I write a lot, and often end up with more words than I know what to do with.
These blogs are the overspill.
THE QUIET HOUR
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Longer posts on all things literary.
A month of mindfulness in the kitchen turned into this series of breakfast
Lately Iíve had a passion for ghost stories, in particular those written by
Susan Hill of
The Woman in Black
fame. The first thing about these books is
that they are satisfyingly compact and it is possible to read each of them in a
single sitting. The second is that they offer the novelist a masterclass in
NOTES FROM THE GARDEN
It might have been the heatwaves that came and went over the holidays, but I
did enjoy the damp, foggy London street settings of Hillís
The Mist in the
For the weather alone, I would read it all over again, though I found
its ending deeply unsatisfying.
The Man in the Picture
transported me to
Venice, and I shuddered, as I was meant to, at its painting of a street scene
with the power to entrap the viewer. In
The Small Hand,
a dealer in antiquarian
books becomes lost in a country lane at dusk and finds himself in a ruined
garden where he feels a childís hand slide into his own. Thus, with no child to
be seen, the haunting of Adam Snow begins, and with each manifestation the
small hand grows increasingly sinister.
The atmosphere in all of these works is beautifully evoked by setting and of
course by the weather. Their isolated houses, or grand public schools emptied
for the holidays of all but a caretaker, their lonely paths across moorland, or
the deserted midnight streets around the River Thames become a kind of haunting
in themselves. Meanwhile, Hillís spare, precise prose draws the reader
inexorably on and it is nearly impossible to put the book down.
Susan Hill is a wonderful storyteller; she pulls the reader in and keeps them
guessing. After reading four of these books in a row it seems that part of the
fascination of the ghost story is the way it renders horrific events so
lyrically and with unfailing attention to the dressing of the sets. Style is
all, and yet without an underlying sense of morality the ghost story would lose
much of its power to haunt.
For many seasons now our old plum tree has borne little or no fruit. The reason
is that it was badly savaged by possums in consecutive springs, and it has
taken time to recover. But this spring it was smothered in blossom, and now in
late summer it is heavily laden with delicious dark red plums, so many that we
are having trouble using them all.
To my joy, I discovered that plums can be harvested while still green. So I
began to stew them early and enjoyed weeks of sharp-fruit breakfasts,
accompanied by dollops of thick Greek yoghurt and sprinkles of freshly grated
nutmeg. Then I found a recipe for Spicy Green Plum Chutney. When the plums
began to ripen properly, I made plum crumble to keep and to give away, and
batch after batch of ruby-coloured jam. Meanwhile, we were still eating fruit
by the handful, and the birds are claiming their share.
Had I known that the old tree would recover, I might not have planted four new
plum trees in another part of the garden. If we have bumper crops like this
when these young trees mature I will have to set up a roadside stall to dispose
of the produce.
I have picked the first pears from our new, small pear trees, and love looking
at the tiny fruit still left on the tree -- there is something almost magical
about it. Elsewhere apples are ripening, and we will soon be entering the apple
pie days. In April and May there will be quinces.
One of the most fascinating aspects of my recent research into the lives of
those buried in Adelaideís beautiful old West Terrace Cemetery was an
investigation into early medical practices, including herbalism and homeopathy.
It started as a way to understand something of the panic and desperation of our
earliest settlers when faced with medical emergencies, and resulted in
wonderful snippets of information that related to my own garden. For example I
learned that in the Middle Ages physicians attempted to ward off the plague
with herb rue, the grey-green leaved plant with a modest yellow flower that
grows unobtrusively underneath my roses.
This gave me an excuse to delve into my copy of Nicholas Culpeperís
first published in 1653, with its Shakespearean language and its
intricate descriptions and illustrations of medicinal plants.
I have always loved this book, and thought its recipes quaint and charming. But
this reading brought the realisation that cordials and decoctions and poultices
were all these people had as a defence against fearful injury and illness.
While I loved knowing that the herbs I grow would have been recognised
centuries ago by monks and nuns in their physic gardens, I ended with a sense
of relief and gratitude that medical knowledge has moved on.
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