Rain-washed mountains

“Your father says it’s Gaelic and pronounced Camasunart,” said Mother, “and it’s at the back of beyond, so there you go darling, and have a lovely time for the birds and the – the water, or whatever you said you wanted.”

I sat clutching the receiver, perched there above the roar of Regent Street. Before my mind’s eye rose, cool and remote, a vision of rain-washed mountains.

”D’you know,” I said slowly, “I think I will.”

Gianetta Fox sets off for Scotland in Mary Stewart’s “Wildfire at Midnight”



There was a strange rumour in Highbury of all the little Perry’s being seen with a slice of Mrs Weston’s wedding-cake in their hands: but Mr Woodhouse would never believe it. – “Emma”, Jane Austen

Not at all like Mr Woodhouse as I go to celebrate a friend’s wedding today, partly with a lot of cake.

The top picture is the wonderfully-titled “The Tempting Cake” by Albert Roosenboom.



I amused myself by giving my father daily  Palsy Practice, which consisted of gently shaking his hand while he was taking his tea: “In a few years, when you’re really old, you’ll probably have palsy. I must give you a little practice now, before you actually get it, so that you won’t be dropping things all the time.”

Jessica Mitford – Hons and Rebels

Granite Island

We envied the Cesari. They had leisure, and we had not had any for several years. The farm work seldom needed more than two of the brothers at any one time; the sisters got through the household chores in a couple of hours of the day. In the long intervals between work Francois shot hare in the maquis that Antoinette cooked in a pot on the open fire with olive oil and whole cloves of garlic; Antoine and Jean-Baptiste repainted the living-room, experimenting with pale Etruscan red framing several shades of blue and grey; Marie embroidered sheets with intricate patterns of roses; Pierette studied a book of the geography of the world….there were hours too when no-one did anything…

In London I had not taken the true measure of our deprivations. I had not understood how far  my daily load of anxiety was a craving for the things every peasant know: space, silence and food that was not stale.

Dorothy Carrington first went to Corsica in 1948, and large sections of the book are infused with a postwar melancholy about the effects of civilisation and the need to retreat to a rough landscape and older society.

But there’s also a much more contemporary zest, akin to Patrick Leigh Fermor’s writings, of discovering beautiful vistas and a motley crew of companions, albeit in Dorothy’s case more archaeologists and shepherds than Leigh Fermor’s east European aristocracy and Consuls.

The simmering pot was taken off the fire; it contained a mutton stew, thick with vegetables. But first we had plates of smoked ham and several varieties of smoked sausage, and tomatoes and raw onions swimming in the local unrefined olive oil which gave to all this food a provocative musky flavour; and afterwards came a homemade cheese made of ewes’ milk, oddly tasting for nuts, and finally small, very sweet melons.

If the book had stayed with this it would have been nice enough – I am enthusiastically reading myself into the holiday I’m currently dreaming of – but what makes it really special is that quite soon, Carrington turns the book into a serious and detailed history of Corsican society, from the mountain peaks to the fishermen, from the vendetta, the folk singers, the people cursed to predict and bring death to those they know and the soothsayers, from the revolutionaries who attempted a parliamentary democracy in the 1730s to the prehistoric statues and spirit huts near the capital Ajaccio.

This was completely fascinating – Carrington’s love for Corsica comes through, and she must have carried out huge amounts of research, from Greek texts to political treatises, but wears it lightly. Most praiseworthy of all, she definitely lives up to that other heroine, Gertrude Bell, in her willingness to scale a mountain in pursuit of an archaeological quarry.

And it’s only Wednesday

Harriet’s father was called George Johnson. He had a shop. It was not a usual sort of shop, because what it sold was entirely dependent on what his brother William grew, shot, or caught…

One of the things that was most trying for the whole family was that what would not sell had to be eaten. This made a great deal of trouble because Uncle William had a large appetite and seldom sent more than one of any kind of fish or game…

“What is there for lunch today, Olivia?” George would ask, usually adding politely “Sure to be delicious.” Olivia would answer “There’s enough rabbit for two, there is a very small pike, there is a grouse, but I don’t know about that, it seems very, very old, as if it has been dead for a very long time, and there’s sauerkraut. I’m afraid everybody must eat cabbage of some sort, we’ve had over seven hundred from Uncle William this week, and it’s only Wednesday.”

White Boots by Noel Streatfield. I always like her humour.

Ploughing through


Deineka – young woman reading

This is basically me right now, as the Christmas period is always a great time to get stuck into a pile of books and that drive usually continues into the new year. What I’ve taken down from the book pile already:

and what I’m currently dipping into every day:


and some of what’s on the heap after a generous amazon voucher from my dad:



Or rather devouring both these Christmas books. I must have cooked 5 different recipes from the Anna Jones within the first week of having it, and the Emily Wilson translation completes my triumvirate of Bettany Hughes and Mary Beard on my shelves.

An urban childhood

The two younger Bodens were sitting at the large, very much littered table, while Felicity lay stretched out on a comfortable sofa near the glowing fire. The light in the high, well-proportioned room was growing dim, though it was barely three o’clock. Beyond the window was a view of Old Church Street, Chelsea, dismal on the wet, misty December afternoon, in spite of the pleasant frontages of the eighteenth-century house’s opposite.

Swiss School, ME Allan. A London childhood means that scenes like this are catnip to me – they’re my equivalent of the wanderer turning the corner to see a beloved hill or mountain.

Like keeping bees or playing chess

“Oh.” said Stephen. “Politics.”
“Yes, but you can’t say ‘politics’ in that sort of voice nowadays, can you?”
“What sort of voice did I say it in?”
“As though it was something separate, like keeping bees or playing chess.”
“And don’t you think it is something separate.”
“Well, do you, really? It seems to me it’s everything – how we mlive and behave to each other, how we bring up children, what sort of world we want to live in.”…
“Of course – my father…He’s a stout Tory.”
“That generation decently could be.”
“And our generation decently can’t?”
“I think not.”

National Provincial by Lettice Cooper, whose other excellent books include The New House and Fenny. The quote above reminds me very much of Nancy Mitford’s wry comment that politics in the 20s was an esoteric hobby until Hitler came along to liven things up. Luckily Persephone are republishing this next year, but it might be worth seeing if there are any secondhand copies out there.