Tag Archives: Georgette Heyer

The noble art of reading in bed

 

 

 

100_0088cropped bedroomWhen I was young and naive, and a novice journalist, I wrote an article in a woman’s magazine which began:’ I got most of my education under the bed-clothes’, and went on to discuss children’s reading. Some wag must have been reading his wife’s copy, and the clipping appeared on the office notice-board amid crude male guffaws. Thank you chaps, I got the message! Not a quick learner, but I got there in the end!

Reading under the bed – clothes was the refuge of a child who was sent to bed at seven o clock every night, and allowed to read for fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes! When I got older, and had more homework bed was set back to seven thirty, but the fifteen minute reading restriction still applied.  Only a non-reader could have stipulated this ridiculous time limit, so under the bed clothes it was. When I had no torch I knelt for hours, freezing in my night clothes squinting to read by the crack of light under the door from the hall light.

Occasionally I tried the loo or the bathroom, but this was risky, as books aren’t easily hidden by a skinny child under a thin nightie. When I was fourteen I picked up Jane Eyre in the library. It exploded into my consciousness. I felt dazed and obsessed by the strange, compelling self-centred story. I could think of nothing else. I read it over and over again.  I read it under the desk at school, in the bus and on the train, and of course, in bed.

Once the parents had gone to bed, I switched my light on with impunity, and read until I had finished Jane Eyre, and then started  ‘Villette’, by which time it was heading for five o clock in the morning. Since I had to get up at six to cook my breakfast and catch the school bus at seven am, it seemed safer to stay awake, and soldier on. And having done it once, and finding it was possible to keep going without sleep, I quite often sacrificed my sleep for a good book after that.

Boarding school was tricky, but once again, there was always the bathroom. When I left home and became my own master, reading in bed became one of my favourite pastimes. Mostly literature and poetry in those palmy days. And usually then I had a bowl of apples to munch meditatively as the hours went by, or better still, a bar of chocolate. Sometimes decadence overcame me and I had a glass of lemonade. Marriage and motherhood dished all that of course, and reading in bed became a distant remembered pleasure.

But in the last few years since my husband’s snores have become so loud they wake me even when I’m sleeping in another room, we’ve taken a page out of the Royal Family’s domestic habits, and now sleep in separate rooms. This means I can read without disturbing him, and I’ve raised this noble pastime to a fine art.

Usually three books go to bed with me… something that I call mental knitting, a relaxing series like Georgette Heyer, (a much under-rated, very funny, witty and clever writer) or other light-hearted books like the hilarious Adrian Mole Diaries, or ‘The Jane Austen Book Club’. Georgette Heyer is sort of Jane Austen lite – but the  blessed Jane is also a regular companion, along with the Thomas Hardy’s, George Eliot’s, Anthony Trollope’s, to re-read for the sheer pleasure of enjoying their writing again. In theory too, because I know the story, I kid myself I won’t be tempted to read too late. But that is a false premise.  And as CS Lewis said, ‘I can’t imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once.

And then there’s the third category – those which are on the go, sometimes a new novel – Barbara Kingsilver at the moment, but not many of those – a biography, a history, a diary. And for real relaxation I sink into nature journals,  often a classic like Flora Thompson’s: ‘Lark Rise at Candleford’ …  Annie Dillard, Henry Beston or Ronald Lockley…  mostly accounts of gentle, unpolluted country life.

But reading in bed isn’t just books. The bed matters too… preferably by the window… in summer with cool white linen- cotton blend sheets that have a silky feel, in winter comforting coloured flannelette to match the duvet. Pillows – plenty of them, to lean back on and others to support the elbows. Electric blanket a must in cold weather… I use it a bit like the hot tap in the bath… whenever it seems a bit chill, I switch it on until the bed is like toast again, and then prudently switch off again until the next time.

In summer, there’s the bliss of going to bed in day-light, knowing you have hours in front of you before dusk creeps up, before finally switching on the light. In winter, lamps on, curtains pulled, wood fire still burning in the sitting room to keep the house warm for when I emerge to make a cup of tea. And the bed, pyjamas warmed under the bed clothes on the electric blanket, cosy sheets and pillow slips,  red mohair rug edged with wine-red satin, and a stash of peppermints to slowly chew as I turn the pages. No sounds, just the murmur of the soft sea, a distant owl, and occasionally a scuffle on the roof as a possum scrambles across. The sound of rain on the roof is good too.

The art of reading in bed is a silent, sybaritic, solitary joy and has nothing to do with going to sleep. It has everything to do with the pleasure of reading, frequently to the detriment of sleep. So I have to confess, in the words of L.M.Montgomery that : ‘I am simply a ‘book drunkard.’ Books have the same irresistible temptation for me that liquor has for its devotee. I cannot withstand them.’

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Running out of inspiration, I took an organic free range chicken out of the deep freeze, and after de-frosting it slowly in the fridge for two days, stuffed it with a pierced lemon and put it on to steam. After an hour and three quarters, I placed around it in the steamer, new potatoes, carrots, leeks, small onions and parsnips.

When the chicken is ready so are the vegetables. I usually make a parsley sauce to serve with this, but didn’t feel like a heavy floury sauce, so instead chopped garlic cloves very finely, sauted them in butter, and added a vegetarian oxo cube and cream. I boiled and stirred until it was thickened, and added lots of chopped parsley. It turned out rather well. The bonus of steaming is a wonderful chicken stock, as the chicken juices drip into the boiling water beneath the steamer. More on that next time!

Food for Thought

Those who do not have power over the story that dominates their lives, power to re-tell it, to re-think it, deconstruct it, joke about it and change it as times change, truly are powerless, because they cannot think new thoughts.

Sir Salman Rushdie – famous Indian writer, educated in England, lives in America, and winner of many prizes and honours.

 

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The good enough life

 

 

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Back in the last century, a psychologist called Dr Winnicott coined the comforting phrase ‘A good – enough mother’ …. I looked back at yesterday, and thought, yes, I suppose it was a good enough day …

I woke to the sound of the sea smashing onto the rocks. Good, I thought. I love it when there’s a thundering sea running. Up early to take my husband for minor surgery, I went to the cliff edge to see the white foam breaking over the rocks, and looked out to the horizon. The sun was just rising, a flaming red band above the sea, fading to amber, and then to palest turquoise, the few clouds black in the pearly lightening sky. Still. Not a breath of wind in spite of the pounding waves.

I fed the birds and then drove into our nearest country town, and it was chill enough for rags of white mist to drape the hollows, and drift across the dips in the road. By the time we had reached the surgical centre, the sun was up and the burnt gold and brown fields were lying defenceless in the baking heat again. Animals lying heaped in scraps of precious shade …

Leaving the old chap to the anaesthetic and the knife, I searched for a cafe open at 7.30 to have some breakfast, and decided that Eggs Benedict would help to while away the two hours  until I fetched him. But by the time I’d picked up the invalid and driven back home with my wonky liver making its grumpy presence known, I realised that Eggs Benedict that early in the day was not a good idea.

Later the morning soared into joy with a long phone call from eldest grandson, completing a double degree in arts and science at Uni. By the time we’d debated GM experimentation and the environment, knocked off Schopenhauer and his will to live, breezed through Nietzsche, explored  his theory of the nature of pain, tried to define happiness a propos Nietzsche and his fulfilment of will,  covered the architecture of Paris, categorised various behaviours as schizoid, narcissistic etc,  explored Maslow’s concept of peak experiences, agreed on beauty, argued about the number of different species of birds, butterflies and animals, discussed his fitness regime and the nuances of rock climbing, I felt as though my brain had had its own peak experience and a mental workout as well.

I put down the phone smiling like a Cheshire cat. Nothing – not even a peak experience – beats talking to my grandchildren.  Lunch was a breeze, as a neighbour had dropped in some hot savoury scones and cheese turnovers, so I didn’t have to cook. I replenished the bird’s various feeding bowls with wheat, and then tooled back into town to the surgeon for the invalid’s dressing to be changed, and various instructions for his care. At the chemist, picking up the prescriptions to administer, I was greeted warmly by another customer, a youngish woman in a huge multi-coloured caftan to disguise her weight, and only one arm. As her joyful goodness enveloped me, I felt ashamed of my livery grumpiness.

So I’m now not only cook, bottle-washer, car-washer, gardener, log- carrier, accountant, chauffeur but also nurse. Not, my friends tell me, the sort of cheeky flirty sort that they were in their young days, “ All the men in my ward fell in love with me,” giggled one still beautiful seventy- year- old on the phone…

Stopping at the village shop for milk on the way home I found a parcel waiting for me. It was ‘Carolina Cavalier’, the biography of James Johnston Pettigrew, the other General who led Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg. One of his descendants, a dear friend, had sent it, knowing my fascination for the Civil War.

Early to bed, too tired to start my new book – I just needed some mental knitting – so skipped happily through a Georgette Heyer. Before putting out the light, and opening the window wide so that the sound of the sea would fill the room and all the spaces of the night, I thought about that phrase, a good enough day… and remembered that old legend about the poor man who had a horse he treasured.

One day it disappeared, and all the villagers commiserated with him about his bad luck. But he brushed aside their sympathy saying it wasn’t good and it wasn’t bad. A few days later the horse re-appeared bringing with him a herd of wild horses. Everyone congratulated the old man on his good fortune, but he again brushed it off, saying it was neither good nor bad. His son began breaking in the horses, so that they could sell them, but one day he was thrown, and broke his leg.

More commiserating moans from the villagers, and once more the old man shrugged and refused to judge what had happened. While the son was laid up, the king levied a call on all young men to join the army to fight for their country. How lucky you are that your son can’t go, exclaimed the villagers. And the old man made no comment again. He never judged anything that happened, recognising that he actually never knew whether what happened was fortunate or unfortunate. Life just is.

So I looked back on another daily round filled with common tasks, which furnished all we ought to ask, in the words of the hymn, and there were unexpected gifts as well as the expected challenges. I don’t know what the hidden significance of any of it is… maybe one day I will. Maybe I will never know. Maybe I will know when I reach the other side. It was simply another good enough day. Neither good nor bad. The stuff of life.

 

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

I have people coming for dinner on Sunday. It started out as four of us, but visiting overseas mutual friends, means that we’re now eight. So I’ve decided to haul a small turkey out of the deep freeze. I’m also going to Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem in Auckland on Saturday night with my daughter, and a party afterwards, and know I won’t be as on the ball on Sunday as I’d like to be. So I cooked the pudding today and it will reheat perfectly. Because it’s a sort of Christmas turkey, I thought I’d do one Christmassy- type pudding, and one refresher – a lemon cream. The Christmassy option is apple crumble, the stewed apple mixed with Christmas mincemeat. It lifts apple crumble into another realm, especially with a little brandy added to the apple- mincemeat mixture, and the crumble a really rich one.

For the crumble – a big one – I used ten ounces of flour, and two of ground almonds, six ounces of butter and eight ounces of sugar, plus grated lemon rind. Mix the butter into the flour, add the rest of the ingredients, tip over the fruit in an ovenproof dish, and bake for forty minutes or so in a medium to hot oven. It will wait in the fridge, and re-heat on the day. I’ll serve it with crème fraiche.

 

Food for Thought

Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you are having at the moment.

Eckhart Tolle  born 1948  Influential teacher, philosopher, and best- selling author of spiritual books

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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