Monthly Archives: December 2013

The New Year’s Gift

We went nearly every year, on the 31st December. Mother-of-witch liked getting together with her ‘girlfriends’ whenever she visited her home town, and usually there was a New Year’s Eve party. I always came too.

I was young, but I wasn’t stupid. I knew three of these friends would have a gift for me. I was very mercenary, so I liked going. The particular New Year’s Eve I’m thinking of must have been when I was four or maybe five. I can remember approximately how tall I was (not very), which is how I know.

These friends – let’s call them Izzy, Kerry and Annie – always did things together. Always. Izzy was the boss, and so it was she who addressed me, holding the coveted parcel. ‘This present is from Annie’ she said. I recall quickly processing this weird piece of information in my mind. If it was from Annie, why on earth was Izzy giving it to me? Did she mean that it was from all three of them – as expected – but that she was saying it wrong? But if it was from Annie (and she said it was), it was Annie who should be thanked. What a conundrum. (I didn’t know that word back then, but I felt it.)

However awkward it was having a gift from one person handed over by another, thanking the right woman was paramount. Quick as a flash I turned round 180 degrees and curtseyed to Annie. (It’s what polite little girls did.)

And then the assembled ladies did what adults have always done. They laughed at the sheer humour of this small person who was getting it wrong. And right. Perhaps they laughed at Izzy, the childless spinster who didn’t know what was necessary and what wasn’t.

So I had to turn round again and curtsey to Izzy and Kerry as well, because the gift was, as always, from all three. I reckon Izzy was thinking I wouldn’t know Annie was in on it if her name wasn’t mentioned.

They must have thought I was stupid because I was only four. Or maybe five. But I wasn’t.

Whenever I consider the reasoning capacity of young children these days, I remember the young Bookwitch. If she could process these conflicting thoughts in a split second, while also noticing how absurd Izzy was being, I believe most children could, and that their brains are much further advanced than we give them credit for.


Coats, and cups of tea

The Spanish flu was probably in some other book, now that I think about it. There were a number of typical girls’ books I read as a girl; ones that I had inherited from Mother-of-witch or ‘borrowed’ from Eldest Cousin (my reasoning being that she’s so much older than me, the books would be better off on my shelf).

The book I’ve got in mind was about a girl. I don’t remember the title and I don’t know who wrote it. It was old, even in the early 1960s. This girl has a brand new lovely blue coat. Warm coat. Pale blue, I think, which she got by nagging her sensible mother. And then when the teacher at school tells the children about the poor children in northern Sweden, she asks her mother’s permission to actually send this lovely new coat, because she is sure she can wear her old one a little bit longer.

For good measure she puts a note with her name and address in the coat pocket. And the new – poor – owner of the coat writes back and the girls become penfriends, until the poor girl worries because she’s not heard from the other girl for a while. Eventually she finds out the girl has had some dreadful illness. As I said, probably not the Spanish flu. Maybe pneumonia. Tuberculosis?

So she invites the ‘rich’ girl to come and stay with her family on their poor but healthy northern ‘croft.’ And after a lengthy stay, our girl is quite well again, thanks to the fresh air. (I know. This sounds less plausible when you re-tell it.)

The moral of the story is that generosity will eventually be repaid. One girl was warm. The other was given her health back. I would – most likely – never give away the coat that keeps me warm. Books that I have finished with, or don’t ever intend to read, are another thing. And I don’t need or expect anything in return. My thoughts have always been that we can pass on the good turns, and I’m not so much expecting anything, as feeling I’ve already benefitted from a lot of kindness and help in the past. But you might remember Little Flower’s Granny who just had to give me flowers. And then some apples. Other friends have given most generously of their home made jam. Cupcakes. This is all lovely. Just not necessary.

And then I had the opportunity of passing on Son’s old saxophone to someone. It had been sitting behind the door of the front room for years and years, so I was very pleased. I don’t need anything in return. I just like redistributing stuff and favours. The saxophone could end up being passed on again. Or the recipient could do someone else a welcome good turn.

Besides, our washing machine died on Boxing Day, resulting in your witch standing outside Little Flower’s Granny’s door with a laundry basket in one hand and a hopeful expression on her face.

That’s a fair exchange for a few picture books I reckon. I know I will need something, some day. Just not what, or when. And despite clearing my house out, I am keeping enough mugs so that I can provide tea for the fire brigade in the middle of the night. Because you just never know.

They’ll move mountains for you

Never let the Resident IT Consultant read a book! Whereas he might like it (‘it was all right, I suppose’), he’s bound to find some fault or other.

A couple of recently read books – excellent books – contained some funny geography. And if it’s funny Scottish geography, he will definitely notice and object.

In this case the mountains were in the wrong place. One author had managed to make the distance between X and Y all wrong. For it to work, this particular bit of Scotland would need stretching. Or squishing. (I forget which way it went.)

And then he went and complained about the Cairngorms being too far west. I mean, it doesn’t matter! Much…

I’ve lost count of the times he comes and waves a book at me and says ‘is it too late to point out that xyz?’ As if I knew. If it’s a proof I suppose technically you can mention it, and let the publisher ignore you. But once it’s a glorious hardback; what can you do?

Except not let him read.

The in-between-days book

The English language might have lots more words than Swedish does, but occasionally those Swedes have some useful words. Like ‘mellandagar’ which stands for in-between-days – i.e. between Christmas and New Year – but would seem mostly meaningless if I started to refer to them as such. At least I believe so.

I promised you some news on this ‘mellandags-book’ I was going to read once my Christmas anthology was finished. I find it really very civilised that someone – in this case Marcus Sedgwick – has seen the need for this kind of product. Pardon, book.

It’s The Book of Dead Days, and it’s ten years old, but was reissued a few years ago. You are meant to read a little every day, starting on December 27th and finishing on New Year’s Eve. So, I began reading yesterday and it’s fantastic!

The title The Book of Dead Days does sound pretty grim, but so far I’ve felt nice and comfortable. (I’ll regret saying that, won’t I?) There’s a picture of a graveyard on the cover.

As I was saying, I’m liking it. It’s quite different from Marcus’s other books. (Although I’m not suggesting they needed improving on.)

Personally I find mellandagar a much friendlier term than dead days. I mean, honestly! If I’m still here in five days’ time, I’ll let you know how I got on. Any unforeseen silence will tell it’s own tale…

Darcy, death and the literary discussion

Death Comes to Pemberley sparked a literary discussion chez Bookwitch, and doesn’t that make us sound ‘intellectual?’ The Grandmother had read the book by P D James, and didn’t think much of it. She was keen to see what they’d done to it on television, though, and I am under the impression we all liked it.

That’s the thing with quality. A good book can be ruined on the screen and vice versa. You just never know. Daughter objected at first that we weren’t getting the 1995 cast from Pride and Prejudice, but warmed fairly quickly to this new Darcy. I didn’t know what to think of dear Wickham, because I need to dislike him, and I happen to like Matthew Goode…

But anyway, it made us talk books for a while (because we never ever mention the wretched things at any other time!)

Who counts as an author of classics? Jane Austen obviously does. Her books are really old. Victorians count. They too are old. But after that my ‘misguided’ companions wanted to put the classic label on all sorts of books by all sorts of recent writers!

I realise that classic-ness is a moving feast. What wasn’t a classic before, will become one at some point. My own gut measure is somewhere around the 100 years mark. If someone alive today was also alive when a novel was written, it becomes questionable. I know that the 1950s was a long time ago, but I happen to have personal experience of part of that decade and the people who wrote books then are not at all old, thank you very much!

So I’m not ready to consider Astrid Lindgren a writer of classic books, whereas I feel that Selma Lagerlöf might have been too recent fifty years ago, but is now definitely to be considered a writer of classics.

On the other hand, I see the flaws in this. Someone younger than me will share that same 100-year-old, but will also see Astrid Lindgren as dreadfully ancient. Is there a right way?


Home and away

Poinsettia with card

We’re on track

More or less, anyway. The morning will be spent sorting out desserts (because they matter) and putting vegetables in the oven. The rest was done days ago.

Our other main day for Christmas was yesterday, and it went well, despite – or possibly because of – lack of presents. The Resident IT Consultant went into town to pick up a pair of Cats, free of charge, which rather trumped Son’s 20% off his Clarks. So they count as almost presents. He also treated himself to a remaindered Historical Atlas, and has happily browsed through history.

Daughter went along to watch over the Cats, and managed to find a Quiz book to buy. Because we just didn’t have VERY MANY books in the house before!!

Anyway, her quiz book provided us with our Christmas Eve entertainment as we competed against each other to see who knew the least about whichever topic came up.

To keep us company over the evening grazing, Son found us an Ealing comedy about trains. And then he wanted to watch Due South, and with all of us at different points in its viewing history, we needed a ‘used’ episode. I can thoroughly recommend All the Queen’s Horses, and not just because it’s the craziest episode. It felt pretty Christmassy, what with the snow and the trains and those red Mountie uniforms. The horses. And the singing! ‘Gonna riiiiide, foreeever..!’

The Resident IT Consultant helped to finish the evening in style, as he’d missed last week’s Christmas episode of NCIS, and Son had been too busy to watch, which meant I got to watch it again. It was Santa who did it.


Don’t be late

You could interpret the above suggestion as a ‘don’t forget to return your library books on time,’ but there is also a slight warning about being dead, i.e. the other kind of ‘late.’

I’d not previously connected Christmas with ghost stories, but after the Christmas anthology I reviewed yesterday, I’m beginning to realise that some people do. I’m obviously not ‘some people.’

It’s been a while since Halloween, but I shall treat you to the recording of Helen Grant reading one of three ghost stories at Innerpeffray Library on the evening of October 31st. (That’s mere hours before Helen succeeded in getting stuck in the mud in a graveyard in the middle of the night…)

Here is Lilith’s Story. And here‘s Helen on her blog, enthusing about ghosts and Christmas. Whatever happened to light and happiness? (You might also consider very carefully if you really think becoming a librarian is a wise career move.)

Innerpeffray Library

At last!

I’m doing it! I’m actually, finally reading it! ‘It’ being An Oxford Book of Christmas Stories from 1986, edited by Dennis Pepper.

Dennis Pepper, An Oxford Book of Christmas Stories

Having bought the book well used from the school library ‘some’ years back, I always meant to read it over the immediate Christmas period. The one about ten years ago… The book emerged every December and waited hopefully by my side and then it retreated after yet another busy busy Christmas, where I got round to reading one book instead of the half dozen I’d fondly imagined I’d be relaxing with.

There are about 30 short stories, written by everybody from Dickens to Geraldine McCaughrean. (You have to remember the collection is 27 years old. Some authors hadn’t even been invented back then.)

I understand some stories were commissioned, while others have been chosen for their Christmassy theme from classics and elsewhere. Some authors I’d never heard of, while the story by Jacqueline Wilson is like no JW story you’ve ever read.

Jesus is there, from the school nativity to actual Bethlehem, but mostly you get a tremendous amount of carol singing, with a few ghosts and the odd vampire. More vicars and snowy landscapes than you can shake a stick at, so really very traditional. It’s nice. The stories are mostly no more than five pages each, so they make for quick nostalgic dips in between whatever else you need to do at this time of year.

I was especially happy to get re-acquainted with David Henry Wilson’s Jeremy James, who Son and I used to like a lot. Among the other names that I do know are Jan Mark, Sue Townsend, James Riordan, Laurie Lee and Robert Swindells. But as with so many anthologies you don’t need to know the writers. You simply discover new-old authors as you read along.

In a way it’s quite good I waited, because I’m enjoying myself. I’ve still got a few stories to go, but I’ve also got a few more days until I ‘must’ read a ‘mellandags’ book. I shall explain that one later.

Postboxes and puddings, or the 39 cards

My sincere apologies, but I’m back with Christmas cards. So far we’ve received 39. Nowhere near as many as in non-internet days, but I don’t send a lot of paper cards, so have probably had more than I sent. 39 is a nice number, because I have enough mantelpiece and top-of-the-bookcase space to display them.

Some have to go in another room, where I can display single cards without them falling down a gap at the back. Swedes send single cards, because it’s more economical, and as no one lines them up to be admired, they don’t need to be able to stand.

Nearly all the Swedish cards (not many yet, since Swedes also believe in hitting a day as near to Christmas as is humanly possible) are snowy landscapes with little Tomtenissar (the porridge eaters). One is of Tomtenissar in a stable with horses (presumably doing my grooming for me).

Surprisingly, some Swedes send Robins. Well, no they don’t. They send Bullfinches, because that’s the kind of red bird Swedes associate with Christmas. But anyway, I have a long, neat row of redbreasted birds, plus an owl and a dove.

Only two Three Wise Men so far, but plenty of Nativity scenes, including one where baby Jesus is a toilet roll dressed in fabric. Four Christmas trees, one mistletoe and a steam train.

Churches, houses, Christmas presents and a postbox. The latter are lovely and red in Britain, and thereby very Christmassy. One angel, some Dutch skating, a pudding, a squirrel and two picture book illustrations.

There is an abstract something (red) and a photo from Pippi’s Scottish holiday.

And if all that doesn’t add up to 39, it’s not my fault.