What a woman

What a woman

Lawrence Durrell imagines a moment when Alexander the Great may have been momentarily humbled, in reading the stunning bio of the mythical Queen Semiramis. The god-intoxicated young Alexander must have felt suitably chastened when, in the depths of the Scythian...
Unsorted now

Unsorted now

A lyrical description of savouring the present, from Laurie Lee’s wonderful account of walking across Spain. Eating bread and sausage, my back to the church wall, I was aware only of this point of time, the arrested moment of casual detail, the unsorted rubbish...
Secret nests

Secret nests

In a happy childhood, such secret nests can be a place of enchantment and magic, a place to escape the grown up world for a while.  I still like the idea of cosy places in nature or in a rambling old house; where you can take supplies of chocolate and biscuits, with...
On good nature

On good nature

Fielding’s comment first appeared on my radar about 35 years ago, then I forgot about it, then found it again when re-reading Joseph Andrews.  Much of Fielding’s writing promotes such uncomplicated good nature.  Good-nature is that benevolent and amiable...
In praise of lazy mornings

In praise of lazy mornings

Something magical about moments of morning idleness in idyllic spots.  Surely they allow some quiet clean up of over-burdened minds, or just some simple reprieve from restless strivings?  But still, leisure has its rewards here as well: idle mornings of meditation in...
Eyes to the light

Eyes to the light

A servant is taken advantage of once too often and swears never again to lower herself, literally or figuratively.  Note the task demanded was ‘on her afternoon off’.  Joyce’s stint as a general maid in a grocer’s household was cut short only...
Leonine concentration

Leonine concentration

As I get older, I have a stronger sense of needing this kind of concentration.  So many dreams and projects to realise, filling more space than the (likely) time available to complete them.  This has made me less tolerant of things which seem inessential and jejune,...
Otter aquatics

Otter aquatics

Otters are playful and their element is water.  Here Gavin Maxwell’s companion Mij, having figured out where the bathroom is, slips between his human handler’s legs and makes a dash for the source of water. By the time I had caught up with him he was up on...
A safer daylight

A safer daylight

A deeply reassuring place this, with sunlit air and safety.  .. a different air blew there, and as if there was a brighter sun and a safer daylight.  Wishing you a safer daylight wherever you are.   Source: Mary Webb, Precious Bane (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1981), p....
First taste of freedom

First taste of freedom

Freed from labour camp in September 1953, following the demise of Stalin, the few survivors still standing left the camp and headed for the nearby village, where they were given a simple, spontaneous and sensitive welcome.As I was thinking this a girl between eight...
Finding peace

Finding peace

An interesting piece of aunt-like advice from Martha Gellhorn to Leonard Bernstein.   She emphasises the importance of not only finding a nugget of peace within yourself, and the conditions to nurture it, but the fact that maintaining it is a constant endeavour, if...
They were not sad people

They were not sad people

It’s a few years since I read Steinbeck’s account of his visit to the Soviet Union with the photographer Robert Capa.  A wonderful book full of humour and empathy.  Among the many quotations I jotted down was this one, concerning the time they spent in...
Merry in the greenwood

Merry in the greenwood

Something blithe and enchanting about this description of the man she loves, before she realises that he loves her.  He is resilient, upstanding, independent, kind, and merry.  She loves him from the get-go, as he does her, though her belief in that takes some...
Freedom from alarms

Freedom from alarms

One of the joys of leaving a job is the growing awareness that waking becomes a natural process, rather than an aural shock.  This doesn’t necessarily mean waking late, just naturally, and I still get up as early as I ever did, about six in the winter and five...
Of life and lilac

Of life and lilac

This man is one who returns from the dead, from decades in a gulag in Siberia, released during one or another political thaw.  He returns to ‘normal’ life, and it is interesting to see the signs of it which make him realise it had continued even as he was...
Unsullied attitude

Unsullied attitude

Shirley is among the less known works of Charlotte Bronte.  At a time when women had considerably fewer options in deploying their energies and talents, Shirley is a strong character with attitude and resources.   I loved the ‘Pah to all that’ feeling in...
Intoxicating Ithaca

Intoxicating Ithaca

Golding took several decades to realize his dream of visiting Ithaca, and a few months to make his own odyssean journey there by way of Troy.  Many of his descriptions of this and other Greek islands are intoxicating in their brightness and warmth, particularly as one...

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