25 January 2014

Cover Craft

Last Thursday we had a staff meeting and it was my turn to bring treats - and napkins.  During a lull, or boring bit, a colleague and I admired the pretty pattern on said napkins and got to wondering.  This is what I thought...

...take a library discard, all scruffy and with a dewey decimal label which refuses to come off nicely, and do this...

My husband said it reminds him of Persephone endpapers.  And I think its spot on my shelves is so much brighter now.

There is a small 's' snowstorm going on outside and I have six more napkins.  Hmmm...

22 January 2014

The Ice House by Nina Bawden

This book has been on my shelves for quite some time and judging by the pounds sterling price written in pencil on the first page, bought during a trip to Charing Cross Road.  I have no idea why it called to me last week other than perhaps it was a chance to discover what Bawden's writing style is all about.  First published in 1983, my green-spine Virago paperback was reprinted ten years later.  The pages have begun to yellow but the tightness of the spine leads me to believe it had never been read.  Such a shame.  It's a difficult story to put a label on given its mixture of kitchen drama, mysterious turns, London to Egypt travel adventure with a louche character thrown in for good measure but it was certainly entertaining.

The story begins in 1951 with two teenage friends getting together for tea.  Daisy comes from a lively household where the atmosphere is quite relaxed while in Ruth's case things are very much the opposite.  By way of explanation for her father's brutally strict parenting style she tells Daisy about his years spent as a prisoner of war in Japan.  Mrs Perkins is constantly walking on eggshells which explains why invitations or dinner parties at their house are as rare as hen's teeth.  When Ruth is asked to pick some strawberries for her guest but the gardener gladly takes up the task, Ruth is horrifically set upon by her enraged father for not following instructions...all in plain view of Daisy.

The book then moves on to its second section in which the two friends are now married and living on the same street.  This time it's Daisy facing turmoil and crisis when her husband is found dead, the victim of a possible hit and run.  When the pieces are put together it becomes clear that this was no accident but a suicide and Daisy, rather than crumble in grief, holds up her glass for yet another top up of wine.  Surrounded by friends and family she lets loose a volley of derogatory names for her deceased husband which leaves everyone flabbergasted.  Feeling fragile, Ruth turns to her husband for comfort but he is less than compliant.  When prodded by his wife, Joe admits there is someone else he has been turning to for the past year or so.
The remainder of the story follows Daisy and Ruth as they explore the next stage of their lives as women without the ties of commitment.  One cringe-worthy (though entertaining with a massive ick factor) character, Simon, seemingly preys on recent widows to provide his warped idea of comfort in the form of sex therapy.

'Daisy had listened very attentively, he was sure he had comforted her.  If Luke's brother hadn't turned up, taken over, he might have been able to comfort her rather more thoroughly.  Still, there was time.  Once the funeral was over, she would need a man's arms about her.  Why not his arms?


While Ruth is technically still married, once the shock of her husband's infidelity wears off she toys with the idea of an affair of her own.  And who wouldn't appreciate an escape from Joe's hypochondria?  It is her character that is most fascinating to watch evolve as the reader realizes her dysfunctional childhood has prepared her to handle more than she thought possible.  While the storylines may have been a bit overly dramatic I certainly admired Bawden's skill at keeping all of the idiosyncrasies of the characters straight...and their secrets.  There are a couple of twists and turns to make the reader sit up and take notice which when combined with the odd bits of humour and poignant moments add up to quite the entertaining read.  

While looking up some information on the author I found it interesting that at the age of fourteen she was evacuated to Aberdare, Wales during the Second World War.  Ruth's married name in this book just so happens to be 'Aberdare'.  Also, Bawden was touched by tragedy several times during her lifetime, once when a son from her first marriage committed suicide in 1981, then in 2002 her second husband, Austen Kark, was killed and Nina injured in the Potter's Bar rail crash.  Their daughter, Perdita, died in March, 2012 just a few months before Nina passed away the following August.

16 January 2014

A Reluctant Mystery Reader

First of all...thank you SO much for your kind words regarding my ongoing affliction.  Will I get more sympathy when you find out that my 'frozen shoulder' affects both arms?  I don't do things by half, now do I!  This afternoon I spoke with a physiotherapist who is, by all accounts, fantastic with shoulders and comes with twenty-five years of experience.  The earliest appointment to see her isn't for six weeks but an excellent one hour hands-on assessment is worth waiting for.  Is anyone else frustrated these days by the quick flash of your doctor's white coat as they whip into the examination, look at their computer, type something, and then...flash, a blur of white as they move on to the next room?

So my first book from the library with a blue and white spine label depicting a quasi-Sherlock Holmes character has been read.  I am not all that sure that this genre is one to have me clapping my hands in glee but it was nice to give something new a try.  For those who know that my reading tastes rarely stray from English writers it made me laugh to discover that this mother/son writing team is from the United States.  Which yes, for that alone, other books have been placed back on the shelf.  It's not that I am anti-North American but simply pro-British when it comes to authors.  So, settling in each night with my 'kick me out of my comfort zone' who-done-it and a cup of tea I found myself with more questions than answers.

Answer me this, just how much time off for sleuthing would your average World War I nurse be allowed?  Bess Crawford seems to apply the odd cool cloth and write a letter home for a wounded soldier before she is off on yet another train across England's green and pleasant landscape.  For a young woman away, doing her bit for the country, her parents barely have time to miss her.  Bess pops in at a moments notice just in time for tea and sometimes even manages to startle her poor mother as it was only five minutes before her last visit.  And just how does that lovely man, Simon, seem to know where Bess is at any given moment?  Alighting from Waterloo Station and wouldn't you know - there is Simon with his car at the curb with nothing else to do with his day but take Bess directly to wherever it is she is going.  Is she ever on the Tube, fighting her way against a stream of humanity?  When Bess wakes in the night in her flat near Buckingham Palace to the sound of an intruder it just so happens that Simon is parked around the corner, at the ready, to save this damsel in distress.  My guess is that these rescue missions are building a bit of sexual tension between officer and nurse.  Just you wait and see.

Another thing I couldn't help noting, and I know this is fiction, but would the stereotypical reserved English citizen take kindly to a strange woman appearing on their doorstep full of questions...much less invite them in for tea and cake?  That nurse's uniform must break down all sorts of social mores and etiquette when it comes to getting your foot in the door whether it be cottage or Georgian townhouse.  The detectives at Scotland Yard could learn a thing or two from Bess Crawford or if nothing else, curse her rate of success with coincidences.

A couple of chapters before the end (I knew everything would end up just fine) my yearning to get back to a story involving a woman going for shopping emerged.  But, I did get the third Bess Crawford book for Christmas and you know what? I'm sort of looking forward to it.


6 January 2014

Catching Up and Reading Plans

Let's start off by getting the boring stuff out of the way.  Since last March I have been managing through some really frustrating pain issues regarding my shoulders.  Last Spring, couple of appointments with a sports injury physician resulted in my feeling incredibly underwhelmed as he fixated on the fact that as a fifty-one year old woman not actively pursuing a position with an Olympic team of one sort or another my problem must be cancer-related.  I can't believe that in 2013 I was experiencing what it must have felt like to be a woman during the Victorian era with his questions regarding my menstrual cycle and headaches, which may I add, are not an issue.  Cutting off my nose to spite my face, I stubbornly refused to waste time with any more twaddle and surely time, rest, and yoga would heal my shoulder pain and spasm.  In November, when it became apparent that I had overestimated my body's ability to recover I called my family physician.  A double case of frozen shoulder was the diagnosis, or adhesive capsulitis in medical terms.  In a constant cycle of inflammation causing spasm in my upper trapezius muscle it means that lying down on a heated blanket is pretty much the only time there is some relief from pain.  And it's so frustrating to drag kitchen chairs around to retrieve anything from beyond the bottom shelf in the cupboard as my reach is pitiful.  Sitting at the computer and typing for any length of time makes the ligaments in my upper arms hurt like hell so it happens so rarely these days.  The recovery time for such an annoying affliction can be up to two years but I am really hoping to cut that time down by half...ever the optimist.  So there you have it in a nutshell.  On to much nicer things - like books!

What we have in the above photo are the books I keep meaning to read when something else pushes forward instead.  This is going to be the year for the short story to shine.  My Persephone compilation offers a treasure trove of stories to delight in and can there be a better way to try on a new author for size?  And I've just spotted the story to read first in my Penguin Book of British Comic Stories, a snippet from Henry Green called The Lull.  A bit of book browser regret has washed over me since I left a copy of Green's Back behind at a shop in Toronto a couple of weeks ago but hopefully it will still be on the shelf on my next trip in.  My overly practical rationale is that Living and Party Going haven't been dusted off yet so I should just get on with those before adding any more Green to my shelves.  Being practical is a curse at times.  Loving is a fantastic story, by the way, and has stuck with me since reading it ages ago.

The centenary of the First World War will no doubt bring forward a plethora of stories from that era.  Not one to read mysteries I was helping my husband find a book at Christmas when the pretty cover from the Bess Crawford series by Charles Todd caught my eye.  It was the third in the series so I'm going back one title to hopefully fill in a detail or two about this nurse during wartime and her sleuthing skills.  And by the sounds of things in the blogsphere, I must be the only one who hasn't read A Month in the Country by J. L. Carr.

Listening to my favourite book bloggers on my iPod, The Readers and Adventures With Words, has piqued my interest in reading newer fiction (they really are excellent!) but my heart craves twentieth-century writing most.  Norman Collins's London Belongs to Me was oh so wonderful and Bond Street Story sounds just as good judging by the first few pages.  When life on the shop floor leaves me ready for a gear shift then Penelope Lively, Winifred Holtby or Stevie Smith should fit the bill nicely.  Does anyone remember how much fun it was to join in on those Persephone and Virago Week read-alongs?  I digress.

Time for something completely different.  Every aspect of the Dandy lifestyle holds a bit of fascination for me (don't ask me why) so why not read about THE Dandy of his time.  A biography by Ian Kelly has been sitting on my shelves for years and years, it calls to me at least once a month and yet it languishes.  If nothing else I should stop being such a monogamous reader and dip in and out of a non-fiction book every now and then while enjoying a good fiction read.  While on the subject of non-fiction and dandies, the memoirs of The Duchess of Windsor in The Heart Has Its Reasons will no doubt blow away anything found in the biography section of a library.  Finding this book on a dusty lower shelf at the Reuse Centre made my week last year and yet, has it been read?...no.  I can't say that I am overly taken with Wallis Simpson as a person but oh what a wealth of description surrounding those pre-abdication days.  Nosiness and scandal aside, let's hope there is plenty of blather about those exquisite jewels and stunning fashions in her closets.  No doubt paid for by the British taxpayer...if you are going to be nosy, at least be aware.

Joining any sort of 'dare you not to buy books for awhile' group usually proves to be a dismal failure for me but I am quite confident there is plenty to keep me happily engaged for the time being.