Lucia Rides Again

As I finished Tom Holt’s book Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Sausages and placed it down on the table I happened to glance at the back cover and immediately snatched it up again. ‘No!’ I exclaimed to my inamorata. ‘But how thrilling! Mr Holt has written two more Lucia novels!’ I hastened to the website of my favourite bookseller to order them post haste; then I hurried into town to spread the news. ‘Bit late, Elizabeth,’ observed quaint Irene with a puff on her pipe. ‘They came out in 1985. Ha!’ and she turned on her heel and left. Was she alone in the knowledge? Alas, no – every citizen of Tilling had long been apprised of these additional volumes and Mr and Mrs Wyse had gone to the lengths of ordering special leather-bound volumes to go with the rest of their collection. Feeling slightly dashed, I returned home to await the delivery of said books in order to complete my education.

It is indeed true, and why I didn’t know it until now I can’t say, but Tom Holt has written a pair of additional volumes in the Mapp and Lucia series. E F Benson died in 1940 leaving his characters utterly bereft, and Holt came to the rescue. The question was, could he do them justice? I opened Lucia in Wartime in some trepidation, but I need not have worried: the answer is that yes, he could – and did; in fact I annoyed OH so much with my laughter that the earbuds were brought into play. The books are glorious. Tilling lives again; the shops where gossip is exchanged, the corner house called Mallards (in reality Lamb House where both Benson and Henry James lived), Twistevants the grocer’s, Hopkins the fishmongers, quaint Irene’s Taormina and Glebe, where Elizabeth Mapp is forced to live having had to sell Mallards with much grinding and gnashing of teeth to her arch-rival Lucia. The central feature of these stories is of course the rivalry between these two and the delicious balance in which Lucia, by virtue of having a (slightly) larger soul, always wins in the end. All the comedy of the original style is kept – tiny events being described in terms of a Homeric epic – and all in all I thoroughly enjoyed both Lucia in Wartime and Lucia Triumphant. Only two things are missing: why do the characters not, as they always did, use au reservoir as a valediction? And what on earth has happened to Mistress Mapp’s little piggies which she always greeted in the morning if Withers was present and counted as soon as Withers had left? I think we should be told.

If you have not yet been to Tilling I urge you to visit as soon as possible. Here are the originals and here are Tom Holt’s additions to the canon.

Kirk out

PS No! But how thrilling! I’ve just discovered a third, a novella. I must order it immediately.

Anyone For Tilling?

Last night’s viewing included the delightful BBC adaptation of ‘Mapp and Lucia’.  I was looking forward to this as I enjoyed the previous version with Prunella Scales as Mapp and Maggie Smith as Lucia.  E F Benson was gay, and though in the ’30’s he could hardly have been ‘out’ in the modern sense, he is remarkably free in his fictional characterisations.  Though Mapp and Lucia are both heterosexual and end up marrying, ‘quaint Irene’, the cigar-smoking, dungarees-wearing artist, is clearly lesbian.  There is also, despite the petty snobberies, an enjoyable freemasonry among the characters who, apart from Miss Mapp who is continually counting things to make sure the servants haven’t stolen them, respect and appreciate their servants and talk to them almost as equals.  Georgie Pillson will not take Glebe Cottage (why is there always a Glebe Cottage?  I’m sure there’s one in the Archers, if it hasn’t been flattened to make way for a hyperspace bypass *) until he has consulted his maid Foljambe.  Her comfort and convenience comes almost before his own.

Miss Mapp is amusing and we almost like her, but she’s too petty and miserly to be lovable: Lucia, however, is adorable.  With her smatterings of Italian, she is the undisputed Queen of Tilling, even though she’s only there for the summer. Anna Chancellor is perfect as Lucia, but I’m not entirely sure about Miranda Richardson’s portrayal of Mapp: she’s a little too toothy and smiley for my liking.  I think Prunella Scales did her suppressed rage much better.

The setting is also part of the appeal: set in Rye, Sussex, where Benson (and Henry James) lived, it is very attractive and features some unique houses.  I think I’ve mentioned this before, but if you go to Rye there are plaques on the doors of the houses where some of the characters lived.  It reminds me a little of Eyam in Derbyshire, though for different reasons.  There, the names on the door were of plague victims who shut themselves up to die so that they wouldn’t spread the infection.

A plaque on both your houses?

Kirk out

*Yes, I know that’s ‘Hitch-Hiker’s’ but they might as well have a hyperspace bypass, the way they’re going

You Were Only Supposed to Take the Bloody Legs Off!

Well, I have had a bit of a morning of it.  No, I didn’t forget to turn the clocks back; no memory lapse resulted in me arriving an hour late for whatever I was going to – hang on, would I have arrived an hour late?  Or would I have been early?  I find it terribly confusing all this clocks-going-back-and-forth malarkey: I’ve got the hang of what happens and when, thanks to Mark’s little jingle ‘Spring forward and Fall back’, but for the life of me I can’t figure out what the consequences are.  Do we get an extra hour or lose an hour?  Let’s see; if I woke at what is now 5 am and thought it was 6 am because I hadn’t put the clocks back then I’d trot off for a service at 10.30 (my 10.30) and for everyone else it’d be 9.30 so that means……… I’d be early!  Maybe I should think up another rhyme, such as ‘Spring late and Fall early’.  That’d help.

This reminds me of the works of EF Benson, whom long-time readers may remember me mentioning a while back.

When British Summer time is brought in, one of the characters refuses to recognise it and so invitations to tea are worded: ‘Please come to tea at 3.30 (your 4.30)…’

Have I got that right?  Would it be ‘4.30 (your 3.30)’?


Aaaaaaanyway, I eventually tumbled out of bed at 10, having had a lovely lie-in, and after breakfast I started on some serious pruning.  There’s an awful lot of dead wood in the garden, so I had quite a time of it cutting back and clearing up; after which I decided it was time to put the garden furniture away.  The chairs are not much of a problem, but the tables don’t easily fit in the alleyway; still I thought to myself, I’m sick of taking the legs off this table and putting them on again every summer.  I’m sure if I just wiggle it a bit I can get it through.

Yep.  You’ve guessed it – I got stuck.  Then I had to take the bloody legs off…

NaNoWriMo next week, folks!

Kirk out

PS I just mistyped ‘pruning’ as ‘pruining’!

The Proust of Rye and the Lorca of Montreal

I hope you caught the Book of the Week on radio 4 this morning: if you didn’t there’s still time, and four more episodes to go of this latest biography of my guru Leonard Cohen:

It didn’t tell me too much I didn’t know in terms of fact, but the interpretation sounds interesting: I heard the author being interviewed the other day and saying he didn’t think Cohen was a poet or even a singer or musician, as much as he was a prophet.  That is exactly how I think of him, and although I don’t write like him he is in many ways an inspiration and the father of my art.

I’m willing to bet Cohen never wrote limericks; it seems utterly unlike him, somehow – but there are times when I can’t stop myself writing them, and another lot came today, this time on the theme of Too Much Satire in TV.  It’s a bit rough as yet, but it begins:

TV can be fun but it’s ballotted

no sooner done than it’s parodied

it gets a bit wearing

when nothing is sparing,

but instantly caught and dead-parrotted.

Hm.  The rhymes for that one gave me a lot of trouble.  Anyway, before I got into all that I was thinking once again about E F Benson, having been reminded of him by reading Proust.  Now when people think Proust they think memory; they think time; they think madeleines dunked into coffee; they think going to bed early.  But that’s only the starting-point for Marcel; he spends a lot of time dissecting social mores and figuring out why people behave as they do.  And it’s in his description of the petty-bourgeois couple, the Verdurins, who run a salon – of sorts – and pretend that anyone they can’t invite to it is in fact ‘a bore’ whom they wouldn’t want anyway – that I find E F Benson.  This is his milieu, for all that it takes place in Tilling (Rye) and not in France; and in the 1930’s instead of the 1890’s.  His characters are petty, self-obsessed, materialistic and mean; they are extremely unattractive, and yet somehow, by making us amused and drawing us into the circle, he makes us like them and even care about them.

Now, I don’t want to stereotype; but this could have been because he was gay.  He wasn’t ‘out’, obviously, because no-one was – unless one of their enemies had sent incriminating photographs to the police – but he never married and some of his earlier novels are thought to be homoerotic.  I couldn’t possibly comment… however the gossipy intimate tone of the ‘Mapp and Lucia’ series does seem to set off a kind of gaydar.  (Sits back and waits for hostile comments to arrive….)

Kirk out

Shopping in Tilling and Breathing in Meeting

As I write the low-hanging sun is shining in my right eye: I’ve just been out and found it a hell of a lot warmer than I thought so progressed down Queen’s Rd discarding hat, gloves etc as I shopped.  I feel like a resident of Tilling* doing my little ‘shoppings’ with my shopping-basket, popping here and popping there, saying hallo to this or that person as I pass from Green and Pleasant (toothpaste and yeast, if you’re interested) to Sainsbury’s (nothing – the shop doesn’t impress me and one of their onions was mouldy yesterday) and round the back popping out near the Co-op (wine and blast! forgot the biscuits so was forced to pop into the corner shop where due to a cash crisis I could only afford chocolate.

And so home.  Mark went to counselling this morning where he did so well that he is now ‘signed off’: apparently he is so totally sorted that no more therapy is needed.  That’s good then… wish I was… on the other hand, last night he had an argument with a kerb resulting in a badly bashed-up face (nothing broken, but lots of blood and swelling) so he has gone to have a cracked front tooth looked at.

Yesterday I went once more to the Quaker Meeting.  This was good, on the whole, though marred by a horrid and insensitive woman who came up to me at the end.  I was feeling suitably chilled and imagined that she, like many others, had come to chat and to welcome me.  Not a bit of it.  She had come to complain.

‘I felt I had to tell you,’ she said, ‘that I found your breathing very disturbing.’

My breathing??

‘I had to move,’ she went on, in a prim and rather self-righteous way.

I stammered out something to the effect that I was sorry to hear it.  Frankly, words failed me.

‘I just thought I had to tell you,’ she repeated.

But why did you have to tell me? I thought as she retreated, having ruined my morning.  I was really quite upset and had a chat about it afterwards with some people, all of whom thought she was out of order.  I mean, for God’s sake, my breathing???  Apart from the fact that I have asthma and so my breathing is what it is, it’s not particularly loud.  I try quite hard not to disturb people and I even went to the lengths of taking the battery out of my mobile in case it went off, so I was quite hurt by her comments.

So *** you, fussy woman!  You’re like the princess with the pea…

And onwards and upwards, and so to a very pleasant afternoon and evening with Peter, doing yoga and experiencing the sheer joy of our dining-room table.

Kirk out

*as in the ‘Mapp and Lucia’ novels of E F Benson

PS Oh, and just to show you how civilised everyone is round here, on the way to the shops I had to squeeze past some cars and a couple coming the other way not only waited for me but smiled and said ‘You’re quicker than we are,’ and then in the Co-op someone who was before me at the till allowed me to go first saying ‘you’ve got less stuff than I have.’

I Think Therefore I Drink

– or possibly, Cogito Ergo Rum…  Yes, the new group Drink and Think is GO!  Come along to the Ale Wagon, Leicester, on the last Monday of every month, for great beer and friendly discussion on a variety of topics.  When we’ve chosen the first few topics I’ll let you know.  We will be starting on 29th October and I’ll keep you posted.

Had a great night last night at the Musician listening to a Mississippi guy with an amazing dark-brown chocolatey voice singing and playing the blues: he was perhaps not as technically brilliant as some (though perfectly competent) but I enjoyed it because he was so clearly rooted in the region and its music.  It’s like drinking a wine from a particular region: you can taste the soil and feel what it’s like to live there.

The beer was also excellent – Marston’s Pedigree followed by Burton Bridge Bitter.

I am reading Barbara Pym at the moment.  I quite like her in spite of having no sympathy with her characters and no interest in the society she describes: she reminds me a little of E F Benson (Mapp and Lucia) only without the humour.

I was struck by hearing Michelle Obama this morning eulogising her husband and telling people why they should vote for him.   It was more than a little cringeworthy and I’m quite glad we don’t go in for That Sort of Thing over here.   Although it might have been fun to see Dennis Thatcher, pint in hand, trying to convince us to vote for Her Indoors (‘Margaret’s been terribly busy lately… so you should, you know… vote for her and stuff.  Gosh, this beer’s rather good.  Think I’ll have another snifter as well…’)

Drink and Think?  Dennis would have been only half-qualified for that…

Daniel’s first day at Regent went well, though he found the IT very easy.  He is starting later today.  Yesterday I couldn’t settle to anything and spent half the day mooning about the house, aware that Daniel wasn’t there.  It’s a new era!  I did eventually manage to finish and send off an article for Compass 38, a left-leaning political group, about ‘elephants in the room’ of politics.  I suggested that the position of the white working class was one (thanks to Steve for setting me off on that one) and I called the article ‘The White Elephant.’

Does anyone know what a white elephant is nowadays?  And why were they called that?

Kirk out

So now we know everything

Peter Soulsby is Mayor, Labour have swept the board with the council and it’s no to AV.  Ah, well – two out of three isn’t bad.  Also, Labour held Leicester South with an increased majority.  I am most pleased about Peter Soulsby, though it remains to be seen how the whole Mayor thing will play out – it was somewhat dubious how it was introduced in the first place.  I am quite disappointed by the failure of AV – it did seem to me a fairer system and I think the ‘no’ campaign seem to have frightened everyone.  I also think the ‘yes’ campaign perhaps failed to explain the new system adequately but what I saw of the ‘no’ adverts, they were frankly misleading.

The rather pleasant sight of a bank account almost in credit yesterday – which means the cheque for the chalet has cleared and I am going to go ahead and book a holiday cottage in Rye.  It may be because I am reading ‘Mapp and Lucia’ but I feel quite drawn to Rye at the moment.  Bumped into Andy yesterday in town and he mentioned a Victorian bloke called Edward something who was way ahead of his time in being a gay rights campaigner who lived openly with his lover and generally knocks Oscar Wilde into a cocked hat, apparently.  Can’t remember his surname though.  Mark is now ranting about paradoxes of material implication and I CANNOT shut him up.  Urgg!  Anyway, this reminded me (the gay rights campaigner and people being ahead of their time) of the character Irene in the Tilling books – dispatched by Miss Mapp in the one word ‘quaint’, she is an artist, clearly a lesbian and entirely unconventional, though she somehow manages to be a part of the society of Tilling.  ‘Come to tea,’ she says tersely.  ‘You and me and a lobster.  Then you and me.’  That sums up the flavour of Tilling, I think.  Last time I went to Rye there were plaques on the houses, not for famous people who had lived there but for the characters in the ‘Tilling’ books who had lived there!  That’s Rye for you.  I expect they’re still there.  The plaques, that is – not the characters.

But also the characters.

Mark is rather vocal this morning.  I shall ask him to repeat what he said earlier.

‘Any two statements taken at random one of them will imply the other.’

I asked for an explanation.  This is what he said:

‘Implication means the antecedent is incompatible with it not being the case that the consequent is true.’


And it’s only twenty past seven.


We are going to Mark’s Mum’s today to help clear out for the move on Monday.

It still hasn’t rained.  Here’s my poem about Global Warming.  Oh, I can’t find it.  I’ll have to post it later.

Kirk out

even if there isn’t any Aslan

Martyn’s birthday today.  Happy birthday Martyn!  Apparently he’s not a friend of mine on Facebook otherwise the alert would’ve come up, so had to rely on good old-fashioned calendar.  He will be… let’s see… 23 today!

Holly’s play today (Mark has just commented that it’s very naughty of him to put his coffee machine on top of the Koran.  You can get stoned for that – and not in a good way.)  That reminds me – please sign this petition to stop the stoning of the woman taken in adultery.  I can’t believe they still do this!  Jesus, where are you?  AND where’s the MAN she did it with?  I suppose he couldn’t help himself – huh?

It is disgusting.  Please sign.

OK to happier matters.  Holly has her play today at the Curve; rehearsals all day and then the production at 7.30.  Looking forward to that.  Daniel is doing well with walking and had a great time at youth club last night.

Still hoping we will manage a holiday of some sort.  As things stand we can’t afford to book anywhere at the mo so send us positive thoughts.  The West Country would be nice – then we could break our journey with a visit to les Fegent. (that’s French for ‘the Fegents’, not someone called Les).

OK I guess that’s it.  Oh!  The title was because I was feeling very discouraged about writing this blog and thinking no-one’s reading it, and then I thought that there are many reasons for writing even if nobody IS reading it.  Or, ‘I’m on the side of Aslan, even if there isn’t any Aslan’.  Sometimes you – no, wait, that’s a complicated philosophical thought which I need time to deconstruct.

Toodle pip!

Oh – and this weekend I am mostly reading: ‘History of the World in 10 1/2 chapters’, ‘Mapp and Lucia’ and ‘Here is Where We Meet’ by John Berger.

Pip pip!