I only meant to be away for a couple of days. I planned to focus on some complicated work things for a couple of days and then catch up with the bookish side of life at the weekend.
And I was on track, until Saturday, when an unexpected piece of news knocked me sideways.
I was visiting my mother in her nursing home on Saturday morning, as usual. One of the staff said you, “You don’t know what happened yesterday, do you?” I didn’t know and so she took me downstairs to see the owner.
I was told that the nursing home would be closing on 7th August.
There had been no warning, there had been no attempt to invite me to the meeting that happened the day before, and there was less than half of the 28 days minimum notice required by law.
One of the owners told me that she and her partner had been having a terrible time, that social services were impossible to deal with, that income hadn’t kept with costs, that the costs of agency nurses needed to provide cover was ridiculous, that their health had been affected …
And maybe all of that was true, but it wasn’t what my mother’s daughter needed to hear, and it wasn’t what a nursing home owner with one ounce of compassion should have been saying at that particular moment.
My mother is physically and mentally frail, she didn’t fully understand the consequences of what was happening, how much would have to be sorted out so quickly, and so I kept calm and tried to chat with her as I usually would.
This week I’ve had to take time off work to deal with social services, to call and visit possible new homes, and to spend time with my mother. It’s lucky that I have an understanding employer.
Social Services identified three possible homes that would suit my mother’s needs and I picked the one that I think will suit her best. A small home, with sea views, not too far from home. I’m going to see it tomorrow and then I shall go and see my mother and tell her about it. She’d like to go herself but it isn’t really practical.
The staff at my mother’s nursing home and social services have such a huge job on their hands, keeping things going, assessing people’s need, finding them the right places.
We have been lucky, but it’s been a painful and emotional week.
I’m not using names, because I want to protect people’s privacy, but there are so many stories.
A lady who comes in daily, on a mobility scooter to visit her husband. I shall miss seeing them sitting together, quietly and companionably, with the understanding that comes with years of marriage. She was so worried that her husband would be sent somewhere she couldn’t reach, but yeasterday she heard that they had the last place in the home she had hoped for…
A lady who is in her nineties, who has become very, very frail in recent weeks, and her daughter still doesn’t know where she will be going …
A lady who first came to the home to visit her husband, who later moved in herself, who doesn’t want to leave the home that holds so many memories. But she knows that she has to, and there is no place for her in her home town …
There has been such a wonderful atmosphere in my mothers home: it has been a loving, caring, supportive family home, and it really is heartbreaking that it won’t be there next week.
I’ll miss visiting and spending time in the lounge, and so will Briar who has made many friends.
It’s hard to put my feelings into words, so I’m going to quote a county councillor who said exactly the right thing.
“The closure of this home with just two weeks’ warning is disgraceful. Even the legal minimum of four weeks’ notice would be traumatic enough. The residents there are very frail and elderly. This is putting them under too much strain. The company involved should have taken its responsibility to these people far more seriously.”
My mother is taking things quite well, but she doesn’t fully understand what is going on and that she probably won’t see many of the friends she has made again. I do her worrying for her, and I fear that it will hit her when she wakes up in a strange bed, or when something is bothering her and she looks for a familiar face.
Last year, in the spring, my mother was up and about the house as usual one day and immobile in her bed the next. When she went to her nursing home she was poorly and unhappy, but the care and attention of the staff, and later on the companionship of others who live there, drew her out of herself, and she became the mother I knew again.
She’s much frailler, physically and mentally, and though she misses the promenade she has been quite happy in her new home. I wouldn’t have wanted her to move and, unless she could have come home, nor would she.
And so I owe a huge debt of thanks to the staff who have looked after her, and who are still looking after her now. Thay had no warning, they aren’t sure they are going to be paid, their employer is handling the situation appallingly, and they all deserve much, much better.
I know, of course I do, that there are bigger questions to be asked about funding for nursing homes, and for how we look after an aging population. But for now I have to look after my mother.
But I also I know that, even, if this closure was inevitable it was badly handled.
And I know that there are unanswered questions.
Here’s one of them. Why, when staff and residents were told on Friday, when the letter and minutes I received (finally) on Tuesday confirmed that, why has the media been told that the news was broken on Wednesday?
I have more questions to ask, and I have letters to write, but this isn’t the time or the place.
But that is why I’ve not been here.
Bookish business will resume as soon as my head is back in the right place.
2013 has been busy, busy, busy!
Working five days a week after working four for a good few years. Sorting out a mess left by the previous accountant and keeping up with tight deadlines set by head office in Belgium.
I didn’t want to let anything go, but one or two things have slipped.
Things are a little steadier now than they were, and I’ve reached a point where I can take a week off, so it’s time to take stock.
Reading is important to me, so is writing about books, and I want to go on visiting other bookish places, but I need to tidy up, simplify, and get organised.
I’ve updated my theme.
A few pages that I didn’t really need and rarely looked at have gone.
My reading history pages are now bang up to date.
I’ve simplified my sidebar, and there’s a little more work to be done there. My ‘Who Am I?’ page needs a bit of work too.
One day I’ll overhaul my categories and tags too.
Oh, and I’ve promised Briar that she can have a page of her own, with a few photographs and an index to her posts.
I’m reading as much as I ever did, but knitting rather less at the moment.
So I have quite a few books to write about next week, in between spring cleaning the house, giving Briar some nice jaunts, a day trip to Truro to look at some different bookshops …..
I’ve spotted a few lists of ‘must buy’ authors today, inspired by a meme at The
Broke and the Bookish. Now I could come up with a few, of course I could, but the thing is, I know new books and mainstream reissues will go on being there, maybe not for ever but for long enough that I can pick them up when I’m ready.
My true ‘must buy’ books are out of print and hard to find titles by authors I have come to love, and books I know I must seize as soon as I see, because if I don’t the chance may never come again.
It seemed like the moment to pull out ten authors whose books I seek:
Oriel Malet: I spotted a book called Marraine by Oriel Malet in the library and I recognised her name from the Persephone list. That book was a lovely memoir of her godmother, the actress Yvonne Arnaud. Once I read it I had to order Margery Fleming from Persephone, and it was even lovelier; a perfectly executed fictional biography of a bookish child. Her other books are out of print and difficult to find, but I found one and I was thrilled when my Virago Secret Santa sent me another, all the way across the Atlantic.
Margery Sharp: I read much praise for The Eye of Love in the Virago Modern Classics group on LibraryThing and so I picked up a copy. I loved it too – romance with a hint of satire and a hint of subversion. I was so disappointed that her other books were – and still are – out of print. But I’m slowly picking them up, used copies and library books, and I’m hoping for more.
Leo Walmsley: Looking back, it’s strange to think that when I picked up Love in the Sun in the library it wasn’t with the intention of reading the book. I remembered a local family called Walmsley and I was simply looking to see if there was a connection. But once I had the book in my hand I fell in love with the cover and with a warm introduction by Daphne Du Maurier. And I fell in love with the book, thinly veiled autobiography written with such honesty and understanding. The library fiction reserve provided copies of the three that follow chronologically from this one. The Walmsley Society has recently bought these books back in to print, and others too, but I was thrilled when I stumbled across lovely old editions of Phantom Lobster and The Sound of the Sea.
Angela Du Maurier: Talking of Daphne Du Maurier, did you know that her sister was a successful author too? I didn’t until I found two novels and one volume of autobiography that Truran Books have in print. It was the anecdote that gave the autobiography its title that made me love Angela – she was stopped by a woman she didn’t know who was convinced that she knew her. As she spoke Angela realised she had been mistaken for Daphne, and when she explained the woman said loudly to her companion, “It’s only the sister!” and stormed off. Angela treated the incident as a great joke, and though it wonderful that her sister was held in such regard. And she wrote of her family and her life with such love and enthusiasm that I had to look out for her other books. They’re out of print and its hard to find out much about them, but I liked the one I found in the library fiction reserve – The Frailty of Nature – and I’d love to find more.
Edith Olivier: I had no idea who Edith Olivier was when I picked up my copy of The Love-Child, but it was a green Virago Modern Classic and I have great faith in those. It is a wonderful tale of an imaginary friend, and I’m afraid I really can’t find the words to do it justice. The library gave me a two wonderful works of non fiction, and there are some diaries I plan to borrow one day, but I would love to find another novel. Sadly though, they seem as rare of hen’s teeth.
Elizabeth Goudge: My mother mentioned four authors she though I’d like when I first moved up to the adult library: Agatha Christie, Daphne Du Maurier, Mary Stewart and Elizabeth Goudge. I only picked up me first Elizabeth Goudge – The Scent of Water – last year, and when I did I realised that she had been right about all four authors. It was simple story but it was so very well told, with both emotional and spiritual understanding. Her books all seem to be out of print, but I have tracked down copies of the Damerosehay novels that I have heard so much good about, and I found one or two others in a charity shop a while back.
Elizabeth Jenkins: I found The Tortoise and the Hare thanks to Virago. I found Harriet thanks to Persephone. I found A Silent Joy and her autobiography, The View from Downshire Hill in the library. I found used copies of Doctor Gully and The Phoenix’ Nest on my travels. I’ve been lucky I know, but I also know that Darlene and Anbolyn both found copies of Brightness and I so want to find one too. And, of course, there are others.
Sylvia Townsend Warner: I first met Sylvia Townsend Warner in a Virago anthology years ago. I forget which anthology and which story, but she stuck in my mind and a picked up Virago’s collection of her short stories. I loved it, and I still think there are few authors who hold a candle to her when it comes to short stories. One fortunate day I found six of her original collections of short stories and a couple of biographies in a second-hand bookshop. I’m looking out for the others, and for her letter and diaries too.
G B Stern: A couple of years ago I spotted a book called The Ten Days of Christmas in a second-hand bookshop. I picked it up, because I recognised the name G B Stern as belonging to a Virago author and because I wanted to know why there were ten days of Christmas rather than the more traditional twelve. It looked lovely, and so I bought it. It was lovely, and when I picked up Monogram, a sort of memoir, I really warmed to the author. Since then I’ve picked up The Matriarch and A Deputy Was King in Virago editions and Debonair as an orange numbered Penguin, and I’d love to find more.
Francis Brett Young: Last year I spotted a book called White Ladies by Francis Brett Young in the very same second-hand bookshop. I knew the author’s name, because one of his books was in a list of titles readers had suggested to Persephone that Nicola Beauman included in a Persephone newsletter. It looked wonderful, but I couldn’t justify the price – it was a signed first edition. But when I arrived home I checked LibraryThing and I found that Ali and Liz both came from the same part of the country as Francis Brett Young and they loved his books. I found White Ladies in the library’s fiction reserve, and fell in love with rich prose, wonderful characters, and good old-fashioned storytelling. I’ve ordered a couple more books from the library, I’ve picked up a trio of old out of print titles, and I’m hoping to find more.
And that’s ten!
So now tell me, whose books are you hoping to find?
I’ve had wonderful luck in recent years browsing the library’s reserve fiction stock. I’ve found out of print works by authors I’d discovered thanks to Virago and Persephone, I’ve found books that had been reprinted but I couldn’t quite justify buying, I’ve found books that I read about in books like Nicola Beauman’s ‘A Very Great Profession’, and I’ve found books just by random luck and following links.
A few days ago I ordered up the first volume of the Lucy Maud Montgomery’s journals, and while I was there I thought I’d check a few other authors who would work for my Canadian reading challenge. I searched for Margaret Lawrence, a Canadian author from the Virago Modern Classics list, and I found a title I didn’t know that intrigued me. It was a book titled ‘We Write as Women’ that had been published in 1937. I placed my order.
Today I picked the book up, and I decided that I had found a gem.
Here’s the first paragraph:
“Sappho wrote her beautiful lines, and then there was a long silence. It was a silence broken here and there by the letters women wrote, and the diaries they kept, but these were personal, and so we do not have them to show as the writing of women. The little songs that were made to sing to children, the little phrases made to say to a lover, all of these were the very fabric of a woman’s expression of herself, but they could not be kept as literature. They were too fleeting. They were like prayers, something a woman who would not put them down to show. But there must have been many of them.”
This words gave me hope that there was a wonderful journey in front of me. And when I saw the author’s name in the table of contents I knew that there was.
The early selections were obvious: Mary Wollstonecraft, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, George Eliot …. but I loved seeing George Eliot described thus: ‘Who sat like the recording angel and wrote.’
And then I spotted twenty-two – yes twenty-two – authors from the Virago Modern Classics list.
How many of then do you recognise I wonder?
Among the others I found familiar names – Virginia Woolf, Elizabeth Bowen, Pearl Buck. I found others I have in my sights – Sylvia Thompson, Clemence Dane, Phyllis Bottome. And I found just a few new names to investigate – Mary Borden, Beatrice Kean Seymour, Margaret Goldsmith.
And I should tell you the names of those Virago authors. I found that some faces were familiar but others I knew not at all. From the top:
G B Stern
E H Young
Sylvia Townsend Warner
E M Delafield
Daphne Du Maurier
And now I realise that Storm Jameson was in there too. No slight was intended, far from it, and here she is:
Now at this point I had planned to write that it was wonderful to think that the authors celebrated and the author celebrating them had been brought together again by Virago decades later. But those who know their Canadain woman authors better that I do will have spotted my mistake.
The Virago author I was thinking of was Margaret Laurence not Margaret Lawrence. And she was born in 1926 and so it’s unlikely she would have published a work like this at the age of eleven!
There’s a more recent author called Margaret Lawrence, but this book is too early for her, and so I have no idea who this Margaret Lawrence is. I might do a little more digging, or I might not, but I think I’ll begin working my way through her book.
I may be some time, because I have a feeling it’s going to inspire me to pluck any number of books from my shelves along the way, but I’ve ordered a copy to keep.
Because I’m still thrilled I found so many wonderful woman authors being celebrated in the same book!
… but once the initial euphoria of having a job again wore off I was beset by doubts.
Could I juggle everything. A full-time job, a dog, a mother in a nursing home, a life, a blog …
I retreated for a while, and I spent my evenings just reading and listening to music. New music, found via the lovely medium of artist radio on last.fm.
And after a few days I realised that I had to do this. That I had to sing the praises of the lovely books I’m reading. As soon as I stopped thinking about what I would write the words and the ideas began to form in my head again, quite naturally.
I just need to find a little more self-belief, and maybe to think as little bit less.
Things may be a little quieter than they were, but I’m still here.
I have a plan for next week. And here it is, interspersed with some of the things I’ve been listening to.
Monday: A novel published last year, that spins around an early twentieth century icon to tell the tale of a very different woman who crossed her path. It was very nearly perfect …
Three sisters from Watford offered up the first new piece of music that caught my ear. It seemed very timely, and now it is lodged in my head …
Tuesday: An extraordinary work of non fiction: London at war brought to life through the the letters, diaries and fiction of five remarkable writers. I can’t find the word to explain how wonderful this is yet, but I will …
I was on the other side of the room when I heard a voice coming out of my computer, and I was smitten …
Wednesday: Briar returns, with another game of guessing the blogger from five of their books…
I thought this was going to be a little too folky for me, but I was charmed. And The Leisure Society sound rather like Belle and Sebastian in their more up-tempo moments, and that has to be a good thing …
Thursday: A first encounter with a familiar name from the early part of the twentieth century, that left me eager to read more of his work but uncertain about what I should read next …
I loved Natasha Khan’s first record, I was a little less taken with her second, and her third passed me by. Until I heard this …
Friday: A gothic romance from the seventies, set in Cornwall. The perfect book for a cold, damp, dark night like tonight. Unless I change my mind, and pick up another book, of course …
This was to be my year of not joining things, but an invitation to the Turn of the Century Salon was simply too lovely to resist.
“I love it when I find out authors I’ve read or know of were friends/acquaintances with each other, perhaps they wrote letters, were friends since childhood, or formed a literary group. Oh, to be a guest at one of those gatherings. Imagining it becomes terribly exciting! But the next best things is to group up and share our thoughts, impressions, and enthusiasm with each-other on the works of these inspiring Classic authors.
It’s lovely to be at the start of a year long event focusing on novels written during the late 1880s and early 1930s.
And it’s only polite to start with introductions, with answers to a few questions put forward by our hostess …
•What draws you to read the Classics?
There are many reasons, but for me at this point in my life the most important one is this:
The Classics are a bridge linking me with my past. My mother is frail now, but she still loves talking about the classic novels she read when she was at college, and she still loves to hear about what I’m reading. We often wonder if her mother read some of the books I’ve read from the first half of the twentieth century. We know what my grandfather read, because we still have books of his by Dickens, Thackery, and Scott; and so, even though he died when my mother was seven years-old, those books tie us together.
•What era have you mainly read? Georgian? Victorian? Which authors?
I began with the Victorians, and though I have neglected them a little in recent years, I think they will probably always have first claim on my heart. I began with Thomas Hardy, Wilkie Collins, the Bronte sisters. I have come to love Charles Dickens, Emile Zola, Elizabeth Gaskell. And I hope that this might be my year to build a relationship with Anthony Trollope.
I’m less fond of the Regency: the only author I’ve fallen in love with there has been Jane Austen.
And I feel at home in the early years of the twentieth century. Especially with books by Edith Wharton and Willa Cather.
•What Classics have you read from the 1880s-1930s? What did you think of them?
I’ll just mention half a dozen books that I love, and could happily read over and over again:
The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy (1886)
Elizabeth and her German Garden by Elizabeth Von Arnim (1898)
Miss Cayley’s Adventures by Grant Allen (1899)
A Room With a View by E M Forster (1908)
The City of Beautiful Nonsense by E Temple Thurston (1910)
The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West (1918)
•Name some books you’re looking forward to read for the salon.
My plans aren’t fixed, and I hope to be inspired along the way, but here are half a dozen books from my own shelves that I’d love to read:
The Odd Women by George Gissing (1893)
Liza of Lambeth by W Somerset Maugham (1897)
Red Pottage by Mary Cholmondeley (1899)
The Book of Months by E F Benson (1903)
The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson-Burnett (1907)
Fidelity by Susan Glaspell (1915)
•Which authors do you hope to learn more about?
There are so many, but I’d particularly like to re-read Colette, and to read more about her.
•Which literary characters are you most akin to?
The Dormouse from Alice in Wonderland …..
•Is your preference prose? poetry? both?
Tomorrow I have a new job, and for the first time in around eight years I won’t be able to walk to work. It won’t be a bad trip – just a couple of miles in the car, out of town to a nice modern building on an industrial estate – and I could walk it, but not each way every day.
But a certain book that has been sitting on our dining table for a while now, a lovely new edition of Poems on the Underground, reminded me of past journeys to work that I remember with some fondness.I’m recalling a time when I was living in North London, in Queensbury, which was (and I’m sure still is) near the end of the Jubilee Line. That meant that I always got a seat and so I could sit and read happily all the way to Charing Cross. Then I just had a five-minute walk, across Trafalgar Square and up St Martin’ Lane to my desk.
The journey took a certain amount of time, but I got so much reading done.
I’ve written before about browsing and buying in Charing Cross Road in my lunch breaks. What I haven’t confessed before is that there were times when I headed into the Charing Cross branch of Waterstones on the way home as well. Not too often, but often enough.
And with Charing Cross being at the very end of the Jubilee Line I almost always got a seat for the journey home. And that was more reading done.
Nostalgia is a wonderful thing. I can forget the disrupted journeys, the early starts and late nights, but I can remember the wealth of book shops and the regular blocks of guilt free reading time …
I realise now that I have the book that I must have missed many Poems on the Underground, poems where advertisements would usually be, when my nose was stuck firmly in a book.
This is one of them that caught my eye.
Sonnet XLIII by Edna St Vincent Millay
What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.
* * * * *
I didn’t discover Edna St Vincent Millay until a few years after I left London, but now I love her.
So it is worth looking up from your book from time to time to see what you can see in the world around you.
And it’s always worth looking in poetry anthologies, because you might just find the poem or the poet you didn’t know you was missing from your life.