New Year Monkeys! The year 4600-something, but who’s counting?
Yes, they are wearing orange and blue instead of red ribbons, but that’s because those ribbons came off a potted rosemary plant that someone gave The College Student. And the Broncos did win Superbowl 50 yesterday . . . . Not that the pigs cared one way or the other.
It is summer of 1946, and Laura and Stephen Marshall are trying to adjust to life in post-war England. Their little village of Wealding seems the timeless, quintessential English village: the Manor House, the rectory, the High Street with the requisite independent shops, the winding country lanes, the picturesqueTudor cottages. The Marshalls — and the village — have survived the war, and now it is time to live the peace.
What is that peace? Look closer and there are signs of upheaval everywhere: Laura’s house is falling down around her, the weeds are winning, and a sense of disquiet pervades her life. She is prematurely grey, she stands in endless lines for her family’s rations, she sees rusting coils of barbed wire, she runs across the remaining German POW still working English farmland. The owner of the Manor House has sold the crumbling pile for institutional use, and the future is personified by the ambitious and ethically challenged Mr. Rudge, and the good-natured by sly Mrs. Prout, a charwoman who knows her worth, who never says “madam,” and who understands her “place” is not where the “gentry” thinks it is. So Laura continues her everyday day: she finds her wayward dog, climbs the chalk down and catches a glimpse of her future, and finally sees that her world has undergone a fundamental change that she may not have wanted, but that she can in fact embrace.
Nothing much happens in One Fine Day — nothing, except one woman finding reasons for hope and optimism.
Cheerful Weather for the Wedding, by Julia Strachey (1932)
Virginia Woolf apparently thought highly of this work, originally published by the Woolfs’ Hogarth Press in 1932. Other people must also have loved it, as both Penguin Books and Persephone Books have republished it, and somebody turned it into a movie in 2012. Anyway. I wish I loved the book too.
On a blustery day in March, the pampered elder daughter of a wealthy family marries a dull man destined for an acceptable career somewhere in South America. Dolly knows it is a mistake, and spends the pre-wedding hours in her room with a bottle of rum, even as her friends and family (including a young man she may or may not have loved and who may or may not still love her) gather downstairs for the celebration.
The book is sharp, funny, and short, which turned out to be a good thing. Julia Strachey populated her work with a cast of characters one expects in certain novels set in English country houses, but the trenchant observations left no room for sympathy. The book is unflinchingly unsentimental, but nevertheless I wished for a glimmer of likability in the main characters: just when I thought something interesting was going to happen between Mrs. Thatcham and Joseph, it didn’t. As I said, disappointing, but ultimately a fitting end to the book.
The Murder of Halland, by Pia Juul, translated from the Danish by Martin Aitkin
Whodunit, who cares?
Halland and Bess live in a small town where everyone knows your name. One day, Halland is shot dead in the town square, and not surprisingly, this is the catalyst for Bess to reassess her life. Who killed Halland? Bess is not all that interested, even as her life lurches on and unexpected people keep showing up on her doorstep. Who, after all, was the Bess who lived with Halland and yet did not share his life, and who is the Bess who seems unable to grieve for her not-quite-husband?
The book might be called The Murder of Halland, but that is not the actual subject of the book. Bess is the focus, and we are meant to see the world from her viewpoint. She is smart, she is skewed, and she may be slowly unhinging. She does not mourn Halland so much as mourn for the person she may have been: he was never in her life, and neither was she ever in his. Bess finds out about the pregnant foster-niece in Copenhagen, about the apartment she lives in for which he paid the rent, about his share of the apartment, a small locked room with a gigantic poster of Martin Guerre. What does it all mean? She speculates, she gets drunk, she finds out things that she doesn’t share with the police, she loses interest . . . . and so did I. In the end, Bess was just too irritating to be intriguing.
The Murder of Halland was my first dip into the Peirene Press, “two-hour books to be devoured in a single sitting: literary cinema for those fatigued by film.” Clever, well-written, claustrophobic, perhaps too interested in “intellectual dismantling” of an entire genre, and ultimately a most unsatisfying two hours of my life.
Chia, who is quite perturbed that Martin Aitkin, PH.D in Linguistics, does not know the difference between further and farther.
I spent my internship year at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, a somewhat run-down community hospital in a not entirely salubrious part of town. The place was old enough that most of the patient care areas did not have air conditioning, and during the summer the nurses would set up industrial-sized fans (the kind they use in gyms) at ends of hallways to help ventilate and cool the wings. The in-patient population tended to be elderly, and there was a rumor that one of the attendings had the biggest Medicare billings amongst all private practices in the state. The typical admissions were old, institutionalized, and usually DNR, except when they weren’t — and there were also rumors about certain families who kept Dear Old Mom/Dad/Aunt/Uncle alive in order to collect their social security benefits. The hospital was strapped for money, so various services went home after 7PM: phlebotomists, EKG techs, respiratory techs, unit clerks, runners who delivered radiology films (yes, these were the days before everything could be pulled up on screens). Even the cafeteria closed down by 7, which is how I ended up eating my first, and last, White Castle burger from the vending machine. On the usual call night the residents would drown in scut work: drawing blood and ABGs, inserting countless IVs because the nurses were required to give up after two sticks, hunting through the stacks for radiology films, doing EKGs with machines that still used rubber suction cups and required leads to be switched between readings, figuring out settings for respirators, inserting NG tubes and various other catheters into various orifices (because nurses didn’t do those “invasive” procedures, and delivering patients from one place to the next. I got to the point where I could do ABGs on anyone, and do them in the dark! I spent years 2 and 3 of my residency in another Saint hospital. This one was better-run and had money, and I was shocked to discover that all I had to do was WRITE the order, and miraculously it was done!
Anyway, I had a couple of souvenirs from my internship year: scrubs (of course, because how else would anyone know you’re a doctor unless you are wearing scrubs from another hospital), and a couple of towels. Like everything else from the hospital, these towels were depressing, scrawny and tiny even when new. I used these towels for years as back-up bathroom mats, and kept putting off turning them into rags. A few weeks ago, I attacked the linen closet as part of my R³ Project, and the towels were still there, still scrawny but usable. And this is what I did with them:
In my short quilting career, I have still managed to accumulate a large amount of fabric scraps. In this case, the block was from a quilt top I was never going to turn into a quilt, and it happened to fit perfectly on the towel. I stitched the quilt block directly on the towel, added a couple of scrap fabric to the sides, turned the towel borders in and stitched them in place. My memories of St. E are not entirely bad, and this bath mat (and its fraternal twin) makes me smile and think more kindly of that year.
The St. E mats got me on a roll, and for three or four weeks now, I have been reducing my fabric scrap pile. We have more bath mats! We have mud mats! We have kitchen floor mats:
I sewed all the strips directly on top of the batting and backing, as in strip quilting. This small rug has scraps from just about every quilt I have ever made — not that I have made that many, but still. The backing is leftover fabric from drapes I made years ago that I no longer have:
We have place mats:
And the reverse, flannel fabric from one of his old shirts:
These sewing projects reflect my personal commitment to making something useful out of materials that were probably going to end up in the landfill. I suppose all I have done is shift the landfill day sometime in the future, but for now, it is enough that day is NOT today, or tomorrow, or next week.
One of those silly online quizzes (you know, something along the line of what color dog were you in a previous life?) tells me I have a “philosophical mind.” I think what that means is that for more than half my life, I have been wondering what is my purpose in life. On the down swing of bipolar, my purpose is negative: I am trying NOT to leave the world in worst shape than it is right now, on a grey maybe-it-will-rain August afternoon.
For the past six weeks or so, I have been on the R³ kick, although what I am actually doing is trying my damnedest to control my environment. It began because I realized what I most wanted out of my new house is an empty house — but clearly that cannot be, because I need a bed, and clothes, and kitchen stuff, and bathroom stuff, and and and . . . So the next best thing is to declutter. We (this includes DH and The Teenager) have been giving away/throwing away at least one item a day, although we tend to count groups of items as one item (a set of towels, a group of figurines, that stack of technical papers from 20 years ago). The surprise is how easy it has been. The other surprise is that though we have reduced and recycled so much (well, we think it’s much), it is invisible. The Teenager’s room is still cluttered, DH’s office looks about the same, I have way too many books and clothes and doodads, and we still have too much furniture.
So what is the Big Picture?
I moved to college with five boxes of belongings. I moved to graduate school with eight boxes in my little Toyota Corolla (back when the Corolla truly was a compact car). We now have five dining tables. Does anyone need five dining tables? In our defense, three of those tables function as desks, one is a sewing table, and one actually is a dining table. But still . . . Then I had a moment of clarity when I was reading an article about a man who bought a 700 square foot house, and immediately started making a list of “cannot live without” things. As it turned out, there were even more items on the “cannot live without” list that he could in fact live without.
If my purpose is what I think it is, then it should not be easy. When our neighbor moved out, she rented a dumpster, and managed to empty it twice with all the things she needed during her life in that house. I am trying to avoid that last-ditch dumpster dump, but not sure if I will succeed. So everyday, I continue to look at my belongings: Why are you in my life? How much “stuff” do I need to remind me of who I am?
I keep telling myself, “No more mysteries with inane heroines!” And then I go and blow it. The latest: The Borough Treasurer by J. S. Fletcher, 1921. It started out promisingly with a description of the town of Highmarket, its mayor Mr. Mallalieu, and his partner and the borough treasurer Mr. Cotherstone. Enter the wily Mr. Kitely, former policeman turned blackmailer (a man has to eat, right?) who recognized Mallalieu and Cotherstone as a pair of embezzlers from 30 years ago . . . . Murder, of course!
Mr. Kitely is dead, strangled like a pig, and Mallalieu and Cotherstone suspect each other without actually accusing each other of the crime. Mr. Cotherstone tries to throw the suspicion on the mysterious Mr. Harborough: what is his alibi and why does he refuse to just come out with it? And why does Mr. Brereton, young lawyer from London, suddenly decide that Mr. Harborough is innocent and he simply must defend him? Well, OK, that last part is easy . . . . One look at Avice Harborough, and Mr. Brereton is determined to prove her father’s innocence. Meanwhile, Mr. Cotherstone has to make sure his past stays in the past, not the least because daughter Lettie is engaged to the wealthy Windle Bent, who is also Mr. Brereton’s best friend. And rounding out the list of unsavory characters, there is Mr. Stoner, Cotherstone’s clerk and neophyte blackmailer, and Miss Pett, a woman with her own secrets to protect.
In the end, everything is explained, even the lamest red herring plot ever. I do, however, appreciate the moral imperative that everyone gets what he/she deserves, even if the message could have been less heavy-handed.