had worked the land for generations and were no less proud, intelligent and ambitious as people elsewhere, and whose work over probably thousands of years, made the Lake District what it is today. The book roughly follows the seasons on the small hill farm  owned by his family, raising Herdwick sheep. He explains the business of the farm, raising sheep for sale, either as breeding ewes or for meat. Although the author had an early disdain for education, when in his early twenties, he attended evening classes to study for A levels and went to Magdelen College, Oxford. He then returns to farming, but also has a job as a consultant to UNESCO.

When I came across The Reading Cure by Laura Freeman in my local library, how could I not borrow it. Laura Freeman was diagnosed as anorexic in her early teens and gradually and gently restored her appetite for food by reading about it, not in cookbooks, but in novels, whose appeal to the imagination is much more powerful. She describes her anorexia as the voice in her head, which reading managed to replace with a more positive one. Reading about a dish or a meal roused her curiosity to want to taste it, which led to actually eating it. The list of books included at the end of the book is both extensive and varied, and includes many titles by Dickens as well as Virginia Woolf. A beautifully written book about the power of novels to change a life.

While we were away in France earlier in July we went for a walk up above the Vallee du Mars, following part of the Grand Randonee 400, one of France's long distance walks. The views over the valleys and mountains are well worth the climb up.

A view of the Vallee du Mars, Cantal. The  yellow flowers in the foregroud are a variety of gentian, whose roots are used to make a liquer.

I read W G Sebald's The Rings of Saturn on my Kindle, as I was away at the time and couldn't get hold of the physical book. Apparently classified as "documentary fiction" this is a somewhat discursive description of a long walking tour through parts of Suffolk and Norfolk,particularly those near to the North Sea coast.
There was a read-along on Twitter, hosted by Robert MacFarlane earlier this summer, with some interesting points raised.
The narrator, unnamed, raised many thoughts in his wanderings, with references to Thomas Browne, Roger Casement, silkworm raising in Europe, a hare which crosses the walkers path and is apparently terrified. The style is almost 19th century in its effect, although it was written in 1995, originally in German, (translated into English by Michael Hulse) and densely written, full of allusions and inferences. In many ways a visual book, as it has many photographs and illustrations, and many descriptions of what the narrator sees on his travels, it also considers listening and hearing. This is the first book by Sebald I have read, and will probably look out for others.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Spring reading

A quick round up of my recent reading.

I finally read the third book in Patrick Leigh- Fermor's epic walk across Europe in the early to mid 1930's, The Broken Road: Travels from Bulgaria to Mount Athos., published in 2013. I'd read the two earlier volumes in the trilogy a long time ago. This volume describes his walk across Bulgaria, parts of Romania and Greece. It was published posthumously and is based on his diaries of the time, and an early draft written in the 1960's. It also has his reflections on his earlier behaviour and appearance during his travels. These follow a similar pattern to the two preceding titles, A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water. He sleeps in huts, shelters and peasants homes as well as staying with consuls, ambassadors and other well-to-do people from time to time, thus contrasting rural life with urban life. The final section details his visit to the monasteries on Mount Athos in Greece, their treasures, the monks and their welcome, how they fed him - food and drink are important to a young man! He eventually arrived in Istanbul in 1935.
The places he visited during his journey were changed absolutely after 1939 and changed even further after the rise and subsequent fall of communism in the area. 

 Peter Carey's Jack Maggs was discussed enthusiastically by my Book Club, as most of the group had read other titles by the author. This story is a sort-of spoof on Charles Dickens' Great Expectations, but includes Charles Dickens within his own story, although with a different name. Although there are similarities to Great Expectations, there are a lot of differences too, and these make it an exciting, fast-paced read.
Jack arrives in London,after having been transported to Australia for his crimes, seeking out one Henry Phipps, his son, whose expensive education he has paid for. Jack manages to be taken on as a footman to Percy Buckle, next-door neighbour to Henry Phipps, who is away. Jack searches throughout England for Henry, aided by Tobias Oates, a writer with an interest in magnetism as a cure for various ills. After many adventures, Henry is finally tracked down, but Jack has a life to lead elsewhere. 

Jenny Landreth's Swell: a Waterbiography is more than the author's own story of learning to swim and develop her swimming abilities, it is also a brief history of how swimming suffragettes, those women who were determined to swim and to encourage other women to swim as well. The waterbiography part is Jenny's own swimming journey, in which she progresses to becoming a cold-water swimmer in Tooting Bec Lido, which is unheated and open all year round, although winter swimming , from October to April, is only available to South London Swimming Club members. Jenny Landreth also describes sea and night swimming in Greece. There are several passages which had me laughing out loud as she describes various aspects of swimming behaviours of other swimmers as well as her own. She has strong and amusing views on these.
This book certainly brought back many memories of my own swimming, which I've been doing all my life. The only competitive swimming I did was at school, a lifetime ago. I've swum in the sea, in pools indoor and out, in rivers, especially in France and now swim regularly in an indoor pool and an outdoor when I can. This book was a must-add to my small collection of books on swimming.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Reading, not writing

A few short notes about some recently read books, which I have written about in my reading journal, but not here on the blog.

Set in Ghana and America, this debut novel by Yaa Gyasi is a really interesting read. The story concerns two African half sisters, one of whom marries an English slaver, the other being taken into slavery. The repercussions of these events continue down through subsequent centuries and succeeding generations, descendants of the two women. For instance, Quey child of James the slaver and Effia the Beauty is educated in London at his father's expense, but returns to the Gold Coast.
There is a good description of the Ashanti wars in the 19th century as well as grim details of the conditions slaves were held in at Cape Coast Castle before they were shipped off to the Caribbean or America.
There is also excellent detail about the power of the Asantahene, the head of the Ashanti ( and whose position still exists today), how he lived in his compound, the customs and complications of dealing with him and his courtiers.
The author, a Ghanaian, doesn't shy away from including the involvement of Africans in selling slaves to the English, but presents an interesting read on a very complicated period in West African history.
I found it particularly interesting as I had spent my early childhood in Gold Coast/Ghana and found the images described by the author had a particular vivacity for me, conjuring up memories of long ago.

The Little Red Chairs by Edna O'Brien is an emotionally demanding read, the background to the story being the siege of Sarajevo in the 1990's. The story set initially in a small Irish town, includes several themes about immigration;about how people are affected by events most of us only read or hear about through newspapers or television. Also about how a war criminal attempts to escape the law , but is eventually caught and brought to justice.
Edna O'Brien's writing is as strong as ever in this sometimes harrowing read, but it is also lyrical and

I've read most of Robert Macfarlane's writings since his first book and enjoyed them all. This one is intriguing with its lists of words to describe local landscapes from many parts of the British Isles . There are chapters on various types of landscape, such as mountain, moorland, hill, stream,marshland to name only a few. Each chapter has a glossary of words from many places in the British Isles, from Shetland to Cornwall, Wales to Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex and include words and phrases from dialects which are now unspoken.
He also cites other writers on the land, from Nan Shepherd's book on the Cairngorm, The Living Mountain, Jacquetta Hawkes' A Land and Roger Deakin's books on nature. 

My Book Club recently read A Change of Climate, by Hilary Mantel, and had a fairly lively discussion on its varied themes and locations. 
The novel is set in 1980 in Norfolk, where Anna and Ralph Eldred live in a rambling house, taking in good souls and sad cases as part of their charitable work, and bringing up their children. The story goes back in time to the 1850's , to South Africa, where Anna and Ralph were missionary workers and later to Bechuanaland after their deportation.
There are several themes, such as how religion makes people behave, how can children be protected from some of the awful events that happen around them, how relationships in a fairly long marriage can change. 
Hilary Mantel also gives clear, detailed descriptions of places and houses that the Elders live in. 

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