Compressed lives

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There was something curiously sad about reading The complete robot, though I am puzzled to pin it down.  Perhaps it is seeing Asimov’s lifetime of robot stories compressed into one slightly dog-eared volume.  The stories are arranged thematically (‘Some immobile robots’, ‘Powell and Donovan’ etc.) so there is no sense of an arc or chronology in the writing, yet time weighs on the volume.  Perhaps it is sad to be reminded how thin some of the stories are, how long ago the Golden Age happened, how much more challenging and entertaining the tales were when I was fourteen. Maybe this is the last time I will read them.Margaret Oliphant’s Autobiography is mis-named, consisting only of four fragments, written at wide intervals and with purposes which changed as her life altered.  The fragments have the immediacy (almost) of a diary, unhomogenised for publication, and often raw with grief or self-knowledge.  The letters, of course, were written to be seen by at least one pair of eyes, yet again are created in the immediacy of a particular moment and purpose.  Her family life included much loss, disappointment and sadness, and her editor (who was also an adopted daughter) describes the relief with which Margaret Oliphant turned from life when informed that her final illness would be mortal.

And yet the vigour of her literary production was enormous.  I’ve read scarcely any of her journalism and none of her non-fiction works, and only a small proportion of the fiction.  Those novels I have read are not the easy romantic crowd-pleasers one would expect from a Victorian hack writer, though they are often flawed.  On the contrary:  Oliphant was capable of a moral complexity at least as challenging as anything to be found in her contemporaries, and sometimes tougher than almost anything I’ve ever read. (She could also be exceedingly witty.)  Most of her readers seem to agree that Miss Marjoribanks is the masterpiece, and certainly for me it’s pure joy from cover to cover.

A woman of so much drive and talent, but so religious, so conventional and with so few pretensions, was always going to be a puzzle to the Victorians, and I suspect she remains a stumbling block now, in spite of a developing cloud of critics and apologists.  Sometimes I think I’ll try one of the modern biographies; but then again, perhaps I’ll just let her continue to speak for herself.

Punishment for disorganisation

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is to find another eleven spidery plastic bags in a corner of the garage, each with a lump or two of dried out clay at the bottom, and all completely unlabelled.    (Click a thumbnail for the gallery)

Now:  can I, from touch memory, work out what sorts of clay the last six lumps are, which are all very slightly differing shades of grey…  Groans.

All on a summer’s day

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Well it was about 80° by 9 o’clock again, so I went to water the plants before it became intolerable.  While on this placid duty, the

biggest

blackest

hugest

enormous

VASTACEOUS

WALLUMPING

bumblebee flew straight down the neck of my shirt.

Having in this compendious manner tried to achieve heat stroke and heart attack in the same encounter, I treated myself for shock and proceeded with the day.

At 10 o’clock we headed to a convenient beach.  There was a ruffling breeze and on the fairly steep-to shingle the waves made aggressive dashes at our knees.  Wet skirts were not a problem in the circumstances …

At noon the curtains were pulled against the sun and with local old-fashioned milk (full of old-fashioned top-of-the-milk) we made raspberry ice cream – yum, zingy.

And having run out of tosh for the moment, another book at 1 pm:

 

Wendy Moore has written an interesting double biography of Thomas Day and Sabrina Sidney/Bicknell.  The key narrative element is that Day, a dogmatic, wealthy and eccentric 18th century bachelor, tried to create a wife to his own specifications by acquiring and educating his own personal orphan, naming her Sabrina Sidney.  The morality of this is more complex than at first appears – less obnoxious because it did not in fact seem to cloak sexual abuse or pædophilia, and did in fact benefit his protégé in terms of prosperity and education; and more obnoxious, because the bald description of ‘apprenticeship’ barely indicates the mental manipulation, ownership, occasional physical cruelty and minute control he expected to exert over Sidney.  What could possibly go wrong?  Quite a lot, but again, no simple moral to be drawn.

It seems that the story was too good to waste, its afterlife leaking into several novels, and perhaps eventually into Shaw’s Pygmalion.  Having read this account of Day’s experiment (and also Pygmalion), I can well believe it.

And now at another 9 o’clock, it’s time to water the frazzled pot plants again.  Dare I brave the invertebrates?

Tosh

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It’s hot.  And I’m not very good at hot.  After trying to keep going yesterday, I slept eleven hours out of eighteen, so I’ve taken the hint.  Productive work has tailed off to minimal, and tosh rules.  I always feel some residual guilt at finding tales of murder diverting, but for the next day or two this is going to be the schedule.

 

Oh – and did I mention the whiff of death by the back door?  Luckily only a minor whiff, so I trust it is only a minor corpse. Perhaps it accounts for the blowfly plague, though the timing seems off.   Can’t find the body yet, so I do hope that mummification will be swift.

Creaking slightly

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and not feeling creatively adventurous.  I’ve used up nearly all the algae-encrusted, dried-out or slimy remnants at the bottom of plastic sacks, though, which is a sort of achievement.

The mugs and jugs are bog-standard stoneware and I hope their simple shapes will show off my favourite green glaze with its dark tan colour break.  Fingers crossed.  The main practical problem at the moment is to slow down the drying, as the conservatory temperature is peaking at about 85° in the shade.  So the kitchen table is now fully occupied with slightly whiffy clay, outgassing slowly.

Nothing much to be said either for the basic flowerpots made with the local clay from the beach.  Since I don’t know if they will fire successfully, I’m not going to invest a lot of time in each piece.  I’m guessing that holes at the bottom and in the rims may weaken their structure and crack the pots, but we’ll soon see.

Creak creak.

Rage, blood and slaughter

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Living in the country is SO delightful, I ranted, as I pursued half a dozen members of the current blowfly plague around the house, waving a shoe and in a killing rage.  Herding the hairy zoomers, one by one, into a window, I slapped and walloped until statistics gave me a direct hit, and then started on the next.  At last a cohort of death lay sprinkled on the windowsill.

I’m not a very nice person, granted, but just think where they’ve been.

And then they walk on your face.