Being underslept, I had difficulty keeping a focus on the official business of the day.
It was distractingly easy to consider munchy ginger fudge, since they keep the fudge shop so handy to the cathedral. I leave it to each reader to decide on the wisdom of this policy. At lunch time thought became action.
A pamphlet: less obviously enticing. I was nonetheless tempted by this distraction, and was only prevented from some old-fashioned reading under the desk by the very small class size and my corresponding visibility.
Part of the day was spent contemplating hand sewing fine hems of muslin. Later I congratulated myself on the prescience which had caused me to pack pins.
What we know and what we don’t know about our families.
Margaret Forster exercised both her historical and creative imaginations to investigate her own female line, partly for pure story, partly for the whole mother-and-daughter commitment thing, and partly as an analysis of how women’s lives worked in the past and how they work now. The result is sobering and tantalising.
I thought of the Mitford sisters’ lives, outwardly a dramatic contrast. Forster’s mother and her sisters lived through the same decades, but as northern working women their lives could scarcely have seemed more different. Except, of course, for their shared preoccupations with marriage, illicit sexual relations, and the question of balancing income, personal fulfilment and childbearing. And they all had their secrets.
The secrets seemed particularly onerous for Forster’s mother and grandmother. And exceptionally well-kept. There is a large, secret-shaped space in their lives, but what is inside it Margaret Forster will never, never know.
… till May be out. So I took my jacket and woolly hat … (Click a thumbnail for gallery)
Well, the may was out, and very benign too,
though there is always something dispiriting about alighting here.
In a fine tradition of inspecting station roofs. I don’t think this is a sparrow’s, though.
Still not wearing a coat. In fact,
I removed my jumper.
Aaaah. I’m not sure why it made me so happy
to find essays on Bede in the 7 day loans category,
and Gregory of Tours,
and Notker the Stammerer. I’d like to think they know.
We walked, basking, through the barracks gardens,
and went on a long leg of domestic inspection.
I got out of the train into a time warp. I didn’t need a coat there either.
At last: a little time to read for my own entertainment, and I’ve had this one queued up for months.
And what an anthology it is; bracing, frightening, hilarious, painful, astonishing by turns. Here is my favourite so far, for its unpretending humanity:
and possibly five pounds lighter, but at present it’s more a case of inward niggles, wondering which typo or howler has made it through the proof-reading. There has to be at least one. Also worrying slightly about the jokes.
Always risky, jokes. But once I had had the eating weasels rule pointed out to me, the Epistle of Barnabas just had to go in. And once the Epistle of Barnabas was in, one might as well have Warwick the Kingmaker as well (“Are you Edmund Mortimer? If not, have you got him?”) And then somehow The Sorrows of Werther crept into the general stirabout.
It may have been injudicious. I carefully remind myself: who cares what THEY think?
From the dear old days when upon marriage you lost not only your surname, but first name as well:
Round about 1902 Mrs Aeneas Gunn went, with Mr Aeneas Gunn, to a cattle station in the Northern Territory of Australia. This was not a destination for wimps.
Her two books have been condensed for a more modern audience, probably a good thing as even in this form the narrative is diffuse. Mrs Gunn’s authorial voice is both permanently arch and continually patronising – towards the indigenous people, naturally, but also to the Chinese, the rustic stockmen and pretty much anyone else she happened to meet (except Mr Aeneas Gunn). It has to be said that they all seem to have patronised her first (including Mr Gunn), for being a townie, and, of course, for being a woman, so perhaps one should not be too indignant about her attitude on this occasion.
That might not sound promising, but I read every page with attention. Here we have a voice from a tiny, transient foundational community that has disappeared from all knowledge. And the story, beneath the archness, is one of great pathos.
In another corner of the nest:
Having all the pieces is a surprising and gratifying outcome.
Found on a second-hand bookstall for a modest 50p:
This autobiographical account of Christabel Bielenberg’s experiences during World War II in Germany, as the Irish/English wife of a German lawyer, depicts a slow awakening: from youthful preoccupation with their own careers, family life and friends to the conviction that the developing Nazi regime was monstrous, and eventually to the belief that it must be opposed.
No doubt memories must have been subject to the rewritings of time, as the book was not published until 1968, but the mélange of trivial and terrifying, ludicrous and horrific incidents, along with Bielenberg’s refusal to take sides along national lines, creates an unusual voice. Towards the end of the book Bielenberg describes what it was like to summon up enough courage deliberately to walk into the Gestapo HQ in Berlin, and try to lie her husband out of Ravensbruck after his arrest for complicity in an attempt to kill Hitler (of which he was indeed guilty – if that is the right word).
At the time of reading I was entirely absorbed in this extraordinary scenario. It was only later that I realised the serendipity of finding a commentary upon the Book of Judith in this improbable source, just at the moment I need it.
I am gradually becoming acquainted with Salisbury walls. Here is one whose ugly rendering rests upon a base of properly-old bricks:
and another which includes properly-old bricks, and an unusual tiled apex. Note to self: don’t walk under this one, especially in bad weather.
Time to retire to a quiet bay in pursuit of all the Judiths:
The pleasure of the day was some generous typography:
A nostalgia piece really, or an introductory text for those of us who weren’t there for steam trains or WWII. The details are interesting, though excessive use of the words ‘hero’ and ‘heroic’ is always to be reprehended; in a properly narrated story, the reader will be quite aware of courage without having to be told, and there was a lot of it about at the time.
Then there are the three Judiths. Biblical Judith is pink and there is a lot more of her; Middle English Metrical Judith is yellow, and is both selective and inventive; and Old English Judith is green, and unfortunately missing her first section, so we are not exactly comparing like with like. The point is to clarify what was left out, what was included, and what was made up as additional story elements in the re-tellings. Hmmm.
Returning from the home patch to find a peculiar and unsettling incident going on in Salisbury, of all unlikely places. Apart from the usual sticky-beaks, most people are going about their business, though at times with rather raised eyebrows, as indeed I am doing myself.
Nest building continues. I love charity shops.
Meantime I am reading the story of Judith in the Middle English Metrical Paraphrase of the Old Testament. Spelling Nebuchadnezzar as ‘Nabogodhonosour’ is genius. And ‘pupplysch’ is an excellent word. And it was written by a proto-feminist, which can’t necessarily be said of the biblical source:
Thei say, “We wott we have yt wun
with wyll of God and wyt of thee.”
Enough to think about for now.