Everybody except the baby had brought a present for Jane. Mrs Jimmy John gave her a lambskin dyed red for a bedside rug. Miranda brought her a little fat white jug with pink roses on its sides, Punch brought her some early radishes, Polly brought her a rooted geranium slip and the twins brought her a toad apiece for the garden.
“You have to have toads in your garden for luck,” explained Punch.
LM Montgomery does peak hygge. This one has lots of sowing flowers, swimming in the sea and frying potatoes, as well as a fairytale ending – perfect holiday reading.
Flora went into the kitchen, where a lamp already burned on the table. Its soft light fell into the heart of a bunch of pink roses in a jam-jar. There was a letter from Charles propped against the jar too, and the roses threw down a heavy, rounded shadow onto the envelope. It was so pretty that Flora lingered a moment, looking, before she opened her letter.
Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons. Photo from @elfredapownall.
Well, sort of. This is actually Tweets of the week, as Helen posts @LBFlyawayhome on the Ladybird Books.
The illustrations range from the pretty,
to the of-their-time (I was tickled at how much Charles II and his courtier have faced exactly out of a mid-century illustration of sober lawyers), to the unintentionally amusing
and the completely barmy and opinionated:
Reminded by Beth Bonini’s cheerful Instagram feed of these delightful books (I’ve posted about their companion volumes here and here before), I think I’m getting ready for a re-read.
Lots of commentators compare these books to Meet Me in St Louis, and as well as the period details (the hairstyles! the dresses! the slang! the excitement over a telephone!), what I love most is the inherent optimism – progress is always good, and friends and family remain stable whilst welcoming new developments – but also the complete acceptance that a job, writing, singing, making your own mind up, are all important to a girl and in no way conflicted with the rest of her being.
I find it depressing that a modern book wouldn’t show this, or would have to make a big point about it. Written in the 50s about the 1900-1910s, Betsy, Emily and Carney are in fact far more progressive than any characters today.
I came across this Virginia Woolf quote below, which reminded me of this favourite book, with its invitation to “those who appreciate wisteria and sunshine” to hire an Italian castle for the month of April. Yes please…
If life has a base that it stands upon, it is a bowl that one fills and fills and fills – then my bowl without a doubt stands upon this memory. It is of lying half asleep, half awake, in bed in the nursery at St Ives. It is of hearing the waves breaking, one, two, one, two, and sending a splash of water over the beach; and then breaking, one, two, one, two, behind a yellow blind. It is of hearing the blind draw its little acorn across the floor as the wind blew the blind out. It is of lying and hearing this splash and seeing this light…
Off to a midnight production of this tonight. Can’t. Wait. One of my favourite books, not a word placed wrong.
“Mr Davenport has been entertaining his uncle, the Duke of Dunstable, to luncheon, and over coffee His Grace broke most of the sitting-room furniture with a poker.”
To say that this information surprised Pongo would be correct. To say that he was astounded, however, was going too far. His Uncle Alaric’s eccentricities were a favourite theme of conversation with Horace Davenport, and in Pongo he always found a sympathetic confidant, for Pongo had an eccentric uncle himself. Though hearing Horace speak of his Uncle Alaric and thinking of his own Uncle Fred, he felt like Noah listening to someone making a fuss about a drizzle.
Uncle Fred in the Spring Time, part of an excellent Christmas book haul.
A beautifully illustrated children’s book with pictures by Madalena Matoso.
Each page has its own caption, from the mundane to the profound. Rubbers rub out and computers slow down.
Fringes grow, ice-creams melt and thread sews.
Hard things become easier, new goals appear, people turn pink and books turn yellow, and the hands of the clock turn again.
Available here, all images from the website.
I usually turn to a bit of comfort reading at this time of year, and a firm favourite are the Mountjoy novels. Perhaps Unaccustomed Airs, which features a wintry house, a dash to Budapest and Christmas feasts, or Divine Comedy, which has choral music and velvet enough to get anyone ready for Carols from Kings.
For those who don’t know the series, the Mountjoy family themselves are renowned for their appreciation of a rakish life, and the local pub, The Mountjoy Arms, cheekily features a woman being carried off to bed on its sign.
This book does not seem to be growing very large although I have got to Chapter Nine…I know this will never be a real book that business men in trains will read, the kind of business men that wear stuff hats with curly brims and little breathing holes let in the side. I wish I knew more about words. Also I wish so much I had learned my lessons in school. I never did, and have found it such a disadvantage since. All the same, I am going on writing this book even if business men scorn it.
Chapter Nine from “Our Spoons Came From Woolworths”, a novel by Barbara Comyns, who is one of my favourite authors for the way her artless voice skewers everyday life and whose writing in fact contains great skill. From later in the book, this passage always makes me laugh too:
“I knew it was Rollo. When he saw me bent over the disgusting jam [Sophia’s employer has asked her to make rhubarb jam on the hottest day of summer], he said ‘Good afternoon. How are you?’ and the girls seemed surprised he knew me. I hunched myself up and murmured ‘I’m feeling beastly, thank you’ and great puffs of jammy steam came in my face.
I came across the work of Max Beckmann in the Met this week, and it seems a good fit for Barbara Comyns’ writing, not just in period but also the style of appearing extremely sunny in a manner that conceals great skill. This is Beckmann’s wife Quappi on the Riviera in 1926 (photo October 2016.)