Thursday, December 30, 2010

food and family, that season

Not too much to say here, just enough to keep the photos from being too puzzling.
Chris came for Christmas, is now off at a cabin in Sooke (not our old home, but one with power and running water) and will be back for New Year's. He just missed connecting with my brother, my sister-in-law Laura (pictured here with Mark and the back of Cedric's head) and their kids, who came by on the 28th and filled the kitchen nicely, as you can see by the second photo below.
The hare hanging from the rack is plush, we are not aging our meat in the historic fashion.

These are most of my nephews and nieces on one side of the family, with a significant other for leavening (he's the one in the striped shirt).
We had to bring in a few extra chairs. It was raucous and cheerful, and the cat hid upstairs until everyone had gone.
Can I remember names? Um. Cedric, who sings opera; Jason, Piper's significant other; Piper who's supposed to look like me; Graeme, Ivan the youngest, Josephine the shy one; Helen whom you can't quite see, Hannah who has been carving Christmas dinners all week - and I'm missing someone, I know it.

Happily baking still, and just the other day finished decorating the cookies with this batch of golden bells. I'm quite taken with the little holly leaf sprig, as you can tell.
I do need to do another dozen tarts, because the pastry won't keep forever. Mark has asked that I stop at 3 dozen butter tarts, so I may do the rest as pecan tarts (that is, the same filling, but over chopped pecans instead of raisins), or look at some other tart recipes. If I'm feeling adventurous. Maybe there's one that can use up an apple or two.
We had roast ducks with wine & bitter cherry (correction per husband: sour cherry) sauce for Christmas. Duck curry the next two days. I took the leftover cherry-wine sauce and used it in gingerbread cake, but I have to say the water-from-boiling-grapefruit-peel is more effective. I suppose the spices and molasses overpower any weaker flavours.

And since I promised, here is my super-garish birthday cake!
It's a butter cake with butterscotch icing, ornamented with butter icing left over from the roll cookies in a festive design of stars and holly (or possibly, green bats with red eyes). Around the outside is happy birthday Barbara in sloppy red icing, or Barbara happy birthday, or birthday Barbara happy, depending where you start.

New Year Merry Christmas and Happy to you!

Monday, December 27, 2010

walking into the books

This is the post about Hemingford Grey Manor that I promised weeks ago.

First, background: the Manor was built in the 1100s, of stone, and is perhaps the oldest continuously inhabited house in England. It has been adjusted in various ways over the centuries, most notably in the Tudor age and the Georgian, when it belonged to the Gunnings (of the 'beautiful Gunning sisters') who completely covered the Norman stone with a symmetrical (and much larger) Palladian exterior--which burnt down in the late 1790s.
In 1937, Lucy M. Boston bought the Manor, and spent the next two years restoring it. At the time it looked like a 'semi-derelict Georgian farmhouse', only one Norman window showed and only two rooms were livable. But she had fallen in love with it, and decided 'if this should prove to be all there was, I would yet live in a house that had a window into the twelfth century.'

The Manor became her muse. 'All my water is drawn from one well,' she said. 'I am obsessed by my house. It is in the highest degree a thing to be loved.'
At the age of sixty she began to write, and her first novels were published in 1954. The Children of Green Knowe was illustrated by her son, Peter Boston, and her publisher explained that they did not illustrate books for adults. So it was published as a children's book, and became the first of six Green Knowe books.
The Manor, under various names, features in all her novels except one (The Sea Egg), always as a haven, sometimes an ambiguous or embattled one. The countryside around the manor plays its part, from the winter flood that The Children of Green Knowe opens with, to the river Ouse (in the picture here) that is the setting for The River at Green Knowe.

The books: In the first book, young Tolly (Toseland) goes to stay with his great-grandmother, whom he has never met. He arrives during a flood, and is rowed to the doorstep. I want to quote swaths of this, because it is beautifully and sensually written, from the train crossing railway lines covered with flood water, to the entrance hall 'hung all over with mirrors and pictures and china'. But I'll try to restrain myself.
'Toseland waved the lantern about and saw trees and bushes standing in the water, and presently the boat was rocked by quite a strong current and the reflection of the lantern streamed away in elastic jigsaw shapes and made gold rings around the tree trunks.'

He meets his great-grandmother: 'She had short silver curls and her face had so many wrinkles it looked as if someone had been trying to draw her for a very long time and every line put in had made the face more like her.'
Tolly's father and stepmother are in Burma, and he feels alone and placeless. At Green Knowe he finds his family's past, in a place where past and present are not so easily distinguished, where he is welcomed to both.
While Tolly has an ancestral claim, his mother's family of Oldknow being descended from the Roger d'Aulneaux who built the Norman house, the other child who finds a place there is Ping, a refugee child who arrives in the third book The River at Green Knowe. By the fifth book, An Enemy at Green Knowe, Ping and Tolly stand together to defend their home against the conniving Dr. Melanie Powers.
'Green Knowe was full of mysteries. Certainly it was welcoming and comfortable and rejoicing and gay, but one had the feeling that behind the exciting colours and shapes of its ancient self there might be surprises from the unknown universe; that the house was on good terms with that too, and had no intention of shutting out the un-understandable. Of course, it was largely Time. Surely Now and Not-now is the most teasing of all mysteries, and if you let in a nine-hundred year dose of time, you let in almost everything.'
The house: With the aid of Peter Boston's line drawings and scraperboard illustrations, I knew Green Knowe as well as my own home. The nursery with its angled ceiling and rocking horse casting shadows across the wall, the Knight's Hall with its arched windows and high ceiling, the entrance with carved cherub and witch-ball. The thick stone walls that had withstood centuries, and the river that ran quietly alongside, sometimes waking and spreading across the fields.

Before taking up writing, Lucy Boston was a painter and musician, and along with her writing, she was a remarkable quilter and gardener. The fictional topiary garden of Green Knowe and the actual topiary garden of the Manor grew alongside each other.
Here is Mark taking the path through the gardens to the river walk. We came in November, when the gardens weren't at their best--they are famous for roses--but the topiary remained stalwart.
The weather had turned bitter cold and windy, and when we reached the house, Diana Boston told us to come in even though we were early. Mark said he'd be glad to come in out of the cold. She laughed and said 'Out of the wind, maybe. Not out of the cold.' Stone houses are not known for their insulating and heat-retention capacity.

No pics of the Manor, sorry, but you can see a little in their gallery here. Outside it was too bloody cold to stand about, and inside they ask that you don't take photos--though I expect there are plenty on flickr, taken with cell phones and all.
I had been to Hemingford Grey in '04, but without Mark, and since he was also a fan of the Green Knowe books, coming to them as an adult, I'd wanted to visit again with him.

Visiting the Manor is like walking into the books. Over the years, as Lucy Boston describes in her memoir Memories in a House, she collected things that had appeared in the books, and added them to the house. The most recent addition, Diana Boston told us, was the Saint Christopher statue that protects Tolly from demonic Green Noah. Lucy Boston based it on one in a nearby church, and when The Children of Green Knowe was filmed for British television, the company created a statue, which Diana managed to acquire rather than letting it go into the rubbish.
The first time I visited I was in a constant state of 'oh look, there's the Green Deer! there's the window Tolly and Ping look out of at the end of Enemy! there's the carved cherub!' and when Diana Boston put Tolly's carved mouse into my hands (close your eyes first) I was in something near book-ecstasy.
I managed a bit more restraint this time, but it still taps into that childhood imagining that if somehow I could manage to want to enough, I could get into that other world, step through the looking-glass, open the wardrobe door, climb into the painting, shrink to toy-size and catch the dolls moving.
I don't know of another place where the walls between real and imagined are so thin, as thin as the walls between past and present are in the fictional house of Green Knowe.
The nursery is the exemplar. In the photo linked, it is tidy, but depending when you visit, the toys may be put away in the chest or strewn about the house, being played with by visiting grandchildren, great-nephews and nieces, or recently rescued from dogs--the wooden doll has had its arms chewed off--because it is part of a living house, and at the same time it is the very room in Peter Boston's illustration.

Hemingford Grey village is madly picturesque. Here's just one of the thatched timber-frame cottages. Up the street is the post office, which came near being closed down for lack of funding, but was taken over by the parish church.
The colour of the plaster is Suffolk pink (though this is Cambridgeshire), it and yellow being favourite colours of plaster in East Anglia. (They were made with local ochres originally, and you can now buy housepaints in the same tints)
The village does manage to support a gastro-pub, the Cock, where I had the local cider, Cromwell, and the pigeon breast pictured in a previous blog entry.
Hm, I think I should leave the Ghost Story evening to another post, since this one is already longish.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Merry Christmas

And Happy Boxing Day! Have some shortbread with sparkles.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

afterlife of books

I've been effectively offline for a week, so it hasn't been just my blog I've been neglecting, and I do still love you all. Truly. What has been occupying me was the United Way booksale, an annual pre-Christmas event at UVic. Donated books, cds, LPs, etc. are sold off in a 3-day binge that takes weeks of prep, a day to set up, and at least a day to clean up after. I came in peripherally, as a scout for more-valuable donated items that could be put into the silent auction, and ended up being on board for the whole week of the sale, aside from two meetings already booked.
When I went home each day I was too wiped out to go online--I'd just eat dinner and go to bed. So I have no idea what's been going on in the world all last week. Or even what's been going on in Fandom Wank.

On the other hand, I got to spend five days messing around with printed books, which is always a Happy Thing. I know some writers find the proximity of many many books to be dispiriting: Robert Benchley was said (by Dorothy Parker, I think) to find (used?) bookshops depressing, because he would look at all those volumes and think of every one of the writers behind every one of them, and how each writer had finished writing, put down his pen and thought 'there, that's it, the last word, all that needs to be said.' And the books sitting on the bookshelf, unwanted.
Some writers are agin' the resale of used books, given that the authors & publishers get nowt for them. Others are cheered by the possibility that readers of their used books will go on to buy copies of their new books--this option only open to writers with continuing careers. As a reader, I know I've gone on to buy books by authors whom I learned of from library or 2d-hand reading, so it does work. And, um, yes, I did bring something like 3 boxes of books back from the sale, myself.
I promise you a later post, with pics, from the 1960s-70s cookbooks I snagged during packing up. Though I admit to bitter, bitter disappointment that the photo for 'Novelty Meat Square' is only b/w and not full 1960s colour.

There's something rather marvelous (to me) about the way books go on, as physical artefacts, having a life in the marketplace long after the authors and even publishing houses have gone toes-up. Students and seniors arriving at the cash desk with armloads of biographies and travel books, mysteries and fantasies, art books, and here and there a bestseller from two years back. Books to be read and studied, still wanted.

In other news, a rejection for God's-Meat, though a nice one:
Thank you for your submission to Shimmer. I thought your story was
well-written and evocative, but ultimately didn't think it was exactly
what we look for here. I'm going to have to pass on this, but I wish
you the best of luck placing your story elsewhere.

I'm not hugely surprised, since they buy mostly contemporary stories, and God's-Meat is a take (a piss-take, possibly) on heroic fantasy, but it never hurts to try.