This anthology is not published until the autumn but I have just received the first finished copy. I am in the midst of researching food-related extracts for Bedside Companion for Food Lovers and writing pieces on nature for Urban Nature Every Day but looking through this anthology I am reminded how much I enjoyed compiling it.
Happiness is fleeting – the moment should be seized and this extract from W. E. Henley’s poem Praeludium XXII is one of my favourites:
Between the dusk of a summer night
And the dawn of a summer day,
We caught at a mood as it passed in flight,
And we bade it stoop and stay.
I love rereading books, particularly novels. If I didn’t work in a bookshop I would probably do it much more but almost every week in the shop I am seduced by a pretty jacket, an interesting blurb or a children’s book I need to read for recommendations. The result is fairly predictable; I have piles of unread books at home along with lists of books I want to go back to and read again. Rereading is mostly pure pleasure; occasionally a book doesn’t live up to my memories but usually I simply enjoy it, discovering details I had forgotten or missed the first time.
Compiling the prose anthologies adds even more books to the piles and lists. I unearth old favourites and make new discoveries. Nature Writing, Bedside Book for Gardeners, Bedside Book for Book Lovers and now Bedside Book for Food Lovers all create a reading backlog quite apart from the direct research for extracts. At least I’ll never run out of books I want to read.
Research for Bedside Companion for Food Lovers has created a slightly more serious (but pleasurable) quandary as it has reminded me of series rather than individual books. First Douglas Adams’ The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. This is a trilogy but Douglas Adams got carried away and it is actually a trilogy of five books.
E. F. Benson’s Mapp and Lucia series consists of six books. Like so many books in this house, I have more than one edition. The hardbacks belonged to a friend, although the first and last are missing. The paperbacks were reissues I bought in the eighties as I wanted my own copies. The friend has long-since died and now I realise I’d like to reread his copies – so I shall need to source the missing hardbacks to complete the set.
More serious is my wish to reread the Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O’Brian. They were recommended by the same friend, who used to ring me at work in Hatchards to read me extracts. I finally read the first one to prove to him that I wasn’t interested in naval fiction set during the Napoleonic Wars. So wrong. I was immediately hooked and read the seventeen that were in print at the time and then waited impatiently for the following volumes. In the end Patrick O’Brian completed twenty in the series before he died, leaving one story unfinished. I remember each book being full of wonderful details so they would not be ones to skip or skim through. I did skip the battles but when I met Patrick O’Brian and confessed this to him, he didn’t seem to mind. He explained that this was why I preferred his writing to C. S. Forrester’s Hornblower series; Forrester is better at battles. I think he was pleased. Reading the seventeen novels took just over three months in the winter of 1995-6, when I think I had more reading time than I do now.
As you can probably see from the photo above everything has got slightly out of hand. My dining room table has disappeared beneath teetering piles of books and I am juggling too many projects. This isn’t normally a problem; I like having lots of different things on the go and I tend to work (and play) best when juggling but earlier this year I spent far too long on a book project which has come to nothing. To be honest I suspected as much when I started it but it was fun and will, one day I hope, have its moment. I have learnt not to worry too much about books or book proposals that fizzle, I only take on things I think will be interesting or fun (ideally both) and, on the whole, nothing with writing is wasted, writing anything is always good practice. A couple of unexpected pieces of work appeared but they fitted in with everything else.
Then the commission for Urban Nature Every Day arrived, which was a total but very welcome surprise. However busy I was I would never have turned this down; it is interesting and working on it with Sally (my co-author for Berries, Nuts and Cherries & Mulberries all published by Prospect Books) will be fun. But the research and accompanying outings and business lunches have pushed everything else to one side. I need to get the balance back so I can juggle it with Bedside Companion for Food Lovers, writing for Hatchards’ website and, of course, selling books. I need to find space for patchwork, papier mâché and boats. The garden looks wonderful at the moment but it is coasting and I know that if it doesn’t receive a little more care and attention it will slip from organised chaos into disorganised mess.
Everything is getting sorted and I am confident that, in a few weeks, an ordered balance will be re-established. Until then I’ll just have to manage without my dining room table.
The Chelsea Flower Show has been pushed back again as this week’s pleasure was the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. There was a four-day weekend, with the Trooping of the Colour, a service at St Paul’s Cathedral, a concert outside Buckingham Palace and a parade celebrating the seventy years of her reign. This was an excuse for bunting, cake and an outing to Putney Bridge to see the flypast when I should have been working at home.
I remember the Silver Jubilee when my parents hung swags of red, white and silver bunting from the roof of our house (long and low, it had a lot of roof). Or rather they stood on the ground and issued instructions to their daughter who was the only one small enough to easily crawl out of the attic window onto the parapet. It presumably broke every rule of health and safety and child-care but I remember rather enjoying it and I certainly came to no harm. My bunting this time is lower-key. I ordered ‘vintage’ as I thought it would look better against the pink roses but the bunting which arrived looked as if it had sat in someone’s attic for seventy years. Although once it was strung along the fence I warmed to it.
Watching the flypast from Putney Bridge meant I saw the 70 formation from a slightly skewed angle and the Red Arrows were no longer trailing smoke but it was still impressive. But this what we are good at: pomp, circumstance and brilliant commemorative spectacles combining grandeur and humour that I don’t think any other country can match (but I suppose I am biased). I didn’t read much about it in the newspapers but someone said elsewhere in the world there are the queens or kings of this or that country, we have The Queen. It’s so true.
For the best and most charming humour, watch Her Majesty having tea with Paddington Bear; it’s easy to find on the Internet but make sure you see the full version starting with a view of the Royal Tea Cosy, not just the clipped one as otherwise you’ll miss an excellent tea pot moment. Best of all was Paddington’s heartfelt thanks to the Queen at the end. ‘For everything.’
I went to the Chelsea Flower Show this week so, in a way, that was my pleasure but it will have to wait till next week because this week my garden is my principle pleasure. It’s very small, and scruffy and has too many plants and far too many mis-matched pots but there are moments when it looks perfect. In fact there are nearly always parts of it that look perfect, even in the depths of winter, but you sometimes have to hunt for them. At this time of year all of it suddenly looks lovely.
Perhaps most importantly the roses have started. I have an elderly pink rose in the front garden which looks its best in May. I have no idea what it is but it smells lovely and flowers on and off from now until Christmas. One of my regular pleasures when I am working / looking out of the window is to see passers-by stop, smell it and sometimes even take photos. It flowers for over half the year but now is its moment of glory. I also have several David Austen roses, some of which haven’t quite got going yet but I have high hopes for future years. ‘Tess of the d’Urbevilles’ climbs up the side of the front door and is a wonderful rich crimson. ‘Claire Austen’ lives in an unprepossessing shady corner in a shallow bed but copes brilliantly. Her flowers are exactly the same creamy colour as the variegated ivy which forms a hedge behind her. ‘Ferdinand Picard’ is one of my favourites. At the moment it is still small but the plan is that it will soon be the star of the front garden. ‘Tottering by Gently’ is a beautiful pale yellow and has a delicate dog rose quality which I love. Finally, over the summerhouse I have a rose whose name I have long forgotten. It has no scent and the flowers are various mixes of pink and yellow but it is perfect draped over the roof. I would need to be eight ft tall to reach the flowers anyway. It looks spectacular now and then flowers intermittently throughout the summer.
For the last few years I have, by chance rather than design, edited more books than I have written. My plan was always to keep the two level. Earlier in the year I began compiling Bedside Companion for Food Lovers (my thirteenth anthology) and I have now been commissioned to write Urban Nature Every Day (my thirteenth full book). I am writing it with Sally Hughes and could not be more excited. I have already written three books with her (Berries,Nuts and Cherries & Mulberries, all published by Prospect Books) so we know we work well together. Luckily for this project she knows more about birds, animals and creepy-crawlies than I do, whilst I know more about flowers, trees, weeds and weather. It will involve lots of jolly days out, business meetings in cafes, pubs and restaurants and interesting discoveries.
I have lived in London on and off pretty well all my life (apart for a brief time in Edinburgh) and love it. Some time ago I wrote for a delightful magazine called Lost in London. It celebrated the ‘green within the grey’ and was a beautiful publication which came out about three times a year and culminated in a book in 2013. I loved writing for it and discovered a great many wonderful green places within the city. I can’t wait to visit them again.
I don’t normally like parties but this one is different. Hatchards is the oldest and, biased I may be, best bookshop in London, opened by John Hatchard two hundred and twenty-five years ago. Every year, since the mid-twentieth century, they have held a party for all the authors who have supported the shop during the previous twelve months. It is a delightful affair with champagne and all the very best authors gathered together to enjoy themselves. There are no publishers, no signings and no customers. I am in the uniquely privileged position of being both staff and author. This year the party was particularly timely as the previous day Sally (with whom I wrote Berries, Nuts and Cherries & Mulberries) and I had signed a contract for a new book. But that will be next week’s pleasure.
A few months ago eminent scientists somewhere discovered that pottering is good for you. Apparently four hours a day are necessary, which seems perfectly achievable. The same is probably true for cats.
Some time ago I made some miniature patchworks as test pieces to see how shapes and colours worked. They were fun to make so I made some more. A small pile grew into a slightly larger one. I have now decided I’m going to join them together and make a quilt of quilts. Each one measures 6 x 8 inches, I think I shall need twenty-four. Here are the first ten.
Okay, Easter was last week but I’m still eating cake and chocolate. Last year I made the mistake of standing the fluffy chicks in the icing and spent the best part of a week trying to wash it off their little legs. Balanced on their nest they stay clean. Who knew that hens made nests from chocolate flakes and Smarties hatched into chicks?