The latest book at bedtime, admittedly chosen largely because of the cover, turned out to be an unputdownable read.
Early 1890s New England, Turn of the Screw ingredients: two orphaned half siblings (Flora and Miles are now the titular Florence and Giles), an absent and disinterested uncle, a run-down mansion (Bly has turned into Blithe House), a housekeeper (Mrs Grose has become Mrs Grouse), a governess or two. Throw in a bit of sleep walking, ghostly goings on, a sister's love for her younger brother and you have the recipe for a gripping story.
Florence, our twelve year old narrator, has been forbidden any education (her uncle has his reasons) and taught herself to read, and in doing so has developed her own private language (in the way, she explains, Shakespeare 'barded the language' by making up words when the ones he wanted just didn't exist)
So adjectives and nouns become verbs ('All I could do was Lady of Shalott my way through the days'; 'I captain's chaired me and spent a few moments wistfulling the drive'), verbs become nouns ('a twiddlery of thumbs'; a weepery of frustration'; the sneezery of books'). Not in every sentence, that would be downright annoying, but enough to be easily understandable, at times endearing, at others maybe just a little bit creepy.
Oh, as Florence might say, this book atmosphered me from the very beginning, as it Gothicked its twisty way towards a chilling (but not in a sleep with the lights on kind of way) end. Highly recommended.
It will be quiet here for a little while as the diary is unusually (and frazzlingly) full. Back later in the month with tales of a little jaunt.
Watching the consummate showman doing his stuff at Sunderland Empire. Not as dark as previous tours but even front row seats didn't reveal any 'so that's how he does it' secrets. Recommended if you like the world of illusion. And Quality Street.
Taking two more compliant than usual cats for their annual examinations and booster jabs and being advised that the new eating regime (basically trying not to give food on demand which kind of works though one kitty has a habit of helping himself whilst the other just fills up on the dog's crumbs) is paying dividends as Bea, the flabby tabby, has lost a kilo in weight.
Wondering why humans can be immunised for life yet cats and dogs have to be topped up every year. At considerable cost to their owners.
Learning a new skill in the company of some lovely ladies at a workshop in Saltburn. Yep, I can now knit in the round. Using two colours. I foresee woolly tubes in my future.
Popping into the shop next door at the end of the workshop and buying more yarn for another project.
Accidentally buying a new jacket. I lie. The purchase was entirely intentional.
Discovering, whilst measuring myself for afore mentioned jacket, that my waist is two and a half inches smaller than I thought it was. Might explain the 'Look, I can take my jeans off without unfastening them' party trick.
Finishing the rainbow blanket with an unconventional 'I have no idea what stitch this is and am just making it up as I go along' border. Far from perfect but there is less wonk. Possibly.
Deciding to crack on reading the current bookat bedtime (from the bookshelf and bought in the days when a brand new Penguin cost £1.99), despite initially feeling decidedly underwhelmed, and ending up really enjoying it. Sometimes, you just gotta stick with it.
Booking a short break in a cottage by a river. Just up the road and then turn left. More or less.
Observing a regular visitor to the back garden. He's sometimes accompanied by his body double.
Thanking you for all of your comments on the last post which are very much appreciated. There have been no further signs of the, erm, uninvited house guests but we remain vigilant. Yesterday, the Boy and I were greeted by Aunty imploring us to buy more crisps whilst the food we'd stocked her with the previous week remains untouched. At least she'd taken a new dressing gown from the wardrobe, where it had been languishing complete with tags, and was actually wearing it. Tiny steps.
After brief stopovers in Qatar and Thailand, we arrived in the eastern Himalayas for a stay in the tiny landlocked Kingdom of Bhutan.
The total population numbers about 750,000
It feels like there are as many street/feral dogs as people. There are dogs everywhere
The street dogs are very well fed by restaurants and local people
The national animal is the Takin, Budorcas taxicolor. Created, so the story goes, by the Divine Madman who ate a whole goat and a whole cow and then, using the leftover bones, stuck the goat’s head on the cow’s body and, tadah! - the Takin
Bhutan is a constitutional monarchy
The current king is the country's fifth, referred to as K5
The current king's dad, K4, married four sisters in the same ceremony
Bhutan is the world's only officially Buddhist country
There are monastic orders throughout Bhutan with boys as young as seven, usually from poor families, entering monasteries
Usually associated with a spartan lifestyle, Bhutan's strand of Buddhism allows monks to own a range of possessions and they are frequently seen using mobile phones and iPads
Most people enjoy eating meat and fish but there are two meat free 'auspicious' months
Chillies are regarded as a vegetable rather than a seasoning and red patches of drying chillies can be spotted in every village
The national dish is chillies and cheese
Bhutan has the world’s highest unclimbed peak, Gangkhar Puensum (7570metres/24,836 feet)
Mountaineering on any peak above 6,000 metres (19,685 feet) is banned
The cost to visit Bhutan is set very high to discourage influence from outside and to protect national culture and the environment
Travelling the country independently is not allowed
Television and internet access have only been available since 1999
The national sport is archery. The target is small which the archers aim at from a distance of 120 metres
Tall visitors, like the mister, attract attention. 'How high you?' 'He look very good'
The selling of tobacco is banned
Bhutan is the only country whose largest export is renewable energy (hydroelectric power)
Progress and the success of governmental strategy and policy is measured by happiness - Gross National Happiness rather than GDP
Thimphu is the only capital in the world with no traffic lights
Every Tuesday is dry day and alcohol sales are forbidden
As part of the effort to preserve its culture, citizens are required to wear national dress in public, men wearing something resembling a knee length dressing gown with long socks, and women a full length skirt and short jacket
About two thirds of the population work in agriculture, the majority as subsistence farmers, and the aim is to be the first organic country
One of the largest statues of Buddha in the world is being constructed on a hillside overlooking the capital, Thimphu
We were in London most of last week. No special reason, just a short break doing touristy stuff with the Boy. We travelled by rail, rented a lovely apartment in a narrow little street in Spitalfields, hopped on and off underground trains and, mindful of the mister's still impaired mobility and differing interests, fitted in:
a night at the theatre (yes, a different production to the one we had tickets for but a cast change and temporary closure meant some last minute rearranging)
lots of coffee and cake breaks
an evening meander along Brick Lane and being hassled every couple of steps by restaurant touts which had the opposite effect to the one aimed for
half a day browsing, tasting and spending at the market
a linger by the river
a moment to reflect alongside the poppies
a visit to the Imperial War Museum and remembering that a much missed dear friend used to attend the school opposite
about 5 minutes in Camden which was long enough, thank you very much
a ride up the city's (and apparently western Europe's) tallest building and a glass or two of champagne at the top
a walk across a bridge and some landmark spotting
Now we're back home and have mostly caught up. Animals have been collected from their respective holiday homes, cases have been emptied, clothes washed, ironed and put away, the garden has been tidied, a couple of recorded TV programmes have been watched and I'm sitting here asking myself:
why, when it's so easy to jump on an East Coast train, don't we visit the capital more frequently?
how come we brought back so much stuff - fruit, veg, bread, cereals (it isn't granola, it isn't muesli, it's granuesli), chocolate, cakes, coconut in various forms, cheese, oils, spices, Turkish delight - to eat?
what the hell is going on with Lady Mary from Downton's accent?
Comics were a big part of my childhood. I loved them and the associated annuals (some of them, neatly covered in sticky backed plastic, still grace the bookshelves here) which appeared under the tree every Christmas. It probably had a lot to do with my mother. I don't remember ever seeing her read a book but she had daily newspapers (two on Sundays) and weekly magazines (Woman and Woman's Own) delivered to the shop she and my dad had and which was also our home, and at some point she added comics for me.
It started with Bunty, which would arrive on Tuesdays, and Judy on Wednesdays. But my appetite for comics grew and so the order at the newsagent's (Tunnels, which, thinking about it, we could easily have walked to as it was just at the end of our street) was expanded over the years. Eventually, Mondays meant Diana, Thursdays brought School Friend and later Girl, Sunday was Princess. Sometimes there was a free gift inside (oh, that Bunty bracelet with the black plastic Scottie dog charm) and even pen friend clubs to join (which I did and ended up writing to girls in Germany, Australia and the USA).
In my teens, the comics were ditched and I moved onto the wonderful Petticoat magazine. Every issue included interviews with Famous People and short stories but it was the fashion pages I, and no doubt everyone else who read it, pored over. This is where I found ideas for outfits and where I discovered names like Biba, Quorum, Clobber, Foale and Tuffin, Ravel, Bus Stop.
Unsurprisingly, none of the clothes were ever available in the shops in my home town, where Chelsea Girl and C&A reigned. If I couldn't buy by mail order (Anello and Davide managed to make me a pair of shoes based on cardboard cutouts of my feet) I relied on my brother, armed with a magazine cutting, to stop by the King's Road or Way In en route from Heathrow and whichever holiday he was returning home from.
Mostly, though, it was Aunty M, who had worked as a tailoress and was exceptionally skilful, who would step up. All I had to do was show her the picture in Petticoat, choose the fabric and she would set to with her sewing machine. She could make anything - skirts, dresses, trousers, jackets - which never ever had that homemade look. A burgundy crushed velvet coat was a standout. I kid you not, it was absolutely fab.
Wasting a half hour browsing eBay recently, I came across a listing for a copy of Petticoat (it had made its way to New Zealand) which I bid for and won.
It was something on the cover which set a bell ringing.
I remember ordering this ready to sew kit in the turquoise and green colourway, which Aunty M duly stitched in time for a holiday my brother, who was 16 years older than me, was treating me to.
And here I am wearing it. Aged 15. In Nassau, in the Bahamas. Looking nothing like the model but probably thinking I was the bee's knees. Probably reading a copy of Petticoat. Possibly with sellotape sticking down that hair under the hood.
I came across the photograph in an old biscuit tin full of all sorts which I brought from my parents' house and which also contained the postcard I'd sent at the time.
Clearly written before we were invited one night to listen to some singer who was performing in an airport hangar.
I'm not sure my friends believed me when I told them I'd seen Aretha Franklin.
Outside: Garden tidying has continued (where do all those twigs come from and how do we stop next door's cats using one of our borders as a litter tray?); the cherry blossom has finally put in an appearance at the front of the house; lambs are now in residence in the field at the end of our road.
Inside: The sewing machine has been dusted off and a skirt of sorts has been made (yes, it fits and no, I won't be wearing it); cheap and cheerful flowers from the supermarket are still filling the vases; the Boy has evidently been whipping up frittata for packed lunches.
In other news: A deliciously long lunch enjoyed with a friend; the bedside cabinet renovation has gone from bad to downright embarassing (this has to be the worst paint job in the history of, well, paint but, by hook or by crook, it will receive its wax finish); a charity shop drop off resulted in buying stuff (a couple of books, one of which I suspect was probably mine originally, a necklace, a glass vase) that really isn't needed and kind of defeats the whole decluttering effort here; watching a gripping ('Captain Phillips: There's got to be something other than being a fisherman or kidnapping people. Muse: Maybe in America, Irish, maybe in America') film ; managing an umbrella on a windy day.
Oh yes, and a holiday has been booked. More on that later.
“All the world loves a penguin. I think it is because in many respects they are like
ourselves, and in some respects what we should like to be. Had we but half
their physical courage none could stand against us . . . Their little bodies are so full
of curiosity that they have no room for fear. They like mountaineering and
joy-riding on ice-floes; they even like to drill.”
Apsley Cherry-Garrard, 'The Worst Journey in the World',1921
The last day before beginning the journey back to Argentina via Drake Passage, that notoriously unpredictable body of water between the southern tip of South America at Cape Horn and the South Shetland Islands. Early morning. The Lemaire Channel and a zodiac tour of the icebergs off Pleneau Island. Later, a landing on Petermann Island, with its Gentoo residents, the southernmost colony, many of which were busy feeding their babies. A glimpse of a darker side of nature as several adult birds repeatedly attacked one of the smaller chicks, pushing it off the rocky outcrop. Unable to intervene, we watched as the poor creature slowly clawed its way back up the rock, only to experience the same aggressive behaviour.
A hike in deep snow up to a small colony of Adelie penguins, resplendent in their glossy tuxedos and with their distinctive white rimmed eyes. A cairn and large cross commemorating three members of the British Antarctic Survey who perished in 1982 as they attempted to cross the sea ice from Faraday station to Petermann. More penguins surrounding an Argentine emergency hut, a remnant from the 1950s.
Day 17. The Antarctic continent. The southernmost, coldest, windiest, driest, highest and most remote. Waking very early to snow, peaks, icebergs, reflections, stillness.
After a quick breakfast, a landing at Neko Harbour and opportunities for Gentoo penguin and Weddell seal watching on the rock strewn beach. Taking time to put the camera down and just absorb, just relish the strange light, the silence. Then a hike up through deep snow to reach a vantage point overlooking Neko Glacier.
Snowfall (and the other kind of fall whilst moving out of the way of a determined Leopard seal) in the afternoon as the zodiac negotiated a tricky landing at Danko Island. Mingling with yet more Gentoos and a glimpse of a baby or two.
Later, the chance to get up close to icebergs and an ice whale. Much much later, the real thing as the ship, making steady progress through the night, was escorted by a pod of Humpbacks. So big. So magestic. So very difficult to photograph.
'It's just that there are some things women don't do. They don't become Pope or President or go down to the Antarctic'.
Harry Darlington, chief pilot on Finn Ronne's 1946-8 Antarctic Research Expedition
So. Onward towards Antarctica, the highlight of the trip. Waking up to glorious weather and a very different landscape. Sailing past icebergs larger than the ship, crawling with ants which turned into penguins when viewed through a lens.
Just off the Antarctic peninusula is Deception Island, an active volcano. Another early morning landing by zodiac at Telefon Bay and a welcome committee of a perky Chinstrap penguin or five and a basking fur seal. Then a tricky hike up a steep hill of volcanic ash to view one of the craters.
In the afternoon, a landing on a cobbled beach at Half Moon Island. Once the haunt of sealers, now home to a colony of Chinstraps high up on a rocky outcrop, a lonesome Gentoo and the Argentine summer research station Camara with its giveaway national flag on the roof.