Thursday, 22 July 2021

Holiday reading: recommended books

No farms today, instead I thought I'd list some of my favourite holiday reads. On holiday I like to read books that have lots of pages and, as they say in Dutch 'lezen als een trein' ('read like a train'), i.e. once you start you can't stop. Here are some books that I have enjoyed and can wholeheartedly recommend. I would love to hear what your favourites are.

Ann-Marie MacDonald: The Way the Crow Flies (2003, 810 p.) From the back flap: Both a head-spinning murder mystery and an exploration of morality, innocence lost, and the length to which parents and children will go to protect one another. Astonishing in its depth and breadth, The Way the Crow Flies artfully weaves one family's struggles into the fabric of the Cold War. This had me hooked from the start. When I got an inkling about the way the story would develop I stopped reading for a few days, because I cared so much about the characters. Just had to finish it though.

Norman Collins: London belongs to me (1945, 738 p.) I read a recommendation somewhere and ordered this book right away (it is a Penguin Modern Classic). This is the story of the inhabitants of a boarding house in Kennington in 1938. From the back flap: With deadpan humour, London Belongs to Me portrays a world of séances, shabby gentility, smoky pubs and ordinary lives in an extraordinary city. I took it with me when we were going to spend Christmas with friends. I became ill, spent a few days in bed and devoured this book. 

Catherine Fox: Acts and Omissions (Lindchester Chronicles part 1, 2014, 328 p.). Having read Catherine Fox's three novels I kept hoping for more. She has a way of making you love her characters, and you want to know what happens to them after the book finishes!  I knew that she had written novels about the Church of England, but I assumed they would not be my thing. But then I read somewhere that characters from her earlier novels return in these stories so I ordered them like a shot. I am so glad I did. I think Acts and Omissions (first written in instalments on Catherine's blog) is the best one: it is warm and witty and wise. Very funny, but some parts still bring tears to my eyes. I recommend this even if you know little about or have no interest in the Church of England: it is about people.

There are three more Lindchester Chronicles: Unseen Things Above, Realms of Glory, Tales from Lindford (this was blogged in instalments during 2020).

Dervla Murphy: Where the Indus is Young (1977, 266 p.) and On a Shoestring to Coorg (1976, 256 p.). I am a big Dervla Murphy fan and these two books are my favourites. Dervla had already published a few books on her travels when she had her daughter, Rachel. In On a Shoestring to Coorg she takes five year old Rachel to South India. This is " Rachel's apprenticeship to serious travelling. In effect, this decision meant not organising it; we would fly to Bombay and slowly wander south to Cape Comorin, planning our route on a day-to-day basis. As things turned out, these inconsequential ramblings had the happiest results" This is slow travel at is best. We see India through Dervla's and through Rachel's eyes. In Where the Indus is young Rachel and Dervla spend a winter in North Pakistan, travelling on foot with a mule to carry their luggage. I love Dervla's eye for the practical and the domestic: what is it like to keep house and cook in very primitive circumstances? These are details you don't often read about in other travel books.

I hope you will enjoy these books too. I would love to hear what your favourites are. I will be away from my desk for a while, so I may not be able to react at once. Have a great summer!

Friday, 16 July 2021

Copsford by Walter J.C.Murray (1948)


Little Toller Books have recently republished Copsford. From their website:
"The classic account of a young man’s life in rural Sussex, away from his city life – a year in which he rented a derelict cottage and scratched a living from selling dried herbs and wildflowers. Bearing comparison to Thoreau’s Walden, Murray’s intense feeling for his place is evident on every page. For all that it is no simple story of a rural idyll – life at Copsford was difficult and Murray does not shy away from the occasional terrors of a house that had its hauntings.

Walter J. C. Murray was born in Seaford, Sussex, a county where he spent most of his life. He served in the Merchant Navy and RAF during the First World War, after which he worked in London for a short time as a journalist. Disillusioned with city life, he moved to Horam and lived hand-to-mouth as a writer and collector of wild herbs and flowers, before becoming a teacher. In 1923, he founded a small school of which he remained the headmaster for forty years. Murray was also a well-known nature photographer, broadcaster and writer whose books include Nature’s Undiscovered Kingdom (1946) and Copsford (1948)."


I bought this book years ago, and as the bookmark showed, did not get very far. I liked the first chapters in which Murray describes finding the cottage and doing up a room on the 1st floor to live in, including wallpapering it. Wallpaper! In a house with most of the rooftiles missing and no windows! I would think the house would have been pretty much unlivable in when it rained and snowed, but he only mentions stains in the wallpaper in a later chapter.
Trying to eradicate the rats who had taken up residence was also entertaining. But the chapters on collecting plants I found boring. This time I forced myself to finish the whole book.  Raynor Winn says in her introduction to the recent reprint: „Copsford has an innocence, a freedom in thought… Anyone who has dreamt of spending time alone in the natural environment will connect with Murray’s emotions.” Well, I enjoy spending time alone in nature, but reading about someone’s thoughts and emotions about it is really not my thing. So this is not my book, sorry. But I know many people like it so here are two recent reviews by bloggers who clearly did love it:
Notes for the Curious
Caught by the river

A film on finding the location of the house (no longer there) at Copsford (East Sussex) can be found here 

Tartarus Press have also republished Copsford.

Monday, 12 July 2021

Betty Dougherty continued and This and That

After writing the post on Betty Dougherty I found a 1980-82 Writers Directory on the Internet, listing Betty's address as 2 Mount Pleasant, Wades Lane, Lower Raydon, Ipswich. Postcode IP75QW. As Sue had already pointed out, Betty's house is still there, but with a hugh extension.

Here is a drawing I did not use in my earlier post. Betty demolished the remains of a bread oven outside her house. She found out from one of her neighbours what it used to look like.

In other news: some of the plants on my balcony have grown very tall. After a stormy day last week some of them just flopped over, so yesterday I tidied things up. Some nicotinia have ended up in a vase, giving out the most wonderful scent. But, just like the ones still in their containers, only in the evening.

And, hurray, the Sunday flea market in the square near our home has returned. I got a down winter coat for 6 euro's and a denim shirt for 1 euro. Very pleased!


Monday, 5 July 2021

Betty Dougherty: Green Gardener: Creating a Wild Garden (1975)

So far, I have gardened in two small gardens and on one large balcony. I hardly ever consult gardening books or the Internet: I just like to try out things and see how I get on.  On the other hand, I love books about how someone made a garden. One of the first „garden stories” I bought is this one. I bought it in 1977, I know that because back then I still made a note of the purchase date and place in my books. At the time I was a student living in a flat and I can’t remember having an interest in gardens. Still, something must have attracted me to the book. Having just reread it I think it must have been the story of the discovery, buying and developing of the house and garden rather than the information on plants (of which there is a lot). When she wrote the book Betty Dougherty was Head of the Graphic Design Section of the Design Council in London. I guess this must have been based in the Design Centre in Haymarket. During the 70’s and 80’s I used to visit London at least once a year. The first thing I always did was visit the Design Centre in Haymarket, followed by tea and cake at Patisserie Valerie in Soho (this was before it became a chain). Then one year, the Design Centre had vanished. A shame, they had some great exhibitions and a nice shop. I haven’t been able to find out much about Betty Dougherty. She seems to have written books on leatherwork and linocraft, assuming that is the same Betty Dougherty. A second volume of practical advice to gardeners (as mentioned on the cover of this book) does not seem to have materialized. In this book she describes how she buys a semi-detached cottage in Suffolk as a second home. 


At first all her time is spent doing up the cottage. Many friends come to help her. On the title page the subtitle is” How an amateur created a wild garden” and an amateur is what she is. In fact it seems as though at first she gives little thought to the fact that she had acquired a garden. However once renovation of the house is complete she is bitten by the bug and becomes a devoted gardener.
The plan of the garden is partly determined by trenches dug by laborers and by discoveries made by clearing out the garden. Thus a bed in the shape of a boat is made and a sunken paved garden is discovered. 


This is a great book for lovers of heathers and conifers as she becomes devoted to them.  She also discusses many other plants (there is an index) and her experiences, triumphs and mistakes. Challenges are the wind and rabbits. Reading it now I was astonished at the casual use of weed killers; perhaps this was normal in the 70’s?  I like how she describes how she falls into the trap of planting too much (haven’t we all?), without considering that plants will grow …. After a few years she is able to buy the second half of the house and to merge the gardens. Now she has enough room for all those extra plants! 


In the last chapter she mentions moving to the house permanently (nrs. 1 and 2 in the plan below).

I tried to find the house on Google maps /satellite view and as far as I can tell there are now two large new buildings and a golf course in its place.