A blog about my photos, my artwork, quotations, ideas, collections, passions, England, authors, handwork of all kinds, rusty bits, buffalo, and architectural detail...for starters. And the occasional rant.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Green Lane to Nowhere

I don’t plan on doing very many book reviews here -  it would be rather foolish since most of the books I read have not only been reviewed to death but often have whole books written about them.  The majority of the books I read are classics.  But I do have a few revered authors writing currently – Terry Pratchett, Bill Bryson, Jasper Fforde – and I do go on what I call ‘reading binges’ when I have a new interest.  Usually this is a historical personage or period.  I have done Henry VIII and the Bloomsbury Group to a fare-thee-well, and now I am in the middle of football/soccer with an emphasis on Liverpool FC.

However, I do have a nice little stack of books by my bedside, most of them non-fiction and none of them classics, that is almost out of control, so I am trying to get it down to where I don’t trip over it when I get up in the middle of the night to visit the bathroom.  Where did all these books come from?  Well, I am often given books by friends who support my love for all things English.  I have a weakness for remaindered books with shiny new dust jackets.  When I order from Powell’s (the best bookstore in the world) I try to order in batches that total $50 to get free shipping.  You can get an awful lot of used paperbacks for $50 so I usually wind up getting a few on spec to fill out my order.

The book I want to talk about came from one of these Powell’s orders, and what caught my eye was the comment that it was a “modern Akenfield”.  Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village by Ronald Blythe was also a filler in a Powell’s order and is a wonderfully readable book on the social history of Suffolk village life which was not only made into a movie but now has its own sequel,  Return to Akenfield by Craig Taylor.

I have just cheerfully broken all book review rules by writing three paragraphs without even naming the book being reviewed….so here it is….The Green Lane to Nowhere: The Life of an English Village by Byron Rogers.

Rogers writes about his life in and around a village in Northamptonshire in a way that is somehow timeless.  He weaves history and mystery, personalities and landscapes in a seamless series of extended anecdotes.  Yes, he is amusing, but it is the kind of humour that is so friendly and warm it makes you smile as you read.  When he reaches back, and sometimes he reaches a very long ways back, he gives you all the relevant information and still manages never to bore you with details.

I find his style brilliant, the kind where you sometimes stop mid-paragraph to admire his choice of words.  This book is so readable I do not hesitate to recommend it to non-anglophiles.  When I grow up, I want to write just like Byron Rogers.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Eau d'Elevator

An elevator in your average condo building is a small closed room.  If you are claustrophobic it can be a problem.  I am quite claustrophobic, but for some reason elevators are not a problem for me.  My problem is that I have a very good sense of smell.

Several months ago someone spilled a coffee/milk drink of some kind in the elevator, and of course, they didn’t clean it up properly.  For two days the elevator smelled pleasantly of coffee.  I don’t need to tell you where it went from there.  For another three days it smelled like the inside of your average kitchen garbage pail.  Then it was reported and the carpet was cleaned.  For weeks, that small closed space smelled like a garbage can containing a cheap air freshener ………….  It was awful.

Yesterday morning, as I stepped in the elevator, a pleasantly scrubbed man stepped out.  This was a man who clearly loved his cologne.  I did not.  I suspect his wife sent him out on an errand so she could breath.

Ah but last night, my neighbors brought home pizza.  I know because I saw them going in their door as I was locking mine.  It was sausage with onion and there was no green pepper.  Ask me how I know….

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Slap Who?

View through the pines to Baby Island off Whidbey Island looking across to more Whidbey Island.
Imagine if you will, four woman of a certain age in a cabin, on an island, together for three days.  They’ve known each other for many years, there are sisters involved, so there was nothing new to be said about family or husbands, current or ex.  What on earth, you may well wonder, do they talk about?  The answer is neither as interesting nor as boring as you may think….

1)      Eggs: Just exactly how long are eggs good for cooking, when does one throw them out, and how well cooked must one be (the egg, that is) before you will eat it.  This was one of the many conversations stymied by a lack of computer access, and it turns out discussions like this are much more interesting when no one actually knows the answer – Google-free discussions can go on forever.  In case you are wondering, refrigerated eggs are good for 2-3 weeks AFTER the sell by date.
2)      Wildlife: We have over the years seen whales, seals, bald eagles (lots), osprey, herons, hummingbirds, wild bunnies, and this very strange guy living across the street.  The two main conversations are a) Did you see that? Did it move? Is it a seal? No, I think it’s just a big rock. b) Is it an osprey or a young eagle? Where? It’s too big to be a young eagle.  Where? But I think I can see white feathers on the head. Where? It’s gone.
3)      Hate: We talked for a very long time about the use of the word hate.  Although the conclusion was far from unanimous, we decided it was ridiculous to emphatically hate something inanimate – a waste of energy as well as credibility.  For the rest of our stay however, we were acutely aware of how often we did actually use the word – although three of the four are quite mild-mannered.
4)      Cheese: I think there was only one meal in which cheese did not play a part and that was a breakfast.  We had a substantial cheese plate for one lunch and ate the remains on our last day. (We plan no meals on the last day, we simply try to eat up the left-overs to minimize the amount of food we have to haul back home.)  No matter how well we plan, there are always a few items brought by everybody: coffee, cream, biscuits (the kind the English consider cookies), and cheese. Although for some reason, this year we had an abundance of avocados also.  And so, as we munched away, we discussed the various cheeses we had known. 
5)      Slap yo’ momma!: This was by far the most heated conversation of the stay, as we tried to come up with a clever ‘Name this Dish’ entry for a cooking magazine.  The southern expression, evidently a favorite of Paula Dean, is used to emphatically describe the goodness of something, in this case food.  As in: “that Extra Cheese Macaroni & Cheese with Bacon, Sour Cream, Butter, and More Cheese Added was slap yo’ Momma good!”  Some of us thought ‘Slap Yo Momma Spuds’ was a good idea.  Some of us did not feel it was appropriate - perhaps the fact that we were all Mommas had something to do with it.  I have a feeling this conversation will resurface for years to come.
6)      Gin and Tonics:  One of the funniest conversations ever as we tried to figure out what had gone wrong with the anxiously awaited ‘perfect’ G&T’s – they were decidedly NOT perfect.  Was it the gin, which had been carried up in a possibly tainted glass jar?  Was it the tonic, is there such a thing as bad tonic? Was it the plastic glasses they were served in?  Was it the lime, bad lime or too much lime?  We were a perfect bunch of Miss Marples as we tested and eliminated, remade and retasted.  We were quite serious, although someone watching us would have been ROFLing.  For the record, we finally decided it was too much lime.  Maybe this is why I personally prefer bourbon on the rocks – so much easier.

Usually, we spend much of our time on these annual weekends discussing England.  It was two years gone since our trip together to England and none of us had a trip in the planning stages.  Any one of us planning a trip to Old Blighty is grounds for endless conversations, listmaking and collective magazine-combing.  I think next year I will pretend I am planning a trip just to change the conversation, I am pretty well cheesed out.

This guy lurked out on the deck the whole time.  Yes, those are raindrops on the rose petals, it is the Pacific Northwest so of course it was raining much of the time.