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Houses

The houses I knew best in my childhood were those of family and friends. Most early friends lived in houses like my parents’ house or a mirror image of it. For a long time any dreams I had in houses were in my parents’ house. Occasionally I have dreamed about my grandparents’ stone-built house. This was a repeated dream, where the house had narrow passages, which I had to squeeze through. I do not believe there were any such passages, although there was a stream (known as the brook) running below the cellar. Even after I had been married for a number of years and lived in other houses, those hardly ever featured in my dreams.

My childhood home was a writing prompt. I haven’t seen it for well over a decade. I was surprised to learn recently that it is being converted from a three-bedroom house into four two-bedroom flats. The garden, which my parents looked after for over half a century, growing vegetables, flowers, apples, pears, raspberries and strawberries, is being divided into three. Or at least, what will be left of it is after the building extensions and parking provision. There was space on the lawn for a few children to ride around on bikes and the mature apple trees gave shade to budding artists sitting at a small table with paint and paintbrushes. Our grown-up children remember playing there too on summertime visits and possibly once in the snow.

After a property has been sold, previous owners have no say about what happens to it. History cannot be frozen. More homes are needed. The space is available and someone has spotted an opportunity. I wish them well. The architects’ plans are a great improvement on the ramshackle appearance of the temporary extensions on the photos submitted to the planning authority.

The neighbours, seeing the work in progress, believed that there would be two more houses next to the original one. Presumably two doors to the new flats had appeared. I had to smile, when after a few months my mother told me, “You were right, it is four flats!”

I had consulted the plans, after all.

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Tarka the Otter by Henry Williamson

One of the books I read in April – Waterlog by Roger Deakin – mentioned Tarka the Otter in glowing terms. This is a book, which has remained mostly unread on my bookshelf since my youth. I always felt disappointed that I had not been able to get into it. Other people said it was a wonderful book.

I decided that the time had come to have another go at reading it. There were two things going on in my mind while I read it. The first was following the story. The second was recognising why I had been unable to read it as a young teen or pre-teen.

Although the book was published by Puffin (the children’s books from Penguin) in 1949 and reprinted several times through the 50s and 60s, it had originally been published in 1927. According to Wikipedia it has never been out of print. The author had fought in WW1. Having returned to Britain, he preferred to study the countryside and write about it than to mix with people.

By the time I first tried to read it, the language was already a little old-fashioned. I grew up in the London suburbs. Apart from visits to friends and relatives in the countryside and walks on commons, I had little experience of nature. (Nature study had been one of my favourite subjects at primary school, but my bird-watching was confined to looking out of the window at the garden birds. We did not have a television for me to watch documentaries about Nature.)

Henry Williamson used many dialect words to describe living creatures. The standard names for them were introduced several sentences later. It is quite hard work to follow this style of writing. Also the word for the footprint (seal) of an otter is the same as for a marine animal, so it really is necessary to concentrate on the context.

After all these years I found that I had the relevant experience to be able to visualise the creatures and some of the places described in the book. For example, I have seen a tree-creeper. I have visited Croyde Bay, Baggy Point and Woolacombe, which appear on the map in the book. (At the time I visited these I did not realise that they were Tarka country.)

So what is my opinion of the book?

I am glad I have finally read it; it no longer sits reproachfully on a shelf. It is not one of my favourite books. I have enjoyed the other books in this genre, which I have read this year, more than I enjoyed Tarka. However I would encourage other people to read it as it is an iconic book. In my opinion it is not really a children’s book.

Incidentally there is a strap line, which does not appear on the cover. The title page of my copy reads, “TARKA THE OTTER HIS JOYFUL WATER-LIFE AND DEATH IN THE TWO RIVERS”.

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What I read in November 2016

So far this month I have read six books.  That is perhaps too many for a single post.

The books are three I have reread, having located them on the bookshelves at home and three from the local library.

I shall review the ones I reread in this post and save the library books for next time.

Three books I reread

Three books I reread

It was a long time since I had read Puck of Pook’s Hill and Rewards and Fairies by Rudyard Kipling.

These books make a set.   In case you haven’t read them, two children in Sussex stumble upon a fairy ring on Midsummer’s Day, accidentally calling up the mischievous Puck from William Shakespeare’s play.  On different occasions he introduces them to characters from the past, wiping their memories afterwards, lest adults think they are mad!

It was possibly the third time I had read these books.   Reading them as a child I missed a great deal of the background and simply enjoyed them for their atmosphere and vocabulary.  This time I was amazed by the links with some of the books I have read recently.  I found the whole experience of rereading these two books fascinating.

Weland’s sword was mentioned in Puck of Pook’s Hill and in Edoardo Albert’s  Edwin: High King of Britain.  There is a Roman centurion in Puck of Pook’s Hill, which tied in with the book by Hunter Davies, which I read in October.  The final story in Rewards and Fairies is set in the same period as Accession by Livi Michael.  Also in Rewards and Fairies there was mention of people being brought for safety, because they were nonconformists, from the Low Countries to Romney Marsh in Kent, England.  The Heretic by Henry Vyner-Brooks is about some of these people.

I am by no means a historian.  In fact I failed my O-level in history.  However, I do enjoy historical fiction.  It is interesting to find the places where authors overlap in their treatment of the various periods.

The next book I reread was Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson.  This is another book I first read as a child.  The dust cover is missing, but I can remember the picture in some detail!  Again I must have read it more than once before.  However, only the first part of the story had really stuck in my mind.  It was like reading a book for the first time.

It is an adventure story with a historical setting.  There is a lot of background information about the Scottish Highlands and Islands.  The reason I read it was that the coach driver on the Isle of Mull (on our recent trip to Iona) had told us that we should read it.  David Balfour travels through Mull in the story, which I read with a map of Scotland to hand, so that I could follow his route on the mainland as well.  (For more of my pictures of Scotland and the Scottish Islands please consult the contents of Sue’s words and pictures.)

I was also struck by the information about Scottish culture.  The language is not simple, being a sort of Lowland Scots dialect.  Footnotes explain the most obscure words.  Coincidentally I heard a trailer for a BBC broadcast about Kidnapped.  The points which had stood out for me from the background to the story were mentioned.

I do not own a copy of the sequel, Catriona.  I read it at school, possibly in English lessons.  I have ordered a copy from the library.

These are three great classics, but not a light read.