Lab Girl: A story of trees, science and love (book #164)

6 October 2017

Hope Jahren (2016).

Book cover, showing trees

Read this for the book club.

Time has also changed me, my perception of my tree, and my perception of my tree’s perception of itself. Science has taught me that everything is more complicated than we first assume, and that being able to derive happiness from discovery is a recipe for a beautiful life. It has also convinced me that carefully writing everything down is the only real defense we have against forgetting something important that once was and is no more, including the spruce tree that should have outlived me and didn’t.

Hope Jahren on Wikipedia.

Interview in Time.

Guardian review.

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Censoring Queen Victoria (book #163)

11 September 2017

Book cover, showing Queen Victoria

Censoring Queen Victoria: How Two Gentleman Edited a Queen and Created an Icon. Yvonne M Ward, 2014.

I liked this passage from Arthur Benson‘s diary for 1904. He’s describing working in the Round Tower at Windsor Castle.

My own room is a big room, hung with Hogarth engravings and good furniture — a white chair with pink satin on wheels was used by the Queen. I did not use the room to-day as it was not ready, but worked in the strong-room, and went through an interesting lot of Melbourne’s letters — beginning with one on the morning of the accession. His writing is very hard to read. It was odd to sit in this big room, all surrounded with shelves, with the deep embrasure full of guns. The wind roared and the rain lashed the window. I was amused and happy.

(Diary is online at Archive.org.)

I also liked the fact that in an interview, Yvonne Ward describes a rather parallel experience of researching in the archives of the publishers John Murray:

The room I worked in had been a salon where previous John Murrays had held court with their various clients: Lord Byron, Sir Walter Scott, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Charles Darwin, Samuel Smiles. There were lithographs and paintings on the walls depicting soirées that had taken place in that room, and hundreds of books lining the walls. It was a wonderful atmosphere to work in.

There’s a review of the book here by Kathryn Hughes.

In other news, am finding things difficult at the moment, but have plans and tentative plan b et cetera.

Chalet School randomness

29 August 2017

This is at Calshot. Homage? His family home is in the New Forest.

Visit to Nuffield Place

19 June 2017

We went yesterday to see the home of William Morris, Lord Nuffield, and his wife Elizabeth (nee Anstey). It’s a National Trust property, passed to them by Nuffield College.

The house was built in 1914 and enlarged by the Morrises in 1933. The Independent has an article about the house and contents. My sister was reminded of our step-grandmother’s house, built in the 1920s, and thought it even smelt the same.

Definitely worth seeing if you’re interested in domestic life of this period – say the 1920s to 1950s (though Nuffield didn’t die until 1963). Our visit would have been more pleasurable had the docents not been so eager to tell us things when we’d rather have looked on our own at least initially. And I’d have liked a bit more about Elizabeth Morris, their joint enthusiasm for cycling, and her life before and after marriage. There’s a bit about her on pp7-8 of this biography from Nuffield International (which seems to be one of his philanthropical endeavours, focussed on farming).

I’m not sure that Nuffield sounds a very pleasant chap, rather authoritarian as you might expect. I feel I have to note that in 2015 an elderly woman went to the police and reported being abused by him over a long period of time as a child and young woman. The only account of this online apart from some blogs is on the DM newspaper so I’m not going to link to that.

In the house I was especially interested in the books, which are apparently the original ones belonging to the Morrises. There are bookcases in four or five rooms with a big range of books. Engineering, social science, biography, religion, novels, exploration. Lots of forgotten writers. Several books relating to millionaires, as you can see on my list. Lord Nuffield’s own bathroom has a lot of books on medicine and another, smaller, bookcase which looked as if it was full of brightly-jacketed possibly cheesy novels.

Here are some of the books I noted:

(Dates are to first publication of the book, taken from the BL, Bodleian or Wikipedia. Images are from online sources and not necessarily the same editions as at Nuffield Place. Author links are mostly to Wikipedia.)

Fifty Years in the Motor Trade. I didn’t write down the author of this one and can’t find it in the BL or Bodleian catalogues, or through Google. Maybe self-published?
Son by Adoption: A Story of Seventy Years Ago, Mrs Edward Whalley-Tooker (1955). Nothing online about her, apart from a mention of one other book, a school story. Maybe the wife of the cricketer Edward Whalley-Tooker?

Cover of Son by Adoption

Scotland Yard and the Metropolitan Police, Sir John Moylan (1929).
The Commander Shall …, Humfrey Jordan (1933). “The absorbing, authentic story of a Captain’s first voyage to Australia as commander of a fast ocean liner,” according to eBay.

Cover of The Commander Shall

Voices from the Past, B Paul (can’t find this).
Mr. Wycherley’s Wards, L[izzie] Allen Harker (1912). This book is online at Gutenberg. There’s a review at Goodreads.
Matron of Guy’s, Emily MacManus (1956). Interesting article on her here – I like the detail about her hair after her death.
The Adventures of Imshi: a two-seater in search of the sun, John Prioleau (1922). Motoring correspondent for the Spectator – he also wrote Motoring for Women (1925).
A Life Worth Living: some phases of an Englishman, CB Fry (1939).
Recollections of a Savage, Edwin A Ward (1923). Online at Archive.org. Travel and artistic life.

Cover of  Recollections of a Savage

Leaves from My Life: Reminiscences by the famous Manipulative Surgeon, Sir Herbert A Baker (1927).
Lasseter’s Last Ride: An epic of Central Australian gold discovery, Ion Llewellyn Idriess (1931). Review here.

Cover of Lasseter's Last Ride

A Millionaire of Yesterday, E. Phillips Oppenheim (1900). Online at Gutenberg.
T. Tembaron, Frances Hodgson-Burnett (and one of my own favourites) (1913).
Joseph Fels: his life-work, Mary Fels (1916). Fels was “an American soap manufacturer, millionaire, and philanthropist”.

On Lady Nuffield’s bedside table were The Tall Stranger by DE Stevenson (1957 – see my review) and a book on etiquette – I hope she didn’t actually feel the need to have the latter by her bed.

One room is staged as a study-bedroom from the 1960s, when students from Nuffield College used it, complete with a copy of Family and Kinship in East London (1957).

Sylvia Townsend Warner: A Biography (book #162)

8 June 2017

Cover of book - image of Warner

Claire Harman, 1989.

I’ve been meaning to read this for years, ever since hearing Harman speak (about food in literature). My book club read Lolly Willowes recently so I thought it was time to read the biography. Which is really good, particularly on Warner’s troubled, devoted relationship with Valentine Ackland (problems including Ackland’s other relationships, her lack of literary success, their imbalance in earnings, Ackland’s alcoholism and later religious faith). Also good on the houses they lived in, often inconvenient and cold. And good use of Warner’s and Ackland’s writing in the text. And I know this should be commonplace but it’s also good to see a lesbian relationship where the women, and the biographer, seem to have very little interest in what others thought about their sexuality.*

Some pieces I liked:

Ackland’s letter about bomb damage in London (she’s writing about Inverness Terrance and Mecklenburgh Square in October 1945):

completely flattened … smell of smoke and fire still hanging over the streets and pieces of the fixtures of the houses still littering the basements and gutters. Front doors ajar, and stately rooms beyond, with pit-holes down to the earth instead of floors, and small trees and jungles of dying loosestrife grown up almost to the front windows.

Ackland’s poem (included in her posthumous 1973 collection The Nature of the Moment, but mentioned by Harman in her section on 1948) “Journey from Winter”:

As days become shorter and the cold ghost of the North
leans across from the Pole to strike us, and winter appears in the sky,
it is time to consider our journey. Take down the guide,
the schedule of trains and of sailings, the smart list of ‘planes;
and here by the first fire, our comfort and warning, consider:

The ways of coming at truth, attaining creating or re-discovering,
need no special equipment of faith or unfaith;
the amateur party about to set out to-morrow
will follow one route of the three; but all run together
somewhere in country uncharted, and all reach the end.

There are no true maps of the kingdom; guides have been and returned,
but some will not venture again, while others will shepherd part-way
and still others travel as exiles working a passage home.
The natives are foreign to us and will offer no kindness,
being without interest in strangers and unable to speak our tongue.

They say the first stages are easy; civilised travel
and pleasant companions en route. But once over the frontier
there’s nothing to help you except your own wits, and the wish
to reach your objective. Once over the frontier the others
who started out with you scatter, and each one travels alone.

Guide books agree that the contry is full of silence;
no written words to be found, no signposts, no place-names, no roads,
and scarcely a living man met. All you can do
is watch for the flight of birds or study the slant of the stars
or try to decipher the hieroglyphs drawn by sheep on the hills.

You can live on the country, they say, and do better so
than to carry provisions which, under that sky, will rot.
You can travel fast or slow; there is nothing to tell you
how much further you have to journey until you arrive,
how much further before you reach –

Reach what? I do not know.
All I know is the blight of the North wind, the carrion
patience of winter hanging up there in the sky,
and the blow that is aimed from the Pole, that is aimed to destroy us.
These things, and the date of starting, are all I know.

Also this bit on love – the letter is from about 1950:

there was a sombre truth as well as a simple one in what Sylvia wrote to a friend at about the same time, imploring him not to be tormented by fantasies of losing his lover: ‘think of me,’ she said. ‘Here I am, grey as [a] badger, wrinkled as a walnut, and never a beauty at my best; but here I sit, and yonder sits the other one, who had all the cards in her hand – except one. That I was better at loving and being loved.”

I’d like to know more about the Blitzed Libraries scheme, for which Warner and Ackland sorted books at a National Salvage Depot in 1943.

*I know that’s 4 x good in one paragraph, but it’s the right word for this book.

Links:

Review at Shiny New Books.

NY Times review of the letters of Ackland and Warner, with a link to the first chapter of the book.

#TabbiesforLabour

7 June 2017

Tabby cat in window below Labour poster

Follow-up: I Googled #TabbiesforLabour and he is The Only One. This is not good. #CatsforLabour is a thing, though.

Follow-up #2: there is a Cat Lovers for Corbyn badge with a tabby on it.

The Incredible Crime (book #161)

5 June 2017

Book cover - Cambridge scene, river, punt, bridge.

Lois Austen-Leigh (1931).

This is one of the British Library Crime Classics. It has the “none of the characters are likeable” problem.

Lord Wellende’s description of the “school managers’ meeting” is interesting:

” … We’ve got to get a new mistress for the village school, and a golden-haired lady has applied for the post.”
“Who are the managers?” said Prudence.
“Well, the ones that attended this morning were Woodcock and Abel Lundy – farms Stanny House Farm, you know – and myself. She got me cornered, the lady did,” chuckled Wellende. “Suddenly asked me what my views were about Clause 8 under Schedule B – or something of the sort – but Woodcock came to my assistance by asking her if she ever took a hand at halfpenny nap. And they got off to talking about halfpenny nap, which saved me; hadn’t the foggiest notion what Clause B Schedule 8 might be.”
“You must be a priceless collection as school managers – you, Lundy, and Woodcock,” laughed Prudence.
“It’s the best we can raise, anyway; the golden-haired lady evidently agreed to with you, for she declined the job; an occasional evening in the big room at the ‘Plough and Sail’ for halfpenny nap is about the only dissipation there is to offer.”

There’s some snobbery – someone comments on how the police detective’s “keen, intelligent face doesn’t excuse various little things about him … For instance, his constantly saying ‘your lordship’ to our host [Lord Wellende]”. (The Past Offences review linked below talks more about class in this novel.)

Characters are impressed by Lord Wellende not being “effete”: ‘”he gets his hair cut by an under-gardener – an under-gardener, if you please – because seventy years ago the old fellow was in a barber’s shop, and he always has cut his lordship’s hair for the last forty years, and so he always will!”‘.

Wouldn’t particularly recommend this one unless you’re a BL crime completist.

There’s a Guardian article which talks a bit about Austen-Leigh’s life. Past Offences has a fairly critical review which is worth reading. A more positive review from Bookbag.

Edited to add a link to another critical review, at In Search of the Classic Mystery.

Jubilate Matteo, by Gavin Ewart

30 January 2017

From another Ewart poem.

For I rejoice in my cat Matty.
For his coat is variegated in black and brown, with white undersides.
For in every way his whiskers are marvellous.
For he resists the Devil and is completely neuter.
For he sleeps and washes himself and walks warily in the ways of Putney.
For he is at home in the whole district of SW15.
. . .
For my cat wanders in the ways of the angels of Yorkshire.
For in his soul God has shown him a remarkable vision of Putney.
For he has also trodden in the paths of the newly fashionable.
. . .
For in Clarendon Drive the British Broadcasting Corporation is rampant.
For the glory of God has deserted the simple.
For the old who gossiped in Bangalore Road are unknown to the dayspring.
For there is a shortage of the old people who adorned the novels of William Trevor.
For in the knowledge of this I cling to the old folkways of Gwalior Road and Olivette Street.
For I rejoice in my cat, who has the true spirit of Putney.

– Gavin Ewart.

The Meeting, by Gavin Ewart

28 January 2017

Second verse of this 6-verse poem.

Everything was twice repeated,
sometimes more than twice repeated,
as they worked through the agenda
(it seemed elastic, that agenda,
becoming longer, never shorter),
their utterances grew long, not shorter,
it was just like spreading butter,
words went further, like spread butter,
covering each subject thinly,
covering almost nothing thinly.

-Gavin Ewart

The Larks of Jubilee Flats (book #160)

11 January 2017

Marjorie A Sindall, 1956.

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I can’t find anything about Marjorie Sindall online. This is a short book, in the Panther series. Slight, but pleasant – everyone is very nice and everything turns out for the best. Nursing is a big part of the plot, with Jill, aged 14, planning to be a nurse. She attends a Junior Domestic and Technical School, called the Elmer Foundation, which dates back to the seventeenth century. Her family is working class, her father working at a brewery and her mother a hospital ward orderly:

‘But if I could have my time over again,’ she often said with a small sigh, ‘I’d be a nurse. Best job there is.’

Jill’s school spends two days a week on housecraft and cookery, and sends her for one morning a week to a day nursery. I was surprised that they are planning a school trip to Bruges, staying with Belgian families – cost to the children, £10 each.

There are some good details in the text and pictures. I liked Jill’s father “sprucing himself up” for Sunday visitors: “he donned his best brown suit, and the whole flat was filled with the scent of his violet hair cream”. Feather Ghyll points out the patients smoking on the hospital wards.

The illustrator is Frank Haseler. There’s a bit about him online. This post has some of his illustrations from 1972 (and his son has commented on it). There’s another 1970s image of his here. And a nude by him on eBay.

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