Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The things they leave behind

Yesterday, I watched the last part of Lewis – TV drama. It was too late to work out the plot, but I like watching anyway, just for the characters. Lewis, who was the sidekick of (Detective) Morse, until his death, is now the chief, with his own sidekick. Once Morse was the intellectual and liked classical music and Lewis was the lowbrow, but now, it’s as if he has inherited something from Morse – he has taken to liking Wagner.

It was just coincidental that a couple of days ago, in Guildford, I went into HMV and bought myself a CD of Mahler. I don’t know his music, and at first hearing, some of it seemed strident. But I realise that some classical music is outside the ‘comfort zone’ and I need to hear it a few times. I bought it purely and simply because a friend, who died a few years ago, loved Mahler’s music.

This made me think of the things I have done as a result of the bereavements in my life.

In my twenties, a girlfriend died. She had wanted to visit Israel, but I had not been enthusiastic. However, in the year after her death, I went. It was as if I had to fulfil that journey for her.

A very close friend throughout my childhood and later years died at the age of 47. She was a university graduate; I was not. That was one of the reasons I started studying with Open University, and eventually got a degree from Surrey University. At some time in her life, she had joked that I would eventually want to study. When I achieved that, I really would have liked to have been able to tell her about it. ‘I finally did it,’ I wanted to say to her.

And then of course, there was my book – my first book, The Fruit of the Tree. In spite of the fact I had always wanted to write, it was the death of my baby daughter that motivated me to start writing, and all her life is contained in that book. So when loved ones die, they sometimes leave unusual legacies behind which ensure they are not forgotten and change, in some way, the person that remembers them.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Sun's Out for the end of Hols

There is a name for people like me – an anorak. Possibly that’s an outdated term, but let’s say I look at figures and trends and analyse them, purely out of interest. Perhaps it’s in the genes, as the Son&Heir is a biostatistician. At any rate, I observed that during the last couple of weeks, there was little activity at my website, http://freespace.virgin.net/jackie.luben, or at the library, where no-one was taking Tainted Tree out on loan. In addition to that, I had no responses until last week to my ad in the local newsagent for some cleaning help – and the spiders were having a field day, knowing that their cobwebs would be undisturbed.

The answer is, during the first two weeks of August, everyone’s been on holiday. Despite the recession, I think people have left their own territory, even if it’s just to go to the local coast. The Son&H has just returned from camping with his family (each to his own.) and lo and behold, I noticed on Monday that, a) Tainted Tree is out on loan again; b) I had two telephone calls from prospective cleaning ladies and c) there were visitors once again to the website. Also an email from the editor of the Somerset Times that she is going to include a piece about Tainted Tree in the magazine. Tainted Tree will, I think, appeal to her readers, as a considerable part of it takes place in the West Country, and in Bristol.

In the mean time, not content with MySpace doing strange things with my photos, my own computer has been playing up. I suppose, to be fair to the computer, it must be Windows updating something or other. At any rate, I cannot now look at my photos, unless I ‘Open with …) If anyone understands anything about this mystery, I should be grateful for help or advice.

Today, I have been pottering; in order to get rid of ground elder, the pervasive weed with which I have battled for many a decade, I have taken clothes pegs to plants where the wretched stuff is coming up around or through the middle and pegged the whole plant to one side, so that I can spray weed-killer on the ground elder. This is very unfriendly of me, but all the plants in my garden would be suffocated if I allowed it to survive. This is a new way of attacking them, as I can’t hoe the stuff up, without damaging the plant it’s sucking the life out of.

As forecast, here in the south, the sun is shining, as it was on Sunday, when after taking M’s aunt for lunch at the local Chinese restaurant, we sat in her garden in the sun, until 6.30 p.m. Incidentally, she had at least three hibiscus – all smothered in flowers. I was very envious.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The buds and the bees

You'll be pleased to hear that my hibiscus bud turned into a flower. Here it is in all its glory, and a day or so later, there was a second one. And that was it. All the rest got eaten, bitten off, or simply disappeared. Disappointing. Next year I'll have to see if there's some way of protecting them.And this is a picture I may or may not have shown before. Around the centre is a bee. I wanted to capture this at the time when I was worried about lack of bees in the garden. The cranesbill, or perennial geraniums seemed to attract bees. Alas, they have more or less finished flowering now.

It's been a busy week since the family lunch. I tried to finish my account books to take to my ex brother in law, who's also our accountant, since we were invited to dinner at his house last night. We were half way there, when I remembered I'd left them on the floor of the office. We didn't turn back. We carried on and had a lovely meal and most enjoyable evening. We didn't leave till past midnight and didn't get to bed till 1 a.m.

Earlier in the week, we had a Guildford Writers' meeting and I read out a rehashed version of an earlier extract of the novel in progress. The consensus was I had improved it.

And there was also a meeting of the reading circle, at which we discussed Felix in the Underworld by John Mortimer. The general consensus of opinion was that it was not one of his best. I found it funny at times - he does good dialogue, as, of course, can be observed in the TV series Rumpole of the Bailey. As both a barrister and a writer, he was able to satirise both the legal profession and the world of writing and publicity. (The publicist in the novel constantly lies to all her novelists, saying that she's read their work and found it wonderful.) I think the fault lay in the way that his characters were, in the main, caricatures and it was difficult to feel empathy for them. Maybe some writers have no intention of trying to make you care about their characters, and perhaps John Mortimer set out purely to write a farce, and not to involve his readers in the lives of his characters. But it is difficult to get involved with a book if you don't care what happens to the fictional people in it. And this was the case with Felix.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Here, there and everywhere

As promised, here are some photos of our the hanging baskets, which I did all on my own – and they’re very successful. Peeping out on the left hand side is our clematis which has been lovely this year.

This last picture is of my hibiscus, taken a few days ago. I hope you can see the bud, which I focused on. I am afraid that my optimism about this plant was misplaced. Today I touched a bud and it came off in my hands. It had been nipped off the stalk. There are now only ten buds left, and whatever is eating them - birds, squirrels or deer, are likely to continue to destroy them, I suspect.

I seem to have been very busy recently; today, my two sisters in law and three brothers in law came for lunch. It’s the first time we’ve all met up for some time. It’s a matter of co-ordination – not choice – because we get on well together. The last time we were due to meet up, one sister-in-law had flu, so there were five of us, not seven. Although I was in my usual panic, when they arrived (still chopping up a fruit salad and putting apple crumble in the oven) all went well. We had turkey, roast potatoes and veg. for lunch and French bread, smoked salmon and cream cheese in the evening. One sister in law brought the salmon, and the other one made profiteroles for the evening. I have a huge surplus now of things I needn’t have bought – like cream, which we don’t normally eat, and chocolate brownies, which I made, but which we will eat only very slowly. It was a lovely afternoon, and we sat out in the garden. It was good to have some summer sunshine.

Apart from this, I had a day in London, and my old school friend and I visited the National Portrait Gallery to see an exhibition which we go to every year, sponsored by BP. We always disagree with the judges, but there’s a variety of different styles. Part of the occasion, of course, is spent updating each other on our respective families, and what’s going on in our lives. We stopped to look at the http://www.london.gov.uk/fourthplinth/ Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square, where a young woman was playing ‘Hangman’, and writing down letters as suggested by children standing around the base of the plinth. It wasn’t as high up as I had imagined it would be, but she was having difficulty getting her voice to carry. Later on, inside the National Portrait Gallery, we saw another person up there, via the video link. This young man was painting the surroundings – Trafalgar Square, and St Martin in the Field. Quite a good painting, but he was having a job holding it down in the wind. For a better picture than I could produce look here:


Last weekend, we visited the ProdigalD and family in Herefordshire. You can see how isolated their home is, and the view of sheep in a nearby field, in the photos above. We were there for lunch on Saturday, and all went for a long walk on Sunday, at a nearby country park with Sorrel the Labrador.

We stayed one night at The Old Cow Shed – a converted barn where we’ve stayed before, and one night at Grove Farm, on the way to Ludlow. At both places we were made extremely comfortable. They are far better than an anonymous hotel. Below is the kitchen at The Old Cow Shed, and a garden view of local oasthouses.

Above two geese at Grove Farm.

We travelled to Ludlow to meet my friend from work of many years ago together with her husband, before coming home on Monday night.

So this week was a foreshortened week, but there was a get together with another friend on Wednesday, and a Goldenford meeting on Tuesday night. Talking of which, Bruce, my MySpace friend commented about Tainted Tree on his blog, ‘I heartily encourage book lovers who enjoy romance and mystery to get a copy....but you can't have mine!’ and in a review in the Historical Novel Society Review, the reader included in his comments, ‘There are good characterisations of likeable people showing firm distinctions between middle class and country yokel types …’ ‘The book has some excellent family dialogue which races along most satisfactorily … There were some things he didn’t like; he claimed I missed out on some important historical events, but of course, the book wasn’t written as a historical novel in the first place.

This week, I hope to be more relaxed than last, though I have my book to finish for the Reading Circle on Thursday, dinner out on Friday and Guildford Writers on Tuesday. Also bookkeeping to complete. But at least I’m not doing the cooking for anyone.