This And That And A Couple Of Books


There is a storm coming through, tornado warnings, heavy rain, and thunder and lightning. I am long past the age where I view hours without power as an adventure. I want running water and lights. I have filled buckets of water and have just been emailed a list of steps to start the generator. My husband is visiting his parents in Illinois and believes in me being prepared. Of course, I really should have learned how to start the generator long ago but never bothered. This will teach me. I wonder what other life skills I am currently lacking?


I have a little lilac bush that has refused to bloom for years. It stubbornly sits there, not getting much bigger and not producing any flowers. This year it has decided to reward my patience and has burst forth with gorgeous flowers. Lilac is my favorite spring flower so I am very happy about this. I am completely redoing my front flower beds. Since I am not much of a gardener this is a big project. I dream of a cultivated wildflower garden look but, in actuality, I end up with an overgrown mess of weeds with a few flowers mixed in. So, I am digging it all up and simplifying. We shall see.

I have read a few very good books lately. Last week I finished The Hopkins Manuscript by R.C. Sherriff. It is published by Persephone books but my copy is an older one I have had for a while. I love the illustrations.


It is the account of what would happen if the moon crashed into the earth as told by a retired schoolmaster. It is not so much an account of the occurrence itself but more about how people reacted to the situation. It was disturbing and engrossing. I gulped it down and am now tempted to reread it in order to appreciate all the finer details I know I missed in my initial reading. I particularly appreciated one passage.

It occurred to me what an interesting competition a newspaper could organize:  "If two days of life remained to you--how would you choose to spend them?"  How various the entries would be! Some would vote for a pack of hounds, a sturdy horse and one last glorious run across the country; others for a box each night at the opera. My own desires were simple and modest.  Tomorrow afternoon I would take my favorite walk. I wanted to see the trees and the downs and the distant river from the hillside for the last time.  Tonight I would read.
I went to my bookcase.  My hands moved instinctively away from the classics--the heavy books of history and philosophy that had helped me through unhappy times in days gone by.  Instinctively I went to an obscure, untidy row of books in the corner of the lowest shelf:  the oldest friends in my library--the treasures of my boyhood.
I took "The Wind in the Willows." I drew my chair to the dying fire, and roamed once agin in the fragrant meadows with Badger and Mole and the immortal Mr. Toad. The first streaks of dawn were coming as at last I arose to go to bed, and as I looked over the silvering valley I no longer saw a stricken world upon the brink of eternity.  I thought instead of those myriads of little animals stirring from their winter sleep:  wide-eyed and cock-eared for the Pipes of Pan. 
I slept deeply and peacefully from the moment I closed my eyes. 



I am currently reading The Siren Years--A Canadian Diplomat Abroad 1937-1945. It is absolutely enthralling. He is sent to London before the start of the war and kept diaries the whole time. He not only records the events of the times but he also is so good at evoking the mood and atmosphere of the moment. Here is an example.

I walked back today part of the way from Marston under a rainy grey sky appropriate to an Oxford Sunday (indeed in my experience rain and Sunday are inseparable in Oxford). In the village street a group of little girls were collected under an umbrella held by the tallest of them.  Two ancient dames dressed alike in black with touches of mauve at the throat and clutching prayer books and ebony walking-sticks trundled timidly to church, glancing up and down for fear of cyclists.  Earlier I had met the vicar bicycling along a country lane with his black straw hat pushed on the back of his head.  All this made me remember that life in England has not been touched--that the raids are only superficial wounds.  I stood waiting for my bus in Marston churchyard. I could hear the organ grinding out the music for the evening service and could see lights in the church windows.  Outside in the churchyard was a modest war memorial 'Lest We Forget' and lower down 'Their names are recorded within the Church'. The bus lolled slowly up the hill. 

I also enjoyed the sole sentence for 14 May 1939 while his mother was visiting him.  "Family life makes me long for the brothel or the anchorite's cell."

I am starting to think this post is going to be mainly quotes but there are just so many I like. Here is one last one.

It was impossible to do any serious work today.  I went for a walk in St James's Park. It was a day like early spring--one expected to see crocuses but there were ridges of dirty left-over snow. I was walking along purposefully in my black hat swinging my umbrella thinking damn the war, oh damn the bloody war.  I only curse the war when I am happy.  When I am miserable it suits me that the world should be sliding down into disaster  Then, realizing that I was happy, I thought that this must not be wasted, let me sit on this bench in the sun and say to myself as I watch the ducks, 'At this moment happiness is right here at my elbow.'

 I am exactly halfway through. It is possible I will have to inflict another blog post full of quotes on you because I keep marking more and more passages.

The storm seems to be passing. We still have power and I haven't had to test my knowledge of generators--thank goodness. Now, I have a pan of gingerbread and a book I need to get back to.

10 comments

  1. Ah, tornado season! I'm glad the storm came to nothing.

    You always pick lovely quotes. I nearly bought the R.C. Sherriff when I visited Persephone Books recently and this makes me wish I had!

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    1. Tornadoes aren't even that common in Connecticut. It was strange weather. My husband was in Illinois right in the middle of prime tornado territory and we were the ones with the tornado watch.

      I also read The Fortnight in September by Sherriff and I absolutely loved that. What did you end up choosing at Persephone?

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  2. A couple of houses ago, we lived in a very old house next to the beginning of the South River in Massachusetts. I developed a terror of rain because we had to keep the sump pump operating to keep the house from flooding. We had a generator to do that if the electric went out. Two moves later, I'm hoping to learn to enjoy the sound of rain. In our new location in Pennsylvania, we have frightening thunder and lightning storms. I'm thinking of just putting a mattress under the bed!
    I love, love The Hopkins Manuscript and envy you your illustrated edition. I had to request the copy I read from the library and it had no illustrations. I've since read as much of Sherriff as I can find. I've enjoyed them all.

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    1. I've always thought I would like to live by a rive but I suppose flooding is a constant worry. I think a mattress under the bed is a perfectly logical reaction to storms. Add a book and a flashlight and you are all set.

      The only other Sherriff I have read is The Fortnight in September and I absolutely loved it. Do you particularly recommend any of his other books?

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  3. I think I'd recommend Greengates over Chedworth or Another Year. I think Greengates and The Hopkins Manuscript are my favorites.

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    1. Oooh, Persephone publishes Greengates. I would love an excuse to order another Persephone book.

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  4. The Hopkins Manuscript sounds very gripping, if a bit unusual for a Persephone. Those illustrations are wonderful as well! Hope you continue to enjoy The Siren Years. I wouldn't mind reading another post of quotes at all; his diary entries are incredibly interesting and engaging. May have to add this to my TBR too...

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    1. And the TBR towers higher... Sorry about that but yes, I think you would enjoy it. He is such a good writer.

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  5. What fascinating sounding books! And lilacs are one of my favorite scents in the world.

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    1. They were both such good books--I highly recommend them. It is a pity lilacs don't bloom for longer. I feel like I blink and they are gone.

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