I love to read, I always have done, ever since I was a little girl and forced my younger brother to listen to me show off my prowess. However exhausted I might be, I read every night, even if I have to reread the same pages the next day. It is the full stop to my day. Not to do it would seem bizarre. Sometimes I am eager to return to the story, sometimes not so keen, but I almost always persist until the end. I usually have two books on the go. An Upstairs Book and, you’ve guessed it, a Downstairs Book. Even with two on the go at the same time I have a lot waiting in the wings. Post-Christmas the pile has grown substantially; poetry, memoir, cookery, nature and novels, and I feel secure surrounded by the potential wonders contained within. The recent days of relaxation have meant more reading time, which has been a great joy.
A couple of weeks ago, on the Mantle Estate I was recalling a story of my youth to Their Lordships. I think they were enjoying it, both with their eyes closed and mouths agape, making snuffling sounds as I told my tale. Now you can savour my words. Any insomniacs might save it for later. Many years ago I went travelling with my boyfriend of the time. We ended up in the south of France, bunked up in an enchanting house that his parents were in the process of renovating. They were aiming to move there when it was complete, which they indeed did. The house was in a small hamlet reached down a winding tracking off a winding road, deep within the sweet chestnut forests of the Cevennes. It was a place of great beauty and I will always remember my stay there with great affection and a smile. The property at the time was not much more than a shell, there was basic electricity, but no fresh running water and the toilet was in a outhouse where scorpions lurked and emptied to who knows where. Each visit the family brought books from home which meant there were a meagre three shelves full of a varied assortment, a hotchpotch of fiction and non fiction. These included The Glass Blowers by Daphne du Maurier, Hotel New Hampshire by John Irvine, Alistair McLean’s Where Eagles Dare and The Well Tempered Garden by Christopher Lloyd. Mike was also an avid reader and having been on the literary wagon for many weeks we devoured these with undignified relish. What I remember as especially wonderful was the fact that I was a captive audience, it was a case of “take it or leave it”, I would never have considered reading a gung-ho book about Special Forces or, God forbid, a gardening book! Both I enjoyed immensely.
Waking The Mantles from their meditations I spied a large cardboard box spilling over with books and wondered what it was there for. “Take what you like” Her Ladyship said “they are on the way to the charity shop”. Then quick as a whippet “After that story, I think you should close your eyes first”. Oh dear, she is rather fond of her Barbara Cartland, it could be a scary outcome. Without peeking, honest guv, I rummaged around and pulled out the chosen one.
Yesterday I read the following passage in the current Downstairs Book, the very one that I had blind selected at the Mansion. As I am a great fan of Hardy (both Thomas and Tom) it was a lucky pick. This piece made me laugh and I read it out loud to OH who, from memory, had a similar countenance to that of my little brother all those years ago.
Nothing is new.
Here they turned over sundry flat stones and killed the slugs sheltered beneath them from the coming heat of the day, talking of slugs in all their branches–of the brown and the black, of the tough and the tender, of the reason why there were so many in the garden that year, of the coming time when the grass-walks harbouring them were to be taken up and gravel laid, and of the relatively exterminatory merits of a pair of scissors and the heel of the shoe.
The Trumpet Major by Thomas Hardy