GMBG July – A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush and The Teign Gardener

Technically I missed it. My GMBG for July has drifted into August, I hold my hand up. However, as I am in charge of all things “rules”, and books were shared and thoughts where thunk before the official cut off day, I say that all is fair and above board. This decision is final. Any letters of complaint should be addressed to my agent.

This month’s pairing is A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush by Eric Newby and The Teign Gardener.

Shall we consider the book first, A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush. I read this book several years ago and to be honest the contents are a little sketchy. What I do remember is that it is funny, beautifully written and engaging. This might sound like faint praise, but for some reason it lodged in my mind. There are many that haven’t.

When a friend was ill, I thought this book would entertain him in his incapacity. Of course I never saw it again. Recently, still missing the potential to revisit what lies within its vanilla pages, I bought myself another copy. The ghost of memory can be very persuasive.

The book tells of the author’s 1956 road trip from London to Afghanistan, along with his friend Hugh Carless. Newby was no stranger to adventure; when he was eighteen he crewed one of the last square riggers to sail to Australia, as documented in his book The Last Grain Race. During the Second World War he dodged Germans and found love in the Italian mountains, you can read all about it in Love and War in the Apennines. But let us not get diverted from the book in question. Unfortunately, his previous exciting travails did not equip him well for his journey into Asia. With the confidence/arrogance of the fearless he muddled through. Do not worry, this is not a pompous book, EN is free with laughter at his own expense, unashamed to highlight their glaring shortcomings and bumblings. And there are photos, I do love a photo.

The Teign Gardener, which is not his given name but one that will suffice, is a stranger to me. Not quite a stranger, but almost. I have gleaned hints and shadows along the way but never quite understood. Of course if I’d asked he might have told me, but I have never felt it necessary. He has a past and a present. I will tell you what I know about his present, or perhaps more accurately what I surmise. He is a gardener. And he is a photographer. He studied a lone sycamore for a year, surveying and recording. We watched along. He is unrelenting and fine-focused. He lives on the edge of Dartmoor and is immersed in its soul, in a way that no one else needs to understand. Along with other fabulous artists, he is a member of group of photographers The Dartmoor Collective. They possibly have long beards and berets, but personally I think this is a good thing.

I chose this book for TTG because of a glimpse I have had of his past, one perhaps fixed in the often-troubled region of Mr Newby’s destination. He might find this book trite or colonial, but I hope he can see past this. I hope he enjoys a tale of adventure, in a time when travel of this kind was extraordinary.

Today TTG celebrates the wilderness. Seventy years ago, I think Mr Newby did that too.

GMBG – Wilding by Isabella Tree and Ant and Mary

June’s “Great Monthly Book Giveaway” (I’m pretty sure that is what it stands for) has been delivered to you just in time, on the last day of the month. I can’t blame lack of inspiration for my dillydallying. This GMBG introduced itself to me a while ago. But I can blame the postie as, although sent several weeks ago, this book is yet to arrive at its new home. This small matter will not deter me. We will pretend that it has been delivered and continue as though nothing is amiss. Silence that nagging voice telling you this is all a farce, another example of the rot embedded in our society, the relentless onslaught of deception and manipulation. Hang on a minute! There is no need to over-react. It’s just a missing book, I’ve confessed to the shortcoming and if it doesn’t appear I’ll get another one to replace it. Really, sometimes I wonder why I bother at all.

First the recipients this month. The ones who haven’t got the book. I have known Ant and Mary for a long time. Their son, Mike, was one of my first boyfriends. He was a very nice lad; I am sure he is now a very nice man. I don’t really know; I lost touch with him many years ago. But I have stayed in contact with his mum and dad. That is because they are also very nice, lovely in fact. They first knew me as a wet behind the ears, fresh out of Cornwall, innocent young lass, and they have always been kind and considerate to me. There were never patronising (when to be honest it would have been an easy thing), were interested in what I had to say, enjoyed a chat about this that and everything in between and were forever great fun.

This isn’t the first time my blog has featured this lovely couple. A few years ago Mary kindly wrote a guest blog for me Hat Guardians an indication of her love of the wilderness. A little while later they very kindly sent me two special books, as previously chronicled in Six on Saturday – Necessity. Now I am returning half the favour.

I contacted Ant and Mary a few weeks ago, to find out how they were getting on, how lockdown en France was panning out and suchlike. Mary told me that they were letting some of their land go “wild” and the bee orchids and Rosa mundi were magnificent. When I read this comment, a cartoon lightbulb pinged out of the top of my head. They would make the perfect match. After checking they didn’t have the book already, which they didn’t although they were aware of it, it was decided. So you see, they have been my blogging inspiration three times now. They will start charging commission.

The book that I am pairing them with, Wilding by Isabella Tree, it is one of the most enlightening and thought provoking books I have read in a long time. Or perhaps ever read. It is a story of the decision to return 3,500 acres of a West Sussex farm, Knepp, to the wild. It is no fluffy fairytale; along the way there are countless battles and heart-sinking failures, paired with many glorious successes. There are moral mazes and new roads to forge, and the discovery of other like-minded people from across the globe who provided much support. It doesn’t purport to give all the answers, and it leaves a lot of questions to ponder. Ones that we should be pondering.

There has been much talk, during these troubled times, of nature reclaiming the land, deer wandering into cities, pollution falling, flora and fauna thriving. Although I am sure this will be reversed in the blink of the self-centred human’s eye, it does give us a glimpse of what could be. Peer into Ms Tree’s book, and you will be given a panorama of what is possible, of how we can begin to right a few of the many wrongs.

Definitely a match made in heaven. I hope it arrives soon, or I might have to deliver the replacement myself!

GMBG – Playing to the Gallery – Sandra Moore

The lovely couple for the month of May are Grayson Perry’s book ‘Playing to the Gallery’ and my good friend Sandra Moore.

I have known Sandra for a long time, but not as long as some would imagine.  Before we met, over 30 years ago, people would say “You know Sandra.”  At first, I would say “No, we have never met”.  “Really? You would get on really well with her” they would reply.   After I while I would say “No, we have never met” in a slightly grumpy way.  A little snippy sometimes.  Unbenowst to me the same was happening in Essex “You know Mouse” etc.  Yes Mouse.  My college nickname.  It is pronounced Moose.  As in “Wee Mouse” with a Glaswegian accent.   But that is another story.  Eventually we did meet and were determined not to get on.  Of course we did.  Very well.

Sandra is an artist.  She is challenging and clever and brave and infuriating and kind and crazy.  And I love her.  We have been having early-morning-before-the-rest-have-risen chats.  It has been a wonderful way to start the day.  To share, to be honest, to be funny and a bit sad.  Together.

‘Playing to the Gallery’, written by the artist Grayson Perry, is a great book.  Many of you will have heard of Mr Perry, perhaps known as much for his alter-ego, Claire, as his art.  Which is maybe a shame.  He probably doesn’t mind.  A couple of years ago, Sandra and myself visited his travelling exhibition at the Arnolfini in Bristol, where we met up with The Mantles.  A lovely day indeed.  The company was obviously excellent, but so was the art.  A mix of textiles, ceramics, sculpture and motorbikes; my mouth may have gaped unattractively in awe.  Did I understand it?  Possibly not.  Did I appreciate it?  Undoubtedly.

Although no artist, I enjoy art immensely and often visit galleries and exhibitions.  It can be a bit intimidating though.  I am not well versed in the ways of the art-side.   Once myself and OH stood on an installation by mistake, blushingly retreating when we realised our faux-pas.  Well I blushed; I suspect OH was defiant.  ‘Playing to the Gallery’ debunks the Kingdom of Art in a way that is not unduly cruel, it is affectionately critical.  After all it is Grayson’s chosen world.  Or did he choose it?  Maybe there is no choice in these matters.

As can be said for many of the best books, ‘Playing to the Gallery’ is both hilarious and educational.   And there are pictures.  And it all made sense to me.  Unlike many things at the moment.  I am sure this month’s couple will get on really well.  Just like Sandra and me.  I do hope so.

 

 

Allelujah!

This morning I woke up with “one of my heads” and not the nice one.   Today, therefore, has been one less dynamic than the norm.   After the pain subsided I sat and read, something I have done little of recently.  Not enough anyway, especially as I have ample opportunity.

For Christmas I was given the script of Alan Bennett’s play Allelujah!  Up until this afternoon I have only given it a cursory glance, I like to keep a book’s innards secret until I come to explore them.   I am a massive Alan Bennett fan; his turn of phrase, his characters, his humour, his humanity.  He didn’t let me down with this one.

Serendipity is a wonderful word.  It transpires that this was the right time for me to read this play. First published in 2018, it is the story of a geriatric ward in a hospital threatened with closure.  This book snuggled within the nether reaches of The Pile for four months until its time was right.  Then it whispered “now, now, now”.  Or maybe I imagined that, I have had a bad head.  Whichever, I can highly recommend it and would love to see it one performed one day.

I was suppose to have a “computer off day” but as I finished it, I felt compelled to quote from this play.  These words are part of a short monologue very close to the end of the book.  It is spoken by a doctor who has failed his citizenship exam and is waiting to be deported.

“…. I must leave the burden of being English to others and become what I have always felt, a displaced person.

Why, I ask myself, should I still want to join?  What is there for me here, where education is a privilege and nationality a boast?  Starving the sick and neglecting the poor, what makes you special still?  There is no one to touch you, but who wants to anymore?  Open your arms before it’s too late. “

And I shouted, most probably internally, “don’t go we need you!”   Serendipity.

GMBG – April – Peggy matched with Julian of Norwich by Janina Ramirez

For this April’s GMBG I have not adhered to my usual draconian rules.  This month I haven’t gifted the book in question to anyone, but I did lend them my copy a few months ago.  I think that considering a) we live in exceptional times and b) it’s my party and I will cry if I want to, this slight deviation from the straight and narrow is acceptable.  And the pairing seemed appropriate.  Any letters of complaint can be sent to my agent.

First the benefactor.  The person in question is my mum, Peggy.  As long as I can remember she has been an avid reader.  Many years ago, when she was temporarily bedridden after a back operation, my Dad would choose her library books for her.  One day I accompanied him on his mission.  As he chatted to the librarian I began to study the available books, pulling them out and carefully considering them, reading inside the dust cover, weighing up if they would be appropriate.  Joining me in my quest my dad enquired “What are you up to?”, “Finding some books for mum, of course”, “You don’t do it like that, watch me!” and he proceeded to randomly pull six books off the shelves, returning to the librarian for stamping and more chat.  “Oh”.  She never complained about his selection, although I have always wondered if it was a case of “beggars can’t be choosers”.  At the moment she is self-isolating, alone but chipper as always.

I don’t remember learning to read and recently I asked Peggy if she had taught me.  She seemed unsure.  “Well I would read to you and then afterwards you would read the same book to your little brother.  I was never sure if you were making it up or you had memorised the words”.  Whichever, I could read by the time I started school, at barely 4 years old, and haven’t let up since.

Now for the book, Julian of Norwich, A Very Brief History by Janina Ramirez.  I was first tempted by this book because of the author, not the subject.  Dr Ramirez is a cultural historian, with a PhD in the art, literature and culture of Anglo Saxon England.  She a brilliant presenter of programmes on both art and history.  But she is not the stereotypical academic, more gothademic, with her long black hair, wearing stacked platform biker boots and heavy black eyeliner.  She is ace.

This book is about the 14th century anchorite* Julian of Norwich.   In 1390, she was bricked up in a cell in Norwich Cathedral until her death in 1413.   Yes, “she”.   Julian was a she, probably a noble woman, although it is far from certain exactly who.  It was here that she wrote her book Revelations of Divine Love.   Janina’s book is intriguing, discussing who Julian might have been, why someone would want to cut themselves off from society in such a way and what was occurring whilst she was interred.  It also explains how her book differed from previous religious writings.  Julian’s emphasis was on love and hope as opposed to guilt or punishment.  Love and hope, much better options.

As Julian wrote, over 600 years ago:

All shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.

*An anchorite is a religious recluse.

GMBG – March – Flowers

Did you think I had forgotten about my Book and Reader dating agency?  I mean March is almost over and not a whisper.  Do not fear, all is well.  You can’t hurry love.

The happy couple this month are the book Flowers and my friend the delightful Cathy.  I like to call her Swotty.  She is an eco-warrior, she loves flowers and the world.

I found this little book in a covered market in a nearby town.  The cover is repaired and retorn, and features the humble daisy.   It was love at first sight, quite irresistible, and I wanted it for myself.   But that was not meant to be.

It is a book for children, with text by C E Smith and drawings by Janet Harvey Kelman.  Although I can’t find a date anywhere in the book, I think this edition might have been produced in late 1920’s to early 1930’s.  Inside the front cover, in pencil, the name Josephine Fulford – Upper IIIP is written.  I love that.  A tangible link to the past.  One that gets you thinking: who was Josephine and what became of her? Did she marry and have a family, are her descendants close by?  Perhaps she became a famous botanist or naturalist.  Did she love the book or were her botanical studies a chore?  I am hoping this mini-tome was a joy to her and inspired a lifelong love of nature.

For ease of identification, the book is divided by colour, illustrated by 48 colour plates.  These plates are quite stunning.   You won’t find any tongue twisting Latin names here, just evocative common ones: Dog’s Mercury, Mouse-eared Chickweed, Brooklime Speedwell, Biting Stonecrop, Tormentil.  Beautiful words, a salve to the tongue.  Words to be said out loud, to be savoured and tasted.   And all for 3/6, three shillings and sixpence.  A bargain.

 

GMBG – February – The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry

Welcome to February’s GMBG, my monthly book:earthling dating agency.  My attempt at a good match this month is The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry and Grev.

I have known Grev since I was a teenager, although in truth I don’t know him at all.  I have seen him perhaps twice in the last thirty years.  We are Facebook friends.  He is on my postcard list and I am never quite sure if he thinks this is a little odd or perhaps that I am stalking him.  Which in retrospect will only be made worse by me sending him a random book.  But I’m not, and the book isn’t random.  Let me tell you a few things that I have gleaned.  Forgive me if I am wrong.

Grev is a Cornishman, I thought I should mention that first, but he is also a citizen of the world.  He is politically savvy; he scrabbles in the mire in an attempt to find diamonds. Sometimes he despairs of folk, occasionally he is sad but, more often than not, he is very funny.  He is a musician and I have often been guided in a new direction by the tunes he shares.  He cares.  And I like him.  And he likes poems.

Wendell Berry is a Kentucky farmer who writes poetry and prose.  I cannot vouch for his agricultural skills, but his writing is exemplary.  Not only does he observe beautifully, submerging into his immediate surroundings, he is also a rebel, a revolutionary, a man who observes the larger picture and rails against it.  He can write a love poem to his wife, a tree or old friends and all are equally touching.  My copy of this book is kept close.  I delve frequently and am forever amazed by the joy his words give me.

I’m hoping they give a little joy to Grev too.

GMBG – January – Lanny by Max Porter and Betsy Bee

Welcome to the inaugural Great Monthly Book Giveaway post, known forthwith as GMBG.  This month the lovely and lucky couple are Lanny by Max Porter and Betsy Bee.  The above photo is of my book.  Betsy’s edition has a beautiful copper leaf on the front.  It made me a little bit jealous.  I suppose I could have swapped them over in the hope she believed it had been well-thumbed in the bookshop.  Unfortunately my conscience reflex is far too strong.  Heyho, you may imagine a beautiful embossed leaf, if you wish.

I first read this book because of a recommendation.  Not of this particular book, but another by the same author.  The advice came from either Chris Packham or Simon King, I don’t remember which, but I am certain it was a wildlife presenter.  I scribbled “Max Porter” on a piece of paper but not who to blame/thank and filed it in “big pile on desk”.  Then Lanny came along and with it a twinkle of recognition.  And I was very pleased for that scribble.

Lanny is a book of Nature, both mother and human.  It is not cutesy Disney nature, but tough, vengeful, own rules nature.  At first it is delightful, gradually becoming more shadowy, hints of something I didn’t want to acknowledge.  Oh dear, I thought, I didn’t sign up for this, please don’t let it be true.  I was irritated by this particular diversion, a bit sulky, Mr Porter wasn’t playing the game how I wanted it played.  Of course, and quite rightly, he did what he wanted.  Not only are the words beautiful to say and hear and read, they are beautiful to see and they scamper or trail or lounge around the pages.  I’ll tell you no more.

I have sent this book to my friend Betsy, known to me as Betsy Bee.  She keeps bees.  She lives between sea and moor, is open-minded, receptive to new ideas and very clever.  They are well-suited.

Betsy was not my first choice. I bought the book for Div on a whim and when I tentatively investigated she had just started reading it.  At the time I didn’t tell her as I thought she might feel bad, but there would be no need.  These things often work out for the best.  Betsy is presently engulfed in tax office torture and she is longing for distraction.  I hope this proves to be a good one.

As for Div, she won’t miss out, I have something else planned for her.

Introducing The Great Monthly Book Giveaway

I have been feeling singularly uninspired.   Blame it on the time of the year, blame it on the weather, blame it on the state of the universe, blame it on the boogie.   It just is.  I am struggling to find my factory setting “annoyingly upbeat” persona.

Then a book arrived, delivered by our very own Stealth Postie, a gift from my good friend and most talented jeweller Div.   Postcards Stories written by Jan Carson, not one previously on my literary radar.   Every day in 2015 the author wrote a short story on the back of a card and posted it to a friend, and this diddy little book features the best of them.  It is finished, I have eaten every last crumb.  And I greatly enjoyed it.   It was an appropriate choice.

In a similar vein I have periodically, with my usual randomness, been posting cards to friends, delving into a reservoir amassed over the years, always attempting to match subject to subject.  A dating agency of sorts.  I decided there was no need to hoard these jewels picked up in galleries and museums, tourist information and local shops, they were better off shared.  The joy of receiving something in the post far outweighs the ping of an email.  It was a way of sending a little joy.  A drop only, but a drop is better than a bill or someone trying to sell you life insurance.  On the reverse of these cards there are no clever and concise stories lurking, just the odd rambling “I thought you might like this” “Reminds me of you” or other such dull lines.  It is my hope that the card itself makes up for my lack of poetry.

And then in a flash, or maybe a slow fizzle, it came to me. The catalyst of course was the ever-generous Div.  A new project.  Each month of this year I am going to send a book to someone and share on my blog why I have chosen the particular book and the particular person.  Not a book review, or a person review even, just why I thought they would be a good match.  Perhaps there will be feedback from the recipient, perhaps not.  Perhaps you will be inspired to seek out the book, perhaps not.  It will be called The Great Monthly Book Giveaway, a title which contains only one possibly inaccurate word.

I am once again feeling inspired.