The ‘work’ is all to do with our two holiday cottages, Tom’s and Douglas’s Barns, which very much are at the centre of our lives but we would be hard pushed to identify what aspect of that is work in the accepted sense, as nearly all of it (except accounts and inspections) is pure pleasure as well.
Talking of pleasure, there has been a birthday, and our two Emgland-based ‘young’ have been home for the weekend. And as you may have guessed, with Buxton Festival on, we have been zipping back and forth to Buxton daily. On the other hand I also have attended a full-day workshop on websites, as you know (the delayed second half is on Wednesday) and two days ago I was learning about Search Engine Optimisation and incidentally how Google is running our lives these days, but maybe more about that another day – we’re concentrating on happiness right now…
We went yesterday to a most entertaining Buxton Festival talk by Gyles Brandreth, on ‘The Seven Secrets of Happiness’. He had no props, no notes and he had the full Buxton Opera House audience absolutely riveted. It was by turns very witty, hilarious slapstick and serious; his research to identify the sources of happiness is genuine and serious.
So we all laughed and we learned. It was no surprise to us to learn that one of the seven secret of happiness is to be found in work, and yet another in having a ‘passion’.
There can’t be many people whose ‘work’ happens to be as pleasurable and gratifying as we find ours. Who wouldn’t be happy ‘working’ to ensure we provide an experience which is possibly unique but certainly pretty special for lovely people who really appreciate everything 110%.
And another is that warm sense of being at one with one’s surroundings and companion/s. And by a happy combination of luck – living as we do in such a beautiful area with so much to do and see and enjoy – and the fact that people seem so to appreciate the quality and comfort and setting of the holiday accommodation we provide, we unwittingly provide our guests with at least two source of true happiness, and ourselves with at least three.
That does make us feel genuinely happy!
Our little Parwich Book Club has come of age! All five original members are alive and well and still reading, 21 years later. One of the five left some years ago to move to Yorkshire with her husband and family but still returns once or twice year, and most certainly at Christmas and 21st birthdays. Read more…
Truth be told, I started off at a disadvantage. Everyone else present had heard of the book which had apparently been talked of exclusively in the literary press throughout 2011, and was short-kisted for the Man Booker prize! Where was I when all this was going on?
Last Saturday night over a quite delicious meal and a taxi ordered for the six Parwich folk so no worries about sticking to soda water we discovered that everybody had enjoyed it, which is quite a triumph when twelve people of assorted reading tastes get together to discuss a book. We have had some disasters in the past, which actually makes for far livelier – if uncomfortable – discussions than when we are all basically in agreement as we were on Saturday.
The Sisters Brothers is essentially a cowboy story: Charlie and Eli Sisters are paid assassins and the fear of the west, at the time of the California Gold Rush in the 1850s. Charlie, the elder, is a damaged soul who shows no reluctance to kill to order, even for the flimsiest of reasons. Eli, the younger, is a much gentler and more likeable soul who begins to question what they are doing and harbours dreams of setting up a clothes store! However, he worships his older brother and continues to follow in his shadow until eventually Charlie rather significantly loses his right hand – his shooting hand – after they try to search for gold using a patent but lethal ‘mixture’ which highlights the gold but corrodes animal or human flesh at the same time.
The story unfolds as a series of adventures, told in little bite-sized chunks (ideal for reading late at night when the concentration is going). Gradually the roles of the two brothers are reversed as Eli, the gentle, self-analytical one who is frightened of spiders (and witches) and worries about his horse grows up, becoming more self-confident and the binge drinking and shallow cruelty of Charlie – and the loss of his right hand – takes him down to second place. So, not your usual cowboy story by any means and in fact it slowly emerges as more an anti-cowboy, anti-hero story about failed dreams, the relationship of two brothers and the destructive power of greed.
So, an intriguing, most unusual and thoroughly readable tongue-in-cheek cowboy story, described very aptly by one reviewer as ‘a quirky and stylish revisionist western’ – ‘so good, so funny and so sad’.
“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.)
In our house we have more paintings and pictures than wall space. We have nothing valuable in money terms but all valuable in what each picture means to us; I could say the same about books. I put some of my favourite books on the bookshelves in the barns for our guests to enjoy and many of them tell us how much they do. We have bookshelves in every room in the house, with books lined two deep and in untidy piles everywhere. And they keep coming in as we buy them, get given them and the Parwich Five book club that four friends and I have belonged to for over 20 years means there has been at least one more new book every month which makes over 240 in all.
There are many joys about our book club. It is small so we all get a voice in; we all read voraciously and we all come at the books from a different angle. One of us is American, I was born and brought up (and educated) in central Africa, two of us had very strict convent type eductions, the youngest is the same age as the oldest’s daughter. We have very lively – fun and interesting – discussions and agree to disagree without hurt or reproach although funnily enough on the whole we seem to be in general agreement; the best discussions are when we don’t!
Usually, we all find that even if a book doesn’t appeal at first, after a certain number of pages (there’s meant to be a magical number) often to one’s surprise one begins to enjoy it and sometime by the end one is completely won over. Our latest read, chosen by American Deb in response to our request for an American classic, was the Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. To our shame the rest of us had not read it and knew little about the background whereas to Debbie it was a familiar, well-loved classic, taught in every school and part of everyone’s background. Just as she had struggled with Trollope so well-known and familiar to us, so we all struggled with Hawthorne, and only partly because The Scarlet Letter was a deceptively tiny book with print as minute as a Bible’s so not relaxing to read at the end of a long day.
However, after our discussion and Debbie’s surprised reaction that we had not enjoyed it at all, at least two of us have decided we ought to read it again, trying to get beyond the ponderous style and very depressing 17C Puritanism and think more about the (equally depressing) underlying themes of guilt, remorse and redemption. On a more positive note, Hester Prynne, the heroine, is a very strong and courageous woman, and her daughter Pearl an almost alarmingly free ‘free spirit’ presumably because they had been set apart from society so did not have to obey its conventions. Pearl having been born out of wedlock her mother Hester narrowly escaped being executed for the social crime but instead had to live as an outcast, with a scarlet letter A pinned to her chest to mark her out as an adultress.
Our next book will be a complete change: ‘Call the Midwife’ by Jennifer Worth, which has recently been serialised very successfully on telly.
Let’s hope it is worth the wait because I’m not exactly ecstatic about the book in question, which is fairly unusual for me; the other four in our group all loved it so I was a bit out on my own but fortunately that never matters in our discussions.
The last choice for our book club was Precious Bane, by Mary Webb. It was written in the 1920s, but set at the time of Waterloo, over one hundred years before. The positive aspects were the resilience of the heroine, Prue Sarn whose life threatens to be blighted by a hare lip which leads the locals to view her as a witch but who learns to read and write (taught by the local wizard) and eventually finds trues love with Kester the Weaver who sees beyond her disfigurement.
Most the other characters are less appealing, either ineffective, like her mother, or downright selfish and cruel like her brother Gideon. (If you’re wondering why we have a picture of the Deadly Nightshade here you’ll have to read the book.) Their life is hard and their surroundings largely bleak and inhospitable although the Shropshire countryside is beautifully, poetically, described and obviously deeply loved by Mary Webb herself.
I read the book twice which I often do as I race through so fast the first time I return to savour things more slowly. I loved the descriptions and appreciated Mary Webb’s use of words, but it was all a bit melodramatic and a bit too reminiscent of Thomas Hardy for my real enjoyment. I longed for a bit of humour, and kept thinking longingly of Cold Comfort Farm, which so brilliantly parodies this style of book (and which we read as a group many years ago).
So now the next book we are all reading (again, for us all) is Jane Eyre. This was my choice, largely because the latest film, due for release in this country in August, was filmed at Haddon Hall. It is fun to have recently read a book before seeing the film, and particularly a flim shot in familiar surroundings – one can ponder over the changes made and where or even how each incident was filmed.
But there will be much more than that to discuss!
This may be rather rushed. I have made a date with myself (and John of course) to watch ‘Three in a Bed’ at 8.30. Apparently it is quite funny, about B&B owners… I shall know more next time.
Anyway, I promised that I would write about books today, having started yesterday but ended up interrupting the flow as it were. (I never know when I sit at the computer to write a post what I will end up with – it’s quite exciting!)
I have always loved reading, and have read copiously ever since my mother first taught me at a youngish age in a remote outstation in Central Africa where we were hundreds of miles from the nearest nursery schools or even play groups (and doctors, but that’s another story…). I still have some of my first books, patiently and repeatedly mended by my mother. We were hundrreds of miles from the nearest shops, but in those days one didn’t buy things, even books, with abandon. Our book collection is enormous, because John also has lots.
Early on in our time in Parwich we made many good friends. Five of us, who discovered we all shared this love of reading decided to start up an informal book group. That was well over 20 years ago and we still meet and enjoy our sessions as much as we ever did, and of course by now have read literally hundreds of books. Many of mine have found their way into the barns to be pounced upon and enjoyed by many of our guests, to our great pleasure.
So as well as the risk of Tom’s Barn Blog turning into a cookery blog, or a bird photographers’ gallery, there is a strong risk it may turn ever so slightly into a book readers’ blog as well. It is now 8.30 so I promised i will actually write about our lst Book Club choice, which rather awkwardly I didn’t even really enjoy very much. More of that later.
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 […]