“How marvellous and strange’ writes Joanna Lumley in the introduction to our copies, ‘that a book which begins and ends with death should be so joyous and wickedly funny’. Joyous and wickedly funny the book is, and we all loved it, finding it a beautifully written, wonderfully sensitive often humorous portrayal of old age, written by Vita Sackville-West when she was only 38 herself.
Sometimes when all five of us in our group have all enjoyed the same book we find the ensuing discussion less stimulating – and probably rather shorter – than when opinions vary. Not so last night. There was so much to discuss and even when we stopped for a while we found ourselves returning to the book, again and again. So many themes, so much to discuss.
We all loved Vita S-W’s easy, artistic style: she conjures up such a vivid picture that you can actually see, vividly, what she is describing – her ghastly children with all their annoying mannerisms, Mr Bucktrout’s neat feet, always carefully arranged in ballet positions, Genoux, her faithful French maid, who crackles as she walks because until May is out she insists on wearing brown paper between her combinations and her petticoats, the unfashionable beauty of her house in Hampstead.
At the start of the book we meet Lady Slane, recently widowed and suddenly freed from all her obligations as an unquestioning appendage to her successful husband for seventy years. To the horror of her unpleasant children she rejects their reluctant offers of a home with them (for rent, of course), gives all her jewels to Mabel, the henpecked wife of the oldest son, and announces she will rent a house in Hampstead, which miraculously is still available thirty years after she first fell in love with it. And off she goes to Hampstead, by underground, aged 88, on her own to arrange her new life.
She and the faithful Genoux quickly settle in after everything is organised; she cuts herself off from her family who can’t imagine how poor dear mother can possibly manage without them to take charge of her every move. She is far from lonely however, because she is quickly befriended by three rather odd men. One of these, Fitzgeorge, instinctively understands her and unlocks her true feelings almost as a therapist might. He had fallen in love with the young and lovely Lady Slane in India, when he had seen her arranging flowers beside her young son’s crib. Both had been aware of an emotional current revealed by a glance but she was respectably married (and to the viceroy of India) and knew nothing must come of it. He tells her now, free at last to flirt if retrospectively, how he felt, that he had hated to see her ‘trapped’ and ‘denying her true nature’. Would Fitzgeorge have supplied to passion (too late now) that she never could enjoy with the very charming but self-controlled Henry, her husband? We’re not told but our bookclub group hoped so!
And as for her true nature, as a child she’d longed to be as unrestricted as a young boy, and cut her hair and run about freely but of course – as a well-brought up young girl in the (late) Victorian era – she could not. As an adult she had felt her true nature was to be a painter but this was never fulfilled either. Could she paint, we all wondered? Was it a genuinely thwarted dream or just a romantic fantasy? The author hints at the former when Lady Slane finds a complete understanding with her great granddaughter, also Deborah, who succeeds in freeing herself; to the horror of her family she has broken off a highly suitable engagement to the oldest son of a duke to follow a musical career and what is more, has cut her hair short! Triumph! Her great grandmother, rather dazed, feels she has achieved her own dream.
Midnight, and we did a quick round of any thwarted dreams/romantic fantasies of our book club members. We agreed that reality, that is personal commitments, earning a living, raising a family, must mean that not only women but men too are not free to do exactly what they want so one can’t feel too aggrieved about it. However, we discovered amongst us an artist – a realistic dream, that, a doctor and a wonderfully talented jazz and classical pianist. That was mine so I can truthfully say, not based on a jot of evidence and on another occasion i might well produce all sorts of equally unrealistic but quite different possibilities.
Finally, on a more serious note, if you haven’t read this book I do urge you to read it; if you’ve read it in the past, do read it again. It is short, easy to read, and quite charming, the sort of book that quickly becomes an old friend.
Today, Tuesday 24th July, has been wondrously hot, the hottest day of the year, apparently.
I tore myself away from the computer (EQM re-assessment being an urgent priority, went outside complete with sun hat, Factor 50, and ‘All Passion Spent’ by Vita Sackville-West, my book for our book club meeting tomorrow night. I settled on one of our lovely wooden ‘loungers’. The air was still, the sun shone, the odd bee buzzed and in the far-off background one could hear our local farmers, frantically getting in their silage which has been such a worry over the last few wet weeks.
I lasted all of ten minutes – someone brought up in the tropics who used to play tennis in the midday tropical sun… It was too hot! Too hot to read, too hot to even think of taking a photograph. It was such a relief to come back into the cool of our lovely old house with its thick stone walls which mean it is never too hot, never too cold.
So back I went to the computer. And now rather late in the day I must tackle my second read of the book which, incidentally, I am loving. (I will report back after book club.)
Just when I was beginning to wilt anyway, John came into the study and said he was thinking of a trip to Tissington plus camera to see what was going on there at the pond and what about lunch at the Tissington Coach House? Leaping at the chance we decided that he would be driving with tripods etc, but I would walk over to meet him there and (hopeful) be offered a lift back with him in the car.
So off he went and off I went.
It is such a pleasant walk: relatively short but with plenty to stop one feeling bored, with bridges to cross and stiles to climb; it is steep enough in parts to make it necessary to stop from time to time to enjoy the view and take one’s time over some photographs (point and shoot mobile phone camera in my case).
The views are stunning with nothing to mar the scenery but the occasional farm looking like part of the landscape anyway. It is blissfully quiet, and all one could hear this morning was cows, munching grass, loudly, and the bleating of sheep. I met precisely two people, a couple strolling along in the opposite direction.Reaching Tissington I couldn’t resist turning left down Chapel Lane to walk past the butcher’s just in case (it was Monday) they were late closing early, if you see what I mean, but they weren’t, unfortunately. No sign of John by the pond but there he was at the Coach House. We sat outside in the sun and had a very delicious Bacon and Brie toasted baguette and a chat with ‘the baronet’.
The hall was looking lovely in the sunshine although you wouldn’t guess it looking at my photographs so I haven’t bothered to include them. In front of it were scores of girls in blue, apparently Girl Guides from Poland, who were relaxing on the grass waiting to be shown round the hall.
We lingered as long as we could, soaking up the sunshine and the pleasantly drowsy, summery atmosphere before driving home over the ford. Then back to the computer, but feeling wonderfully refreshed.
Using ‘Social Meeja’ is a networking must for individuals and a marketing must for small business and large corporations. The large organisations have huge departments, and budgets; little people like us have nothing to call on but ourselves in a day which doesn’t grow any longer. It is very exciting, but it is also very sobering to think that we are all in thrall to the Microsoft and Google type giants who are continually competing to woo customers to their tills.
Yesterday we learnt in a fast-moving workshop that Google+ is a must, as is Pinterest, and what about LinkedIn? And Facebook has completely changed all its rules so we must learn them, and Twitter – a mass of hyperlinks and self-promotion perhaps should (or so it seems to me as a Twitter ignoramus). Everything is getting slicker, quicker, different. How quickly things change…
Twelve years ago when Tom’s Barn was first born as a ‘top of the (then) range’ luxury holiday cottage for two, we did not even have a website. At first we used a letting agency, and as one of several thousand properties we featured in their brochure. The whole process of booking was lengthy and time-consuming as all our correspondence was done by post and guests paid by cheque. The agency jealously guarded the rights to ‘their’ property and strongly discouraged returning guests or others from trying to make any independent approaches at all, even when they had not provided a booking for the dates in question.
We quite soon decided to break away from the agency. As we launched out into the scary unknown, we realised there was a price to be paid for exciting independence in terms of cash and hard work and as well as everything else we would have to provide our own publicity. We designed our first, extremely amateur leaflet ourselves (soon replaced by an extremely expensive but much more ‘grownup’ version. Then we commissioned our first website which we thought was wonderfully sophisticated but was actually rather lumbering and cumbersome and we had to rely on the very patient designer man to make every change that was necessary which could mean waiting months.
We were accepted to join Premier Cottages who also had a website, but also cumbersome in current terms. And now we are on our fourth website version, the majority of bookings are done online, all correspondence is done by email. And do we have more time now that everything is so slick? For all sorts of good reasons the answer seems to be less than ever…! The not so good reason is the lure of social networking – enjoying what you can do, and trying to get to grips with what you are still tackling. Facebook is the biggest time-waster, but such fun. I have started with Pinterest and Google+ and am determined to make a go of both, eventually. Of the two Google+ is thought to be potentially very important for all sorts of Google-significant reasons including featuring well on Google searches.
My current dilemma is I can’t seem to find more than about ten of our friends, colleagues and business contacts who use it yet. If any kind soul reads this who can help out, please let us join circles!!! Otherwise, just pity me.
Recently I always seem to be apologising for silences (not something I am normally known for) but while we were away in Ireland we heard that my sister had even taken very ill in Durban, South Africa, and we had not been back home many days when I decided to fly out to see her. Cripplingly exorbitant internet costs if I were to use my English phone or iPad while I was there meant that I was forced into uncomfortable blog, website and Facebook inactivity.
A return visit to Africa has long been a dream so it was sad to find myself going back on a flying visit to a much-loved sister in hospital, returning home without having seen much more of Africa as such than Durban Airport, our friend Jen’s flat on the Berea and the Entabeni Hospital where my sister is. She is being well cared for in what appears a terrific hospital, very clean and bright with lots of staff, and I was very kindly looked after by our friend Jen with whom I stayed and who helped make the few days as pleasant as they could be in the circumstances.
It is Durban’s winter, and the days were very pleasant, more like a fresh summer’s day when one is still glad to have a light cardigan on and in fact when I returned to a moderately sunny and warm Parwich in ‘mid-summer’ I found no change at all in the climate. Everything seemed bustling and prosperous, the roads extremely busy, the gardens lush and the birds strident! Watching the news on the television one day with my brother-in-law I was amused to hear the (lady) Minister for Education being berated for what apparently is a serious text book crisis in the South African schools. ‘Why do you ask me about text books?’ she asked indignantly. ‘I know nothing about text books – I am in the Minister for Education, and a good one. Don’t ask me about text books!’. The same message I felt one might get from some ministers in this country, but rather more bluntly put…
Meanwhile, John had done a stirling job coping in my absence, including hosting a party which we had arranged and didn’t want to cancel. However, neither he nor Janet touch my computer (John has his own which is pretty much just for emails and his photographs and Janet is computer phobic) so I returned on Sunday to literally hundreds and hundreds of emails etc which i am gradually wading my way through. Soon everything will be back to normal (shouldn’t say that, I feel tempted to revert to the old-fashioned ‘DV’ or the even older-fashioned ‘If I am spared’!) and hopefully the posts will appear more regularly.
The sea was a feature, much talk and laughter and reminiscing featured strongly too, as did some wonderful meals with particularly lovely fresh fish (back to the sea again…). And yes, it rained there too, almost all of the time though we did see some watery sun from time to time.
There is still time to book a last minute Christmas get away in Douglas’s Barn. The weather may be cold but the barn is very warm and cosy. Why not treat yourselves to a get away from it all break. You can order all your supplies from one of the supermarkets, get it delivered and […]
Time to get a bit of relaxation before the Christmas mayhem. There are still short breaks available in Douglas’s Barn. Plenty going on in the Peak District. Lots of Christmas markets selling lovely gifts that you don’t see elsewhere. Chatsworth House is also a must at this time of year. There are plenty of stories […]
Lots of events to go to in and around Parwich today but managed to get to the Horticultural Show in Parwich and the Hartington Show. Missed out on the Antiques in Ashbourne though which is always worth going to. Izzy did better than me by getting 1st prize as the Prettiest Bitch at Hartington Show […]