Halloween with Tove Jansson

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On the special evening I am now going to tell you about, the weather was terrible indeed. My roof creaked and squeaked, now and then the sou’wester pushed smoke down the chimney….

“Mother, won’t you read to us?” said the Mymble children from their beds.

“Yes” said the Mymble. “Where did we stop?”

“Inspector-Twiggs-silently-crept-to-the-door” the children chorused.

“All right” said their mother. “Inspector Twiggs silently crept to the door. Was that a pistol barrel that gleamed for a second in the moonlight outside? Coldly determined, he advanced on the feet of Avenging Justice, stopped dead, took a step…”

“I like that story,” said the ghost. It was embroidering a sponge bag (crossbones on black flannel) while keeping an eye on the clock.

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The Memoirs of Moominpappa; photos of a vintage jewellery shop in Charleston

 

Moominpappa abandoned all hope

Once, when Moomintroll was quite small, his father got a cold at the very hottest time of summer. Moominpappa redused to drink warm milk with onion juice and sugar, and he refused to go to bed. He sat in the garden hammock blowing his nose and saying his cigars had a horrible taste…

When his cold became much worse…Moominmamma brought him a substantial rum toddy. Only by then it was too late. The rum toddy tasted just as bad as onion milk, and Moominpappa abandoned all hope and took to his bed in the northern attic room. He had never been ill before and took a very serious view of the matter.

The start of The Memoirs of Moominpappa

It was a good kitchen

The place I like best in this world is the kitchen. No matter where it is, no matter what kind, if it’s a kitchen, if it’s somewhere where they make food, it’s fine with me. Ideally it should be well broken in. Lots of tea towels, dry and immaculate. White tile catching the light (ting! ting!)

So begins Banana Yashimoto’s novella Kitchen, a warmly comforting read about a girl finding happiness again after an unexpected bereavement, and a friendship that grows into more. For someone who also likes hanging out in the kitchen and who enjoyed Luisa Weiss’ kitchen memoirs, this was perfect lazy reading.

The scratching of our pens mingled with the sound of raindrops beginning to fall … 

While he made tea, I explored the kitchen. I took everything in: the good quality of the mat on the wooden floor and Yuichi’s slippers; a practical minimum of well-worn kitchen things, precisely arranged. A Silverstone frying pan and a delightful German-made vegetable peeler…

There were things with special uses like …. porcelain bowls, gratin dishes, gigantic platters, two beer steins. Somehow it was all very satisfying.

I looked  around, nodding and murmuring approvalingly, “Mmm, mmm.” It was a good kitchen. I fell in love with it at first sight.

Every Eye

How lovely it was to be alive and walking up the village street at ten o’clock in the morning. I curved the soles of my feet luxuriously over the mottled cobbles, round as turkeys’ eggs, that had been brought up from the sea shore maybe fifty years ago, and felt the heat of two hours’ sun stored in them.

Every Eye by Isobel English – an intriguing novel that interleaves the story of a woman’s new marriage (moving backwards from the departure in honeymoon to the first meeting) with her remiscences (moving forwards from 14 to 33), the mysteries unravelling as she goes.

My life

I was eager to learn Italian and took lessons with a black-clad widow living in the Sixieme. Presently her teaching was supplemented by an Italian who picked me up in the Luxembourg gardens. His name was Alfio – “like Alph, the sacred river in “Kubla Khan”” – he explained. He was years older than me, very handsome, told me that he had been a Partisan, and did his best to seduce me. I liked him, but when I agreed to visit his flat things got out of hand and he kept shouting “Take off your knickers.” His English was excellent but I was not going to obey his orders and I made my escape. My progress in Italian stalled.

Claire Tomalin – My Life.

A fascinating read of a type of life open to middle class girls in post war Britain where you were expected to simultaneously have four children, be knowledgeable yet relaxed about your husband’s infidelities, gain an Oxbridge degree and be content typing letters for the odd Conservative MP or gossip column. Well written, not bitter but rather sad. Also worth reading for a mention of a scrambled egg party, luxury when rationing ended!

Hilda

It’s been too hot for much I’d be this summer to really want to cook, and I suspect I’m not the only Londoner who’s reverted to copying other cuisines (Mexican, US Southern, Turkish) for short cut ideas instead of meals. However as the heat wanes and nights start to shorten, the idea of wanting to eat and eat outdoors begins to seem nice and not hellish. This is where Hilda Leyel’s 1930s guide comes in…

Some surprisingly modern flavour combinations and menus sit alongside the grouse and mulligatawny.

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Republished a few years ago, there’s bound to be copies still online. I was given a further nudge in this direction by the excellent Edward Bawden exhibition at the Dulwich Picture (on till September 9th), which includes his many book covers fornthe equally eccentric 1930s food writer Ambrose Heath.

Travellers

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This could easily be yet-another half-written survey of nazi Germany intended to cash in on our society’s fascination with this period, but it’s actually a well-researched, gripping and often unexpected survey of the times. The opening chapters reflecting on the poverty and hunger of early 20s Germany and the starvation that led many church groups to offer aid are particularly interesting as they often get passed over in a few sentences in history books, but the analysis of the reasons why so many visitors kept their heads in the sand is also far more subtle than the usual they-hoped-to-avoid-war explanations. Highly recommended and a very easy read: I tore through it in a day.

Good things to eat and plenty of them

There were little new potatoes for dinner, creamed with green peas, and there were string beans and green onions.  And by every plate was a saucer full of sliced ripe tomatoes, to be eaten with sugar and cream.

”Well, we’ve got good things to eat, and plenty of them,” said Pa, taking a second helping of potatoes and peas…

He cut into the pie’s crust with a big spoon, and turned over a big chunk of it onto a plate. The underside was steamed and fluffy. Over it he poured spoonfuls of thin brown gravy, and beside it he laid half a blackbird…The scent of that opened pie was making all their mouths water…As long as the blackbirds lasted, and the garden was green, they could eat like this every day.

Little Town on the Prairie – Laura Ingalls Wilder

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Summer lists

Last year I spent a good amount of my summer holiday in Toulouse tearing through books and sleeping and it was bliss. I discovered Madeline Thien (I could still hug her book if I came across a copy now), challenges myself with Deborah Levy’s Hot Milk (didn’t like it but enjoyed what it made me think about) and generally got my mojo back.

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This year I’m being drawn to all the Americana as I’ve just booked an autumn stateside holiday. A bit of nostalgia with the little house on the prairie books, but I’m also looking forward to finding out a bit more about the history with this if I download it on my Kindle.

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The lithub list of 100 books to read America got my attention and I’ve ordered this, which is aimed at kids but sounds really good – a summary of a young black girl growing up in the 60s South and moving to New York as an adult.

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And Ann Patchett’s latest, which I bought as a treat for myself last year but haven’t read yet. Patchett’s writing is amazing but often quite intense and I needed time to digest after her previous book that I read, State of Wonder.

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And of course there’ll probably be lots of beach reads, which for me means cookery memoirs, romance novels (#noshame) and travel books.

Festival moods

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If in May the first music festivals come out, by late June / July it’s definitely the turn of the literary circuit and the London season seems fully underway as the talking set’s removal to various parks and country houses coincide with racing, cricket and tennis.

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The one I did get to (thank you C) was the Queen’s Park literary festival where I went 100% fangirl at seeing Zadie Smith speak. But next year I’m saving time for the Garden Museum’s weekend (topics ranging from Elizabethan knot gardens to foraging)

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and The Idler also had a splendidly louche-sounding weekend booked in at Fenton House earlier this year. Not a tent in sight, let alone a portaloo…

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